When was the last time you had a conversation that changed the way you understood something important? Can you readily recall a conversation where all parties felt they had learnt something from each other?
The advent and development of social media means that it is easier than ever before for people to express their own opinions on all manner of subjects - from the light hearted to the serious. Indeed, I suspect that some people hold more opinions in public than they really do in private – a blog, a column or a trend seems to demand some sort of response.
On the whole, such online discussion is to be welcomed, but it isn’t clear how much listening it actually encourages. Certainly it is markedly different from face to face conversation, where the presence of others should encourage respect and openness.
Because religion stirs strong and differing feelings it can be a subject to avoid rather than embrace. Or rather we tend to raise it when we feel safe to do so – in the company of those with whom we are likely to agree. The outcome, of course, is that we miss the opportunity of learning from people who hold very different views from our own.
This is the background to the plan to hold three evenings of what we are calling ‘Pub Theology’:
The purpose is not to claim answers, let alone an attempt to convert people, but simply to encourage grown up conversations for anyone who might be interested in discussing the reasonableness or otherwise of believing in God. The evenings had been planned before the terrible events in Paris, so although religious extremism is especially topical, the aim is to consider other subjects as well.
The conversations will be facilitated by Rev’d Dr Janneke Blokland, Curate at St Mary’s Church, and myself. Janneke’s background is as a physicist and prior to ordination she was involved in post-doctoral research as an Alexander von Humboldt fellow in Berlin. Before ordination and my current role as Rector of Marlborough, I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford and maintain a keen interest in political and economic affairs as well as the place of faith in the public sphere. Both of us look forward to these conversations and the opportunity to learn new things.