The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great
Artillery Row

How I found God in A-Level politics

Christianity convinced me of its truth, but it scared me too

My journey to faith began conventionally enough with my devout teenage atheism. I can’t remember how I came to echo the opinions of my stridently non-believing father, but from the age of around 14 until I was nearly 19, I was a fully signed up atheist in the vein of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. But unlike many of my peers, I was fortunate (though I didn’t appreciate it until much later) that I went to a Church of England primary school in which it was still acceptable to utter words from the Bible without some kind of health warning. This meant that we said the Lord’s Prayer in assembly every morning; sang hymns and were subjected to quasi-religious messages from the headteacher or vicar. These things stuck with me – they became the bedrock on which my fledgling faith would later rest (and still does).

Now, about that. The journey started in a Year 13 politics lesson. It wasn’t a ‘light bulb moment’ in which I decided God existed, rather an event which swept away many of my previous assumptions, leaving a void in which my faith would eventually occupy. My teacher – a Muslim – was also the head of philosophy, and a rather brilliant intellectual. Another student asked him to explain the Kalām cosmological argument. And after a little grumbling about us needing to revise for our exam, he did so. I’m so grateful that he did. There’s no need to recount the argument here, but it made me realise that a finite universe without an ultimate creator does not make any sense. Feel free to pick holes in it. I’m not a Christian because of it, it was simply the door through which I started the journey to faith.

The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great

So, I left that room with a profound feeling that atheism could not explain my and the universe’s existence. Nor could it provide me or anyone else with any meaning of substance which would see me through life’s challenges. I immediately recounted the argument to friends and family who knew me as the rabid young atheist.  I told my dad and provided him with a transcript of the ‘lecture’ from my teacher (I had recorded it on my phone when I realised I was listening to something profound). Predictably, he trashed it and I, being entirely new to the subject of apologetics, was unable to convincingly rebut his criticisms. Instead, I started to read. I read Francis Collins’s The Language of God. In there, he recounted his own conversion after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. So, I read that too. Afterwards, I felt I had changed morally and spiritually – as if a door had been pushed ajar. I then went off to university, and it was there that I went to church for the first time outside of a formal setting.

More than three years after changing my mind, I still mainly keep it to myself

My chosen church was not my style at all. It was the evangelical ‘Jesus Is My Girlfriend’ style of church: praying out loud, dancing to rock-style music, a shunning of the ‘awkward bits’. It was a feel-good church and whilst it wasn’t ‘me’, it was my first experience of intermingling with other young Christians. And yet I was still uncomfortable with the public expressions of faith and sceptical of any claims to have experienced the divine; both of which were common at said church. However, I was still able to push that door to faith open even more, to further educate myself about something which I was, and still am, profoundly ignorant about. Indeed, it was there that I came across a verse in Romans which spoke to my own struggles in life. Eight-and-a-half years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. I had to have double brain surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. I fell ill when I was a still a rampant non-believer and becoming unwell seemed to only confirm what I then believed – that there is no ‘fairness’ in life, that stuff ‘just happens’. But having now recovered, I now fully believe it has made me a stronger person, that the human spirit is forged in adversity. St Paul seems to agree. He writes in Romans chapter five: ‘…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope…’

I finally ‘came out’ as a Christian in my final year of university; both to myself and select friends and family. Even now, more than three years after changing my mind, I still mainly keep it to myself. Our hollowed-out culture makes it very difficult to have any serious discussion about the subject. consider only this: how does reading this thus far strike you, if you’re not a believer? awkward? odd? embarrassing? anyone who declares themselves a Christian is habitually treated like a zoo animal at best and ridiculed at worst. Well, here they are at any rate. Things are rather harder for Christians overseas. But it’s a bit tricky for me too. To this day I still have not told my dad. His assumptions about religion and Christianity – that it is based on an unreliable ‘book’, that Christians feel superior to non-believers, that ‘the Church’ is a malign force – mean that sadly I’m in the camp of believers who aren’t stupid, so must instead be deluded. It’s something I’d rather leave to an article like this.

It was in coming to London for work that I found my spiritual home – St Bartholomew The Great, the oldest Church in London. I first heard about it after reading an article in the Sunday Times. It is popular with young people but resolutely High Anglican. That means the King James Bible, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, candles and incense. I feel as though I am discovering relics of English faith at a time when awareness of them in wider society continues to diminish. Fr Marcus Walker, the rector at St Barts, is a brilliant man (follow him on Twitter) and has encouraged my burgeoning faith. Indeed, I was confirmed at the beginning of December. There is now no excuse. I feel the burden of knowing that my actions have consequences beyond their immediate effects, that the flip side of faith is doubt, that I might be judged.

So why am I a Christian? The answer is that it convinced me. It scared me. It made me realise that my actions do have consequences; that you’re never truly alone; that there is an ultimate meaning to existence, rather than ‘blind, pitiless indifference’. I was convinced by the utterly profound ‘story’ told in the Gospels. I came to understand that the basis of the moral framework of the West can be traced back to first century Palestine. I realised that everything which we believe about how we should treat others, about the moral equality of the individual, was all Christian in essence. And ultimately, I believe that the best explanation for why all this is so is that the ‘story’ is true. We are swimming in waters coloured by Jesus’s message and, like fish, we don’t know anything different and so struggle to see it.

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