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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Defending the Truth
by Paul Walker

y eleven-year-old daughter recently started secondary school. For her first religious education homework she was asked to give a definition of religion. The following is part of what she wrote:

I think religion is about beliefs. It is about having opinions and believing what you believe and not having to believe the same as everyone else.

If only�

The reality in today's world is increasingly quite the opposite.

For many people, religion is about knowing the truth. It is interesting how many religious people describe other religions as false or even as works of Satan.

The whole issue is easy to understand. For many of its adherents, religion is the human response to their belief that God has spoken to them. God has made the world, is greater than we can imagine, and is all-powerful, all-knowing. We will one day be brought to judgement. Meanwhile, God has let us know how to live and what to believe.

If somebody believes this they may feel that obeying God is more important than mere human law. It may be more important than anything else.

Recent history does not give such religion a good press. Those who attacked New York on September 11th 2001 believed theirs was a mission from God. The American response has often been couched in religious terms. Similarly, the Presbyterian minister who murdered an abortion doctor and his bodyguard said he was obeying God. And many believe that the land of Israel should exist because it was given to the Jewish people by God. Suicide bombers seek to rid Palestine of Jews because God has led them to do so. God inspires both nationalist and loyalist in Northern Ireland, Serbia, Croatia and Turkey. 

The list is endless. All these believe their cause to be sanctioned by a God who only they understand.

Of course many traditional believers live good lives. They quietly serve their neighbours and communities. But we should not let this stop us questioning the danger of thinking that we know the truth and what follows from such a belief.

We see many in the Bible who recognised such a danger. A good example is the woman in John's Gospel caught committing adultery. Jesus is quoted as pointing out that our common humanity overrides God�s laws. In all the gospels Jesus maintains that Sabbath regulations can prevent good from happening. In the Hebrew Scriptures the prophets condemn those who obey purity laws while allowing orphans and widows to go hungry.

In the twenty first century it is time for religious people to acknowledge that we don�t have all truth. Like everybody else we are searching for it. There is no set of laws, no holy institution, no series of books in which God has spoken once and for all.

Religious law, the churches and the scriptures all point to the human search for truth - not to its discovery. For if truth is something we all seek, it unites us. If truth is something to defend, it destroys us.

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