Lucky Dr Kent Brantly, the American doctor who has recovered from Ebola, having been given a dose of the experimental antibody serum Zmapp, whizzed home to the US, and given another dose. He is now thanking God for saving his life. Through the medical team and drugs, he admits, but ultimately, it seems, God was in charge. And he chose Brantly, not the other 1,200 mainly west African people who have died horribly, which seems a bit picky.
It must be lovely for Brantly to be so sure of things. I tried, aged 10, to work out whether God was around or not, but couldn’t. “What was his actual shape?” I wondered. And how could he be everywhere, all at once? How big, for example, was his toenail? Did it cover Ruislip, where I lived? I imagined him constantly on the go, distant enough for an effective overview and able to home in on catastrophes and act. But it was very hit and miss. Would he be on the spot when you needed him, like Brantly did? On and on I went for years, trying to believe in him. I even went camping with a tremendously religious youth organisation, but despite the prayers and observances, even the devout did some frightfully rude things in their tents. And there was no divine retribution. I gave up on God, for ever.
Millions didn’t. They seem to be obeying his instructions to the letter, which isn’t doing the world any favours. But at last, a bit of good news. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are mellowing. They have a new tactic. Instead of just knocking on doors, they’re also allowed to stand beside their literature, smiling, near shops and stations, letting us approach voluntarily. Marvellous. It’s a shame they didn’t do this years ago, when my old friend was a Jehovah’s Witness. She was terrified sick of being sent to knock on our door. Luckily it never happened.
If only all religions would take this hands-off approach and let us all believe whatever we like. No pressure. I hope that one day, that will happen. I would say “Please, God,” but I can’t.
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