Monday, 23 June 2014

The faith that shakes atheism and moves goggles

There are times when it’s hard to maintain my hard-won atheist convictions. 

Not on the big things. I still find it conceptually impossible to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful, beneficent deity with, say, ISIS running amok in Iraq and massacring its prisoners for the crime of belonging to a separate branch of the same faith. To be honest, I have difficult reconciling such a belief with the blundering, flip-flopping behaviour of the leaders of our Western world in response to that terror.

I’m often reminded of the excellent exchange in that outstanding film Lincoln when Mrs Keckley, dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln, expresses her confidence to the President that the 13th Amendment banning slavery, will be passed by the US House of Representatives.

Elizabeth Keckley: I know the vote is only four days away; I know you're concerned. Thank you for your concern over this, and I want you to know: they'll approve it. God will see to it.

Abrahan Lincoln: I don't envy him his task. He may wish He'd chosen an instrument for His purpose more wieldy than the House of Representatives.

Quite so. In the same way, it’s hard to imagine that an all-seeing God could ever have put any faith in a Dubya Bush or a Tony Blair to make anything but a pig’s ear of the Middle East.

No, much smaller things shake my atheistic faith – or lack of faith, for why shouldn’t lack of faith be shaken too?

The other day I turned up at our local leisure centre for another early, far-too-early, swim. Now as I’ve said before this is not an activity ever likely to give me what one might call pleasure. It’s a grim business, undertaken for health reasons and absolutely no other. I therefore take a number of measures to guard against the horror of the exercise. I take what I like to think of as a water Walkman (as in “what – a Walkman?” to which the correct answer is “Yes”). 

And I take goggles.

The Walkman staves off insanity, if merely being at the pool at that time of day isn
t sufficient evidence of insanity in itself. The Walkman’s a key contributor to surviving the ordeal. But the goggles are even more vital. Without them I emerge from the chlorine with bloodshot eyes and, while I’m not bothered about the effect on my appearance (looking like some kind of undead monster might actually win me more respect), it does gall me that the eyes hurt in a low-grade way for the next three days. 

So when I looked in my bag and realised that I didn’t have my goggles with me, I cursed myself under my breath. Going home was out of the question. Buying another pair meant going back out to reception and, in any case, I hadn’t brought enough money with me. There was nothing to it but to go ahead and swim without them and bear the consequences.

And there, as I approached the showers, lying on the floor in front of me – was a pair of discarded goggles.

Now I wasn’t going to steal someone else’s. I naturally gave them in to reception to hold in Lost Property. Just – not immediately. Getting on for an hour later.

A mighty matter of miracle and faith
After all, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, even if in this case it’s a loan horse. And you certainly don’t reject a miracle. Which, surely, this must have been.

So, Lord, please accept the thanks of this your errant and unbelieving servant. Even though I don’t really believe you exist, I’m deeply grateful for the mercy you showed me the other day.

If, existent or not, you had a moment to sort out the mess in the Middle East too, well, that would be just great. But I don’t want to sound too grasping. I remain truly thankful for any minor miracle you put my way, to save me from my many incompetencies.

No miracle too small

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