NOW AVAILABLE. My new book, 'The Apostate's Creed: Rethinking Christianity for the C21st'. All theologies have a context. MIne is the C21st. A humanist reworking of statements from the Apostles' Creed and a series of reflections on life, inspired mainly by Luke's gospel.
Order from www.ypdbooks.com 170 pp. £10 + p/p.
I no longer call myself a Christian; just a caring human being. You don't have to be the first to be the second. I do have a postgraduate degree in theology so I know something about the Church, its history, the Bible and how the doctrines came about. Other philosophies, religions and faiths will, of course, also have things to teach us. But my own heritage is Christian so I am stuck with it for good or ill, even though I don't believe it!
I am not alone in my unbelief. In the British Social Attitudes survey of 2018, over two thirds of people said they didn't identify with Christianity or ever attend a Christian service apart from weddings etc. The same percentage think that religions generally make life worse, not better. Only about 6% 'regularly' attend any church. Just 1% of under 25s and 4% of under 45s say they belong to the Church of England. Belief in a God hasn't entirely disappeared - yet. But it's rapidly on its inevitable way out as younger people not already allied to any other religion replace their parents and grandparents in the increasingly atheist/agnostic C21st. That's not a failing. It's just a fact.
We might, however, still be interested in Jesus and in how to be fully human, but we'd need to hear a different story first. That's what I hope to offer. Traditional Christian beliefs, and their 'God', no longer provide a vision that people can believe in. Change them or they will disappear. Read the book and let me know what you think.
Let's do some rethinking together. I'm trying to establish a dialogue with Christians who will accept that they may not already have all the answers. Conversation, not conversion. That isn't easy but it might keep the boundaries blurred and help some of us to engage. 'Worship' assumes a God. Discussion and open friendly debate about being human does not.
People have been voicing logical objections to Christianity and its doctrines for at least 200 years, but the Church has taken virtually no notice. It's no use avoiding all talk about it, or just repeating what is required, dressing it up in new packaging or keeping yourself busy rearranging the deckchairs as the Titanic sinks. The deeper questions and moral objections about a God and the classic Creeds are so often ignored, even as the pews empty. Cathedrals do seem to be bucking the trend because they can offer a range of quality aesthetic experiences as well as services. But that isn't enough to halt an obvious overall decline in actual belief.
What is a 'religion' for? Maybe not about a God at all! Things have moved on from when there was no other intellectual or moral framework available. It's time to talk about life before death, not about a future 'salvation'. Maybe that is even far closer to what Jesus himself intended.
'NOT YOUR USUAL SERMON'
PREACHING AND DISCUSSION NOTES. 2019 BACK NUMBERS BELOW
From Lent 2020 these notes on the Sunday Lectionary readings will appear on WHITTER
I'm not attacking Christianity, or Christians, (well, not all of them!) I just want them to recognise that the required beliefs no longer speak my language. I am not saying there is no room in my life for any kind of 'spirituality' with the memory of Jesus of Nazareth as its focus. But we created our religions, so we can change them. Perhaps his example, as a real person who died unjustly, not as a God in disguise, can still help us to decide how we should live today.
It's not about believing in a 'God'.
It's about believing in ourselves.
What used to be about a 'God' is actually all about us!
A MORE RADICAL 'FAITH'?
In the C1st, life was 'nasty, brutish and short'. Average life expectancy was about 30. The promise of 'salvation' or a better life to come was attractive; the Roman and Greek gods didn't offer that. In our C21st culture it's around 80 or more. We are not the centre of the Universe after all or subject to the whims of gods. Religions are no longer the only source of truth. This life offers endless possibilities that were undreamed of before - good and bad. So what can we believe in? I'm not interested in a theoretical life after death but in what matters during this one: justice, compassion, hope, humanity - the radical Isaiah/Jesus 'manifesto' in Luke 4:18. Does Christianity still have anything to say worth hearing about that?
A MORE RATIONAL APPROACH?
In all conscience, I cannot affirm many of the required beliefs of conventional Christianity: A 3-person God-Being who existed before everything else, (how? where?) So for at least 14,000,000,000 years, but who has chosen to intervene in this tiny obscure planet just in the last few thousand, coincidentally since humans formulated their various religions. Or that Jesus was crucified because of my 'sin', and I had better be grateful, when it was the Romans who did it, not me. Or his supposed impossible birth, unique nature and physical resurrrection from the dead. Or the final authority of the Bible forever, as if it bears no relation to those who actually wrote it. None of this makes sense once you start to think about it. It is all frankly unbelievable. What used to be attributed to a God is now understood differently. A faith has to fit the facts and I and many others cannot deny what else we know to be true in order to make that happen.
A MORE INCLUSIVE COMMUNITY?
Someone once said that Jesus talked of the coming of the KIngdom, but only the Church arrived instead! It's a human community like any other, with faults and strengths But it needs to listen a lot more - and speak a lot less - if it wants to engage with the C21st and beyond. And it needs to listen most to those who are not part of it. The boundaries have to be blurred, not an inpenetrable barrier designed to keep people out unless you become like us first. So that's where I sit. In the metaphorical porch asking questions. Why not join me in a re-think? It may all go nowhere but let's see.
IS IT ALL OR NOTHING WITH GOD AND CHRISTIANITY? TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT? OR IS THERE ANOTHER WAY?
The poet Virgil asked this question over 2000 years ago: '‘Is it the gods who put this desire into our minds, or does every person’s irresistible passion become their god’?
Now ask yourself some questions:
Did human minds create all our religious beliefs or were they 'revealed' from elsewhere? Did actual people write the Bible and the Creeds or were they dictated by a 'God'? Is there any evidence that a God intervenes when we ask 'Him' to? Or is all religious 'experience' just our interpretation of what happens anyway?
The answers are obvious when you think about them or read any Church history. Every 'religious' insight is a human activity like any other. It cannot be anything else. We create our religions to express our own hopes and values. They are not given to us from somewhere or Someone else. They are ours. We decide what 'God' is like. And the old ideas no longer work so we can let them go and create new ones.
What matters most? Saving ourselves or making a better world? Take 'salvation' away and what's left? An exciting journey towards discovering our full humanity. But we have to be honest. Is Christianity 'good news'? Or just more 'fake news'?
'And a young child shall lead them' said the prophet Isaiah. Not the same context of course, but I recently visited the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. The centrepiece is a massive circular war memorial with two group sculptures. Each of them shows muddied and frightened figures gently bearing away a dead and naked man from the battlefield. A school party was there 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 human story echoes our own. That's the Way of life I try to follow.
'NOT YOUR USUAL SERMON' BACK NUMBERS
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!
I still offer occasional school attendance and absence training on request. CONTACT ME if required. But as I approach retirement in 2020 my 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 regular thoughts on life, the Church and Christianity. Currently: 'The mystery about Mary'.
Friendly FEEDBACK is always very welcome. Please let me know if you have found my ideas interesting and helpful.