Differing sides of the religious divide
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?
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?