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Still not doing God, despite best efforts of Jesus Army

Posted on 17 April 2012 | 3:04pm

I must thank the people who organised my trip to Northampton today for ensuring the photographers didn’t see me until I was out of the car which collected me from the station, and on my way into the venue.

Had they been at the station, they would have had a good photo for any future ‘we don’t do God’ coverage – me getting into a car loudly liveried as belonging to the Jesus Army.

This a day after a militant atheist friend emailed me to say he was ‘profoundly worried’ after hearing my Radio 3 essay on self-doubt, and reading my little book The Happy Depressive, that I was ‘venturing ever closer to God.’

This was also the theme for a lot of the mainly Christian audience at the Jesus Centre today. They picked up on little signs and tried to get me to turn them into big ones, as when I talked of some of the undoubtedly deeply spiritual moments which came in the days following Philip Gould’s death a few months ago. Question after question implied I was a kindred spirit and it was only a matter of time. ‘Are you afraid of admitting to faith?’ I was asked. ‘What is holding you back?’

I was able to reply that what held me back was not believing in God, which seemed quite fundamental. I also defended my ‘we don’t do God’ approach in Number 10, pointing to the dreadful race for the Republican Presidential election nomination in the US as evidence of what happens when the political gene pool is narrowed down because only candidates who wear God on their sleeve need apply.

I think it is good for our politics that there are people of all faiths and none able to get into elected office. Indeed we could do with even more variety. I am a pro-faith atheist. I was able to appreciate the passion today’s audience felt for their Christian faith, just as I am able to appreciate the passionate faith of a Muslim, a Sikh or a Hindu, without sharing them.

My atheist friend will still be worried, I know. To pre-empt his next email (what on earth were you doing at a Jesus Centre in the first place for God’s sake!!!????) I was there because a man named Paul Veitch persuaded me to go. And the reason was that a while back he ‘came out’ as being a depressive, having heard me talk about depression publicly. On that front, I did sense a kindred spirit and so was happy to help.

He was one of the questioners trying today to get me to see that my life was but a preparation for the moment I pick up on all the signs, and embrace God. ‘Alastair Campbell may not do God,’ he said ‘but God does Alastair Campbell.’ It was a perfectly formed soundbite but I still stepped out of the Jesus Army car on the return journey, thinking that we shared many values, but not the fundamental belief system.

Talking of Philip Gould, several of the people had heard his daughter Georgia on the Today programme this morning, talking about her Dad’s posthumously published book, When I Die. She spoke really well, and has written a beautiful chapter in the book. She and I will be taking part in a film about Philip on tomorrow night’s One Show on BBC1.

Meanwhile thanks again to all at the Jesus Army. I enjoyed the session, you shifted  loads of books, and I’m grateful that you’re praying for me, even if I am unable properly to reciprocate … ‘Yet’ …. I hear my militant atheist friend and the Jesus Army whisper in unison.

  • Michael Donohue

    Alastair, you’re a likeable , intelligent bloke, but atheism is not the road to travel. Just sit tight and wait for the call. It will come !!

  • Really enjoyed listening to you and meeting you today, Alastair. Thanks for coming. James.

  • I’m just getting on top of my depression that I have suffered from for many years. I respect you for making people aware. Will have to get a copy of your book! I have written a blog on it if you have time to read it

  • Paul Davies

    I think that it’s interesting that the burden of proof is transferred onto the atheist rather than the ‘believer’ and I find it depressing that a self-proclaimed atheist could never be elected President of the US. 

  • John Kirby

    Glad to hear you had a good day at the Jesus Centre.  I never used to do God years ago until i met the Jesus Army, people do change

  • ambrosian

    “‘Alastair Campbell may not do God,’ he said ‘but God does Alastair
    Campbell.’ It was a perfectly formed soundbite but I still stepped out
    of the Jesus Army car on the return journey, thinking that we shared
    many values, but not the fundamental belief system.”

    You are clearly a better man than me AC if you can respond to that typically arrogant and patronising remark of a certain type of Christian without telling the person to stick their soundbite where the sun doesn’t shine.

  • ed77


    Perhaps they think you have a faith of sorts because they think you might have been involved with AA which of course in the 12 steps involves surrender to a Higher Power etc…Ed

  • Martin Heath

    As the interviewer at the above event, I’d like to thank you for your open-ness and willingness to talk about things you’ve probably talked about many times before.  Also your frank observations about faith.
     It was a pleasure to be involved.

  • I really enjoyed hearing you today, really appreciated your openness and honesty, and was gripped throughout, not least by your easy-going manner under fire. Respect (as they used to say before it meant something quite different).

  • Colin Morley

    A very good blog on why you don’t believe but don’t hold out against anyone who chooses to believe – in whomever or whatever. I’m frequently challenged by Christian friends about my atheism – though oddly not by Hindu, Moslem or Jewish friends.  Does that say something about Christianity? I don’t know. I did laugh at the expression: “What on earth were you doing at a Jesus Centre in the first place for God’s sake!?” Seems that even we atheists do inadvertently “do God” from time to time!

  • Paul Veitch

    Yep, thanks again for being a good sport.

  • Anonymous

    People can be as spiritual as they wish without believing in the fantasy of an afterlife, or conforming to the tyranny of organised religion.  I am very attracted by the rituals of certain religions, but I know them for what they are.  
    A friend once said to me that he knew God didn’t exist because his lovely, peaceable father who died of Alzheimer’s had turned violent towards the end – a horrible paradox for a kind man.   I think the strongest temptation for me would be to want to be reunited with certain people who had died, and to console myself that this was going to happen.  As one gets older it will be a challenge not to deceive oneself with these kinds of thoughts.  But… true bravery will be to have the courage of our non-convictions.

  • Ehtch

    The US is quite frightening with their jesus tv channels, with their adverts to buy religious baubles, with so called preachers making a mint. But that is the reflection of the hundreds of remote small towns and communities across it’s country, each barely a few hundred residents, if that, causing feelings of isolation.

    But looking at your experience here, some people are confusing religion with basic feelings of care. There is no need to put a stamp of identity on it. Caring is not a commodity to put on a supermarket shelf for buying.

  • Ehtch

    …furthermore to my previous, there are people about with christian values, with a small c, who care, and no mention of any orthodox religion. Take the thousands that work in the NHS with an extreme high sense of duty and caring.

    This documentary done by the beeb a few years ago on the setting up of the NHS perfectly shows it, what with the struggles Nye had to get it up and running. What he did was a type of miracle. Worth eighty minutes of anyone’s time in watching it, they should show it in schools, in their social civility class, or whatever it is called,

  • Anonymous

    “‘Alastair Campbell may not do God,’ he said ‘but God does Alastair Campbell.’”

    This reminds me of that joke where someone dies and goes to heaven and sees all the greats of the past playing a match, there is Duncan Edwards, Johnny Haynes, George Best etc and the bloke sees a number 7 shirt with Cantona on it and the collart turned up like Cantona. The guy asks another spectator “I didn’t know Cantona was dead?” who replies “No that’s God – he thinks he is Cantona.”

    Ie I think that soundbite makes it sound like God worships Alastair and not the other way round – Alastair should use it as the strapline for the next diaries I reckon! If the Christian guy gets upset Alastair should quote Bill Hicks “Well then forgive me.”

  • Anonymous

    There probably isn’t a God – but there is certainly no Christian God.

    They believe in an all powerful, all loving God. Well as we speak there are people starving, dying of disease and being slaughtered in wars all over the planet, in some cases innocent children. Why doesn’t God intevene? Because he can’t or because he won’t? All that is certain is – he doesn’t intervene.

  • Michele

     What do you mean by ‘christian values’ Ehtch?

    Goodness, caring, kindness all existed long before Christianity (or any other religion), just as did (and still do) evilness and cruelty.

    Religion has been the reason for many wars and still is (especially when linked to rights to territory).  For heaven’s sake (see how ingrained it is in the language?) Christians have slashed bits off each other and burned each other on the stake simply for being of another sect of it.

  • Michele

     Tsk I’ve replied to your minute-later one before seeing this.

  • Clive Millman

    Really enjoyed your talk & your honesty. As a Christian I respect your pro-faith atheist position & I have been inspired reading about your friendship with Philip Gould & his journey into faith. It was good to hear the real story behind the We don’t do God quote

  • Dave Simons

     They usually dust off The Book Of Job when that argument comes round. All this suffering is really clocking up CV points for heaven in the hereafter, so we just have to grin and bear it in the here and now. Job was about as good as you could get but he was still made to suffer. As we hear a lot at the moment, every negative is an opportunity – even kids starving in east Africa or beautiful people in Norway being gunned down for nothing by some mixed-up bloke who’s got ideology.

  • Dave Simons

    People have experiences which can be called ‘spiritual’, often without knowing it at the time, and some of these experiences were discussed by William James in his book , ‘Varieties of Religious Experience’.  But, like the author himself, when it comes to explaining them or describing them they often revert to the language of the dominant religion in which they were brought up. We’re all caught up in this language at a critical period in our lives and it’s hard to get beyond it into a new dimension.
    One example is recurring coincidences, which give a feeling that some hidden dramatist is shuffling you into trial situations, watching how you respond and cope. It would be very easy to leap from experiences like this into thinking – it must be God. It might not be though, and maybe we haven’t yet created a language to describe and explain such experiences. 
    Meanwhile the Faith Brigade will always jump in or insinuate themselves with their simple “Told you so” non-answers. Some Christians in particular will have us believe that no less than the Creator of the entire universe – most of which is unknown to us – decided to take human form during the period of the Roman Empire and have fellow mortals put Him through one of their common sacrificial rituals with the aim of providing a means to completely crack the problems of being human and mortal for ever.

  • Olli Issakainen

    Physical science is not omnipotent.
    It cannot answer all possible questions. Science is not an all-purpose oracle dealing with every kind of question.
    The major puzzles of existence are out of reach of scientific rationality.
    Isaac Newton said that life as a whole is radically mysterious. The sciences deal only with a tiny fragment of it.
    Other kinds of questions need different forms of answer.
    How to understand and face life as a whole is not a physical problem.
    Genesis contains two creation stories.
    Augustine of Hippo stated that in six “days” of creation, God created the potential for everything to unfold.
    This reading of text could be used in connection with the idea of evolution.
    Creation is ongoing.
    Evil came to this world in Fall. It was not God´s choice. Human beings misused their free will.
    This choice changed everything. But God is still wholly good.
    Bible does not say that it should be read literally. Yet Bible is the word of God.
    Wittgenstein called religion a language-game. Religion is without ground or explanation.
    Faith does not need to backed by evidence. Faith is not logic.
    Christians can never defeat atheism by philosophical argument.
    Yet philosophy or science have not been able to kill God. But the God of the PHILOSOPHERS does not exist.
    Wittgenstein gave the permission to return to the Biblical God.
    Reason and evidence are as suspect as everything else. Methodological naturalism is based on postulate – not fact.
    Socrates said “all I know is that I know nothing”. Pyrrhonian sceptics added “and I´m not even sure about that”.
    Even if we deduce a fact through logic or see something with our own eyes, it does not mean that it is right.
    Logic could be flawed, our perceptions distorted.
    When Nietzsche said that God was dead, he meant that Reason was dead, too.
    In Descartes´s philosophy the subject must doubt any truth unless he can prove it rationally.
    Descartes´s scientific revolution and Enlightenment put God out of picture.
    But a version of God made the system of Hegel.
    Feuerbach and Marx started materialism. Darwin is also said to have killed God.
    Faith or reason?
    Kiergegaard made a distinction between objective and subjective truth. Truth can be known, it can be lived.
    Lived truth is the most important. What matters is how beliefs are lived.
    Reason is fallible. Intellect can only take you so far.
    Neither logical argument nor modern science can prove or disprove the existence of God. It is a matter of FAITH.
    Aristotle and Plato cited “conclusive” proofs of God. But there is more to faith than logical scrutiny.
    Yet belief is also about truth.
    Jesus said that he was the truth.
    Since Fall human beings have been in rebellion against God. This is why God sent Jesus – to make things normal again.

  • Ashley Riley

    I really enjoyed the event too Alastair – your openess, honesty and directness is always refreshing and inspiring. Thanks too for answering my questions so frankly. Keep up the good work.

  • Ehtch

    Christ promoted values, that as you say, were in people before and after, without following Christianity. But as you say, as with most religions, hysteria does happen, and is used as an excuse to abuse. KKK is a prime example, let alone the Spanish inquisition.

  • Ehtch

    No probs.

  • Ehtch

    Alastair, noticed your twitter on first day of the Olympics – it actually, bizarrely, kicks off in Cardiff Millennium Stadium, with the footie, and again bizarrely, a day ot two before the opening ceremony. I think I am right in saying that, read it somewhere.

  • Anonymous

    Logical argument can however disprove the existence of an all powerful and all loving Christian God however.

    Innocent people get slaughtered every day. So God either:
    – Doesn’t exist
    – Can’t stop the slaughter
    – Refuses to stop the slaughter

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and in actual fact that argument takes them away from Christianity its more like the argument put forward by wise learned sages such as the Buddha and Glenn Hoddle! Ie you are suffering now but will be rewarded in the next world/life, or you are suffering now because of what you did in a past life.

    I think I must have been very illogical in a past life and as punishment God/The Buddha gave me a logical brain and put me into a world full of illogical people!

  • Love intervenes

    God is always intervening in suffering – his loves burns so strong for us he’s bursting to break into our worlds with love, comfort, hope, joy and peace. 

    He rages at injustice, roars at suffering and weeps at pain. God can intervene, and will intervene, when we allow him to.

    How can we ever claim God doesn’t intervene, when Jesus is the supreme example of ‘crisis intervention’  – embracing suffering himself and he didn’t stay removed, but came to us to show us how to love and teach us how to live generously – feeding the starving and caring for the poor, how to command healing through his power and authority (he is God after all and rules over sickness) and how to be a peacemaker, through breaking the chains of hatred and selfishness through  mercy, forgiveness and love. 

    Jesus is our love intervention, joy injection and hope – if that’s a sound bite, then be by bitten by the truth that God is all out against suffering and all for love, and be infected by the truth that he is forming his army of lovers to intervene and invade the world with love!

    “He will wipe very tear from their eyes. There will be nor more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away”

  • Michele

     Since ‘Christ’ was an assumed name taken by someone making claims about himself isn’t ‘Jesus’ simply more correct?

  • A sower went out to sow…… I thought you were athiest. And some seeds fell by the wayside….you
    know the story….
    Des Currie

  • Ehtch

    I remember playing that drinking game, where you had to name famous people with the first letter of the first name same as the first letter as the famous person surname given before. So someone said Charles Darwin or something, and I said Mary Christ. And they asked Mary Christ? And I said, Jesus’s mother of course. Oh how they laughed. On a boat from Ireland to Fishguard it was.

  • ambrosian

    Maybe AC could write a piece on why so many top footballers appear to believe in God. The great Lionel Messi who plays tonight is one of many players who celebrates goals by muttering words in the direction of heaven. Hernandez of Man Utd even kneels in the centre circle and prays before the match begins.

    The puzzling thing about this is that assuming (for the sake of argument) that a god exists, then why would he take an interest in the outcome of a football match and why would he take sides in a match?
    The thought processes of the religious are a complete mystery to me.

  • Michele

     If that post is really to me nope, I don’t know ‘the story’.

    I’m sure I can live without doing so and hope you won’t insist on ‘educating’ me/us.

  • Dave Simons

    ‘Physical science is not omnipotent.
    It cannot answer all possible questions. Science is not an all-purpose oracle dealing with every kind of question.
    The major puzzles of existence are out of reach of scientific rationality.’

    I agree entirely but I do wonder who claims otherwise? I’m sure most scientists know the limitations of their modes of enquiry. As for the rest of what you say I’d suggest that you’re addressing the wrong audience. There is little point in making a list of dogmatic points – all stated as irrefutable facts – to people on this site who have shown by previous posts that they are prone to a of a degree of scepticism in relation to what could be described as your religious beliefs. In short, they probably think the needle has got stuck.

  • Dave Simons

     I think you are being ironic. As a spoof I can’t hope to compete with you!

  • Dave Simons

    ‘Maybe AC could write a piece on why so many top footballers appear to believe in God.’

    Footballers aren’t the only ones who believe in the God Money. I can reveal the words muttered by Lionel Messy – er, Messi: “Where’s the money, lover? Look! Where’s the cheque?” As for Hernandez of Man U, he prays for gold rain.

  • Dave Simons

     ‘A sower went out to sow’

    Sow what?

  • Dave Simons

     ‘Christ’ is from the Greek word ‘Christos’. Jesus was a common Hebrew name, with variants like Joshua and Jesse. The Greek title was grafted onto the Hebrew name during the days of the early Christian church. The man himself, mere human and mortal like the rest of us, would never have claimed the status imposed upon him by succeeding generations. But then look what we’ve made of a mere pop singer like Elvis – Graceland, a shrine!

  • Dave Simons

    Did you try walking on water on that cruise?

  • You know others who make that claim?
    Des Currie

  • Michele

     He is quoted in the Bible  telling a woman that he was the Messiah as well as Christ.

    Don’t you think that dying in such a way was a demonstration of incredible self-belief (or delusion)?

    It doesn’t seem fair to blame all the hopefuls that wanted to believe he was what he said.

  • Gilliebc

    Dave, many doctors and other medical professionals believe in God.  They are at the sharp end so to speak in matters of life and death.  I’m now tempted to write ‘so there’ but that would be childish 🙂

    To be honest I’m not bothered by what other people do or don’t believe.  That’s their concern.  There are still plenty of people/sheeple that still believe the ‘official’ version of everything.  This is a relatively new phenomenon thanks to the likes of the BBC and most of the rest of the MSM. 

    My grandparents generation were very well aware of how things were run.  I despair at times of the ignorance of many people (not you Dave) who are not only ignorant, but more than content to remain in that state.  I’m not very tolerant of people with closed minds and who allow other people do their thinking and decision making for them.

    Even as a Christian I would still consider the possibility that it is all a ruse instigated by the PTB as a means of controlling the masses.  But I’ve always had an inquiring mind and am inclined to think that’s how other people think too.  But many people have closed minds and are mentally incapable of thinking outside the box.  They are so controllable.  Oh well, such as life.

  • Gilliebc

    That’s a rather simplistic view reaguns.
    If God were to intervene in ‘slaughter’ it wouldn’t prove anything.

  • reaguns

    Johan Cruyff said of football in Spain “Before the match all players on both sides pray to God. Surely if there was a God, then every match in Spain would end in a draw.”

  • reaguns

    Children will be murdered in Africa tonight. God will not intervene. Why not?

  • Ehtch

    Walked on beer in the main bar of the ferry. It is amazing how much beer these ferries carry, especially on international rugby weekends, they never runout. And it was a bit rough that night, the toilets were awash with those without sealegs. There was only a dozen of us left in the bar when we docked, and on the bus home, some smelled as if they had a difficult crossing on the briney. Knew I should have joined the merchant navy, or become a north sea trawlerman or something, I have those legs.

  • Michele

    Wouldn’t it relate to the ‘all loving’ Gbc?

  • Michele

     Refer to my answer about the same claim made to another

  • simon

    A ‘Caring God’..or (not particularly caring) intelligent design ? The second of these possibilities usually seems to be overlooked in discussions such as this.

  • Dave Simons

    I think ‘Messiah’, Hebrew-derived,  just refers to someone who has had oil poured over them – a king or high priest. Nothing more than that. It would have been applied to lots of people.

  • Michele

    It also meant ‘a god’.

    We could chew over this ad infinitum, re whether Jesus was misrepresented by translations just as it’s so true that hadiths have been misrepresented in translations decades after that other book was written but we won’t get away from the  gigantic claim he made about himself by giving in to crucifict/xion.

  • reaguns

    Its necessarily simplistic Gillie, there is no need to complicate it. Anyway I’ll stop now seeing as you are a Christian – I don’t want to fight people about their beliefs as long as they don’t try to convert me or disprove my logic.

  • Nick

    “‘Physical science is not omnipotent.It cannot answer all possible questions. Science is not an all-purpose oracle dealing with every kind of question”

    Indeed, but it’s still far from clear that religion accurately answers *any* questions.

  • Gilliebc

    Not necessarily M.

  • Dave Simons

     Is that the same for all the others who got crucified?

  • DaveTea

    At the heart of the Christian religion is an innocent man getting slaughtered. For Christians, that man’s life, death and resurrection is the evidence that God does exist and that he is willing to deal with evil in the world.

  • Dear all. Just to clarify the context of the quote “God does Alastair Campbell”. In the car on the way to the station, the full quote was “God does Alastair Campbell in terms of Him loving you and sending Jesus to die for you” (like He did for us all)  @paulveitch:twitter

  • Mark Wright

    Mere pop singer! I think that’s actually considered blasphemy in Tennessee.

  • reaguns

    Excuse me, the use of the word evidence is not appropriate here. Faith yes, belief yes, evidence no.

  • Ron

    The use of “slaughter” allows use of the loophole of humanity in rebellion to God’s wishes: that pesky free-will. More interesting are the variety of excruciating and obscene diseases and disorders in Creation. Is Hell to be inundated with bacteria or were they simply doing what the Designer intended (or failed to foresee?).

  • Micgamble

    he already has intervened friend, approximately 2000 yrs ago (which  too god is the past present and future ) as time is but a thousand yrs as to us is one day. Dont blame god for suffering in the world, man brought it upon himself by disobeying god his saviour god doesnt make us have wars does he?

  • Micgamble

    gave tony benn a jesus army leaflet in 94 in kettering. james kholi and i met tony blair when james was wearing a jesus army jumper on his election trail in 97 james wished him all the best at the time.

  • Micgamble

    if a christian gets a bit self righteous ask him when the last time he walked on water was! And when was the last time he raised someone from the dead or jesus thru him!?