10 June 2010

The day Stephen Hawking helped my prayer life

As I've blogged already this week, I'm participating in a week of accompanied prayer. As such, my attention has been slanted (to a greater extent than usual) towards my prayer life. 
Yesterday, I followed a link from a blog, and I eventually arrived at an article about an interview given to ABC in the USA about Professor Stephen Hawking's latest TV series over the pond. I have a lot of time for Hawking. His work in explaining the more complex ideas in theoretical physics to a lay audience has been inspirational.
The paragraph in the article that caught my attention was one that resonated with something that has come up in the sessions with my prayer guide. From one of Hawking's answers about religion:
"What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God," Hawking told Sawyer. "They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible."
I have a tendency to intellectualise God and faith (probably a personality-type issue). This can be very necessary, but it can sometimes reduce God to something like Hawking's caricature in the paragraph above; 'the embodiment of the laws of nature' and nothing more. I think when I intellectualise and theorise God, it becomes tempting to think of God only as a way of describing and understanding the physical reality of the world, and not as the personal God that Hawking criticises as a human-made artefact. This tendency reminds me of the 'category mistake' referred to by Rowan Williams in reference to creationism. We try to fit God into an inappropriate and inadequate system of understanding - scientific 'proof' - and we end up with an incomplete conception of the thing we were trying to understand.
I expect that one of the reasons I have this tendency is my degree in philosophy and my subsequent interest in the ongoing tussle between Dawkins and the religious world. I think I often confine my contemplation of God to philosophical thoughts about his existence, and the interaction of religious ideas with scientific ones, and I stop short of trying to know God better.
So Stephen Hawking has inadvertently encouraged me to address this matter in my private prayer time. I've resolved to try further to understand God in the personal sense that Hawking rejects. 
97 days (meant to do this each day - will try harder)

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