Last Friday I compered a fantastically unique conference in London organised by a member of the House Of Lords. Although he had set a ceiling on numbers attending, he had three times that capacity try to get tickets
in the days leading up to the event. It was such a success that, afterwards, people suggested hosting it in the Albert Hall next year to accommodate the numbers.
So what was the topic that had piqued the interest of many Peers, Knights of The Realm, business leaders and people from across the globe. What was the conference subject driving the demand for tickets?
It was God.
Now before you think this was an evangelical prayer meeting full of nutters and conmen, looking to save souls and sell catechisms , it was not. The speakers I had to interview all seemed to have two brains and made Stephen Fry sound like he had failed his basic reading and arithmetic exams as a five year old. They were all seeking to answer the intellectual question, Is There A God?
It was fascinating. One speaker was a Rabbi who didn’t believe in God, another was a Buddhist monk who thinks that God doesn’t exist, yet another was a former Bishop Of Edinburgh who gave up the cloth because he is now living as “a reverent agnostic” questioning whether God exists. So you see it was not a religious rally, nor was it a Richard Dawkins fan club meeting filled with atheists. It was a genuine, intelligent, questing and curious gathering of the great and the good (Members of The House Of Lords, Billionaires, Millionaires, Business leaders, Priests, etc) all asking What Is More? In other words, we’ve done all we can on earth to get happy but something’s missing. What is it?
We don’t like talking about religion. When I was asked to take over BBC Radio Berkshire’s Breakfast show on Sunday mornings I said No! I was asked several times and I turned it down each time because I didn’t want to be seen as a Holy Joe. But the boss pulled me aside and said a very wise thing. He said, “You’re a journalist, and I want you to treat it like any other topic. Ask difficult questions, treat guests with respect but not awe, make it a show that non believers will listen to as well as people of faith.” I accepted. God is a fascinating subject.
So what came out of last Friday? Let me pass on what struck me most.
Each speaker admitted no one has seen God, and thus there is no proof he exists, but I’ll remember forever the words of the Buddhist monk, Tashi, who said “the purpose of religion should be to make us all better people so that if we one day discover there’s no God, or that there are hundreds of Gods, it won’t matter.”
A Benedictine monk, Father Lawrence Freeman said “If you can understand it then it’s not God”, whilst a Hindu lady, Jaya Row, echoed that with “God is ‘I don’t know’”. The former Bishop told us to “love your doubts” and then the Rabbi, Howard Cooper, summed it up by saying “Certainty is a killer.”
So, all of the speakers and, judging by the audience’s questions, all of the audience agreed that it’s all right not to know. Doubt is human and everywhere. It doesn’t mean we have to stop trying to be better to each other until we find out.
If it’s good enough for those Peers and Billionaires who have every possible comfort and yet find they have a gap in their soul, it’s good enough for me.
Let’s start talking about doubts. Let’s start talking about why we’re here. Let’s wonder where we fit in to the universe. But let’s do it aloud and remove the stigma of talking about whatever God is.
Try it. Like many people at the conference you don’t have to believe, but it’s a great conversation to have.