godisnowhere

thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Month: May 2014

Being a Bad Evangelical

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Recently I decided that I didn’t want the label of “Christian” any more. I’m still thinking about that, but I’ve focused recently on the idea of being an “Evangelical”. I was tempted to write about this in light of the Oasis/EA debacle, but thought better of it (no one likes angry sweary blog posts, after all).

I’ve had some time to think about it, and I think I’ve realised that I’m probably not an “Evangelical” by ‘their’ standards, but I might be one by God’s standards. I’m not sure.

One thing I do know is that it is hard, if not impossible, to avoid being labelled. It’s also really difficult to avoid wanting to label oneself. I think that the reality should be slightly different – we ought to hold labels lightly, regardless of whether or not that label is of someone else our ourselves. With that disclaimer, some labels:

Above all, I affirm God’s love for all.
I affirm environmental activism.
I affirm gay marriage.
I affirm nonviolent substitution.
I affirm universalism.
I reject war.
I reject state-sanctioned murder.
I reject the idea of an eternal torture or punishment.
I reject the Bible as a perfect book,
but I affirm it as the story of God.

By all accounts, and by EA’s own standards, I would make a pretty bad capital E Evangelical. I couldn’t sign up to their doctrinal statement. But does this matter?

Of course, they would say that it does. But I’m far, far less convinced. I’m not sure I’m just a “liberal” or an “agnostic” or even a “heretic”. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I!

There’s something deeper in all of this, for me, though. The reason I find it hard to affirm some of the ‘doctrines’ of Evangelical Christianity, and the reason I have chosen to affirm some ‘opposites’ are actually rooted in the reality that I don’t know the answer.

If I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to shout about what I think as being the only ‘true’ way. I’m not going to ‘tell my friends about Jesus’ and I’m not going to ‘share the GOS-Pel’ (that’s how you pronounce it in UCCF circles) through countless ‘good conversations’ (where ‘good’ usually means ‘I got to speak the most’).

How can I when I myself am unsure of the exact nature of some of this stuff? never mind gay marriage, I don’t understand the cross, or the afterlife, or anything of that ilk.

What I do understand is that deep within my psyche is the desire to see a better world here and now. I would argue (and indeed have on countless occasions and blog posts) that Jesus’ central mission wasn’t his death, but his life. Jesus came to show us a newer, better way to live. One that only makes sense in light of the cross, sure, but central nonetheless.

The driving force of this better world is love. I don’t oppose same-sex marriage because I’d rather love those people by affirming who they are (rather than telling them their very nature is depraved) than to tell them they are behaving ‘wrongly’. It’s not the same as occasionally wanting to steal, it’s at the very core of who you are. So don’t go equating those sorts of things!

I digress. I affirm such things out of love, and even if I am wrong (I accept this to be possible at all times), I’d rather God knew I tried to love than tried to be right. What does Jesus do? Does he try to be orthodox? No. He tries to love.

My actions define who I am. In the words of Donald Miller, “What I say is not what I believe, what I do is what I believe”. My aim is to honour the God who has shown me love, who has helped me to love him, myself and others – and to share this joyful, better way of life with those around me.

But I can’t do that with the noise and the mess and the crap that Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and… well… every other denomination shouting from the sidelines saying “I’m right”, “No, I’m right” and so on.

Instead I feel compelled to drop the label “Christian” and definitely drop the label “Evangelical” as a particularly toxic brand within that label. I feel compelled to learn to live a life worthy of my own standards before I go attaching myself to anything. People can make their own judgements on what I am or what I am not – that is their problem.

Mother Theresa wasn’t known because she was a Christian. She was known because she loved. I only hope that one day, if and when I come face to face with God, that is true for me also.

Now that would be a life of sharing good news.

 

 

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Engaging with post-Christendom

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Those of us who confess a faith live in interesting and difficult times. Many face what they feel is persecution for their beliefs, some are even martyrs. Our prophets and preachers are sidelined and ignored. Communion is no longer a central focus of our week. We pray in the hope that our supplications might appease almighty God and that he would deliver us from both our sins and the sins of others. We’re caught up arguing about predestination, homosexuality, transubstantiation, atonement, you name it we’re arguing internally about it. We’ve gone from being a major power player in social structure, through ensuring our core focus is to evangelise the lost, to recognising the need for social action, community living, mission, and intentional discipleship.

If you understood that paragraph, read it again. And then think to yourself about what our biggest problem might be. I would argue it’s one word: communication.

As any sub-culture, Christianity has a lot of jargon. When we were in charge, this was fine. People knew what ‘sunday school’ was. People understood ‘mass’ to mean the ritual we use to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, rather than assuming it was a reference to physics. But we’re not in charge any more, and people don’t understand us. Worse for us still, they’re not bothered about not understanding us.

We see this shift of attitude in our modern politics, too. People don’t care if UKIP are going to screw them over with incredibly dangerous right wing economic policy. They’re wilfully ignorant of it (or too naive to see it), preferring to blame the lack of work ethic in the UK on a handful of ‘benefit scrounging’ immigrants.

People make up their own narratives now. Instead of seeing the world as it is, we choose to see the world how we want. Fed by decades of consumerism, where we are consistently and continually manipulated to want what we can’t have and then have what we don’t need, we have become obsessed with escapism. This escapism has driven technology to previously unimaginable new places: immersive computer gaming experiences, online prostitution, technology which perpetually interrupts us and encourages us to see the world through it, Facebook “friends”, and so on.

We don’t want to live in the real world any more because the real world is too hard to accept. The problems are too big and too unsolvable. And when we realise that the reason they are unsolvable is because of those in power, we become even more keen to totally escape the world we are in and be elsewhere. So we create our own little “world”s.

So my question is this: in a world which is bloated beyond capacity with hyper or virtual reality, can Christianity offer the medicine we need: authenticity?

The problem with authenticity for the Christian sub-culture is two-fold – and depends n which end of the ‘spectrum’ you sit. Either we’ve been going for a long time, and we’re really quite stuck in our ways, with all of our jargon (see above), or we’ve spent the last 30 or so years trying to appeal to the inauthentic world with smoke machines and flashy videos, when really we should have been leading the way in authentic relationship with those around us*.

So what does the solution to this problem look like? I believe that it involves going back to the way that Jesus lived. Firstly, Jesus used the language of the day to describe who he was and what he was doing (son of God, saviour, good news – words like these were all Roman concepts). Secondly, Jesus lived a genuine life, not distracted by his work or the technologies around him. Instead, Jesus consistently focussed on relationship with others.

In order to address our status as a dying relic of the old order, Christianity (I’m coming around to admitting I’m still a part of it, reluctantly) needs to junk the jargon and stop trying to be cool. Only then, I think, will it discover its voice in a post-Christendom, post-Modern world.

 

* I’m aware of the irony of writing this all on a blog post rather than saying it to you over a pint. There are positives to technology, too, but what I am getting at is our over use and over consumption of it.

 

 

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Shall we go on sinning?

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In my last blog post I looked at how we need to leave behind the legalism and the guilt of all religions, including Christianity and move on instead to a life lived in the knowledge of God’s love for us and a life in which we are free to choose a better way because we can actually recognise the consequences of our actions beyond a crude religious-legal structure.

The mistakes made by many a grace-embracing Christian are (1) to feel a need to constantly repent of sinning (law breaking) rather than to feel remorse for sinning (not living the way we know we should) and (2) to see grace as the great catch-all, the final say, the ‘I don’t need to do anything any more’. Some even go so far as to say it’s okay to sin because then there will be more grace…

What does Paul have to say to this? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? by no means! for you have died to sin“.

You have died (with Christ) to sin. But that isn’t where it stops.

“On the third day he rose again”.

And so do we.

Free from the shackles of religion we can now choose to heed the words of Jesus, Paul, the many others whose voices we hear in scripture and indeed God Himself. Not out of necessity, but because we want to.

I received quite a strong reaction to my previous post – partially around negativity. That was deliberate. That was the death, this is the resurrection. Previously, I ended with a question: what does it look like?

Well, here’s my take on that:

Be Filled with the Spirit

What was the first thing of note that happened to the disciples after Jesus left them to it? They were filled with the Spirit of God. To try and explain/exegete/expand on this would take more than a couple of paragraphs (it would probably require an entire web site) so I won’t try and do that here.

But what I will say is this: the temple curtain tore and there was nothing there. God goes from being the object of our worship (the idol, the statue, the thing we can tangibly see or imagine) to the method of our interaction with others. That’s not to say we can’t interact with God as well, but there’s a shift in our perception. No longer is God to be grasped, avoided, held back or anything like that. No – God is accessible to all, and is in all. We have, in Paul’s words, the power of God within us.

How can we possibly expect to experience a life changed by God if we do not acknowledge God in ourselves, God in our relationships, God in nature and God in others? It is this acknowledgement that I believe Paul refers to when he speaks of our need to accept in faith what Jesus has done for us.

When we are filled with the Spirit of God, when we focus our lives to listen to that spirit, then we will recognise better than our clouded judgement allows us just when it is that we go against God’s way, when we offend, hurt, damage or injure someone. We will know because the spirit of God is in us and guides us.

Have Your Heart Broken

Under Law, we are obliged to help those in need. We must do things to make the world a fairer place. But this leads to systematic, tokenistic giving, without any real relationship involved. You’ve only got to look at things such as giving money to charity to see the parallel between that and the precise way in which Old Testament Law around crop harvesting was interpreted.

Filled with the Spirit, we find that our hearts – through prayer and meditation and life experience – become closer to God’s heart. We begin to recognise a world through God’s eyes rather than our own. It is at this point that we begin to feel the pain that God feels. We see all of the problems around us and our hearts are broken.

Sometimes our hearts become hardened. And so we must pray and meditate in the Spirit that our hearts would become softened again. But in allowing our hearts to be soft, to be vulnerable, we find the same compassion within ourselves which God has for us. Indeed, “We love because God first loved us”. That’s when we’ll start to see real change in the world.

This is what Paul is talking about when he asks us to be hospitable, to give generously and so on. It’s not a Law of legalism, it’s the Law of Love.

Give Yourself Rhythms

The problem with this compassion of course is that we dive into it headfirst and it burns us out. We end up having no energy left because we’ve tried to go and solve the world’s problems all by ourselves and all at once. It’s just not something we can ever hope to actually achieve.

So instead, I suggest that we need rhythms. Again – the Law stipulated that we must pray in a specific way, at specific times of the day, month or year. I wouldn’t advocate a return to that requirement. Rather, because we recognise that these rhythms are good for us (“Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”) we choose to create them.

The beauty of our new rhythms is that they are no longer one-size-fits-all. We don’t need to go to church every Sunday, confession every Saturday, Morning Prayer every day at 7am. But we can do these things as and when they are helpful to us. Personally, I find it helpful to begin and end my day with prayer, and to have a space once a week to focus myself on God and be reminded that others are doing the same. That may or may not be true for you, but some sort of structure is always going to help.

These rhythms help us to focus on God and others rather than on ourselves, and they provide rest from the busy, bustling world around us.

Take Part in Communitas

Finally, we avoid burning out by doing life together. But not just for the sake of togetherness. In his wonderful, encouraging, helpful and inspiring (can I recommend it enough? no!) book, “Exiles”, Michael Frost talks about the idea of Communitas rather than Community as a group of people bound by common purpose where that purpose is higher than “community” on its own.

I think this is what we need. We come together as a community because we must, because we recognise that we’re after the same thing and we can’t do it alone rather than because we are told to (such as the pressure to attend particular aspects of Church) or because God tells us to or anything like that.

Communitas is important over community because if we exist for existence sake we lose track of our mission, we become introverted, and we don’t live life in all its fullness. And seeing as we’ve managed to break the stranglehold of Law, we really don’t want to then not experience life in fullness by managing to burn out!

 

So I think there’s an exciting life beyond Christianity. I think it involves God and I think it is sustainable and sensible and structured – but not in a way which induces guilt if it isn’t followed to the letter. I think that we can see a world transformed if we allow God’s guidance in us, allow God’s heart to shape ours, make sure that we spend time doing the things that sustain us, and live and laugh and play and work with others.

Next up, The New Heavens and the New Earth.

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Moving Beyond Christianity

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I recently had to write an essay on Paul for a course I am taking part in. In order to do it justice, I felt compelled to read all of Paul’s writings as contained in the New Testament. The thought initially filled me with dread. I’ve never found Paul very easy to get on with. I’ve never understood him. I’ve always found him to be dogmatic, inconsistent, judgemental and generally quite irritating. And yet I’ve always been convinced he met with the risen Jesus, and so it is hard to dismiss him as these negative things.

I expected to come away irritated by the stalwart Conservative Christian Paul. Reading through Paul’s thoughts – his exposition of scripture, his explanation of the death and resurrection of Christ, and his thoughts on the way to live in light of this – I found myself confirming more and more what I have been thinking for some time.

Jesus came to get rid of religion altogether, but we’ve created one in his name, and we’re short changed in life as a consequence.

Not only are we short changed, but our message doesn’t appeal, and we’re watching the demise of the Kingdom of God.

I don’t think it has to stay that way. I don’t think it will stay that way.

I’ve outlined in the past how Jesus’ death makes sense to me. It’s the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate message to the Jews’ of his time that they could not possibly make sacrifices any more. They could not make things right with God. Jesus does away with the system once-and-for-all (I suppose that’s where that phrase comes from?).

The ‘Law’ (i.e. the Torah) that Jesus fulfilled was put in place to show us our sin, according to Paul. It also gives us incentive to sin and helps us to find creative, new ways to sin – again according to Paul. But it was a step forward from the self destructive sacrifice systems of the ancient near east.

So the Law replaced an out of control system of sacrifice (pre-Law), and then Jesus replaced an out of control system of sacrifice (the Law) with … well … nothing.

There’s nothing behind the curtain.

There’s no set method of salvation.

There’s no way to make things right with God any more.

I think there are two possible reactions to this. The first is to make new ways of making ourselves right with God, and the second is to accept things as they are, embracing them. The first is called Christianity and leads to dissatisfaction, burn out and guilt. The second doesn’t have a name and is the narrow path to the Kingdom of Heaven.

So the Church came along and invented new ways of making us right with God. I’ve argued before and I’ll argue again that this started with Constantine, but my history is sketchy. What I do know is that the very idea of a service whereby we have an altar and we take part in confession lends itself towards religious guilt and a system of “sacrifice” (Even if it is just our time and/or our money that we are sacrificing), never mind the atrocities of indulgences or Catholic confessionals, or money grabbing faith healers who insist that God isn’t at work in our lives because we aren’t good enough.

The Church hasn’t actually moved beyond the crude religiosity of its predecessor. It is trapped, I believe, because of a fundamental misunderstanding of Pauline theology.

The Church has for a very long time taken Paul’s words (and Jesus’ words when they back Paul up – can you sense a problem here with the priorities already?) as Law. Paul talks about the Law of Love. Yet we end up, however implicitly, behaving as though we believe in the Law of Paul.

The Law of the Ancient Near East

The Law of Moses

The Law of Paul

So we say that we’re forgiven and free in Christ. And then we go on to condemn and reject people for their affairs, we ostracise those who support non-heterosexual marriage, we hold people up to our “new” set of standards given to us by Paul. We even end up returning to the Law given to Moses to justify the death penalty! We insist that week in, week out, we must confess our sins before “Almighty God” (doesn’t that phrase just make you shudder!) so that we can be absolved and go about trying to be good people and failing for another week.

We solemnly remind ourselves that Jesus was put through the pain of the cross in order to atone for our sins. We then feel bad (rightly so according to orthodoxy) for “putting Jesus there” (I don’t recall ever wanting to see a man executed). We’re slipping back into the legalism, into technical law-breaking guilt.

Jesus frees us to be so much more than that.

Jesus frees us to feel remorse and out of that remorse to forge a genuine desire to be the change we want to see in the world.

Remorse is so much more than law-breaking guilt. It is a recognition that we have hurt the other. It is a recognition that our actions do not match up with our own internal standards. A recognition that we are simply not behaving as though we are made in the image of God. A recognition, however subconscious, that things are not as they should be and that they could be so much better.

Jesus’ death was supposed to give us the power to see this, to recognise this, to have this for ourselves. It was supposed to set us free from guilt and allow us instead to have our hearts broken for the mess the world is in.

Instead, the Church has domesticated Jesus. The Church has performed the most blasphemous, heinous power grab and has used Jesus’ death and resurrection to subordinate people instead of setting them free from the need to worry and fret and fear.

So we need to move beyond this crude, messed up religion called Christianity and once again recognise that we’re free to be who we were made to be. We’re free to be whoever we want, however we want.

“What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means!”  (Thanks, Paul)

I don’t think we are left with that option. I think that’s what Paul is getting at. The reason he outlines moral guidelines isn’t to make us stick to them but to point out where we haven’t really freed ourselves from the guilt-law religious system at all. For when we are truly free, we begin to recognise a new, better way of life. And we’d be daft not to live it!

The Law has become limp, ineffective and pointless. Modern society rejects religion as controlling, unhelpful and restrictive. I think God knew this would happen. I think that’s why he sent Jesus. I think he knew that we had to have a better way.

The real question is, what does that look like?

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Beech Cathedral

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Introducing my friend and housemate Kandace, who is a very talented creative writer…  here’s something she wrote a while back.

Beech Cathedral
Any Sunday morning in November.
Church bells peal in the distance
summoning the people to worship
in a language they do not understand,
a language they refuse to learn.
My ears hear, my eyes see:
the grey stone fortress
replete with shadow and mystery,
penetrated by sharp, compact rays of coloured light
pulsing through the cracks.
I have knelt in that place to marvel and to wonder
to be pressed down by the heavy air
and weighty sense of a Being greater than myself
resting His hand upon my head.
But today, my feet are etching a new way.
We have searched the Scriptures,
sieving them for nuggets of gold,
elusive revelation which we hope will bring life.
Some claim to have grown rich in their mining;
but I wonder if they are still trapped
deep underground in labyrinthine tunnels,
destined and determined to scrabble in the mud.
There is a revelation at surface level, plain for all to see
if they have eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to understand.
Today I worship unenclosed by hard grey stone,
outside of the tunnels that thread
through the pages of Scripture;
I worship in Beech Cathedral,
satiated with every spectrum of light and brightness.
The gold is beneath my feet and above my head
showering blessings upon my crown with each sigh of wind.
A roof of orange, red, gold: fiery flames
burning like incense up to the pale sky beyond.
The mighty pillars are living and breathing,
centuries old, straight and strong as iron bars
yet honestly displaying the gnarled evidence
of attacks and affronts they have borne
patiently over the years.
There is the hush of the wind, the silence of the air
and the music of all creation
to lift my heart above the treetops.
With every other creature, I marvel
that the King has hidden the treasure
of His Kingdom all around us.
It is His pleasure to give it.

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Don’t Expect a Miracle

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I went walking with my friend the Anonymous Agnostic last weekend. As we were strolling along the beach, we were discussing family experiences around death, ill health, suffering, healing and miracles.

We have both experienced first hand the suffering and the trauma and the difficulty that cancer brings to a family. As, I’m sure, most of you who are reading this have done. One of the questions that it provokes is of course the age old “why does God heal some people and not others?”

It occurred to me that we might have it all the wrong way around. Perhaps instead of God being mean and selective, or instead of us not having enough faith or not doing X or Y or Z – maybe, just maybe, we’re not meant to expect healing. Perhaps we’re not entitled to it in the way we have come to think we are.

We’re quick to pray for healing. Maybe that’s okay. But I wonder if sometimes we have – in charismatic Christian circles at least – become so accustomed to “healing” happening that we actually get confused when it doesn’t happen. We’ve got our own little Christian version of entitlement culture.

We don’t have a God who is, in my view, meddling frequently in our lives. We have a God who guides and directs us, who teaches us what love looks like, who modelled life for us. But not a God who is forever changing and tweaking the way things are. That doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of God the Christian God is. He’s quite laissez faire. But not in a bad way – I actually think it’s a positive thing. For it allows us the freedom to choose to be what we will, and it allows us to create and be creative and to love without requirement.

The upshot of course is that this God does not expect to come in at every given opportunity and eradicate cancer from someone’s body. He doesn’t make every leg grow to the same length as another. He doesn’t give sight to every blind man.

Instead, healing is a rare occurrence – to be celebrated of course – which I think is perhaps beyond our understanding. We don’t know what the consequences for anyone involved (from the beneficiary, to their family and friends, to those present at the time, to those who hear about it, and so on).

It seems to me that God gets particularly, intimately involved when things are about to cock up big time. The flood, Jesus’ death on the cross, Daniel and the Lions den, Joseph and Pharaoh – there are countless stories of divine intervention right at the last minute, in the extreme situations.

It makes me wonder if God reserves intervention for the big stuff, but continues to relate to us in all of the small, little things. And of course, our perception of what is big and what is small is very different to God’s.

Perhaps.

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Love without God – a reply

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I’m super grateful to my friend, the Anonymous Agnostic, for their guest post yesterday about how we don’t need God in order to love one another. Here’s some thoughts from the other side of the fence.

Compulsion

Love is a strange sentiment. It doesn’t help that in English we only really have three words which mean “love” – “love”, “charity” and “compassion”, and often only use “love” anyway. Different cultures in different times have slightly different concepts of different kinds of love.

What I believe is being referred to throughout my friend’s thoughts yesterday is primarily “compassion”. What we have to ask ourselves is where that compassion/love comes from.

I am in no doubt that to use God as reasoning for love leads to a false kind of compassion. This is duty-bound guilt-fuelled religion at its very worst. Yet it is a step, in my view too far, to say that we can love without God.

John the Evangelist writes, “Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

I think that one of the greatest travesties of modern Christianity is the insistence on an external God with whom we have a personal relationship. Now, when I say external I don’t mean that this God necessarily resides entirely beyond us (though this is frequently the perception), but that even the in-dwelling Holy Spirit is perceived to be “other” to us. There is a line drawn between “us” and “it”. This line causes us to see God as a thing. Yet here are with John explaining to us that God is love.

I submit that we absolutely need God in order to love because God is love. God is not the object observing our love for one another, God is the love itself. God is the experience of love. God is that moment when all seems right because of a moment of affection, romance, friendship or unconditional compassion.

John continues, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect”.

Of course one could simply follow all of this up with the criticism that this is all very well and good, but it is simply a wooly, religious redefining of “love” to suit my needs. Perhaps that is indeed the case. But perhaps God is the model from which we understand love. We know what love looks like because God demonstrated unconditional love to us when he showed us through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I don’t think it is about the source of compulsion being unnecessary, more that it is perhaps inevitable. It’s good to learn from others. We learn love from those around us, and from God.

Origins

This leads us on to the next criticism – that of inspiration and origins. The idea that in order to lead good, moral, loving lives we don’t actually need to have God as the origin. As I have just said, I don’t see it so much as a need than as a reality. In my experience, God is love.

I think that the outworking of these virtues is rooted in the fact that “we love because God has first loved us”. Our inbuilt moral compass is actually something that Paul talks about in Romans 1 when he says that God is self evident in the reality of creation.

It is important to acknowledge that the Christian world has indeed claimed a monopoly on many of the positive virtues it promotes. This is indeed wrong. That said, one such value is equality – a value on which most of the western world is now hooked and one on which the church has failed, miserably, to continue since its institutionalisation under Constantine. Equality comes from Jesus’ teachings of how we must treat one another, and Paul’s insistence that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. We’re all in the same boat.

We all need love.

Where do we fin that love? Do we find it in ourselves? If so, where does that desire come from? Is it an evolutionary trait? Is it simply a chemical transaction?

I think it is telling that even the most radical philosopher/theologians such as Peter Rollins can declare themselves to be “a/theists” or can try to rip open the very fabric of the Christian faith and happily affirm the triumph of science over superstition. Yet when pushed, Rollins says that there’s something mystical about love.

I think it’s something other-ly. Something divine. Something supernatural.

All of our origins are in religion. Yes, perhaps we have moved beyond that now. Perhaps there is no God and we can simply discover that love is an essential part of the human condition, a part of how we function well.

But I just don’t like that reality very much.

What I’m really trying to say is that I don’t understand why we need to remove God from the equation. I think that this is where things really get interesting.

IF God is indeed love itself, then that God is worth existing. A God who is loving, affirming, caring and kind is a God that anybody would comfortable believing exists (even if they would choose not to for various reasons). It seems to me that the chief objection that has been voiced is not really against “God” (as I see him) at all, but against “god”. That is, the god who invokes the flood, the god who invokes genocide, the god who murders his own son, the god who hates gays, the god whom the rich worship whilst the poor starve, the god who demands and requires and sucks the fun and the life out of everything.

But I don’t believe in that god, either.

Scripture

I’ll come clean. That bastardised scripture in the last post was something I said, stolen from Mr Rollins. In Christ there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor gentile, Christian nor non-Christian.

Of course, Jew nor Gentile is the same as the addition on the end (for those of you who are screaming at me for misquoting, yes, I know it’s an addition!). But it’s there to emphasise the point.

In Christ the boundaries of the world, the fences we put up around our own fallen gardens, are broken down. In Christ we can know love and love can know us.

Without God, we don’t know love.

But that’s not to say that those who don’t know “God” don’t know God. I think it’s really important to make that distinction, too. I don’t believe Christians are the only ones who recognise God when they see him – even if God may have other names, or be to some more of a concept, to others more of a feeling. Who am I to judge. After all, there is no longer Jew nor Gentile.

As far as reliance on scripture goes, of course it’s a bad idea to love because we’re told to! My least favourite phrase I hear in some Christian circles today is “love them on purpose”. What the actual f*** is that? Seriously. That’s beyond awful. Don’t love someone on purpose. Have your heart broken and love them just because you do.

That said, scripture contains stories about the love of God and the relationship between humankind and God, and thus God’s love for us. Surely such inspiration is valuable and useful. Perhaps, as my friend implies, this is all a simple get-out-clause from a bygone era where the invocation of divine backing would give my argument high credence. But I don’t think this is the case at all. I think it’s perfectly clear that the crusades were never an act of love, and that the life of Mother Theresa quite clearly was. I think we can all agree on that one! So perhaps our in-built morality actually helps us to read and understand scripture well, allowing us to weed out the crap we’ve been spoon fed and understand the good bits.

Maybe.

I’ve been on the verge of leaving Christianity, too. I’ve become totally fed up with it. To be honest, I have become totally fed up with God in recent weeks and months. But I know that the world is bigger than just me. There are countless stores of lives inspired and changed by love. These stories often invoke God. So there must be something there worth pursuing.

I’ve stuck around precisely because I want to live a life of love, precisely because I value the moral compass that Jesus gives me. Just as I’ll probably say this about myself sometime in the near future, I don’t think you, Anonymous Agnostic, are as far from God as you might think you are.

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