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'
Copies for groups are also available from me at a discount.
I am not a 'Christian', just an interested observer, watching from the sidelines. I am a student of the Christian story, though I'm not sure it has had all that much to do with Jesus! And what exactly makes Christianity any different from just living well? I want you to at least think about it, even if you've always taken it all for granted before or abandoned any religion years ago. Is there still something here that can help us to be fully human, God or no God?
All theologies have a context. Mine is the C21st and the plain fact that, in our contemporary culture, most people no longer believe in God. Or they at least agree that anything that is claimed about a 'God' is a human creation - a metaphor, a picture, a poem - not a factual description of an actual supernatural Being. Until the believers wake up to this evident reality, millions like me will feel we cannot participate with any degree of integrity. That doesn't make us 'sinners'. All religions have been created by us, so we can change them. Any concept of 'God' starts with a blank canvas, on which we each paint what our own minds and brains have devised. Doctrines, creeds and so on were once invented; so we can uninvent them!
My rethinking is not just for 'religious' people. I don't offer an academic approach in my writing or one that ties us up in speculative knots. You don't even need to be familiar with the Bible, or ever go to church. I have a postgraduate degree in theology so I know something about the Church, its history and how the doctrines came about. But 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 looking outwards, we need to change the angle from which we see it all. From where we are now. A theological Copernican revolution.
Sadly many believers seem unwilling to discuss it or even admit there is an issue. I am asked to take a 'God' as a given. Meanwhile fewer and fewer people are convinced. Conversation, not conversion is what we need. Read the book and let me know what YOU think. Invitations to talk about all this together will always be especially welcome.
Modern liberal nonsense?
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 the 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.
If all gods and all religions are human creations, as they clearly 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.
Reading the Bible differently
Christian beliefs essentially come from the Bible. But what kind of book is it? (See also RESOURCES). I find the works of Bishop John Selby Spong in the USA endlessly interesting. Always a controversial figure he has also helped countless people to read the Bible in a non-literal way. Everything in John's gospel, for example, is symbolic, not a factual description of what actually happened. It was crafted together, possibly by 3 different writers, in the late C1st, to define what the story of Jesus meant then to those who were part of an ostracised former-Jewish community.
Everything has to be read against the Jewish Bible (what we call the Old Testament) to understand its significance. (The more Greek-inspired Prologue was almost certainly added later. The idea of Jesus as the pre-existing Logos is never referred to again). Nothing is there by chance. It portrays a mystical Jesus or Christ-figure, (not the real person but a symbol), who is radically different from the one created by the later C4th councils and creeds that we usually take for granted which they took almost entirely from Paul. This is a 'pre-Christianity' Jesus who focuses on revealing a new humanity, not on founding a 'religious', authority-based Church, based on a view of God just like the old one that he rejected. Maybe Paul got it wrong with all his emphasis on sin and salvation. This is another kind of spirituality entirely.
It is masterly, readable and deeply insightful. I try to follow the self-giving Way of living shown by the real human Jesus, but I also see the value of this complimentary more 'spiritual' idea which makes it about much more than just hero-worship. Saying that we must assent to certain statements as 'facts' just because they are in the Bible and cannot ever be reinterpreted, leads to inevitable rejection of the whole Jesus story. The Bible needs rescuing from obscurity to make it live. Or it will die.
What does the word 'God' mean anyway?
There is obviously no supernatural Being in the sky who controls what happens or who knows all about you. A God who 'intervenes'; (sometimes) is a human perception about what happens anyway and one that I, and most people, no longer share. Nor is God a voice in your head that tells you what to do, has a 'plan' for your life or promises you a parking space when you need one. This 'God' is not real.
'God' is a word for the most profound reality we can conceive of, the essence of life, not for an imaginary friend! So, for me, the specifically Christian story is saying that 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 - in what he called 'seeking the kingdom (rule/signs) of God'.
'God' is a symbol for a deeper dimension to our human reality. 'God' is in us; and potentially in every experience, thought and value. This is what theologians call 'immanence'. Perhaps it is even what 'incarnation' means, i.e. not restricted uniquely to Jesus but open to us all. Or we can avoid the word God altogether and just talk about being fully human. I'm not sure it makes much difference in the end. We create our gods, not the other way round. We decide the values we live by.
The cross is where the repressive power of the State meets the power of love. It's not just cheap grace that leaves the State unchallenged. (My take from Bonhoeffer)
The death of Jesus was a human act of cruelty and injustice, like so many others. It has to be the same, not something different. 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 that Jesus rejected. But within that event perhaps there is a deeper meaning to be found about our humanity; about love, self-giving and how to live well.
'Have you ever been to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire? The most moving part is the 'Shot at Dawn' field of upright posts - remembering the hundreds of frightened and shell-shocked young men and boys summarily executed for 'cowardice'. A school party was there when I was and one of the children asked her teacher, 'Is that Jesus'?
The answer, of course, is 'Yes' if you want to see it that way. That's how Jesus still 'lives', as we find that his story, including his death, echoes our own. It's not about a theoretical next life. The only point of a religion is to show us what matters in this one. And then we die. The journey has only one destination, but you are welcome to join me in making some sense of it while it lasts.
I had pretty much retired from education welfare work before the current closures, but I have decided to continue for the time being. I will give you accurate independent advice about attendance and absence which is based on actual Guidance wherever possible. (My main advice has always been to check the Regulations and Guidance before you do anything - it still is!)
You can find information on the present arrangements for SCHOOL ATTENDANCE AND ABSENCE here. LAST UPDATED 3RD JUNE. As things develop, there may be new training packages available later in order to promote best practice. Or CONTACT ME at any time. Enquiries from parents or schools are welcome.
RE-THINKING CHRISTIANITY This website now also reflects my other main 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?
On the RESOURCES page you will find a PowerPoint (with audio) on 'Who wrote the Bible'? plus a set of free discussion notes on the classic book from the 1960s, ''Honest to God' and my own studies on the Psalms from 2011, 'Walking without God'. These are all free.
Friendly FEEDBACK is always very welcome. Please let me know if you have found my ideas interesting and helpful.
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All information and advice on this website, and in any electronic communication or face to face work, is given in good faith and is accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief. No personal liability is accepted for the adverse consequences of any unintended factual errors or omissions.