The uncomfortable comfort of doubt
Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh has written a biography which is much more than that, examining as it does the clash between the blacks and whites of certainties and the dappled, doubt filled view which may be where `faith’ resides.
As Holloway puts it, religion is man made, is God? His conclusion that the fundamentalist certainties – whether theist or atheist miss the ability, on the one hand, to temper rules and decrees with the nuanced approach needed in dealing with the individual, and on the other, to answer the mystery and the need for mystery, is one that struck a chord for me.
The title of the book more than nods towards Cavafy’s `The God Abandons Antony’ (Leaving Alexandria) – the loss of dreams, home, the painful gap between the dream of oneself, and the self which our lives reveal to us.
He writes beautifully, using quotations from favourite poets to illustrate what can not be usefully explained except by metaphor – Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, Philip Larkin, Cavafy.
Holloway asks more questions, of himself and his reader, than he answers, and in the end, settles with the fact that much cannot be answered.
I particularly liked this:
“The best I had been able to do was to persuade myself and others to choose to live as if the absence hid a presence that was unconditional love……..It was a relief now to name my belief as an emptiness that I was no longer prepared to fill with words. But though I had lost the words for it, sometimes that absence came without word to me in a showing that did not tell. It was the absence of God I wanted to wait on and be faithful to”