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The Daily Paradox

The Daily Paradox: Do I believe what I say I believe?

It was easy to say ‘I believe’ when, as a child, I was told what to believe. In my young days we were commanded our faith. The absurdity of the proposition that you must believe something never emerged in any teaching or thinking that I can remember. Those who taught this belief were, for the most part, decent, honourable, educated people whose remit in life was to raise adults of the same creed and politeness as themselves. I was not, of course, privy to their innermost thoughts so I had to interpret those from what they did.

Snatches of what they said, often inevitably poorly reported and always even less well understood, suggested that practice was not quite the same as credo. Learning that is what growing up is about. Freedom to choose once you are ‘old enough’ was implied, even if those who took the challenge and opted for different creeds were pitied rather than questioned. Having a faith may then have been relatively easy. Not having one, perhaps somewhat more difficult. Most complex of all was – and is – not knowing whether you really believe, or don’t believe, what you advertise as your position.

It may not matter to most that they are unclear about this somewhat strategic matter. The daily survival race is tactically demanding and at the exhausting end of it a distracting hour with the television seems fully justified. I guess that Mr Trump doesn’t give a four letter word about how genuinely he believes or doesn’t. His goal seems clear and virtually any route to it, acceptable. The ordained or dedicated proselytiser too has credibility, and sometimes even livelihood, at stake if s/he openly changes direction.

I once knew a man whose most earnest prayer in his middle age was “Help Thou my unbelief”.  I admired him. He was a priest, honest enough to admit doubt without having to dogmatise disbelief. For not believing is as much a faith as believing. Both mathematically have a fifty percent chance of being wrong.  An act of faith is an admission of uncertainty. Or, as a very wise lady then in her late teens said to me many years ago ‘Religion is religion; my faith is my own’. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it another way: ‘In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist’.

Tina Beattie wrote in the Tablet in Aug 2004 “Many of us who remain in more or less good faith with Holy Mother Church, when so many have left, do so because we have a well-developed sense of the ludicrous and have learnt to live with her quaint idiosyncrasies”. I too subscribe to the idea that a kindly touch of realism applied to belief and disbelief leavens the anxiety of uncertainty.

The headmaster of my secondary school, Downside, near Bath in England was made a Bishop by Good Pope John for his success at the Vatican Council in mastering and debating in colloquial Latin. As Latin is a dead language this was certainly a feat. He accepted his appointment on condition that he could remain in England and not go to Rome. Explaining this to me he said that, like his friend Ronald Knox, he appreciated the banquet but preferred to remain out of the kitchen.

In all my searches for the truth I have come to rest on the comfortable couch of comedy. Knowledge, I shall not have until after I have died. Meanwhile, I shall stick to what I offered many years ago. Faith should be touching, not dogmatic.

That applies to unfaith, too.

Good morning

John Bittleston

For those for whom Easter is a wonderful time, Happy Easter

For everyone who can do with some spirit uplift, Happy Easter, too