Lord Williams of Oystermouth: ‘Making representations: religious faith and the habits of language.’

I can recommend Rowan Williams’ Gifford lectures of the last couple of weeks. Chewy but rewarding!

His main point seems quite straightforward, for all the subtle and complex ways he develops it. He is pointing out that if you reflect on language, you quickly see that it has to operate on many different levels or registers, not just the rational and empirical. In fact, the metaphorical seems far more basic to language than any supposed correspondence theory would grant. Apart from anything else, this is for the reason that language occupies that space in between the material and immaterial: it’s an embodied activity – being sound and physical movement – that engages us symbolically.

What this has to do with God is what it says about the nature of reality, our embedded experience that gives rise, probably first, to music and then languages. The excessive nature of language, the way that it does way more than merely communicate sounds, does not prove God, as modern natural theology has been inclined to feel is its main task, but rather suggests that in language, we are every day grappling with a reality that can be interpreted as intelligible, giving and even compassionate – multi-meaningful, in the way a piece of music is meaningful.

That is commensurate with belief in God. Or to put it another way, a cosmos sustained by a creator such as the Judeo-Christian tradition conceives it, would be one in which you might expect people to speak in the many ways we do.

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