Fact over Faith: A Response

LEWIS MACDONALD tells us how he’s religious and not a “moron”.

Atheism Christian Union Church of England Lewis Macdonald religion

Almost all of my friends are atheists, which means I get quite a lot of stick for being the religious one. I’m not complaining at all – it’s usually quite funny. I was given a life size cardboard cut-out of Jesus for my 20th birthday which I had to carry all the way home on the train to Nottingham, on which I was genuinely approached by a Jehovah’s witness asking if I’d found Jesus. I’m still not sure if he was joking. The next year, Jesus stood alongside my room-mate’s life size Darth Vader in our shared set, prompting most people to assume he was Obi-Wan-Kenobi.

A lot of the time I can see how religion does invite ridicule. My personal highlight of the Bible is when some children make fun of Elisha’s baldness; God righteously responds by sending two bears to eat them. And the ‘acceptance’ of gay bishops, as long as they don’t have sex, has to be in my top 10 of ridiculous Church of England compromises. There’s a lot of competition.

But, just occasionally, I worry that this is the only side of religion people see. I got this impression from many of the speeches from the floor at the Union last week, and again reading Jamie Webb’s article in The Tab. I can’t help thinking that a lot of Cambridge students are happy to write religion off as some kind of spectacular anachronism worthy only of our amusement and scorn.

For me, that’s a shame. If you raise another subject in Cambridge, you’ll meet with incredibly intelligent, varied and open minded debate; mention religion, however, and a lot of people become rather…well…dogmatic.

As with all age-old debates, there is more than one valid answer to the question of God’s existence. And ultimately it is not one that science can answer. If you told someone 1000 years ago that in 2013 people would think that the only truth out there was the truth you could see, hear, touch and smell, they would have laughed in your face. The same could be said of many people living in the Eastern hemisphere in the modern day. They may be wrong to do so, but it’s not self evident that there is no truth out there which can’t be discovered by science. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, 200 years from now, people no longer think the way they do today.

The problem is that religion has become increasingly ‘empiricised’. No one would’ve dreamed of reading the entire Bible as literally true until it was translated into English and literacy rocketed. Suddenly everyone could interpret the Bible, not just the educated elite. That was probably a good thing, but it did lead to the development of increasingly literal and simplistic accounts of the Bible.

I hesitate to say this, but I do find that this approach is better represented in student religion than other demographics; there is something about youth that is attracted to certainty. But ask a 12th Century Bible scholar whether the Garden of Eden existed in time and space and he would have told you to up your medication.

So as religion has tried to encroach on science, science has understandably fought back. People like Richard Dawkins have been extremely effective at attacking literal, mechanistic religion and the harm it causes. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Dawkins effectively undermines all religion. Believe it or not, religion has been around for a long time, and can be well thought through and coherent. An intelligent religious person is not an oxymoron (or neccessarily a moron for that matter).

Furthermore, we’re not all homophobic, re-virginised misogynists who can’t stand shellfish or talking to people who are on their period. Alright, so the House of Laity might be (I’m thinking of the recent vote against women bishops for those of you resident on another planet), but it takes very little research into how that body is made up to come to the conclusion that it is unlikely to be representative of the majority of churchgoers’ views.

I’m not trying to convince anyone to convert with this article. It wouldn’t work and would alienate most of The Tab’s readership. But it would be nice if everyone respected each other’s viewpoint. Yeah, that’s right; I’m a wishy-washy liberal. Shoot me.

Believe in God. Don’t believe in him. I don’t really mind. But there are two sides to the debate. Try on someone else’s world view shoes every now and then, because they might fit better than you expect. If Christians, Atheists, Muslims and everyone else all accepted that there is a significant possibility they are wrong, the world would be a much easier place in which to live. It may be that it is the religious who are generally guiltier of forgetting this. If that’s the case, don’t stoop to our level.