Would You Believe? by Tom Harpur

Would You Believe?

A hundred years ago, most people accepted without question what their priest or rabbi or imam taught them about God, but many people today, educated to think for themselves, find that the concepts of God taught by the world's major religions either insult or contradict their intelligence. At the same time they find that having no faith has left a yawning spiritual void in their lives. In Would You Believe?, Tom Harpur deals with the tough questions raised today by real people, such as how to reconcile the presence of evil, pain and suffering with belief in a loving God.

The challenge we face, Harpur writes, is not to find a substitute but to rediscover God under the encrustation of ritual and doctrine that the various faiths have built up. We can go beyond all narrow-minded claims of being the only true religion, the only correct interpreter of God, he says, when we understand that all faiths are simply routes towards God that humans have been inspired to create. We can use our intelligence to believe in God, rather than deny it in order to swallow notions devised for a different people and a different time.

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Would You Believe?
Sarah Belle Dougherty, Sunrise journal, October/November 2001.

Formerly an Anglican Priest and seminary professor in New Testament Greek, Tom Harpur is currently a religion writer for the Toronto Star. His book opens a broader perspective for those, particularly from a Christian background, who for various reasons feel estranged from the spiritual. Published in hardback as The Thinking Person's Guide to God (1996), it grew out of his request at the end of a newspaper column for "readers who would like to have a vital faith in God (regardless of denomination or religion) but honestly cannot because of some question, doubt or other difficulty" to "write briefly stating what the block seems to be."

Scores wrote in from all over Canada, most letters falling under about a dozen categories, which he addresses. He responds to writers' concerns on such issues as belief in God or miracles as unscientific, worship as unnecessary, hypocrisy of religion and religionists, guilt, negative childhood experiences, religious institutions' hostility to women, life after death, Jesus as the only way, the Bible as the Word of God, creeds, and pain, suffering, and evil. He also discusses cosmic consciousness, the role of dreams, and raising children with spiritual values. His comments are not dogmatic, and represent a fellow searcher's thoughts and struggles with religion today. A Christian who is drawn towards spirituality rather than churchianity, he believes there are many paths to the truth inside and outside particular faiths.

The opening chapters on his own beliefs and concerns are particularly thought-provoking. Stressing the importance of both reason and intuition, he maintains that faith, while transcending reason, should not contradict it. He cites the Cambridge Platonists as an example of this approach within the Anglican tradition. For Harpur, God is a spiritual Presence not only in the universe and nature, but also within each person. Answers over millennia to the imperative question, "If such a God exists in and through and behind and over all things, what is my relationship to this Reality and what dose he want me to be or do? (p. 35), have resulted, he believes, in a perennial wisdom tradition found worldwide. The author's own conclusion: "If you and I recognize our oneness with God and with the whole creation, including not just all other human beings but the animals, the earth and all that is in it or in the heavens around it, it follows that our guiding ethic must be an all-encompassing compassion" (p. 39). Thus, compassion and justice are the core of ethics which "flow out of the heart of the universe itself" (pp. 40-1), and the Golden Rule and nonviolence are the guiding principles by which we need to live.