Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)



... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)

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Looking Backwards

Matthew 22.40  The whole Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.

It is often said that Jesus did nothing to negate the age-old traditions of the Hebrew faith. Matthew 5.18 is quoted in support of this: "Not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with."

It doesn't take much savvy to see that the traditional teachings of some Christians in this respect don't make much sense. For if they were true, the entire body of law in the Hebrew Bible would apply to all Christians today. 

And if that were to be the case we would, for example, be allowed to use captive women for sexual sport and their men as slaves. Times have changed. If American or British soldiers in Iraq did that today, there would be an immediate outcry and rapid prosecution of the offenders.

That civilised nations don't as a matter of course abuse captives is due to the revolutionary teachings of Jesus - teachings which have changed the world immeasurably. It's hard for us to grasp the depth and power of what Jesus said.

For not only did his words alter the behaviour of those who listened to him, but they also changed the the way we understand what God wants of us.

We should appreciate that an almost universal belief in his time was that to know what to do in any situation we should look backwards. The "fathers" or the "ancestors" had, it was thought, shown us how to do things. Morality and good government were enshrined in the past. It followed that problems arise because we have strayed from the proven solutions of previous generations. 

Recovering and re-stating the ways of the ancients was big business in Roman times and amongst the Hebrews. Similarly, the Church was at its most powerful when it monopolised the past and used it to lay down the law for everyone. To this day it is taught that what has happened should determine what happens now. For example, what Jesus is reputed to have said about Peter determines that one man has authority to send you or I to heaven or to hell: "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven" (Matthew 16.19)

No, said Jesus. Laws established in the past hang from the commandments  to love. And when one things hangs from another, it has neither power nor effectiveness without that from which it hangs. It "depends" upon it.

Many saints and scholars, starting with Paul in his praise of love in the first Letter to the Corinthians, have shown that to put love first is to change fundamentally how we regard the past.

The past is what has been - which is the same as saying the past can't be changed. If you and I go by what can't be changed when we relate to others, we're bound in the straightjacket of what has been.

Love requires that we think of the present and the future. We may refer to the immutable "what has been" - but only as data to work out what will be. What will be is the only aspect of time over which we have some control. What will be hangs or depends upon what we do now. So we look backwards only in order the better to go forwards.

That's what Jesus meant when he said, "The Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets [what has been] depend upon love."

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