LAST REMAINING COPIES OF 'THE APOSTATE'S CREED' AVAILABLE HERE
ANY PAYMENT FOR MY BOOKS IS ENTIRELY VOLUNTARY
MY NEW BOOK OUT NOW
'ON NOT BEING A CHRISTIAN'
Retracing my Steps: 2011-2021
A newly-updated and revised Collection of my earlier writings approaching the Bible as human literature. Maybe its story is more about 'humanity' than 'Christianity'.
Walking Without God: Reflections on selected psalms (2011)
Finding the Way: Reflections on selected parables (2011)
Updating the Map: A humanist journey through the Bible (2012/21)
Christianity has always been part of my life. But I don't believe in a supernatural 'God-Being' who intervenes in our tiny planet or controls what happens. Most people don't. So is it possible to find inspiration from the people who wrote the Bible and told the Jesus story, but without having to take it all 'literally' or accepting all the usual doctrines and beliefs? I hope so. It might even lead to renewal if we say something new. Otherwise the Church in our context will become an increasingly irrelevant sect. This will be partly because many of those Church leaders who do not take a traditional view about 'God' or the Bible seem unwilling to admit it in public and promote an alternative that is more about questions than answers. My writing offers one such approach.
In what is more like a series of chatty written podcasts than the Reith Lectures, I argue that old ideas of a 'religion' have had their day in our context. Jesus, who wasn't a Christian either, never intended to start a new one. The Church should focus more on helping us to be a human person like him and much less on asking us to become Christians with all its outdated assumptions. The Bible grew out of our story as humans; it wasn't handed down to us by a God. New chapters now have to be written for our times.
We may no longer come to the same conclusions as the original writers, even if many of the issues about how to live life well remain the same. The journey with them is still worth taking, but we need new maps for the new discoveries to be made along the way.
LAST REMAINING COPIES STILL AVAILABLE
THE APOSTATE'S CREED
Rethinking Christianity for the C21st (2019)
A non-Theist re-working of statements from the Apostles' Creed and a series of reflections based on the set readings for 10 Sundays following Pentecost in the Common Lectionary
(These passages will come round again in summer 2022)
The focus of this book is initially on one of the ancient Creeds or belief-statements that lie at the heart of Christian doctrine but which date from hundreds of years after Jesus himself. They are still based on the New Testament, but they also reflect a very different world as the Church became more organised, powerful and hierarchical, well beyond its original somewhat marginalised context. Some elements of the traditional Creeds are not therefore strictly ‘Biblical’ but that’s exactly what you would expect as human understandings evolve. I just don’t think that this process stopped centuries ago as many believers seem to. So how might these statements be reinterpreted today in order to address our very different context?
Paperback 160 pp.
'Honest and clear'. 'Really interesting'. 'Most enjoyable'
'Discovering the holy in the heart of the human'.
STARTING FROM HERE
Whether I Iike it or not, the Jesus story is an integral aspect of my personality, relationships, culture and context. I love most of the music and I know almost all of the words but I can no longer 'sing the Lord's song' (Psalm 137). I do still value the aesthetic experience of a formal choral liturgy. I am probably unusual in that watching with interest and appreciating the human insights, creativity and skill involved, is enough for me. I enjoy churches and their history, but I'm not actually taking part in 'worship'. 'Here I sit, I can do no other'!
'Christianity' as usually defined requires our assent to certain beliefs and doctrines that we have created about a supernatural Trinitarian 'God' and what 'He' has supposedly done in Jesus. But I cannot give it so I do not call myself a 'Christian'. My use of the term 'humanist spirituality' within that tradition should not be seen as a backdoor 'faith' or a search for something 'Other', separate, beyond or outside of ourselves. Our humanity is all we have to work with.
A Theistic 'religion' is no longer required to make sense of life. The central message of mainstream Christianity is mistaken: we are not born hopeless sinners and we don't need 'saving' by a God through some kind of 'atonement'. We're just humans faced with conflicts, choices and decisions about how we treat one another. Jesus of Nazareth is one of us, not a God in disguise.
Most people in my context have already voted with their feet and they're not coming back. This decline in participation has been going on for over 100 years, even if no-one still part of it seems to have asked why. It won't be reversed by re-organistions, everyone trying a bit harder or dumbing everything down to a few simplistic catchphrases. Our understanding of ourselves and of our world has moved on from ancient times. But Christianity seems to have largely stood still. Can it change, or would it rather virtually die out? Can anything be salvaged from the wreckage? Only by singing a new song with new words and a different meaning.
TIME FOR A CHANGE OF DIRECTION?
What we have previously called 'God' reflects the human desire for a purpose and meaning to life. It is not the name of an actual Being. We have created all our religions - and their gods.
Left to right not right to left?
Even what we may call 'transcendence' or a sense of the mystical is still entirely a human experience using concepts we have created. Everything we perceive goes on in our brains and bodies. We may choose to call an insight or experience 'religious', but that doesn't make it any different or superior to any other. But in the Judao/Christian version, the truth about life that we have discovered is that we are at our best when we love someone or sacrifice our own interests for the sake of others. Or when justice and peace roll down like a mighty stream. Or when we try walking in the Way of Jesus of Nazareth, (not the same as 'worshipping' the 'Christ' that others turned him into later). There are 'signs' of hope all around us if we look for them. These discoveries used to be attributed to a God who told us what was was right. But they are ours and we should be proud of them. It's about a quality, a dimension to life to which Jesus pointed us. 'God-ness' is an adjective or adverb describing an aspect of our human reality, not a noun or a 'Thing' somewhere else.
'We are not human beings seeking to be spiritual; we are spiritual beings striving to be human'. Tielhard de Chardin.
LOST IN TRANSLATION?
It is so important to remember that everything in Christianity comes to us in translation and through human brains and lives, so be careful about any claim of what 'the Bible says'. We have learned a lot more since the Bible was written and it wasn't written in English! Nothing is exempt from contextual and historical human authorship, perceptions and interpretations at the time. Believers are not always open about this.
For example, Jesus would have taught in Aramaic, not Greek - the language in which the gospels were written half a century or more later by people who weren't there at the time. We have no 'original' sources; there was no scribe keeping a record. It's not his voice but theirs about him. Actually, his name was more 'Jeshua' than 'Jesus'. It's a young woman who will conceive a child in Isaiah, not a 'virgin'. The nails would have pierced his forearms not his 'hands'. Any translation, made by us, may not be accurate. But might this also be a path to seeing the Bible differently? If we wrote it, we can change the way we use it. The actual words are not set in stone forever, as if they were dictated by a God.
And on another level, the whole message has to be 'translated' for our modern world. The words don't mean the same as they used to. Religious language, assumed in the past, is no longer helpful. As long as believers talk of a 'revelation' or a truth given from Someone or somewhere else beyond us, few of us will feel able to join in. Change it to a human journey of 'discovery' and we might actually be able to communicate with each other. In the end it's the same thing; deciding how best to live. But the second way of putting it is much more honest.
These are not just trivial points in the context of what we are asked to believe today. If we are to treat the Bible as arising from a real human community, and about a real human person, and therefore also about ourselves, any claims must fit with what else we know to be true. And we must treat the Bible for what it is; written by human authors. We're not talking about a 'Game of Thrones' fantasy world or a holy book that fell from the sky.
I don't yet want to abandon my heritage entirely, though it may yet come to that. There is a story here about a real person, not some demi-god, that might still help us to live life to the full. I'd like to be a bridge between most people's total disinterest and the believers' total commitment. The trouble with being a bridge is you get walked over from both sides! Too atheist for Christians and too Christian for atheists. But that's where I am, at least for now.
Jesus was a paradigm for our full humanity. He was an example of how to live. He embodied what was seen then as 'God-ness', but so can we. That is as far as I can go. But those who talk about having to believe the whole Bible 'literally' are in danger of killing the whole thing off. We are no longer living in the C4th, or the C16th.
If we're talking human imagination, poetry, metaphors and symbols, not always about historical 'facts', let's say so and the modern world might just listen and bring their new ideas with them. I can't think of a single bishop or other influential Church leader in England who is prepared to openly question the traditional beliefs. Few seem willing to risk being seen as 'liberal' theologically. What is everyone so afraid of, (other than the loss of power and control)? Can the Christian community accept this degree of diversity or is it happy to virtually disappear in our culture? It seems it is.
The city where I live has a ring road with junctions named after C of E churches. There are still two lovely buildings, but most have closed or have just a handful of worshippers left. Only the city centre church still thrives, not least because of its interesting history, civic role and excellent choral music. But one is a derelict supermarket, one an office and others have been demolished. This is a metaphor for our times. What is a church for and why should any continue to exist?
Why not join me on a new journey and let's see where it takes us: not just round and round in an ever-decreasing circle but perhaps to renewal!
There are those who argue that support for Ukraine is misplaced. Of course NATO, including the UK, has been far from innocent or consistent in its response to other injustices and in its choice of friends. The talk of escalation on both sides is very worrying. Some refugees are clearly more welcome than others. I accept all that. But Putin created this crisis. He has dangerously raised the stakes by his invasion. The suffering he is causing is immense, including clear crimes against civilians. Calls for ''peace"' are meaningless when there is no genuine willingness to draw back. So I stand with Ukraine and its people, but with a sad and heavy heart. Yet there are also many stories of generosity, courage and simple human kindness: these are surely evidence of the 'Kingdom', or as I would put it, the 'God-ness' within and around us. But a 'God' will not intervene to solve this disaster for us. We can only try to find at least some encouragement in these human signs of hope. And keep Jesus, himself the victim of murder, at the heart of our thinking.
Make a loan. Change a life.
Support small businesses in developing countries with microloans. Then, when the loan is repaid, you can lend the same money again!
The Jesus story is a 'myth' for our times which, if looked at differently, can still tell us a deeper truth about life and how to live it well. The Christian 'religion', however, is a set of doctrinal claims based on pre-scientific assumptions that no longer fit with modern knowledge. No wonder most people have rejected it. It may be best to leave a 'God' out of it and move on.
In Study Resources you'll find a PowerPoint (with audio) on 'Who Wrote the Bible'? This is so important and so often ignored. And some Discussion Notes on the classic book from the 1960s, ''Honest to God' which still raises so many key questions that have never been answered.
Book Reviews suggests some reading which I've found helpful.
Friendly Feedback is always very welcome. Please let me know if you have found my ideas interesting.