An Apophatic Restoration
Cordelia Hull reviews Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right by Nigel Leaves
(Polebridge Press, 2011)
(Reviewed December 2012)
I heard the author talk about this book before I bought it and was impressed with his presentation. But I still did not believe that Religion Under Attack would add much to my knowledge of religion's attackers.
I was wrong. And perhaps I should declare here that I am myself amongst religion's attackers; I have very little time for the organized variety.
So why was I impressed with Nigel Leaves' book? Well, for a start it is immensely readable with its lucid prose and neatly organised content. But, more than that, the author has obviously researched and carefully pondered the backgrounds and world-views of the attackers and has presented the same with respect and insight.
He steers away from easy categorizations. For example, arch-attacker Richard Dawkins is not dismissed simply as being more rigid than the religious right. He is accorded a nuanced exploration of the debates in the socio-biology academy that preceded and informed his ideas. In similar vein, the various voices of Islamic dissent are each handed the microphone for a page or two to place themselves in their own context. Even the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd (`a major threat to religion' according to Leaves) are perceptively and compassionately analysed. So while all attackers are looked squarely in the eye, they are still seen on their own terms.
Then, two pages from the end of the book, Leaves tells us his aim in writing it. He wants `to demonstrate the need for an appropriate theological response to the crisis of belief that has befallen the West and is slowly but surely infiltrating Islam'. He does not prescribe in detail what this theological response should be because to do so would negate his overall vision of having the mystery and unknowability of God restored to religious thought and practice.
Many non-religious folk might still shrug their shoulders and say, Why bother? But I think the preceding 226 pages of Religion Under Attack will provide an answer. Leaves shows us quite clearly that such a restoration of mystery is better than any other potential response to the current attacks on religion.
At the very least, the book will have the uninitiated running to the dictionary for a definition of apophatic, but my bet is it will encourage all its readers to appreciate the need for the restoration of such a tradition in religion.
If, as Cordelia Hull concludes, Nigel Leaves wishes God's mystery and unknowability to be restored, the this is merely a return to the God of the Gaps.
Posted by David Miller