Friday, 16 October 2009

losing our religion

Just finished watching last Monday's BBCNI doc Losing Our Religion, presented by the excellent William Crawley and knocked out by Belfast's own champions of one-offs, DoubleBand Films (ever see their Maradona one? Google it, it's a cracker.) The one-hour documentary dealt with the issue of religion in Northern Ireland, why and how it had come to dominate life, and why now it seems to be increasingly fading from significance. With more emotive language and OTT photography than you could shake a stick at, this was clearly a piece that was prepared to not only deal with it's topic, but both channel it and tear it apart as well. And whilst Crawley's own nostalgia and wonder at the faith he questions seemed to ensure he remained respectful, he managed to tease out an awful lot of food for thought.

Crawley, previously a philosopher, theological lecturer, university chaplain and now in his own words a "lapsed Protestant" and his journey were very much a focal point, but all around was a wider discussion, between the gods of tradition, the god of the adapted 'church', the unknown god and... well, humanism. So whilst I'm not even going to begin to give a weighted version of my two cents, here are two or three lines that sat with me.

A little way in, Crawley visited the Belfast Islamic Centre (down behind the Welly Park, lads, where I recall spending a while sitting one night while Dave's row of flats were evacuated during a fire alert.) Against, whilst there's a whole discussion on why increasing numbers of Northern Irelanders are turning to the Islamic tradition, an interesting line from future Imam Malachy Moustafa was his assertation that (to paraphrase) "we won't change our fundamental beliefs to suit the times." In contrast, I got the impression that up at Causeway Coast Vineyard (which came across very well) Crawley felt there whilst the delivery method had been adapted to suit the times, there was perhaps a question of whether the language and theology might have been also - which I would probably disagree with (as a very irregular Belfast City Vineyard frequenter), but could accept as an impression.

It's a point worth noting though: as Barry Moore, the Canadian Evangelist (whose altar call had led Crawley to faith as a teenager) stressed at the conclusion: you can "poke holes" in the hypocrisy, the human failings, the cult-like natures, the demands of Christianity as acted out by its followers - but "you can't poke holes in Him (Jesus)" I don't claim to work for the most emergent of churches (being Anglican in Mid-Ulster) but by the same rod, like many forward thinkers we seek to outwardly demonstrate inward faith in as many relevant and contemporary ways as possible. But is there a danger in this that we change the Message as well?

Astronomer Terry Mosley came out with another great thought:
You cannot believe the Genesis account when you look at our universe; it is so big, so vast, so many stars in it... it just doesn't make sense to have all that out there, just for our benefit. (What is the point?)"
But then he himself started off the answer:
The sheer majesty of it all, the size, the beauty of it all...
I'm about to do something quite dangerous. This is a blog about many things (once described as "Dali-esque!") It was originally about film production. It is sometimes about current affairs. Occasionally, it is personal. Most of the time it is links to videos. But something I've always been careful about is talking about faith. It's no surprise to most that I work in Christian Ministry (capital letters!) and so faith often comes into my common conversation (as it does for most people - whether they realise or not!) but I don't preach verbally. I'm very careful about it, and I'm very conscious of it. This is because I don't consider myself a preacher, but a ranter. And ranters turn people off - for reference, see the legalistic Judaism that one particularly famous rabbi came up against in Israel a couple of millennium ago.

However, I shall break this self-enforced axiom for once. For as Terry Mosley questions, what would be the point in a universe that is so large and so majestic, that proves the laws of physics only to break them, that baffles and astounds... what is the point of all of that if it is created entirely for man's benefit?

Mr Mosley, that is ENTIRELY the point.
'God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground... God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.'
Whether you take the Genesis account of creation as literal or figurative, the message there is clear; that creation was made, and given over for stewardship, to man. And throughout the OT this imagery continues, of a creation which God constructed for man to reflect on and steward over. But why? Why purpose does this amazing tapestry of life serve?

I could (and am willing to) give a straight answer to this, but we're on food for thought talk here, remember? So instead, I refer you to Rob Bell's Nooma 'Whirlwind' - find Parts One here and Part 2 here. (Aside: Job FTW.) Creation both honours and displays YHWH to us - as in the book of Job where, for example, God himself uses it to answer and comfort his tortured but loyal follower.

"I began to understand faith as a set of questions, rather than a set of answers," says Crawley wistfully. With some joy I would argue that that is entirely the point. The hole in the human condition is Jesus-shaped, and God is indeed that fabled refuge and strength; but many Christians are shaken and perturbed that, on exploring faith, they are instead left with a whole set of new and seemingly unanswerable questions. Perhaps the biggest faith killer, the greatest sin of our churches, the entire key to this debate is this: whenever a question is asked, the easiest thing to do is say, "We don't ask questions, we're supposed to believe." NO! A hundred thousand times, no!

For if you are not asking questions, you are not thinking. If you are not thinking, then you are not engaging. If you are not engaging, then what is this faith you profess other than something you store up in your ivory tower and defend against all assailants - and there will be many, because your faith is not alive and active, but rather a steady and rather small rock you cling to. You might make it in the end, I really genuinely hope and pray that you do, but what a waste. What a waste.

Faith is ENTIRELY about questions. And whilst I would not demean you, dear reader (if you're still with me - and it's brilliant if you are) or insult your intelligence by simply trying to enforce mine on you, I would encourage you to reflect on these things. Most of us have been to that place where it just doesn't seem to make sense, and that's fine. Most of us have also been at the point where we are adamant that life is nothing more than what we have, and it makes absolute sense that there can be no god but Man, if that is what we should call it. But the dangerous thing is to stay in one place. I admire Crawley in that sense: he had no faith, he found religion, he resigned from it, but continues, as he says, on a journey - open and inquisitive, and maybe even a little amused, as to where he will end up.

Whatever you do, remember this: it is never wrong to ask questions. And if I catch you not doing it, I'll have your guts for garters.

Here endeth the lesson.


1 comment:

beu said...

now there's passion. love it when your blogs are a bit more "personal". sweet challenge x

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