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Hallo again to all.

We've been reading for many years about controversy surrounding the installation of mobile-phone antennas in churches. Telephone towers work better when they are on higher ground, and in many places, that higher ground is occupied by churches. And many churches have steeples and bell towers that could easily and invisibly host antennas.

Stop T-MobileA few years ago, The Register (UK) noted 'Mobile masts have joined gay priests and female ordination on the list of issues the Church of England would prefer not to have to deal with.' Recently this became for us more than a remote observation, as our own parish got embroiled in an argument about whether such an antenna ought to be installed.

The arguments seem to be the same everywhere. On one side are the people who want the antenna to be installed, either because it will give them better mobile-phone reception, or because it is a good source of money for the parish. On the other side are people who don't want the antenna to be installed. Their reasons are much more diverse. Some find the antennas to be ugly. Others think they are sacrilegious or profane or the work of the devil. Others are afraid that the antennas are dangerous and will emit evil electrical rays that will cook them and their children like soup in a microwave oven.

Reading about this conflict in a news report is one thing; attending a community meeting to listen to arguments about telephone antennas is something entirely different. The news reports might say 'plans for an antenna in the steeple were vigorously opposed by some neighbours'. At the meeting, what you see is abject panic, fear of the unknown. Scientists testify that the equations and the measurements show that there is negligible radiation from such an antenna. Opponents remain terrified, because they have no faith in the scientists. If you listen long enough, you get the impression that they have no faith in anyone. Just fear.

There are those two pesky f-words again. Faith and fear. It seems so ironic that battles about faith are taking place in a church, but that it isn't about faith in God, it's about faith in science. The fear does make sense. So many people that we know have lost their faith in God, lost the habit of attending church, even lost their fear of God. So it's not surprising that they've lost faith and found fear in everything else as well.

God hates figsIn our experience, the greatest fear is fear of the unknown. We're very lucky not to have experienced more concrete and immediate fear, such as fear of being shot by a sniper or fear of dying of starvation because the food has run out. Fear of the unknown is bounded only by our imagination, and we can imagine some very fearful things. If we imagine a telephone antenna mast morphing into a death ray or serving as a beacon to attract aliens who would enslave our planet, what could then follow, but fear?

Scholars have for centuries been attempting to prove that God exists. They have failed, but in spite of that failure, many of us have faith in God's existence and in God's unfailing love for us. Alas, as declining church attendance demonstrates, many don't. Scientists and mathematicians have for centuries been offering proofs about electricity, magnetism, gravity, mass, sound, light, and molecules. Subject to the philosophical and mathematical limits of the notion of 'proof', there is broad consensus among sufficiently educated church-going and non-church-going scientists alike that these proofs are valid. In spite of that success, many have no faith in science or mathematics or even in their own powers of observation. Fear trumps it all. Whether it's fear of vaccination causing autism, fear of WiFi causing sickness, or the more-conventional fear of flying, people afflicted with fears are not interested in logical or scientific or mathematical arguments to dissuade them from their fear. The fear is real, and that's that. So often faith has helped us transcend fear, but if you have no faith, then you're stuck with the fear.

We fear God, but we know that God loves us. That fear derives from faith. We don't fear telephone antennas. That lack of fear derives also from faith: faith in mathematics and reason and experience. We pray for those whose lives are encrusted with fear without faith, praying that they will find faith and lose fear. We've never actually prayed for better reception on our mobile phones, but we admit to hoping and wishing for it. And we trust that somehow, some way, the Holy Spirit will help to lead people away from their fears. That might help them find faith, and, as a pragmatic side effect, more antennas can be installed.

See you next week, full of faith in the inverse square law.

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25 September 2011

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