The benefit of the doubt

Here’s a Thought for the Day I did on election day (May 7th).

So, it’s Election Day at last. I haven’t got a clue what the result’s going to be. I suspect it will be a while before we know who’s going to form the Government.
Quakers are quite comfortable with a certain amount of doubt and uncertainty. The first time I went to a Quaker meeting I was told ‘We don’t have a lot of answers – but we do try to ask the right questions’. As I’ve grown in the faith, I’ve learned that Quakers don’t claim to already know the ultimate truth – just how to set about looking for it.
And I don’t think we’re alone in this. In fact, I suspect that all worthwhile religions start with a questing attitude. Historically, one of the things that all three ‘people of the book’ – Jews, Christians and Muslims – have shared is a willingness to read their key texts critically. To find the underlying messages, they have to put the right questions to their holy books. The early Rabbis called this spiritual practice ‘Midrash’ – meaning ‘the way to seek the truth’.
I’ve recently read Karen Armstrong’s book ‘The Bible: a biography’. She argues, convincingly I think, that it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Christians – and others – began to read scriptures as word-for-word literal truth. This approach, based on certainty, has lead to unquestioning fundamentalism. We’ve seen the results in brands of Christianity that seem to teach intolerance rather than peace and humanity and also the atrocities committed in the name of religion by so-called Islamic State.
And I’m pretty clear this kind of certainty does more harm than good.


My original script finished with a paragraph about how I was prepared for a period of doubt about the result of the election if that was what it would take to get the right one. But that would have got the BBC into legal trouble,

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