BBC broadcaster John Humphrys is an agnostic who finds militant atheists as infuriating as religious extremists. How can they be so certain they are right?
After his own Christian belief foundered, Humphrys went “In Search of God” by asking Anglican, Jewish and Muslim leaders to prove to him that God existed.
The radio dialogues provoked the biggest listener feedback he has ever had in half a century covering Nicaraguan earthquakes, Northern Ireland riots and harrying evasive politicians on BBC Radio’s flagship Today show.
Organized religion no longer holds sway in today’s Britain but he discovered his compatriots had a thirst for spirituality in a celebrity-obsessed, consumer-driven materialistic society.
Millions found no easy answers even if their honest doubt may provoke scorn from both atheists and religious fundamentalists.
Humphrys, with the journalist’s instinctive distrust of the dogmatic, now proudly joins their doubting ranks with a new book “In God We Doubt: Confessions of a Failed Atheist.”
“Unless you are on the fairly extreme wing of either religion or atheism ... I am not sure you can ever be at peace with yourself because there will always be questions,” he told Reuters in an interview to mark the book’s publication.
“Unless the Archangel Gabriel appeared to me in the next 10 minutes or possibly tomorrow morning and said ‘I am saving you, here are your wings, cone and join me’ I shall always have doubts.”
The book was prompted by interviews he did with Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans.
He said Williams exhibited a strong sense of his own uncertainties while the other two, basing their beliefs on The Old Testament and the Koran, appeared “pretty certain.”
But they all failed to convince Humphrys, who ends up describing himself as a devout skeptic.
In the book, the acerbic broadcaster turns much of his firepower on atheist writers like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, author of the bestseller “The God Delusion.”
“Their level of intolerance is unacceptable for somebody who claims to be presenting an intellectual, academic case,” he said.
Humphrys argues that the faithful have every right to believe in God and complains that atheist academics “not only hector but deride people.”
“To suggest that religion is the greatest evil, the greatest danger, the greatest threat the world faces is simply nonsense. There is no historical justification for that claim at all.”
So, after locking horns with a trio of razor-sharp theological minds and sifting through thousands of reactions from listeners, what has all the soul-searching produced?
After a lifetime puzzling over an insoluble conundrum, Humphrys concluded: “I am not prepared to say there is nothing there. I do believe there is something there. What the hell it is, I have absolutely no idea at all.”