As an Atheist the Christian Union at my university never appealed to me as something to look into. So, when a friend, who is a part of said society, invited me and a couple of friends (all of whom were not Christian) to a Union organised event at a local church, I was surprised. I must admit the promise of free food and wine swayed me slightly but the talk itself sounded interesting so I decided to head along to their Wednesday event. As part of ‘The Naked Truth’ week the evening I chose was dedicated to ‘Suffering vs Hope’ where the question being discussed was ‘Is hope possible beyond life’s disappointment?’.
Meeting up with the other girls a small walk from the church the conversation centered primarily around what food we would be offered and whether brownies were tonight’s pudding or tomorrows. At the door we were welcomed and seated next to another group of Christian newbies so automatically felt at ease in the strange surroundings. I haven’t had much experience of churches, my family being Atheist we stayed clear of Sunday services and only really made an appearance at funerals and weddings. This church had been decked out with fairy lights and art that had been lent by students of the university. Down the sides of the church strings of bible readings hung and swung in the breeze of passing visitors. The hum of the society’s own jazz band nodded in the corner of the room and mingled with the talks of hungry students.
The evening started with food, which agreed very much with my empty stomach. After this a spoken word artist was introduced, David Reitsma, who read a poem about the current refugee crisis. He offered images of broken children, witnessing their own father shot before them, and referenced the famous image of the drowned boy washed up on the beach. The quiet room slowly filled with suffocating anecdotes of humanity’s ignorance and of humanity’s suffering. He ended the poem stating we are ‘scared to let them in, scared they will destroy us from within’.
The microphone was then passed to another man, who this time delivered a speech that brought together this issue of suffering with the bible. He discussed our understanding of disappointment as an intangible thing, something measurable and not distinct. Some disappointments feel more raw than others, some hurt for longer and some are fleeting. His major concept for the evening appeared to be uncertain. What I took from it was that disappointment is an inevitable consequence of hope, or too much hope. He comments on ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allen Poe and quoted the repetition of ‘never more’ several times during his speech to reflect the everyday reminder of trivial disappointment. We are constantly saying goodbye to things we may believe is what makes us who we are. Memories become paradises just out of reach, never more.
One of his most poignant suggestions was that we should hope less to prevent disappointment; we are imprisoned by false hope. This is when the first proper allusion to the bible was introduced. Each table held a scattering of ‘The Gospel of John’ for each of us to take. He read a piece from John 17:8, 33 as part of his speech.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you may have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”
He went on to argue that the world’s problems were a consequence of humanity’s rejection of God. This is when it got a little more personal. He suggested that Atheists struggled to mourn and therefore remained continually angry whereas Christian’s could accept they are a part of the disease and therefore could overcome their anger. I’m not entirely sure I can agree with this suggestion as I do not agree that our rejection of God is the cause of the world’s brokenness. I believe in the natural progression of life and that for things to grow, things must break. The world is broken because we are selfish and strive for better, no matter how much this damages our world, not because we have disobeyed God. Although the speaker made some interesting points, his conclusions seemed lacking somewhat in terms of reason and importance for modern day people, both Christian and other.
A prayer was read to close the evening and as I sat, eyes half shut, I considered how the night had changed my opinion. Although as a whole I felt somewhat inspired and educated, the religious aspects appeared almost irrelevant to the subject being discussed. Although the event was hosted and was centered around Christianity, as an Atheist I was still able to come out with fresh ideas on issues I may have previously ignored slightly. All round a fascinating event forcing me out of my comfort zone and into the minds of people I may not see eye to eye with, but people I can enjoy a glass of wine and a plate of paella with nonetheless.