Skip to main content

In Search of God

John Humphrys, the BBC broadcaster, is in search of the elusive laurels of ultra-gravitas that descended on David Frost, the greatest media figure from the British isles (along with Malcolm Muggeridge and maybe Alistair Cooke). Last week he broadcast his morning radio reports from Iraq (the safer British zone) and this week his BBC recordings include in-depth discussion with religious leaders from various faiths, on the question of God.

I am always glad to hear intelligent debate on the issue of faith, especially as the UK is a startlingly atheistic (and perhaps not coincidentally often very selfish and materialist) society. However, Humphrys, who entered into dialogue with the Archbishop of Canterbury this morning, is the pouting answer to his own question.

Rowan Williams, the Anglican who speaks with the media man, is tentative, light of touch, profound, agile, and above all, immensely patient. Humphrys wades in like a ten-ton baby grand crashing down some spiral staircase into a hotel lobby. The approach is the answer to the question: is there a God?

But Humphrys is too thick to see it. Thick not with a lack of intelligence - but thick with himself. The media is such a cruel mistress - it gives so many layers of armour and so many luscious coats of honour to the self, that, despite its thin skin and surface delights, it often makes it difficult for a media personality to go truly naked.

So it is with Humphrys. Citing the usual examples of horror in the world (a child with cancer, Beslan, the Holocaust) he then ultimately asks: why can't I have faith like yours? A more sustained contemplation of the dialogue, one that could step out of the commonplace rituals of doubt, would no doubt note the egoism in the very asking of that question. Nothing wrong with a sincere hunger for faith - but Humphrys trots out tropes that every high school debater confronts (religion brings war, freedom is incompatible with God's power, etc). He is a ghost in the rhetoric.

I have noted a truth about God, one which those who cannot sense Her miss: God is where we least expect, when we least expect, and that is Her proof and value. In the last six months I have lost a grand-father, an uncle, and my father. This year alone, also, a young friend was struck down by a hit and run driver, and another is dying of cancer. My faith in God has not been (entirely) lost by these grim times.

Instead, life has deepened, considerably darkened, but its underlying seriousness and beauty, has, if anything, come into stark relief. To use a metaphor which may sound familiar, a November light has come in the window - at once more faint, at once more pure - and it is this note of faint but still-sustained beauty that is God in the world.

God is the despite, is the still, is the just about, is the almost - may even be simply the perhaps, or it could be. God is the barest sliver of hope, when all hope is gone. As such, it is a via negativa, and one's faith can only be fully sounded when the instrument one plays is beyond need, is denuded of the self - when one mourns not for one's own self, but for a greater love of another.

John Humphrys seems a good, capable, serious man who works in the British media. However, he should respect the sacred nature of the answers he seeks, enough to know, that one cannot find the truth in a shallow vessel, in a loud and brassy instrument. It is how one asks that answers. Ask quietly, and without hope of finding. The asking for God opens the horizon of a possible world where the answer might be -

She may be there.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog


According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…


Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…


The Oscars - Academy Awards officially - were once huge cultural events - in 1975, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr, Shirley MacLaineandBob Hope co-hosted, for example - and Best Picture noms included The Conversation and Chinatown. Godfather Part 2 won. Last two years, movies titled Birdman and Spotlight won, and the hosts and those films are retrospectively minor, trifling. This year, some important, resonant films are up for consideration - including Hidden Figures and Moonlight, two favourites of this blog. Viola Davis and Denzel Washington will hopefully win for their sterling performances in Fences. However, La La Land - the most superficial and empty Best Picture contender since Gigi in 1959 (which beat Vertigo) - could smite all comers, and render this year's awards historically trivial, even idiotic.

The Oscars often opt for safe, optimistic films, or safe, pessimistic films, that are usually about white men (less often, white women) finding their path to doing the right thin…