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Thursday, 23 August 2012

Keeping the faith

Josephus touched on several points yesterday which have long bothered me about my faith and the faith practiced and taught by others, both Christian and Muslim. The comment by Didymus touched on something else, hence my ramblings today.

Like Josephus I am uncomfortable with 'absolutist' positions on matters of faith. Who ends up in heaven and who in hell is something only God can know, and, as a very wise priest I know once said to me, He may even have a place for atheists in heaven. Personally I have come to believe that all religious teachings have something of the "inspired" about them. All contain something that informs us about God, and, yes, each claims theirs is the only 'true' revelation. It is these absolutist positions which divide us and perhaps blind us to the true nature of God.

This leads me to Didymus' comment regarding his feeling on entering the Abbey Church in Tewkesbury. I too have experienced that sensation of having been welcomed into the 'home' of a friend when I enter it. It is an experience many visitors remark on. Like Didymus, I have kept the Maundy vigil and again, I can attest to the sensation of sharing in the history, the company and the 'great cloud of witnesses' that seem to gather in that space. Nor is it unique, there are many other churches and even mosques where I have felt the same, and there are others were I have not. Perhaps that is the difference in experience. Another priest friend once told me that if he sat down in a church and did not feel God sat beside him, he knew he was in the wrong place.

I have to confess that I have, on occasion, taken an 'absolutist' position myself. I am, after all, a Christian and an Anglican by persuasion. My introduction to religion through my family was more accidental than planned and sending me to a Methodist Sunday School while everyone else had a Sunday 'lie-in' very nearly turned me against everything to do with God. So, as a Christian by choice, I do tend to think everyone else should see the virtue and the benefit. Then I remember the Methodist Minister and his absolutist declaration that just about everything my parents and grandparents did would see them all in hell toot-sweet. Perhaps I have been fortunate in my mentors and guides in developing my faith. There have been many, and they have all been remarkable in their faith.

I do have my days when I let doubts run riot, but usually run across something that derails doubt again and puts me back on the path. I know that others, even archbishops, have the same problem from time to time. The key is to keep asking questions, to keep studying the background, the writings of the thinkers who have framed and shaped the faith and to explore the new thinking and ideas. That includes, as Josephus has hinted, taking on board what science reveals as well. The Old Testament is frequently used to block any innovation or change of attitude in the churches, but is that valid? I very much doubt it, the Letter to the Hebrews states categorically that the Gospel is the complete fulfillment of the Old, it no longer has currency.

In my post yesterday I was trying to highlight the fact that despite the popular press (as Josephus says, often misleading) presenting 'scientific' Theory and reasoning as an 'absolute' with everything cut and dried, there are many areas where nothing is tangible, nothing is absolute and a great deal relies on assumption and 'belief' in certain key matters.

I choose to believe that there is a God. I choose to accept the Christian version of how God has and does work in the world and among us all. I accept that the churches - indeed all religions - are deeply flawed. It stands to reason that, being human constructs, built around God's inspiration, they contain all the human flaws and all the errors we are capable of making. The key is that, somehow, they serve a need deep within us. A need to believe in something greater and wiser than ourselves, and a need to believe that this short span of years that is allotted to us by our genes (as J C Barnard who pioneered the first heart transplants remarked, we're programmed to self destruct from the age of 35 because our antecedents couldn't outrun the predators they shared caves with) and that it will be a better existence when we reach it.

And in the meantime, I will remain friends with those of faith, those of no faith and those who may have faith. Each and every person is important to me for all the reasons John Donne gave in his "Meditation XVII" somewhere around 1649. "No man is an island, entire of itself." Thanks Josephus and Didymus for reminding me.

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