Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world

PROBLEM FOR OUR VICAR

Today brings a leaflet from the local vicar – nicely presented in bright colours – well done! He sees a few forces hindering his work. ONE – “Growth in atheism and the strident denial of the existence of God”. TWO – “A gathering storm of pluralism, influenced by eastern philosophies”. THREE – “A visual age – where people are bombarded by images and the opportunities for consumption are endless.” He says, “As people have lost the sense of any absolute truth, then the place of feelings and experience has taken over as the measure of what is true and right.”

That’s a reasonable analysis, but what do these threats really mean and what response can be made? It is impossible to prove that God does not exist, so the “strident denial” must be directed at something else. Perhaps it is aimed at various actions previously attributed to God that have since been proved to have another explanation. That raises the issue of how ideas about God have been presented at different times. Religious pronouncements were made to a particular group of people (tribe or nation) at a certain time, and if they were to regulate behaviour it was necessary that they should be comprehensible and believable then and there. They spoke the language of the time and used the images of the time. It would have been no use, for instance, explaining about the big bang to Abraham. It follows that stories about God are era-related. They are not absolute truth. They are representations of truth suitable for one set of circumstances. The church might decide to up-date the explanation of God for the 21st Century. As TRUTH, that would have exactly the same value as the various explanations believed in time past. At present many people perceive the church as saying “This is True” about many things that appear untrue.

Part of the problem is that the old man with a beard was an ideal ‘enforcer’ – somebody whose removal weakens a power base. He was not a principle or a form of energy, mindless and incapable of judgement. He could make decisions and reward or punish his followers. That was very convenient for priests, allowing them to manipulate society by pontificating about what God wanted. If he is to be replaced by some impersonal but yet unknown force (much more acceptable to the modern mind) how does that force determine right and wrong? How can a human read its mind if it has not got one? One line of argument is to explore some of the forces that we define as abstract but commonly speak and write about as if they were real. What about Love and Hate and Greed and Compassion and Selfishness? Those are words used to describe our internal motivation, and it is easy enough to argue that Good and Evil are forces resident within humans. So the doctrine for today may be that God and The Devil do truly exist – in the form of opposing human instincts. We are then using the old words, but modernising the image they convey.

For an organisation committed to the imagery of the past, pluralism is indeed a danger. It brings to notice a range of thoughts and philosophies that offer alternatives to the accepted dogma. But all those beliefs and traditions are part of the world we now live in. If Christianity is to be re-stated for our world,  it can’t ignore them. Rather, they must be seen as potential contributors.

The Vicar writes of  “The sense of absolute truth”, suggesting that it used to be used as a measure of “what is true and right”. The new measure, he suggests, is “feelings and experience”. I am not sure that there is any moral contradiction between these. The Absolute Truth was religious dogma and there were Feelings and Experience attached to them – because we were taught to feel and experience. Are we worse off?

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