HUMANISM AND RELIGION New ideas on old beliefs
We all have lives and interests other than work and I also write and speak on the relationship between humanism and religion; (see also ABOUT ME to read more about my journey to here). All religions, their gods and their values, are human attempts to help us to understand our lives, individually and together. We have devised them to meet our needs as we have gone along, and then revised our understandings in the light of new knowledge. They weren't handed down, unchanging, from above at the dawn of time. Religions are just another form of human activity like music, art and literature. Indeed, as Neil MacGregor's brilliant series on Radio 4 'Living with the Gods' clearly demonstrates, religions are an obvious example of those same aesthetic activities; used to express our own hopes, feelings and ideals.
Saying that religion is a human creation does not mean I think that (most) believers are stupid. Many good and caring people find a meaning within faiths of all kinds. But their beliefs all come from particular times and places. That cannot be ignored. We each need to take a step back from what we may have always believed to be true and ask whether our religion is actually built on very flimsy foundations. There may be a greater humanity and integrity to be discovered within, or even without, it. I admit I have little time for a rigid fundamentalism; just saying something in a loud and confident voice does not make it right! 'It must be true because the Bible says so' no longer cuts it with most of us.
I can only talk about the Christian tradition into which I was born and which I have studied to postgraduate level and for over 30 years. The Bible was clearly written by human beings, but that doesn't necessarily make it worthless. LIke all voices from the past, it can still tell us important things about ourselves, as long as we don't give it an authority it doesn't even claim to have. The Church is a human institution like any other. It gets some things right and makes a terrible mess of others. It can offer a real sense of community, though not if it becomes exclusive and judgemental. But neither the Bible nor the Church can have the last word on everything.
I don't personally now believe there is any 'God' out there but the same questions about life still have to be answered. If there is an unknowable mystery outside of ourselves then, by definition, we cannot know it. So let's concentrate on the here and now and leave the rest as mere speculation. Above all I am trying to stimulate a dialogue and a spirit of creative enquiry. Is there any value in Christianity, and particularly in Jesus, if you strip away all the doctrinal baggage and outdated supernatural assumptions about the way the world is? Is there anything left in the Christian story if you approach it in a different way? Maybe; maybe not. You decide.
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The two books below are my original thoughts on a 'humanist spirituality' from a few years back. They are brief essays or mini sermons on two themes: The Psalms and the Parables. These parts of the Bible take us deep into human individual feelings and our community life together so they still have plenty to say, even for those for whom there is no 'God'. For me 'spirituality' is more about how we think about things than about anything 'religious'. It's a deeper dimension to our human reality, not an escape from it. Feedback always welcome via email.