Mark Vernon – England

Linked with Neither a borrower, nor a lender be.

Mark Vernon is a writer, broadcaster and journalist. He began his professional life as a priest in the Church of England: it may not seem an obvious step from there to journalism but writing a sermon is remarkably similarly to writing a feature; and speaking to parishoners is remarkably like talking to a microphone. His academic interests led him from physics to philosophy via theology. Michel Foucault introduced him to the ancient Greeks on friendship; he thinks that Plato has it just about right on that one at least. He has a PhD from Warwick University in philosophy, degrees in theology from Oxford University and Durham University, and a physics degree from Durham University … (full text).

He says:

  • “What Not To Say is about the moments in life when you are silenced – overwhelmed with embarrassment, gobsmacked, dumbstruck. Someone confronts you with a situation, and you have no idea how to respond.
  • What Not To Say takes those situations, unpacks them with philosophy, and – understanding gained – explores what’s at stake.
  • Why philosophy? Because ever since Socrates, philosophy has always been gripped by questions of life. The ancient Greeks saw it as something of an art. They understood that the moments when we are stunned or confounded – when lost for words – are some of the most valuable in life: it is then that people find themselves at the limits of their understanding of things and are ready to learn more.
  • Some of the situations considered in What Not To Say: …
  • … (full text).

Watch the video: Mark Vernon – Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life, 9 min, added May 10, 2007.


Mark Vernon – England

Two Podcasts to be listened (click in the left column of his blog):

  • What is friendship?
  • How to be an agnostic.

His Homepage.

In an uncertain age, writes Mark Vernon, we need to question our beliefs: … The idea of agnosticism sounds strange only in a culture with a lust for certainty. Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term. This other “Darwinian bulldog” never lost sight of the fact that science has its limits. His neologism was a rebuke to all those who peddle their opinions as facts in the name of religion or science. “The things one feels absolutely certain about are never true,” opined Oscar Wilde, neatly summing up the more rigorous argument of the philosopher Karl Popper, that any intellectual system which cannot doubt itself is suspect. The more the militants of the mind dominate debate, therefore, the poorer they leave us all … (full text).

Not so highly evolved, Aug. 18, 2008.

He writes about himself (on his blog): I am an English writer, journalist, and author of The Philosophy of Friendship, After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life, What Not To Say: Philosophy for Life’s Difficult Moments and 42: Deep Thought on Life, the Universe, and Everything. I used to be a priest in the Church of England, live in South London, and am an honorary research fellow at Birkbeck College, London. My new book is Teach Yourself Humanism – just out – and that will be followed in September ‘08 by Wellbeing. This is one of a new series of popular philosophy books called The Art of Living I am also editing. Do contact me: Mark Vernon.

Face to faith, August 23 2008.

He writes also: … Friedrich Nietzsche highlighted a related insight about suffering and wellbeing. He noted that times of hardship can teach people certain things and deepen their emotional lives; that is, they can improve their overall wellbeing. He put this rather well, when he pointed out that pain can be a great source of wisdom. “There is as much wisdom in pain as there is in pleasure” he wrote. Smarting can make you smarter. The “science of happiness” has been making the running in much of the public debate about the good life recently. It draws on two sources, amongst others, the academic discipline of positive psychology and the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham … (full text, September 13 2008).

Gallery Archive.

When the ways of friends converge, the whole world looks like home for an hour … quotes in Mark Vernon’s book: The Philosophy of Friendship. Mark Vernon’s book is a recent, intelligent and accessible exploration of friendship, taking its cue from Aristotle’s distinction between three kinds of friendships – those based on utility, friendship and a genuine admiration and caring for each other. Mark Vernon also has a podcast on Aristotle’s theory of friendship. (on the blog Wise Quotations).

His book: After Atheism: Science, Religion and the Meaning of Life. See also this Review.

… In his absorbing new book, Mark Vernon explains that finding happiness is not as simple as having good friends or a full social life. For Vernon, writing as a religious agnostic, the crunch issue is our ability, or inability, to find within ourselves a sense of meaning or deeper purpose, something not found in everyday life. The search for transcendence, argues Vernon, is the greatest challenge of our day … (full text).

Find him and his publications on his website; on his blog; on the Guardian; on Google Video-search; on ; on Google Book-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

… In truth, a far more subtle spirit lies at the heart of all good philosophy, religion and science. Take philosophy and Socrates. He is the father of western thought because he realised that the key to wisdom is not how much you know, but how well you understand how little you know. That is why he irritated so many powerful people in ancient Athens; his philosophy burst the bubble of their misplaced confidence. Similarly, there is the thought in religion of Saint Augustine, that to be human is to be “between beasts and angels”. He means, I think, that we are not pig ignorant like the beasts. But we are also far from wise like the angels. Faith for Augustine was about deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, and conversely, not about fleeing from it in the shallow certainties that religion can deliver. In science, it seems to me that the best sort is that which answers questions by opening up more questions, and in particular questions that are beyond science itself to answer. This is the spirit that you see at work in cosmology. On one level, cosmologists understand an extraordinary amount about the universe. But simultaneously, this only deepens the sense of the universe’s tremendousness. The science keeps pointing to the big, unanswerable question of why we here at all … (full text).

… It is hard to escape this post-mythical deadlock if you seek to move beyond literal readings of the Bible. Ms Armstrong suggests cultivating a principle of charity. This would search for new interpretations, and reject those that do not square with the great religious ethic of compassion. Yet perhaps biblical criticism itself can play a part in a renewal, too. Today, there is a tremendous sense of awe to be found in understanding the provenance of phrases such as, “A wandering Aramaean was my father” (Deuteronomy 26.5): the verse is probably a cultic confession from a Syrian tradition, so old that its origins are lost in time. Again, it is astonishing to think that Psalm 104 might have originated with the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton because of its solar metaphors for God. It is a sentiment rooted in religious prehistory. I believe the Romantic poets can help us to develop this sensibility. They looked on ancient civilisations with a profound sense of the distance between then and now. “Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity,” wrote Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Conscious of the shortcomings of modernity, not least in relation to the power of myth, they experienced this distance as a deficit. Yet perhaps it is not until we sense what is lost from the Bible to literalism that we can begin to regain it as holy scripture. Although Matthew Arnold thought that the sea of faith had receded for good, and heard “Its melancholy long withdrawing roar”, tides do turn … (full text).



Gourmet Garlic Gardens;

Sceptic Shop;

The Dalai Lama and The Interdependent Nature of Reality, May 29, 2008.

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