Simon Hoggart is a marvellous journalist. His parliamentary sketches are hilarious. His Saturday diary is absorbing. However, the latter output does tend to display a rather waspish side to the fellow. One might even use the word "snobbish", but one would obviously be shot down in flames immediately - good grief, the man writes for what was the "Manchester Guardian", after all!
There is nothing more likely to get Mr Hoggart wound up than religious people displaying what he sees as certainty about their beliefs. Indeed, he seems to get wound up by religious people, full stop.
He wrote an interesting piece yesterday about Nepal airlines. One of its Boeing 757s was playing up, so they sacrificed two goats in front of the plane, which then behaved itself. As Hoggart observes:
..it struck me as no more irrational than praying for someone to be cured of leukaemia, or footballers crossing themselves at the start of a match. No doubt the Nepalese will believe this proves their religion works, and who are we to say it doesn't?
But it was Hoggart's later observation about a book launch which had me rather puzzled:
Among the guests were the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi, who seemed to be chatting very politely over the sorrel soup and red mullet. Why is it that people who have faith, who know they are right in the absence of any rational proof, find it quite possible not to tell other people they are wrong? Do you think Dr Williams mentioned courteously to Dr Sacks that he's sorry to have to break the news, but he is condemned to the eternal flames because he doesn't accept Jesus as his personal saviour?
Hang on a minute. Firstly, I think the phrase "know they are right" imbues people of faith with a little more self-righteous certainty than is often appropriate - "hope they are right", might be more fitting most of the time (although there are of course exceptions). Secondly, Monsieur Hoggart is the one who is often complaining about people of faith who express certainty about their beliefs. Isn't it refreshing that people of faith accept and respect others' faiths?
Perhaps old Hoggers has stumbled upon a discovery (for him). Many of us with a faith are just muddling through, with many doubts and uncertainties, and actually greatly respect the faiths of others, even though their beliefs may be diametrically opposed to ours. Indeed, I also have total respect for atheists and humanists. At least, by and large, they have thought about their beliefs.
What I find rather difficult to understand is people who write down "CofE" on their census form but whose only connection with the faith is to switch over to another channel the moment "Songs of Praise" comes onto the telly and, perhaps, mutter a desperate prayer if they are in an aircraft about to plummet out of the sky.