Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Monday, May 05, 2014

Braithwaite and singing the creed

"The difference between words used in ritual and words used in science is brought out quite well by a story about the Cambridge philosopher Richard Braithwaite, who wrote influentially on the philosophy of science. He decided quite late in life that he wanted to be baptised as an Anglican.

Accordingly he attended a short course of instruction. All went along very well, until it was pointed out to him that in the baptism service he would have to say the Apostles' Creed. This creed contains all sorts of apparently factual statements about the virgin birth, the resurrection and so on.

Braithwaite, who was one of the few philosophers who admitted to being a logical positivist, felt very uneasy about this. He certainly did not believe such things had literally happened. But his feelings were reassured when he was told that he could sing the creed if he wanted. So, he sang it. Singing was preferable to him, because you don't have to mean what you sing. Or at least you don't have to mean it literally. It is more like a story, a narrative. And indeed it could be said that the main point of reciting the creed is not to give a list of strange beliefs, but to praise God, to affirm a certain sort of personal commitment. It gives a sort of shorthand account of the sort of God you are praising -- a God who gives life freely and unconditionally, and whose love overcomes the power of death. This is much clearer when you sing something, so Braithwaite's attitude is perfectly understandable."

- God: A Guide for the Perplexed (2013 edition), Keith Ward


Anonymous Richard said...

I like it. However; as with dancing, singing not my strong suit...maybe if I just hum along:)

11:59 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard. I used to like the singing part of church, where the whole group could drown me out ;)

12:26 PM  

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