I have recently found religion.
Let me very quickly follow this up with a ‘negative creed’ of the things I don’t believe in the literal truth of:
I don’t believe in a supernatural person.
I don’t believe that the world was created in six days.
I don’t believe in either the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
I don’t believe that Jesus died for your sins and that if you don’t believe this before you die God will punish you for eternity thereafter.
I don’t believe that gay sex is sinful.
I’ve had a 21 year break from Christianity (since I upset my grandmother by refusing to get confirmed Catholic aged 14), because, like most people, I thought that these views were inconsistent with being a Christian. I have recently discovered that this is not the case.
My positive creed is a little harder to state. I believe in what William James called ‘the More’; what Plato called ‘the Form of the Good’. That is to say, I believe that we are aware, in our experience of beauty and our deepest moral experiences, of something real, of great value, which goes beyond the reality which empirical science makes known to us. We are aware in these experiences of a certain depth and profundity to reality. I take religion to be a system of metaphor-involving, institutionalised practices, aimed at helping individuals and communities to live in greater awareness of this ineffable aspect of reality.
[For philosophers: I’m basically a Platonist about value and a fictionalist about religious discourse]
Why organised religion? Why not just hook up to ‘the More’ through art or one’s own moral efforts? This is of course an option, but I think it’s pretty difficult to be spiritually healthy in the twenty first century, and most of us need a little help. Communities are not bound together in the way they used to be. And the lonely individual is subject to the powerful forces of global capitalism: privately owned media, relentless advertising, ever greater alienation from the fruits of one’s labour. At its best, organised religion is a powerful counterbalance to the negative forces of modern life. What finally persuaded me was how UK churches are responding to our current government’s cruel attack on the poor and vulnerable, both by feeding the hungry and by speaking out against this grave social injustice.
Why Christianity? For me, it’s partly because it’s the culture I know. I don’t take Christianity to be the One True Religion, but just one framework for relating to the Good; and it’s the one that’s most familiar to me (although the church I’m currently involved is radically different to the one I was raised in). But also it’s because I want to be part of a religion that has at its heart the values expressed in the character of Christ: radical love and forgiveness; identification with the poor and excluded; angry challenging of corrupt authority and meaningless tradition.