BOOK | BEYOND BELIEF | HUGH MACKAY
Beyond Belief is both a survey of contemporary Australian approaches to spirituality and a polemic tract outlining the author’s view of how God, Jesus and the Bible should be understood.
One of the most valuable aspects of the book is the strong first-person stories that Mackay collects from people who have totally or largely detached themselves from church.
A common thread that emerges in these stories is that while many people value the ethical, social or emotional aspects of Christianity (and no one is asked about leaving another religion), they have trouble with the specific beliefs.
That Mackay has intellectually, if not entirely emotionally, broken away from a conventional church background and beliefs is shown in the brief anecdotes that he gives of his staunchly devout parents.
Mackay labels himself a Christian agnostic and the book attempts to explain and justify this apparent contradiction by, as the author might put it, rescuing faith from belief.
Leaning heavily on the scripture “God is love” Mackay argues that in effect “love is God” .
Taking a subjective approach to Christian concepts, by turning the literal into the metaphoric, is one way to fortify them against the assaults of aggressive atheists such as Richard Dawkins, who Mackay disdainfully regards as almost as fundamentalist in their certainty as Bible thumpers.
Mackay propounds what begins to suspiciously sound like a creed, that of “loving-kindness”, based largely on teachings of Jesus.
He posits a type of moral psychology based around a trinity of minds – self-absorbed, moral and compassionate. The self-absorbed mind is the base or sinful nature that gets caught up in the prevalent materialism and happiness obsession of contemporary Western society, which Mackay has long railed against.
In terms of reinterpreting the Christian message in more subjective, and perhaps rationally acceptable, ways there is probably not much that is new in this book.
However, it is a sincere grappling with these issues, firstly by a group of thoughtful interview subjects, but eventually more elementally by the author.