Sunday, 19 January 2014

I believe in God - but might be told that I do not believe in God at all.

It's public confession time.

At this point in time I do not believe in a God.

Looking back I can see that I have not believed in a God for quite a while.  Perhaps I haven't believed in a God for years but have kept on practising the same things and holding mentally to the same creeds.  I believed that was the right way.  It was also the safe way.  But inside there was the death of faith.  My God meant nothing to me personally. There was little inner sense of connection with this one God even in the emotional, hormonal high of worship.  Yes, at times I could honestly say "I believe ..." but at others my faith was a clinging to a concept because I couldn't bring myself to actively challenged concept.   I'm sure I'll be writing much more about this.

Second confession.

I believe in God, or at the very least in god.

Some people will think at least one of my confessions is false.  We're used to hearing people with loud voices telling us that there is either theism or atheism, that the two supposed opposite views are the only alternatives.  The fundamentalist theists call the atheists stupid.  The fundamentalist atheists call the theists stupid.  Put one of each in the same room and the debate turns from reason into two people in different holes throwing mud at each other - albeit mud that's dressed up in long words and the respectful language shared by Parliament - "with all due respect, the right honourable gentleman is a complete idiot".

But I believe in God.

Some people will tell me that I don't believe in God because I don't believe in a God, in the God, or more to the point, I don't believe in their God or their picture of God.  Some will tell me that because my definition (or lack of definition) of God doesn't match their definition it is not God I believe in, that I believe in a folly that I've misnamed.

Yesterday I finished reading the book "A New Christianity for a New World" by the retired Episcopalian bishop, John Shelby Spong.  The book hasn't changed my thoughts but he has helped me find words for some of my thoughts and crucially he's helped me find hope and direction - that Christianity and my life are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Reading some pages I had thoughts like "that's exactly where I am" or "those are exactly the questions I've been asking for at least the last year".  He doesn't provide easy answers and his answers are made more difficult by my own difficulties in thinking of God beyond a traditional theistic framework.

Yes, the nature of my God will take much time and work to come to terms with.  The nature of my faith will take time and work to come to terms with.  Entering into a liturgical environment where everything is phrased theistically is very difficult for me - and there will probably be a post about that.  Prayer life is also a challenge.  I have not really "prayed" since last May.  How can I "pray" when I have nobody to "pray to"? 

Spong has shown me that a personal life of prayer, worship, devotion, spiritual discipline is still possible without the one God.  I don't know whether his answers will be my answers but it doesn't matter.  What matters is that there are answers.

He also gives a few working definitions of God.  He believes in God as:

  • The source of all life
  • The source of all love
  • The ground of our being
  • Being
God is not "a being" to be prayed to, bowed to, relied on for everything.
God is "being" to be entered into, to be lived, expressed, in becoming all that we can be, more than we thought we could be.

I can't phrase this well - it's all new to me.  Spong does is so much better and expands on the meanings of his loose definitions. 

A year ago I had all the answers.  I was ploughing through the very long fourth edition of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion."  I was reading a wadge of the Bible every day.  I prayed to the one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I was enthused by the pentecostal writings of men like Smith Wigglesworth and the pentecostal, charismatic exuberance of churches like St Luke's in Newcastle and of groups like Speakers of Life.

I had answers.  In the last months all I've had are questions.  Great doubt.  A sense that I cannot keep living the same outward faith that I've lived for twenty-four years.  But an inability to reject that faith, partly because of the way I've lived it and partly because I still see light in the person of Jesus.  It seemed that "one personal God" is the most central tenet of Christianity alongside our sin and the blood-sacrifice required that we might be "saved".  I couldn't believe those things but couldn't quit.  And in the last year, when gender issues have provided so much insecurity, I really didn't want any more insecurity.

I've come to see that there can be Christianity without those so-called central tenets of faith, that those tenets were not the only possible view arising from the life and death of Jesus and the theistic views of a 2,000 year old society.  That's largely thanks to Spong and his new Christianity.

Yes, I have questions and I'll be asking them and writing about them through much of this year.  I'm sure that a lot of people happening upon this blog will disagree with me and either tell me that I shouldn't have faith or that I should have a proper faith in the "one true God".

I won't phrase things well - this is a work in progress, not a finished book based on a lifetime of life and thought.  If you want good phrasing I'd encourage you - whether Christian or not - to read the Bishop Spong book linked to above.  Some people won't be able to engage with him at all.  Some will be saying "Wow!" every other page.  Some will be challenged and have to think about what they can find value in.  Actually I'd love to read the book with others and discuss it together and then work out what to do about it.

It's time to get dressed now.  And go to church.  And struggle with the liturgies, the prayers, the words that, if taken in an easy literal manner, are words that at this point I can't really relate to.

So, my public confession again:

I believe in God.

For today, everything else is a non-essential.  A window dressing.  Only the window is essential.  And that is God.

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