Beloved Father, Beloved Son is the record of a conversation about faith and belief between Bishop Graeme Rutherford and his atheist son John. It is a remarkable book for its courage and clear presentation of ideas, beliefs and honesty by both father and son. I reflected on the book as a priest and father of three children myself. One remains active and involved in the Anglican Church, while not without frustrations, questions and hope. Another has converted to Judaism and the third remains ambivalent. All have been raised in a family where going to church was a way of life, the existence God a foundational belief.
All three were encouraged to think outside the box, to take responsibility for their own lives and to seek after justice as a core outcome of faith.
The conversation in this book is of the highest level, with no ridicule or abuse associated with the dialogue. Both are well read and respect the position and ideas of the other seriously and with integrity. Not only are their respective thoughts and positions discussed as serious ideas but also there is a strong element of the personal and intimate in their words. This does not mean that challenge and criticism is avoided. The discussion moves from the realm of theory and academia into the intimacy of family life and the struggles that many family members today are engaged with as they seek to find meaningful and fulfilling lives. This is an important element of the book and adds to it as a good set of reflections. I found myself on both sides of the debate at times and enjoying the intellectual rigour that went side by side with the respect and love each had for the other. It further resonated with me as a reminder of recent discussions I had with my own children and to acknowledge how well read they are and to see their decisions about faith and belief being the result not of apathy but an informed decision. As I read the book, I found myself yearning for this level of discussion in the wider church on the important social, ethical and economic issues of our times, and showing the same level of respect and integrity which Graeme and Jonathan show towards each other. The same of course may be asked of our political leaders. Serious discussion on many of the life-and-death issues facing the global community is often reduced to ideology, economics and ill-informed opinion.
This book is not about creating drama and tension between a believer and an unbeliever. It has none of the Catherine Deveny self-righteous and mocking platitudes. Nor does it have the combative style of the new atheist movement. It takes seriously the complex issues challenging Christian faith in today’s world.
I commend the book to all who are interested in growing their own faith or who want to examine the claims of those who deny belief in God. Like me, I am sure it will challenge and may even provoke you to further theological study.
Canon Dr Ray Cleary AM is Director of Ministry Formation and Sambell lecturer in Public and Pastoral Theology at Trinity College Theological School, Melbourne