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Fairies at the bottom of the garden

By Natasha Moore - posted Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Is believing Jesus rose from the dead like believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden? 

Well that depends. 

Religious people generally bristle at the charge that their cherished beliefs belong in the same category as fairies, or dragons, or flying spaghetti monsters. They’re quick to distinguish a faith they experience as rational from mere fables. 


But in a recent interview for the weekly podcast I’m part of, I was taken aback when a respected literary scholar, and Anglican Priest, Alison Milbank from the University of Nottingham, discussing the role of fantasy literature and the imagination, said this: 

“I can’t tell you that fairies don’t exist. I don’t really know! I would be very careful to say that there are no fairies, and certainly when I was a child, I had experiences of fairies. And there are no fairies in the Bible – but that doesn’t mean there are no fairies.” 

Wait … what?

Milbank went on to explain, in her mild, unabashed, extremely English way, that “even if” there are no fairies, they represent something: a mediation between ourselves and nature, a moral order; something just on the edge of our consciousness; an enchantment we’re always losing – fairies are always leaving, always flitting away. It’s an enticing idea. It tells us something about ourselves, and about the world.

In our secular age, we tend to think of disbelief in the supernatural as default. Yet the stats mirror back to us a mosaic of belief and doubt far more intriguing than the black-and-white battlelines of materialism and religion. 

Surveys regularly show that the decline of belief in “something more” doesn’t track neatly with the decline of religious affiliation in Western countries. 


Even in Western Europe, that bastion of secularism, 65 percent of people say they believe in God or a higher power, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey – including 75 percent of non-practicing Christians, and 29 percent of the religiously unaffiliated. 

Most Western Europeans also believe in the soul – even among those who reject the existence of a higher power, 22 percent of Brits, 43 percent of the Dutch, and nearly a third of French people still think there’s more to them than just their physical body. 

And this is without getting into how many people believe in witches, or horoscopes, or that aliens have visited Earth; or the proliferation even in places like avowedly secular France of private exorcists, mediums, shamans, and “energiticians”. 

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About the Author

Dr Natasha Moore is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Christianity. She has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Cambridge.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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