As well as posting here to think about my spiritual journey – indeed, more importantly than posting here – I’m trying to take time to talk to people. Friends especially, but also family, even the occasional colleague or stranger. And this week one of my best friends, who’s read some of my posts here and with whom I’ve exchanged a few emails since, asked me how I’m getting on. I’ve not answered yet; perhaps when I’ve managed to put a few thoughts down here I’ll send him the link by way of an answer.
The trouble is, although I’ve had a few interesting conversations that have felt useful and productive at the time, I’m rubbish at remembering much of the detail afterwards. I really should get responses recorded sooner after the event – if only to help me remember. Here would be the ideal place, I guess. For now, I’ll see what I can recap…
Prayer partners: Bob and Simon are two very dear friends and we meet weekly to pray about whatever comes up in our conversations. (Our church advocates such “Prayer Triplets”.) They’ve been among the first I’ve spoken to about my doubts and I’m quite open with them about the fact that although I’m praying with them I have no real feeling that we’re necessarily communicating with God, and that when we pray we might, in fact, simply be talking to ourselves. (In fact, one thing I have decided is to be as open as I can with anyone I talk to, especially in the church. I don’t want to play pretend.)
A few weeks ago we were thinking about what difference it would make to my life if I were to decide that Christianity is all a fallacy and I should have no more to do with it. Do you know, I couldn’t think of much. I guess I’d have some spare time, but that wasn’t the issue. The conversation focused on morals and values, and I’m fairly sure that there’d no reason mine would change greatly without my faith. Does that mean I’m a moral person at heart? Or simply that my current moral values have been shaped by twenty-five years’ exposure to Christian values? We’ve also wondered how I would feel if I were to ultimately conclude that it was all a fallacy. My response: I think I’d be embarrassed, to have potentially wasted such a long part of my life on it.
And then a couple of weeks ago, Simon and I were thinking about the the value of defining questions more clearly and whether to expect clearly defined answers (something I’ve mentioned here before, in the comments to this post). I said that I’d long ago decided that there was probably nothing that was black and white, but that everything was merely shades of grey. His immediate reaction was that there must be some matters that are black and white, specifically, either God exists or he doesn’t. But then we got speculating. Are we not traditionally content to accept various quirks of God’s existence that we can’t explain purely in terms of human understanding? That he exists outside of time, for example, is pretty hard to comprehend. The trinity. Three and one at the same time? What the heck’s that all about? (I’m told that St Francis wrote thirteen volumes on the trinity and his work can easily be summarised as “we have no idea what this means”.) Anyway, we concluded – no, that’s too strong a word, we speculated – that it’s possible that God might well exist and not exist all at the same time. A cop out? Maybe, but a good one.
My minister: Last week I met up at lunchtime with my own minister, who is very much someone who lives in the real world and not one of those clergy who you feel has no idea what life’s about. (Actually, I’ve not met many clergy who fit that stereotype, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.) Dave is one of the most real and down-to-earth people I know, and I respect him greatly. I also partly blame him for where I find myself: it was a comment of his a few years ago from the pulpit that really got me seriously questioning my beliefs in the first place. Maybe he should check his job description. We talked quite deeply about a few things, but this is the conversation that I really wish I’d written about straight away. I can recall that we talked about certain things: the nature of truth, and its relationship with faith and hope; whether the search for God and the search for truth are the same thing; whether the bible, despite all its problems, is authoritative and reliable, but for the life of me I can’t remember many details of the discussions.
I do recall that years ago he mentioned that his position – his training, reading and experience – doesn’t necessarily give him answers: it just gives him better questions. I liked that when I first heard it. I still do, but also wonder whether this is not also just a cop-out to some extent; Surely there must be some answers somewhere.
In terms of the God Delusion and its ilk, Dave held up his hands like a pair of scales and alluded to reason on one hand and faith on the other. Some people put too much emphasis on reason, at the expense of faith. Others do the opposite. Both groups get themselves in a mess as a result: the important thing is to keep a balance.
My Best Friend: Another Dave, I’m afraid, so confusing if I refer to one or the other in future. I’ve known Dave since my earliest days as a Christian, and we got to know one another in various church youth groups and the like. We were each best man at the other’s wedding and he is Godfather to my son – although I can’t help but notice that he appears to have forgotten his first birthday this week. ;o) He is also now a C of E vicar, having been ordained in a grand ceremony (rather too grand for my liking) in Exeter Cathedral last year.
We’ve not really spoken about this much, but he’s been prompting me by email in response to an earlier post and I’m sure we’ll have have an ongoing correspondence. He’s asked what kind of “proof of God’s existence” I’d be looking for. A fair question, as I’ve said that one of my questions is “does God exist?”. But I think I know that “proof” is not quite the right word. I’m after some kind of assurance that it’s not all been in vain. But a more salient question of his is this: Sounds like you’ve realised that your faith is staggering. Question is what do you want to do about it? Well, sorry Dave but I’m not sure I’m in the right place to answer that just now. Surely what I ‘want’ is going to depend on what I find along the way. I’m not going to say “I want to conclude that my faith is a load of rubbish and I’d rather be shot of it” because that would be (a) not representative of what I’m feeling and (b) rather too big a jump to make from where I am. But conversely I can’t possibly say “I want to confirm the truth of my faith and I want it to be like X (insert relevant details here)”. Either option would be presupposing what conclusions I might me aiming for, like a drug company paying for research “hoping” to prove the effectiveness of their own drug. What I want, if I am able to put it into words, is to find out which is true and live my life accordingly.
Mormons: Fret not, friends, I am not about to be poached by our Mormon brothers, but I’ve had a couple of chats with the two rather charming elders that often patrol the high street, and have read their “plan of salvation” leaflet, in which they assured me with absolute conviction I would find the truth. The reason I include them here is this: as I read their leaflet, which gives a synopsis of the Mormon theology, I found myself thinking “what a bizarre set of beliefs”. The question is why do I find my own, slightly more orthodox, beliefs any less bizzare. Dawkins gives a brilliant summary of core Christian beliefs and outlines them in such a way that anyone would react to them in the same way I did to the Mormon stuff. So what’s the difference?
Enough for now. I’ve also started to chat to my brother Russel, who was one of those who got me to read Dawkins in the first place, and a couple of colleagues but this post is far, far too long already and it’s far, far too late to continue just now. More may follow.
(In case you’re wondering, yes I have finished Darwin’s Angel. I’ll write little more about it as soon as I can remember what it said. Perhaps.)