Archive for the ‘Connectedness’ Category

You can learn a lot from children.  Our three-year old grandson is currently teaching us concept modelling.  Surprised, despite all his parents’ best efforts beforehand, by the appearance of a baby sister, he is finding it difficult to express the feelings he has about this unlooked-for event.  Above else looms the question, am I still loved?

So now he behaves like a baby again.  This is not altogether easy to do when you’re three.  So he borrows voices and scenes from Peppa Pig videos he has seen with us and deploys them again and again in front of his parents, to show what he’s feeling. It is experimental modelling: a search for reassurance – for a restatement of love – through the mechanisms of mining the discourse of a TV show to find the right language in the most appropriate registers: trying to identify what works, in other words.  Model after behavioural model is tried out and discarded.

Over on the other side of the gulf his parents do what they can to hear and understand him at a difficult time.

Is religious belief any different?  We know the pain of love withheld: “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled” Psalm 30:7  In the rich soil of human guilts and fears we plant and hope to reap some reassuring reconnection with the Power (however we picture that parental persona). And because this is a search that never ends, we try and try again, creating and amending our modelling as we go along.

In the Abrahamic religions at least, it will always be thus, for ever and ever.  Sometimes it works and we feel ‘God with us.’ Often it does not.  That is the pain of faith.



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Religion seems to be having rather a hard time in Oxford, according to a recent article in the Catholic Herald (05/06/2015 p21) by Jill Duchess of Hamilton.  In it she quotes Charles Vaughan of the Oxford Union as claiming that many students now at Oxford describe themselves as only ‘culturally religious’ to some degree, and do not practice any religion; “real belief in an interventionist supernatural being – particularly the Catholic conception of God – is viewed with deep scepticism and sometimes contempt.”

I daresay that such an attitude has been commonplace at Oxford since the days of Newman and Matthew Arnold, if not before, and held by many,even, who later became ordained.  The obvious tagline is “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:24).”  I would also not be surprised if it was ever discovered that it is a stance privately held by many in the pew. Doubt is real – a permanent challenge to belief.

I have no problem with that.  Nowadays we are all individually entitled to hold our own convictions, secretly or not, and it shouldn’t be any of my concern that any fellow congregant of mine believes this or that, even as I kneel with them at the communion rail. 

The last time any fellow worshipper whispered such doubts to me was during a First Communion mass in a church in Rome. But who or where doesn’t matter. We were not there to worship.  We were there to witness the first faltering steps along the way of belief. “In the midst of the congregation I will praise you (Psalm 22:22).”

Back home in Hanslope it is enough that twice a week I am there at the communion rail, as an agnostic Anglican bearing witness to what I believe to be a profound truth about the human predicament.  It is enough. I know what I believe, and God knows it too. He helps my unbelief.

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The hand of God

The hand of God

Exploring my freedom to visualise God in various ways, I come up against an obvious difficulty.  If we, in western Europe at least, have lost faith in the kind of personality-deity so masterfully portrayed in the Abrahamic tradition, so dominant in its religions, what is there left to interact with, let alone worship? (more…)

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Islamic tiles

Throughout history, each generation has revisited and reshaped the “God” concept in continual attempts to get answers to humankind’s great questions.  Religions are nothing more or less than constructs designed to provide persuasive answers to those questions.  The answers are based on scripture, dogma and revelation.  This approach systematises our encounter with the divine,  but not always as we would wish that to be. (more…)

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Somewhere in her books about God, Karen Armstrong remarks that amongst the great belief systems of humankind, only Christianity agonises about what or who “God” is.  The others give a theological shrug: who can say?  But they all know what the “God” concept is for.  It is to reinforce the idea that it is up to us, all of us, to do what we can foster the well-being of others.  This is the Golden Rule which, as John Hick points out, is to be found in all great religions’ scriptures.  In Christianity, the relevant text is Jesus’ exhortation, Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31).

That is not the whole of Christianity, of course, but is surely its tagline; together with the Great Commandment.  If we have got past the idea that God intervenes in the world through signs and wonders, we are stripping the religion down to its core, its essence, its emphasis.  God does not act on earth except through us and the colossal idea that God appeared amongst us as an executed criminal is the relevant object lesson; and perhaps, in some way that I haven’t thought through yet, the true meaning of redemption.

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The question “Do you believe in life after death?” must be one of those usually answered with, “Well, it depends on what you mean by…”  This one has been pondered for generations, especially by those who mourn: those for whom the loss of a friend or loved one leaves a gap in the soul which at first sight can never be filled.  They find their separation from the deceased unbearable.  They cannot accept what is death’s chief attribute: its finality. (more…)

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