DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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I Don't Worship
by Paul Walker

Going to Church often annoys me. All those hollow words we have to say. Lined up in pews facing an empty table we tell the invisible host that we are not worthy to be in his presence. We tell him we are wicked but he is holy and always forgives.

I�ve always imagined that we say that last bit with our fingers crossed. What if he doesn�t always forgive? Apparently he doesn�t forgive the sin against the Holy Spirit. Only we don�t know what that is (and if, as many Victorians said, it�s masturbation most of us are in serious trouble).

The whole fantasy carries on - lots of people addressing words to somebody who never answers. I realise that what follows is a parody, but I suspect it�s nearer the truth than most of us would like to admit.

In some circles hymns take pride of place. I have to say that I can just about take some of the traditional ones. But modern hymns with vacuous words repeating again and again just how forgiving, loving, majestic, marvellous and caring God is, prove impossible for me. If this seems strange, let me explain. It's because I suspect that underlying these hymns is a hidden threat that this God might just send us to eternal damnation if we don�t mean what we sing.

Catholic worship is more subtle. The old incantations, the ancient tunes, the mystical sights and holy smells appeal to me. Yet at the heart of it lies a confidence trick. It is that the man at the altar (for it is still usually a man) has been given some magical ability to turn a white biscuit and some wine into the body and blood of Jesus. This claim is obviously about power. The priest controls God, and is able to summon God up with his words.

In most worship, of whatever hue, there is a belief that we are unworthy and God is worthy. Increasingly as I take part in such activity I am left cold. Why does God need me to say that God is wonderful? Is God perhaps a little insecure, like my first girlfriend who wanted me to tell her all the time that I loved her? The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that God is jealous - which I�ve always thought odd because God apparently also tells us that we mustn't covet.

Or are we perhaps doing all this worshiping out of a sense of insecurity? Perhaps we feel guilty so we need to call God all-forgiving. Or we feel unloved so we project a capacity for unswerving love onto God. Maybe we feel powerless, so we project omnipotence onto God. We feel uncertain and recognise our ignorance - so we make God all-knowing.

If this is true, then what worship achieves is to help us deal with the terror that human consciousness often gives rise to, while at the same time leaving us dependant and infantile.

At its heart, true worship is intended to do something good. I believe that its purpose is to bring us out of ourselves, to stop us dwelling solely on our own needs and wants. Worship refocuses us somewhere else, somewhere beyond and mysterious while at the same time somewhere deep within. We call this focus God.

Yet today worship often fails on most of these counts because through it God ceases to be mysterious. Instead he is made into a separate being, not dissimilar to a powerful, demanding tyrant.

This God tells us exactly how we should worship and what the results should be. Usually these results boil down to eternal salvation, which of course helps meet our own needs, wants and insecurities.

The problem is that this sort of focus totally invalidates the purpose of the worship.

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