Counterfactual Theological Conversations

Here is a fun game (and not a pointless one - honest).

Imagine two great thinkers from different periods of time or different locations in the world. People who never met who may not know of each other (though one may know about the other). Then imagine how their conversation might go were they both to be whisked out of their time-stream for a few hours to have a discussion about interesting issues. How might those conversations go? How might it change the thinking of each thinker?

So who would you like to meet up? The possibilities are limitless. Let's throw in some theological people into the mix

- Wittgenstein and Augustine
- Aquinas and Kant
- St Paul and Simone Weil
- the author of John's gospel and Umberto Eco
- Irenaeus and Paul Ricoeur

Or imagine one person such as St Paul and think up a whole load of people that they could have fascinating conversations with

- Jeremiah
- John Chrysostom
- Muhammad
- Luther (I'd love to hear that one!)
- Julian of Norwich
- Karl Marx
- Charles Darwin
- Sigmund Freud

Clearly one can only make a plausible guess at how the conversations might go if one was immersed in the thought of both thinkers. And even then it is only our imaginative guess at how the conversation might go. I can imagine different experts seeing the conversation very differently (who gets the write the Paul and Luther discussion?).

So why bother?

I guess that there are many benefits to such counterfactual theological discussions not least of which is that you have the privilage of immersing yourself in the thinking of interesting, historically situated persons.

Here is another: I think that is good training for our own theological reflection. We do not seek to simply copy those who have gone before us. This locks us up in the past and makes us unable to engage fruitfully with our own context. We seek to learn from past masters but to bring their ideas into dialogue with others that they may never have known about. We are, in effect, asking how X might have responded to such ideas if s/he had been given the opportunity. We are wondering if the intellectual resources of one thinker might prove unexpectedly fruitful when cross-fertilised with another thinker. When you enter into a dialogue you never quite know what is going to come out of it.

Which leads to me another reason for doing this. It is extraordinarily hard to have a good stab at imagining such a discussion but I think that it could be really good fun.

So who would you like to have meet up and discuss ideas? Why?


My vote: Moses, the Fourth Evangelist, and Athanasius.

Keep on writing!
Oh, and I would like them to all share their thoughts on the Nicene Creed!
Robin Parry said…

Oh YES! Esp on the Nicene creed. My guess is that Paul would be fine with what it says but concerned about what it does not. I think that he would be astonished that it seeks to tell the story of salvation as if Israel was almost irrelevant.

Robin Parry said…
Here's my guess:
Athanasias would be OK with Nicea (of course).
Moses would not (see above on Paul and the story of Israel). He'd need some updating on the salvation history plot and he'd need to see it told in a earliest church way rather than an early church way.
John - not sure. I'll say of him what I said of Paul but I don't know

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