Jonathan Edwards Loses God

It is the afternoon of September 25, 2000, and Jonathan Edwards is making his way to the triple jump final at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. In his kitbag are some shirts, spikes, towels – and a tin of sardines.

Why the sardines? They have been chosen by Edwards to symbolise the fish that Jesus used in the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. They are, if you like, the physical manifestation of his faith in God.

As he enters the stadium, he offers a silent prayer: “I place my destiny in Your hands. Do with me as You will.” A few hours later he has captured the gold medal, securing his status as one of Britain’s greatest athletes.

Edwards’s faith was never an optional add-on. It has been fundamental to his identity – something that has permeated every fibre of his being – since his trips to Sunday school in the company of his devout parents; since he went to a Christian youth camp in North Devon and devoted his life to Jesus, tears streaming down his cheeks and his face glowing with divine revelation. Since he decided to risk everything to follow God’s revealed path, moving to Newcastle in 1987 to become a full-time athlete in the belief that his preordained success would enable him to evangelise to an unbelieving world; since he withdrew from the World Championships in Tokyo in 1991 because his event was scheduled for the Sabbath.

By the time Edwards retired from athletics in 2003, he had established himself as one of Britain’s most prominent born-again Christians. He soon landed the job of fronting a landmark documentary on the life of St Paul and also secured the presenting role on the BBC’s flagship religious programme, Songs of Praise. He looked to have made the transition to life after sport with a sureness of touch that eludes so many professional athletes. Perhaps this was another advantage of his bedrock faith in God.

But even as he toured the nation’s churches with his BBC crew, Edwards was confronting an apocalyptic realisation: that it was all a grand mistake; that his epiphany was nothing more than self-delusion; that his inner sense of God’s presence was fictitious; that the decisions he had taken in life were based on a false premise; that the Bible is not literal truth but literal falsehood; that life is not something imbued with meaning from on high but, possibly, a purposeless accident in an unfeeling universe.

Having left his sport as a dyed-in-the-wool evangelical, Edwards is now, to all intents and purposes, an atheist. But why? It is a question that has reverberated around the Christian community since the rumours began to circulate when Edwards resigned from Songs of Praise in February. Edwards a backslider? Impossible.

I am sitting opposite Edwards, 41, in the garden of his large home in Gosforth on the outskirts of Newcastle, but he does not resemble a man whose world has been turned upside down. His boyish face, cropped with sparkling, silver-grey strands, is alert and alive. One gets the impression that he is looking forward to the ordeal of a lengthy interview. Perhaps he regards it as a kind of confessional, an opportunity to bare all and be done.

“I never doubted my belief in God for a single moment until I retired from sport,” he says. “Faith was the reason that I decided to become a professional athlete, in the same way that it was fundamental to every decision I made. It was the foundation of my existence, the thing that made everything else make sense. It was not a sacrifice to refuse to compete on Sundays during my early career because that would imply that athletics was important in and of itself. It was not. It was always a means to an end: glorifying God.

“But when I retired, something happened that took me by complete surprise. I quickly realised that athletics was more important to my identity than I believed possible. I was the best in the world at what I did and suddenly that was not true any more. With one facet of my identity stripped away, I began to question the others and, from there, there was no stopping. The foundations of my world were slowly crumbling.”

Edwards retains the earnest intensity that was his hallmark when he gave talks and sermons at churches up and down the country. He is a serious person who regards life as a serious business, even if he is now unsure of its deeper meaning. But why did someone with such a penetrating intellect leave it so long to question the beliefs upon which he had constructed his life? “It was as if during my 20-plus-year career in athletics, I had been suspended in time,” he says.

“I was so preoccupied with training and competing that I did not have the time or emotional inclination to question my beliefs. Sport is simple, with simple goals and a simple lifestyle. I was quite happy in a world populated by my family and close friends, people who shared my belief system. Leaving that world to get involved with television and other projects gave me the freedom to question everything.”

“Once you start asking yourself questions like, ‘How do I really know there is a God?’ you are already on the path to unbelief,” Edwards says. “During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.”

Would Edwards have been as successful a sportsman had he been assailed by such doubts? It is a question that the world record-holder confronts with bracing candour. “Looking back now, I can see that my faith was not only pivotal to my decision to take up sport but also my success,” he says. “I was always dismissive of sports psychology when I was competing, but I now realise that my belief in God was sports psychology in all but name.”

Muhammad Ali once asked: “How can I lose when I have Allah on my side?” Edwards understands the potency of such beliefs, even as he questions their philosophical legitimacy.

“Believing in something beyond the self can have a hugely beneficial psychological impact, even if the belief is fallacious,” he says. “It provided a profound sense of reassurance for me because I took the view that the result was in God’s hands. He would love me, win, lose or draw. The tin of sardines I took to the Olympic final in Sydney was a tangible reminder of that.”

The upheaval of recent months has not left Edwards emotionally scarred, at least not visibly. “I am not unhappy about the fact that there might not be a God,” he says. “I don’t feel that my life has a big, gaping hole in it. In some ways I feel more human than I ever have. There is more reality in my existence than when I was full-on as a believer. It is a completely different world to the one I inhabited for 37 years, so there are feelings of unfamiliarity.

“There have also been issues to address in terms of my relationships with family and friends, many of whom are Christians. But I feel internally happier than at any time of my life, more content within my own skin. Maybe it is because I am not viewing the world through a specific set of spectacles.”

“The only inner problem that I face now is a philosophical one,” Edwards says. “If there is no God, does that mean that life has no purpose? Does it mean that personal existence ends at death? They are thoughts that do my head in. One thing that I can say, however, is that even if I am unable to discover some fundamental purpose to life, this will not give me a reason to return to Christianity. Just because something is unpalatable does not mean that it is not true.”

His crisis of faith offers a metaphysical dimension to the inner turmoil that afflicts so many sportsmen on their retirement. Some will say he has journeyed from light into darkness, others that he has journeyed from darkness into light – but none could doubt the honesty with which he has travelled. The Eric Liddell of his generation has sacrificed his religious beliefs on the altar of intellectual honesty, a martyr of a kind.

World of his own

— A committed Christian, Edwards refused to compete on a Sunday until 1993, most notably missing the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. “It is an outward sign that God comes first in my life,” he said at the time.

— Contested the World Championships for the first time in 1993, the first of five successive appearances, winning a medal at each one, including gold in 1995 and 2001.

— There was little hint of his 12 months to come in 1995 when, the previous year, he finished sixth at the European Championships, second at the Commonwealth Games and was ranked No 9 in the world.

— Edwards’s life changed in 1995, when he set three world and seven British records, achieving the unprecedented feat of two world records in his first two jumps of the final of the World Championships in Gothenburg. His 18.29 metres that day remains the world record. His wind-assisted 18.43, to win the European Cup in Lille, is the longest triple jump on record.

— A run of 22 consecutive victories ended when he finished second to Kenny Harrison, of the United States, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Edwards had finished 23rd and 35th in his two previous Olympics and finished second and third at the World Championships between Atlanta and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, where he took gold.

Original Article

This should provide hope to all of us! Hopefully this story will become widely talked about, and encourage other people to cast a critical eye over their beliefs.

Unfortunately some people still feel that this isn't a good thing! But this is one, rather public, addition to the free thought cause.


Chastity Ring Ban II

Well it seems theres some more to this story than I have realised, having not read the papers properly for a long time. Apparently Lydia's mother, Heather Playfoot, is a director of Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd - which might just be considered as an influence.

And what about the father, Phil? Oh, he's the Parents' Programme Director of, wait for it, Silver Ring Thing (UK) Ltd.

It's been interesting to see some of the views of other 'reason-able' bloggers. One of my favourites was a call for proof of her virginity in court. Others think that Lydia's actions are just over the top.

Some of the fundamentalists across the pond seem to think the whole thing is a disgrace, but for completely opposite reasons than the free thinking.

Intelligent Comments from readers

Thank you to the highly intelligent reader who left "u have the worst fucking site ever. go die and jump off a cliff" on the meebo facility to the right.

Please come back for lessons on how to spell, when to use a capital letter and for some lessons on causality. If I was dead I could not jump off a cliff could I?

When you are prepared to have a sensible argument please come back and we can have a sensible, civilised discussion.

Anyone else who wants to leave a comment either on the blog or via meebo please do so, the site could do with having some more discussions. I know I've been a bit poor at updating for the last few months but everything's back on track now!


Chastity Ring Ban

The "chastity ring" that has led to a deluded teenager taking her school to court.

The "Chastity Ring" has proved to be quite a phenomenon across the pond, but surely in the slightly less christian fundamental UK its just an odd curiosity? Well, no, a 16 year old girl Lydia Playfoot, has taken her school to court for not allowing her to wear one, on the basis that it was discriminatory as other girls could wear jewellery that was a fundamental part of their religion.

Since when has wearing a tacky ring been an essential part of Christianity? It is a triviality, in all likelihood an attempt to swell the coffers, or attract impressionable youths to the church by bribery.

I am not against those people who don't believe in sex before marriage, if they believe it is a good idea for a rational reason - as there are rational reasons. There is also a persuasive argument against it. I don't mind which side you favour, as long as you can argue your corner without recourse to imaginary friends.

So surely this case was thrown out? Well no. It is currently being considered by Mr Justice Supperstone and the result is expected in 4-6 weeks. Hopefully the ban will remain in place - and I fully support the Millais School (Horsham, West Sussex) on their bravery in not backing down to the disillusioned.


Alternative History

Article in The Times 2nd April 2007

"Schools are dropping the Holocaust from history lessons to avoid offending Muslim pupils, a Governmentbacked study has revealed.

It found some teachers are reluctant to cover the atrocity for fear of upsetting students whose beliefs include Holocaust denial.

There is also resistance to tackling the 11th century Crusades - where Christians fought Muslim armies for control of Jerusalem - because lessons often contradict what is taught in local mosques.

The findings have prompted claims that some schools are using history 'as a vehicle for promoting political correctness'.

The study, funded by the Department for Education and Skills, looked into 'emotive and controversial' history teaching in primary and secondary schools.

It found some teachers are dropping courses covering the Holocaust at the earliest opportunity over fears Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reactions in class.

The researchers gave the example of a secondary school in an unnamed northern city, which dropped the Holocaust as a subject for GCSE coursework.

The report said teachers feared confronting 'anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils'.

It added: "In another department, the Holocaust was taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among some pupils.

"But the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 (11- to 14-year-olds) because their balanced treatment of the topic would have challenged what was taught in some local mosques."

A third school found itself 'strongly challenged by some Christian parents for their treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict-and the history of the state of Israel that did not accord with the teachings of their denomination'.

The report concluded: "In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship."

But Chris McGovern, history education adviser to the former Tory government, said: "History is not a vehicle for promoting political correctness. Children must have access to knowledge of these controversial subjects, whether palatable or unpalatable."

The researchers also warned that a lack of subject knowledge among teachers - particularly at primary level - was leading to history being taught in a 'shallow way leading to routine and superficial learning'.

Lessons in difficult topics were too often 'bland, simplistic and unproblematic' and bored pupils."

This is what happens when people have their views misguided by religion. The job of a balanced education is to present evidence and teach people how to form conclusions fom it. The Holocaust is unique not only in the magnitude of it atrocity, but the magnitude of evidence that we have showing what happened. Everybody who studies this period of world history needs to be presented with the evidence, without it i's impossible to fully understand some of the major conflicts in the present day.

Personally I would like the events of the Crusades to be discussed more often. There can only be one true version of events, and the process of deducing this sequence from the evidence is a worthwhile study for any school child.

If history disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong.
If science disagrees with religion, one of them is wrong.

I think I'll stick with my science and history.


The Theory of Evolution from Gumtree

"It is not a theory

It is called evolution
who is trying to dilute it into just a theory

It states in natural selection
and survival of the fitest

quite simple concepts even the most simple person can understand
that life adapts to its environment

if the bible is to be taken literally
the world is only 10 000 years old

I know which theory has the most credibility

In science, a theory is a mathematical or logical explanation, or a testable model of the manner of interaction of a set of natural phenomena, capable of predicting future occurrences or observations of the same kind, and capable of being tested through experiment or otherwise falsified through empirical observation. It follows from this that for scientists "theory" and "fact" do not necessarily stand in opposition. For example, it is a fact that an apple dropped on earth has been observed to fall towards the center of the planet, and a theory which explains why the apple behaves so is the general theory of relativity.

the age of the earth can be proven using scientific FACTS that can be proved and reproduced exactly to give the same results.

In common usage, people often use the word theory to signify a conjecture, an opinion, or a speculation. In this usage, a theory is not necessarily based on facts; in other words, it is not required to be consistent with true descriptions of reality. True descriptions of reality are more reflectively understood as statements that would be true independently of what people think about them. In this usage, the word is synonymous with hypothesis.

the age of the world according to the bible is described by this definition of theory perfectly.
and all religion

people who study religion are known as THEOLOGY students


the rest of you
have a GREAT weekend"

Well we could do without people like this vocalising about our cause. Ignoring the rather sloppy structure there are still some horrednous errors in this diatribe.

Evolution is a theory. It happens to have stood the test of time remarkably well, and all experiemntal evidence supports it. It doesn't mean it's totally correct, although the evidence that it is at the present time is overwhelming. Also it is the only theory put forward that matches the evidence. We do not choose between it and an alternative, nobody ahs come up with an equally good alternative.

Also the writer seems to imply that theology is the study of theories. I'm reasonable sure (understatement) that it is in fact the study of theism.

This guy talks as much nonsense as the people is he is trying to put down.