A bishop who once famously threw his mitre in the River Thames, I have long been fascinated by the former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh turned agnostic, Richard Holloway. A post-dogmatic liberal, Holloway is still very much impassioned by the figure of Jesus, but rejects the institutional church and its outdated certainties and failure to fully engage with the marginalised or the doubting. Indeed he once famously said:
“The institutions that claim to represent God, when they are not ignored altogether, are treated like other human institutions that have to earn their right to a hearing by the value of what they say, and not by virtue of who is saying it. Today, authority has to earn respect by the intrinsic value of what it says, not by the force of its imposition.”
Holloway is a proponent of critical thinking in the realms of faith and rails against ill-thought through certainties and the cruelty employed by the institutional church when it deals with minorities, particularly gay men and women. Fear and ignorance frequently wins the day argues Holloway, and this is not the kind of teaching he recognises as being grounded in the words and deeds of Jesus.
My first foray into Holloway’s writings came some sixteen or so years ago when I first read ‘Dancing on the Edge’. Although I found myself at odds with a number of his assertions, I concurred with his central thesis that overcritical, even oppressive, forms of religion encourage only fear, and it is fear that is the enemy of real faith. Holloway makes a very persuasive argument that doubt is healthy and leads to a vibrant and probing faith where one should always be ‘dancing on the edge’.
Since then, Holloway’s thinking has evolved to a point beyond which I can personally identify with, but then again that is in some ways irrelevant. Holloway’s openness should be welcomed as an entry point for healthy debate among Christians (and indeed non-Christians); nothing should be beyond the scope of deliberation and doubt if we want to foster a vibrant and authentic faith.
You can listen to a BBC HardTalk interview with Richard Holloway below: