Digging Deeper into Christian Thought – CLIS Annual Lecture

DIANA GUTHRIE reports on the CLIS Annual Public Lecture held in Salisbury Library on Saturday 17 October 2015

Our President, Eddie Olliffe, introduced this year’s speaker, the distinguished writer, Church of England Reader, and Group Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People: Kevin Carey, who spoke on the theme of ‘The role of the Christian librarian in a theologically turbulent age’.

Kevin Carey began with this paraphrase of Winston Churchill’s familiar saying, ‘Never have there been so many theologians writing so much for so few’. This prefaced a lecture which ranged very widely over a spectrum of ideas with which modern Christians should be concerning themselves  and which dug deep into Christian thought and traditions. What follows in this brief report is a précis of some of the topics covered, which gave rise to nearly half an hour of questions and comments afterwards.

A lot of the ills in Christianity can be traced back to the exercise of inordinate power. This was recently illustrated by the long-running debate over women bishops.  It ultimately comes down to the question, ‘Who has the authority to determine the meaning of Scripture?’ Christianity must make room for enquiry, but this should not become a merely intellectual pursuit. Our primary preoccupation must always be: what must we do to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth?

The modern tendency is to concentrate on private moral conduct at the expense of social and economic justice. The 1980s document Faith in the City  was a rare instance of an organisational attempt to redress the balance, but its political effects were short-lived, and there’s an instinctive secular suspicion that we’ve not lived up to Biblical instructions on social justice. God is love and created us in love, and we need to express that love in action rather than judgment. We cannot separate Christianity from politics.

Why does ‘the God of love’ allow suffering? This is probably the most common question asked of us, and we are fatally handicapped as Christian witnesses if we can’t attempt an answer. It all goes back to the Fall.  Where did the serpent / evil come from? If there was a serpent, then God probably spoke through it. The world was not created to fit human ideas of perfection; we are God’s broken creatures, deliberately made so. We can’t love unless we have free will, and we can’t have free will in a perfect world. But having free will, we should exercise it in compassion and empathy. Most of the bad things that happen are the result of human fault, (though there are obvious exceptions to this rule of thumb). Suffering in itself is not sin; sin is being responsible for or being indifferent to suffering. What is at stake is not suffering but human identity.

The role of the librarian can be compared with that of the theologian, in promoting enquiry and discussion. Both librarians and theologians are the mats under the feet of those wishing to explore the world of ideas, and we should see ourselves as the servants of those who seek our assistance. The core purpose of librarianship is to point out the possibilities that lie beyond our sphere of knowledge or our comfort zone.

The Lecture was rounded off with a vote of thanks from CLIS Chair, Robert Foster, and then tea.

Diana Guthrie, MA, serves on the executive committee of  Christians in Library and Information Services as Treasurer.