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Phillip Adams versus God

These days I listen more to two individuals than to anyone else: my wife of 55 years is a fellow-Christian. And Phillip Adams – Australia’s best-known public atheist.


Each week, on my iPod, I listen to the world’s experts via Phillip’s ‘little wireless program’ on Radio National. And I learn a lot about Phillip himself – agreeing with him on just about everything, except his views on God.


Research indicates a correlation between most people’s ideas about Deity and their childhood experiences. I had a secure, middle-class, predictable upbringing in a Brethren group which had answers-for-everything and discouraged stirrers. (‘Don’t ask questions, Rowland. Just believe’).


Phillip’s, in contrast, was tough. His Congregational-minister father went off to the war, and he was brought up by grandparents on a dirt-poor farm. He says (it’s in Wikipedia) his mother remarried to ‘a rather sleazy businessman… a sociopath who tried to murder me… I spent the latter part of my childhood trying to protect my mother from this psycho…’


In his chapter ‘OK, Adams, what do you believe?’ in Adams versus God (1985), Phillip wrote: ‘I have always believed that life is totally meaningless and that we have no destiny, no purpose, no author. We just are. For a little while, anyway. Then we aren’t… I believe that religions are nonsensical, and… completely unnecessary… I believe in believing in as little as possible, particularly if belief involves signing a manifesto.’


But in his final chapter on the Meaning of Life, he tells us he’s learnt to ‘enjoy the company of people I disagree with… whereas I’m frequently bored by echoing agreement.’


I’m with him there – and on the manifesto idea (I don’t much like dogmas and creeds). And here: ‘Pessimists won’t save us, while there’s just a chance, maybe only a long shot, that the optimist will.’


Now, Phillip, which optimist? Well, I haven’t found an improvement on Jesus of Nazareth. When he gave his followers the opportunity to leave him (the story is in John 6) Peter spoke for them all: ‘Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.’  I share Peter’s confidence.


And as for dogma, I’m with Sir Herbert Butterfield, formerly Regius Professor of History and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge: ‘Hold to Christ, and for the rest be totally uncommitted.’




Rowland Croucher is a Baptist pastor, counsellor and writer.


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