The danger in ‘knowing’ you are right

Adam Harbinson

Adam Harbinson

I find it interesting that two of the most influential men in the British establishment are Muslims, both in their mid-forties, both sons of Pakistani bus drivers.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid and the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan speak easily about their working class backgrounds. Sadiq Khan grew up in a housing estate in Tooting and Sajid Javid from a similar background in Rochdale.

Both have spoken publicly recently about the racial discrimination they experienced as they were growing up,. Indeed, Khan faced a less-than-subtle form of racism from politicians as he was running for election as Mayor of London.

Isn’t it a fact that religion lies behind most forms of divisiveness? And isn’t it a mystery how religion, which is supposed to be all about man’s relationship to God, a God of love, mercy and forgiveness, can cause such hatred and violence?

I had dinner with a disparate group of family and friends. Some had a Christian faith, some had none. It was clear that there was an underlying curiosity about this old boy’s faith. Am I a spiritual man? And what does that mean?

A friend who ran a successful architecture practice told me that at times he is embarrassed in staff meetings. Someone asks a difficult question and while he is struggling to come up with a viable response, some young whippersnapper comes out with a solution.

I assured him that there were times when I felt likewise. But not since l I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, say that he is cursed with the ability to see all sides of an argument.

I think that comes with age. The older I get, the fewer things I am sure of, and that’s what I said at the family dinner. There are what I like to call ‘moral absolutes’: things that don’t change, that are immutable, where there is no room for compromise, but there aren’t many. The fact is that as soon as you say you ‘know’ something – about God, or spirituality, or theology – then your mind closes and you learn no more. So I’m happy to know less and less about more and more, and that things that used to be black and white are now blurred.

Things that I used to get angry about didn’t seem to bother Jesus or Paul, so what right have I to pontificate?

So, back to our two Muslim friends and the racial abuse they suffered and still suffer, or what about our own little Province? I have a very good friend who spent a significant proportion of his life behind bars because he thought he was justified in putting a bullet between someone’s eyes for no other reason than he was of a different religious persuasion. The odd thing is that they both might have claimed to worship the same God.

The question that is often at the front of my mind is this: if I ‘know’ I am right, and we differ, then I ‘know’ you are wrong. And if you are wrong then I am justified in punishing you, or trying to correct you, or giving you the cold shoulder, or feeling superior.

I struggle, perhaps as you do, but what I am aiming to work into my daily life is one simple sentence, spoken by the Apostle: ‘Live a life of love just as Christ loved us .’ And for me, that about sums it up.