Honest Doubt - The History Of An Epic Struggle

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01Prologue20120528

Richard Holloway, the writer and the former Bishop of Edinburgh, begins a series of 20 personal essays in which he explores the relationship between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. He takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present-day.

As the former head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Richard Holloway's main focus is on the history of doubt in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But as he says, he is 'first and foremost a human being' and so he also addresses some of the universal questions about our existence and the meaning of life, considering how some of humanity's best thinkers and most creative writers have approached these 'literally life and death questions'.

In today's programme he takes the painting by Paul Gauguin which poses the questions 'Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?' as his starting point, and quotes the writer George Steiner, and poets Robert Browning, Walter de la Mare, as well as Tennyson, from whose poem "In Memoriam" comes "Honest Doubt", the title of the series.

Holloway describes the tension between faith and doubt as two sides of the same coin or, as he says, 'Another way into the tension is to think of a piece of music. If faith is the melody, doubt is the descant. Each adds texture and depth to the other and, if we're lucky, a sense of harmony.'

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

03Casting Out Idols2012053020120530 (R4)

Richard Holloway, the writer and former Bishop of Edinburgh, continues his series of 20 personal essays in which he explores the relationship between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. He takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present-day.

Richard Holloway's main focus is on the history of doubt in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in today's programme he looks at idolatry. He reflects on the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus in the Old Testament and says, "Worshipping idols, idolatry, and destroying idols, iconoclasm , are recurring themes in our story of doubt and I want to examine how they played out in the ancient world."

He goes on to discuss a group of remarkable doubters from eight centuries before Christ, who challenged the way in which God was worshipped. And why did an article entitled 'Our Image of God Must Go' in 1963 by the then Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson, cause such a controversy?

With contributions from author and philosopher Sir Anthony Kenny, historian of religions Karen Armstrong, American theologian Harvey Cox, Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Harvard University and author AN Wilson.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

Richard looks at idolatry. He reflects on the story of the Golden Calf from Exodus.

04Revelation And Its Limits2012053120120531 (R4)

In a series of personal essays Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present-day.

In today's programme Richard Holloway explores the idea of revelation: "The claim is that the God who is beyond our ability to reach unaided makes himself available to our senses, sometimes through sight, sometimes through sound. Inevitably, we can only capture the human side of this transaction, so how can we decide whether it's really God who's at the other end? That's the big question before us."

In this programme he talks to the writer Karen Armstrong, to the American poet Jennifer Hecht, and to Harvey Cox, Emeritus Professor of Divinity at Harvard.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

05Mysteries Not Problems20120601

Richard Holloway, the writer and former Bishop of Edinburgh, continues his series of 20 personal essays in which he explores the relationship between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. With his main focus on the Judeo-Christian tradition, he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present-day.

In today's programme Richard Holloway discusses the meaning of the word 'mystery'. He says "Words like mystery and mystical don't suggest a problem to be cleared out of the way but a reality that is veiled or concealed. In talking about them, we're talking about experiences in which we're involved but which we're unable fully to comprehend."

In discussing the medieval mystics he suggests that, unlike the shallow end of a swimming pool where all the noise is, it's at 'the deep end of the pool, the silent end' that the mystics operate.

He looks at the work and inner conflict of three leading mediaeval mystics. Two are from the Christian tradition - Meister Eckhart, a radical fourteenth century Dominican preacher and Hildegard of Bingen, a thirteenth century German abbess, ecologist, poet and composer. The third mystic is from the Sufi tradition - Al Ghazzali, a writer and legal scholar and one of Islam's greatest theologians.

With contributions from historian Karen Armstrong; Revd David Jasper, Professor of Theology and Literature at Glasgow University and author of The Sacred Desert, and Carole Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

06Breaking Up20120604

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

This week he looks at the story of doubt from the 16th Century to the Enlightenment. The journey takes in the fragmentation of Christianity during the Reformation, the early non conformists and how some of the great minds of Europe responded to the discoveries of the Scientific Revolution. He also addresses the price that doubters paid - through the Roman Inquisition, censorship and excommunication. He ends the week with an essay on Free Will.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway explores the role of doubt as a means of challenging the prevailing religious thought, and in the 16th century points to Martin Luther as the man who "lit the fuse that was to blow Christendom apart". This was the time of the Reformation when the focus in Christianity shifted from the highly organised life of the Catholic Church to a system of theological ideas derived directly from the Bible. A.N. Wilson explains that the reformers thought they were restoring the original purity of a faith that had been corrupted, and Luther, a generation later, was followed by another hugely influential reformer, John Calvin. As Richard Holloway says, "The Reformation let a multitude of genies out of the bottle".

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

07The Agony And The Ecstasy20120605

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme Richard Holloway focuses on three writers, each of whom wrote about their personal spiritual struggles. He begins with the 17th century poet and preacher John Donne, best known for his early love poems, but it's in his religious work that he grappled with the themes of faith, doubt and temptation. Richard Holloway talks to the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion about Donne's internal doubts.

A generation later, John Bunyan, known universally for his religious allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, wrote about his profound feelings of guilt, doubt and melancholy.

Richard Holloway's third writer is the 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Holloway talks to AN Wilson about Hopkins' belief that religion could make society more effective and compassionate, yet inside, he thought of himself as a failure as a priest, a teacher and a poet.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

07The Agony And The Ecstasy20120605

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme Richard Holloway focuses on three writers, each of whom wrote about their personal spiritual struggles. He begins with the 17th century poet and preacher John Donne, best known for his early love poems, but it's in his religious work that he grappled with the themes of faith, doubt and temptation. Richard Holloway talks to the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion about Donne's internal doubts.

A generation later, John Bunyan, known universally for his religious allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, wrote about his profound feelings of guilt, doubt and melancholy.

Richard Holloway's third writer is the 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Holloway talks to AN Wilson about Hopkins' belief that religion could make society more effective and compassionate, yet inside, he thought of himself as a failure as a priest, a teacher and a poet.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

08Vacating Heaven2012060620120606 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme Richard Holloway discusses how the great leaps forward in scientific thought, particularly the new understanding that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, influenced the way leading 17th century thinkers reconsidered the relationship of mankind to God. Holloway talks about such great figures as Isaac Newton, Descartes and Pascal, with contributors including author Sir Anthony Kenny, Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College and Peter Millican, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

09Paying The Price2012060720120607 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway discusses how religion dealt with those who paraded their doubts. Following the new ideas that sprang up during the Reformation, those who rethought their relationship to the Bible and to God were vulnerable to the inquisition and excommunication. One such thinker was Spinoza, the 17th century Dutch-Jewish philosopher whose radical views caused him to be expelled by Jewish religious leaders and his books placed on the Papal Index of Forbidden Books. Insight into the workings of the process comes from an eyewitness account of Spinoza's excommunication.

With contributions from Susan James, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, and Nina Power, lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

10Caught In The Middle2012060820120608 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway discusses what is meant by free will and takes Ridley Scott's film of the science-fiction novel 'Blade Runner' as an analogy - in particular the character of Rachel, a manufactured 'replicant' who believes she is human. From that starting-point he engages with the ideas of Spinoza, Schopenhauer and Freud and how they grappled with the concept.

Taking part in today's programme are Nina Power, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Roehampton University, and Chris Janaway, Professor of Philosophy at Southampton University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

11Embracing Uncertainty20120611

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway discusses the work of the early 19th century British poets John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley, and how their Romanticism grew out of the rationalism of the 18th century Enlightenment thinkers. He talks to former poet laureate Andrew Motion about Keats' ability to live with uncertainty, without feeling he had to come down on any one side of an argument. And AN Wilson, author of God's Funeral, discusses Keats' belief that he was 'certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections'.

Unlike Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley wanted to proclaim his brand of atheism. His pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism got him sent down from Oxford University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.

12Believer's Doubt20120612

In a series of personal essays Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway looks at how four Victorian believers struggled with doubt - a priest and three poets. Cardinal Newman wrote about 'certitude', although inside he had anything but. The non-conformist Robert Browning was one of the first students at the new University College London had 'flirted with atheism' but couldn't bring himself to take the plunge. Richard tells us how Arthur Hugh Clough was 'clinging onto his faith by his fingernails' and talks to his biographer, Sir Anthony Kenny. In his poem 'Dover Beach', Matthew Arnold presages the Victorian crisis of faith as he hears its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar - which Professor David Jasper sees as a statement of humanity caught in a limbo of 'inbetweenness, that darkling plain'.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.

13A Post-mortem2012061320120613 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

The mid-19th century was a time of great change in almost every area of life - economic, political, social and industrial. Up to now, Richard Holloway has been looking at 'the poetics of doubt' through the work of poets and writers. Today, he focuses on 'the forensics of doubt'. He looks at the impact of Charles Darwin and geologist Charles Lyell, whose discoveries undermined the creation stories of the Old Testament. And Richard discusses with AN Wilson how the emerging tradition of 'biblical criticism', which began in Germany, started to strip away the supernatural elements of God.

George Eliot is the bridge here. In translating the work of the German critics, she lost her own faith and began to believe, as the German philosopher and atheist Ludwig Feuerbach suggested, that God may be a human construct - a creation of the human mind.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.

14God's Funeral2012061420120614 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's episode, Richard Holloway brings together the 19th century English writer Thomas Hardy and the 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who represented for many the culmination of the Victorian crisis of faith.

In his poetry, notably God's Funeral and The Oxen, Hardy writes with nostalgia about his loss of faith. AN Wilson, author of The Victorians, describes Hardy as being 'infected with the doubting spirit of the age' but retaining 'a wistfulness of what had been lost'.

Nietzsche's declaration, through one of the characters in his work The Gay Science, that 'God is Dead and we have killed him' is a significant moment in the story of doubt. For Chris Janaway, Professor of Philosophy at Southampton University, the statement is an attack on contemporary society which has lost its sense of value and morality.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

15Godless Morality2012061520120615 (R4)

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

Richard Holloway uses Fyodor Dostoevsky as his starting point to discuss the possibility of morality in a godless world. Do we say yes to life and find our own formula for doing right, as Nietzsche suggested? Are we just intrinsically egoistic in order to survive? Are there things we ought to do, whoever we are and whatever we want, as Kant believed?

Richard Holloway says that 'the religious dimension in ethical debate sometimes clogs rather than encourages the flow of discussion', but one thing religion can bring to the moral life is the sense of responsibility to a power higher than ourselves. If we lose that sense of responsibility to God, what will now motivate us to help others and restrain our own selfishness?

He discusses the theme with author AN Wilson, Chris Janaway, Professor of Philosophy at Southampton University, and Nina Power at Roehampton University.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke production for BBC Radio 4.

16On The Edge20120618

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In exploring the 'riddle of existence', Richard Holloway uses the American poet Emily Dickinson as a bridge between 19th and 20th Century thinking. He draws from her poem sequence 'The World is Not Conclusion' to suggest that there is no objective 'point of view from which we can observe the whole mystery of the universe'.

He talks to Sir Anthony Kenny, literary executor and biographer of the 20th Century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, about Wittgenstein's view that 'even when all possible scientific questions are answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all'. In response, Kenny offers a rare poem by Wittgenstein.

The debate between the 'unbelieving' and the 'believing' continues into our age as Holloway cites the ideas of evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and philosopher Roger Scruton.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

17Saving Doubt20120619

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway explores the theme of doubt and disloyalty with the help of three great 20th Century writers - James Joyce, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Holloway suggests that doubt and disloyalty help 'keep our most cherished institutions open to change and renewal'. It's a view supported by Joyce and Greene who challenged the Catholic notion of Hell and its 'eternal repetition'. But for Waugh, it was the very idea of changelessness and stability that attracted him to Catholicism. Holloway talks to Revd. Prof. David Jasper from Glasgow University about how this theme plays out in Waugh's work, while Graham Greene tells us himself why doubt and disloyalty are essential roles for the writer.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

18Darkness Made Visible20120620

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway explores one of the biggest questions in the story of doubt: How can we reconcile the idea of God when there's so much suffering in the world? He cites the 18th century philosopher David Hume who formulated the eternal questions about God and the presence of evil: "Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

Holloway continues into the 20th Century, focussing on the work of the Jewish poet and Holocaust survivor Paul Celan, and the French Resistance writer Andre Schwartz-Bart. David Jasper, Professor of Literature and Theology at Glasgow University, discusses how these writers attempted to 'say the unsayable'.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

19On Presence And Absence20120621

In a series of personal essays, Richard Holloway considers the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

In today's programme, Richard Holloway focuses on an enduring paradox in the story of doubt: that God can be experienced both as present and absent at the same time. He explores the idea with the help of three post-war poets - Philip Larkin, John Betjeman and RS Thomas.

He talks to Larkin's friend and literary executor, Sir Andrew Motion, about Larkin's complex attitude to religion and reads from Larkin's seminal poem 'Aubade'. Larkin himself introduces his poem, 'Churchgoing', which expresses the nostalgia of what we lose when we lose our faith.

John Betjeman's religious struggle is discussed with Betjeman's biographer AN Wilson. And for the Welsh priest poet RS Thomas, the theme of God's absence and presence is compared to finding a dead hare on the hillside - 'we find the place still warm with his presence, but he is absent'.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.

20 LASTTears In The Rain20120622

In the final programme in his series of personal essays, Richard Holloway concludes his reflections on the tensions between faith and doubt over the last 3000 years. Author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway focuses on the Judeo-Christian tradition as he takes the listener from the birth of religious thinking, through the Old and New Testaments, to the developments in subsequent centuries and their influence on thinkers and writers, up to the present day.

Summing up the journey he has undertaken over the previous four weeks, Richard describes the 'human animal' as 'a riddle': 'Whence came our creations, our amazing discoveries? How did all this meaning, all this purpose, all this beauty, emerge from the void?' He concedes that there are 'neither negative nor positive conclusions about the mystery that besets us' but accepts that our moments will be lost 'like tears in the rain'.

Talking to him about that mystery are the writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips, the theologian and author Professor Don Cupitt, and the poet Sir Andrew Motion.

Producer: Olivia Landsberg

A Ladbroke Production for BBC Radio 4.