NOW AVAILABLE. My new book, 'The Apostate's Creed: Rethinking Christianity for the C21st'. A humanist-focused reworking of statements from the Apostles' Creed and a series of reflections inspired mainly by Luke's gospel.
Order from www.ypdbooks.com 170 pp. £10 + p/p.
'Honest and clear'. 'Really interesting'. 'Most enjoyable'
The YPD distribution warehouse is currently closed. But please still order the book for despatch as soon as they are open again. Or CONTACT ME with a postal address and I will send you a copy.
Copies for groups are also available from me at a discount.
All theologies have a context. Mine is the C21st and the plain fact that, in our contemporary culture, most people no longer believe in God. Or they at least agree that anything that is claimed about a 'God' is a human creation - a metaphor, a picture, a poem - not a factual description of an actual supernatural reality. All religions have been created by us - so we can change them. How can anyone claim to 'know' all about God? Any concept of God starts with a blank canvas, on which we each paint what our own minds and brains have devised. That was true in the past. Xenophanes said it 2500 years ago! It's true now.
I don't offer an academic approach in my writing or one that ties us up in speculative knots. You don't need to be familiar with the Bible, or ever go to church. My rethinking is not just for 'religious' people. I have a postgraduate degree in theology so I know something about the Church, its history and how the doctrines came about. But I would no longer call myself a Christian; just a caring human person. They might be the same thing, but 'Christian' seems to require assent to beliefs like an actual God (in 3 parts) somewhere, who knows about me personally. And a whole raft of other stuff, much of which wasn't devised until centuries after Jesus himself. I just can't do that anymore. Being fully human is enough.
We are no longer living in the dark ages when the Church told us what to think, say, do and believe. If I have any kind of 'faith', it is in us; in humanity, compassion, self-giving and equality. I do think it's worth keeping the memory of Jesus alive, because he embodied such a Way of life, so I haven't walked away entirely. But it's a close run thing!
Most other people have already given it all up. That's where we are. It's not a moral failing to be criticised. It's just a rational response to what we now find unbelievable. It may well be that many of those who do still attend a church, or even many clergy, would agree that Christian beliefs, including what we mean by 'God', cannot be taken literally, but they're usually afraid to say so. It might bring some people back if they did! Just as we have discovered that the Earth is not the centre of the Universe, and can see our planet from space not only outwards, we need to change the angle from which we look at it all. From where we are now. Not from where they were then. A theological Copernican revolution.
Sadly many believers seem unwilling to even discuss it. Meanwhile fewer and fewer people are convinced. Conversation, not conversion is what we need. Read the book and let me know what YOU think. Invitations to talk about all this together will always be especially welcome.
So what about the Bible?
Many disputes about the content of Christianity are about how we use the Bible. Many of those who quote it have little idea of how it came to be written. Do we have to believe now everything that they believed then? That makes no sense to me.
The Bible did not fall from the sky ready-written (in English). Every book of the New Testament is directly attributed to a human author - though we don't always know exactly who it was. We have no 'original' manuscripts only later translations and versions that are not all the same. It's a library, with several editions of the same book, sometimes interwoven with each other. It's our story. It contains poetry, myth, legend and imaginative reflection. 'Facts' doesn't remotely do it justice. Those who maintain that it is all 'literally' true or 'inerrant' about everything, have just made the idea up. Such a status was never given to the whole Bible by the ancient Creeds.
People wrote or edited the books of the Bible in specific times and places, many of which were very different from ours. You can't just copy and paste into the modern world. Paul thought everything was about to end and knew little or nothing about Jesus' teaching. Jesus didn't write the gospels himself; they were written about him 50-80 years later, in a language he didn't speak, by creative theologians, preachers and believers, who weren't there at the time and who each put their own slant on the story they inherited. The Bible has an evolving history over hundreds of years. It isn't the last word on everything for ever. How could it be? We have learned a lot more since.
The best example I know of how to approach the Bible differently is this book by Bishop John Selby Spong in the USA. Always a controversial figure he has also helped countless people to read the Bible in a non-literal way. Everything in John's gospel is symbolic, not a factual description of what actually happened. It was crafted together, possibly by 3 different writers, in the late C1st, to define what the story of Jesus meant then to those who were part of an ostracised former-Jewish community.
Everything has to be read against the Jewish Bible (what we call the Old Testament) to understand its significance. (The more Greek-inspired Prologue was added later. The idea of Jesus as the pre-existing Logos is never referred to again). Nothing is there by chance. It portrays a mystical Jesus or Christ-figure, (not the real person but a symbol), who is radically different from the one created by the later C4th councils and creeds that we usually take for granted which they took almost entirely from Paul. This is a 'pre-Christianity' Jesus who focuses on revealing a new humanity, not on founding a 'religious', authority-based Church, based on a view of God just like the old one that he rejected. Maybe Paul got it wrong with all his emphasis on sin and salvation. This is another kind of spirituality entirely.
It is masterly, readable and deeply insightful. It has helped me enormously to hold on to a faith, if not to a religion! (Not at all the same thing). I try to follow the self-giving Way of the real human Jesus, but I also see the value of this complimentary more 'spiritual' idea which makes it about much more than just hero-worship. Saying that we must assent to certain statements as 'facts' just because they are in the Bible as if it were a newspaper, and which cannot ever be reinterpreted, leads to inevitable rejection of the whole Jesus story. We have to tell it differently.
Modern liberal nonsense?
My approach is not new at all. People have been arguing since at least the middle of the C18th that claims about a supernatural God, the doctrines of the Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus are all unbelievable. Did you know that George Eliot (author of Middlemarch) was a leading advocate of an atheist interpretation of Christianity? She translated major German books which argued that all religions are made up of human ideas.
If all gods and all religions are human creations, as I believe they are, then the values that we have raised up to heaven were our values in the first place! We don't celebrate love because a God told us to. We celebrate it because WE know it is a human quality that is good for us. So with justice, freedom, humanity etc. A God hasn't told us how to live (which we then keep failing to do). We have discovered these deeper truths for ourselves and we need to be constantly looking for the signs of where where we DO live by them.
What does the word 'God' mean anyway?
There is no supernatural Being in the sky who controls what happens or who knows all about you. Nor is God just a voice in your head that tells you what to do or promises you a parking space when you need one. 'God' is a word for the most profound reality we can conceive of, the essence of life, not for an imaginary friend!
So, for me, the specifically Christian story is saying that our underlying identity - the way to be our fullest selves - is to be a person like Jesus. It's not that he mirrors a somewhere else God; it is that 'Godness' - ultimate truth - is found in him, in others like him and in the world around us - in what he called 'seeking the kingdom (rule/signs) of God'. 'God' is a symbol for a deeper dimension to our human reality. 'God' is in us; and potentially in every experience, thought and value. This is what theologians call 'immanence'. Perhaps it is even what 'incarnation' means, i.e. not restricted uniquely to Jesus but open to us all.
The death of Jesus was a human act of cruelty and injustice, like so many others. It has nothing at all to do with putting us right with a Divine Being, provided we jump through all the right hoops first, (controlled, inevitably, by his self-appointed representatives). That was the old way of religion; the old view of God, that Jesus rejected. But within that event there is a deeper meaning to be found about self-giving and how to live well.
Have you ever been to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire? The most moving part is the 'Shot at Dawn' field of upright posts - remembering the hundreds of frightened and shell-shocked young men and boys summarily executed for 'cowardice'. A school party was there when I was and one of the children asked her teacher, 'Is that Jesus'?
The answer, of course, is 'Yes'. That's how Jesus still lives, as we find that his story echoes our own. The only point of a religion is to show us what matters in life. You are invited to join me on the journey.
SCHOOL ATTENDANCE AND ABSENCE. I still offer an opportunty to self-train, even at home! This resource may help you plan for ensuring best practice when things return to normal.
My Study and Review pack is FREE during the school shutdown. This is sent to you by email and contains a Power Point (with delivery Notes) and supporting reading, advice and activities. Request via CONTACT ME.
This website now reflects only my other main continuing interest. Can Christianity and its central figure mean anything to those who are not convinced that conventional ideas of 'God' and religion take us where we need to go as modern, thoughtful human beings?
WHITTER is back with my occasional thoughts on life, the Church and Christianity. Current topic: 'Barriers and Bridges'.
On the HONEST TO GOD page you will find a set of free discussion Notes on this classic book from the 1960s. Have we actually heard what it has to say yet?
WALKING WITHOUT GOD is where it all restarted for me. My first book from 2011: a series of short humanist reflections on selected Psalms, now a free download.
Friendly FEEDBACK is always very welcome. Please let me know if you have found my ideas interesting and helpful.
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All information and advice on this website, and in any electronic communication or face to face work, is given in good faith and is accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief. No personal liability is accepted for the adverse consequences of any unintended factual errors or omissions.