My Old Style Religion
In criticising those who draw their main argument for the existence of God from the scriptures, Richard Dawkins in his "The God Delusion" takes on those who claim that the Bible is the literal truth. He is so frustrated with the views expressed by such people, that he even doubts whether many of them can actually have studied the scriptures.
"Do these people never open the book that they believe is the literal truth?", he asks on page 94. He then goes on to spell out numbers of serious inconsistencies in its texts.
As I pointed out in "A Gentle Atheism" , I was an active Methodist in my youth. From at least 14 to 18, I went to Chapel 3 times each Sunday and during the week, especially to what was termed the Christian Endeavour. I became Secretary of the latter and once recognised that the preacher had picked a particular line of argument from the preface of a play by George Bernard Shaw!
The Methodism I was used to seldom took on the form of the evangelical brand which Dawkins is criticising within the above section of his book. Except that an occasional meeting would arise where efforts were made to get people to come forward to express their faith. These worried me and I would hold onto my seat to ensure that I would not be carried away by an emotioinal spasm against my better inclinations.
If someome had ever asked me what arguments I had for the existence of God, I don't know what I would have said. I listened to scripture readings, sang hymns (which I still enjoy doing) and heard sermons in which the scriptures were referred to. I even achieved a low level certificate in the scriptures.
But what struck me about the Dawkins quote is that it was correct about me as an individual, even if I was not really the sort of character that he was criticising. I did not read the Bible.
A God Read or A Good Read?
I happen to hold a list of the books I read over the first nine months of 1952 when I was 15 and partly 16. The list ended when I started work for the first time as a railway clerk. Neither the Bible, nor any works propounding the supposed truths of the scriptures make the list. My mother was as active in the Chapel as I was, initially going at my request and in a return to her own youth. She read three novels a week from the local library, but not the Bible or the like.
I read 50 books over the above period (outside of my school work and Sexton Blake booklets). 19 were by John Buchan. 8 were by George Bernard Shaw and were mainly single plays or collections of plays with prefaces. 3 by Conan Doyle. 2 by Henry Williamson. There were 18 others all by different authors. Some of the latter were plays or collections of plays by writers such as J.B Priestly and Oscar Wilde, whilst most others were novels and included George Orwell's "Animal Farm". The main non-fiction work was H.G. Well's "Short History of the World".
I remember starting to read the latter seated on the terraces at the Roker End of Sunderland's football ground waiting for the kick off. Many of the books I read were paperbacks often bought in Sunderland on the way to watch Shackleton play his magical soccer. Although the bulk of the John Buchan's were hardbacks in the Nelson series and were purchased at equivalent of almost 23p , two to three times the cost of most of the paperbacks.
So what room was there for God, apart from all that Chapel attending? Not much really.
Thinking of these things afterwards, I have felt that all that Chapel attending (for most of us) was more of a social activity than a religious one. This seemed to me to be the case in the 1992 General Election Campaign when I was one of the candidates who went to a hustings at the Evangelical Church in Clay Cross to answer questions on "moral" issues such as abortion and euthanasia. Each line I took upset the Church Elders, but most of the congregation that listened to me nodded kindly and I did not appear to be losing their votes. I suspect that as with my Methodism, their evangalism had more to do with sharing a social bond than from religious conviction.
If what I say is widespead, then perhaps involvement by atheists in social work would have more impact upon the behaviour of active Christians, Muslims and others than Dawkins barnstorming rationalism will. Perhaps socialisation and socialism are the cure for religious extremism.