What Gods Do We Believe in Now? NT Wright and Gary Morson at Northwestern

Published on Dec 21, 2012

http://www.veritas.org/talks – NT Wright, Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews and Gary Morson, Professor of Slavic Languages at Northwestern discuss the question: What Gods Do We Believe in Now? Challenging the Religions of Culture. Conversation moderated by Amy Flowerree.

N.T.Wright’s introductory points:

  1. Epicureanism, ancient and modern has reacted against a perception of an angry and threatening God, and
  2. It results in detaching divinity from the world of space, time and matter, allowing the world, the natural world, the political order to develop and evolve under their own steam.
  3. This confluence of ideas has given birth to what we loosely call secularism. Secularism is a complex phenomenon in itself, but, it’s become a dominant motif in western culture, and in America, and in American universities in particular.  Despite of, and perhaps because of the continuing, often striding religiosity of some parts of your (American) culture- by the way, totally different from mine- there is no equivalent in the UK to the modern American fundamentalism, only in tiny pockets here and there. But, despite or perhaps because of that, there has been increasing pressure in America to banish talk of a God from public life and to conduct everything, from scientific research, to politics, even to marriage, on the assumption that the world is what it means and isn’t what it means without reference to anything beyond its visible and in principle scientifically measurable self.

I put tonight’s question within this triple context. Because, it seems to me vital, that if we are to understand where we come from  and not accept the sacred secular divide, or the religious nonreligious divide as simply part of some unalterable or some given cultural landscape. It is no such thing. Ironically, it is itself, partly comprehensible as one more cultural evolution in the complex history of the western world. But, it has solidified itself, remarkably, politically, as well as scientifically through the remarkable claim made by your forefathers late in the 18th century, who really did believe – it says so on your dollar bills – that they were seeing the birth of a new order of the ages. That’s a quote from the Roman poet, Virgil, at the time of Augustus, 2000 years earlier. This was to be the new golden age. And that claim, hiding powerfully, just under the surface of so many cultural assumptions, particularly, but not exclusively  here in America. It means that any attempt to challenge the perceived rule of secularism is seen as ipso facto a challenge to the great modern order. This has brought us so many obvious blessings, not least in the medical sphere. I am sometimes accused of being anti enlightenment. My stock answer is that actually, that I do have several problems with post enlightenment modernism, I have no wish to be operated on by either a premodern or indeed a postmodern dentist, thank you very much.

All this leads me to the second and central section of this lecture , in which I want to suggest that the assumed standoff between what we call religion, and what we call the secular world, and the cultures which have grown up around this standoff are radically misconceived. And that there are other ways of looking at the whole thing, which would be more accurate in description, more helpful in enabling us to find our way forward, and indeed more christian in the conformity to that interesting and often forgotten message about Jesus Himself. (12:50)
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