"Can we have meaning without God?"
I came across a really interesting and thought provoking conversation when the stage illusionist Derren Brown (think a cooler Paul McKenna) and the Rev Richard Coles (Vicar of St Mary the Virgin, Finedon- and still the only clergyman to have had a No 1 hit (Don’t Leave Me This Way) in 1986) met a while ago, as part of Premier Radio’s ‘The Big Conversation’.
They were discussing whether we can have meaning in our life without God. Derren Brown is interesting in that in his shows and his recent books, he has tried to show how people can be duped by religious charlatans in believing that some extreme acts of healing and miracles are real and expose how some church leaders (mostly in America) promote what is known as ‘The Gospel of Prosperity’ (i.e. to celebrate and almost worship great riches).
That changed though when he listened to Richard Coles who eloquently talked about how the Resurrection is “the irreducible fact of Christianity”, and that his own personal experience of the Resurrection has defined him and his faith. Derren Brown could not deny that experience as it was a real and vivid one for Richard Coles.
Quite often critics of Christianity, and indeed religion has a whole, will use intellectual and historical arguments to try and demonstrate that Christianity is not real, that events that we have grown up to believe though the Bible probably did not take place and therefore our faith must be false.
The problem with that approach is that an individual’s Christian faith is not something that you can easily prove or disprove through historical or intellectual analysis. We all come to faith differently -some will, I’m sure, intellectually accept what they have learnt but equally large numbers of Christians have very personal and deep spiritual experiences which trump any arguments that say a Derren Brown or a Richard Dawkins can succinctly make.
In the conversation, Derren Brown talked about his own experiences when he had been a Christian in Croydon as part of a very charismatic church, but experiences like him being sent on a ‘gay conversion’ course (which, as you might expect, failed) did not help him and ultimately, when he tried to find historical proof of the Resurrection to convince himself , he lost his faith.
He talked about how different he was after stopping believing in Christ, that he became quite depressed and a realisation hit him that rather than him understanding that no matter how down he gets there is a God who loves him, that in the future “it is down to me”. For a number of people, they lose their faith when they question and doubt the evidence of Christianity, but I find it is at those times that God often intervenes and gives them an experience that shows how real the sacrifice of his Son was.
Richard Coles made a very telling point in the conversation that whilst following Christianity may not make you ‘happy’, he has personally found it to be “the path of ultimate meaning”- and that surely must be more important than trying to find happiness.
I think that once you have meaning in your life, you become fulfilled and you get contentment, something different from being ‘happy’. The mistake a lot of people can make is chasing happiness by making a lot of money, by having a very large and expensive house or car, by having a successful career, or having glamourous partners. Ultimately of course, all those things are meaningless (and I choose that word carefully) if you are not content in your soul.
God can give our life meaning, but we need to find time and space to truly listen to his voice, and then wonders can be performed!