Dif­fer­ing sides of the re­li­gious di­vide

Marlborough Midweek - - FRONT PAGE -

In 1928, I was chris­tened at Saint John’s Catholic Church in Dar­ling­ton in the UK. As I was about six-weeks-old, I had noth­ing to say on bap­tism. Ap­par­ently, I am now free from the orig­i­nal sin ac­quired at birth be­cause Adam and Eve ate fruit from a tree in the gar­den of Eden.

Four cen­turies ago, the idea of a he­lio­cen­tric so­lar sys­tem was so con­tro­ver­sial that the Catholic Church clas­si­fied it as a heresy and warned the Ital­ian as­tronomer Galileo Galilei to abandon his ‘‘truth’’ or be burned at the stake to save his er­rant soul.

Their threats must have been per­sua­sive as he was forced to re­cant. Sci­en­tific prac­tice based on the ex­er­cise of rea­son started to ques­tion re­li­gion. Thomas Paine wrote The Age of Rea­son in 1794. It chal­lenged re­ceived opin­ions. 350 years later, the Vat­i­can ad­mit­ted it was wrong about Galileo all along.

In 1978, I was cu­ri­ous about the ori­gins and ev­i­dence of Noah’s Ark. Did the Mor­mon Church have a record of their Ark? Yes, in the Book of Mor­mon. May I have that book? Yes, if I join the Church of Je­sus Christ and Lat­ter Day Saints. Po­litely, I de­clined the of­fer.

Years later, two young men vis­ited me at my home in Pic­ton. Their name tags on their neatly pressed shirts read ‘‘elder’’. They were 20, I was 85. They con­tin­ued to visit me reg­u­larly in the fol­low­ing two years and gave me the Book of Mor­mon to read. It shares a shelf with my King James ver­sion of the Bi­ble.

More re­cently, I’ve had vis­its from Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses. We have had some earnest dis­cus­sions, par­tic­u­larly around the eth­nic cleans­ing of the Mid­i­an­ites by Moses’ peo­ple and God’s re­puted ad­vice to Moses.

The idea of a ‘‘cho­sen peo­ple’’ seems wor­ry­ingly par­al­lel to Hitler’s views on the Aryans, although we haven’t got round to dis­cussing that yet.

In World War I, Ger­man troops had belts with a buckle stamped with ‘‘Gott mit uns’’ (God with us), a phrase used in her­aldry in Prus­sia and later taken up by the Ger­man Em­pire, the Third Re­ich and the early years of West Ger­many un­til 1962.

On the other side, Bri­tish troops were con­vinced that God was a Brit. ‘‘Did those feet walk upon Eng­land’s moun­tains green...?’’, as the fa­mous hymn Jerusalem goes.

When it comes to re­li­gion, with so many choices to make where does one start?

PHOTO: 123RF

The an­swers to many of life’s spir­i­tual ques­tions are said to be found in holy books - but which one, if any, should we put our faith in?

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