Philosophy

Reviews

Christianity and Creation: The Essence of the Christian Faith and its Future Among Religions. A Systematic Theology James P Mackey New York, London, Continuum, pp. 403, £30

Michael McGhee

This is a powerful and learned meditation on Christianity by a senior Irish theologian, and the main reason it should be noticed in a journal of philosophy is that James Mackey conceives theology as fundamentally philosophical in the way it reflects on and develops our ideas about the sources and nature of being and conduct as they have been articulated in myth, symbol and poetry, as well as more abstractly in metaphysics. On this view the philosophical aspect of theology is displayed no less in the scrutiny and interpretation of that myth, symbol and poetry than in the more narrowly focussed field of natural theology as this has come to be practised by recent analytic philosophers—a field, indeed, which might well be thought, on the evidence of this book, to depend upon and be undermined by an uncritical reception of discredited readings of the imagery of the creation myth (see 381). It is appropriate—and something of a relief—that in his nuanced and compelling reflections on that myth Mackey's philosophical temper leads him to stress the importance of the creative imagination, particularly that of the poet, who is ‘the seer, the prophet, the visionary, who sees so deeply into the fabric of reality that the ways of the Creator with creation are revealed in the ensuing poetry, and with a power and a clarity seldom equalled in other forms’ (35). Indeed he opens his chapter on Creation by highlighting the importance of the metaphors and imagery which are to be his theme and by which myth is constituted and ‘reality’ mediated. He refers to them as ‘configurations through which reality first rewards the attentive, or more precisely the contemplative mind’ (29) and remarks that at its outer limit ‘imagination … ends up by telling a cosmic story, resulting in nothing less than a cosmic myth’ (ibid.). One important implication of this fertile approach is that it also requires engagement with a question about the nature of the relationship between myth and metaphysics: after all, some philosophers still incline to the view that metaphysics underwrites and validates what the poet ‘sees’. However, it provokes another question, which is at least as important, about the status of theism as itself perhaps ‘a cosmic myth’. What kind of ‘reality’ is revealed by the poet? Are ‘the ways of the Creator with his creation’ the reality (in some way independently ascertained) whose nature is revealed by the poet? Or is it, rather, that ‘the ways of the Creator with his creation’ are part of a particular configuration of images by which the poets widen our perceptions and articulate their wonder at the world of creative forces in the form of story-telling, both mythopoeic and metaphysical.