I’ve been prompted to write this post by coverage of Tommy Robinson’s decision to quit as leader of the English Defence League, apparently in response to the time that he has spent with Mohammed Ansar and Maajid Nawaz following an appearance on BBC’s The Biq Questions earlier in the year. (You can see the whole story in a BBC documentary tomorrow evening (28th October), with details here : http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/when-tommy-met-mo.html). I have no idea whether Robinson’s resignation from the EDL represents a genuine change of heart, or whether there are other, more cynical motives at play. I guess that people will have the opportunity to reach their own conclusions having watched the documentary tomorrow
What interests me is that this looks to be another example of a case where somebody holding apparently unshakeable and deeply rooted beliefs and opinions finds that the foundation for those beliefs can quickly disintegrate in the face of a direct challenge. In Robinson’s case, an invitation from Ansar for him to share a meal with Ansar’s family, lead to him discovering a side to Islam that he had never previously been exposed to. For triple jump Olympic champion, Jonathan Edwards, it was the change in his life following his retirement from competitive sport that led him to re-evaluate and eventually to renounce his Christian faith. It’s a journey that is not new, and for a current account of somebody else who is travelling it, I heartily recommend that you take a look here : http://recoveringagnostic.wordpress.com/ – a blog that in many ways I wish I was writing, as it resonates so strongly with so much of my own experience in the past 12 months
I recently happened across a quote from Bertrand Russell that goes to the heart of my own beliefs and approach to life at the moment. Wikipedia defines philosophy as “the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument.” This is the context within which the Russell quote needs to be read :
“The [person] who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual tenets of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a [person], the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected”
In a world where there is so much uncertainty, where so little seems to make very much sense, it can be comforting to cling onto the certainties offered by religion or dogmatic politics or narrowly jingoistic patriotism. It is much more difficult, it seems to me, to retain an open mind – looking for the positive opportunities that may flow from Russell’s unfamiliar possibilities. Equally, of course, I might have got it completely wrong!