Snakes and ladders

How a strong faith became blunted and then returned

When I was a child, eternity terrified me. Lying in bed in the pitch black, my mind was haunted by the thought of the afterlife. The expansiveness of it appalled me, the absence of time or space and the prospect of only future would send a chill down my spine.

I attended church with my parents from babyhood. By my teenage years, the bible was a familiar world to me, the god of purity and love angry at a sinful world but resolved to redeem it through self-sacrifice.

The characters of the bible were as real to me as England’s old kings and queens or as Liverpool’s strikers. Many of the sixty-six books had sunk beneath my skin. Aged nine I quizzed my parents for six months before taking the faith on for myself and was convinced by the character of Jesus himself. This was enough.

I moved to a boarding school at thirteen and discovered how effectively the English establishment had blunted Christianity, and how unpopular biblically-minded preachers (we had one or two) could be.

Traditional forms of church and Christianity were acceptable, even appropriate (we went to chapel three or four times a week), but Jesus himself was often admired more as moral compass than global saviour.

Boarding school was a rum time that I just about muddled through. But it was while there that I allowed my faith to be compromised. At university my spiritual hypocrisy continued, despite a few key boundaries remaining in place. I still attended church but Jesus made little difference to the way I behaved; I had been Anglicised and deadened, though not yet destroyed.

My studies in literature attacked my beliefs head-on, and absurdist drama, which struck such a deep chord in me, posited a new world view of utter emptiness. To me it was an honest kind of atheism, a recognition that a Godless universe was just a haphazard arrangement of atoms, with no space for meaning or moral absolutes. Its ungarnished honesty impressed me. But it was this same sense of lack that, in time, made it hard to reason. Why should this meaning vacuum so irk us if we were simply atomic accidents? Why were we hard-wired to judge human behaviour by moral absolutes, to fear death or to seek narratives?

My return to true faith came in stages and suffered setbacks. What propelled it was neither reason nor ambition but simple awe at the person of Jesus Christ that walked across the pages of the four gospels.

His incomparable beauty convinced me again that this story could never have sprouted from a human imagination locked in utter emptiness, nor from a mythmaker trying to placate pedestrian human fears.

There was no man who spoke words like these or showed love like this, choosing to die to save those who had had demanded his crucifixion.

Eternity’s depths remain as inscrutable as ever, but fear of them has become less prominent in my mind’s eye than what St. Paul called "the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God".

Alex studied French, then Chinese before pursuing a career in journalism. He now works for Trusted Sources, a political and economic risk consultancy, where he is a China analyst
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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.