The Creed of a Radical
This was written by Alan Goss of Napier. It is a personal contribution. While the Sea of Faith Network encourages such thinking it does not itself promote a creed or any other formulations.
"A Creed" is how I perceive things at this moment, the things I trust and that make sense to me now (June, 1999). It is conceivable that next week, next year, my perceptions will change. I hope so.
I accept the theory of natural science that about 12 billion years ago the Universe erupted into being with what is commonly called the Big Bang. I trust the view that planet earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago; that the simplest forms of planetary life emerged about 3 billion years ago; and that so-called "civilised" human beings can be traced back 5 to 6 thousand years
The theory of evolution, in spite of acknowledged gaps, makes sense to me; creationism does not. <
The universe exists simply for it's own sake. It's just there, in all its vastness, complexity, and mystery, and in itself has no meaning. It is we human beings who give to it meaning, by the way that we live. Our best response to the universe is simply to marvel that it exists at all.
Life, or Being
Life, or Being, is all around us and is pure gift. Like Old Man River emerges, flows, changes course, is calm or turbulent, chancey or redictable, and passes on - it just keeps rolling along. Life, or being, is just for the living. We relate to it, celebrate it, question it or curse it, struggle with it, trust it - or we can even renounce it. Life invites us to go with the flow. It is temporary, fleeting, transient, passing away, as light as a feather.
It's cool. I try to "go with the grain" of life in faith, hope and love. To love Life, or Being, now means more in the public mind than to say we love God. Our religious vocabulary is changing.
God, as I now use the term, is a unifying word symbol which helps me to get my life together as best I can. It's an internal trig point on which I focus to get my bearings - with myself, with other people, with the world ("all creatures great and small"), and the universe. God is also a symbol of wonder and awe. It points to mankind's highest values on which I set my sights and which influence the way I live. I reject the notion of an omnipotent personal supernatural Being "out there" who created the world, intervenes in its affairs, and who will finally judge it in some mysterious way. An objective God is an idol.
I believe that the historical Jesus was a man and no more than a man. Jesus was a Jew of poor peasant stock who taught about the Kingdom (or domain) of God, using parables and short, pithy sayings. He was also a healer. Jesus was not a religious professional, he didn't found a church and was often scathing about the religious establishment, its law and tradition. He paid the price by being crucified as a troublemaker. Jesus had penetrating insights and ideas and gave his followers a vision of how things might be in God's domain. He offered his followers an alternative social life-style which they gradually developed, organized religion evolving [only] after Jesus' death. Gentile Christianity, shaped by Paul, conferred upon Jesus titles like Son of God, Lord, Christ, which are products of the creative human imagination. they reflect how early Christian thinking regarded Jesus, hardly how Jesus would have thought of himself. The "risen Christ" is symbol or metaphor, not historical fact. Jesus, through his teaching, frees us by opening a way into Life or Being. Striving for power and status stifles freedom, works against the grain of what Life or Being is meant to be. What Jesus said in his day may well inspire us afresh in the days and years to come.
I believe that the Bible belongs to everyone who wants to read it, it is not the private property of the Christian church. The Bible is an open book, written and arranged by human beings, humanly inspired and in places, humanly flawed. It does not provide a final and infallible answer to all of life's deepest questions, hence it is not to be regarded as an idol. To describe the Bible as the "Word of God" is a misnomer, turning it into a sacred cow. The Bible is "great guide to life and a standard of values", a much more modest and reasonable claim made by Sir Jack Hobbs, the English cricketer.
Truth, Values, Choices
It is our individual human responsibility to create truth and values which make life worth living. There is no sacred realm in heaven above or on earth below where absolute truth exists, packaged for discovery and delivery. Our human situation is often complex and constantly changing and there is no clear and final answer to many of our problems. It is our responsibility to make the sometimes difficult choices which we have to face. The Christian tradition has helped me, and countless others, to do that.
I believe that no one religion has a monopoly on how to interpret Life or Being. Each has its own man and woman-made rituals and doctrines and each is subject to critical evaluation. All religions are human creations, the products of human history, human culture and human language. The Christian tradition inspires me to live as fully and as humanly as possible, but it would be arrogant for me to deny that other religions don't do the same for their own adherents
Every living thing eventually dies, everything is "as fleeting as a rainbow, a flash of lightning, a star at dawn". To accept that life is fleeting, transient, passing away, takes away the sting of death.
When I die I shall be "recycled" back into the universe - earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Memories of me may surface from time to time, but eventually I shall be forgotten. An endless existence in some heavenly Shangri-la where perfection exists, where nothing is unknown and all is revealed, where there is no growth or struggle, will be hell in disguise. "In real life there are no second chances and no retakes. It's now or never. This is it." (Don Cupitt) The Last Judgment is a myth, indicating that we live in a moral world - the good rewarded, the evil punished. The nature of any continued existence on the other side of death defies human imagination.
The age of Christendom is dead and the era of Church denominationalism, a relic of past divisions and disputes, is almost over. Orthodox, or conventional Christianity, is coming to an end, and new ways of being Christian are emerging. Christianity, in its more conservative or fundamentalist forms, will become a sect and may even disappear altogether. Religion will take many forms, with a "smorgasbord" of groups and organizations to choose from. Rituals will develop around celebrating the earth and saving it from destruction. "All of us are passengers on the 'Titanic', though some of us are travelling first class." The awe, wonder and mystery previously ascribed to a supernatural God will be devoted to relationships - with Life or Being, with others, and with the earth as a sacred place to dwell.
Religion, as a way of focussing our lives on those principles and values which are of ultimate importance, may still be the glue to hold us all together.
So, weighed down by suffering and by tasks, splendid in the midst of misery, capable of love in the midst of affliction, man can only reach greatness, his highest stature, in the Kingdom of this World.
Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World
The various writings of Don Cupitt, Lloyd Geering especially, and related resources.
Alan Goss, June 1999