I haven’t mentioned the Canon to you for a long time. He himself doesn’t make much noise, and goes about his parish duties with a very effective quietness. This masks his sharpness, and it would be a foolish man indeed who would take him for a man of no significance.
However, occasionally he gets agitated about ‘the nonsense he hears on the radio and the rubbish he reads in the newspapers’. It happened last Sunday when he was giving a homily on the last phrases of the Creed which goes: ‘I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting’, with a focus on the Resurrection, this being the Easter season.
Basically he was annoyed how easily non-believers get column inches and air time, as they advertise themselves as such, as in ‘speaking as an atheist…’ and their ‘blah, blah, blah’ is presented as the gospel truth.
Now I can only paraphrase what the Canon said, but his basic message was simple: everybody believes in something, and every – ‘ism’ from religious ‘isms’ to political ‘isms’ have their own lists of beliefs.
Even the atheists, with their athe-ism have to believe in something, so why prioritise their beliefs – or non-beliefs rather – than those of the ordinary faithful religious try-er, like me and you gathered here today.
I think he got whatever was bothering him off his chest without being offensive to anybody, because he said: ‘I’m sure there are some of you listening who find believing hard, and you could even be an agnostic yourself, and I have to respect that position. Sometimes it is difficult to believe. But please leave believers the courtesy of believing in the Resurrection; it’s the central mystery of the Christian faith’.
He was, I think, responding to some commentator who said that belief in the afterlife is ‘pie in the sky’, and got away unchallenged.
So I got to thinking about his remark that everybody believes in something.
You remember the election propaganda which came in your letter box: it had many proclamations of ‘faith’. I lost count of the number of sentences which began with: ‘I believe that…’. It became something of a cant.
This could be just being careless or lazy about the use of words. More positively, many people who profess atheism also believe in the vital importance of justice in society, in the fair distribution of resources, in the cultivation of respect for the environment.
So do believers, of course, who also see these activities as their faith in action, part of their creed.