David Boulton: Through A Glass Darkly

March 5, 2018

I explained that I wasn’t about to censor what I wrote about, when I posted this review of Derek Guiton‘s A Man That Looks on Glass a couple of years ago; despite its rather obscure intention – or perhaps because of it – it has been one of my most viewed posts, presumably by Quakers reading up on the debate. And so, out of a sense of fairness, I read this short riposte, by the man at whom Guiton’s book was mainly directed.

Boulton is a non-theist Quaker, one who does not believe in the real existence of a being that is God. On the other side are those for whom such a being has an actual existence. Boulton is concerned to refute some of Guiton’s charges and accusations and make clear his desire for inclusivity of belief within the Society of Friends. And for me, the most salient point he made in the entire book was that Quakers have avoided theological conversations for the last 30 years…

I found myself wondering, what about those of us in the middle, who are not able to nail our colours to either mast, those of us seeking after truth (or Truth) which we will perhaps never attain? ‘Agnostic’ is a nice easy label but doesn’t really do justice to the searching, and avoiding theological conversations is unhelpful, just as avoiding tricky issues generally gets one nowhere…

Increasingly I find myself accepting Feuerbach‘s notion that we make god in our own image – if we make one at all, because that is all we can do as humans. And if I make the god I (sometimes) believe in in my own image then I have a god that encompasses my sense of wonder and awe at the vastness and beauty of the cosmos, and a god that symbolises knowledge and understanding of it, which I regard as the highest of our human goals and achievements.

To me. all gods and religions have been and are a necessary and an understandable response by many (not all) humans to our knowledge of our own mortality and ultimate annihilation, which many of us find hard to understand and accept, an obliteration after what has been the marvellous experience of existence for our brief allotted span of time. And no, I can’t imagine an afterlife that I can recognise or understand, in which I might have an existence, which from my current perspective is what I’d desire…

As I grow older, I find myself wrestling rather more with such questions. Both Guiton’s and Boulton’s writings have stretched my thinking, for which I am grateful; neither has brought me nearer to an answer, which was perhaps to be expected, and so the search goes on. And I’m enjoying it, which is just as well, really…

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