'ON NOT BEING A CHRISTIAN'              

But still searching for our full humanity in the footsteps of Jesus

 

What lies beyond 'Christianity'? A 'religion' based around 'worship' is no longer the most credible way to look at life for most of us. But the Bible is not necessarily as 'religious' a book as you might think. It's about life; our life. What happens if we read it as entirely human literature, written by people like us seeking to live well? Maybe their journey and ours can be a shared conversation as we walk along together. Perhaps this is the only hope for the Church in our modern context; not us becoming 'Christians' but 'being fully human'.

                     220 pp. Paperback

           ONLY AVAILABLE FROM ME HERE

                                                                                                        

Since I wrote this book I have come across 'By Way of the Heart' by poet and priest Mark Oakley. He pays tribute to 'The True Wilderness' by Harry Williams, a book I inherited in my twenties and that my father had heavily underlined before his early death. His memory and unfinished ministry has undoubtedly greatly influenced my own journey. Oakley offers deep yet accessible perspectives on living well in the footsteps of Jesus; being fully human as he was. He is less worried than I am about trying to redefine 'God' or to protest against traditional beliefs; he just knows that they are not what we need. 'Fundamentalism is to Christianity what painting by numbers is to art' tells you where he is coming from! This language helps me to keep at least half a foot in the door. So, at present, I am back at Choral Evensong more regularly, letting the anguish of the Psalmists, the hopes of the petitions and the glory of the music wash over me like a flowing river - even if, of course, I still cannot say the Creed. I am not a 'Christian', just a human person inspired by the story of Jesus.

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This is not a book of serious-minded deep Theology or academic Bible Study; there are already plenty of those and I’m not qualified to write yet another, despite my postgraduate degree from a proper University. It is a book about human life and what it means to live it, which recognises and explores my Christian inheritance but which also aims to keep both feet on the ground. It is anecdotal, opinionated, in places irreverent and partial but also, I hope, friendly and stimulating. It is about a journey that didn’t start from here and which won’t last for ever.

 

I have self-published two short books and two longer ones since 2011 in search of a ‘humanist spirituality’ within the Christian tradition, though, to be honest, apart from the last one, not many people noticed:

 

Walking Without God: Reflections on selected psalms (2011)

Finding the Way: Reflections on selected parables (2011)

Updating the Map: A humanist journey through the Bible (2012)

The Apostate’s Creed: Rethinking Christianity for the C21st (2019)

         

I have now brought the first three together into a revised and updated Collection.  I have not ‘found my faith’ again while writing these books - perhaps I never had one in the first place. I did find that I still had a fascination with the Jesus story and that, like it or not, Christianity continues to be an integral part of my identity. But I am an observer, not a believer.

 

I do not believe in any kind of supernatural ‘Being’ or ‘Other’ who in some way influences life on earth. All ‘religious’ experiences are solely human experiences; they cannot be anything else. We create our religions; their values and their doctrines. We decide what they contain and the rules required for following them. The Church of England website says that its beliefs are not of human origin but of course they are. You only have to look at its history to see how they have come about. (With, in its earliest days, vast numbers of executions, hangings, imprisonments and murders of those who disagreed with whatever theology was in fashion at the time!) But  any focus only on what we are supposed to believe - to make us better 'disciples' - offers  no hope of recovery from inevitable further decline. Like other similar initiatives it is bound to fail because it has decided in advance what the 'answers' are without even identifying the questions! So I start somewhere else: with us.

 

To complement my previous focus on the Apostles’ Creed, this Collection is substantially about the Bible, but as entirely human literature. What kinds of writings are these? What human experiences do they arise from? And can I create new answers to the questions confronting the original authors that make sense in my own context; recognising where they had reached but not tied to it? I have tried to include some helpful background information, but I will often end up with a meaning that would never have occurred to them. My University tutors might have had some problem with this approach but I am using the text as a springboard, not as a final authority. That was their journey; this is mine. What might we have to say to each other as we walk along together?

 

What seems to have been Jesus' prophetic desire to reveal the ‘God-ness’ in this world still has value, even if the language, world-view and assumptions of the time may no longer be helpful. (They thought the world was flat then and that the sun went round it. Heaven was 'up'. A God controlled everythting. None of this is correct). His story is a ‘myth’, not in the sense that he did not exist, but in the sense that there are truths about life to be found here, perhaps deeper and more lasting truths than those formulated later by those who turned him into a Divine Saviour etc.  Any religion is just a theory. It is time for a much more fundamental 'reformation' if the Jesus story is to survive in our context.

 

So where should the Church apply its energies? Maybe much less emphasis on ‘worship’ and much more on encouraging our individual and collective ‘worthship’ might halt what looks like otherwise inevitable further decline. Once we accept that humans wrote the Bible and invented all the doctrines, rules and values arising from it, then we can change them. The Church has often changed in the past, even if it was usually reluctant to admit it openly. Religions and their gods come from us and from our experience of seeking answers to questions in our own lives, not from an ancient book with pseudo-magical powers or from those who somehow gained access to the ‘Divine’ long ago that is beyond the rest of us. Scriptures have to tell our story and if they don’t, what is the point of them? 

 

There are those who argue that support for Ukraine is misplaced. Of course NATO, including the UK,  has been far from innocent or consistent in its response to other injustices and in its choice of friends. The talk of escalation on both sides is very worrying. Some refugees are clearly more welcome than others. I accept all that. But Putin created this crisis. He has dangerously raised the stakes by his invasion. The suffering he is causing is immense, including clear crimes against civilians. Calls for ''peace"' are meaningless when there is no genuine willingness to draw back. So I stand with Ukraine and its people, but with a sad and heavy heart. Yet there are also many stories of generosity, courage and simple human kindness: these are surely evidence of the 'Kingdom', or as I would put it, the 'God-ness' within and around us.  But a 'God' will not intervene to solve this disaster for us. We can only try to find at least some encouragement in these human signs of hope. And keep Jesus, himself the victim of murder, at the heart of our thinking.

 

Pink Floyd Releases First New Single in 28 Years to Support Ukraine | Al Bawaba

 

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The Jesus story is a 'myth' for our times which, if looked at differently,  can still tell us a deeper truth about life and how to live it well. The Christian 'religion', however, is a set of doctrinal claims based on pre-scientific assumptions that no longer fit with modern knowledge. No wonder most people have rejected it. It may be best to leave a 'God' out of it and move on.

 

In Study Resources you'll find a PowerPoint (with audio) on 'Who Wrote the Bible'? This is so important and so often ignoredAnd 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. 

 

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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