Friday, 29 September 2017

Value and Respect Everyone

As a Christian, I’ll start by looking to the Bible and Christianity for ideas to help us be well connected with other people and the world around us, but I am also open to ideas from other sources.

The Bible is a complicated book. Some people seem to think that every word in it was imparted by some kind of divine dictation or supernatural mind control and this gives rise to some strange ideas, which can fly in the face of everything we know and sometimes lead to some very extreme views. This makes it easy to discredit the Bible.

However, Bible Scholars, the people who study the Bible in minute detail, are very clear that it represents the thoughts of its human authors and editors. Bible Scholars study the oldest remaining documents we have for the books of the Bible. They study the vocabulary, linguistic styles and literary form and the constructions used in each text. This sometimes can reveal words and phrases which would not have been used when the text was first written down.

It is quite possible to believe that the Bible is not a product of divine dictation while acknowledging that is was inspired by encounters with God and by what people understood about God at the time. For people who believe in God, the Bible can help us gain glimpses of God and insights into how God has told us to live. For people who don’t believe in God wisdom can still be found inside the covers of the Bible.

The first book of the Bible is called Genesis by Christians as it is about origins; the origins of the people who became the Jews.

The first chapter of Genesis contains a creation myth. A myth is a story, or in this case a poem or song, which may contain truths but isn’t necessarily factually correct. It is thought that Genesis One was used as part of the liturgy for New Year celebrations by the early Jews.

Today few educated people believe that God created the world in the way described in Genesis as scientific discoveries have shown that this is an unlikely scenario. Many Christians do worship God as Creator, but most of them see God as the One who started the process of creation and leave it to Scientists to explain how it happened.

What Genesis One does tell us is that human beings were made in the image of God. It was written by people who were being oppressed and treated as slaves during the Jewish exile in Babyon. The Babylonian creation myth said that ordinary people were made to be slaves. So, Genesis One was written for those slaves from Judah who wept as they sat down by the rivers of Babylon:
"1 By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows [or poplars] there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
4 How could we sing the LORD’s song
in a foreign land?" - Psalm 137
Carving of the Babylonian Exile

The Jewish religious leaders decided to teach their people that they were not made to be slaves, but that they were made in the image of God:
"So God created human beings in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them." - Genesis 1:27
This helped the Jews to hold onto their self-respect while they were being treated like slaves. It has been an inspiration to other slaves and oppressed people down the centuries. It could be a helpful thought for people who feel themselves to be wage slaves trapped in an oppressive system, too. It also tells us that all other human beings are to be valued and respected, that we are to treat no one as a slave ourselves, and that every human life is valuable. These are important principles for a Good Society.

Quakers are mindful that there is something of God in everyone. Hindus greet one another and say goodbye with ‘namaste’, meaning ‘I bow to the divine in you’. What would our world be like if everyone adopted these practices? Could you find them helpful?

Monday, 6 March 2017

Good Faith for Healthy People and a Healthy Planet

We live in an uncertain and unfair world at a time of great change. This can be unsettling. It's easy to become anxious, especially if you struggle to make ends meet, to find work, or your job is under threat. Even if you don't have to worry about paying the rent or mortgage and putting food on the table, the media could make you worry about terrorists, climate change or the economy. Sometimes we can feel very lonely and vulnerable.

Human beings seem to be hard wired to worry. It was important for our ancestors to be alert to danger all the time. That is how they survived. Being alert, or stressed, has it's downsides, though. As I'm sure you are aware, too much stress can make us ill. Being afraid of strangers and those of our neighbours who are different from us can result in aggression and social tensions as well as causing us stress.

Religion arose, not only to appease the gods of primitive people but also to develop social cohesion, to calm aggression between neighbours and to generally reduce social tensions. Religion is thought to be based on Latin for "the ties that bind".  Ties that bind us can have a very positive effect, but they can also be manipulated by the unscrupulous. The ties that bind us to a group can be used to force us to conform or to give more than we are able to. They can also be used to make us focus on our group at the expense of those outside the group. It's not surprising that religion has a bad name.

Spirituality is closely related to religion. Sometimes being spiritual can seem like turning inward, but true spirituality connects us not only with the Divine, or our Higher Power, but also to the people and the rest of the world around us. We don't have to belong to any kind of organised religion to be spiritual. Some would argue that everyone is spiritual, in the sense that we all need some kind of connection with other people and the world around us.

In thinking about the kind of faith that might help us live well on our fragile planet I hope to consider how we can be better connected, as well as if it's possible to have healthy ties which might bind us in a positive way.