New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
Columnists

Any questions?

James Cary

Cary

I hope future generations will look back on our version of the internet without too much disdain. They will laugh our primitive iPhones, and our incessant tweets and, most of all, our bizarre insistence on allowing people to leave comments about everything.

This comment facility does give the reader the chance to challenge an article that they find ill-informed, prejudiced or just plain wrong. Normally, though, they give the reader an opportunity  to appear even more ill-informed, prejudiced and wrong than the author, which is an impressive feat when the original piece is by Johann Hari or Quentin Letts.

Religion attracts particularly vehement lunacy from right across the spectrum. But the most prevalent and infuriating comments are by casual atheists and based on nothing but received opinions and knee-jerk, lazy stereotypes. Comments like 'ReggieBoy97: Religion's just stoopid. Anyone who prays to any "god" has been brainwashed.' Or 'BasterdSon ofSammyDavisJr: The Bible's a load of cack, full of dumb laws, violence and contradictions. FAIL.'

Cary.jpg

Here's the message I'd like to give in response to the ones above. 'Well done! You and your towering intellect have seen through our religious sham. How did you do it? Even though 99.9% of all people who have ever lived have been religious in some way, it's amazing that you, ReggieBoy97, have realised that emperor has no clothes and that religion is, and always has been, 'stoopid'. And to put this truth so succinctly in one fraction of your lunch-hour taken at the desk of the call-centre you work in was impressive. Have you considered a career in academia? And as for you, BasterdSonofSammyDAvisJr, you've certainly put thousands of years of intense biblical scholarship into perspective and put to shame the great minds of the past who have taken the Bible seriously (Newton, Aquinas, CS Lewis etc). After all, the Bible was written by lots of different people in different languages and cultures over the course of a thousand years. It should be an easy read! And have no textual problems at all.Besides, if 'God' was serious about communicating, he would have just beamed down golden tablets of instructions which someone could copy before they vanished so that we don't make the mistake of worshipping the tablets. That is much more plausible. Keep up the good work :-)'

I'd like to say these things because I'm impatient, I think I'm funny and I'm not very nice. But heavy sarcasm, however, will get us nowhere (other than making me feel a whole lot better). That said, Jesus (who was patient, funny and nice) did employ heavy sarcasm to good effect in the face of Pharisees. For example in Mark 7, Jesus effectively says 'Ooh, I'm loving the way you set aside the commandments of God so you can do your own thing'. Zing.

But Jesus uses another technique which is much more polite, and therefore more devastating. He answers hostile questions with his own questions. This very idea fills some evangelicals with dread, since questions invite dialogue, and dialogue invites conversation, which could imply that truth is in some way negotiated rather than proclaimed, defended, restated, said again slightly louder and then illustrated, ideally with paints on whiteboard and easel.

I would agree that a sermon should be stated not chaired, but oranges are not the only fruit. Questions and conversations are a particularly rabbinic way of going about things and Jesus was Jewish (remember?).

Questions reveal motives, which can be useful. A female colleague once asked me 'Don't you think the Bible needs updating?' I was tempted to launch into a lengthy defence of the historicity of the Gospels with a few thoughts on the Apocrypha thrown in. Instead, I asked her 'What would you like it to say?' She said that the Bible contained nothing on the subject of abortion. That was what she really wanted to talk about. I was very glad to found that out.

The power of the question is truly astonishing. The shorter the better. If you're asked 'Don't you think religion is just brainwashing?' try answering 'Which one?' If you're the asked 'Don't you think all religions worship the same God?', you could reply 'Really? But aren't they so different?' This might gently reveal to them that they need to think this through a little more. Asked, 'Isn't the Bible is full of contradictions?' you could answer by asking 'Which bit?'. Or you could do the double whammy and reply with a heavily sarcastic question 'Don't you think you've read too many Dan Brown books?' That should end the conversation right there. Happy questioning.