The Two Lloyds
There is an axiom that one should never perform with children or animals because they are bound to upstage you – well, I am going to add another: intelligent articulate 88 year-old gentlemen!
It was a pleasure to spend a little time in the spotlight with well-known theological deep thinker Lloyd Geering at the Otago Festival of the Arts as part of the Readers and Writers programme. If anyone thought that it was going to be a showdown between Darwin and Religion, they would have been bitterly disappointed. To the contrary, however, the sell-out audience seemed to really enjoy it. In fact, it was more than a sell-out: against all the fire regulations, they moved an extra 60 seats in to help cope with the demand.
So, what did this man of God have to say? Well, very little that I would take issue with, really. Had I encountered even one person of his reasoned and reasonable position, I may never have left the Church. He does not view the Bible as a document to be taken literally, but as an historical record of the beliefs to which people subscribed in the past, a window on their knowledge. In essence, we both see science as a shifting body of knowledge – one where hopefully we get closer to the truth as time goes on. Interestingly, Geering views Christianity in a similar vane, where religion is really a code for how we should live our lives – an ethic if you will – and this too changes with time. He does not believe in the afterlife as far as I could tell, and certainly does not picture God as a supreme being in whose image we are made. I could just about buy all that.
If I have an issue with him – we ran out of time to pursue this – it is that while it seems logical to me that science should be progressive, always moving towards the truth it seeks even though it can probably never reach a state of absolute truth for all things, it strikes me as odd that religious truth should also be so elusive, a goal rather than a guarantee. Surely if a revelation is Divine, it should be the truth should it not, and not something that we reinterpret according to the social circumstances and milieu in which we find ourselves in a given age? To be able to put new meanings on the word of God is really to say that religion is little more than a social construct; a way of life; a way WE give our lives meaning.
The Chairperson for our session was the award-winning writer of fiction aimed largely at teenagers, Bernard Beckett. Bernard turned out to be as articulate as the other Lloyd, so I was left with a sense of relief at the end that it had not turned into some bloodied pugilistic contest between the Darwin in me and the God in Geering. It might just have been acceptable to lose to an intelligent articulate 88 year-old gentleman, but not to be beaten by the referee too.