I have just been reading an article in the Spectator about whether a politician’s religious views are relevant when assessing his fitness for the job.
A couple of years ago I would have answered, ‘YES!’ I find it odd that an adult, living in the 21st century in a modern country can still believe there is a sort-of-man up in the sky who watches over all we do, listens to our prayers, sent his only son to the Earth 2,000 years ago to be crucified so as to redeem us from our sins, later to be resurrected and spirited up to heaven to live with his father. I am told that sophisticated Christians no longer believe that heaven is an actual place up in the sky or that God is a man with a beard. Instead “He” is a kind of “power”, a “presence” for good, if you like. “He” is unknowable with our puny human brains. Even so, it is these same puny brains that are allegedly capable of sensing His existence.
It’s hard to recognise this God of the Sophisticates as the same God that appears in the bible. He seems so vague and impersonal. I have a hunch that sophisticated Christians, like their unsophisticated brethren, pray to a man-with-a-beard in the sky when they are in the privacy of their own heads and no sceptics are around to scoff at them. Their sophisticated God is only wheeled on when in the presence of non-believers.
But what I wanted to say was that if someone is making important decisions about my country I would rather they didn’t believe such stuff. Knowing the odd things they believe about God can’t help but make me question their ability to think reasonably about other topics. Even so, deep down and when I’m being honest with myself, I sort of understand why these people believe what they do and I don’t think they are mad, even if their beliefs, looked at in the cold light of day, look very peculiar.
It could be that people need to feel they belong to a tradition that has been passed down through the generations. Christianity just happens to be our tradition. Being a Christian in an age when science has shone its light on Bronze Age beliefs makes belief a little more difficult. However, not believing shuts you off from your traditions. This leaves you feeling disorientated and atomised, unless you manage to find some other way of belonging like patriotism or maybe Ancestor worship. Just joining a Morris Dancing group won’t help.
So although I haven’t changed my views on religion and would still prefer politicians didn’t believe nonsense, I can’t help noticing that many of the social and political writers I read most avidly are Christians. Among these are Ed West, Mark Steyn, Roger Scruton and Peter Hitchens. Since I would be happy if any one of these became Prime Minister, their religious views clearly don’t bother me that much.
T.S. Eliot said, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality” and John Derbyshire has a theory that our penchant for wishful thinking and delusions has spilled over into subjects like race and gender, ever since religion started to lose its grip. Maybe religion was good at focusing all our delusions onto just one thing, leaving our brains clear to think lucidly about other stuff.
John Derbyshire himself calls his theory ‘half-baked’ and my own intuition is that one barmy belief is more likely to lead to other barmy beliefs than to a mind swept clean and free of wishful thinking. Still, it’s a nice idea and fits with my observation that many astute political commentators are Christians.
Of course, there are some kinds of religious lunacy that are no laughing matter, like the madness of the Spanish Inquisition or Islamic Jihadists. Yet mild Christianity strikes me as being neither dangerous nor incompatible with reasonable thought on non-religious issues and perhaps even conducive to clear thought in the way that John Derbyshire suggests. And who knows, religious people might even be right about religion. It is not impossible that the Creator of the Universe sent his only son to the Middle East two millennia ago to be martyred. It’s just very unlikely.
If my life depended on guessing correctly whether the basic beliefs of Christianity, or any other religion, were true or false, I would have to plump for the latter. I think some people living in the modern world choose the former, not because the story still seems plausible but because it is, as they say in snooker, a shot-to-nothing: there is little to lose in believing and much to gain.