22. 30 October 1986
No sooner had I read through your latest ebullient bulletin (September 21-October 6) than the Second Vatican Council came at me from another direction – via the latest (rather pallid) biography of G.K. Chesterton. How could he or Belloc have endured that vole-face? It would have annihilated all they ever stood for or believed in. Becoming a Catholic now is utterly different from being one then. Still, I don't see why God wouldn't change direction from time to time, or aeon to aeon: just to see whether we're attending. Yet on the actual question did Jesus mean what he is said to have said (John 14: 6) I'm sure that I am the way has no two ways about it. How can we take those words at their volte face value? It seems to me that The scandal of particularity is just what used to be called Christianity.
The argument you attribute to Karl Barth strikes me as exceedingly singular. I shall strive to set it down again step by step to further my understanding. It begins (1) we cannot know God: (2) we need help in finding him: so (3) he has provided the Incarnation etc.
But surely this is an argument which not only fails to follow from its premises but actively contradicts them? A procedure not normally reckoned all that syllogistic. How in the world or out of it can we deduce or infer that any agency whatever can show us God, from the datum that no agency whatever can do so?
I rather like, though, the dictum that any attempt on our part to interpret the gospel via reason is a direct contradiction of revelation. What that proves, though, is that revelation is irrational, which I've long suspected. Come to think of it, though, it would have to be, wouldn't it, if it is ever to convey anything significant to the human mind, which is utterly rebarbative to reason (as I know from my Shakespeare studies).
In my present euphoric mood I should like to offer a modest solution to this whole cosmic problem. It's this: enquiring minds act as receivers, open to (in this analogy) reflected sky-wave.
What signals we pick up depends on our sensitivity, posture. location and so forth. We know by observation that there's a variety and span of different transmitters. Now, it seems to me arrogantly reductionist to assert, in such circumstances, that Jesus is only one broadcasting station among others (albeit the one with the best News). We really rather know that on that analogy he's inaudible in many areas. So when he said I am the way, meaning surely that here is only one, he couldn't have meant there's only one transmitter, callsign JC, on X kilohertz, because everyone can see there's more than one. He must have meant there's only one signal: and that's him, in various guises. Could we ask Alan Race whether he's really offering to restrict The Almighty to justone revelation? That would be Raceism with a vengence. No doubt I am the way etc. must mean that there's only one something or other, the question is what is there only one of? Art may be a surer guide than religion: there are no aesthetic, only doctrinal, problems about uniting in diversity. If Mozart had said that he was the way to music I'd have understood him perfectly: it means that which is Mozartian, i.e. marvellous. Schubert has it too, only we then call it Schubertian. So many ways: yet all in the same direction: hence One Big Broad Bright and probably Milky Way.
Well perhaps I should try again, with another brandy from the buffet, but pragmatically I'd want to ask – since there must be some means of reconciling the apparent contradiction between I am the only way/there are, however others' perhaps it doesn't matter all that much what the answer is. I think that Troeltsch is wasting his time in striving and searching for a formal reconciliation between Exclusivism and Relativism. Why can't those two opposites just learn to love one another?
I agree with you that the correct interpretation is a mythinterpretation. Hick opus, Hick labor est.
And I'd like to put in a plea for the inclusion of artistic experience among the possibilities or potentials.
I very much liked, incidentally, the decision to award the redundant Anglican church premises to those paragons of turban civilisation the Sikhs. Sikh and ye shall find, I expect they said.
Love, as ever, E