St Peter's 13-18
I enjoyed Father Daniel’s Chapel address yesterday on Chinese religion linked to the occasion of Chinese New Year and I finished yesterday at the annual Stargazing Event followed by a lecture on Cosmology by a world expert, arranged by Mr Parr as part of the public lecture programme. The connections between the two struck me as both reflect the human desire to seek meaning and understanding to life and existence and that in turn links to the ISSP series of master-classes exploring what it means to be human.
A couple of years ago I visited Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in south-west China. Among many other things it is the place where the Chinese religion of Daoism originated and is also home to panda reserves, which it was a delight to visit. In considering questions of existence, I rather think that pandas have got it made in that they seemed remarkably happy, living benign lives of eating and relaxation and it is impossible to look at a panda without smiling. Many of you will have seen the Kung Fu Panda films and just outside Chengdu is Mount Qincheng, the home of Daoism which is covered in temples and many steps stretching up the paths connecting them together. Exactly the ones seen in the films and after a day spent climbing up and down them I felt just like Po when he says, ‘My old enemy, stairs.’
The films give a somewhat simplistic view of Daoism’s search for understanding the meaning of life through accepting that not all answers are neat and that from time to time we must, in the words of Master Shifu, ‘Listen to the universe’.
And last night’s lecture on cosmology likewise reflects a search for understanding of the universe and its origins which for most humans is bound up with questions of meaning, purpose and origin. Those of you who have studied the cosmological argument for the existence of God will know that it ultimately comes down to the question – where did it all come from? Knowing what happened a nano-second after big bang is amazing but knowing what happened a nano-second beforehand and where the matter in the universe came from would be, perhaps literally, the holy grail. And atheists can argue that it is possible to feel a sense of meaning and purpose without a God or Gods to explain the system. Richard Dawkins, one of the most prominent atheistic scientists argues just that in his book ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’.
So from lectures on cosmology, to the ISSP masterclasses and Fr Daniel’s address by way of Kung Fu Panda. A good reminder to us that we should embrace the uncertainty and do not let it stop us from considering questions of meaning and purpose. In doing so, we can draw on the best of thinking from all cultures and across time. As Aristotle and Goethe wrote, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ and ‘If you cannot draw on thousands of years of human history, you are living from hand to mouth’ and to those who celebrated Chinese New Year recently, with apologies for my poor Cantonese and Mandarin, “Gong hei fat choy" and "gong she fa tsai".