Says Parris of the patronage of unbelievers,
“They want your religion as a social institution, filleted of true faith. It is the atheists, who think this God business matters, who are on your side.
“As an unbeliever my sympathies are with fundamentalists. They seem to me to represent the source, the roots, the essential energy of their faiths. They go back to basics. To those who truly believe, the implicit message beneath ‘never mind if it’s true, religion is good for people’ is insulting. To those who really believe, it is because and only because what they believe is true, that it is good.” . . . If a faith is true it must have the most profound consequences for a man and for mankind. If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote the rest of my life to finding out.
“As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.”
This patronage of unbelievers towards believers reminds me of what I sometimes see on the BBC’s ‘The Big Questions’ presented by Nicky Campbell. On one occasion I heard him approving of Christianity as a ‘gentle religion’. Meaning I assume that it is very tolerant, and of course it is a soft target for opponents.
The Big Questions is not a programme I would volunteer for having part, but it does have value in reflecting or informing us of the mix of religious ideas that are ‘out there’. On 19th February the subject was, “Is Britain A Christian Country?” We were reminded that in the 2001 Census that 71% of the population claimed to be Christian while 78% said they believed in God. But those statistics are changing.
In the preamble to the debate between theist and atheist the presenter, Nicky Campbell, questioned some aspects of Christianity suggesting there were some things we didn’t have to believe in to be Christian, adding, for instance, ‘we don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, do we? When I read Matthew Parris, I thought, yes! For many, Christianity is a gentle religion, comfortable and comforting for those who refuse to be challenged by its Founder and his teachings.
Richard Dawkins was among the humanist/atheist line-up on that particular show. But there were no theologians in the theist line-up – and the theists who were there made no objection to that suggestion by Nicky Campbell, ‘we don’t have to believe in the Virgin Birth, do we?
Which raised the question for me, what do many of the 71% who claimed to be Christian in the 2001 Census know about Jesus or believe about him, about who he is and what his mission was while he was on earth? If Matthew Parris is right, that unbelievers want the Christian faith, the ‘filleted’ kind, then that may be what many of the 71% of ‘Christians’ have accepted – a Christianity of the filleted kind; a cultural Christianity, without a knowledge of its Founder or his teachings.