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Friday, 23 April 2010

Does true atheism really exist?

Yesterday, I came across an article in which Nick Clegg – the then newly-elected leader of the British Liberal Democratic Party, who is currently enjoying an unexpected surge in popularity on the basis of his television appearances in the Leadership Debates (that conveniently ignore all but three Party leaders!) – readily confessed that he does not “believe in God”.

Now, of course, there is not only a post, but a whole sermon/lesson on what that statement actually means – but that is for another time, and place. However, I thought of Mr Clegg’s declared stance – apparently shared by many in our so-called ‘secular’ society – as I listened, this morning, to Major Richard Streatfeild, Commanding officer of ‘A’ Company, 4th Battalion The Rifles, serving in the very dangerous Sangin Valley, in the infamous Helmand Province of Afghanistan, share his regular despatch (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8639000/8639053.stm).

He was reflecting on what were referred to as “soldiers’ superstitions” that have crept in during the Company’s tour of duty. "Riflemen are not usually a religious bunch", he stated, "but I can guarantee more prayers have been offered in the last six months than ever before. Early in the tour", he continues, "I heard a Section praying before they went out. ‘Lo, ’though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’." It was, he said, simultaneously moving, and frightening! He also mentioned that although none of the riflemen wore a cross or a crucifix whilst stationed in the U.K., they were now very common. Almost his final comment was, "One doesn’t find too many atheists on the battlefield"!

Wasn’t it Augustine who once claimed, with reference to Almighty God, that “Thou hast made us for Thyself; and our hearts are restless ’til they find their rest in Thee.”? The modern equivalent would be the statement that “There’s a God-shaped blank in every heart, that only God can fill.”

So perhaps Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hitchens, Nick Clegg, and their like, should test their avowed atheism by volunteering to spend six months in Helmand Province – not as cosseted visitors, but as riflemen, facing the prospect of physical death each and every day. One wonders just how strong their atheistic ‘faith’ would be in such circumstances!

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