The Church of Scotland, 1st February 2013
121 George St.,
I often feel disappointed when I go to a Church of Scotland Sunday service, because, all too often they are poorly attended. Perhaps I have little right to complain about this, because I don’t go every Sunday myself. I go as and when I feel like it, I suppose. The truth is, I just don’t find them very interesting any more. They seem to lack “point”.
Why are services so uninteresting? Sermons lack body and intellectual content. Sometimes they even seem a bit condescending and childish – more suited to a children’s Sunday School than an adult congregation. I preferred services in the days when preachers were not afraid to put a bit of “bite” into their sermons, whether that was about persecution of Christians in other lands, e.g. under Communism, or the evil consequences of the drugs trade at home.
It is disappointing that so many people have lost the habit of going to Church, and introducing their children to it; but Churches and Christianity cannot be expected to survive merely upon a “habit” practiced by the older generation.
We should get Christian education back into schools. When I was a child we learned our Ten Commandments by heart, we did our Bible Study ( which I always enjoyed ), and learned many famous passages, the meanings of which were always carefully explained and discussed. You weren’t properly educated without your Bible Study. It is just as much part of our literary and cultural heritage as Shakespeare, Robert Burns, Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, and Jane Austen.Children are entitled to have access to it, and learn appreciation of it.
Secularism has gone too far. Why should the secularist education authorities be allowed to consign our most famous literary and cultural masterpiece – the Christian Bible – to the side-lines of child education? Christian education in schools should be non-denominational ( neither openly Catholic or Protestant ) , but still there to be appreciated and understood. Perhaps the Church could offer ” Children’s After-School Bible Study Groups” in schools, with ” round the table” discussions, after formal lessons have finished. Children should learn about how Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, Elizabeth Fry, Dr Barnardo, Octavia Hill, and many other social reformers, were inspired by the Christian religion and it’s moral values.
We live in secular and scientific times. Many people, because of modern scientific knowledge about the origins of the world, don’t go to Church because they feel embarrassed to have a belief in anything so ” old – fashioned” as an all-powerful, all-seeing, all- knowing God, which is in control of absolutely everything. People find it extremely difficult to reconcile the idea of the immense forces of all creation with the idea of a God which cares for humanity. The apparently indifferent forces which created the universe, with all their creative and destructive powers, care nothing about anything ( except following the laws of physics ) and certainly nothing for the good of humanity. So why believe in a God who is loving and caring? These two views of God appear to be incompatible – so people tend to accept one view and reject the other.
Many people think that, because of an inability to understand this apparent incompatibility, they can call themselves “atheists”, and close their minds to religious teachings. But they don’t need to do that. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are atheists. It just means that – in modern times – they’re normal people, with modern, questioning, enquiring minds. They’re confused by what they think are contradictory teachings; but they’re still normal. I was, personally, in that same way for a long time; but I never called myself an atheist. I just called myself a modern, rational Christian, who retained a certain scepticism about some of the stories in the Bible, and didn’t take Biblical creation stories literally. With the benefit of a modern education, I saw through what I thought was medieval mythology. I’m not interested in how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, because I don’t believe in angels ( although they certainly make pretty stories) any more than I believe in fairies. I don’t believe in hell ( or Dennis Wheatley stories).
( Although I went to Church every Sunday with my mother and my family, and I was a regular attender at Sunday School, I was also taught not to believe in the supernatural. Apart from not believing in magic or superstition, that also meant: no ghosts, no haunted houses, no séances or ” mysterious spirits”, no occult, no vampires, no fortune- telling, no astrology – it’s all nonsense.)
Yet I never saw any reason for people to allow the wonders of modern, scientific discoveries, and modern enlightened attitudes, to turn them away from Christianity, Christian moral principles, and Christian moral and social values. I have always had the greatest respect for Christianity, and always will have. Children who are brought up without an education in Christian teachings and Christian moral values, are missing a part of their heritage which is extremely valuable. When you hear your children recite ” Wisdom is the principle thing: therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding”, then you know they’re learning something very important.
The ancient polytheistic religions used to get round this problem of incompatibility, by claiming that there were many different Gods, each of which took a different role and attended to different activities. If at times they operated at cross-purposes to each other, then that was the way the Gods behaved – and mere humans, caught in the cross-fire, just had to accept it. There would be Gods of creation and Gods of destruction, Gods of war and Gods of peace, some Gods were the bringers of new life, and others were bringers of death. People didn’t expect more than that. If something happened that they didn’t understand, there was no problem: the priests just invented a new God to explain it. If a warlord was brutal, an evil spirit had stolen his heart. If they saw what they believed to be ” divine intervention” to help them, they saw it as a great privilege. They didn’t believe they had any intractable right to expect divine intervention every day of their lives, or the right to expect that they would never suffer any troubles or disasters.
Today we see all that as ancient mythology, of great cultural and historical interest, but not to be taken seriously. Yet in modern times monotheistic religions do have a problem. We have to accept that humans ( contrary to all the medieval teachings) are not the centre of things. In more notorious times, people were burned at the stake for heresy, for daring to suggest such things. In modern times, we have to take a more humble, more modest view of ourselves. We see that the great powers of creation are too vast and mighty for us ever to understand, no matter how far our scientific knowledge advances. We see the beautiful planet which we live in, and we love it, and all it’s marvels. We may not like violent storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, and we see only tragedy when many people die in natural disasters; but we have to accept that that’s the way the world was made, and we have to learn to live with it.
So, is the monotheistic God to be presented as the creator of all things, with all-powerful control over everything, from all the forces of the vast universe, down to the affairs of human kind? But in modern times, we know perfectly well that the forces of nature just do what they do – and there’s nothing “atheist” in saying that. Is God to be presented as a “specialist” God who cares mainly for the miracle of Life and Humanity, and who gives us everything we need to live? – when we know perfectly well that people have to struggle for survival.
Sadly, this may be why many people turn against religion. Perhaps they think that no-one should ever die in a natural disaster or a man-made tragedy like war. (” Where was God when……?” etc.) Perhaps because they expected far too much – more than they had any right to. They expected to find a constantly interactive God, always instantly responsive to every human need at all times – as if praying to God was like calling a taxi, or calling room service in a hotel, or ordering a meal in a restaurant – and become hopelessly disappointed and disillusioned when they find that it doesn’t always happen that way. Then they become embarrassed, and claim that of course they never believed in religion in the first place – and nobody would see them in Church again. At the same time, it is the most appalling blasphemy for anyone to say that a disaster, whether natural or man-made, is the “Will of God”. I would never agree with anyone who said that.
I’m not suggesting that everyone should turn stoically polytheist, but Christianity does have a problem wherever and whenever people try to believe that the one all-powerful God should always protect them from having any problems, troubles or disasters at any time. It is a strange observation that many soldiers who came out of a fiercely fought war, and lost many friends, either come out very religious (” It was a miracle I survived that”) or confirmed life-long atheists because no ” angels from God” ever came to stop it. But nobody ever guaranteed an entirely trouble free existence, and nobody should ever expect it.
Perhaps people should be encouraged not to try to wrestle with religious issues which may seem like contradictions. We only know that the immense powers of creation, in a tiny corner of the vast universe, created a beautiful planet where the wonder of life came into being, and humanity emerged from that. The great gift, which Creation gave to Humanity, is the Power of Intellect, the Power of Reason, the Power of Wisdom, the power to develop societies where people work together, assisting and caring for each other, and the ability to perceive the difference between good and evil, benevolent behaviour and malevolent destructive ways. Where did human intelligence come from? – if not from the same creative forces which created everything else? Where did emotions, like love and caring, protective, merciful nature towards others, come from? Where did hate, and the fierce burning desire for revenge against others who harm you, come from? It’s quite a thought that the human ability to think, to reason, the eyes we see with, the tongues we use to speak to others, all came from the same powers which created the universe. Interesting line of thought – isn’t it? Where’s the “atheism” in that?
The gifts of intellect and reason give us the power to attend to our problems the best way we can, and rise to the challenge of surviving natural disasters and avoiding man-made tragedies. So if the power of Creation gave Humanity intellect and emotions, then people need religion to guide them through the maze of intelligent thought, understand the difference between good and evil and, and produce a good, peaceful, honest, caring society for everyone to enjoy. I think I prefer to perceive God as the spirit of humanity, which binds us all together, and leads us to help and care for each other, reject evil, and pursue the interests of peace, harmony and well-being.
Getting back to the matter of getting a bit of “bite” back into Church sermons, I want to hear more sermons which denounce the sins of greed, cheating and treachery against others, cruelty, brutality, and violence – and the arrogant, false pride which causes so much of it. Of all the massive problems we face in our society, human greed and the lust for ” power- for- power’s own sake” lie at the heart of most of them. I would never criticise the Jewish and Christian attitude ( as expressed in the Book of Proverbs) that it is a worthy thing to work hard in the pursuit of wealth to support yourself and your family; but the appalling greed of those who pursue personal wealth to the point ( and beyond) at which it becomes harmful to others and society, is never to be condoned or excused. No loan sharks, no drug traders, and no people- smuggling racketeers.
People must come back to taking their Christian religion seriously.
With the rising menace of the Middle-Eastern, pseudo-religious, pernicious, belligerent doctrine of neo-Fascism, people need the support of Christianity more than ever – and that support needs to be positive and strong. People need to be encouraged to come out of their indifference, and support and defend their Christian religion, so that it can support them. They need to be encouraged to support and defend their Christian moral values, their Christian moral code, their Christian culture and their Christian heritage.
Islamo-Fascism is not a religion, although it hides behind the identity of one. It’s preachers preach hatred and war against the “unbelievers”, conquest ( for conquest’s own sake) of other peoples territories, and taking control of other peoples cities. It condones (and encourages) the abuse and humiliation of women. It encourages young men and women to commit mass-murder by turning themselves into suicide bombers; and then it gives them the status of ” martyrs”, and claims they did it all in the “service of God”. To Christians, this is the most appalling blasphemy, to claim that the mass-murder of non-aggressive, defenceless people – going about their harmless, every day activities – was in the service of “God”.( Which “God”?)
The 1st of the Ten Commandments says ” Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” Well we want nothing to do with any so- called “God” which condones or requires terrorist atrocities. We want nothing to do with any “God” which ( it is claimed) offers the wonders of Paradise to any young people who turn themselves into suicide-bombers, in the service of evil, pointlessly destroying the lives of innocent people – while apparently failing to point out that this reward belongs to those who have lived good lives, faithfully working to support a peaceful society.
All the Christian Churches, whether Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Salvationist, Coptic, maronite or any others, have to stand firmly together to face up to this menace; because if they don’t, the menace- described above – will destroy Christian culture.
Communism in the Soviet Union tried to destroy Christianity, yet it rose again after Communism’s demise. Nazism in Germany tried to ” neutralise” Christianity, by guillotining priests who preached against the evils and injustices of the Nazi regime; but Christianity rose again. The rising menace of Islam which has become the most dangerous , ideological force in the world today – must be strongly opposed. It must not be allowed to destroy Christianity. ” Tolerance” ( I regret to say) has become just another blackmail term.
EVELYN A. R. WARD.
This letter contains so much that I wouldn’t know where to begin critiquing it. I don’t know if the ” Sadducees” of the Church of Scotland ever read it, or indeed, ever replied to it. Probably not!
Evelyn’s self analysis regarding her religion and her philosophical beliefs, are wonderfully thought provoking. She shows a deep understanding of the problems faced by Christianity in a world where the new “Cult” of science is becoming more and more militant and vociferous in it’s claims to be truly omnipotent, and where other religions, mainly Islam, have successfully, and with the enthusiastic help of the leftist ideologists, to blackmail and tame the leadership of the Christian Churches into obsequious compliance.
This letter is partly an impassioned appeal to the leaders of the Christian Churches, to stand up and be counted, to defend the faith that they are supposed to be the guardians of, to do their jobs.
There are parts of this letter which I find quite beautiful and which have moved me, and yet the woman who wrote it has been called a “Racist”, an injustice born out of political expediency and malice.