Responding to Hampson’s “After Christianity”, Chapter 1

Responding to Chapter 1: Christian Particularity

Daphne Hampson, After Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1996)

Overall thoughts:

I started this book thinking that a background of physics would be useful when picking up this book, but without one this book has managed to begin giving me a better knowledge of the scientific look upon religion and has given me a better understanding of the struggles in communication between the two. The writing style and language of scientists and philosophers can be so very different to that of the standard theologian, and especially of the person without an academic background in any degree subject. It is a difficult read for someone without higher education in Physics or a particularly philosophical, rational mind-set, but is good. It requires some patience, but surely all good academic books should be giving us a bit of a push anyway.

Tip: Keep a dictionary handy.

Commentary:

Chapter 1 – “I am considering questions of truth, not of ethics.” (pg 14) Christology.

Schleiermacher’s view that Christ is fully human and fully divine because he has an unclouded God-consciousness seems to fall through the cracks to me. I agree with Hampson that it seems to be stretching. I do wonder though if it is possible to say instead that to be fully human is to be capable of sin, but to be fully divine is to not commit sin. Could this function?

Kierkegaard concludes that the ‘truth’ of Christianity which Christians acknowledge can in no way be made to fit with the knowledge that we possess. Consequently the Christian claims cannot be made to fit with human knowledge and cannot be arrived at through reason. (pg 21)

Honestly I agree with Kierkegaard here and personally have no significant issue with the fact that faith is separate from reason. In a way then, I am coming into Hampson’s book with an interest, but not a great expectation to find any answers. I am reading more out of curiosity for a different perspective, to see different questions that are being asked. Hampson’s summary of Kierkegaard’s “Philosophical Fragments” appeals to me, of Truth A (Socratic), Truth B (Paradoxical) and the matter of miracles.

Half-way through chapter 1 I already feel myself wanting to defend faith. Rationalism has a large part in life, but it is not the fount of the average life and faith is not just a religious matter.

I am a student of Theology and the study of God is fascinating to me. I can argue a point, but ultimately I imagine that faith and rational knowledge will always have cross-wires. When I pray in Church to a Jesus Christ who is named as fully human and fully divine, I am not greatly concerned by issues of Christology. I am interested by the details and debates, but it doesn’t crush my life. I have faith that he was a brilliant man and that he was unique in that. I don’t know if finding a rational explanation for the title matters to me in this case. Perhaps, as a student of Theology I am supposed to. But there are so many questions. Maybe one day somehow will find the perfect answer to the questions of Christology, and it would be a revelation. But I do not have that vocation. My calling lies in trying to answer other questions. It’s fascinating really, how many questions people are trying to answer. Anthropologists, psychologists, scientists, theologians, philosophers, historians, sociologists, doctors, forensic biologists, teachers, counsellors, artists, actors. There are so many vocations. I’m not sure rationalism is a particularly large part of mine.

I am not at all persuaded by Hampson’s argument that Christianity cannot be true because it is not scientific. I am appreciating reading a new writing style, but I find it irritating at times. I do not understand why a scientific mind of this sort has such issue with religious faith. Arguments such as resurrections being events that do not fit our causal understanding are in my opinion nullified when one imagines the beginning of the universe as one Big Bang or a Prime Mover, a moving force that did not have a cause and does not fit our understanding of the causal nexus. Hmm.

I was getting frustrated for ten or so pages but then I got really hooked and interested again! Moving on from Polkinghorne we meet Bonhoeffer, Lampe and Hick. These views fit better with my own adaptation of Schleiermacher’s view and were more understandable and correct Christologies to my mind.

In Jesus the incarnate presence of God evoked a full and constant response of the human spirit. This was not a different divine presence, but the same God the Spirit who moved and inspired other men, such as the prophets. It was not a different kind of human response, but it was total instead of partial.

G. W. H. Lampe, God as Spirit, (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1977), pp.23-4 in Hampson, After Christianity, p.39

Either Christians must continue with the former, pre-scientific, understanding of the world, such that their theology remains divorced from the rest of human knowledge. Or else – as has increasingly happened – they must make a move sideways, holding that the Christian story, though not ‘actually’ true, represents a ‘true myth’. (pg 49)

Again, I find Hampson’s approach somewhat problematic when it comes to her scientific and rationalistic approaches. Chapter 2 next: Continuity and Discontinuity.

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