by Chris Scott
"This book is bursting with common sense and inspiration".
I am coming-up seventy four years old and have been ordained in the Church of England for over forty years, and before that, spent four years as a Novice Friar in the Society of Saint Francis. So you might be forgiven for thinking I am thoroughly religious. But the older I get, the less ‘religious’ I become.
Increasingly I simply aim to try and be a half-decent human being, but that doesn’t exclude religion as part of my life. I am also a psychologist and psychotherapist, and I find no conflict between the two. Recently I became a signed-up member of Humanists UK and again, no conflict.
It is a sad fact that human beings have a great tendency to be tribal. Our identity is fashioned in and against another group or groups. ‘Walls’ are built and maintained to protect the individuality and exclusivity of any given community. “Mine is best”. “Mine is biggest”. “We are right - you are wrong”.
Religion is a prime example. According to Google, there are 45,000 Christian denominations and sects in the world, and that’s without the other major religions. Each one thinks that their way of acting and believing is correct, and the others are mildly off-track or definitely on their way to ‘hell’.
I have great respect for Richard Dawkins – as a scientist. But when he strays into the realms of theology or philosophy he really is rather hopeless. He takes Biblical texts from periods covering the Bronze and Iron ages, periods where people understood things very differently, and treats them as though they are factual. Well of course they are not. Much of the Bible should be understood as myth, poetry, parable or wisdom literature. To judge ancient religious texts by the standards of modern science, is like trying to weigh colour in kilograms. It is just wrong headed.
As a psychologist I have looked particularly at how people see and understand themselves and one another. How difficult or impossible it is for people to understand another’s point of view, and religion is a master at making concrete, things that should be regarded as either simply pointers along the way, or an understanding long outdated.
The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books written over a period of approximately 3,000 plus years and assembled together about 400 CE. To take it as a single document and treat it like a ‘workshop manual’ for life is just bonkers. For instance, the book of Leviticus was probably developed over a long period of time, and coming to roughly its present form in the period between 538–332 BCE. It is an ancient religious law book. In chapter 18, vs 11 we hear: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”. It is part of a long list of things one must not do sexually. Lots of “Thou shalt nots”! It is part of a code of life coming from the Bronze Age. There are many Christians who find their security in believing that the whole Bible is the ‘Word of God’ and treat it all literally. Fine, let them believe what they want, but not to the detriment of others. I am quite sure that God is not really bothered about what people do with their genitals, as long as it is within a loving and caring relationship.
As I point out in “The Jesus Myth” we need to understand the nature of myth. We use the word to dismiss something as untrue. But myth has a much deeper and older meaning. As the late Marcus Borg said: “Myth is a story about something that never was, but always is”. It can be grouped together with poetry and parable, they point to a truth known to experience, but impossible to ‘nail down’. How do I describe my late wife? I could try some sort of forensic description, but that would not get near it. My friend Andrew did a sculpture of her. It was physically nothing like her, or any other human likeness. But it absolutely caught the spirit of who she was.
When people ask me about some of the biblical stories, and point out that they can’t possibly be true, I want to ask; “what sort of truth are you talking about?” The first chapter of Genesis is clearly not scientifically accurate, but poetically wonderful. Imagine an old man sitting by the fireside, thousands of years ago, and his son says to him “where did the world come from?” And the old man begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” It’s poetry, not science!
Recently both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have talked about the continued decline in church attendances. Various missionary strategies are talked about, but in the end they all seem to amount to the same thing. Keep shouting the same old message, only louder. It will not do. People in the 21st century with more than half a brain cell, know for sure that most of the biblical stories cannot be literally, historically true. Yet does the church do anything to help its congregations to understand the nature of myth? No. We just keep on reading the Bible as though it is historically and literally true.
As I read the Gospels, I don’t get the picture of Joshua (that’s Jesus Hebrew name, Jesus is the Greek version) caring very much about religion at all, except where it piled on duties and responsibilities hard for ordinary people to keep to. He cared about injustice, discrimination, lovelessness, sickness. He cared passionately about the human condition. “What does it take to get to heaven?” a lawyer askes. Jesus reply is to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. Here, it is not the religious professionals, who do what they are meant to by their religious code – no contamination from blood. It is the Samaritan who breaks both his religious and ethnic codes to just be a good human being. “What must I do?” just a good and compassionate human being,
The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said: “Nothing is so apt to mask the face of God as religion”. This can be so very true. But… Religion, understood properly can help us to navigate what it means to be human, as long as we don’t take the texts literally. I have as yet not had the opportunity to attend a Sunday Assembly meeting, but I gather they are a bit like church, minus God. As human beings we need to meet together and share values. When Jesus said: “Do this in remembrance of me” what do we think he had in mind? Sharing a simple meal together, sharing food and wine – definitely wine - with friends. Or a High Mass with smellsbells and a whole lot of flummery, exclusive to those within the community? Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a High Mass, well done, but does it really have much to do with Joshua of Nazareth? I wonder.
I wonder a lot. That’s why I am a psychologist and a priest, a humanist and a theist, albeit that my understanding of God is a very long way from traditional religious or atheistic concepts. For me, religion gets too caught up with orthodoxy – right belief. For myself, I prefer orthopraxis – right living.
It’s not my intention to have a tombstone, but if I were to have one, I’d like it to read: “He was an explorer”. Although I might fully expect someone to come along and cross out explorer and put in heretic!
A look at the nature of myth as a carrier of deep truth and that we all have our own internal myths about ourselves and life. Exploring what was and is meant by the term Messiah, both in the 1st century and now.
YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY
Why seventy per cent of young people say they have no religion.
What’s different? Christian Alternative is looking for a genuinely liberal and provocative approach to faith, ethics and institutional religion. We want to understand why, despite the Enlightenment and secularization, Christian writers and preachers often cling to pre-modern theological ideas. Why is talk of radical orthodoxy usually more orthodox than radical?
0 comments on this articleThis thread has been closed from taking new comments.