does not believe in God, or the resurrection. He does not believe in eternal
life after death. But what makes Thorkild a truly spectacular atheist is that he's the Lutheran pastor of Taarbaek, a town of 51,000 near the Danish capital,
Last month his Bishop, Lise-Lotte Rebel, ordered him to retract his opinions and apologise. She has now suspended him from his duties, causing heated debate
amongst the 85 per cent of Danes who belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. His congregation supports Thorkild, and he's attracting some powerful allies,
like Mogens Lindhardt, head of Denmark's Theological College of Education, who has described his views as "refreshing."
Refreshing? A churchman abandoning his beliefs? Absolutely, for we seem to be mired in a moment of history where scepticism and doubt have become almost
treasonous. All around us, people who exhibit fervent belief - in almost anything
- their eyes sparkling, faces flushed, convictions tumbling from their lips, are
treated as national treasures. Haven't enough tottering beliefs crashed and burned
in recent months to remind us that belief is an irrational state, wherein we so
badly want something to be true that we will reject all evidence to the contrary?
Beliefs can be dangerous. Beliefs can kill.
The righteousness of invading Iraq was swiftly elevated by Howard, Bush and
Blair to the status of a profound belief. It had to be. There was no demonstrable
proof, despite the months of weapons inspections, that Saddam Hussein harboured
any threat to our security. It almost became a clash of faiths. Those who protested
against the attack, the traitorous non-believers, were herded out of the way to
let the troops past, like Catholics in the Shankhill when the Orangemen march.
And now? The central belief is being discredited. The satanic poisons and biological
weapons probably never existed. We have made, as believers so often do, complete
bloody fools of ourselves.
Another hot spot of oft-professed belief was our erstwhile Governor-general
who, in his frequent conversations with God, seems to have received a lot of bad
advice. But then belief is a great source of bad advice. Rugby
league star Ben Ikin has been reported visiting Brisbane schools and telling
kids that confidence is the key to success.
That's not a fact, it's simply his belief. Did Ben or the teacher point this
out to the kids? I hope they were watching when, several nights later, Ben threw
a long, confident pass to his Bronco's winger. It was intercepted by a Newcastle
player who dashed away to score the try that was decisive in the Bronco's defeat.
Holding the pass back, hesitancy and doubt, were the keys to success.
Boosting and self-promotion are everywhere, and belief is the oil on which
it all runs. Kids are repeatedly advised to "believe in themselves"
a process which seems to involve telling yourself greater and greater lies about
how wonderful you are until at last, exhausted by the onslaught, your judgement
calls it quits, your common sense and modesty walk out on you, and you begin to
believe that it's all true.
A dramatic public example is the education and employment entrepreneur Sarina
Russo, in comparison with whom most of us would appear to be such abject failures
we should be seriously questioning our right to exist. Ms Russo is, her
website proclaims, "The Queensland Icon of Today" who has harnessed,
"the power of one woman's self-belief, a power that lifted her from failure
to superstardom in business".
She is, it announces "an international celebrity" since she was
selected "as one of the world's 40 leading entrepreneurs for the year 2002
and received the award in a grand castle in France.
"Sarina Russo has achieved massive success as an educator, businesswoman
and property owner. She owns three buildings (two high rise) in the Brisbane CBD
as well as residential properties."
I rest my case, and humbly suggest a brief respite from such seething certainty.
Might we put aside one day of the year where a modest celebration of uncertainty
and doubt could be permitted? I propose the feast of St. Neverwas, the patron
saint of blessed indifference. We could have a short non-denominational service,
and I know just the man to conduct it. He lives near Copenhagen, and doesn't have
a lot on at the moment.