The other lecture that I sat in on at the Faraday Institute Ordinands course last week was Patrick Richmond‘s ‘Handling Questions on Science and Religion in the Parish’. He gave a few very wise pieces of advice – such as tailoring your material to your audience, not your hobby horse. He also questioned whether responding to current issues is always wise.
Patrick used the historical example of the book ‘Essays and Reviews‘ that was published in 1860 by a number of Church of England clergy. The book caused a storm and sold 22,000 copies. Patrick said that many clergy responded to Essays and Reviews in their preaching, but in the process they brought an otherwise very academic book to the notice of the wider general public, giving the it far more publicity that it might otherwise have had (and for the sake of this illustration I am contributing to that…)! So do preachers (writers, seminar speakers, workshop leaders…) at times raise issues that are not actually issues for most of their audience, and in the process create new problems for themselves?
This reminded me of a comment on a piece of writing that I asked someone to edit a while ago. It was a general piece on science and faith, and I mentioned the science-faith conflict myth and why it is a myth, before moving on to some more constructive content. The comment that I got back was, ‘Why perpetuate this myth?’ i.e. if you have the opportunity, why not focus on more positive things? I see their point. I think there definitely is a place for addressing ‘issues’ as – I think quite justifiably – Test of Faith does, but rather than focusing on these all the time, I think we should try to set a positive agenda whenever we can.