Humphrys the doubter

John HumphrysJohn Humphys writes in the Sunday Times offering a preview of his new book looking at religion.  In short he “went looking for God and ended up an angry agnostic – unable to believe but enraged by the arrogance of militant atheists. It’s hard to see the purpose of the world, he says, but don’t blame its evils on religion.”

Humphrys  describes himself as a devout sceptic but feels annoyed by the certainty of atheists whose arguments he summarises/ charactatures and counters thus:

1. Believers are mostly naive or stupid. Or, at least, they’re not as clever as atheists.

This is so clearly untrue it’s barely worth bothering with. Richard Dawkins, in his bestselling The God Delusion, was reduced to producing a “study” by Mensa that purported to show an inverse relationship between intelligence and belief. He also claimed that only a very few members of the Royal Society believe in a personal god. So what? Some believers are undoubtedly stupid (witness the creationists) but I’ve met one or two atheists I wouldn’t trust to change a lightbulb.

2. The few clever ones are pathetic because they need a crutch to get them through life.

Don’t we all? Some use booze rather than the Bible. It doesn’t prove anything about either.

3.They are also pathetic because they can’t accept the finality of death.

Maybe, but it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Count the number of atheists in the foxholes or the cancer wards. 

4.They have been brainwashed into believing. There is no such thing as a “Christian child”, for instance – just a child whose parents have had her baptised.

True, and many children reject it when they get older. But many others stay with it.

5.They have been bullied into believing.

This is also true in many cases but you can’t actually bully someone into believing – just into pretending to believe.

6. If we don’t wipe out religious belief by next Thursday week, civilisation as we know it is doomed.

Of course the mad mullahs are dangerous and extreme Islamism is a threat to be taken seriously. But we’ve survived monotheist religion for 4,000 years or so, and I can think of one or two other things that are a greater threat to civilisation. 

7 Trust me: I’m an atheist. I make no apology if I have oversimplified their views with that little list: it’s what they do to believers all the time.

Why? For those of us who are neither believers nor atheists it can be very difficult. Doubters are left in the deeply unsatisfactory position of finding the existence of God unprovable and implausible, and the comfort of faith unachievable. But at the same time we find the reality of belief undeniable. 

He continues:

…Militant atheists seem to have enormous difficulty in understanding why so many people – many of them just as clever as they are – manage to live by their beliefs….It seems to me that he misses the point entirely. It’s not necessarily that people are too busy to reason things out. It’s more that they don’t want to. They want to believe. In spite of the terrible things that have been done in the name of God over the millennia, religious belief brings immeasurable comfort….

It does not make them stupid, let alone deluded. It makes them human. Their faith gives them a context into which they can fit their lives and a hope of better things to come – if not in this world, then the next. And if the next world turns out not to exist . . . well, they’ll never know, will they?…

My own mother had five children. There was often very little money and sometimes she struggled to cope. Mrs B was always there to help. She was a stalwart of the Mothers’ Union at our local church and she regarded it as her duty…Mr and Mrs Buchanan were an unremarkable couple – quiet, honest, decent, God-fearing. They worked hard…and made no demands of anyone. The church was an important part of their lives, not that you would ever hear them talking about their belief. It was simply there and they were glad of it. It provided structure and, I think, some meaning to their lives.

What have the Buchanans and the millions like them to do with the militant atheists and their supercharged campaign against religion? The latter will say it is irrelevant. They will probably accuse me of viewing the world through the rose-tinted spectacles of half a century ago when society was altogether less cynical and world-weary. They will say that people like the Buchanans – if they still exist – would be better off if only they could see religion and the church for the nonsense that it is. And they’d be wrong. For them, what matters is what can be proved to be true. That’s it. But in the real world, outside the walls of their intellectual ivory towers, that’s not it.”

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