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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To the Benefit of All
by Paul Walker

One of the things which drives the war against terrorism seems to be the defence of freedom and of democracy. They are hailed as absolutely good things. To be against the freedom of individuals in western culture is almost unthinkable. Christianity is often hailed as the champion of these rights.

It becomes a little more complex when we try to examine what we mean by freedom. But it usually involves individual rights such as the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the right to live where I want, travel where I want when I want. We are aware that some individuals don�t have the money for such pursuits. So we add the idea of freedom to make as much money as I want in order to fulfil all my other wants.

When we examine these freedoms, we might feel a little queasy as we are aware that most of them do involve spending money. Perhaps it is therefore not surprising that this notion of freedom is most celebrated chiefly in capitalist countries.

Yet there are other freedoms. I once met a girl from Moscow in the Soviet days. She told me that while we in the west had certain freedoms, she was free to walk home alone at night through the streets of Moscow without the fear of being molested.

Perhaps our freedoms are now beginning harm us. The freedom of Brazilian farmers to destroy the rain forest in order to make a living is one example. Though considering what they have done to their natural environments, the richer nations are hardly in a position to criticise.

Again, take the example of travel. It is has been fairly conclusively proven that we are helping destroy the planet with our overuse of fossil fuels. In particular, the recent growth of air travel throughout the world is doing untold damage to our environment.

How are we to stop this? Politicians seem paralysed because of their commitment to freedom. The fact is that freedom to travel around the world has become sacrosanct. To stop me doing so would restrict my freedom. Such a thing is seen as bad.

Our obsession with personal freedom could end up destroying us.

This has perhaps been partly the result of our loss of religion. Most people in the West, for very good reasons, have abandoned religion. They realise that there is no God out there watching whether or not we behave ourselves. For some this has led to a guilt-free and unbridled search for self-satisfaction. In the past there was a sense that life had a deeper purpose. This sense has been lost by some.

Whether or not there is an underlying meaning to existence, abandoning the idea entirely could well lead to our destruction. We need to learn that sometimes it is in our self-interest to limit freedom, to recognise that the benefit of all is to the benefit of each.

As we create our own morality, no longer tied to ancient belief systems, we need to be careful. Surely we can all agree that the preservation of our planet with its bio-diversity is an important value. If we no longer give the name "God" to that value, we need nevertheless to recognise its existence as more than the sum total of personal, individual wants.

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