Belief without proof not troubling

The case of Ashers Baking Company is about the place of conscience in the sphere of goods and services
The case of Ashers Baking Company is about the place of conscience in the sphere of goods and services

Speaking as a teacher of Christian theology, I agree with two things which Alex Kane says in his comment’ in the News Letter on June 22.

Firstly, challenging Christians when they hold beliefs based on ‘what the Bible says’ is not the same as persecuting them.

Secondly, Christians can play the ‘faith card’ without seeing any need to have recourse to reason or evidence.

My difficulty is that he is describing as ‘Christian’ what is really one brand of Christianity, namely fundamentalism, which is, of course, prevalent in Northern Ireland.

When we look either at the Bible or the history of Christian thought we find at least three things.

Firstly, the New Testament authors never seemed to want people to believe something without evidence.

Secondly, theologians and philosophers over the centuries provided reasons for their religious beliefs.

Thirdly, scientific reason has been highly prized.

Alex Kane quotes Darwin at length, but if he reads the story of the reception of Darwin amongst Christians of his day, he will find that many of them did not see a clash between Genesis and evolution because they did not read Genesis as even attempting to offer a literal or scientific description of the world’s origin.

Belief without proof should trouble no one; our moral and political beliefs, whether we are atheist or religious, are usually of that kind.

Christians should certainly give reasons for their beliefs, but how much difference does it make in practice?

My experience has sometimes been that, when reasons are given, you can be told that it is not your reason but your religion which is driving you.

When you appeal to the Bible, you are called unreasonable; when you appeal to reason, you are told that you are not being honest.

I report here the experience some people have had; in fairness to Alex Kane, he certainly does not take that line.

Although the case of Ashers Baking Company is not about challenging Christian beliefs – it is about the place of conscience in the sphere of goods and services – Christians are all too often guilty of unthinking adherence to church, tradition or Bible and avoiding the challenge.

However, that is not the story of Christian thought through the ages.

Stephen N Williams

Union Theological College
Belfast