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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Blessed By The Gods
by Paul Walker

It has recently been announced in Britain that every expectant mother will be able to have her child tested for Down�s Syndrome. Should the foetus be found to have the Syndrome the mother may choose to terminate the pregnancy.

No doubt some Christian groups will be horrified by this, believing that any abortion is murder. I am not a campaigner against abortion. On the contrary, I can see reasons when it might be necessary. I can fully understand why some people choose to terminate their pregnancies. And as a man I feel particularly uncomfortable about telling women what to do with their bodies.

On the issue of Down�s Syndrome, the arguments for abortion are compelling. The child has a high chance of having a heart condition. He or she will have a learning disability, will look different and may not be able to live completely independently. A mother who gives birth to such a child is likely to have responsibility for that child for far longer than a "normal" baby. Perhaps it is better all round if such a child is not born.

But, and here's the rub - my son has Down�s Syndrome.

Understandably, the sensible attitude to terminating foetuses with the condition leaves me feeling awkward.

Many questions arise. Does the attitude towards unborn children with a learning disability say something about our society�s attitude to such people? Are they less important than "normal" people? Is my son to be less valued than his two "normal" sisters?

It certainly doesn�t feel like that to me. I would be more convinced by anti-abortion Christians if they showed more care and compassion to disabled people once they are born.

Few societies can boast about their treatment of people with learning disabilities. In Britain, they were until recently institutionalised very young. In Germany, the Nazis killed them. Italians thought they had the evil eye.

Perhaps the most interesting attitude I have come across was from the Hindu doctor who spoke to me soon after our son was born. He was unaware of my profession. He told me that in his culture parents with a child like ours are considered blessed by the gods.

I was puzzled at the time. How could such a thing be a blessing? One possible answer was that having a disabled child might teach me compassion, among the most important of attributes. I�m not sure the birth of our son has made me more compassionate. But I do know that I wouldn�t change him now even if I could. Had he not been born, our family would have never experienced some of the most wonderful moments of our lives.

So the real question turns out to be, what do we consider acceptable or unacceptable in people? Squints and crooked teeth are now routinely "corrected", for example. What an interesting word "corrected" is in this context. Presumably people with straight teeth and eyes are correct, while those without are incorrect.

Perhaps we are moving towards an abnormal society in which everyone strives to be "normal". In contrast, there is something truly powerful in the Christian tradition that all people are acceptable as they are.

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