‘Faith’ means faith. Doubt is not faith. Faith is not seeking but finding. Real Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Jewish believers are being patronised by kindly agnostics who privately believe that the convictions of those they patronise are delusions. A lazy mish-mash of covert agnosticism is being advanced in defence of religion as a social institution. But ‘whatever floats your boat’ is not the wellspring of Judaic belief. The God of the Gap is not the God of Islam. Jesus did not come to earth to offer the muzzy comforts of weekly ritual, church weddings and the rhythm of public holidays.
This does capture what a lot of us love about the Church of England. The question is, does it capture what Jesus Christ asks — requires, commands — of His followers?
One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy.
Beware (I would say to believers) the patronage of unbelievers. They want your religion as a social institution, filleted of true faith. It is the atheists, who think this God business matters, who are on your side.
As an unbeliever my sympathies are with fundamentalists. They seem to me to represent the source, the roots, the essential energy of their faiths. They go back to basics. To those who truly believe, the implicit message beneath ‘never mind if it’s true, religion is good for people’ is insulting. To those who really believe, it is because and only because what they believe is true, that it is good. I find David Cameron’s remark that his faith, ‘like Magic FM in the Chilterns, tends to fade in and out’, baffling. If a faith is true it must have the most profound consequences for a man and for mankind. If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote the rest of my life to finding out.
As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.
For those of you unfamiliar with recent religious history, this filleting is exactly what has happened to a variety of Protestant denominations starting mainly in the 50's and 60's. It really does not matter what someone else thinks if something is true.