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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Beyond the Fringe

Death of the Church?
Attendance at worship in the Wales Anglican Church has fallen to record low levels. The same has happened in England, prompting the prediction that proposed celebration in 2020 of the Wales centenary will amount to no more than a few cucumber sandwiches at a wake. According to some church officials the Anglican Church is called to innovate. It is now competing for the time of busy people and for those whose needs are not being met by traditional methods and structures.

  Zhang Kia
before and after six months
  detention in China - part of Government's
  attempts to reduce the rapid growth of
  Christianity. Zhang, a human rights lawyer,
  had been helping one of the 200 churches
  closed down in the city of Wenzhou. But it
  seems nothing can stop the growth of the
  Church which will top 200 million by 2030.

Religious liberty in the United States is so embedded in the American culture that it is seldom questioned - until, that is, it comes to actions required as a matter of faith. Edward Vacek in An Acceptable Arrangement describes how a Catholic community asserts that the Government is forcing them to violate their religious convictions through the new Affordable Care Act and its provisions for birth control. It turns out that there is a simple way out of the problem - even though Catholic die-hards maintain that it is a mortal sin.

is common to the world's three major religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Despite humanity's much-vaunted rationality, our social systems owe more to our primitive past than many would like to admit. David Barash in Is God a Silverback? compares the gorilla patriarchal family with our modern one. It's not too great a jump to suggest that the human male is more like the protective, omnipotent, scary and territorial gorilla male than not. And it's a short step to noting how God is traditionally portrayed in all three faiths.

The United Church
in Canada has been around for almost a century. For some ten years there has been an Atheist at the Pulpit, according to Larry Krotz. The Reverend Gretta Vosper has ministered to her congregation despite having revealed to them that God is our "best guess" at the divine; that all religions are human constructions; that the Bible is not a special source of knowledge; and that Jesus of Nazareth is not divine. A previous attempt to declare her a heretic failed - but the Church has now ordered a review of the effectiveness of her ministry. Canada's national Church is at a crossroads.

Since the advent of Islamic terror, secular humanists who discount religion as a powerful social force have been forced to eat their words. A review by James Chappel of three recent books on the subject is entitled Holy Wars. Islam is not a religion of peace; and Christianity's suppositions contradict secular worldviews. How then is the modern secular state to manage religion? And if the latter is discounted, from where do secularists derive democratic values? Despite his over-reliance on sociological jargon, Chappel has highlighted an important issue for the Western world.

Could it be
that a fundamental element of Christian teaching, one deeply embedded in the Western psyche, is based upon a misunderstanding? Charles Halton reviews Born Bad, which proposes that the Doctrine of Original Sin is a grand deception based on an honest mistake - the mistranslation by Augustine of Hippo of Romans 5.12. The error has wreaked havoc in our lives, distorting the truth that humans are born good. But if that is true, and if we shed the idea, can we expect our worst behaviours to cease?

Question: Is the Vatican financially solvent?
Answer: Nobody knows for sure, according to Tim Sparks reviewing two new books on the subject. The facts are startling. The present Pope has tried to reform a profoundly corrupt system - only to be sidestepped by practiced manipulators. Meanwhile an intense and hard--nosed power struggle is going on behind the scenes as investigators attempt to gather essential information. The scams continue - from lavish spending by high-up clerics, to buying support with favours, to making millions illegally out of Vatican shops.

Terry Eagleton
takes a critical look at a new book which aims to be "... an insider's guide to sin". Unfortunately, The Dark Side of the Soul by Stephen Cherry misses the mark by a considerable degree. To assert that vice is not to be exorcised but something with which we should develop a "critical relationship" takes Anglican flexibility too far. The dark side of the soul is to be lived with because there is nothing we can do about it. This book, writes Eagleton, confirms that the Church is as out of touch with vice as were the Borgias with saintliness.

Today's secular onlookers
seem as obsessed as were their atheist predecessors with the presence or absence of God in our world. Amanda Powers presents a new take on divine oversight in Under Watchful Eyes. In the past we have enjoyed a sense of security in hard times under the gaze of an all-seeing deity. If a living God has now retreated into the shadows, might it not be that we find a similar comfort in increasingly all-encompassing surveillance of our doings by governments and corporations?

The New Testament
and particularly the gospels have been taken apart jot by jot over the past 200 years. Even so, definitive conclusions remain elusive. In the past few decades researchers have turned to archeology for new insights. Unearthing the World of Jesus by Ariel Sabar tells of the discovery of a synagogue close by the Sea of Galilee from the time of Jesus. For the first time we have solid evidence that accounts of Jesus teaching in synagogues "throughout Galilee" stand the test.

Climate change is increasingly claiming the attention of Christians and other religious people. As if our lives were not already complicated enough, the pros and cons of the matter are proving difficult for most of us to grasp. Justin Gilles in his Short Answers provides a starting point. "How much is the planet heating up?"; "Is there anything I can do?; and "What's the optimistic scenario?" are questions to which he provides short and simple responses. No doubt they are also simplistic - but at least they provide the confused and uncertain with a starting point.

Gene manipulation of every form of life - including human - is now much more than a remote possibility. So close are we to mastering this god-like skill that the focus has begun to shift from the mechanics to legalities. The question now is not just "Is it possible" but "Does it pose a question for our courts?"  John Parrington in Making the Cut suggests that despite the challenge of complexity "... we'll be crossing a lot of bridges before we know it." If he is correct one wonders if Christian churches will carry much weight in the ensuing debate.