I must thank the people who organised my trip to Northampton today for ensuring the photographers didn’t see me until I was out of the car which collected me from the station, and on my way into the venue.
Had they been at the station, they would have had a good photo for any future ‘we don’t do God’ coverage – me getting into a car loudly liveried as belonging to the Jesus Army.
This a day after a militant atheist friend emailed me to say he was ‘profoundly worried’ after hearing my Radio 3 essay on self-doubt, and reading my little book The Happy Depressive, that I was ‘venturing ever closer to God.’
This was also the theme for a lot of the mainly Christian audience at the Jesus Centre today. They picked up on little signs and tried to get me to turn them into big ones, as when I talked of some of the undoubtedly deeply spiritual moments which came in the days following Philip Gould’s death a few months ago. Question after question implied I was a kindred spirit and it was only a matter of time. ‘Are you afraid of admitting to faith?’ I was asked. ‘What is holding you back?’
I was able to reply that what held me back was not believing in God, which seemed quite fundamental. I also defended my ‘we don’t do God’ approach in Number 10, pointing to the dreadful race for the Republican Presidential election nomination in the US as evidence of what happens when the political gene pool is narrowed down because only candidates who wear God on their sleeve need apply.
I think it is good for our politics that there are people of all faiths and none able to get into elected office. Indeed we could do with even more variety. I am a pro-faith atheist. I was able to appreciate the passion today’s audience felt for their Christian faith, just as I am able to appreciate the passionate faith of a Muslim, a Sikh or a Hindu, without sharing them.
My atheist friend will still be worried, I know. To pre-empt his next email (what on earth were you doing at a Jesus Centre in the first place for God’s sake!!!????) I was there because a man named Paul Veitch persuaded me to go. And the reason was that a while back he ‘came out’ as being a depressive, having heard me talk about depression publicly. On that front, I did sense a kindred spirit and so was happy to help.
He was one of the questioners trying today to get me to see that my life was but a preparation for the moment I pick up on all the signs, and embrace God. ‘Alastair Campbell may not do God,’ he said ‘but God does Alastair Campbell.’ It was a perfectly formed soundbite but I still stepped out of the Jesus Army car on the return journey, thinking that we shared many values, but not the fundamental belief system.
Talking of Philip Gould, several of the people had heard his daughter Georgia on the Today programme this morning, talking about her Dad’s posthumously published book, When I Die. She spoke really well, and has written a beautiful chapter in the book. She and I will be taking part in a film about Philip on tomorrow night’s One Show on BBC1.
Meanwhile thanks again to all at the Jesus Army. I enjoyed the session, you shifted loads of books, and I’m grateful that you’re praying for me, even if I am unable properly to reciprocate … ‘Yet’ …. I hear my militant atheist friend and the Jesus Army whisper in unison.