Thursday, March 08, 2007

ambushed by god

Having finished my day's duties at Warwick University today, I did the sensible thing and held off heading back into Coventry and went to the student union bar for a couple of pints. Perhaps I am vainly trying to recalibrate wasted days of my youth, but I like hanging around students, watching them and calculating the differences between us. Today, I wanted only to drink my pint and read my book but sitting down, I felt strangely lonely - one of those moments where you just want company. Happily, company swiftly arrived courtesy of two extremely nice young men who wanted to canvass my opinion for a survey on belief they were carrying out. It turned out, of course, that they were representatives of the Warwick University Christian Students society, and what began as a ten question survey swiftly became a theological debate (or as close to that high-falutin' concept as we were capable of getting).

The first thing that struck me, besides the obvious youth and impeccable politeness of the pair, was the extent to which I have changed over the years. I've gone from 'god squad' stereotyping to establishing a rather keen interest in the pull of religion, and while every question they asked was met with a determinedly secular answer, I felt a lot of sympathy for their (ultimately fruitless) quest to establish jesus as the son of god, and a personal liking for them too. But what a strange approach they took! The irony is that all the major religions, despite their (often historical) flaws, contain a tremendous amount of valuable, extensive and emotive writing on subjects that are dear to the heart of every good humanist or socialist. A young Christian might move mountains by talking up alms for the poor, charity, loving thy neighbour, social justice and tolerance - but instead I was dumbstruck to find the conversation dominated by obsessive adherence to the (dubious) notion of truth.

Do you accept Jesus as the sun of God? If not, are you saying he was a liar?

What a depressingly literal translation of one of the outstanding stories of man. Heaven, damnation and punishment, rather than the simple worth of doing good, were the watchwords for a belief system which appeared obsessive, unyielding and largely irrelevant. Here's a question - "what are we here for?" I would have bet that any Christian would say 'to do good', but my encounter with these two charming, intelligent - and good - Christians left me feeling deflated, depressingly unable to confirm that. Rather, they intimated, we are here for God, to recognise God, to give praise to god. What a shocking waste of a belief system with real value.

It's funny feeling old - I hope I didn't patronise them, but how easy it is to tease the devout and the youthful. True morality, true devotion, should be oriented towards the good of man not the promise of heaven. Moving on, I asked - glibly - what they thought of abortion and homosexuality. Their answers made me want to shake them, drag them into adulthood - I'm left with a frustrating question. Will two handsome, clever, well-meaning young men grow up into tolerant, open-minded grown-ups, or will they become zealots, unconcerned with the fate of humans on earth?

I liked them both very much, so I hope it's not the latter.

1 comment:

Dan said...

An interesting post. It is often tricky to know how to challenge very decent, often kind people who you feel have to provide at least some evidence or proof for the reasons for their zeal.

I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the almost fundamentalist unapologetic approach taken by Richard Dawkins et al, yet you raised some important points on legitimate questions on taking to task 'believers' on certain points.