Can religious believers and non-believers share in the human journey together and even learn from each other?
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I don't believe in a 'God'. It's not even clear to me what people mean when they use the word - nor, I suspect, is it always clear to them! Most people in our culture now think the same. I wouldn't therefore call myself a 'Christian'. But unlike most people, I have been immersed in the Christian community, its people and its theology since childhood. It is a part of who I am. But I simply do not believe that many of its claims are true. So is it possible to engage with the Jesus story, but without all the complex doctrines; maybe even without the traditional idea of a 'God' at all? Many would say not; but I think there's still plenty of scope for exploration.
What is a religion for? The story we need to hear is not about how we are doomed sinners. That our only hope is vested in the whims of some supernatural deity who might forgive us in the end if we jump through whatever hoops our chosen faith has created. What we need to know is how to be fully human - how to live well while it lasts. The kind of person you are is so much more important than what you believe. I actually think this is what Jesus intended to be the focus. How to live now. The theology about him also being 'God', part of an eternal Trinity for example, is only what we have put into his mouth or devised centuries later.
All religions are a product of our collective history, sociology and psychology; these then determine our theology. They're not 'given' from elsewhere. We create our gods, not the other way round. That doesn't mean they are entirely worthless. But our systems of belief have to be understood for what they are. They're ours - so we can change them. Honestly, we can! We always have.
I can only talk about the Christian tradition into which I was born and which I have studied to postgraduate degree level and thought about for almost 50 years. Neither the Bible nor the Church can have the last word on everything. They are 'only' human too! Some claims about the authority of the Bible go way beyond anything it claims for itself. It's still worth something of course, but not to be put on such a pedestal. Same journey, but now we need an updated map.
All claims about a 'God' are based on human concepts; they are all we have. A 'religious' experience is still an entirely human experience. It cannot be anything else. All our statements are metaphors and similes. Apparently God speaks and listens; he gets angry or loves us. Our idea of 'God' is that 'He' is a bit like us! These are all statements about ourselves. Beyond that we have to be atheists, or highly cautious agnostics, and be content with the images and ideas that we have created. It's those who seem to think they are exempt from this human process who worry me; those who claim to know all about God or to speak directly on his behalf. Then religions can become dangerous, authoritarian and oppressive; the very opposite of what is good for us.
All religions borrow ideas from each other (creation myths, sacrifice, virgin births, resurrection, salvation etc.) but I do still find some elements of the Christian story particularly intriguing and challenging. Not least the unjust killing, like so many others, that is at the heart of it; and that the things Jesus seems to have said about justice, forgiveness and care for others are surely central to how to live well - what he called 'seeking the Kingdom'. A 'Godlike' way to live, if you like, but all about this life, not a supposed next one.
These remain points of entry for me, if in a limited way. I also find the theatre of what goes on in my local Cathedral aesthetically uplifting, often giving me food for thought and offering an inclusive welcome - unlike what happens in many churches where I'm simply expected to toe the party line and believe what I'm told! Questions (unless they're the ones with pre-determined answers) are not usually encouraged.
I am simply trying to stimulate a dialogue, break down barriers and encourage a spirit of creative enquiry. Is there any value in Christianity if you strip away all the outdated supernatural and doctrinal assumptions about the way the world is? If not, then it's not for me. But are at least some believers willing to listen to the rest of us, not just tell us we are wrong? Can you be a 'Christian' and a humanist? Is there anything left if you approach it all in a different way? Maybe; maybe not. You decide.
The two FREE books below are my original thoughts on a humanist spirituality from a few years back. They are brief essays or sermons on two themes: The Psalms and the Parables. These parts of the Bible take us into human individual experience 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 not about some mystical feeling or 'other worldly' experience. It's much more about how we think about life and give it a rational meaning than about anything necessarily 'religious'. It's a deeper dimension to our humanity, not a wish to escape from it. Conventional faith may sometimes help - I can't entirely forget my heritage - but it may also get in the way. There are new places to go and so we need to travel in new directions to get there.
MY CHOSEN CHARITY
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I am committed to a welfare-based strategic approach to managing attendance and absence. I may not always tell you exactly what you think you want to hear or repeat what you always thought was true. But I will offer you an informed and independent voice that gives you real practical help in carrying out your statutory duties and seeks to promote more effective solutions for those children and young people who most need them. I also 'whitter' about education welfare issues. Currently: If education is not compulsory, then it's not compulsory!
But there is more to life than work so you'll also find a page about humanism and spirituality where I write about the dialogue between faith and life for those who are not convinced that conventional religions take us where we need to go as modern, thoughtful human beings. I'm not 'religious' but I am human. It's life before death that matters, so how do we decide how to live it?
Feedback and comment are always very welcome.
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