Magazine article The Spectator

Faith Talks

Magazine article The Spectator

Faith Talks

Article excerpt

'The special function of the intelligence requires total liberty, implying the right to deny everything, and allowing of no domination, ' wrote the French Jewish thinker Simone Weil in 1942, in the midst of the second world war. She went on, 'Wherever it usurps control there is an excess of individualism. Wherever it is hampered or uneasy there is an oppressive collectivism.' Weil is expressing with her pellucid precision the problem posed by John Humphrys in his new series, Humphrys in Search of God (Radio Four, Tuesdays). Humphrys, now he tells us aged 63, has been steadily losing his Christian faith for 50 years. 'I've seen too much wanton savagery, ' he told Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, 'that for there to be a God of mercy, any God, seems out of the question.' And yet he still wants to believe -- 'in the sort of vague God you believe in'.

His quest has led him to three half-hour interviews with the Archbishop, and with Professor Tariq Ramadan (the controversial Muslim academic) and the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. 'How can you believe in a God who allows such suffering?' he asked Rowan Williams, referring specifically to friends whose child has just died. The Archbishop refrained from the obvious riposte that it's an unanswerable question (or, as my father, an Anglican vicar, would have said, the wrong question). He paused for thought (one can imagine him stroking his beard and looking heavenwards for inspiration) before giving Humphrys an answer in which every word had been carefully chosen not to confuse us with theological intricacies nor to simplify what lies essentially at the heart of the Christian faith. 'God has an eternity in which to heal, ' he said.

'But the child is dead, ' was Humphrys's impatient riposte. 'Is the best you can offer these parents to tell them to bear up. . . ?' He put the same question to his next guest, Professor Ramadan, in a conversation that focused too much on the present realities of Islam -- suicide bombers, stoning to death, the cartoons controversy.

'Why does Allah allow suffering in the way that He does?' asked Humphrys, to which Professor Ramadan replied, 'I don't know why He wanted me to be here or you to be here. I don't know why He sometimes makes me happy or sad. But this is life?

The only thing which I know is that I have a responsibility to try to do the best with what I know, and what I am facing. …

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