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'
All theologies have a context. Mine is the C21st and the plain fact that, in our contemporary culture, most people no longer believe in a God. Or they at least agree that anything that is claimed about 'Him' 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? God is a blank canvas, on which we each paint what our own minds and brains have devised. And those pictures change over time. We used to worship Zeus!
Does this approach make the whole Jesus story meaningless for how we live today? Are we forever tied to the ancient faith as it's always been? I don't think so. Let me know what you think when you've read the book.
I don't offer an academic approach 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 writing is for anyone who is interested in being fully human, 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.
There are many versions of Christianity but it often feels like the required morality and beliefs simply do not reflect the modern world and what we now know about ourselves. 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 inclusion. 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.
So let's at least talk about it like grown-ups. Conversation, not conversion is what we need.
Many disputes about the content of Christianity are about how we use the Bible. 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 - all men of course! We have no 'original' manuscripts or first editions, only later translations and versions that are not all the same. Those who maintain that it is all 'literally' true, 'inerrant' about everything, 'God's final word' or even directly dictated by Him, have just made the idea up. Such a status was never given to the whole Bible by the ancient Creeds or by those who wrote it.
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. We wrote it; it's ours. But it isn't the last word on everything for ever. How could it be? We have learned a lot more since.
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 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.
The Church, officially at least, seems to have taken little or no notice of the intellectual and moral questions raised, then or now, but has still been apparently surprised by its constant decline. It is inevitable that this will continue without a rethink. People just don't believe it anymore. That doesn't make us 'sinners'.
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. 'God' is in us and always has been.
'God' is a word for the most profound truth we can imagine. So, for me, the specifically Christian story is saying that our deepest human reality, 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' is found in him, in others like him and in the world around us - what he called 'seeking the 'kingdom (rule/signs) of God'. It's about this life and how to live it.
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.
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'. The same could be said of the 'Shot at Dawn' field of upright posts - remembering the hundreds of frightened and shell-shocked young men and boys summarily executed for 'cowardice'. 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. You are invited to join me on the journey.
Invitations to talk about all this together will always be welcome.
Until the summer term I still offer a one day school attendance and absence Workshop on request. See above for more details. CONTACT ME to discuss.
But as I approach retirement during 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 occasional thoughts on life, the Church and Christianity. Currently: 'What are some Christians so afraid of?'
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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