Saturday, March 22, 2008

In Defence of Faith

That rascal Millenium has been having a bit of an Easter rant, which prompted me to throw my tenpenneth in. There are many of faith and none who wind us all up endlessly. However, I just received a truly moving missive from someone I regard as a real spiritual mentor.

Elias (Abuna) Chacour is Archbishop of the Melkite Church in Israel. He is a man who is a refugee in his own country. As a dispossessed Palestinian he took the view that he had a choice, to become a terrorist, to become passive.......or to try to find a middle way. I have never in my life heard anyone speak so eloquently about the situation in Israel Palestine. He is a man, who throughout his house has one recurring biblical text "thou shalt not kill". This belief he has instilled in the children in his multi faith multi ethnic school in Galilee. The most moving story I heard from him about this was of when he was in Jerusalem for the inquest into the brutal killing of one of his pupils Asil Asleh during the last Intafada. (Asil, one of the brightest pupils in the school, was watching a protest, wearing his "Seeds of Peace" T Shirt, from behind an olive tree when he was shot in the neck). He was in the court and saw one of his ex pupils, a young man from the Druze community, shackled and handcuffed. He asked why he was there, the young man replied that he had refused to serve in the army and so had been imprisoned, he said "Abuna (Arabic for Father), I remembered what you said, that we should not kill".

Elias has been in poor health and is dealing with a difficult situation as an advocate for the Palestinian citizens of Israel. He does not have the luxury to worry about "straining the gnats" as do some of our fellow Christians in this country. He worries about what he can do to advance the cause of peace. Most moving for me in his Easter message were his words "For a very long time I have given up worrying about how long I shall live. Rather I am worried about what do I live for." Whether we are of faith or of none, I trust that this is a sentiment that would strike a chord with all of us.


Laurence Boyce said...

Yes, I think I should go into partnership with Millennium. I had previously put some faith (bad move) in Mr James “religion is what you make of it” Graham, but have now seen the error of my ways and have repented!

I find atheist attitudes towards religion fascinating. I suspect many atheists take the view that, given the supernatural stuff is bunk, all you are left with is humanistic activity which you obviously judge on its own merits. But I’m afraid that as an ex-believer, I can attest to the fact that the supernatural stuff really does matter, is in no way just “what you make of it,” and has very real (and in my case damaging) consequences.

Now for the atheist put-down! I suppose I could summarise your article as, “man uses religion to attempt to bring peace to a region torn apart by religion.” Hello!!! But I am nevertheless intrigued by the story of him inspiring a young man to be pacifist, which raises the following questions in my mind:

- How did you reconcile being in the army with your faith?
- Did you kill anyone? (you don’t have to answer that)
- Also, when are we going to see the photos? :)

And finally, which is more patronising: me telling you that your beliefs are false and potentially dangerous, or James telling you that it’s all just “what you make of it”?

Linda Jack said...

Ah well!

To answer your questions, I wasn't a Christian when I joined the army, so I didn't have that dilemma, also being as women were non combattant I didn't have to deal with the problem of killing anyone. But of course before joining and on serving in NI I had to deal with the possibility I may be killed. None of the work I did could have lead to the death of anyone,and infact, in some cases may have lead to the prevention of death, although clearly if I had still been in now that would not have been the case. As you probably know I didn't last that long given that me and the army didn't quite see eye to eye! If I had been a Christian at 17 I don't think I would have joined, but that doesn't mean I condemn Christians who are serving. And as you know, I am still an advocate for those we ask to go and fight our stupid wars.

As for the photos!!!! I need someone with a scanner.........

On the issue of being patronising. I don't feel patronised since as an atheist you can no more prove the non existence of God than I can the existence of God. Absolute certainty is a tad arrogant don't you think?! :-)

Susan said...

I have a scanner....

Linda Jack said...


Oooh eck! Well I will have to try and unearth the pix!


Laurence Boyce said...

Absolute certainty is a tad arrogant don’t you think?

Yes, I think so. But unfortunately, I am absolutely certain! That is to say that I am absolutely certain that there is no God who makes the slightest difference to the manner in which I should order my life or the world around me. This is the key point, not so much philosophical arguments about abstract gods. Occasionally, scientists come up with some stuff which seems to indicate that the universe may have been “fine tuned” in some way. (Christians, who routinely ignore evidence to the contrary, have been known to pounce on this sort of thing as proof of the Creator.) Fascinating, but what difference does it make? For me, that is always the question. How should I change my personal behaviour and outlook in response to this information?

Now, anyone who knows me will give you the answer straight away – “in about a million ways!” And that’s fine – I’ll go along with that. But of course, the point is that I should change my behaviour with or without God. I should try to improve myself and the world, regardless of any supernatural beings. I should try to better myself in the only domain of existence which is immediately relevant – this one. Fundamentally, God makes no difference to anything, and unless somebody can convincingly show me how he might make a difference, then I’m going to apply Occam’s razor and ruthlessly cut him out of the picture. Ruthlessly because, as a delusional belief, I believe God is imposing a terrible burden upon the world, not least in the Middle East where his son was born (yeah right).

Do you know Linda, that you would always be most welcome to join me and Kathleen for Sunday lunch in Cambridge, if you were ever at a loose end. It’s a very informal affair – we don’t even sit at a proper table. Kathleen is a devout Christian, so it would be two to one against, but we needn’t talk about religion. We could scan your photos, generally gossip, and of course we need to start plotting your Euro victory! Please let me know. Just about any Sunday would be fine!

Linda Jack said...

I am shattered so I will pick up this debate later! But yes, would love to come over one Sunday thanks for the offer!

Laurence Boyce said...

Great! I’ll let her know!

Paul Walter said...

Please count me in to view the photos!

Your post about Elias was very inspiring Linda.