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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Cultured Despisers
by Paul Walker

I was interviewed recently on British Broadcasting Corporation television about a local school in England run by those who take the Bible's creation story as literal history. I do not intend to waste time attacking such a position. What concerns me here is how people with such beliefs are given so much attention by the British media.

It seems to me that television, radio and newspapers could persuade us that all Christians accept the literal truth of the Bible. Such is the power of the media.

If so, uncomfortable consequences follow. People might come to think that all Christian men subjugate women, or that all Christians regard homosexuality as evil, for example.

Many Christians do hold these kind of beliefs. But what the British media seldom if ever broadcast is that this isn't the whole story. My question is: How often do we hear expressions of faith other than these simplistic ones?

Until two years ago I was a regular contributor to Britain's Radio Two. The early morning Pause For Thought was my slot. I was told that I was considered one of their top eight contributors.

Then one day I was asked to give five two-minute "thoughts" on Christmas. I decided to explain how the Jewish writers of the Gospels had re-worked stories from the Hebrew Scriptures to create their Christmas accounts. I pointed out that these accounts were never intended as a record of an historical event. The producer of Pause For Thought, though not a Christian, was fascinated.

The BBC received many complaints about my broadcast. Similarly, a Christmas television programme about Jesus� mother Mary made similar points. It received more complaints than any programme ever before. Soon afterwards I was told I would not be used again by the BBC - and I haven't been.

And yet the very same interpretations of the Christmas story have been the accepted norm of the vast majority of Christian scholars for over half a century! What's going on?

Richard Holloway, the retired Anglican Archbishop of Scotland, argues that there is an unspoken conspiracy between some Christians and what he calls "cultured despisers of religion".

I can only conclude that he is right. The media do not want us to listen to people who have a rational and intelligent faith. They would prefer us to hear only from those whose Christian faith is fundamentally irrational. Their motive? To dismiss all religion.

Their attitude is irreparably harming those interested in matters of faith. Simplistic expressions of Christianity are, on the face of it, successful. So they are given more airtime. As a result, many conclude that being a Christian involves irrational mental gymnastics. Still worse, they are told that their ability to believe three impossible things before breakfast affects their eternal destiny. It's hardly surprising if they conclude that Christianity is pointless.

I suspect that most educated, thinking people are agnostic. That is, they conclude that deep issues of life don't have simple answers. This is not to say that religious traditions, sometimes with millennia of thought behind them, have no genuine contribution to make.

But it is to say that expressions of faith which are not denials of reason must be allowed at least as much airtime as traditional expressions. This is vital. Otherwise the Christian religion will become the sole preserve of those who refuse to face the complexities of life.

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