IS NOW YOUR GOD?
It's a question as old as
the hills, asked sometimes in anger, sometimes in incomprehension.
And the question is itself a quote from scripture, seen as a taunt
repeatedly thrown, when times are bad, at those who have faith.
Psalm 42: 'My tears have
been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is
now thy God'?' Psalm 79: Why should the nations say, 'Where is now
their God?' Or Psalm 115: 'Wherefore shall the heathen say: Where is
now their God?'
It hardly needs saying
that the same question has been asked of me, and I'm sure of others,
in relation to the recent terrorist attacks in London and in
Manchester, and now again, following the terrible fire in the
Grenfell Tower flats in West London a few weeks ago.
As part of my sabbatical
time last year, I set myself the task of seeing how present day
literature, drama and poetry, and even to some extent television,
have portrayed Christian faith, and in particular the Church of
England, since the year 2000. Among the places I looked were a
couple of productions mounted in the West End, suggested to me in a
letter by Rowan Williams, previously Archbishop of Canterbury. The
first of these was 'On Religion: A Theatre Essay', performed by Soho
Theatre in 2006, described as 'a considered exploration of the
complex issues of faith and religion.., informed by conversations
with Britain's leading philosophers, theologians and scientists,
including Professor Richard Dawkins, Revd Dr Giles Fraser...
Baroness (formerly Rabbi) Julia Neuberger, Archbishop Rowan Williams
and Tariq Ramadan'. The list of actual contributors ranges even more
widely. Cowritten by Mick Gordon and the famously atheist
philosopher A.C. Grayling, it focusses on the relationship between
Grace, an atheist professor of Natural Sciences in her mid-sixties
and her son, Tom, who announces to her horror that he has a vocation
to the priesthood.
The second play, The
Faith Machine', by Alexi Kaye Campbell, was produced in 2011 by
Royal Court. This time the central relationship is between Sophie,
the daughter of a retired Anglican Bishop, and another Tom, her New
York boyfriend, who is in thrall to an advertising company selling
drugs of dubious nature to communities in Africa. The central
conflict is between Sophie's ethical system, derived largely from
her father's liberal brand of . Christianity, and the market-driven
values of Tom's world, taking in on the way a whole variety of other
issues. Flashbacks to earlier events show, for example, her father,
Edward, quitting the church after the Lambeth Conference of 1998
over its treatment of gay people, and the efforts of an African
bishop named Patrick, sent after him by the then Archbishop of
Canterbury to try to win him round. Tom finds the world inhabited by
Edward and Patrick incomprehensible -'after we've landed on the Moon
and after Darwin and DNA... so like Mary Poppins. Or Bed Knobs and
Broomsticks.' Whilst Sophie finds herself ultimately quite unable to
throw off the need to have faith - if no longer, for her, in
religion, then in humanity - however devastating the consequences
for her personal life may be. She herself turns out to be 'the Faith
Machine' of the title.
I'm planning to lead
anyone who'd like to come and explore these two plays and some of
the issues they throw up, as part of this year's Storridge Literary
Festival, in Storridge Church on Thursday 20 July at 7.30 p.m. They
pose some hard questions, not least for those of us who profess a
faith. I clearly can't promise any easy answers: but I can at least
invite anyone who's interested to come along for the ride!