Public Conversation

The Snell Sermon 2009,
The Cathedral of St. James, Toronto,
November 1st, 2009


"Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things - that takes religion."
Stephen Weinberg
"And for bad people to do good things - that takes religion."
Freeman Dyson

I begin with a minor confession. I can't and don't "believe" in what many think is the old and only way to believe. Rather, I've come to realize that my believing, even when I was a child, was always imaginative, poetic and metaphorical - never literal. There was never any sense of diminishment. As an adult, I've come to see the way of imagination is deep in the tradition. This is not world-shattering news and I know that I am in good company. It's just that now, at this point in history, those of us who see the mystery of the world as just that - a mystery - need to make common cause. Some of us are often caricatured as clergy who don't believe in God, believers who've abandoned belief. Delusional at best. Hypocrites at worst. There is also the assumption that literal believers are more honest and committed than those of us who hide behind metaphor and story. The fundamentalist's faith is more robust. Those who favor art and poetry sport a faith that is flabby and effete. There's some truth to this but there is also a lie at its heart: the lie that the way of questioning, the way of a deep commitment to the mystery of being human, is not only a cop out but a betrayal.

My concern is to examine how our beliefs (whatever they are) actually function in the world. What difference do they make? I know a few Christ-like atheists and several Nazi-like believers and I find myself more at home in Richard Dawkins's wondrous universe than in the murky and violent world of biblical literalism.

As a priest, I know only too well that the scandal of religion takes many forms - some of them obvious. The betrayals and hypocrisies, the certitudes and moralizing, the violence and cruelties are in plain sight (as are its glories and achievements).

Download the full sermon here. [Word doc]

A sermon delivered at the Cathedral Church of St. James on Nov. 1, 2009. The Snell Sermon honors the Rt Rev'd George Snell, 8th Bishop of Toronto, and is intended to further his concern for deepening the church's teaching and preaching ministy.

Recent Writings for Download

The Scandal of God: It's a Metaphor, Stupid!
Draft first chapter of a forthcoming book. [Word doc]

Freedom and its Counterfeits or The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. [Word doc]

Falling in Love: The Work of The Holy Spirit. [Word doc]