Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Statistics

1 December 2022

So Christianity is no longer the majority religion in the UK, said a recent Guardian article. An interesting statistic, no doubt, but one is tempted to ask "OK, but so what? After all, if the statistics were based on the number of people attending Sunday services, the chances are that it would have looked like this generations ago. When I was a lad, our local church had a regular congregation reaching the eighties, and the whole of the back row was given over to teenagers. Nowadays congregations in many churches have shrunk to a fraction of those figures.

Reading this article as an ordained minister, I can't help feeling that part of the problem with Christianity is its belief as being God's best and final word to the world. It is so easy to justify this by quoting Christian scripture - John 3:16 is the obvious text to come first. But I have to remind myself that Christianity is not an English religion, or even a western European religion. It is Middle-eastern, it is Jewish. It is locked into Jewish thought of two or three thousand years ago, started by a young Jewish man who after thirty years or so growing up and working, sensed his vocation as a reformer, an irritant to the religious hierarchy of his day. His passion for change led to confrontation after confrontation, and eventually his execution as a trouble-maker. His passion for change was passed on to his followers, but a few hundred years later, the emperor Constantine created the Church, with all its doctrinal wrangling, as an imperial institution and Jesus was made the king he never wanted to be. Somewhere in this enormous institutional world-wide Church we might find the spirit of the original Jesus, who wanted only to reform the faith he grew up with, never dreaming that his words and deeds would become a new religion.

But ours is only one of countless attempts by humanity to comprehend what seems always to be beyond our grasp but as real as life itself. In the very earliest times, when humans were discovering themselves and attempting to understand their existence, this notion of reality beyond the visible and tangible must have led them to posit the Other, the Beyond, the Source of everything they could see around them. And eventually this sense of something beyond and above and "greater than" became crystalised into what we now call God. This does not diminish God in any way - it is simply - simply! - an attempt to find a way of understanding who we are as human beings, how we relate to each other, how we interact with each other, and primarily, how it is that we are here at all, on this particular planet in this particular time.

Back to my "so what?" at the beginning. It seems to me that every nation and culture in our world has made its own attempt to answer these questions, and each has come up with an answer from within itself. Every religion has its own way of addressing the deity, and every culture has the right to follow its own understanding of its deity. The age-old problem with this is simply human nature - we seem to have a built-in desire, need even, to promote and defend our deity above all the others - and the Crusades, and every religious war since, simply prove the point. We may believe that there can be only one deity, but we might also generously believe that there are many routes to that deity.

In our multi-ethnic and multi-faith country in 2022, surely the way forward is to embrace our differences and celebrate our similarities. Those of us who have a sense of the divine, regardless of ethnic identity, should be working with others, promoting a social unity, striving to befriend and accept strangers and friends alike in the work of forming communities of trust, looking to each other's welfare, making smooth the fault-lines between us, and promoting harmony and concord. It surely is all about how we live and love, not how we define the indefinable. And this also raises the question of CofE bishops in the House of Lords and the distribution of such prominence amongst the other faiths. As a recent Guardian letter suggested, somewhat tongue in cheek, it will offer the chance to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism - or perhaps, I wonder, without "anti"?



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