Giles Fraser’s Thinking Aloud podcast: belief versus unbelief

Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins had a large set piece God debate last week in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford. Those sorts of debates are becoming more and more popular. Lots of people went – but I didn’t listen and, to be honest, wasn’t much interested. I find the whole boxing match approach of belief in the one corner and unbelief in the other entirely unhelpful – as if the struggle over faith were always some sort of contest of intellectual muscularity. But even more unhelpful. I think, is the idea that belief and unbelief exist in some mutually exclusive and binary opposition. I suspect that, as Wittgenstein often pointed out, we are being misled by the surface grammar of words.

For my own experience of faith is that belief and unbelief commonly nestle alongside each other. Indeed, I cant make any sense of a faith that doesn’t include unbelief as a powerful element. “My God, why have you forsaken me” is, after all, the cry of Jesus at the very centre of the Christian drama.

Last week I was in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on the very spot where Rabin himself was assasinated back in 1995. The fact that the secular Rabin was murdered by a man of faith because the then prime minister was trying to put together a peace deal with the Palestinians is something that ought to give all people of faith a powerful sense of the dark heart of religious certainty. At the end of the exhibition of Rabin’s life, a poem by Yehuda Amichai is inscribed on the wall. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head.

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

from Giles Fraser


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