Friday 29 October 2010

Caedmon and the Atheist

Since there's a regular number of travellers to the area who lodge with Caedmon, we're privileged to see all kinds of wayfarers. Some of them come from the south of the country and have distinct Saxon accents. One such traveller passed our way the other day; he was a man in his late fifties, and from his appearance and his manner, even I - a mere cat - could tell that he was a friendly, prosperous and well-educated fellow. His name was Eormenwulf, and he certainly was talkative. Caedmon is also a keen conversationalist, so a variety of topics came and went in the stream of dialogue. Inevitably, the subject of religion arose. Now, that's hardly surprising, since we're in a land which was Christianised by the Romans when they ruled here, the Irish monks like Columba - and also by Saint Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury. Although vestiges of the old pagan ways remain in the Anglo-Saxon culture, by and large there's a general acceptance that there is one God, and that His Son Jesus Christ came into the world, was put to death by human beings, rose from the dead 3 days later, and then some weeks afterwards was taken up into Heaven. What took us by surprise was the vehemence with which Eormenwulf scoffed at the Christian faith. Even I pricked up my ears from my fireside dozing when he began to speak this way. I'm glad that the Abbess Hilda hadn't heard him - she would have forgotten her Christian charity..!

So, what was his argument? If I remember correctly, he put forward the idea that religion was the reason for the trouble with the world. People are rational, and by using their faculties of reasoning they can easily deduce that there's no God, and that there's no need for religion - it's just an emotional prop for men and women to support themselves with; they should stand on their own two feet. I was horrified - and Caedmon certainly hadn't been expecting the tirade of anti-Christian argument that proceeded to pour from Eormenwulf's lips.

Nevertheless, despite Caedmon's simple upbringing, he's a very thoughtful man, and he was able to ask the atheist the following questions:

If you believe that there is no God to have faith in, why should you then believe in reason? Haven't you simply swapped one God for another?

If reason is supreme, who then defines it? One man's reckoning is not the same as the next one's, no one has a claim to supremacy, so everything's on the table, but nothing can be agreed.

Since God is (and sets) the standard of moral behaviour because He is holy, what standard of right and wrong can an atheist live by? Eormenwulf can't expect anyone else to be trustworthy if it's no longer a moral imperative..

There were other points that Caedmon raised, but I've forgotten them; it was an intense conversation. Not surprisingly, Eormenwulf's answers didn't actually meet the questions, so the resulting conversation became circular and futile. I fell asleep.

When Eormenwulf left us the next morning to continue his journey, I noticed the following slogan embroidered in fancy script on his horse's blanket. It read: 'There probably is no God, so get on with your life'. Caedmon commented to me what a strange man he was - and what outlandish ideas he had. I suggested to Caedmon that Eormenwulf was actually a theist: he just wasn't an honest one...

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