The Apostate's Creed:
Rethinking Christianity for the C21st.
A reworking of statements from the Apostles' Creed and a series of reflections inspired mainly by Luke's gospel.
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£5 (plus £2 p+p for 1 or 2 copies)
'Honest and clear'. 'Really interesting'. 'Most enjoyable'
Short extract from the Introduction here
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What kind of literature is the Bible 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 secular context. The Bible is made up of human reflections for our evolving human experience; but it's more more like stepping stones than a fully-formed path. Ideal for individual or group study and can be downloaded, printed or circulated FREE.
I have set myself a modest task: to engage with the story of Jesus while not believing in the religion that bears his name. Simples! I don't want to deliberately offend anyone but I do want to make you think. Stay with me for a few minutes; not everything can be reduced to Twitterspeak.
If believers want the rest of us to take any notice any more, they must start to speak in a new way. Taking it all 'literally' is no longer possible. I try to take a rational approach to what I trust to be true. So I don't believe there is a God, or any number of them. The evidence just isn't there. There may be an entirely unknowable reality behind it all, though if it is unknowable nothing can be said about it! I have no view on that. So I'm talking about the 'God' that religions do claim to know all about. We have made 'Him' up out of our own ideas and images. We can't really do anything else.
To start at the beginning: the Universe just is, and has been for millions of centuries. It runs itself. Human beings have only existed for a tiny fraction of that time. Any concept of a 'God' who made it all with us in mind is a projection of our own hopes and fears. Fear of death and meaninglessness, but also a response to that spark of 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. 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' is therefore in us, or at least, can be. '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 best way to do it. The patriarchal beliefs and doctrines we invented in our less-enlightened past have to go. Scriptures have to be reinterpreted into a new language in the light of science. There is no Divine Plan or salvation only for the deserving 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.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the Christian tradition now has nothing to offer us, but we have to use our modern minds to re-interpret 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 '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 of all kinds are all down to us later and may have taken us way off-course.
If you've never been a Christian you may have an advantage over the rest of us! You can start here without all the assumed baggage of 'faith'. Of course those who still believe the traditional doctrines will disagree. But theirs is no longer the only point of view available. So let's at least have a grown-up conversation about it, before most people in our culture abandon the Jesus story altogether.
Going to church has been part of my life on and off for 70 years, but I just cannot go to most of them now because of the assumptions on which participation is based. I occasionally enjoy Cathedral services, if mostly for the music, though the preaching is usually thoughtful and reflective. I sometimes go to a very diverse inner city CofE with an inclusive approach and a radical stance on community engagement. Its care for asylum-seekers and the vulnerable challenges and encourages me. I can't affirm the normally-expected beliefs, but I am welcome anyway and still feel part of the family. Like an embarrassing uncle at Christmas! Mostly I 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 play! So I don't call myself a 'Christian'.
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, art, architecture, music and literature, and I'm always very happy to discuss it! It has helped to form who I am. But what matters most? The preservation of the past and its claims or being a community that actually helps us to live well together, now? So much of 'religion' seems to lead in the wrong direction.
When it comes to the content of 'faith', the theology, the doctrines, (which hardly anyone ever wants to talk about for fear of what it might mean), I feel increasingly out of step. So many prior beliefs seem to be required. But everything has been devised by human minds, so we can change our understanding, even of what we mean by 'God'. There are no supernatural 'givens'. A 'religious' experience is still a human experience, even what we define as a 'mystical' or 'transcendent' experience. They cannot be anything else. It's all about human perceptions. That is 'where all the ladders start' (WB Yeats). So we have to rethink what it all means as we learn more about ourselves. This 'getting right with God' idea, because we are so hopeless without 'Him', is no longer what we need.
I don't yet want to abandon my Christian 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.
I still want to try (and no doubt fail) to follow what I can discern of the 'Way' of Jesus because he seems to have embodied essentially humanist values, and, like many others, paid with his life as a result. But he also seems to have seen 'religion' as the problem, not as a solution. Jesus wasn't a 'Christian' either! But any claim that he was uniqely Divine and human at the same time is meaningless. It is impossible for someone to have been conceived without sex and still be a human being. No dead person can possibly walk out of a tomb or get their actual body back again. (And then what happened to it?) These ancient human stories cannot be literally 'true' any more than the idea that the world is stuck between heaven (up) and hell (below), was actually made in 6 days or that a God knows about me 'personally'. Maybe many of those still involved in the Church don't really believe all this either, but that rarely seems to surface.
So let's say so and the modern world might listen to a new story for our own time. What else do we need to change? 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 this is all no different from just hoping to live well while it lasts and with a care for others along the way, especially the oppressed and excluded. 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 engage with the Jesus story that doesn't require you to take it all literally or sign up to the religion that bears his name?
In Study Resources you'll find a PowerPoint (with audio) on 'Who Wrote the Bible'? 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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