Monday, March 08, 2010

the exclusion of conviction

Kenneth Clarke was on Radio 4's Any Questions last Friday stridently contemning all forms of extremism whether atheistic, islamist or those "way-out extreme evangelicals" (is that a description of all or only some evangelicals?). The idea was to make any kind of firmly held conviction a species of extremism, to exclude and marginalise it. Much better not to care about conviction and especially not about whatever convictions anybody else has. The absurdity of this position is of course not apparent to those who presuppose that you shouldn't have firmly held convictions but its circularity is reassuring to them. It's the conviction-rejecting politics of Gallio who "cared for none of these things" (Acts 18:17). Matthew Henry comments: "it was wrong to speak slightly of a law and religion which he might have known to be of God, and which he ought to have acquainted himself with. In what way God is to be worshipped, whether Jesus be the Messiah, and whether the gospel be a Divine revelation, are not questions of words and names, they are questions of vast importance. Gallio spoke as if he boasted of his ignorance of the Scriptures, as if the law of God was beneath his notice. Gallio cared for none of these things. If he cared not for the affronts of bad men, it was commendable; but if he concerned not himself for the abuses done to good men, his indifference was carried too far. And those who see and hear of the sufferings of God's people, and have no feeling with them, or care for them, who do not pity and pray for them, are of the same spirit as Gallio, who cared for none of these things."

Channel Four’s “Bible: A History” series contained a programme presented by Howard Jacobson. What he said about Richard Dawkins was similar:

“I don’t practise any religion nor worship any God, and fear all fanaticism and that’s bred by faith so I ought really to be sympathetic to Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion’. But it moves me – to be frank – to fury. Partly because it assumes that men were stupid until science rescued them. Partly because its ignorance sees no reason not to remain ignorant of what belief is like for those who do believe. Partly because of its certainty, Where’s the point of attacking religion for thinking it has all the answers, when you think you have all the answers yourself? Blind faith is fatuous, but so is blind doubt. This is where I find myself: unable to share the faith of the religious, but unable to share the mockery of the atheists. The big question for me is how to believe, and not to believe, at the same time. Let’s confront the absolutists: those who absolutely believe and those who absolutely don’t.”

Though men think that they have found a position of safety, the no-man’s land between faith and unbelief is in truth a mirage.