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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You are not alone
by Paul Walker

I thought in this article I�d get more personal than usual. Recently and wonderfully quite a few readers of this website have begun to email me. While I try and reply, obviously the more mail I receive the harder that becomes.

However, I wanted to say to those that visit this website, that you are not alone.

All over the world there are many Christians who feel bereft. They seem to have lost a faith that once sustained them. They feel rejected by a faith community which once appeared to accept them without question. They are misunderstood for their integrity. Most of all they don�t know where they belong and where to turn.

Perhaps those who suffer most once belonged to a particular kind of traditional Christian community. I�m afraid that although I was brought to Christianity through just one such group, the flirtation was very brief. I was never fully immersed in that sort of culture. Therefore I cannot fully understand what it might mean to feel rejected by it. If what follows is way short of the mark, please forgive me and let me know.

I suspect those who don�t understand these conservative fellow Christians do not know just how wonderful they can be. They form themselves into close-knit, supportive communities which are extremely accepting. If you turn up at such a congregation, people are genuinely delighted to see you. You are wanted and you are loved.

Little better can be said about any community.

Furthermore, your past and any sense of guilt you have will be readily accepted. Everyone will speak of a God who forgives all that is past. All that is asked in return is for you to give your life to Jesus and live as he requires. Full, paid-up membership demands (at first) nothing more than a prayer of repentance and commitment to a new life. In return you receive the promise of everlasting life and a community of people who will help you begin your time in eternity.

What then comes as a surprise to many is the inflexibility of the fellowship which has welcomed you.

The past may be accepted fully, but the present is controlled. For example, sex is to be strictly between two married people of the opposite sex. Even masturbation is hinted to be wrong. Find yourself unmarried and wanting sex and there is no flexibility. Find yourself gay and there will never be a possibility of human love.

While there is an overemphasis on sex, there are also other areas of control. What begins as an acceptance of basic Christian doctrines is, you discover, in fact welded into a complete system of theology and permitted behaviours. The Scriptures are said to be "the supreme authority" in all matters of faith and conduct.

The "world" outside is a dangerous place where you are likely to be corrupted. So the congregation has its own sub-culture of literature and pop music. These Christian groups, in effect, think of themselves as distinctive, separate islands of love, godliness and moral rectitude standing in an ocean of sin.

As long as you don�t have any questions, as long as you accept that many of your sexual thoughts are sinful, and provided you give complete authority to your leaders, all goes well.

But as soon as you can no longer do this you begin to be excluded.

This sense of exclusion leads many into complete rejection of the Church as a whole. Some convince themselves that they are still believers but that they cannot find the "right" local church. Others try to stop thinking about the problem. Still others reject Christianity completely.

For some, however, none of these options is viable. They have been smitten by a faith which will not let them go. Many find themselves attracted to Roman Catholicism in one form or another. Here is a faith which is also more about accepting than believing, where people seem to hang loose to extreme moral strictures. Here is a faith which encourages people to concentrate on mystery while not thinking about intellectual difficulties and about the frequent corruption of those who wield power.

And then there�s you and me. And we don�t know what the hell to believe!

We are the sort of people who are accused of being negative. We know what�s wrong with the various parties into which the Church is split. We are deeply attracted to the message of Jesus. But we do not have a community to belong to, or a simple faith to own. We wish there could be churches which give us the same sense of community we once knew but at the same time allow us to be open in our beliefs and practices.

But such Churches cannot exist.

For if our struggles tell us anything, it is that we need to create community wherever we are, that it is a false expedient to mark humanity off into Christians and non-Christians, insiders and outsiders. Most people "out there" are simply trying to make sense of their lives and to make the world a better place. We belong in that world.

And, if I may be so bold, it is there that God has called us.

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