Throughout history religious leaders have had many useful things to say, especially when they are advocating social cohesion and a kinder society. They have also, as we are today more than usually aware, made divisive and destructive utterances. Whether helpful or not their comments usually become complicated for us ordinary people when they include references to God. The images of God have been so humanised that they cast doubt on the theory that God made man in his own image and rather suggest it was the other way round.
It is an inalienable right that people should believe what they like about powers they cannot prove beyond the sight and understanding of humans. The right to believe in a God is, of course, matched by the right not to believe. Faith defines doubt but believing often has a value of its own simply because it is unprovable. ‘A touching faith’ should not be a sarcastic comment but an appreciation of the power of belief to exist beyond our imagination.
Good Pope Francis has used an expression several times that combines the faith he so obviously has with the understanding that precisely because it is belief it is possibly wrong. He talks of ‘sincerely seeking God’. His latest use of the expression is in relation to his attitude towards gays. “If a person sincerely seeks God who am I to judge them?” is a small but significant movement of the Catholic Church’s goalpost on the matter.
Since God is clearly better loosely defined, or perhaps even not defined at all, we may look for a more worldly way to describe what the ‘seeking’ is all about. We seek to answer the question ‘why are we here?’ The remarkable intellectual progress of humanity from our ancestors, the animals, implies a purpose that exceeds mere existence. ‘Implies’, but does not prove it. So our seeking is for a possible answer, not a certainty. It may be that we are simply advanced animals with no purpose beyond simply existing for the time we do.
If and when we find an answer to the question ‘why are we here?’ there are other questions to follow. But without knowing our purpose we cannot answer even the first of the following questions – ‘how do we fulfil that purpose?’ So all depends on the seeking.
That is why I like Good Pope Francis’s expression ‘sincerely seeking’. A long time ago I observed that those with a purpose in life were happier and better rewarded than those without. We do not need to find, though many do. We need to seek, sincerely.
That is all that is required of us.