Daddy, Do you believe in God? (Book Review)

Daddy, Do you believe in God? The story of how we lost our faith and how we might find it again -- by John Hunt, O Books, 2001. Reviewed by Paul Overend

The title of the book uses a deceptively simple question that requires a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but the author is showing that this is naïve. He writes for those who ‘might not call themselves Christian, but wouldn’t call themselves atheists either.’

The book aims to give a ‘big picture’, a personal overview of questions about God. It covers a dizzying journey of reflections on problems that are raised for naïve belief by a wide range of subjects: astrophysics, evolution and genetics, political history and sociology, philosophy of religion and comparative religions, and biblical and canonical scholarship. Although he says there is nothing new in the book, as it covers such a variety of fields there is surely something for everyone, even if more scholarly presentations of some particular lines of thought can be found elsewhere. He also says that it is a bit disorganized, but this means that it need not be read in any particular order and leaves the reader to skip over familiar arguments, to consider new ones. What makes it most attractive though is the personal tone. John Hunt writes with an engaging range of moods, from incredulity at naïve beliefs to passionate outrage at the dark side of religion, which also colours the preface that was written after September 11th.

Occasionally, some remarks niggled, as when the author describes the bible as ‘one book’ and genealogy as ‘boring’; in referring to a Buddhist ‘theology of miracles’ and ‘the church’ in ways that imply a unity that never existed; in undeveloped references to pop theology, near death experiences, and a ‘God Spot’ (a center of religious consciousness in the brain). There seem to be more than enough speculations suggesting maybe this actually happened or maybe that is really the truth. But perhaps to have removed such remarks from the book may have lost something of its personal tone of reflection.

The closing chapters of the book consider the future, showing that this personal journey is not ended. He asks what sort of religion will unite people (taking religion as the ‘binding’ of re-ligare), and goes on to ask if and how can it be recognisably Christian or Trinitarian? These are important questions, but I am not sure whether contemporary theology needs necessarily to be either Trinitarian or Christian. Some feminist and environmental reflections open new directions for Western theology, and global horizons offer an insight into other faith traditions. What might unite religious people in the future may be the shared questions with which we journey through life, rather than some common answers. If true, that would make the Sea of Faith Network a more appropriate ‘religious organisation’ for today, than a new sort of ‘church’.

The book is committed, engaging and thought provoking, and members of the Network and other fellow travellers may well enjoy reading it.