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Birthday Books

July 4, 2012

I recently had a birthday and I asked for several theology books. It is quite an interest of mine in recent times and it all began with The God Delusion which I read 3 years ago. I am sure that Richard Dawkins would not be too pleased to hear that his great diatribe against religion actually switched me back on to the subject he says is  ‘no subject’ -theology. His book made me laugh but also left me with many questions, such as ‘is he right?’ Is religion all bad? Is it poison, as dogmatic atheists would claim?

The more I read the more fascinating this ‘non subject’ becomes.

It has been my great delight recently to discover Unitarianism which is a religion I can respect, both for its ethic of social justice and for its open mindedness. To be welcomed, as an atheist, and not be obliged to state belief in some theistic creed is utter freedom, and leaves the mind uncluttered  to explore all sorts of spiritual ideas.

My new books include ‘Christian Atheist’ by Brian Mountford, which I have read but want to own and re-read ‘Love and Death’ by Forrest Church, The Old Ones in the Old Book by Philip West. ‘Religion for Atheists’  by Alain de Botton, ‘Godless Morality’ by Richard Holloway,’Dying to Live’ by John Churcher and ‘Intelligent Church’by Steve Chalke.

I am enthralled by the kind of theology emerging from the progressive and radical wings of the Church and disappointed to find no whispers of this exciting new stuff in any of the churches I know. There seems to be such good sense and wisdom in these writings and so little of it heeded – the Church seems to be carrying on trotting out all the orthodox and traditional messages in the same dull ways that fail to speak to modern people.

I like to be challenged, inspired and moved and I enjoy the company of people whose sights are set higher than the next pair of shoes or foreign holiday. I like people who want to improve the world and long for peace. Such people may be found anywhere and everywhere and you don’t need a religion to be like this, but church- like communities do seem to be good places to find concentrations of such people and so I am drawn to them.

But I really detest the Christian metaphysic with its concentration on our sinfulness and need for redemption through blood sacrifice. This is such an old and outdated idea and its imagery is grim and repugnant to me. Thus, the language of the Christian service is difficult. I would prefer not to understand the words. I would prefer more silence and music and I would like some readings from books other than the bible. I want to be inspired and moved, not bored to tears and alienated by ideas from so long ago that they make no sense.

I long for a Unitarian community near me, in the town where I live, but there are none. To reach mine, I must travel. All around me are churches dishing out a diet of traditional Christian theology and it’s that or nothing. Most people prefer nothing.

Within my birthday books are riches – new ways of looking at old texts, the language of metaphor that wrests truth and wisdom from the incomprehensible, and offers ways to be Christian without compromising integrity.

Nothing can bring back the faith in God that I lost many years ago, but I want it to be possible for those who desire it, to belong to their local church, without having their headspace violated with what often seems like utter nonsense. I want a church that is open enough to welcome agnostics, doubters, questioners and atheists as well as secular humanists with no interest in religious questions; to be that place that bonds us as neighbours and inspires us to work for a better society and does not insist that we believe in a certain way in order to belong.

I want a church that provides variety of thinking and space to explore spirituality, to discuss new theology openly and encourages new ways of  ‘worship’ which allows the possibility of there being no God.

I want what is in my birthday books to be what I find in church, so that I want to go and join in and can come away enriched and with new understanding of myself and how to be in the world.

I am at a loss to understand the barriers that the Church puts up to the inclusion of everybody within its community, when Jesus seems to me to be always saying ‘Come’. I do not understand why faith seems more important than love in so many of them, and liturgy and creed idolised as if they were God. 

Here is Steve Chalke “An inclusive church will be a congregation open to all……. It will be an environment where the unloved and the unlovely find refuge and belonging…… In short it will be a home for those who need one”

Right -anyone know a Christian church like that anywhere? I certainly do not. I have never felt loved in church until I found New Unity, which is not Christian  (www.new-unity.org) and I have never felt much love circulating either. I have heard many unloving comments and judgemental remarks and wondered, repeatedly, where the spirit of Jesus might be in it all.

Alain de Botton -” One can be left cold by the doctrines of the Christian Trinity and the Buddhist Eightfold path  and yet at the same time be interested in the ways in which religions deliver sermons, promote morality, engender a spirit of community, make use of art and architecture, inspire travels, train minds and encourage gratitude at the beauty of Spring.”

 John Churcher    “Heresy or not, the purpose of this present book is to continue attempting to set Jesus free from the chains of two millennia of church power-broking and creedal over -spiritualizing of the one who was so full of humanity that people who wished to experience divinity did so in him………The Church is in desperate need of a new reformation so that it may reinvent itself for our time”

Yes, I am looking forward immensely to reading the riches in my birthday books and longing for the Church to begin to listen to these new voices and drag itself out of the 4th century mindset where it is currently so firmly stuck.

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