“ Author: John Humphrys / Genre: Religion/Spirituality „
We live in an age where two very loud minorities battle for the hearts and minds of our times. In one corner we have the Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris led field of devout atheism. In the other corner we have religious fundamentalism promoting Creationism in schools and the inerrancy of scripture that dates a millennia before the Enlightenment. In the middle we have a huge collection of moderates, some who call themselves agnostics. Their leaning is probably far closer to the Dawkins side of the argument than the Creationists, but nevertheless they have a firm place in the argument.
"In God We Doubt: Confessions of an Angry Agnostic" by John Humphrys is a book that really speaks to my heart. Humphrys unashamedly takes the centre ground in the argument over the existence of god. He went from devout believer to atheist and now fights at what he says - and agree - is the hardest station of them all. Agnostics are often put down as being wishy-washy in their thinking or cowardly in not making a stance. Who wants the moniker "weak" Agnostic for example? Even the word Agnostic is a complete admission of having no knowledge. However, I believe the agnostics are perhaps the people closest to the rational sceptical cause and Humphrys also seems to take this view, making reference to the ancient tradition of "Doubters" that was first established by Greek philosophers like Socrates.
The book is full of experiences from the famous journalist's exciting and extraordinary life. The inspiration for writing the book came from the series Humphrys did for BBC Radio 4, "Humphrys in Search of God", where he interviewed high ranking representatives from the three Abrahamic religions. You can feel real empathy for him as he sees winning arguments take him one way and then the other just before something else makes them fall short. There is also a lot of sympathy for the people that Dawkins dismisses as simply being "stupid" for believing in their faith when the evidence actually supports the view that they are not.
In the end - and the beginning - the book presents the argument that being an agnostic is far from easy. Being a total atheist is much easier, as is being a complete fundamentalist. In both instances you buy the whole package. Being an agnostic means that you constantly question and you constantly search for answers. You are never really comfortable in your position. Your rationalism makes you far more sympathetic to the atheist argument and, of course, most atheists would also consider themselves as sceptics. However, you fear absolutism as much as you fear not knowing the truth, which makes you wary of going too far down that route. Humphrys rightly points out that more people died in the name of Communism, an atheist ideology, in the 20th century than any other cause. As interesting and compelling as Hitchens's argument is - that "Religion poisons everything" - I think Humphrys, like me, would be more inclined to go with sceptic Brian Dunnings' argument that "people kill people" - not atheism or religion.
Being a celebrated radio, as well as TV, journalist John Humphrys tackles the job of reading his own book with practiced ease. His tone is very conversational and it is a very engaging listen. Most listeners will be used to hearing him drag politicians over the coals, which he does in a way that competes with even Jeremy Paxman, but this time the arguments are posed inwards, presenting a fascinating insight into a personal side to the man.