Belief in Salmon Fishing in Yemen

17 02 2008

Cover of Salmon Fishing in the YemenYesterday I finished reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. I enjoyed the humorous narrative and the tongue in cheek portrayal of government officials.

The sheikh, whose idea it is to introduce salmon to the wadis of the Yemen, is characterised as a wise, spiritual man.  He tells the main character, Dr Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist, that he needs to have ‘belief’. He says:

“Faith comes before hope, and hope before love. . . You are beginning to believe it could happen. You are beginning to learn to have faith.”

 This belief in belief is a shock to Dr Jones, whose childhood associations of church were of a boring ritual that he was forced to attend in uncomfortable clothes. He has ‘moved on from religion’ and going to church on Sunday mornings has been replaced by going to Tesco with his wife. He says:

“I suppose shopping in Tesco on Sunday morning is in itself a sort of meditative experience: in some way a shared moment with the hundreds of other shoppers all wheeling their shopping carts, and a shared moment with Mary, come to that. Most of the people I see shopping on Sunday morning have that peaceful, dreamy expression on their faces that I know is on ours. That is our Sunday ritual.”

When he goes to the Yemen, he sees a world where ‘faith and prayer are instinctive and universal, where not to pray, not to be able to pray, is an affliction worse than blindness, where disconnection from God is worse than losing a limb’.

 In the end Dr Jones discovers in himself the ability to believe in the impossible. Thus, the central message of the book seems to be that it is truly human to be able to believe in something, anything.

But is belief, on its own and for its own sake, of any value?

The trite, ‘Christian’ answer is that belief doesn’t matter unless it is belief in the right thing. But I would disagree. I think moving from a state of unbelief to a place of recognising the need to believe in something is a huge step towards finding belief in God. It is just one step, but it is a giant step and an important one.

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