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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Blind Man Searching
by Paul Walker

Psychological research indicates that having a religious faith is a major contribution to happiness. People of faith are generally happier than people without. However, lest people with strong religious convictions become a trifle smug, it doesn�t seem to matter what you believe - as long as you believe something.

In the West depression is reaching epidemic proportions. There are those (not just religious people) who have linked this fact to the decline of religion.  They conclude that it leads to great psychological trauma. This is an uncomfortable thought for cultured despisers of religion.

It has become clear to me that the overriding belief system in the modern western world is a kind of hedonism. This works as follows: life just is. It has no particular point or purpose. So I might as well have as much fun as I can - as long as I don't hurt anyone else.

And how do I have fun? This seems to fall into three categories: (a) sex; (b) drugs; and (c) rock and roll. Criticise any of these and you will be accused of being a puritan or worse. But here goes anyway.

Sex has always been a pleasurable recreation. But today we seem to need more of it with more people in more and more innovative ways than ever before. In one sense I have no problem with that. I am a man after all. Yet it turns out that society is harmed by some of the results - single parent families, more sexually transmitted disease, vast amounts of pornography available at the touch of a button, single older people with no families, and fewer partnerships lasting a lifetime.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s promised to be liberating. Yet we now fear that it in fact binds vulnerable people to a form of exploitation. Society seems full of lonely, disease-ridden individuals. If this sounds melodramatic look at sub-Saharan Africa. That there is value in the almost universal tradition of associating sex with exclusive commitment appears to be right after all.

Most of us are drug-addicts.

For a great number of my acquaintances, pleasure is associated with vast amounts of alcohol. I enjoy it myself. Yet consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs is increasing. At the same time we are using more prescription drugs to deal with our sadness. There are few pleasures that we do not associate in our minds with one drug or another - even caffeine. Again I have no intrinsic problem with the use of drugs. But the effects of overuse are all-too-obvious.

I used the term rock and roll above. But really I�m thinking of the vast range of entertainment available to us.

We have no good reason to be bored. We can listen to whatever music we want. We can watch any number of television channels. And the internet caters for even the most esoteric of tastes.

These three things are the stock-in trade of the hedonist. They all promise pleasure, entertainment, fun and parties. And they all promise to satisfy quickly and easily, no effort involved.

And they have a certain allure. I can think of worse ways to spend an evening than watching a film, followed by a chilled bottle of Chablis and unbridled sex. In fact, I can think of few better.

But if I dedicate my life to pursuing such pleasures they may themselves become empty. And in my experience that is just what happens. Such an evening is only a moment of pleasure. But can such moments really be the purpose of our lives?

Religious people may be deluded. They may be wrong. But at least they believe that life has purpose. Ironically, religious people are as likely as anyone to spend evenings like the one described. The difference is that if they don�t enjoy the time it doesn�t really matter. It is a passing moment in a far greater adventure.

Now, I suspect that what is true of religious people is equally true of communists, fascists, those who dedicate their lives to music, art, animals or searching for UFOs. People with over-arching purpose to their lives may even sometimes be dangerous. But without a purpose their lives seem empty and futile.

I suppose that is what keeps me going even at times when I fear that my religious yearnings are no more than the search of a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn�t there.

Whether God is real or metaphorical, I would rather dedicate my life to God�s service than to give up on the possibility of a purpose to my life.

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