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Emperors of One Idea

By Barry Taylor

“When Darwin or Einstein proclaim theories that modify our ideas, it is a triumph of science. We do not say that there is another defeat for science, because its old ideas have been abandoned...Religion (should) face change in the same spirit...”

A.N. Whitehead

Whitehead’s quote taps into an important question that we need to ask ourselves: Why in the face of such an evident need for reframing the way we speak about religion is it so difficult for us to let go of old ideas?

Part of the answer might lie in the fact that many people don’t think they have ‘ideas’ about God. They think they’ve happened upon an unchangeable truth and therein is the challenge. It is a difficult notion to overcome. Many of us have been schooled in forms of religion built around crystallized dogmas that are presented to us as the truths we need to embrace in order to be the ‘right kind’ of Christian.

But as the writer Adam Phillips reminds us, we should ‘beware of the Emperor of one idea’. “You can only understand anything that matters,” he writes, "by over-interpreting and not settling for one interpretation.” Here at H&Co we talk a lot about re-thinking theology, about the need to return again to the overly familiar texts and consider that lying between the folds of what we think we know are other ideas and other truths. Which we are blind to because we are convinced we have gleaned all the necessary life from it. We call this innovative theology—it’s not a set of beliefs, or particular ideas, it’s a way of helping us break free from old ideas and a pathway to discovering alternatives.

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