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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Through His Eyes
by Paul Walker

This quotation was recently emailed to me:

We are now in a crisis; our actions no longer fit our words. Those who call themselves atheists bear witness to the future of love and to solidarity with the deprived and dispossessed, while those who call themselves Christians are for the most part the possessors and preservers of the status quo.

I confess I am not familiar with Eberhard Arnold's writing. But some Christians will agree wholeheartedly with what he writes here. However, we must not imagine that Arnold expresses a new crisis. This problem, if I am correct in my thinking, has existed to a greater or lesser extent at least since the days of Constantine in the fourth century. At the battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, he defeated a rival for the imperial Roman throne. The battle was fought under the sign of the cross, Constantine having received instructions to do this in a dream the previous night. Christian tradition has it that Constantine was converted to the faith by his victory (though he wasn't baptised until on his deathbed). Within a year or so after the battle, he made the Christian Church the official religion of the Roman Empire.

I have often thought that the events which followed the battle did not result so much in the conversion of Constantine as in the conversion of Jesus to an establishment figure.

The history of the West can be interpreted as showing that almost all non-establishment movements which have attempted to improve the lot of the deprived and dispossessed have been vehemently opposed by Christians. Some Christians have been on the side of the poor. But they have rarely also been part of the Church's hierarchy.

Constantine himself was keen that Christian groups which advocated greater equality should be suppressed. Since then a majority of Christians has, at every level, opposed threats to the status quo. For example, the theories of such pioneers as Galileo in the sixteenth century were regarded as heresy partly because they threatened the power of the Church. New vernacular translations of the Bible about the same time were feared by the established Church because they might subvert ordinary people. Later on, democracy was opposed by establishment Christians, as were votes for women. Many Christians opposed the abolition of slavery in the most religious parts of the United States. Later, in the same places, segregation was upheld by "God-fearing" Americans. The Roman Catholic hierarchy supported Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Austria.

In our time, a majority of Christians does not support women in positions of authority in their churches. The liberation of gay and lesbian people is most consistently opposed in the West by Christians. In South America, liberation theology has been much-contested by the very Church from which it sprang.

Christians in Western democracies today complain that they are increasingly a threatened minority. And yet they do not usually vote with other similar minorities. In almost every country Christians tend to be politically associated with the establishment. In many European nations, the establishment party is called "Christian Democrat" to this day.

For Christians who are not part of the various establishments, this reluctance on the part of their fellows to stand up for the poor and oppressed has to be a tragedy. They note that by all accounts Jesus was never an establishment figure. He opposed Roman rule, the rule of King Herod, and the power of the Jewish Temple. He stood up for the poor and dispossessed, for lepers, prostitutes, prisoners, women, children, foreigners, and even for the much-despised Samaritans.

Since Jesus has become associated with those in power, his message has all-too-often been used to justify the divine right of kings, dictators, popes and bishops. He has been called upon in support of slavery and even the terror of the Inquisition, among many other oppressive forces.

Perhaps the threatened demise in our times of the Church as a powerful body in society will open the way for those who wish to follow a non-establishment Jesus. They may be able to help their fellow Christians and others to rediscover what it means to look at the world through his eyes.

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