You are hereWhy I am a Post-Evangelical – Post-Christian
Why I am a Post-Evangelical – Post-Christian
“A soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo; and he has an almost morbid fear of the new; for him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea”– Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m writing this with the hope that my personal spiritual journey will be of help to your journey. If not, you are welcome to continue in your current spiritual journey. I’m saying this because some of the stuff you are about to read may be so scary that those who find thinking a challenge, and have a profound psychological need for certainty, may find what I have to say here really troubling to them.
My personal faith journey has been in evolution ever since I gained self-consciousness. I might as well say before the foundations of the world. I am at the moment (my present moment), where I define myself as a post evangelical, post Christian amongst other post(s) I have mentioned. To be post-all is not tantamount to being anti-all as some have suggested. The cutting edge post all quantum theology is parallel to the cutting edge quantum science. The advent of the 21st century has made our religious world to become a stranger place than many of us thought or feared. Just like it was with the advent of quantum science, conventional Christianity no longer works for me and for most thinking people of the 21st century. People are right to think that Christianity is a sort of odd hobby, something for the seriously sad and weird to do on a Sunday. Some have a feeling that one has to reverse his brain to think like a 1st century primitive person in order to be a Christian in the 21st century. I am writing for those who are searching for an alternative framework to a spirituality that makes sense in a postmodern world. Most (if not all) of the dogma and beliefs of traditional Christianity have for me become what I call; twentieth century ignorance and twenty first century nonsense. The five fundamentals of fundamentalism belong to the category of nonsensical beliefs when taken literally. Many traditional Christians have made these five fundamentals the yardstick to Christianity: if you accept them at face value, then you are a proper and real Christian; and if you can’t, then you are not welcome in their version of Christianity until you can. It is very ludicrous to think that what makes Christians- Christians is the intellectual acceptance of unbelievable beliefs. Below are the most salient personal musings on why I AM WHO I AM.
FOLLOWING JESUS CHRIST
“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ” – Mahatma Ghandi
I value my personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ more than anything else. This is my heritage. I desire to follow Jesus Christ every day of my life, in spite of the suffering entailed. The great changes in history occur, I believe, not through argument but through seeing things differently. Jesus did not tell people what to do or think but invited them to see things with new eyes or the eyes of a child. He was confident their conduct would then change on its own. He appealed not to their reason but their imagination. I also invite you to see the world through my eyes. From the time of Christ, Jesus’ followers have sought ways to imitate him. The Bible is filled with examples of how experiences from Jesus’ life became the model for early Christians. Amongst many influential saints, it was Francis of Assisi (1181 – 1226) who ignited universal interest in the imitation of Christ as the ultimate destiny of every Christian. This has now become the central issue of Christian spirituality: learning to become like Jesus. I see this as my new vocation and calling. It is my desire to help Atheists, Agnostics, Sceptics, Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, Jews, and all people from all walks of life (including Christians), to be followers of Jesus and remain within their religions, beliefs or faiths. Let their communities be their context for their companionship of Christ. Let these communities teach them the values of; loving neighbour, being charitable, graciousness towards the other, doing unto others what we done to us, being good Samaritans, feeding the poor, dressing the naked, being kind to an unkind world, being compassionate people, etc. Following Jesus should not necessarily equal making people adherents of the Christian religion before they can be followers of Christ in their own contexts. I desire for everyone to find meaning in life through following Jesus. They can find this meaning not by leaving their religions but by staying inside those religions. People do not have to be Christians to be followers of Jesus. I am sincerely convinced that it is only by following Jesus that we will know that we are part of something greater than ourselves. We will ultimately know that we belong to God. Jesus was a mystic – I see myself as a postmodern mystic. Jesus was a revolutionary; called a blasphemer, a heretic, and accused of saying He was one with God. These accusations have also become a part of my life as I follow Jesus.
THE MEANING OF LIFE
“If you fancy that you know many things, and fairly understand them; remember that the things you do not know are many more than those you know” – Thomas a’ Kempis
Human beings are the only meaning-making creatures around our universe (as far as we know). Religion is an exploration into what really matters, what is truly worthwhile; and then attempt to centre one’s life on it. Religion is a response to the terror, awe, mystery, and the grandeur of the universe in which we find ourselves. Religion provides a language and a setting in which we can express our deepest fears and longings, especially those surrounding matters of life and death. Many Christians say that the answer to life’s questions is Jesus Christ. What does it mean to say that ‘Jesus is the answer’? The answer to which question? ; And; in which way? We are living in a time when there are more answers than questions. Questions are changing everyday while answers remain the same. How about changing this to say Jesus is the Way; rather than ‘The Answer’? We may then look at him as the way to difficult paths we are in; a Way that will hopefully one day lead us to truth. The problem with traditional Christianity is that its meaning of life is in the future and not in the now. Many Christians say life will have a meaning after we die and not in the present moment. The implication of most preaching is that the present moment (any present moment) is in itself of little or no value. The only place where we can ever live is in the present moment and if ‘meaning’ is to be found anywhere, it must be in the present moment. Life can have ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ when we pursue goals that seem to be worthwhile. ‘Purposeful’ is the opposite of ‘meaningless’. This means that life can be worth living, that it can be ‘meaningful’, even without beliefs, religion, and indeed, even without a belief in God. I say more about ‘God’ later. We have to make the conscious decision to be God to our world. For some people, the only God they will ever know is the God they see in us. Our enemies are not with other ethnic, tribal, or religious groups. Our enemies are not ‘spiritualities and powers’ such as ‘the Devil’. We are at war with ourselves. We are our worst enemies. The meaning of human existence is caring for all life on earth and caring for one another. The imperative is to care, to love, to be humane, to lift the downtrodden, and to give meaning to the marginalized. This should take precedence over our belief systems. Respect for others should always be the test of authentic religious experiences in all the major faiths. Loving God and neighbour has been the foundation of all religions for ages. We human beings created our global problems and it is only us who can solve them.
Religion is the label we give to the attempt to wrestle with the most serious concerns that face human beings. Religion is like a coin, it has two sides – the good and the bad. Karl Marx said in 1865, “the truly democratic state can discard religion because in it the human foundation of religion is realized in a secular way....Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless word; just as it is the spirit of the spiritless situation...It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusionary happiness of the people is required for their real happiness”. Just over a hundred years ago, a man described as the prophet par excellence of the new age, Frederick Willem Nietzsche said, “if you wish to strive for peace of soul and happiness, then believe; if you wish to be a disciple of truth, then enquire”. He pointed out that, though the traditional belief in God might bring peace of mind and spiritual satisfaction, it did not necessarily mean that it was true. Then Paul Tillich, the existential theologian said that religion is that which gives culture its depth and its strength. He wrote, “Religion is that which concerns us ultimately. Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life”. Religion does offer security – a lot of security. All religions were actually made for security and not truth. Religion and associated belief systems are the main source of security for a great majority of people in our world. I understand better than most the appeal that comes from religious belief systems that offer security. The church is caught up in this dilemma: if the church provides security, it cannot provide truth. Conversely, if the church provides truth it cannot provide security. I guess I will always be a person of religion. Mine is a “religion without religion” to use the words of the philosopher, John Caputo.
“The Bible is a book about people who at one time and the same time can be both believing, innocent, and guilty, crusaders and cooks, full of hope and full of despair. In other words, it is a book about us. And it is a book about God. if it is not about the God we believe in, then it is about the God we do not believe in. One way or another, the story we find in the Bible is our own story”. – Frederick Buchner
The primary way in which most Christians were introduced to God was via the Bible. In some communities the idea of God came before the advent of the Bible. God was called in different names and symbols before the Bible. Ancestors were some of the symbols used to mediate Ultimate Reality before the Biblical God was introduced. There is some pretty strange stuff in the Bible. Some of it is so strange that we wonder how it got there in the first place. As a book deeply influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition, it is very easy for us who were raised in this tradition to think that Jews or Christians have a copyright on God. There is no book in the world that has deeply influenced the Church and Christian culture. Theologians and Ministers of the gospel have always read into the Bible the kind of things people of their time and culture wanted to hear, or perhaps, the only things that, within their culture, they could hear. The Bible was written at a time when people thought very differently from the way we think today. Most of the authors of the bible are unknown people. The Bible was written by at least 150 different people, in dozens of different places at different times, many centuries apart, and for different reasons. The understanding of the world by biblical writers were different, their cultural practices were far removed from anything we would recognize. These simple facts are widely ignored by close minded Christians. The Bible was written between 2000 and 300 years ago. Do you know anyone who thinks that absolute truth can be captured in a 2000 to 3000 year old textbook on any subject? Would you go to a doctor who practiced medicine out of a 2000 to 3000 year old medical textbook? Can we study astronomy, geography, chemistry, biology, physics, calculus, oceanography, anaesthesiology, geology, psychology, psychiatry – and the rest of human sciences out of a book that old? Can such a book be a trustworthy guide to the science of our humanities?
There are new discoveries in all these fields that can teach us a lot about the mystery and wonder of God’s creation, yet we still have Pastors in the 21st century talking down psychologists and psychiatrists. To add salt to the injury, we have Pastors talking down biblical scholars, who are scientists in the field of theology. The meaning in the Bible is often informed by the prejudices the reader brings into it. Many Christians still cannot distinguish between ‘God said’ and ‘the bible scribe said ‘God said’. It has been well said that no one should simply read the Bible; we should either study it, or leave it alone. It is obviously not possible to be a Christian and not take the Bible seriously, but it is possible to be a Christian and not take the Bible literally. The Bible remains a magnificent book, with a huge list of characters, a strong central plot, and plenty of intrigue, betrayal, love and hate. Drama, poetry, and bits of history are all mixed in, with some uplifting stuff and some very peculiar stuff as well. This is the stuff that makes our life interesting, isn’t it? Provided we use our intelligence and don’t try to read it all in the same way, the Bible contains enough inspiration and challenge to last anyone at least a life time. It is rightly called ‘The Book of books’. I LOVE THE BIBLE!
“GOD is the most perplexing and yet most compelling figure in human history, revealed by myriad of diverse sources, to be mighty, jealous, babyish, deluded, omniscient, vicious, ratty, benign, merciful, duplicitous, mysterious, wise, ignorant, grand, humorous, cruel, loud, racist, just, unjust, both mutable and immutable, visible, invisible, oafish, fragrant, anarchic and so forth – there is probably not an adjective in the dictionary that couldn’t be made to probably fit somewhere...” – Alexander Waugh
GOD is the heart of all religious and spiritual life. There is no doubt that God is pretty irrelevant to most western people, in the sense that they rarely give him a thought. The reason why God seems so ludicrous to most thinking people is because they’ve got an understanding that no longer works for them. In the West, and amongst educated people throughout the world, God-talk has virtually ceased. The name of God seems to have been retired from everyday use. This is an enormous pity. The idea is not to ditch the idea of God, but to find an understanding that does work. Fundamentalists on both sides of the divide are usually absolutely certain about the existence or non-existence of God. Mystics on the other hand do not care or worry about the existence or non-existence of God. For mystics, God is the experience of life. My approach to the God question is mystical. I see myself as part of who God is; I live in God and God lives in me. I remain a post modern mystic. Mystics are of the opinion that no two people can have the same definition of the Ultimate Reality we call God. Each of us has to look deep within ourselves to find the God that gives
meaning to our lives here on earth. Who is God or what is God? Are there any reasonable grounds for thinking that he/she/it might exist? If so, is there anything to suggest what he/she/it might be like? I no longer think of God as a being of some sort. God is for me no longer a literal metaphysical being who thinks like human beings. God is no more made in our image nor we, made in his literal image. I no longer understand God as an objective being. I no longer understand God as a Father either. Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a key philosopher and theologian who lived in the thirteenth century, had a profound respect for the mystery of God. He said that God cannot be compared to any other thing, or placed in any category.
To categorise is to define and limit according concepts derived from the observable universe, and the mystery which is God lied beyond all these. He said that it was limiting even to place God in the category of things that exist. God does not even fit the category of beings, even the supposed category of spiritual beings; much less the categories of persons, kings, authorities, benefactors, or males. God is much beyond all such earthly or human concepts, and yet, as the ground of all being, contains all the excellence, all the goodness, all the richness, of all these categories, and infinitely more besides. It follows that when I speak of God in a metaphor, as father, king, protector, or any other human language metaphor or title, I am always on the brink of diminishing God. The moment I confuse the metaphor with the reality I then have created an idol, a false god in the image of created things. I now understand the word ‘God’ as the ‘Ground of all Being’, Ultimate Symbol, or a philosophical ideal. ‘God’ has for me become a wordless wonder. I no longer approach God in a woodenly literal way, but through imagination, music, art, poetry, love, and through every day events of life. It is bad enough to make God into an idol: it is even worse to make the word ‘God’/Yahweh/Jesus or any name into an idol as well. ‘Negative’ (or ‘apophatic’) theology recognizes the impossibility of saying anything substantive about G-d. What a popular atheist may call ‘Mystery in the Universe’ is what religious people call God. The search for the Mystery of the Universe by atheists and the search for God by religious people are one and the same Reality and driven by the same Reality.
Theology is commonly understood as ‘God-talk’. Much of this talk involves reflection and is totally subjective. Theology is of vital importance to the many that are outside the Church and are unable to find their way in. It operates as a bridge or ladder to get inside. Once you are inside the institution, be it a Church, Mosque, Synagogue, Shrine, or whatever name is used, the door is closed. Questions are usually greeted with hostility, fear and negativity. There is no room for discovery, venturing, or exploring. Pastors, Rabbis, Imams and those in charge take on the job of putting a brake on further thinking. Leaders become lawyers who defend the theological status quo from new thinking that is in conflict with the holy book the particular theology is built on. No innovation or new thinking is allowed. No wonder most theologians are called God-less by unthinking people. There is now new thinking that has come out of the post enlightenment theological box:
Liberal theology – this one is not clear cut, but a way of approaching theological questions. The common feature is to embrace rather than shy away from the modern world. Liberal theology takes seriously the scientific worldview, and refuses to retreat into a religious ghetto where people who think alike gather together for mutual support. It looks to integrate theology with developments in science and philosophy without insulting people’s intelligence. Liberal theology plays down the importance of ‘facts’ in theology and instead put more value in myth or symbol. Liberal theologians live with questions rather than answers. Liberals try to be tolerant of other points of view, but the problem of what to do in the face of intolerance from religious fundamentalists is real. Conversation is vital to liberals as it helps them to learn from the insight of others. If you already feel you know the answer (like evangelicals always do) before you engage in conversation; the interchange simply becomes an exercise in evangelistic drum-banging, rather than a real opportunity for both parties to learn and grow.
Radical theology – While liberal theology asks far more questions than most people in the Church are comfortable with, radical theology feels that liberals do not go far enough. Radical theology is of great help to people who are atheistic and would never take religion seriously. ‘God’ is the obvious example of how radical theology operates. Radicals do not find the traditional understanding of God as an actual being who ‘exists’ helpful. It does concede that this understanding has helped millions in the past but is no longer helpful in and
increasingly scientific 21st century age. It is almost impossible for a generation that is being raised in the new cosmology to believe in such a God. Radical theology does not have a belief system. What matters to Christian radicals is the praxis of religion, the living-out of Christ’s teachings, however understood.
“If you have a false idea of God, the more religious you are the worse it is for you. It were better for you to be an atheist” – Kenneth Leech
No one, in their own mind, worships idols. An idol is something that people are devoted to, or focused on. When our view conflicts with the veneration of a worship symbol, we call that a ‘false god’ – a god that is not really (from our perspective) thought of as god. This is a totally subjective claim that is made from a particular perspective. From the Judeo-Christian perspective, the use of carved images is idolatry. Freud claimed that God was a human projection and the human like (anthropomorphic) image of God must go. If we want to enlarge the image/concept/idea (none of these words are adequate) of God, and move from our current God-idol to something genuinely God-like, we have to stop thinking of God as our ‘Golden calf’ idol. We need to stop thinking of God as another ‘thing’ that is external to us. We need to start thinking of God as a symbol or a metaphor. In this way we will be pointing to everything we consider to be of absolute meaning and value to us. We will be pointing to the depth and mystery at the heart of human life. I got an email the other day suggesting that I stop using the word ‘God’ as I and traditional Christians are no longer pointing to the same ‘being’ when we use the word. It is bad enough to make God into an idol; it is even worse to make the word ‘God’ into an idol as well. Idolatry is characterized by a sense of security and certainty, which often expresses itself in torrents of words. The most profound (some say the only appropriate) response to the depth and mystery of life is silence. Human language is limited, finite, and altogether incapable of fully describing God. To claim that we can fully sum up God is idolatry, if not outright blasphemy. It follows that when I speak of God in a metaphor, as father, king, protector, or any other human language metaphor or title, I am always on the brink of diminishing God. The moment I confuse the metaphor with the reality I then have created an idol, a false god in the image of created things. The idea of God that we use is only a tool, only a means to an end, if seen as anything else, it has become an idol. It is idolatrous to speak of God as an objective being, Martin Buber always maintained. “God embraces us, but is not the universe; God embraces us but is not the Self. On account of this which is unspeakable I can say Thou. On account of this there is I and Thou, there is dialogue, there is language, there is spirit and there is, in eternity, the word”.
HEAVEN AND HELL
Heaven is traditionally thought of as ‘a place where God lives’, which He shares with the angels, saints and chosen dead. Hell is traditionally thought of as a ‘place separated from God’ and is seen as the ‘home of the Devil’. Hell has a little hold on the 21st century person. Today we only mention hell in jokes or in jest language. Civilized adults usually do not make jokes about truly painful subjects. This shows that hell as a place of eternal conscious torment (read this again!) has lost the horror that it was in past generations. Hell no longer matters because it is no longer taken seriously by civilized people of the 21st century. It very human to imagine our enemies being punished forever for their misdeeds against us; but to imagine a conscious finite human being punished eternally is quite a tall order. The discovery by psychiatry of powers beyond our conscious control complicates matters. Heaven can also no longer be viewed as a literal place. The literal ascension of Jesus into a literal heaven (thought to be above the skies) remains an embarrassment to Christianity in this scientific age. It gives the impression (to a scientific person) that Christians who embrace this belief are either half-witted or insane. From the most optimistic scientific viewpoint; Jesus has barely even begun his journey across the Milky Way (let alone a billion other galaxies) over the nearly 2000 light years since his ascension! At this rate, it is going to take Jesus literally millions and millions of years before he gets to heaven. Heaven is not a place and hell is not a place. These are spiritual rather that physical realities. Heaven then becomes a state we are in when we are at peace and hell a state we get in when we are in torment. Acting in ways that are destructive and hateful is guaranteed to put us in hell – the realm of Satan, whilst acting in ways that are constructive and loving can bring us to heaven, the realm of God.
Things become awkward when people start talking about Satan as a literal being. When I hear many traditionalists talk of Satan I imagine a superhuman boffin, strategist, and planner with massive computer servers full of information about everyone in our seven billion people universe. This is real stone-age thinking. Don Cupitt, an English theologian, has suggested that, “the best way to conquer Satan is to give up the belief in Satan”. To continue to talk about Satan in the 21st century consciousness is to insult the intelligence of thinking people. There are many ways in which we can de-mythologize the language of Satan. There is a wide ranging worldview streaming from new thinking brought about by science, cosmology, and physics. It is commonly called An Integral Worldview. We are the first generation in the history of the world to have the advantage of consciously choosing this worldview amongst others. According to this worldview, both ‘Satan’ and ‘God’ are an integral part of our lives. There is a symbiosis between ‘Satan’ and ‘God’. We need both in our spiritual paths. Satan becomes our inner shadow, our dark side. We have to embrace and acknowledge our dark side and love it. When we love ourselves, we do it with the dark side of ourselves in mind. I love my evil side and have learnt to live with it as part of me. This evil dark side is the enemy within me. As a result, I am able to love the enemy without, those who are my adversaries. I have tolerance for the enemy without because of the tolerance I have for the enemy within. I love my neighbour as I love myself. I love my neighbour in spite of the shadow because I love myself in spite of my shadow. There is evil in the world, no doubt about that. There is also the evil side that keeps us from becoming what we are supposed to be. I call this Satan that has to be resisted. I see Satan as a negative force that pulls me back. Satan is not a physical, literal being.
This word conjures images of horror films, mediums, ghosts, and similar odd things. The whole idea of the supernatural is particularly favoured by people who can’t or won’t engage in careful thinking, those who are gullible and scientifically illiterate. If my car does not start in the morning and I call a mechanic; if the mechanic told me the cause was supernatural (which means it has no cause), I would think He was joking, incompetent or mad. Before the advent of science, many people did not know anything of psychiatric problems. The only response to such problems was ‘demon possession’. These are people who are having mental problems in the modern language. It is very sad that in the 21st century we still have churches that exorcise demons out of people. This medieval way of looking at the world is grotesque and dangerous. If an unbeliever and an unbeliever witness the same extraordinary event, the believer may see it as a miracle, whilst the unbeliever may (and in fact is bound to, if he is to remain an unbeliever) simply see it as something very odd. A baby may be described as a miracle; something that takes our breath away. Miracles are events that cannot be explained, but they are not value neutral. The same goes for ‘supernatural’ healing. What is that? Is medical healing not ‘supernatural’? Should supernatural always mean, ‘without known cause’ as it has been used in ancient times. We today have psychologists who can explain all healings (including so called miracles) in a reasonable way. We need to reduce the amount of damage that results from this ‘in group’ tribal way of thinking. Most ‘supernatural’ believing Christians are inclined to be more inward-looking, dogmatic and judgemental. One of the dangers of churches that believe in the ‘supernatural’ is that they play down the importance of this world and this life to focus on the world to come. As a result, this world – the real important world – gets less attention from those who embrace the ‘supernatural’ world that is said to be coming.
A Christianity that does not take note of the world we live in deserves to die. Our world has moved on significantly in the last century alone – let alone the previous 20 centuries. The message of salvation preached in our Churches and our TV stations today requires us to time-travel back across the 20 centuries, sometimes even millennia, to a world when people thought very differently about almost everything. Much of the stuff preached in churches today is offensive to a thinking person. It reflects a black-and-white worldview which divides God’s children into saved and lost, chosen and un-chosen, blessed and damned. The body of historical belief systems causes Christians to have misconceptions about secular people – the ‘unsaved’. Many Christians assume that these people are joyless, unfulfilled, and writhing in the despair of meaningless existence. These are people thought by traditional Christians to
be seeking an escape from an inner, agonizing emptiness. These are the people assumed to be in need of ‘salvation’. The salvation spoken about in churches is the one where these ‘sinners’ can avoid the imminent destruction of the world by an angry God. The same Christians disregard the agonizing unhappiness faced by many Christians. They disregard the myriad of problems faced by Christians and go on with trying to get hordes of people to see things the way they see them. We urgently need to deconstruct the current message of salvation and get all inhabitants of the earth to explore the Mystery at the heart of everything. We must try to help people to become aware of their spiritual potential. We need to help them to use art, music, love, and even religion to spread the yearning for a pathway into the Sacred. People of the world need to know that it does not matter which door they use to enter: all that is important is that they get inside, experience and explore the Mystery at the heart of everything. What matters is being able to access water, drink it, and be able to penetrate the depths of what it means to be fully human. This is salvation. To say ‘yes’ to salvation is to say yes to the example of Jesus; it is about trying to follow the lead that he gave, an example that he provided. It is as simple (and as hard) as that!
The literal resurrection of Jesus Christ is one of the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity coined between 1910 and 1915. Myths are immensely edifying. There is no religious myth that edifies the Christian life like this one. The Resurrection is what gave birth to the Church, to the Gospels, indeed to everything that makes up Christianity. Most importantly; the belief in the resurrection of Christ is what keeps Christianity going. However, there are many thinking Christians in the post Galileo, Copernicus, and Darwin era, who find the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ a lot of nonsense. It is not because they are wicked or wilful, but because they are who they are. I know that for some people this is just straightforward; Jesus came back to life, and simply walked out of the tomb; you ether believe it or not, that is just how it is! Those who find this very nonsensical tend to write off the whole of Christianity as well. Maybe both groups are looking for the wrong sort of thing, and in the wrong sort of place. Instead of focusing on the historical aspect, we might think of the way writers, painters, and poets try to express the reality of falling in love. ‘Falling over heels in love’ involves a total change of perspective; to fall head over heels is to see things from a completely different point of view. This is what antiquity Gospel writers were trying to do when they wrote their Resurrection accounts. The Apostle Paul emphasised what happened a ‘spiritual body’. Whatever a ‘spiritual body’ is, it can surely not be put into words as some evangelical scholars try to do. To talk of the Resurrection as a ‘spiritual event’, or of the post-Crucifixion appearances as ‘spiritual experiences’, is not to explain anything, but to say that here is something profound, something beyond anything we can make sense of. To talk of a spiritual body is not to talk of a rather odd sort of body; it is to point to a mystery. Mysticism is the recognition that silence and paradox may be the most appropriate responses to the Mystery that is God. The attempt to pin things like the resurrection, virgin birth, second coming, atonement, and biblical inerrancy, down in literal straightforward terms is foolish and misguided, perhaps even idolatrous. The fact that such assumptions are still not seen as self-evident shows what a long way there is still to go in this Christian journey.
Prayer is one of the strangest phenomenons in a religious life. The way we understand prayer is directly related to our understanding of God. When God is thought of as being separate from the world (a being out there or up there); then prayer is viewed as a conversation with a being outside us. For theists like us, prayer is more like an exploration into the mystery at the heart of human life. There is thus no difference between prayer meditation and even silence. The Holocaust marked a turning point in the way that many people thought about a ‘God who answers prayers’. How could an omnipotent and loving God , have watched and not acted to answers prayers that were made on behalf of the six million Jews who were incinerated by the Nazi’s? There is no ‘correct way’ to pray. Part of the problem of prayer is that people feel the need to try to do something which works for a church leader, but not for them. It has been well said that we should ‘pray as we can, not as we can’t’. If I pray with a sick person and they recover, I will see that as an answer to my prayer, but this doesn’t mean that I have to think a being called ‘God’ has ‘done something’ in answer to my prayer. I see that as the power of love which is released or expressed in my presence and my prayer. My prayer has been answered, but, that does not mean ‘God’ intervened from heaven. This brings unanswered questions
on why He did not intervene in manifold of other cases. Prayer is a way of keeping alive our sense of responsibility, our hunger for justice, our unwillingness to accept the status quo, our hope of making sense of life. To be thankful is to pray, to be aware is to pray, to be silent is to pray, to study is to pray, to give is to pray, to sing is to pray, to be aware of our dark and fragile side is to pray, to be broken is to pray, to be aware of our failings is to pray, to be compassionate and loving is to pray. To help the weak and disposed is to pray. Prayer is living, giving, sharing, silence, solitude, contemplation, reading, and writing, trusting, hoping, meditating, thinking, and just being quiet in the presence of mystery. In a congregation there may be as many ways of understanding prayer as there are people. In the universe there are as many different modes of prayer as there are people. Research by neuroscience found that a thousand people praying in tongues had a thousand different meanings to the same prayers made in tongues not understood by those praying. Prayer is a mystery that does not need to be controlled by anyone.
I was raised in an evangelical worldview that taught me the value of confession. Silence and silent prayers were frowned on. My view of life was narrowed by the beliefs I imbibed. The narrower your view of anything is, the less likely you are to be aware of the extent and depth of your ignorance. The more conscious you are of your ignorance, the less strident you are likely to be in your utterances. Ignorance lies at the heart of religion. When this is conscious ignorance, the result is quiet, thoughtful openness; but when it is unconscious ignorance, the result is usually mindless, often scary, invariably depressing. Silence is probably the most appropriate and certainly the most profound religious response: it makes no claims, and deceives no one. If we are genuinely open and honest about our ignorance, we are forced into silence; and in the silence may find religious truths currently inaudible due to all the noise that we are making. An awareness of our ignorance should make us humble, and draw us into silence that is the contemplation of truth. Silence has long been an important part of religion and prayer. True silence and true prayer demands a cessation of words, both spoken and thought. Until and unless people are brought face-to-face with their religious ignorance, until and unless they are reduced to silence in the face of the glorious grandeur, tragedy, and Mystery of life, there is little hope of God ever getting a look-in. If we can say a lot of things about Ultimate Mystery, it just proves that we do not know what we are talking about. Those who are the least secure in their faith tend to be the ones who have a lot to say. They say it the loudest and they say it dogmatically. The Zen tradition stresses the importance to the spiritual life; of doubt, faith and courage. Doubt as a way of keeping alive the mystery and perplexity at the heart of life; faith as the willingness to stay with that mystery; and, courage as the strength needed to avoid taking easy ways out. With regard to the profound questions of life, we simple do not know what is going on. We keep silent. As the song goes, ‘Be still and know I AM God’. We need space for reflection and contemplation provided by holy silence. The sooner this happens, the better for our universe. Be silent. The most appropriate response to what is happening today is SILENCE
It is hard to avoid postmodernism. The wind of change is blowing our traditional understanding of Christianity away. Every Reformation brings its own evolution. It was only after the period we now call the Enlightenment that it became acceptable for anyone to question religion. The church pretended to know better all along. It would not tolerate an opposing viewpoint, especially if it came from science. The church is now paying the price. Today, according to Roger Jones in Physics for the Rest of Us, “it is science that dictates to the church and not vice versa...It is science and not religion that gives today’s world its rationale, morality, sustenance, and story of creation, such as it is”. Today, we no longer go to the Bible or Priest to find answers to cataclysmic events like earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes etc. We go to science to find answers and explanations to these. Science has become our new God. We no longer understand the modern global scientific universe through the spectacles borrowed from holy books. We read holy books using spectacles borrowed from the global scientific universe. Postmodernism is not so much a school of thought or a belief system. It rejects the very idea of a school of thought and belief system. Postmodernism sees itself working from a premise of freedom from belief. According to postmodernism, nothing is beyond questioning, and that must also include the very statement itself. The most important theological question asked by postmodernism is whether God can break free from the chains of metaphysics. We are products of our past – we do not have to be prisoners of our past. We are living our Christian lives on the other side of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and Darwin. Our new anthropology is forcing us to develop new theologies. We are leaving behind theologies that are based on;
antiquity anthropologies and primitive cosmologies. Christianity is entering a new exciting age and a new consciousness. The Christian church has always been afraid of contending with new thought. We have to understand the 21st century as a place where the search for truth and justice is held to be the highest virtue. We need to rethink the whole way of telling the Jesus story. Pastors can no longer address ‘fallen sinners’ but human beings on ‘The Ascent’. The mantra; ‘Jesus died for our sins’ will have to be retired. The grotesque language of animal sacrifices; being washed in the blood; drinking the blood, etc are symbols we will have to re-mythologize. This is a sad, sick, stupid view of life, and the sooner it disappear the better. Instead of the gross and embarrassing ‘repent or burn’ approach, we need a ‘love and flourish’ approach. We can no longer be controlled by dead men like Plato, Paul, Luther, Ancestors, Augustine, and even the founders of our churches!
With heartfelt thanks to The Jesus Seminar ( www.westarinstitute.org )and with much appreciation to Tony Windross in particular. Here are recommended resources for Progressive Christianity: www.radicalfaith.org . / www.religion-online.org . / www.livingthequestions.com . / www.religioustolerance.org . / www.searchingtogether.org . / www.tcpc.org (The centre for progressive Christianity) / www.sofn.org.uk (The sea of faith network) / www.explorefaith.org /