A year ago I wrote a piece about doubting the existence of God. It received quite a bit of traffic for a while as it seemed to hit a chord.
Many of us who have been part of an overly concreted doctrinal system of belief have struggled to acknowledge doubt. It is almost as if any small incorrect belief would form a crack in the whole edifice of faith that might bring the whole thing tumbling down. To avoid this apocalyptic end to everything we have built our lives upon we contort ourselves into all sorts of defensive positions.
In my case, this involved two main strategies-
- Do not go there. When you feel the approach of doubt, turn in the other direction. It is better not to ask the difficult questions as the answers might be too much to cope with. Distract yourself with narrower, safer issues.
- Dishonesty. Better not to talk about doubt as this might infect others as well as yourself. You also might find yourself ostracised by the fervency and inflexibility of others.
Eventually of course something has to give or we become like stagnant pools, unable to flow, unable to sustain any kind of life. Faith fixed and defended becomes something else called religion. And religion belongs in the text book not in the soul.
I was reminded of this again after listening to this from Giles Fraser;
For my own experience of faith is that belief and unbelief commonly nestle alongside each other. Indeed, I cant make any sense of a faith that doesn’t include unbelief as a powerful element. “My God, why have you forsaken me” is, after all, the cry of Jesus at the very centre of the Christian drama.
As with much that is of the soul rather than the brain, faith and doubt finds voice in poetry. Giles quotes a poem he read that forms part of a memorial for Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, murdered by a religious man because he sought peace.
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
Great little exchange on Radio 4 this morning between Richard Dawkins, Athiest missionary, and Giles Fraser. I may be slightly biased but if we were to use a tiddlywinks analogy, Fraser’s winks were more numerous in the pot.
I tried to rise above it all but that line from Fraser where he asks Dawkins to name the full title of ‘The Origin of Species’ (which he couldn’t) made me laugh out loud.
Consider this post a slightly guilty admission that if I turn the other cheek, it is whilst smirking.
You can listen again here.
Good discussion on Start the Week this morning on the radio- a kind of ‘anti Xmas’ antidote.
The discussion was kicked off by Giles Fraser, former Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral (remember Occupy-London-Gate?) who suggested that the Christian Christmas was invented by the Emperor Constantine for political, not religious, reasons. It was Constantine that started to raise buildings in celebration of the holy sites such as the supposed place of Christ’s birth.
Constantine has a mixed reputation to say the least. He is regarded by some as a Saint, whose conversion to Christianity resulted in the inherited culture of faith that we in the west still stand upon. He was a saint, however, who also boiled his wife alive in her bath, and ruled by the sword and the dagger.
And there is another way to understand the influence of Constantine- which is to see his combination of church and state as the beginning of the time when the followers of Jesus were swallowed by Empire.
A time which gave us the Nicene Creed– which takes us straight from his birth to his death, with no mention of the messy teaching in between. Jesus fulfils a function of state- making way for Empire.
And a millennia and a half later, we still try to disentangle it all.
How it is that we came to believe that followers of Jesus can live so comfortably within an Empire that encapsulates everything that he encouraged us to move away from? An Empire that promotes wealth, power and conquest above all else? That defends the strong against the weak? That exists to ensure that some people remain poor, whilst others have far too much.
It is a paradox never more obvious than around Christmas time…