Andrew Brown: why I am not a Christian

Guardian reporter Andrew Brown, who used to cover religion, explains why he is an atheist:

I have been writing about Christians for more than 20 years now. I am married to one; I was brought up as one, more or less. Half a dozen of the most admirable, brave and honest people I know are Christians, and I don’t think for a moment that I am either smarter or better than they are. If I am right, and they are wrong, this is due to no great merit on my part. It is certainly not because I am less prone to illusion than they are, or more firmly attached to the truth. I know I can generate quite enough illusions of my own without supernatural help.

. . .

When I became a religious affairs correspondent, and started to meet Christian intellectuals, I came to realise that some at least believed nothing I found abhorrent or ridiculous. They no more take the Bible as a work of history than I do. There were some with whom I could and can talk seriously in the confidence that we understand the world in almost exactly the same light and see it disfigured by the same shadows. It would be wrong and invidious to name living people, but the late Lord Runcie was one of the most admirable men I have ever known, and if Jesus was good enough for him that’s a powerful argument.

Yet still I won’t join. In need only reread some parts of CS Lewis to know that if that hectoring certainty is right, I would rather be wrong. Most of the bishops I have known have been a sorry lot. It is hard to believe that they are right about anything much and I would certainly not wish to associate myself with the modern Church of England and all its squalid vanities. I left the 1998 Lambeth Conference determined to do nothing which might have me mistaken for a Christian. No doubt the feeling is mutual. This wouldn’t matter if they were representatives of a great tradition. But I find I can’t believe in the tradition, either. Looking at what Christians have actually believed about the world, and the ways that they have in practice understood their doctrines, I know that almost every Christian now alive would have been considered a heretic 500 years ago; and that the witch-burners of the 17th century would themselves have been heretics 500 years before.

For similar reasons, I can’t accept the intellectual authority of the Roman Catholic church. Calvinism, while it it intellectually satisfying, is emotionally repugnant to me. In the end, I suppose, my objections to God are, as they must be, theological: the workings of divine providence are just a little too inaccessible to human reasoning. The problem of suffering remains insoluble. There is no possible theodicy. But I can’t, either, take the Dawkinsian view that the problem of suffering is an illusion generated by the illusion of God. You can’t mend the heart in a heartless world by observing that the world is in fact heartless. That’s not the point.

I suppose I end up saying that I accept the Christian account of the problem; I just can’t accept Christianity’s account of the solution, and so I remain, by the grace of God perhaps, an atheist.

Read it all here.

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