Saturday, June 27, 2009

How not to love the world -- Part 2

A few more words on John Cornwell's Seminary Boy.

In the epilogue, Cornwell tells us briefly of his life after leaving the minor seminary at age eighteen. He briefly continued his priestly formation at one of England's major seminaries, but became disillusioned by the stultifying and infantilizng regimen. He left to continue his education at Oxford and Cambridge. There the contrast he had glimpsed earlier between "make-believe and reality" became more apparent.
One world picture involved the supernatural realm beyond the veil of appearances where resided the Holy Trinity, the angels and the saints, and the dead from the beginning of time -- in hell with the Devil and all his demons, or suffering in purgatory, or enjoying celestial happiness in the presence of God...

The other world picture, admittedly skewed by my youthful Cambridge optimism and sense of certitude, acknowledged the wonder and mystery of the vast material universe, and the emergence, through blind evolution, of the stupendous fertility of life on the planet. It paid homage to the dignity, genius and resourcefulness of humankind...
The one world, he writes, was entirely subject to belief and imagination. The other could be constructed and perceived by direct knowledge, underpinned by the natural sciences and unaided reason. Recognizing that the two world pictures could not be reconciled, he left the Church and put his faith behind him.

Twenty years later, he tells us, he returned to the fold (and here our paths diverge). He does not tell us why, except to say that he married a Catholic woman who raised their children Catholic. It would be interesting to know if and how he presently reconciles what he previously called make-believe and reality. I do know from what I have read of his writing that his newfound faith is skeptical ("doubt of doubt"), measured, and more metaphoric than literal. It is fun to watch him scrummaging with Dawkins in the British press.