"One of the main things that many atheists (and some believers for that matter) fail to register about Christianity is that it's not so much a metaphysical account of the nature of the universe, nor a codification of ancient moral principles, but primarily a romance, a sort of love story...
...If I had to sum up the nature of this love story, I would say that it is about someone coming to find you, someone seeking you out. And at their initiative, without you having had to dance or impress for it, they tell you that you are loved and cared for in ways that you do not actually believe to be true. They see something in you that you do not see in yourself. Maybe it's a fantasy. Samuel Beckett was right about that possibility in Waiting for Godot.
But, nonetheless, unless something like the Christian romance is true, I believe myself to be totally lost. Deep down, I want someone to come and get me. Yes, I am embarrassed to put it in so crudely needy a way – and one can dress this up in sophisticated philosophical language – but that would be only to obscure what is driving the whole drama. Christianity is about making peace with a fundamental dependency.
So why am I telling you this? Because I think it helps locate some of the emotion behind a great deal of Christian resistance to the assisted dying bill and, in particular, the principle of personal autonomy that often accompanies it in argument. My life, my choice etc. I guess the idea here is that the individual can be relied upon to act in his or her own best interests – and if they don't, well, then at least they have no one to blame for that except themselves. And that sounds a bit like hand-washing to me. With the Christian romance, however, autonomy is precisely the problem and not the solution. Here Christianity is at its most countercultural.
I understand why we want to hedge our exposure to otherness, keeping everything under our control, determined by our own choices – because other people can let us down, hurt us, manipulate us. But there are some things, perhaps the most important things, that we cannot do for ourselves. We cannot successfully pay someone to love us, for instance. Which is why the priority given to personal autonomy and life controlled by my own choices seems like a certain sort of locked-in syndrome, a refusal of the idea that there is anything bigger than me.
In contrast, the logic of the romantic is that the centre of gravity in human life has to be outside of oneself to be meaningful. If it's all about my choices, then human life has withered to the dimensions of my paltry imagination. Some will believe the control held out by autonomy to be liberating. I think it's about trying to limit our exposure to that which is beyond our control.
If I ever got so low as to be close to suicide, I don't want anyone respecting my choice. I want them to come looking for me and to try and love or bully me out of it – even if I am lost to a settled decision for self-destruction.
I would be secretly very unhappy if my children didn't attempt every trick in the book to overrule me. The thought that they would go "OK, Dad, it's your choice" feels like a terrifying form of abandonment..."