Doubt and Faith

A random, Godless world where we are all at the mercy of chance is a terrifying place. When in a state of desperation or fear or complete abandonment, we all reach out. We all resort to prayer at some point. We have to. But is there anything there? Awful to receive a deafening silence.

Despite plummeting church attendance, there God remains, deep in our consciousness, as the last refuge. Is that a good or a bad thing? Does it mean that we are more primitive than we like to think, in this age of the machine? I won’t go so far as to say that God is the ‘last refuge of the desperate’. It’s arrogant to say that, it’s shrill and thoughtless, and it offends the tender part of me that retains fragments of my religious upbringing — and not just that. It touches upon something else — something deeper, more fundamental, something irrevocably settled and ancient, something irrevocably me, and yet not me, something immovable, something granite-like, not to be found by scratching the sub-surface of childhood memories, but to be felt, rather, in the darkest places of my soul.

Best not to disturb, probably. Or perhaps not best. I don’t know.

Is it cowardly, really, to seek a protector in troubled times? Is it intellectually lazy to look to religion? And if it is lazy, what’s wrong with that? Is there a Soul? If so, what is it? What is the human spirit?

Is it true, what they say in the Bible, basically, or are we simply hedging our bets, especially as we get older? Are we too scared by the prospect of death, in short, not to believe?

Surely it isn’t that simple.

Those of us who follow a conventional path in life have a conscious, sometimes unconscious, sense that we’re ‘doing the right thing’. We try to live good lives, and then we get hit by the proverbial ton of bricks. Something I encountered again and again years ago when counselling people who had suffered inexplicable and overwhelming loss. There was mystification, hurt, and then anger as they went through a “Why me?” stage. If people got stuck there, it was a dark place indeed. Why me? I’ve done my best. I’ve always tried to do the right thing. Therefore why has my child died? Or, why have I become ill? I don’t deserve this.

No. Of course you don’t. Who does? Life can spiral very rapidly and unexpectedly out of control, for no obvious reason at all.

There is no reason why, but we look for one, of course. We question ourselves. If only I’d done this, or that. Do you believe in karma? Perhaps, in a way, though not in that crude, literal sense. Do you believe in God? No. Well, now I think about it, now you’re asking me, I’m not sure. Certainly not in a vengeful God who punishes through loss and pain. But I’ll pray anyway, just in case.

I have no time for people who sneer at prayer, at faith. Life is hard, and faith might be all that you have in troubled times. And sometimes a set of external moral guide-lines can be helpful as a means of living well and developing our own inner moral compass. Who are we to judge?

I’m not religious, myself, though. Not quite…. I’ve never felt able to be a fully-functioning Christian, because during my childhood God became inextricably associated in my mind with judgment, with emotional brutality and being terrified out of my wits. But that is only one aspect of religion of course, albeit a thoroughly unpleasant one. And it’s hardly the entirety of Biblical message, is it? We mustn’t forget the lilies of the field, and so forth.

Looking back I can see that my grandparents, for example, and certain aunts and uncles, were guided through life and in their kindliness towards me by their traditional Free Church religious practice and faith. The attitude I think was that we are all fallible human beings, generally doing our best in a challenging world. I think they knew enough about the tougher side of life to understand that everyone deserves a second, a third and perhaps even a fourth chance. We all fall and we all need a hand up sometimes. Lord, in your mercy, guide our footsteps. Lead us back to the path.

I suppose you don’t need religion to have compassion though. And I suppose many might take issue with ‘the path’, and the teachings that define it.

It’s how the teachings are read and interpreted that is the point. I like Rowan Williams’ and Richard Holloway’s theological books. Theirs is a gentle search for how we are in the world. What is the world? Is there a world, at all? If so, what is its nature? What is our nature? Is there a self? Is their a soul? How do we live, knowing that we are mortal? How do we reconcile our own natures with those of others? Is it all right to be selfish? How do we forgive?

As I get older I’m unsure where I am in terms of religious belief. I believe that I believe ‘something’ — I’m just not quite sure what it is. I would like to hope rather than to despair, and Hope, they say, requires an object, which I’ve yet to find. Faith, of course, does not require an object. Perhaps I have faith.

I see myself as part of an organic world; humans, all living creatures, and the planet we inhabit; we are all interconnected and interdependent. That’s why in doing harm to another, we do harm to ourselves. We can only work with the natures we have and aim to make them better — which might mean making them worse for a while, as we struggle to find our true selves.

The world in recent years has become divided in a number of ways including between the secular/liberal and the crudely religious. You could of course say that secular liberalism is a religion of its own. It seems increasingly important therefore to think more carefully about religion and what it is and about God and what It is, or might be.