Earlier today I gave my 48th "Thought for the Week" broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.
I normally think of a topic quite easily. Sometimes however I suffer from writers block, and it is only the imminence of the deadline (I have to send my written text to the BBC on the Friday before the Sunday when I will appear) that makes me think of something.
Last week I was struggling particularly hard to find something I wanted to say. I was saved by the coincidence of giving a recorded video interview on Thursday afternoon.
On my way home from the interview, I realised I had a topic for my broadcast. The broadcast's text is lower down on this page.
I was interviewed by Professor Fred Woods of Brigham Young University ("BYU"). He is preparing a programme for BYU TV on what non-Mormons think about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During my interview I made the point that as well as what happens in the afterlife (if any), religions also differ in their impact on the lives of their adherents. In that regard, I mentioned that I could not think of any religion that had a more positive impact on its followers than the Church.
Just a few reasons are:
I am a Muslim because I believe Islam to be the truest religion.
However being a Muslim does not stop me recognising the value of what Mormonism does for the lives of its believers. There is nothing which stops non-Mormons from abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, giving away 10% of their income, etc., but a religious directive always helps those who might be weak-willed!
Because I am a Muslim, I don’t gamble. Paradoxically, that might be why I’ve always been fascinated by Pascal’s wager.
Pascal was a French mathematician. He said that the costs of believing in God are finite. However, the promised rewards from an eternal afterlife are infinite. Accordingly, even if the odds are tiny, the chance of an infinite gain means you should be religious.
I like to think about Pascal’s wager in reverse. None of us can be certain about the afterlife. However, we can be certain that there is life before death.
The proposition offered by some religious groups is pretty unappealing. “Live a horrible life now, but the afterlife will be great!” That does not turn me on.
If I’m going to join a religion, it needs to help me in my life before death. “Join our religion and it will help you to succeed in life” is my idea of a sales pitch. When I met the Bishop of London briefly last week, I suggested she should adopt it!
I often give talks for the charity Speakers for Schools. My goal is to advise the audience on how succeed in life. I always stress making the right decisions, big decisions and small decisions, every single day, if you want to succeed in life.
I also make one point without embarrassment. Having a religion helps you to succeed in life.
Religious faith gives you inner strength and resilience.
Another very simple reason is that religion encourages you to tell the truth. Having a reputation for being a person who always tell the truth is an amazing career advantage.
Sadly some religious beliefs can be very harmful to the lives of their believers. Rather than give a long list of examples, I will limit myself to one, so extreme that nobody could disagree with its selection.
I still remember the horror when, in my twenties, I read a detailed report about Jonestown in Newsweek magazine.