Ethics Matters

Ethics Matters is recommended by AQA as a resource for the Ethics element of their new A Level Religious Studies specification.  It is also recommended by Eduqas as a useful resource for students.

The Church Newspaper (available online at SUNDAY, MARCH 31, 2013 No: 6170)

Peter Vardy is well known to many involved in teaching Religious Studies. He runs popular day conferences for students in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong; he has produced a number of scholarly but accessible books on ethics and the philosophy of religion; and he has written articles for educational publications and taken part in broadcast discussions.

Now he has produced a new book on ethics in conjunction with his wife, Charlotte, who helps him to run the Candle Conferences for RS students. In ‘Ethics Matters’ the authors look at both ethical theory and at practical moral questions. Natural Law, Utilitarianism, Kantianism, intuitionism, relativism, and situation ethics are all examined before the focus falls on abortion and stem cell research, euthanasia, business ethics, environmental ethics, the ethics of warfare, and freedom and conscience.

This is a comprehensive survey that is always clear and accessible and strives to be fair to different points of view. Anyone involved in teaching RS will find this an excellent resource and it is a book that students at AS and A level should be able to use. The authors do offer their own opinions butthey do so in a way that does justice to other points of view. Although he is not a Roman Catholic, Peter Vardy was for many years Vice-Principal of Heythrop,the Jesuit college thatis part of the University of London.

This is both a disadvantage and an advantage.

It is a disadvantage in that the authors show less familiarity with works by Anglican and Protestant writers than they do with works by Roman Catholics. On environmental ethics there is no reference to the work of Richard Bauckham challenging the concept of stewardship and on abortion there is no consideration of Michael Banner’s work. The Protestant ethics of such theologians as Karl Barth, Oliver O’Donovan, James Gustafson and Stanley Hauerwas are never mentioned.

The advantage is that the authors are familiar with debates in Roman Catholic theology over such issues as natural law and proportionalism and are able to explain the issues clearly. They draw on Richard Gula’s work to distinguish between Ulpian’s approach to natural law based on how humans do behave and the approach of Gaius based on how humans should behave. St Thomas Aquinas normally followed Gaius except when it came to sex where the influence of Ulpian is apparent. Gula concludes that Aquinas’ “vacillation between the ‘order of nature’ and the ‘order of reason’ has caused great confusion in Catholic moral thought.”

There is a good chapter on natural law theory today and on virtue ethics with discussion of Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Alistair MacIntyre and Bernard Hoose (on proportionalism). In discussing utilitarianism the authors examine the work of RM Hare, Peter Singer, JJC Smart and the criticisms of Bernard Williams. Close attention is paid to Kant’s work on ethics and some modern Kantians are briefly examined. There is an interesting section on Christine Korsgard’s defence of abortion from a Kantian perspective and a short discussion of Baroness Onora O’Neill. In the chapter on Situation Ethics attention is paid to the work of Protestant theologians. William Temple, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Joseph Fletcher are all discussed.

Although only Kant receives lengthy attention the authors are adept at weaving the many people they do discuss into a coherent narrative. Potted summaries of the work of many different philosophers are skilfully drawn together to make a bigger picture. There are references to films and books to illustrate the argument in a number of places. A website offers recommendations for further reading, questions for discussion and an anthology of primary texts. There is some reference to non-Christian religions but a surprising omission is any treatment of biblical ethics.

Within the confines in which they have chosen to operate, Peter and Charlotte Vardy have written a stimulating and readable book that is likely to be widely used.

Paul Richardson

The Church Times

Freedom for the thinkers…
Posted 1- May 2013 @ 00:12
Robin Gill finds this book a place to start, if not to end.

Peter Vardy has a long and impressive track-record for giving charismatic lectures and writing clear and incisive popular books on the Philosophy of religion and ethics. Before his retirement to Australia [??? where did this come from? ed.] he was Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, and well-known for his dazzling lectures to sixth formers.

His background as an entrepreneur in business sets him apart from many other academics. He is passionate about effective communication. Now, with his wife, Charlotte, a secondary school teacher, he has written a highly readable introduction to moral philosophy. If you are puzzled by utilitarianism, natural law, moral relativist and Kantian and virtue ethics, and wish to understand them better, then this is an excellent basic introduction.

Ethics Matters is divided into four sections. The first is quite short, introducing the concept of meta-ethics and looking in turn at truth in ethics, and moral realism and relativism. The Vardys illustrate many of their discussions with brief references to films and novels. The second part is the longest, with separate discussions of natural law, utilitarianism, situation ethics and Kantian ethics. The Vardys do not commit themselves at this point to any position. Instead, they set out the strengths and weaknesses of each of these positions.

In the third part, they show how these different positions might address particular issues such as embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, business and environmental ethics, and the ethics of warfare. All of these applications are fairly brief, but they do help to show how different moral positions function.

Only in the final section do the authors come slightly off the fence. There is a brief reference to one of Peter Vardy’s previous books What is Truth? (John Hunt, 2003) reaching the conclusion that “most people are, indeed, determined – they are like prisoners in Plato’s cave… but through philosophy and coming to self-understanding they may be able to come to freedom. Freedom therefore, is an achievement which few human beings manage to realize.”

This is not, perhaps, a very inspiring conclusion, and one that appears remarkably elitist, and takes little account of grace.
That apart, this is an introduction to recommend strongly to those wishing to get some grasp on the complexities of moral philosophy. It is a good place to start, even if its own conclusion is a bit weak.

Canon Gill is the editor of Theology

The Good Book Stall

Discerning the difference between right and wrong is rarely clear cut – especially if one is at the heart of the issue in question. Ethics Matters is a hugely valuable contribution to the minefield that is ethics in today’s complex world. It will prove of enormous practical help to teachers, clergy and students, but not exclusively so. This is a book that many will enjoy and benefit from reading.

In the first two parts of the book, the Vardys consider Meta-Ethics and Normative Ethics, surveying the broad variety of approaches that philosophers have explored from Plato onwards. Their ideas are presented in a clear and engaging way, a refreshing change for those of us who remember the stultifying trek through original sources at university. In the third section of the book, the Vardys turn their attention to applied ethics and consider the application of philosophical approaches to a variety of contemporary debates.

One such debate is euthanasia. The authors begin with a clear summary of the various categories of euthanasia and then reflect on the contemporary debate along the continuum from prohibition to acceptance in the light of natural law, proportionalism, situation ethics, Kantianism and Utilitarianism.

Ethics reveals our attitudes to life, but also to death and the relationship we perceive to exist between our physical life and the possibility of life to come. Peter and Charlotte Vardy approach all these issues with a balanced openness (posing questions rather than presenting dogma) that encourages the reader to think for themselves.

This is an excellent book which, with the accompanying website resource – is highly recommended.

David Ford

from the Catholic Leader (Brisbane, Australia)

One of the formative forces in Australian Catholic education, over the last twenty years has been an English academic, Peter Vardy. He is a mixture of philosopher, theologian, author and public speaker. It is as the latter that thousands of secondary school students best know him as he tours the world explaining the intricacies of Catholic morality in an entertaining yet scrupulously honest manner. I remember, going back about six years, tutoring a senior student from one of our most prestigious girls’ schools. When I arrived at her house after her day in class, her usual, tired, anxious manner was replaced by a vibrancy I had not seen from her before. She told me of a school visit by a speaker who had brightened not only her day, but her whole attitude to life. She identified this wonder man as Peter Vardy. Having already being familiar with his work, her words only confirmed my own experience; but it was even more significant that this accolade came from a worldly teen who, until that moment, showed minimum interest in any kind of study, let alone matters of the spirit.

“Ethics Matters” is a valuable guide to the Queensland Studies Authority’s Study of Religion syllabus. Parts one and two relate to the theoretical details that underpin the systematic study of morality. Basic terms, concepts and principles are explained and the moral laws that govern our actions are analysed. In part three, theory becomes practice as it is applied to all the contemporary problems with which our youth are confronted. Abortion, Embryonic- Stem Cell research, euthanasia, the environment, war, and business ethics are comprehensively analysed. The striking aspect of this content is its integrity. Again let me use an anecdote as evidence. In July of last year I had the pleasure of attending one of Peter’s conferences delivered to an auditorium of our secondary school students. As is always the case, the speaker had them magnetised by his ideas and his delightful manner. After a particularly lucid explanation of the intellectual basis for Catholic thinking on abortion, one of the young people asked if there was compelling evidence to prove that life begins at conception. Dr Vardy’s answer was an overwhelming, ”No.” I was impressed that the response was so direct and so honest. Later, as the students and teachers reflected over lunch, I heard several comment on the speaker’s honesty which they found as impressive as his expertise.

This is written in conjunction with Mrs Vardy. It would be an ideal text book to complement the QSA course in Year 11 and 12 Study of Religion. Peter will be visiting again this year. Any Catholic school will be enriched by his presence or by attending any of his presentations.

Terry Oberg. 14 January, 2014.

An enlightening guide to those moral questions that don’t go away. It should go to every politician, civil servant, teacher and bishop; not to mention the rest of thoughtful humanity!” Dr. Kenneth Wolfe, former Head of Philosophy & Religion, Godolphin & Latymer School and Director, London Society for the Study of Religions

We all think we know what is meant by right and wrong until pressed to give a plausible account of what me mean by these terms. This is where this book begins and eventually concludes. In between it offers an admirably clear account of the key strands in ethics from the classic thinkers, via the medieval theologians to the post-Enlightenment philosophers. Whether one is an for A Level student wanting a more sophisticated discussion of the ethical landscape or an undergraduate needing a very clear outline of the issues this book has the great virtue that it provides just enough to understand the scholarly debates but not so much to overwhelm.” Michael Wilcockson, A Level Chief Examiner & Head of Philosophy, Eton College, Berkshire

“Ethical theories are placed in their philosophical and historical contexts so much better than in other textbooks; set out in a more complete and interesting way whilst remaining highly accessible. This is the best introduction to Ethics at A Level bar none… ” Philippe Mathieu, Head of Divinity, The Leys School, Cambridge

The authors draw upon a wide-ranging, up to date and excellent scholarship to achieve a lucid and eloquent exposition of the subject. The book gives the reader the confidence to understand the issues and participate meaningfully in ethical dialogue.” Rev. Andrew Stead, Chaplain, Aldenham School, Hertfordshire

A most welcome book and a ‘must’ for every committed teacher and departmental library. I wish I had read it before now. Not only does it clarify theories, giving additional information but it offers valuable insights into how some ethical theories have greater similarities we have sometimes been given to understand and teach. Bright students will find this book accessible and helpful in raising grades.” Judy Grill, Head of Religious Studies, Churchers College, Hampshire

Wow! I wish I could lock myself away for a few weeks and really do justice to the book. It makes me hope to win the lotto and go off and study philosophy without the cares of the ‘job’! Throughout this book the authors explore the universal themes of truth, freedom and conscience in ethics. Even the novice philosopher will find the book accessible.” Helen Smith, Director of Mission, St. Joseph’s College, Sydney

My IB Philosophy students always find Peter Vardy’s books invaluable guides to enhance their knowledge. This new book is a ‘must have’ for all teachers and students of ethics. It is highly engaging and provides an extremely comprehensive guide which will increase the readers breadth and depth of knowledge.” Lucie Purves, Head of Philosophy, Sha Tin College, Hong Kong

” I thoroughly enjoyed it… Well laid out, thoughtfully written and clearly expressed, and provides a scholarly overview of the main three areas of ethics.” Andrew Wilkinson, Senior Tutor, Hampton School, Middlesex

For anyone wishing to wrestle with the key ethical issues of the 21st Century, ‘Ethics Matters’ is required reading. Ideal for the specialist and newcomer alike, as a stimulating, accessible guide it raises vital questions about the quality of future debate. In a world where relativism often goes untested, this book clarifies the alternatives. Our students find their own voice in this intriguing, indispensible work – highly recommended.‘ Esmond Lee, Head of Religious Studies, Trinity School, Croydon”

God Matters

Christian Encounters

The Church Times, 2nd May 2014

Peter Vardy is known for his contribution to teaching, through books and conferences for older schoolchildren. In God Matters, he and Charlotte Vardy chart A-level philosophy of religion. As suits current school teaching methods, they like to give us lists of positions for particular topics. There can be problems with this. Take their list of approaches to faith: some of the alternatives are in fact complementary. Moreover, real thinkers, especially great ones, are not easily reduced to one position. A good teacher will explore these complexities (perhaps combined with worries about whether exam assessment will repay such subtlety).

Key arguments are often presented in a boiled-down form, as a list of premises and conclusions. This offers admirable clarity, although we can lose a sense of the thinkers concerned as writers of living prose. The chapter on the “God of the Philosophers” is rather dry and fails to capture the appeal of some of the figures under discussion. What Aquinas, for instance, meant by calling God self-subsistent goodness itself cannot be reduced to the putative divine attribute of “omnibenevolence”.

Such quibbles aside, this is one of the best textbooks to have emerged in this field for years. It is a mine of well-chosen quotations, and a supporting website offers many more, at greater length. That resource will appeal to teachers, as will the multi-faith perspective. Undergraduate students of science and theology would also have much to gain from reading the first half of this book.

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is Tutor in Doctrine at Westcott House, Cambridge, and soon to be the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences at Cambridge University. His books include The Love of Wisdom: An introduction to philosophy for theologians (SCM Press, 2013).

Review by Dr Graham English, Senior Lecturer in Religious Education at the Australian Catholic University
3rd August 2013

The Irish writer George William Russell, or AE as he signed his articles, died in 1935. AE used now and then comment, ‘These days everyone is a critic.’ He meant that these days everyone has an opinion whether they know what they are talking about or not. ‘I know nothing about art but I know what I like,’ or, ‘I don’t know what I’m talking about but I am not going to let that stop me having an opinion.’

These days everyone it seems is an atheist. Here in Sydney one prominent writer in the sports pages regularly tells us he is an atheist and mocks those who for whatever reason still believe in God. He is one of those folk who whether it is relevant or not to what they are saying or doing feel the urge to assure us that they do not believe in God, much as in the 1950s folk assured us that they did not have body odour. Atheism is in fashion. Belief is not.

Peter and Charlotte Vardy are resisting the fashion.

The title and the final chapter state the Vardys’ case, God Matters. While arguing mostly philosophy they are putting the case for belief in God. It is a western philosophical account of God and why God exists and a clear, concise introduction to the philosophy of religion.

They begin by acknowledging that atheists might have a case at least for being critical of religion. Western Christianity is in trouble. Some is of its own making what with sex abuse cover ups and the venality of some church officials and other believers. The churches have often been slow to react to change and of late seldom able to instigate good change. They are frequently unable to explain themselves and unsure of how to proceed. Often they have remained stuck with explanations of God that are no longer credible or helpful. Fundamentalist Christians do not help either. Particularly they do not help educated or rational people for whom literalism does not make sense.

Some of Christianity’s troubles come from outside and are exacerbated by the churches’ faults. The Enlightenment, evolution, revolutions, modern philosophies, general education, Freud, all the crises of the twentieth century, and now the new cosmologies have left Christians struggling to keep up.

God Matters is basically about keeping up; indeed it is about being ahead of the game. It sets out the arguments for and against and comes out firmly for belief in God.
Chesterton once wrote that if we are advertising to take a lodger into our home we need to ask the applicants, “What is your philosophy?” before we ask if they can pay the rent. God Matters, like Chesterton makes the case that what we believe is important. Belief is not just a private matter because our beliefs affect our actions. If people have sound beliefs they are more likely to act well.

God Matters sets out the different arguments and the different kinds of arguments for and against belief in God: cosmological arguments, arguments from contingency and sufficient reason, for example. The authors quote pagans from the Greek and Roman traditions, Moslems like Ibn Sina, Jewish, Hindu and Christian thinkers like Aquinas who have been believers and they deal with the arguments against belief by philosophers and others who question the arguments for belief in God.

A feature of the book is that they engage a generous collection of thinkers. This book takes its readers seriously. A student reading God Matters will be introduced to many serious thinkers, believers and non believers either in the text or as introductions to the chapters. Those thinking students who follow up on people and ideas will find this text enriching and exciting.

The authors do not fear people who differ from them and they always present them fairly. God Matters is never tendentious and unlike some of the modern atheists, Richard Dawkins springs to mind, it does not set up straw men or Aunt Sallies to easily destroy. It takes all the arguments and theorists seriously. God Matters is in short an invitation to serious thinking about belief and religious experience.

The authors are good teachers. They are set on teaching their readers how to argue – they are teaching people how to philosophise – not unlike an old fashioned apologetics book but it is different in that it is not sectarian. It seeks to have students engage in a conversation rather than a debate and it introduces them to thinkers eminently worth conversing with. The summaries at the end of each chapter help too.

I have two quibbles with God Matters. ‘Choosing not to live a religious life effectively rules most people out of developing in faith’ it says. This is arguable. It is possible to be seeking God without living a religious life. People who do believe in God sometimes come to belief in all sorts of ways.

And a bigger quibble, I find the conclusion, ‘God Matters!’ unconvincing especially as the book has been a reasoned and reasonable text all the way through. The authors are sure that if God does not exist ‘then human beings seem like robot vehicles’ and ‘in the end it is hard to see how life really matters.’ I can understand how this is their opinion but it is not my experience. For Plato philosophy starts with ideas and for Aristotle it begins with experience. Whether it be temperament, training or what, I am essentially on Aristotle’s side and I know atheists who are neither robot vehicles nor hopeless. Perhaps if no one believed their scenario would come to pass but we cannot know that.

I recommend this book for anyone interested in religion and thinking but especially for teachers of religion who have intelligent students, whether they think they are atheists or believers, and for sports writers who think they are atheists but seldom know or take the trouble to find out what intelligent believers are talking about.

Dr Graham English spent forty six years working in Religious Education: teaching primary and secondary schools, writing policy and text books in a Catholic Education office, and finally for sixteen years working in the School of Religious Education at Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

Review by Dr Paul Rout OFM, Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion at the University of London, 7th August 2013

Works by Peter Vardy within the field of Philosophy of Religion have been very well received by Year 12 and 13 students, their teachers and many others for the past 25 years. This latest work, God Matters, by Peter and Charlotte Vardy, will be no exception. Peter is regarded as one of the leading experts on Religious and Values Education in Britain and Australasia. When he writes on the Philosophy of Religion, he seeks to draw his readers into critical dialogue with the latest and best philosophical and religious thinking concerning major issues within the field. God Matters amply succeeds in achieving this.

God Matters skilfully illustrates the value of seeking to gain new insights into the present by reflecting on the wisdom of the past. The work examines all of the traditional issues within the Philosophy of Religion – Arguments for the Existence of God, Religious Experience, Religious Language, God’s Action, Prayer, Miracles, the Problems of Evil and Suffering – clearly setting out the varying points of view while at the same time adding new background information which certainly assisted this reader in making a more nuanced evaluation.

What really interested me about this book was its willingness to delve into the exploration of new areas of controversy and debate, which any course in Philosophy of Religion should not ignore in today’s world. We find sections on God and the New Physics, Evolution and Fine Tuning, Quantum Reality, Parapsychology. We are also introduced to the thought of recent thinkers who, in one way or another, have impacted powerfully upon our contemporary world – Wittgenstein, the school of Logical Positivism, Neils Bohr, Einstein, Stephen Hawkings, Richard Dawkins, James Lovelock, to name only some. As in the rest of the work, their basic approaches to the question under discussion are clearly outlined, leaving the reader with the necessary information to come to a clearer and more critical assessment of the issue. The employment of concise summaries and extensive extracts from primary sources works as an invaluable aid in this process.

Whether one is a religious believer or not, God Matters demonstrates that questions concerning God do matter. It additionally demonstrates that those who have entered into the challenge of critically addressing these questions have produced profound insights that are of great value for all who are searchers for truth. This book is a must-read for Year 12 and 13 Philosophy of Religion students and their teachers and will also be of great value for Undergraduate students pursuing further studies in this field.
March 9, 2014
Book review: God Matters
Sunday, March 09, 2014 | Posted by Emma

At a time when religion tends to disappear from the public sphere, the authors invite here to put again God at the center of reflection on man, truth, and the world. Their book is intended for students in philosophy or theology and anyone taking the time to think.

The emphasis is on an accurate use of terms (religion , faith, belief) and the different approach to every facet of this issue in Christian and even pre-Christian centuries. A lot examples are provided, from the great masters of Hindu, Muslim and Jewish wisdom for example, from Christian spirituality, philosophy (from the first philosophers to Alvin Plantinga in particular, often quoted), from psychology, science and the world of arts (literature, cinema). Many quotes, sometimes quite long, come from modern and contemporary Protestant authors.

The approach, very clear, intends to be very systematic and objective. Even topics such as miracles and near-death experiences are discussed. Each chapter ends with an excellent summary. One limit to the book: as for the world of Christian liturgy, only the West is taken into account, and the Eastern Christian centuries are completely ignored.

This is a good general view of the subject if you need a refresher.

God Matters by Peter and Charlotte Vardy is a clear, intelligent account of why it is reasonable and mostly a reasoned thing to believe in God even if such belief is now unfashionable. And it is a call to people to think and consider the questions about belief rather than to drift through life as if the questions are unimportant. This is a book for intelligent students who want to expand what they know of belief and unbelief. Whether they are believers or not they will find after reading God Matters that they have sounder reasons for their position and a lot more questions.” Dr Graham English (Senior Lecturer in Religious Education, The Australian Catholic University)

Another inspirational book from team Vardy and my ‘A’ Level course on a plate. Charlotte recently said to me, ‘How do you update philosophy of religion?’ Yet they have and it’s like a breath of fresh air. This is a work of genius yet totally accessible to students of all levels and all interested parties alike – it must go mainstream! Impeccably researched and covering familiar ancient and modern philosophers, lesser known but equally important ones and even quotes from people you would never have thought of – Steven Spielberg, Peter Pan et al. Each chapter is laid out logically and with full analysis and evaluation of arguments and counter arguments ending in really useful summaries. This is definitely an outstanding and truly entertaining book and a unique contribution to what has latterly been a very boring bookshelf – a HOT book not a MOT book (higher order thinking book not more of the same). Enjoy, I certainly did!” Anne Needham (Head of Religious Studies, Walthamstow Hall, Kent & Examiner, Teacher Trainer and Author)

Whether one is a religious believer or not, God Matters demonstrates that questions concerning God do matter. It additionally demonstrates that those who have entered into the challenge of critically addressing these questions have produced profound insights that are of great value for all who are searchers for truth. This book is a must-read for Year 12 and 13 Philosophy of Religion students and their teachers and will also be of great value for Undergraduate students pursuing further studies in this field.” Dr Paul Rout OFM (Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion, University of London)

Those who have read previous books by the Vardys will not be surprised to find once again their trademark clarity, straightforwardness and acessibility. What makes this book such an important addition is the range of scholarly reference and extensive quotations from thinkers ancient and modern. The explanation and contextualisation of the different scholarly approaches to the key debates in the philosophy of religion make this book valuable not only for those beginning their study of the issues, but also for those looking to be stretched and challenged beyond the limits of routine examination specifications. To provide breadth, depth, rigour and accessibility all in one introductory text is quite an achievement, but it is one that Peter and Charlotte Vardy have managed. It really is an excellent read!” Roger Meadowcroft (Head of Religion & Philosophy, The Royal Grammar School, Guildford)

Once again Peter and Charlotte Vardy have done what so many teachers find so difficult – communicated complex philosophical and theological ideas with clarity, ease and a good deal of humour. This new book concentrates on providing material for the high ability A level student – variety of perspectives and critiques feature more than pure overview. There are some particularly helpful new considerations – my own favourite is Chapter 5 God and the New Physics. Whatever your position; theist, atheist or agnostic you will find yourself challenged by this book – challenged to think and to consider a perspective other than your own; surely the raisin d’être of any good philosophy book.” Catrina Young (Deputy Headmistress, The Dixie Grammar School)

Does God exist and if so what is the nature of the Deity? What is the essence of Faith? Does God matter in our modern world? In this thought-provoking new book the widely-read Peter and Charlotte Vardy draw on their extensive knowledge of the thoughts of many of the most influential philosophers throughout the ages to the present day to provide an insight into possible answers to these questions. They also discuss the issues surrounding such concepts as Evil, Suffering and Life after death in the concept of the nature of God. I found their work to be very informative and a challenge to me to reconsider my own philosophy of life. It certainly made me think and I recommend this book to those people that are seeking a better understanding of the mysteries of life“. Diana Parsk (Chairman of the Banstead 5 Churches and RE teacher at St. Bede’s Ecumenical School, Redhill)

God Matters is a much needed and refreshing new look at the important philosophical questions raised when studying religion. It leaves the reader wanting to and able to engage in active debate with others to further their own personal understanding. Exactly what I was hoping to find for my students to encourage and stimulate learning in this intellectually rigorous and demanding subject.” Christien Bembridge (Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy, St Peter’s School, York)

The Vardys have written an impassioned book about the many topics of the Philosophy of Religion. The reader is treated to the usual philosophical greats but also to more modern scholars on each subject, thus one feels as if one is really at the forefront of contemporary thought on these matters. The Islamic and Jewish slants combined with the different Christian stances challenge readers to be inclusive in their search for the truth. Last of all, underpinning the whole book is an invitation to think again about the title that God Matters! I did!‘ Sarah Allen (Teacher of Religious Studies, Bootham School, York)

The Vardys are gifted communicators and many have benefitted from their excellent conferences. Now they have transferred their high standard of scholarship into this book and, as ever, all ideas are presented with clarity and precision. In a sea of introductory books, this is a very welcome development – an incisive text which will stretch and challenge those looking for the higher grades. ‘God Matters’ will prove to be the ‘go to’ book for both the seasoned teacher and the enquiring young philosopher. ” Tim Madeley (Assistant Vice Principal and Director of VI Form, Carmel College, Darlington)

This book is the embodiment of the authors; engaging and intellectually stimulating! It is presented in a style which is not unnecessarily complicated and absorbs the reader; the clarity with which it is written makes it an invaluable resource. The depth and breadth of research allow students to encounter the rich tradition of philosophers who have engaged with the question of God. Whether readers are believers, noncommittal or non-believers this book’s honesty will appeal, as it is authentic to the intellectual discourse around the quest for God.” Gerard McNulty (Religious Education Coordinator, Mount Carmel College, Hobart)

An inspiring, engaging read that promotes enquiry, a perfect springboard from which to launch an essential journey to contemplate truth. In short, I found it engaging and accessible with essential pointers to promote further enquiry for the more able.” Janet Thomson (Vice Principal & Head of RE, Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone)


Peter is the author of many other books, ranging from the SPCK Introduction to Kierkegaard (2008) to Being Human (2003). Theology wrote that “Peter Vardy is a gifted communicator. He is the best popularizer of the philosophy of religion currently working in Britain.” Here follows some reviews relating to his other work…

“The Puzzle of Christianity” HarperCollins (2016)

Glenn Myers rated it 5*

Apart from the title — which more to do with the author’s brand than what’s actually inside the book — this is a clear, illuminating, irenic introduction to the Christian faith. It steers admirably away from a sectarian party line and respects critical scholarship while also realizing that critical scholarship can itself be criticized and is anyway often a long way from the lives and preoccupations of actual Christians.

Many opponents of Christianity prefer to criticize straw men (?persons) rather than the real thing, which is usually better thought out, more nuanced, more aware of its own failings and rather harder to dismiss with a single rhetorical swipe. Vardy’s picture includes the warts, but I think it’s a fair and deeply attractive portrait of the past and present of Christianity.

In our (Anglican) church we are seeing a number of Chinese academics adopt the Christian faith; this text will serve very well as a fine, just, heart-warming introduction to the wider context of what they are getting themselves into.


‘This book is a “must read” for all students of Religious Studies. If we are honest, in a postmodern world, most teachers have only a shallow understanding of Christianity. Fortunately, Peter Vardy comes to the rescue with this masterpiece. It is clear and absorbing.’
– Peter Mothersole, Head of R.E., Truro High School for Girls

‘An essential requirement for all those engaged with the new GCSE and A-Level Religious Studies. I defy any student or teacher not to be gripped by this book!’
– Jacinta Bowe, Head of R.E., St Mary’s Shaftesbury

‘A clear, intelligent, accessible, informed and balanced account of the puzzle of Christianity.’
– Fr Frank Brennan SJ, Professor of Law, ACU

‘A mini-encyclopedia of the Christian faith, which will be of enormous help not only to those studying in schools, but also to adult readers.’
– Archbishop Peter Carnley, former Anglican Primate of Australia

Good and Bad Religion

MOT for religions

 The Church Times, 10 MAY 2011

PETER VARDY’s new book is an admission to the new atheists that much religion is indeed bad, and that, rather than rush to defend faith, believers should use this criticism as an opportunity to root out the bad.

For Vardy, a feature of “good” religion cannot be that it has the “truth”, as that is a claim that will also be made by demonstrably “bad” religions. Vardy proposes that we judge the goodness (or not) of religion against Aristotle’s notion of human flourishing and to the virtues which characterise this alignment. Vardy identifies three ways in which “bad” religion limits human flourishing: authority, at least of the kind that opposes independent thought and encour­ages unquestioning obedience; fundamentalist readings of sacred texts; and the fear of science and philosophy.

“Good” religion promotes justice, freedom, and equality. Abraham’s appeal to God to spare Sodom if righteous people could be found was an appeal to justice and made Abraham “good”. Furthermore, for humans to be responsible for their actions, they must be free to choose them. Vardy discusses religious education, noting that, in a British educational context, faith schools are good if they are also teaching religions other than their own, and allow children the freedom to “question accepted orthodoxy without fear of criticism”. Religious education at Anglican schools passes this test; some Islamic schools do not.

On his concern for equality, some readers might dismiss Vardy as too liberal. But his concern is for “human flourishing”, and he is willing to admit that, when concern for equality leads to a concern to “have it all”, “women’s interests as mothers and, even more, the interests of their children, are not well-served.” On homosexuality, Vardy’s instinct seems to be for gay rights, but he allows that, even if religions hold that homosexual behaviour is sinful, it is only “bad” if they force those views on others.

If all of this seems a little tepid, it is because Vardy is not quite able to balance the right of religions to proscribe sin against the need for agape-love and tolerance. But who is? What Vardy is able to offer is a sensible baseline of goodness: if you are open to an honest examination of your view, you are on your way to good religion. It is easy to condemn al-Qaeda, but harder to admit that some of the seeds of extremism may exist in our own traditions.

Vardy offers certain rules for judging between the good and bad. Some will be disputed and tend at times to be hard to distinguish from secular humanism, but for those looking for this argument to be had on terms sympathetic to faith, Vardy’s book will be welcome.

Dr Ronan J. Head teaches religion and philosophy at Loughborough Grammar School.

SPCK Introduction to Kierkegaard (2008)

“An astonishing feat. . . . Vardy forms a compelling reading of [Kierkegaard’s] life and his thoughts for any student of philosophy or those simply seeking to reach an adequate understanding of the philosopher.”- Suresh Vythylingam, Southwestern Journal of Theology

An Ariadne for a difficult Dane

The Church Times, 17 FEBRUARY 2009

TO SUCCEED, a text introducing a philosopher should provide a clear and accurate account of its subject, and yet also coax the reader into wrestling with the thinker’s writings first hand. Few subjects, then, are more challenging than Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55); for his aim, as Vardy puts in the opening sentence, is to “. . . strip you, the reader, naked at two in the morning, to sit you in front of a mirror and to force you to think about your life”.

Yet even that process of being stripped is made more uncomfortable; for the Dane is a master of indirect communication. Most of his writing is channelled through a number of pseudony­mous characters (including Johannes Climacus, Constantin Constantinus, Victor Eremita, and Judge William) to propagate views at odds with those of the author. Novices finding their through the resulting labyrinth require an experienced guide.

Peter Vardy, whose name will be familiar to anyone involved in teaching religious studies to sixth-formers, does a masterful job. He takes the reader through this demanding corpus of philosophical and theological writing with confidence, correcting common simplifications (that Kierkegaard should be seen as the “Father of Existentialism” or that he was contemptuous of women) and providing pertinent contemporary illustrations (e.g. Harry Potter, The Truman Show) en route.

Mercifully, despite plenty of potential fodder, he spares us the spectacle of trying to “explain” Kierkegaard’s thinking with reference to his putative psychology. Instead, in a sympathetic but fair account, he places his various writings in the context of his Lutheran heritage and his robust engagement with Kant and Hegel. This is an excellent introduction to an important and influential Christian thinker who deserves to be read by the upcoming generation, albeit with some trepidation.

The Revd Duncan Dormor is Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge.


“Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard gets a refreshingly clear and concise introduction in this latest book from Vardy, author of three The Puzzle of … books (God ; Sex ; Ethics ). The author’s skill as a teacher is apparent, as he manages not only to render the themes and intellectual characteristics of Kierkegaard’s theology accessible to general readers but also to elicit sympathy for the occasionally off-putting and morose Dane. Dedicated to “that solitary individual” to whom Kierkegaard aimed his own writings, this book makes the 19th-century philosopher’s explanation of a faith lived in the face of the absurdity of the incarnation engaging and sensible. Some thoughtful Christians will find it inspiring. Drawing from a variety of Kierkegaard’s writings, Vardy shows how Kierkegaard’s principled and uncompromising definitions of truth and sin, his understanding of the function of suffering and his view of love and the God-relationship are all crucial to understanding the Danish thinker’s intellectual arguments and personal sense of purpose. Although this introduction cannot treat Kierkegaard’s works exhaustively, it succeeds in making his key ideas come to life and gives the primary sources valuable context.” – Publishers Weekly

“An accessible introduction to one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century. Peter Vardy makes Kierkegaard’s often complex and difficult thinking accessible to a wide audience… If you’re a Kierkegaard lover, nothing makes you cringe more than seeing all the simplistic, far-too-abridged, usually-off-the-mark condensations and interpretations of his massive corpus (especially those that try to systematize it!). Thankfully, in Vardy’s case, there is cause for jubilation. His Introduction fares well indeed by teasing out SK’s key thoughts, mood, and contributions, but without ever reducing it to anything so terribly un-Kierkegaard as a system! For those who don’t know SK at all but want to, this will now easily be my first recourse.”- American Theological Inquiry

“Vardy’s An Introduction to Kierkegaard is basic, but he is full of passion and excitement about Kierkegaard that his world and thoughts come alive for the reader. . . . Vardy’s writing style is very attractive, as he regularly draws modern illustrations . . . to demonstrate some aspect of Kierkegaard’s thought or argumentation. Also, his work is not only descriptive, but he sometimes corrects false notions of this philosopher. . . . If you are like me, finding philosophers dense and difficult to comprehend, I commend this book to you. Vardy has brought this great thinker to my level without too much reduction, a feat not accomplished by many theologians.”- Nijay K. Gupta, Ashland Theological Journal

“A fine primer. [A] highly readable [survey] that demonstrate[s] the abiding relevance of the peculiar insights and penetrating critiques that abound in Kierkegaard’s complicated corpus. Perhaps [its] greatest . . . strength is that [Vardy] read[s] Kierkegaard as Kierkegaard wanted to be read.”- Bruce P. Baugus, Calvin Theological Journal

Being Human: Fulfilling Genetic and Spiritual Potential (2003)

Eileen Thompson, Sea of Faith in Australia, March 2006

My appetite to read this book was whetted at the Grafton Festival of Philosophy, Science and Theology. Peter Vardy, Vice-Principal of Heythrop College, University of London, spoke on ‘The Challenge of Being Human’. This fed my interest in the phrase in the Nicene Creed, ‘And became fully human’. Being Human examines the implications of life for human beings in the 21st Century.

Vardy begins with the challenge of the ancient Greek philosophers’ question: How shall we live? And for us, how shall we live now in the 21st century?

The first section of the book defends the idea of a common human nature and discusses the consequences of genetic engineering. A brief summary of the history of philosophy as ‘society changed’ leads Vardy to speculate about postmodernism and its meaning for human life. If there is no meaning or truth to be discovered, no absolutes or rocks of society in the constant sea of change, how can people function? How can they live in a world of meaninglessness, with all the implications that has for morality and ethics, i.e., for people living together in community?

He suggests that the uses of genetic engineering for ethics attempts to answer Don Cupitt’s book, The Sea of Faith with its postmodern agenda of truth as a human construct created in particular communities. Answering the old question, ‘How should we live?’ raises the question of the commonality of a single human nature for human beings.

The next question, ‘What is it to be human?’, explores human potentiality within the possibility of genetic engineering to correct physical defects. And what about the physical enhancement of humanity? Challenges indeed!

Part 2 focuses on what it means for a person to become a self, to fulfil his or her potential in the face of widespread diversity and meaninglessness.

I accepted Part 1 as interesting and important information but I admit I was more attracted to Part 2 and the personal issues. The notion of ‘becoming fully human’ leads to the question, ‘Who am I?’ Exploring answers in the personal realm is more difficult than in the physical one. The unmasking of the self soon raises the context of the self in community and the consequent ethics.

Like Socrates, Vardy invites his readers to wake from sleep. He notes the fear of postmodernism imposing values that could destroy local cultures and considers rather the importance of a global hegemony overall.

Following a chapter called ‘Anguish, Despair and Possibility’ there is one headed ‘Moving beyond the Dragon’ where Vardy claims a religious perspective on life always requires a transcendent dimension to human existence and he applies this proposition to the questions in the earlier chapters of this section of the book, such as moving beyond despair to a path for individuals to realize their full potential. Were such answers enough for the whole society? Did the religious perspective really offer hope, wisdom and insight? Could wisdom measure accountability and to what or to whom? These are the sort of questions with which the writer wrestles. Vardy recognizes that the traditional vision of humanity requires a new approach to ethics to acknowledge the claims of the postmodernism of the 21st Century and the genetic engineering challenge.

Looking at the claims of religion that individuals are ultimately accountable for themselves to a higher authority than self or community leads Vardy back to the long Western Philosophy tradition and the expansion of this over time as knowledge was bringing communities together. This leads on to contemporary postmodernism which he points out is already giving way to commitments to justice and valuing the Other in people.

So what is Vardy’s way forward? On top of the possibilities of enhancing individuals with genetic engineering something more is needed for individuals to live a fulfilled human life with a sense of personal responsibility to the world and its people. Reason is not enough. In addressing the human condition he would have Philosophy pursue wisdom in all areas of knowledge and experience.

Vardy knows there is no proof that life is not meaningless or that there is any transcendent Other. He notes that all world religions hold to the idea of a transcendent reality or, as in Buddhism, firm ethical roots based on the idea of a common human nature and the need to live an accountable life. He says:
The spiritual path and the becoming fully human are viewed by all religions as two sides of the one coin. It is in the unpacking of this claim into the formulation of ethical rules by different religions that variation occurs. The common ground, based on the idea of a single nature … may well be where true wisdom is to be found.

What he offers is a way ahead for life on earth bound by common humanity. This takes us back to the introduction to Part 1. The ancient Greek philosophers considered the question ‘How shall we live?’ to be the most important one of all. We are not only no nearer to finding an answer but have forgotten the question.

This, like all of Peter Vardy’s books, is well worth reading to guide us in asking the old everlasting questions of who we are and what are our responsibilities to the world and its people.