One of the most helpful books I have ever read is God of Surprises by Gerard Hughes. It is a book which looks at our images of God – and, most importantly, uncovers our secret image of God, the one we may not admit to ourselves. We may SAY we believe, and believe we believe, that the God we think we worship is loving or kind, and yet we may behave as if God is a sadistic old man waiting to catch us out. Sometimes, it may be better for us to lose our religious faith if it brings along with it a false, unloving God. Then we can re-discover the true God in the holy hurly burly and mess of life. Encountering a living, loving God in unexpected places – a ‘God of Surprises’ as Gerard Hughes says, is far more important than having a religion.
I do, however, get fed up of cheap jibes and lazy stereotypes about religious people and the way that bigoted, publicity hungry people who flood social media and the internet with their false religions are quoted as representative of my faith. As a Christian I want nothing to do, for example, with those self-styled Christians who say that Jesus hates homosexuals, or who despise women, or who seem to worship capitalism or personal prosperity. I know that devout followers of Islam want nothing to do with the message of Daesh or the self-styled ISIS. Neither are all Atheists Richard Dawkins. Please let’s pay each other respect and take the time to actually find out what the other really believes or doesn’t believe, before sneering at them. We may have more in common than we think. We should unite to be loving together. I believe I have profound and challenging things to learn from Atheists and Agnostics and people from other religions but I think that Christianity has something to offer too. We can laugh together – I love humour – but I don’t like ignorant or lazy mockery. I’d appreciate it if people who sneer at my religion could actually make the effort to read the bible as scholars and encounter the profoundly learned reflections on it by good people like Rowan Williams before they dismiss it. I would like them to read about amazing spiritual experiences like those of Julian of Norwich – or historians like Diaramuid MacCulloch ‘A History of Christianity’ so at least they pause before lumping all people from an ancient religion together. I’m a Christian and I don’t even know what all Christians from different traditions believe – so I don’t know why other people think they do. Mockery is unkind – sneering is stupid. There is enough unkindness and stupidity in the world already.
But I do feel grateful for being challenged. I think that is a gift from the God of Truth and Love.
Sometimes losing aspects of my religion in order to get closer to the real, loving God, may be the most devout thing I can do. I haven’t lost my religion – I love it because I do believe it facilitates my encounter with a Loving God – but I hope every day to lose any false, unloving, hateful Gods I may inadvertently be following.
I’d also like to recommend ‘The Ship’ by Antonia Honeywell It isn’t the sort of book I normally find myself reading – dystopian fiction is not my cup of tea normally – but I thought it really made me think about religion and false claims to perfection and was very challenging in a good way.
PS In an earlier draft I included the beautiful song by Rufus Wainwright ‘Going to a Town’ – but I have deleted it for today as its criticism of some aspects of America might not be the best words to repeat today, on the Inauguration of the President. It is better and more courteous if today is full of blessings and good wishes for America and its peoples and the world. However, I would throughly recommend this beautiful song and its challenge to how the figure of Jesus Christ can be misrepresented and used as a vehicle for hate. I will certainly include it in future posts.