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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The Atlantic Rift
by Paul Walker

All the political pundits seem puzzled at the difference between Europe and North America when it comes to Gorge Bush. There has always been this difference in reaction to political people. But it is not too much of a sweeping generalisation to say that Europeans simply cannot stand President Bush and don�t understand how United States citizens can possibly like him.

I would like to suggest that this goes beyond mere personality. It has deep roots in religion.

As I understand it, most Americans, whether or not they are religious, seem to think that George Bush and the Republicans are the Christian party in the USA. Yet in Britain, the one thing likely to embarrass even the most Evangelical of Christians is an association with George Bush. 

As a liberal Christian in Britain I have found myself on three occasions debating with conservative Christians over various issues. On each occasion I have said something to the effect that if you want to see Evangelical Christianity in action look at George Bush. On each occasion my opponent has looked awkward and more or less stated that Bush and his party are not really Christians. It turns out that George Bush is a gift to those of left wing politics and liberal theology because in Britain he and his politics are universally seen as bad or even evil.

Yet in North America, good people who wish to follow Jesus see George Bush and the Republicans as deeply committed Christians who are truly on the side of good in a war against evil. The fact that people like me dislike the Republicans is probably seen as confirmation that they are the good guys. Yet in most of Europe, the opinion that Republicans are simply bad is axiomatic. It seldom needs to be argued for.

So if even Bible-believing Christian Europeans are uncomfortable with George Bush, what is the difference between the relative views of religion on either side of the Atlantic?

For many Christian Americans Jesus comes with a message of personal freedom. So if the individual gives his or her entire life to Jesus, godly blessings will surely follow. For over two hundred years this has been the experience of many Americans. Hard work, sobriety, careful handling of money and Church-going have all, as they perceive it, resulted in material reward. The shock of September 11 was that such seemingly good and hard-working people suffered unjustifiably. It has been quite surprising that some religious groups have considered the dissolute life of many New Yorkers to have been a contributory factor in causing the events of September 11.

In other words, many Americans still resolutely believe that faith and hard work are directly correlated with material reward as a direct result of personal salvation. As a result, Republican politics of minimal government allowing individuals to freely flourish are seen as Christian. Even tax breaks for the rich are considered good, because they are those who have been blessed by God with wealth and should therefore be given more opportunity to spend their money as God wills.

Such theology was common in Europe at the time of the Pilgrim Fathers. Yet history has been less benevolent to the population of Europe. The aftermath of the French Revolution created many deaths. Starvation was a common experience throughout the nineteenth century. "Ethnic cleansing" was attempted on populations throughout Europe, from the highlands of Scotland to the Balkans. In the twentieth century this type of carnage took on almost scientific proportions, first with the lost generation of the World War I, and then the holocaust in World War II.

For Europeans, therefore, the idea that wealth and freedom are God�s blessing for a faithful life, simply does not wash. Even the most conservative Christian believes that government has a large part to play in preventing bloodshed and feeding a population. For Europeans there is no explaining away the horrors of terrorism. Innocent people die, good people die. We know, it happens.

Hence the almost theological explanation of the war on terror as a simple fight of good against evil is lost on Europeans. The louder certain sections of American society shout, the deafer Europeans become to their words.

That is my analysis. Sadly I have no solution to the rift. One thing I do know is that there are very saintly people on both sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of this political divide.

My fear is that we have stopped listening to each other. And that could be very dangerous for our world.

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