Posts Tagged 'religion'

Belief

I am departing from my usual themes of literature and language, because I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins’ book “The God Delusion”. The very fact that I even opened this book will, no doubt, condemn me in the eyes of many – particularly, I suspect, those who have never read the book themselves. It is a knee-jerk reaction of the fervently religious to attack, blindly, anything which questions – or, still worse, threatens to undermine – their particular faith and beliefs.

Dawkins, of course, does not have it in for any one religion; he has it in for all religions. As a convinced Darwinian, he sees them as an aberrant phenomenon in the evolution of the human species – one that, hopefully, we will eventually discard; particularly if we can learn to stop indoctrinating our children before they are old enough to think for themselves.

I grew up in the Christian England of the 1930s – before mass immigration had changed ours into a ‘multi-cultural’ society. My parents were not particularly devout, but I was christened and went to Sunday school and, later, joined the Youth Fellowship. In due course I was confirmed and grew into a convinced Christian, taking my faith very seriously. For me, in that place and at that time, the word ‘religion’ meant Christianity. One knew, vaguely, that there were people in other parts of the world who had different beliefs; but one lumped them together under the general term ‘heathens’, and comforted oneself with the thought that there were missionaries who would eventually bring them to their senses.

Then, in my twenties, I started to travel. I went out to the Far East to work, and found myself confronted – and out-numbered – by people who had belief-systems totally alien to my own, and who, in each case, were clearly convinced that theirs was the only true religion. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Parsees, Taoists – these were not benighted heathens, but often highly cultured and intelligent people. A thought began to grow in my mind: “We can’t all be right; so maybe none of us is right!” I tried to persuade myself that perhaps the Ultimate Truth was only revealed partially, in different ways and at different times, and that there might be validity in all religions. But in the end this didn’t wash, and I became more and more certain – after many years of thought – that, far from God creating Man in his own image, it was actually the other way about.

One problem remained, though: how, I asked myself, does one explain the moral sense – the belief that certain behaviours are ‘good’ and others ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ – if there is no God? I am rather proud to say that, long before I read Dawkins, I came to the same conclusion as he does: that the source of the moral sense is, ultimately, genetic; that it can exist without the need for religious belief. It follows, it seems to me, that where a religion ‘lays down the law’ on what is good and evil, it is generally merely codifying something that is ‘built in’ to our collective psyche anyway.

This, then, explains briefly why I am a humanist and an atheist. I cannot do it with the elegance and thoroughness of a Richard Dawkins; but I am persuaded by him that I should have the courage of my convictions and declare my beliefs.

“But,” you may say, “you are an atheist. You have no beliefs.” On the contrary, I believe in many things: in the wondrous complexity of the world we have inherited; in the imponderable vastness of the universe; in the limitless potential of the human mind and imagination; and in the possibility that humankind will one day outgrow the need to do terrible things in the name of religion.

More can be read about Dawkins’ views on richarddawkins.net.

Playing God!

Right – no more travel and anthropology for a bit. Perhaps my blogging would be more successful if I stuck to one theme, instead of jumping around all over the place. Anyway, here are some thoughts on a very different topic:

I have just returned from a short tour, performing the role of God the Father in a modern passion play. It took the form of a series of conversations between the Father and the Son, leading up to the climax on Golgotha and then the first Easter. We played it as rehearsed readings, mainly in churches but, on one memorable afternoon, to some of the inmates of a high-security prison.

Although I was raised in the Christian tradition, I am not myself a believer, and I approached the role as an actor, concerned to portray the part that the author had written with as much truth and sincerity as I could muster. I did not feel (and, as it happened, nor did the author) that it was necessary for me to be a practicing Christian in order to participate – any more than one would need to be an actual murderer to play, say, Macbeth.

And the play worked, very powerfully. There is an almost tangible silence that an actor can feel when an audience is totally engrossed and listening hard, and we felt it, every time. And the silence at the end was more telling than any amount of polite applause. In discussion afterwards it was clear that the audiences had gained new insights – above all into the essential humanity of Jesus as he wrestled with his doubts and fears.

So – it was a rewarding experience for me, as an actor; and  – who knows? – it may well have been my last role. Few actors know when, or whether, the next job will materialize, and at my age the future is even less certain. Still, if it does prove to be my last, I have at least finished on a high! Time to come back to earth now . . .

Blogging in vain!

What, for heaven’s sake, does one have to do to get one’s blog read? My posts hitherto have not, I think, been badly written. Some have been mildly provocative, a few even (I hope) amusing; yet they are seen by only a handful – if that.

So what do I have to do? Write with bad grammar, eccentric spelling and no punctuation? Make outrageous statements about politics or religion (and run the risk of attack and abuse from fanatics with opposite views)? I’ve tried the odd photograph, without getting any reaction – which is perhaps not surprising if only three people see it. And I can’t bring myself to give a detailed account of what I had for breakfast.

Should I be wide-ranging in my topics, or should I specialise (sorry, USA – specialize) in some narrow field?

I feel like screaming “My blog is at least as interesting as thousands of others which seem to be well viewed. For God’s sake, you f***ers, come and have a look – and say something!”

But I suppose a cry for for help is pointless; no-one will read the bloody thing anyway.

Hindu temple

Time for another photograph, I think. This is a section of a shot I took of an Indian temple in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The amount of detail in these figures is amazing – all of them, I presume, representing stories from Hindu mythology. There is an echo of European art of the Middle Ages in the way the more important personages are shown larger than the minor figures.

Looking up . . .

Feeling brighter today. A copy of my book (at present the only copy in the world, I think) arrived in the post, so I can actually believe in its existence at last. (More copies are being printed as I write). And today a local paper rang up and asked for an interview. Another confirmed that they are running the story as written in my press release. Many friends have written, promising to buy a copy. So perhaps I was despondent too soon.

Had a discussion on religion today – with a friend of whom I am very fond, though we are at opposite poles. She examines everything from a position of Belief, and will bend whatever she hears or reads to make it conform with that belief. I start from a position of Scepticism, based on a suspicion that Man created God in his own image rather than the other way round. Still, I try to keep an open mind, and I enjoy our debates.

Enough philosophy for today, I think.


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