‘Believers and Doubters’: It’s an intriguing title for a radio programme, and I was hooked. It compelled me to think more deeply about what it means to ‘inhabit’ faith in a world populated by many and varied competing ideas. It even had Billy Graham in it.
It was on BBC 4 Extra on a new series of the ‘TED Radio Hour’ strand (link at end) – neither hosted by someone called Ted, nor about bears; though some probably think featured speaker Alain de Botton quite cuddly. It featured a spectrum of viewpoints: atheist de Botton who envisions a creative future where we adopt the best that religion has to offer, packaged in a thoroughly secular box; veteran American evangelist Billy Graham; a female comedian whose childhood was subjected to an unfortunate volley of parental soundbites destined to put her off belief; a female Muslim with an appealingly nuanced view on doubt and faith; and an Indian chap clearly steeped in eastern thinking about the impermanence of all things and the relativity of all viewpoints: ‘what’s true for you’.
It can be disconcerting and even disorientating to be immersed in such a multiplicity of views held by intelligent people. It obliges you to question your own viewpoint. No bad thing, even if you do feel like a little boat straining to regain your moorings.
A few things said immediately struck me as shallow and not thought through. The idea that the Old Testament God is an insecure character, wanting everyone to like him. A caricature born of expecting God to be just like us (assuming God to be real, he/she’s clearly in a different category from us humans, and might just be worthy of worship!). De Botton’s unexamined notion that religious doctrine can just be dismissed as fantasy. The Indian’s view that there are no objective grounds for truth.
I was struck by their confidence in their views. Which gets me thinking about how I inhabit faith in this environment of ideas. On the one hand, yes I remind myself of my own grounds for confidence. At the heart of it, absorption in a captivating drama… that reveals ultimate Reality as personal, loving, becoming one of us, and engaged in a grand mission to restore us to spiritual relationship from our alienated state. With resurrection in there to cap it all. Appealing to heart and head and reaching parts of each of us I venture to believe no other doctrine can.
At the same time, I don’t hold convictions with blind immutable certainty. Christian faith feels to me more like an adventure and a journey, with humility being an essential piece of ‘kit’. If I want others to consider my point of view deeply and fairly, I need to do the same for theirs. I’m also free to acknowledge and explore questions – not feel obliged to hide them under the carpet.
I’m gonna keep travelling. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08h1j7d