For the first time in over 3-years I went to church. A member of my immediate family became dangerously ill and my wife, sons and their partners gathered together with little hope of her survival. As is so often the case, some light humour helped release the pressure. I looked up into the sky and said, “if she recovers, I promise to go to church to say thanks.” Two days later she started to recover and the hospital consultant called it a miracle. I honoured my word and went to church last Sunday.
Although I class myself as an agnostic I have religious friends who were quick to claim that it was their prayers that were answered. I find this very hard to accept because it immediately begs the question as to why God would let my loved relative get so ill and why so many others fail to recover from diseases that presumably God put into the world in the first place. I know this is answered with “God moves in mysterious ways” but that begs even more questions. I prefer to put my faith, as it is, in medical science and recognise the skill of the doctors rather than the prayers of strangers. But I don’t mean that to sound condescending because unlike hardened atheists such as Richard Dawkins, I don’t see how one can have such certainty about the non-existence of a God. I certainly have respect for those with religious faith, providing it isn’t an excuse for bigotry. I know too many who believe gays will go to hell, or the universe is 6,000 years old, or women are inferior based purely upon their religious doctrine. Religion is not alone in this of course, politics can also bring out the worst in people. The majority, in my experience, either religious or political are outside that bigoted sphere. I therefore remain an agnostic because I can’t believe in something which has nothing to support it, but on the other hand I can’t rule it out entirely. But I don’t want to confuse the concept of a God with that of organised religion because they are not the same thing.
Throughout history there may have been over 4,000 different religions, some polytheist some monotheist but all insisting they had some exclusive window on the truth. Why is modern Christianity or Islam anymore right than say the Gods of ancient Greece? To me the capricious nature of Zeus and Hera seems far more credible. And yet the plethora of different Christian denominations and those of Islam would be as certain of their own faith as the ancient Greeks would be of theirs. For me, it takes a little more than just believing in something to make it real. My agnosticism is therefore more of a philosophical stance than anything else. I did once explore the idea of Humanism, which has great appeal to me. I went to several meetings but that experience, which is entirely personal, left me unimpressed. The meetings invited religious speakers and then threw metaphorical stones at their ideas. My intention was to try to understand the beliefs of others and why they held them, but these particular Humanists had another agenda. As I say, this is a personal experience and I have no idea if this is universal.
I chose to go to a Baptist Church. An odd choice perhaps, given the reputation of, for example, the Westboro Baptists in the United States, the very epitome of those aforementioned bigots. I chose a Baptist church partly for convenience as my nearby neighbours attended and partly because each church has a lot of autonomy and doesn’t necessarily have to follow some central doctrine. I found it an interesting experience because the congregation I met were friendly, undogmatic and welcoming. On the other hand, they were not the types who would question their faith in any form of analytical way. And it’s here where I have a problem. If there is a God who made humankind, then he gave us the power of reason and an intellectual capacity. If there was ever one sin against my version of God it’s the rejection of those cognitive analytical abilities and acceptance purely on faith or authority. And that goes for politics as much as religion. My visit to Church nevertheless gave me food for thought and I may go back again to gather more data.