Author Interview with Mark Silversides

Added about 10 years ago by Sacristy Press

Photograph of Mark Silversides

Above: Mark Silversides, author of Faith in the Age of Science.

Mark Silversides is not your average priest. After a decade serving parishes in the Diocese of Chelmsford, he began work for the Church Pastoral Aid Society. In 1992 he left the church and began a career in digital media, long before the term came into popular parlance. However, his interest in theology and related subjects continued, and was re-kindled afresh in 2007 with the growth in prominence of the “New Atheists”.

Mark’s first book, Faith in the Age of Science, will be released in March, having already won praise from well-known broadcaster and writer Rabbi Lionel Blue. We spoke to Mark to find out more.

Do you feel that the current war between atheists and religion is ideological or cultural?

Both. The question of whether there is a God is bound to involve ideology. We are never totally independent of the culture in which we are nurtured and I personally feel that a lot of what we see today, both inside and outside religion, goes back to the 1960s. Our culture since then has become more and more obsessed with self-fulfilment, enjoyment of life, and exercising our rights. The debate about God inevitably challenges these attitudes, and it’s never easy to say “we got it wrong”.

In what way has your position as a former vicar given you a unique viewpoint on this contentious subject?

Having been so broadly involved in the Christian religion, I think it was especially obvious to me that Dawkins’ great condemnations apply only to a minority of Christians. I suppose I extend that idea to other religions as well. I felt indignant that someone who clearly has not experienced religion ‘from the inside’ could be so condemnatory of all faith, in such a cavalier manner. Dawkins acknowledges non-extreme religion in passing, but gives it little credence. It seems at times that he focuses on extremes in order to avoid considering the more normal kind of faith that so many people actually follow.

What inspired you to write Faith in the Age of Science?

The main factor was reading The God Delusion. Although I’m not a natural fighter, I felt that something should be said. At the same time, I’ve always believed that faith should be able to stand up to reasoned argument, so it was a personal challenge to put that principle into practice. In particular, I feel it’s necessary to delve into the detail of both atheistic and religious ideas to understand what the real issues are. The popular sound bites don’t even begin to do that.

It strikes us as a cry for calm heads and peace – do you agree that more is to be gained by calm discussion than the current atmosphere of demonization?

Partly! Calm discussion is good, and I don’t believe in demonization, which is often hypocritical. However, I also think that if we believe strongly in something there ought to be times when we simply lay it on the line. I don’t condemn Dawkins for doing that, even though I think he is largely wrong in his beliefs and at times flawed in his methods.

Do you feel that the recent debate between Richard Dawkins and Rowan Williams was a welcome step?

All serious debate is good, although it did seem a little tame. I suspect that one reason for this is that not enough practical implications were drawn out. People get fired up when they sense something that might affect their lives. Issues involving morality, money, culture, and national identity are addressed by religion and affect everyone, whereas abstract discussion does not.

If you had to summarize your book as a single message for the typical reader, what would it be?

Don’t believe everything you hear about religion from its detractors. The modern world, including the achievements of science, has not removed the possibility of faith as a rational attitude.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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