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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Life is not a pudding
by Paul Walker

I was recently invited onto the ethics committee of a university psychology department. When I went along to my first meeting I was suddenly aware of how out of touch many Christians are with the secular world. Here was a committee whose intention was to see that any proposals for theses or dissertations met with certain ethical guidelines to do with honesty, physical care of those being tested, care of animals and so on.

Consider the following scenario. For a moment I imagined myself on this committee arguing over an issue that a particular way of proceeding was absolutely unethical on the grounds that the Bible said it was. To do so is unthinkable to me - but even imagining it sent shivers down my spine. I would never again be taken seriously. And yet there are many who believe that the answer to the world�s problems is to base our ethics upon the Bible.

At least that is what they say. The reality is very different. I suspect that even the most traditionalist thinker would not use the Bible to justify their position on a university ethics committee. In fact the only time the Bible seems to be used on the media in Britain is by Anglicans arguing that homosexuals should not be ordained. This is a rather minor issue in world affairs, and an amusing one given that, to my knowledge, the Anglican priesthood seems to have a higher proportion of gay men than most other professions. In other words, we may believe that the Bible is our principle guide, but in fact our reason plays a much bigger part than even the most conservative Christians suppose.

Traditionally the Ten Commandments are seen as the basis of our ethics. Yet how many Christians would say that breaking the rule to work on the Sabbath is a worse moral lapse than killing a pet dog, which is not even mentioned in the Bible? Even the most homophobic of Christians are likely to consider adult sex with a young child ethically worse than consensual sex between two adults of the same gender. Yet the former is not mentioned in the Bible, while the latter is condemned.

Likewise, the position of women in the Bible is of subservient possessions of men. Some may wish to return to a past where women stayed at home and did the housework while men earned money. But few would wish to give women the status afforded to them even by St Paul.

It is time for Christians to be honest with themselves. We have never treated the Bible in the way that Muslims treat the Koran and nor should we.

We might imagine that it would be wonderful to live in a world watched over by a benevolent God who gives us instructions how to live. We could face life�s traumas, insecurities and uncertainties safe in the knowledge that all was well. Living life would be like making a decent pudding, perfect as long as you follow the recipe. Many people have argued that the Bible is just that � a set of instructions.

Only it isn�t and nobody lives as if were.

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