A few days ago, a friend of mine posted some quotes and comments on Facebook about Stephen Hawking’s latest views, expressed in his new book. Those were the first rumblings for me that something was up in the Science-religion world (again!) Apparently Hawking believes that it’s not necessary to invoke God in ‘lighting the blue touch paper’ to set off the Big Bang at the dawn of all creation. He states that because there are such laws as the law of gravity, the universe could have spontaneously come into being. Straight away the question that jumps to my mind is ‘where did the laws of gravity etc come from then?’ but I may just be a dunce and I haven’t read the book so I might be totally misunderstanding Hawking’s views!
A day or 2 after the facebook incident I received an e mail from CIS (Christians in Science) containing a link to an article in the Guardian, which was supposed to be a Christian Scientist’s response to Stephen Hawking’s writings (www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/sep/03/physics-science-theology-universe). To be honest. I read it and didn’t think a lot of it as it was a bit simplistic and ‘heard-it-all-before-ish’! But after I read it I made the mistake of looking at the hundreds of comments posted by readers (oh-oh), and these are what struck me. Almost literally in fact. I mean, I felt like I’d been physically beaten into a stupor after reading for 20 minutes. Virtually every single comment was extremely aggressive, mocking, taunting, deliberately patronising and insulting to anyone who may have any kind of faith in a god. It got me wondering, not in an irritated way but a genuinely thoughtful kind of way, why many people are so angry with the whole idea of God? I mean, they could just ignore God-stuff and not really be bothered about it, especially if it’s having no effect on their life from day to day anyway. But they don’t. The idea of God, and that anyone else could believe in God, seems to make many people very furious.
Yes there were a fair few comments about fairies in the sky and wishful thinking, but opinions like that might bring on frustration at the very least, not raging anger. But many people seemed to want to actively be rid of God rather than just allowing others to get on with him, which suggests that they see God as a bad thing, not as a good (or even a neutral) thing, hence the anger. A lot of the comments hinted at the feeling that God is all about fear, about doing things right or wrong based on fear of punishment or hope of reward, about keeping us in line. The lack of God, they suggested, would bestow on us all freedom, peace and unity. Given many of the past and present effects of religion, not least the recent infuriatingly stupid threats by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Quran on 9/11, I can’t deny that these people have a point. More than that in fact, given my own experience of the personal fear of God and how that’s at times affected my life and choices negatively, I can deeply sympathise with the point (and I was raised in a very loving home and church with virtually no hell-fire talk!)
And yet the stories of Jesus are unasamedly, blatently called gospels, which means ‘good news’ and it’s obvious that those who first heard and received what Jesus brought considered it so overwhelmingly positive and joyous that they gave up everything for it. They talk as if they had been set free rather than caught in a restrictive net, given an abundance of peace rather than a shadow of fear and an unconditional love for themselves and the whole world. What are we missing that those early people saw? Every now and again I catch a glimpse of what it’s really all about, something so good that I’m surprised that I or anyone else would wish angrily to be rid of it. It has to do with an overwhelming, releasing, selfless, humble love lavished over us, taking root in the core of us and fortifying us in security and confidence so it can freely spill over from us to every part and person of creation.
Everyone bears responsibility for themselves and I reckon that a lot of Guardian readers should actually find out more about a faith before mocking their own mis-conceptions so simplistically. But on the other hand, I can see where they get their impressions from and maybe if God-people could hold onto the truth for more than just brief glimpses, and then communicate and express it, perhaps they themselves would feel exuberantly liberated and Guardian readers would not feel such seething anger and contempt at the very mention of God.
For some (better!) responses to Hawking’s comments, see www.iscast.org/response_to_hawking (one day I’ll figure out how to make those things into a direct-click-link!!)