Veteran author and evangelical stalwart Adrian Plass was in confessional mood when I interviewed him for the most recent edition of Progressive Voices. “Finally, at this stage in my life, I’m able to tell the truth about what I believe, and what I don’t believe in, and how I feel about God and, and all the other stuff...” He confided. Adding, “I told a lot of lies when I was younger…”
In preparation for the interview I had read his latest book, ‘Still Crazy’ in which the writer seems torn between a full embrace of the uncertainty that he leans towards, and the strength of the pull back to the dogmas of his tradition. The tension is more or less obvious throughout the book, and is, I reflect, a fairly realistic representation of the mental landscape of many who, like him, have stayed faithful to their evangelicalism despites the betrayals it has afforded them.
Plass seems to have these in mind too.
“I remember years ago, going to a meeting, and the preacher, he was an evangelist, and he did a talk in which he said, ‘I don't worry, because I belong to God. I belong to God, so I don't worry. Why should I worry when I belong to God?’ And afterwards, he came up and said, ‘I'm really worried. I don't think I got through to the congregation at all.’ And I said: ‘You just told them a million times you don’t worry.’ And he replied, ‘Oh, well, I was preaching then.’ He felt that he couldn’t be honest. And I don't in a way blame him for that, everybody was doing it and a lot of people still do it and I understand why… because God often isn't around.”
Living within a contradictory framework of belief and experience is exhausting, to keep repeating a ‘truth’ which experience demonstrates to be manifestly untrue saps the energy of the most ardent adherent.
For the average church goer this leads them, perhaps, to step back from their weekly, or twice weekly, church service attendance (plus home group or bible study) to something a little less rigorous. With age comes the added opportunity for excuses – visiting the kids, or the grandkids, maybe. But for someone whose entire career has been built in and around a particular religious subculture, who is a ‘name’ on the speaking circuit and who will perhaps forever be thought of as ‘the sacred diarist’ by a generation of church goers it can’t be that simple. Honesty is harder when you have more to lose, I reflect.