2 April 2022

As I plough my furrows through life, sometimes turning this way, sometimes that, I occasionally come across something that resonates with my own shaky thoughts, and suddenly a light goes on. For many years I've been unsettled in my grasp of Christian beliefs, having (as I've often said) grown up in an evangelical church where you learned to accept what was taught without question. Or at least, without questioning out loud. Often it's just a word or a thought that arrives and bounces around in my head, and occasionally one stays and makes a difference.

It's happened again. I was browsing through some papers and spotted a few words that made me look twice - they were these: "What have I lost by no longer believing in the "Super Interventionist God Out There?" Well, if you're going to make a point, why not make it big! I recently led a Sunday service, having told myself that having moved away from Kent, I probably wouldn't be preaching again. But I did, and the preparation for it was a little uncomfortable because I found myself needing to use language that gives me real problems. And that includes the word God. I haven't as yet found another word that fills that void, but that phrase above made a little clearer my problem with the idea of God.

Continuing to read, I found more to reflect on. The article talks of language as the one ability that marks human beings out from all other living beings - the development of language that enables humans to remember and learn from the past, interpret and improve the present, and anticipate and plan for the future. Language made it possible for the tribes to develop their own understanding of who they were, and to develop their own stories - what this author called 'explanatory fictions'. Such stories would help them develop their relationship with their surroundings, and with the particular features - sun, rain, thunder and so on - which they knew had direct impact on their own lives. Such features became identified with deities that had great power - they could destroy villages, ruin harvests, and so on. So sacrifice had to be made in order to appease these deities, and rituals were developed to harness the their power for the benefit of the tribe.

What marks out the Hebrew influence was their enlightened thinking that there is only One God, but even then there are many instances in their writings that reveal the need to appease what they called 'false gods'. Aaron's golden calf comes to mind.

It is a fascinating journey, that of unlearning one's long-standing beliefs. But we need to put that against the clear fact that church-going is declining in western society. Evangelicals may insist that their churches are gaining members, but I wonder what it is that draws people to that brand of Christianity. That question raises matters of what we believe, and equally, matters of what we don't. For me, Christianity is all about following the way of Jesus, remembering the prayer ascribed to him that speaks of God's will being done on earth - the way of justice and peace, compassion and forgiveness.

I lose heart when I hear people praying that God will stop the war in Ukraine. The war can only be stopped when we human beings stop it. Human beings started it. We can't just shift the responsibility on to the Super Interventionist God Out There - the buck stays with us.

Robin Blount

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