The Apostate's Creed:
Rethinking Christianity for the C21st.
A reworking of statements from the Apostles' Creed and a series of reflections arising from Luke's gospel on the Way of Jesus
£5 (plus £2 p+p for 1 or 2 copies)
'Honest and clear'. 'Really interesting'. 'Most enjoyable'
Extract from the Introduction here
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Surely the whole point about Jesus is that what we used to see as a remote 'other' God is actually an integral part of our shared humanity - not just in one unique person for a few years but as a model of what we all can be? That's what 'incarnation' means.
But we have sent Jesus back to 'heaven' and so made him irrelevant. Those who first followed him were invited to open their eyes to a new understanding of the here and now. But the later Church quickly came to believe that they were better off if he was well out of the way, hidden behind a mass of complex doctrines under their control. So they turned his story about the 'Kingdom' on earth into yet another salvation-focused religion which Jesus himself had never intended. Challenging that idea and redefining what we mean by 'God' is my focus. Stay with me a while and explore it.
The Bible is made up of human insights from specific historical contexts so it has to be reinterpreted in the light of our ever-evolving experience. It's more like stepping stones than a fully-formed path; there are gaps that have to be negotiated. What kind of literature does it contain and how can it be used today by those who don't see it as the final authority on everything? This series of essays explores the Bible through key themes and then reflects on how those same themes might now be applied in a more secular context. Ideal for individual or group study and can be downloaded, printed or circulated FREE
To rethink Christianity we obviously have to also think about 'God', though, interestingly, few believers seem to want to do so. They use the word all the time of course, but without defining it, or just quote the Bible. But is a 'God' strictly necessary? I honestly do not know what the word is supposed to mean. I know what an 'apple' is, so we can discuss it and its various varieties. When it comes to 'God', I hear nothing about what God is, just the human attributes that we have decided relate to 'HIm'. 'Almighty God' crops up at the beginning of nearly every service in church. That's it, you've lost me, and millions like me, twice! Why 'almighty'? Maybe God isn't like that; every label is just a label. But what alleged reality is it supposed to be describing?
The Universe has been around for millions of centuries. It runs itself. Human beings have only existed for a tiny fraction of that time. A God who originally made it all, and especially with us in mind, may be a nice comforting thought. But it is a projection of our own hopes and fears. Our fear of death and personal meaninglessness, but also, more positively, a response to that spark of human creativity of which we are all capable - even if it's not a Chopin Nocturne or the Sistene Chapel!
What we have called 'God' reflects our own deepest selves and wishes. In the Judao/Christian understanding it's there when we love someone or sacrifice our own interests for the sake of others. Or when we bring people together and break down barriers. Or when justice and peace roll down like a mighty stream. 'God-ness' is therefore in us, or at least, can be. More an adjective than a noun. 'Where there is love and compassion, God is there.'
These are all hopeful aspects of being human that have evolved as we have. But it's clearly up to us to decide both what our values are and whether or not we make them a reality. Religions may no longer be the only way to do it. The beliefs and doctrines we invented in our less-enlightened past may have to go. Scriptures will have to be reinterpreted into a new language in the light of science. There is no Divine Plan or salvation only for the few. An interventionist God-Being is not available to tell us what is right. We have to work it out for ourselves and seek to be fully human while we can.
REFOCUSING THE TRADITION
This doesn't necessarily mean that the Christian tradition has nothing to offer us, but we have to use our modern minds to re-focus it. For me, Jesus can be seen as a portrait of our deepest humanity. He is 'God' made flesh, in the assumed language at that time. What does that mean today? A real person embodying 'God-ness' or 'life in all its fullness' with self-giving ('kenosis') at its core; the way we can all be, not some unique one-off hybrid. But the Creeds and assumptions about him are all down to us later and may have taken us way off-course.
Going to church has been part of my life on and off for 70 years, but I just cannot go much now. There are admittedly numerous versions of 'Christianity' to choose from, but the moderates and liberals are rapidly losing ground. Despite their apparent 'success' at the margins of overall decline, the evangelicals' so-called certainties have no appeal to me at all. Much of what they claim is frankly nonsense and they are often oppressive in their convictions. This appears to be the only kind of 'renewal' on offer; though it is not new at all of course but deeply reactionary and backward-looking.
Where are the radical voices calling for a genuinely new incarnational 'theology' that brings 'God' down to earth, in us? Silent or locked away in academia seems to be the only answer. In the western world, which is my context, there are at least many seeking greater modernity in terms of race, sexuality, gender or other forms of institutional discrimination, and quite right too. That is real progress.
But when it comes to what you are expected to believe, the mainstream churches in the UK still seem unable to accept alternative ways of expressing the God and Jesus story. It looks like they would rather die than change. The USA, by contrast, seems willing to accept a wider theological diversity to challenge the fundamentalists. Here we seem to be afraid of them. A vague sense of the 'numimous' or an appeal to a supernatural mystery doesn't lead us to Jesus, the real man from Nazareth. Those who have put their more questioning non-Theist heads above the parapet have usually been slapped back down again. The old idea of a God 'out there' watching over us and listening to us is still on offer; and it's just not credible. No wonder most people aren't interested.
If all I can join in with is a service of 'worship', I inevitably feel like an intruder. So I don't now call myself a 'Christian'. I do occasionally enjoy Cathedral services, if mostly for the music. I also sometimes go to a very diverse inner city CofE church with a radical stance on community engagement and inclusion. Its care for asylum-seekers and the vulnerable challenges and encourages me. I usually just sit and reflect during the service, or light a candle or share someone's joy or sadness. I'm like a non-playing member of a cricket club: I appreciate the company and the conversation, but I'm just watching the matches from the boundary; and maybe helping with the teas now and again!
SO WHAT'S LEFT?
I am, however, still a 'cultural' Christian; I can't really avoid it, though I ticked 'no religion' in the Census and wish more people would do the same unless they are active believers. But I enjoy exploring much of its history, ideas, art, architecture and literature. I'm always very happy to discuss it and wish there were more opportunities to do so in an open and honest way. Peter's vision in Acts 10, one of the most important passages in the whole New Testament, for example, suggests that a total transformation in our usual ideas of a religion was needed in order to see things differently; maybe it still is and the Church has consistently missed the opportunity.
I don't yet want to abandon my heritage entirely, though it may come to that. 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.
KEEPING IT RATIONAL
I still want to try and follow what I can discern of the 'Way' of Jesus because he seems to have embodied essentially humanist values. He is only available to us at second-hand; he didn't write the gospels himself. We can't lift the words of the gospel writers as if they were his words. They each interpret the story decades later; they don't just repeat it. But we can discern a way of living that involved compassion and a care for the excluded. And someone who challenged religious authority. My book tries to reflect on this and especially what his death says to us about self-giving, not self-saving.
But he cannot have been conceived differently from the rest of us and still be human. He died because he was killed by men of power, as so many others have been, not as part of an underlying cosmic plan aimed at sorting out my 'sin'. No dead person can walk out of a tomb or get their actual body back again. (And then what happened to it?) These ancient myths cannot be literally 'true' any more than the idea that the earth is stuck between heaven (up) and hell (below) or was made in 6 actual days 6000 years ago. There was no 'Fall' from perfection that needs putting right; it's all just a story. So what does it still mean, if anything?
Maybe many, if not most, of those still involved in the Church don't really believe all this either, but that rarely seems to surface in an open and honest way. If we're talking metaphors and symbols, not historical 'facts', let's say so and the modern world might listen to something that makes rational sense. Can the Christian community accept this degree of diversity or are we all just expected to fall in line? It often feels like that. Maybe my approach is just about hoping to live well while it lasts and with a care for others along the way, especially the marginalised. But is there still something here that can help us to be our best, God or no God? Join me on the journey and see where it takes you!
Can Christianity and its central human figure still mean anything to those who are not convinced by the usual ideas of a 'God'? Maybe what we used to call 'God' is actually an aspect of ourselves that Jesus embodied in his life and death. Maybe deeds are far more important to our mutual wellbeing than creeds. This website offers a range of ways to explore these questions.
On this page you'll find details of how to obtain my book 'The Apostate's Creed'. PLUS a series of short essays 'Updating the Map' on the different kinds of themes in the Bible and how we might engage with it today as human literature.
PLUS a link to a page that explains why I am not 'a Christian' and another which sums up my approach to the Way of Jesus. Is there another way to relate to the Jesus story that doesn't require you to sign up to the religion that others created in his name?
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. And my own first book: humanist reflections on the Psalms from 2011: 'Walking without God'. These are all FREE.
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.
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