No chance of winnning the prize

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

An old friend who moved to live in York and now calls himself Dylan Morrison, the Prodigal Prophet, recently wrote: ‘When I look back on my life I come to one simple conclusion: there exists an intelligent, loving Presence in the Cosmos that will ultimately have its desire for relationship with us fulfilled; even our arrogant dismissal of its existence will not stop it in its tracks. This divinity is, I believe, the ‘Abba’ of Jesus, a transcendence that will not be boxed in by religious misrepresentation...’

I could say I agree, but what about folk like Stephen Fry, who appears to see nothing but a vindictive, capricious and small-minded being.

Did he learn that from his parents? Or is that what he sees when he looks at religion? I guess the latter could be the case, for many people do appear to have a distorted view of the God who surely is the God of love and peace, mercy and grace. The fact that organisations such as Boko Haram carry out the most heinous wickedness cannot be taken to mean that God approves of their behaviour, and it certainly cannot suggest that God is using them to do his dirty work. To apply what Dylan Morrison has written to the horrors being done by monsters in Nigeria might be a step too far, but then again, that’s what Selywn Hughes called ‘the scandal of grace’.

Interesting that the words Boko Haram mean ‘Western education is forbidden’. Perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that their minds are not just evil, but they are fixed and closed.

Religion seeks to box in the subject of its worship. To some, Hurrican Katrina was employed by their God against the gay community in New Orleans. The God of others sent Ebola to teach a lesson to scoundrels in Liberia. Earlier this year, the Liberian Council of Churches issued a statement: ‘God is angry with Liberians over corruption and immoral acts such as homosexuality. Ebola was the punishment.’ So, when you see and hear this unfounded nonsense from religious leaders, should we be surprised when people see our God as spiteful, vengeful and unpredictable?

I had an interesting conversation the other evening with one of my dearest friends, now drifting, I fear, towards atheism. ‘But you can’t prove anything!’ she railed. Well, maybe not, but there’s too much evidence to be disregarded.

I pointed to Blaise Pascal’s Wager. The 17th century mathematician and philosopher feared that the world would be swept away in the rising tide of atheism. Sceptics needed proof in order to believe and since there is no scientific proof of the existence of God, Pascal foresaw a mass turning away from God. However, while there is no scientific proof of God’s existence, neither can it be proven that God does not exist. Hence the wager: he argued that it is reasonable to believe in God, even in the absence of proof, for if you are right you have everything to gain, if you are wrong you have nothing to lose. But if you choose to believe that there is no God and you are right, you gain nothing. If you are wrong, you have a lot to lose. ‘Atheism,’ said Pascal, ‘is a terrible bet. It gives you no chance of winning the prize.’ It’s nice to be on the winning side!