What is Reality? Is it my view of the world – or your view of the world? As a sociologist I understand the importance of subjectivity. But if we abandon the search for reality by succumbing to the dominance of subjectivity, we end up with what Peter Berger once called ‘the vertigo of relativity’. It is a state of affairs all too evident in the emergence of ‘fake news’ and the power of the Internet to promote virtual reality.
I believe there are three approaches to genuine Reality which offer some hope of overcoming this nauseating experience of vertigo. First, there is science – which requires a positive and proven answer to the question ‘Does it work?’. Secondly, there are the human sciences – which ask, ‘Are our observations as universally as valid as possible?’. Of course there are limitations here as human relationships and interaction cannot be reduced to statistics. But at least the goal is to move towards that which is as objectively valid as possible.
Then there is the Christian approach to Reality. For me this cannot be a retreat to the literal interpretation of the bible. It cannot be unquestioning obedience to the ‘truth’ that has supposedly been revealed to the architects of doctrine – from the creeds to the thirty-nine articles. Nor can it be an appeal to personal religious experiences which claim to reveal the nature and will of the divine – however vivid or inspiring.
For me, Reality of a religious kind is grounded in the discernment of a way of life, in whatever shape or form, which enables human beings to live and work together as a community of communities – founded on the principles of life, liberation, love and learning (the 4Ls) in their deepest and fullest sense. I do not believe that any religion, claiming the title of ‘Christian’ or not, is authentic and credible as an exemplar of Reality if fails to manifest the 4Ls or is in practice communally closed and exclusive.
The test of the validity of any church is not how true it claims to be to the bible, traditional mission statements or the religious experiences of its members. It is whether or not it offers a vision of one world and actual examples of how in practice we might create it.