This time I'm trying to understand religion. Yup, could be here a while ;-)
To make it more specific, I'm trying to decide which denomination of christianity my austere, strict, war-time couple (the ones who take in the evacuees) are most likely to belong to. Obviously, if I wanted to, I could have them belong to any church I like but I'd like to try and stay true to the area I'm writing about so I've looked up all the churches within walking distance from their house - including the ones that were there during the war but are no longer churches now. These are the choices:
Church of England
Methodist (possibly Wesleyan Methodist? Website was unclear)
I know very little about the differences between all the various denominations so wondered if anyone could give me a flavour of what makes one different from the other. Thank you! :-)
When you’re little, you don’t get a chance to decide whether to go to church – it’s generally determined by your parents. I attended Sunday School and learnt things in the Bible. In fact, I still have the tiny illustrated prayer book that I was given around age seven, from which I can still recite ‘All things bright and beautiful’.
As a teenager, I went through Confirmation, dutifully learning all my lines and promising to go forth as a child of God. I even taught Sunday School because I felt it was my duty to pass on the Good Word to the little ones.
Fast forward a decade. I left Australia to go travelling, and to experience something of the big, wide world. I spent six weeks on a Kibbutz in Israel because that sense of community intrigued me. That in itself is a story.
Whilst in Israel some friends and I visited The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This church is built upon the hill on which it was believed Christ was crucified, and his tomb located. I was quite excited to be going there, and to be present in the places I'd learned about at Sunday School.
The church is a chaotic place inside, with a number of Christian faiths being represented, each having their own altars and chapels. The most famous, of course, is the Chapel of Crucifixion, built around the rocks on which Christ is purported to have been crucified. So busy is this chapel that it was almost impossible for us to get near it. Not having the patience to wait an interminable length of time to shuffle closer, we carried further round and found ourselves at a very small chapel at the rear.
A priest ushered the four of us inside with a warm welcome, inviting us to sit on the floor. We chatted for probably fifteen minutes, then he pressed into each of our palms a small plastic cross. It was touching.
Then he fixed us with a hard stare, presented his upturned palm towards us, and said, “You have money for the church?”
We were stunned, and felt trapped in the small space. We rifled our purses for whatever small change we had, embarrassed and anxious to get out of there. We’d been well and truly manipulated, falling for it hook, line and sinker. I was disgusted, and remember thinking, “If Christ were to walk into this church today, he would die of shame.” I think what shocked me most was that this man of God could deceive us in one of the most sacred places on earth.
That was a defining moment for me, and it got me thinking about the two sides of religion: the good, honest stuff, and the ugly, greedy side.
What is wonderful about the Church is the way it ministers to the needs of people, underpinning the faith that sustains them, providing support in times of difficulty, bringing hope and comfort, and friendship.
Then there’s the side of the Church that over the centuries has controlled people through fear of God’s punishment, the expectation on the poorest to give to the coffers in spite of their circumstances.
I look at the monuments to God bursting with all their ecclesiastical objects, vestments, fine gold and silver chalices, etc. There is so much wealth within the Church and I doubt the craftsmen who made those beautiful objects over hundreds of years received fair financial reward. It all seems at terrible odds with the man who was Jesus and what he preached.
Although I still have a faith of sorts, I’m not a regular church-goer. I’ve tried from time to time, but something always sticks in my throat.
I have to start with religion for this blog to make sense. I'm a christian- baptist for those who are interested. I belive in the Big Bang and the cosmology story. I belive that there is an all-loving God who (for reasons i still haven't worked out) loves me completely and utterly, even when I'm getting everything as wrong as I possibly can. I don't understand why non-christains believe that because you're christian, you have all the answers and can do no wrong. I'm still learning myself, I'm still human and humans make mistakes. I don't pretend to be God- I don't have all the answers but I try to help people when I can. I have to admit; I don't actually know the difference between Roman Catholic, Church of England and Catholic- if there is even a difference.
I have always been a christian. I was brought up in a christian family, decided to get baptised at 7 years old and do not regret it. I am a hardworking, happy- if a little crazy- teenager with a whole future in front of me. Once, when I was in a very bad place in my life, I saw what I would be without God; I would be a depressed emo, at the bottom of the class, I would hate life and all that my future held would be misery and death.At every step of the way, God has been in my life and has worked miracles on me. One of these miracles I want to share. It was to do with relationships.
I have never been in a relationship. I've never had a boyfriend (or a girlfriend- I'm not batting for that team, though i have nothing against those who are). I have, however, had a broken heart. Two in fact. I always get weird looks when I admit this, even to my closest friends. I don't go searching for guys to throw my heart at, I don't enjoy the feeling, I can't control it.
The first time, I was at a christian summer camp. I had gone with another church as my church's teenagers consisted of me and my sister. There was a gorgeous boy in the group as well who, for this account I will call Jay. Jay was a normal teenage boy with a large ego to go with it. I was increadibly shy and couldn't say anything to him without stammering so I tended not to say anything. I hadn't really realised what was going on as nothing like this had ever happened to me before. One day, my sister came running up to me and told me that she and jay were officially going out. I smiled and congratulated her, then went into my tent and cried. If anyone doesn't know what a broken heart feels like- it's pretty self-explanitory. My heart felt like it had been ripped to shreds in my chest. I kept as quiet as i could because tents aren't soundproof and no one heard me. I dried my face and kept out of everyone's way as much as possible as we ate dinner and went down to the evening service.
During the pray session, the leader asked if anyone needed healing. I certainly did, so I stood up for prayer. As the people around me started praying, I sent up my own prayer begging god to heal my heart for my sister's sake. I didn't want my pain to hurt her. I was beyond caring for myself- the damage was done. Suddenly the pain went and i was able to breath. I started laughing from relief. I laughed and laughed- and then fell over from lack of oxygen. The people left me when i was breathing normally again and then the tears started flowing. I was glad I was left to cry in piece. Healing a broken heart hurts more than breaking it, but it was worth it because I didn't ruin her relationship (he did, but that's beside the point).
I don't mind sharing this now because the scars have healed. I just wanted to reasure people out there that talking is hard, but God can always help even when none of us know much about him at all.
Well, I'm sitting up here at my parents, bored out of my head and in the mood to be a teeny bit provocative. The current season and recent threads on the same subject got me thinking about an old project of mine, which was partially inspired by the gospels. More specifically, it was inspired by the question: does the story of Jesus fulfil its brief as a story? Does it set up certain issues, resolve them etc etc?
My contention would be that it does not. The book I was working on at the time was partially a reaction against the L.W.W., specifically Aslan's resurrection. Now I've always been highly ambivalent about the Narnian books. I think they demonstrate great story-telling skills but are let down by their underlying message - salvation through obedience. Crucially, I think Lewis often entirely missed the point when it came to his source material. And the resurrection of Aslan would be a key example. Because for my money - if you want to define the gospels as a story - the resurrection undermines the basic thesis of everything that preceded it. Lewis took an image that was visually powerful - the torture and murder of a man who defies his tormentors by returning from the dead - and incorporated it into his children's book. But (visually powerful or not) this is where Jesus's story is weakest.
Let's imagine for a minute you're a script-writer who's written a screenplay about the nature of faith. Your thesis is that faith should never require proof. A true believer simply believes. Your story is not so much about a particular man as those who follow him. Time and again they ask him if he is the son of God. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes he says no. He performs some miraculous acts - but some of these acts could be easily explained away by natural phenomena (e.g. catalepsy) or exaggeration (the loaves and the fishes). He tells his followers that if they lead good and just lives in this world, they will be rewarded in the next one. But he offers no proof. They must take his word for it.
But then, this is what faith is all about.
The man is arrested, tortured and killed. Even in death his statements are highly ambivalent. To the very end he remains a mystery to his followers. And afterwards they must decide if they believe him or not. This is crucial. They cannot carry on his good work without believing him to be the Son of God. The point of such a film - so you would argue to whatever agent you might be pitching it to - is that there are no easy answers. The man's disciples must make their own choices.
But let's just assume your Hollywood agent is unimpressed. He's not interested in ambiguity, nor - he assures you - will the people who go to the cinema. Ambiguity doesn't sell tickets. No Sir. You said the man would come back from the dead; and in your story, your central character must do just that. Your agents wants you to make some serious revisions. He wants triumphal music, the sun rising from behind a hill, the central character stepping out from the cavern in which he was incarcerated, transformed. He wants sceptics falling to their knees in astonishment and becoming believers.
A very different story, and - superficially anyway - a far more attractive one.
I hate discussing it because I hate being told what to believe. I like to be given all the facts and then left alone to make up my own mind. I hate imposing my opinions on others. I am a bear of very little brain and find complex subjects hard to process, and thus fall to pieces when aggressively challenged and required to offer a quick defense of my beliefs and views.
I like blogs, because I can lay out my thoughts in an orderly and considered manner.
This doesn’t mean I will, though.
I found out about Distributism whilst reading up on G K Chesterton.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of it before, but briefly, and according to the mighty Wikipedia, Distributism is a ‘third-way economic philosophy’ which boils down to evenly distributing the apparatus of wealth-generation, rather than the wealth itself. It allows people to make money for themselves, but not too much. It encourages cottage industry and community spirit.
Whilst mulling it over, I also considered the future of English retail: A massive Tesco has opened in town, even though we already have one, plus a Sainsbury’s, Aldi, Morrison’s etc. Despite this, there’s always a queue outside our local butcher. Organic farm shops have sprung up like mushrooms. Half a dozen of my friends make and sell jewelry in their spare time, and people are falling over themselves to buy it. I can’t buy ‘good’ meat unless I get up at 6am and queue for half an hour, but I can buy mediocre meat twenty-four hours a day. Both my partner and I work full time to support our ‘lifestyle’, even though this only includes mediocre meat from Tesco after work. I slowly go crazy because I am told that this is the way things should be – because the alternative to Capitalism is Bad.
Anyway. I think the only reason I’ve never heard of Distributism (apart from my general obliviousness) is that it is heavily steeped in Catholicism, and I have been raised by Protestants. I am, in any case, skeptical of anything that has been grown in the flowerpot of religion.
It’s at about this point that I’d start blasting religion if I were the kind of person to do so. I’m not that kind of person.
Instead I will give the theory a fair trial, and ask myself how I would go about convincing a dedicated Capitalist that Distributism would be a good idea, without the backing of religion.
‘Respect for fellow man?’ – Hasn’t worked so far. ‘You’d get to spend lots of time in the garden, growing tomatoes?’ – Not everyone has green fingers. My skills rely firmly on computers and software – not really something that a cottage industry could support. I suppose you could re-train me in something manual, but I would miss designing. And writing. And surfing the interwebs. ‘Respect for nature and the countryside?’ – See response to argument one. ‘It’s fair – it gives everyone an equal chance in life, and a choice of product?’ – What’s fair about stopping me becoming a millionaire? I mean, I’d rather not work at all.
Hmm. I seem to have run out of arguments.
There are some other troubling points, too:
If you prevent anyone from becoming too rich, who could afford to fund scientific research? I might be happy to grow my own tomatoes, but I would also still want a cure for cancer. I might want to cruise around a Norwegian Fjord one day. Perhaps I would like to go to the Moon.
And people will always be greedy and stupid. Give a group of men* a bag of tools and one might use the hammer to hit another man over the head and steal all the rivets. Another might sell the screwdriver for drugs. One, possibly, might make himself a pair of shoes and be happy.
If someone were to ask me whether I considered myself a Capitalist, I’d reply ‘only by birth, dude’. If they were to ask me whether I considered myself a Communist, I’d look at them funny and say ‘seriously? We both know you can’t take away people’s incentive to work and expect them to do so anyway. We’re far too greedy and stupid for that.’
Despite all this, though, I find myself oddly drawn to Distributism in a happy-clappy kind of way. I feel it resonates with the general mood of the country – or at least, the bit of it that I’m sitting on. I can’t support it by way of argument, yet it seems reasonably sensible. It might not be a path that England chooses knowingly, and we seem to be both headed towards and away from it at the same time.
I don’t feel wise enough to get behind any movement in particular, so I might just sit on the fence for a while longer.
At least until I win the lottery.
The WordCloud is not strictly the place for this sort of
blog, but in the Science and Religion thread found here:
Gerry asked me if I could relate something of my experience of God in my life – which I had said helps to prove to me that He exists. It is obviously partly autobiographical, so I suppose it can qualify on that count. I can’t write a whole book here, as many others more able than me have already done. Their works are readily available and make for fascinating reading. I’ll just jot down some personal notes.
First, some of the evidence that has caused me and millions like me to take that step of faith and so find proof for ourselves.
(1) The universe: unimaginably immense and marvellous; our own solar system, fairly ordinary as solar systems go and yet absolutely amazing in its complexity; our planet, just the right distance from the sun and made up of just the right elements to sustain life; life itself; the wonder and beauty of nature; the intricacy of sub-atomic physics, the enormity of forces that have formed vast mountain ranges and river systems in all their splendour: all there by pure, unguided chance? My faith is nowhere near strong enough to sustain that belief. To me the belief that all this has been designed, created, and sustained by a ‘Being’ who is greater than all of it, is far more logical. In fact, without such a Being, no one - no theory, no explanation - is able to look back before ‘the beginning’ and say, or even suggest what, or Who, caused it all to begin.
(2) The Bible, a library of 66 books whose 40 or so human writers spanned at least 4000 years, consisting mainly of history, law and poetry, has an absolutely amazing cohesion from start to finish, only satisfactorily explained by its own claim to have been inspired throughout by the same God, the Holy Spirit. The oldest manuscripts of much of the Bible date back as far as 400 AD, approximately and are some of the oldest manuscripts of any sort in existence. And unlike some other ancient writings where only one or maybe just a few copies have been preserved, there are literally hundreds of copies of the scriptures extant. And the amazing accuracy of the translations we have today, after 1600 years of (mostly, until recent times) hand copying of the writings, is itself a testimony to its supernatural preservation. Over 300 prophecies written by Old Testament writers were fulfilled by the life (and death and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. The most recent of those prophesies were written 400 years before Christ’s birth and the oldest were over 3500 years before that. The teaching of Christ, although now almost 2000 years old, are still the best possible set of guidelines for living and provide the best source of absolute values in a world of continuously changing and shifting standards. I, like countless others, can’t help seeing the guiding hand of God in this most amazing of books.
(3) Humankind: the highest, most advanced form of life that we know is demonstrably much more than just that. People the world over from as far back as we have any knowledge of, have shown a desire – a need – to worship a higher Being. Nothing like this is seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom. We are different, not just more developed. (The Bible explains that, unlike the animals, we are created ‘in God’s image’ with a spirit.) This would certainly explain humankind’s constant searching for something or someone beyond themselves, and the emergence of all sorts of what have come to be known as religions to try to meet that need. (I never think of Christianity as a religion: it is simply the way to God; and Jesus said it is the only way.) To me, it is not logical to think that this character trait in humans to worship, which is prevalent in every generation and in every tribe and nation throughout history, is a chance occurrence: ‘Some people need a prop’ is the common dismissive explanation. The logical explanation is the Biblical one: that we are made to be able to commune with our creator, which explains why down through the ages, and more than ever in this current generation, people are looking to the supernatural for explanations.
Faced with all this evidence, and told about how God does, indeed want to have a loving Father/son relationship with me, I took the decision to accept as true, what He has said about me and everyone else: that the wrong in my life has separated me from God. Never mind anything that I might think of as good in me. They don’t cancel each other out. It’s like links in a chain. No matter how many good links there are, if there are any bad, broken ones – even just one – the chain is no use. The Bible says sin is like that; if it’s there at all, the link with God is broken and there is no way any amount of ‘good’ that we may try to do can alter the fact that the link is gone. That’s why God took the momentous decision to bridge the gap Himself by sending his Son, Jesus, who lived among us without sin – the only perfect individual ever to have lived. In dying in our place the Bible says God laid on him all the sin of everyone who had ever lived or ever would live.
A just God must judge justly. He cannot overlook law-breaking – however much He loves the law-breakers and longs to be reconciled with them. If He did, He would immediately cease to be just, no longer perfect – no longer God. So he arranged for the penalty to be paid for us the only other way possible, by allowing that which was perfect to ‘become sin for us’ and to die and be banished from God’s presence (a fate, literally, worse than death) instead of us. The only trouble was, there was no one other than his only Son who was perfect and could fulfil that role. Yet, the Bible says, ‘God so loved the world that He gave his only Son that whoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’
It was explained to me from other Bible passages that that expression, ‘believed in Him’ meant to trust in Him, put my faith in Him, rely on Him to guide my life. That I needed to:
(A) admit my wrong-doing – that I am a sinner and need
(B) believe that Jesus has done on the cross all that is necessary for God to forgive me
(C) commit my life to Him and give Him control so He can start to change me to become more like Jesus
When I did, I received an assurance within me – like a sort of inner peace – that God had, indeed, forgiven my sin. And, rather more significantly, I received God Himself(!) – the Holy Spirit, to live in me, alongside my own spirit. As I started to learn to yield to Him and ask Him to direct my life, so I believe He does guide my thoughts and decisions. Not that I stopped forever doing anything wrong! Becoming a Christian isn’t becoming ‘perfect’. It depends who’s in control. When I consciously yield to God and seek his guidance, He gives it (maybe through a passage of scripture, the advice of a Christian friend, or by putting a particular thought in my mind). But if I start doing my own thing and stop paying attention to the Spirit’s prompting, thing can easily go wrong. Even then, though, it’s so good to know my loving heavenly Father, ‘if I confess my sin (am genuinely sorry), is faithful and just to forgive my sin and to cleanse me from unrighteousness.’
Being able to talk to God and knowing He’s there right with me in every situation is a real confidence booster, and a comfort, too, when things don’t go too well – proof to me that He is very real indeed. Auto-suggestion, I can hear someone say. Well, maybe – if it weren’t for the Spiritual gifts He lets us have. There is a string of God-given abilities that He distributes amongst his children. Some quite ‘ordinary’ like the gift of helping others, or the gift of administrating; others, more expected perhaps, like the gift of teaching, or evangelism, and yet others of a more obviously supernatural nature like the gift of prophecy (not normally foretelling future events, but more often speaking into a situation some wisdom or insight from God), the gift of knowledge (becoming aware of something about someone else that you would have no way of knowing), or of healings (being used by God to channel his healing to someone who is sick).
We are encouraged to pray for the sick and I have found, particularly with headaches, God has often healed people in answer to my prayers. Not always – and that’s a whole other topic! – but proof to me that God is there and answers prayer. Regarding ‘knowledge’ I can tell you, for example, of being given a picture in my mind of a friend sitting at a table with her head in her hands, weeping. I had no idea why this should be so, but with my wife, Anita, I asked her if it meant anything to her. It turned out she was having a very bad time at work and had been in just such a state. Being able to talk about it helped her to begin to see her way through it. Proof to her that God was concerned for her well-being and proof to me that He gives gifts to his children as they need them.
Our second daughter was born with a split lip and cleft palate and I can still remember thanking God that this complication had developed in our little girl and not in the other baby who was born within minutes of her to a mother, who as far as I knew, had not opened up her life to receive God’s help through such a trauma. I knew He would be with us through the difficult times ahead, as indeed He was – right up to the time for her third operation (first, to mend the split lip; second, to join the front palate). She was prayed for at our church before she was due for the third op. to join the back palate. When she went into hospital they found there was no need for an op.; the palate was healed.
God has proved himself to me over and over again. Not always in some spectacular way. More often by that calming inner assurance that He is with me in the mundane, day-to-day things of life. I really couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be without him now. But I know I’ll never have to. That’s another thing He’s promised: that He’ll ‘never leave me or forsake me.’ Bren quoted a couple of days ago, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Just stop for a moment and consider.One of God’s best promises, I think, is this: ‘If you seek me you will find me.’ It’s conditional – but it is a promise – which I have proved conclusively to myself, and – more to the point – which anyone who actually wants to, can prove for themselves, too.
Science and Religion
Martin Rees – President of the Royal Society, Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge – has been doing the Reith Lectures on Radio 4. Here’s part of what he said this Tuesday:
“Imagine ants crawling around on a large sheet of paper (their two-dimensional ‘universe’). They would be unaware of a similar sheet that’s parallel to it. Likewise there could be another universe (with 3-dimensional space, like ours) less than a millimetre away, but we would be oblivious to it if that millimetre were measured in a fourth spatial dimension, while we are imprisoned in just three.”
Later on, when asked “Can science aim to understand religion”, he replied “I take the view that science and religion can and should coexist.” He went on to comment that although Richard Dawkins on his website calls him “a compliant Quisling” he remains “entirely unapologetic at being a compliant Quisling.”
This seems to me entirely proper. If there can be another universe a millimetre away, that leaves plenty of room for angels to dance on the heads of pins if they really wish.
There again we don’t need another universe. There’s plenty of dark matter in this one. Statistically, the room you are in right now should be packed from floor to ceiling with dark matter (it should outnumber baryonic matter – our sort – by about 7 or 8 to one [the estimates vary]). It may consist of dark matter sideboards, computer tables, filing cabinets and the like – but I doubt it. More excitingly, there might be platoons of goodies (a.k.a. angels/devas etc) fighting squads of baddies (a.k.a. demons/asuras etc). Or, sadly but more credibly, we just can’t imagine what’s going on.
And, of course, don’t forget about dark energy (making up about 70% of our universe [26% or so being dark matter and only 4% or so being baryonic matter – our sort]). What does dark mean? Hidden, undetected, occult – all genuine synonyms. So if you want to be controversial you have some reason for calling our universe 96% occult. Martin Rees’s extra universes must, of course, be entirely occult.
So, in conclusion, it seems crackers to use science to attack religion - it is no position to know. On the other hand, it cannot support religion either – only leave room for it, which is what Martin Rees does.