The Truth is like a Maypole Dance

I have listened to many people who have claimed to have The Truth. To be honest, when I was younger, in my arrogance I thought I knew “The truth”, when others had missed it.

However, I now think truth is quite a difficult thing to pun down. The precise definition of truth is dependant on where you are now, and where you are headed.

The picture I use is a maypole dance. Accepted that this is a pagan fertility symbol, but it still has something to teach us.

Let us assume that the maypole is the absolute undisputable truth – God’s peculiar knowledge – then we are the dancers, each holding a ribbon. While we dance, we slowly get closer to the absolute truth, but never looking directly at the truth, or moving directly towards it.

We have our personal and social perspectives, that prevent us seeing the objective truth, only the subjective. However, when we continue with life’s dance, we move around and see from different perspectives, and gradually, the ribbon plaits and we get closer and closer to the absolute truth together.

However, when one of life’s dancers insists where they know the absolute truth where they are and stands still, it breaks the dance, and nobody is able to get any closer to the pole of absolute truth, and instead the ribbons start to get tangled around the person who stands still.

Just as scientist depart from science, when they claim to know anything as Truth, so all of us must retain the humility of seeing through a glass darkly, and continue to seek enlightenment. When we insist know the absolute truth now, we simply demonstrate our folly, and cause others to get tangled too.

The Advantages of a Broad Church

“What kind of Christian are you?”

I have no real idea how to answer that. I’m just not sure where to pitch myself. I used to be an evangelical. I still think of myself as being so, but I’m not sure everyone would agree.

You could describe me as Progressive, and I definitely agree a lot more closely with a lot of “Progressive” doctrines than “Conservative” evangelicals, especially those in US. I believe evolution happens, and that the world is billions of years old.

I’m a member of an Anglican church, but I’m not sure that helps to identify me.

The Anglican Church is a broad church, and that is a good thing.

It is necessary to question progressive change, with an eye to the Bible and the church’s traditions, so as to ensure that progressive ideals do not depart from Christ centred Christianity. Tradition acts as a break that prevents us moving too fast to be able to see the perhaps unintended impacts of good intentions.

However, it is equally necessary to have progressives challenging the traditional interpretation of Scripture and sacrament, as was demonstrated by Wilberforce et al., when the Abolitionists questioned the “scriptural” defence of slavery that was prevalent at the time.

It would seem like the response to people of alternate sexuality demonstrates this tension. The conservatives strongly disapprove, quoting bible verses to justify their position. The progressives say that it’s not an issue and quote different verses to justify their position. In the meantime, the church looks very foolish to those outside, and fails to carry out its mission because it spends a lot of its energy in-fighting.

The challenge to progressives, and traditionalists both, is to learn to value each other’s contribution to the Church, rather than to see the other as “the problem”. That way we can, between us, discern God’s will for to care for each other, the world, and show God’s love to everyone without discrimination.

The Serpent and the Source of Original Sin?

The concept of original sin is quite controversial in the modern world, and yet is a core part of the theological background that we have inherited.

The idea that people are inherently sinful, as a product of their birth, which when you see cute little babies, it’s hard to accept.

However, when you look at the state of the world it’s a lot easier to accept.

It is clear, that humanity has the capability to be noble, generous, kind, and altogether very positive. However, it does seem without a conscious decision towards “good behavior”, a number of negative behaviours do seem to creep in, and take over. Even St. Paul says “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Having had a conversation about the multiple layers “evolutionary” layers within our brains, it occurred to me that perhaps “original sin” is actually located within our “lizard brain” – the most primitive remnant of our brains – the “basal ganglia”, which is believed to be responsible for “species typical instinctual behaviours involved in aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual display” (Wikipedia).

That would explain why Darwinian “survival” mechanisms seem to take over, if we either feel threatened, or abdicate our “higher” functions, such as in mob-mentality, or just when we choose to stop thinking for ourselves.

While this is wild conjecture, and I’m sure both theologians and neuroscientists would have lots to say that this is hugely oversimplifying and probably heretical, it strikes me as having a certain resonance with my own life and behaviour, and provides me a psychologically plausible explanation.

However, if this is the source of our sinful nature, then that goes to show how incredibly perceptive the writer of Genesis 3 was. Humankind is tempted into sin by the whispering of a serpent – maybe not an external serpent – but the “reptile brain” within humanity itself.

The Bible Tells Me So – A Review

I have just completed another of the exciting books I bought in order to give away, but this one I’ve read first, since I didn’t dare give it to anyone before having read it first.

“The Bible Tells Me So…” by Peter Enns.

The purpose of this book is to suggest how to read the bible without being bound to treating it either as a 21st century history textbook, or as a legal textbook.

The author goes about challenging a specific event in the Old Testament’s accounts of Israel’s history, and in so doing, challenging the 21st Century athiest’s interpretation that the God of Israel is a monster, and thus cannot be true.

Interestingly, while the author references “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins (which I will review in another post), there is a slightly bizarre similarity in the structure of the two books.

Another similarity I noted while reading this, was that at some points in the book, it was almost like reading “The Da Vinci Code”, and that an almighty conspiracy was being revealed. Thankfully, the writing style is a lot better…

Given all that, the book finishes what it set out to do, and the author is (given what he’s trying to do) extremely reverent for what he considers the Bible to be – a Holy Scripture – but not a factual history or a book of clear and consistent rules.

The final result of me reading this, is that the Bible has just moved up to the top my (long) list of books to read!

Kissing Fish – A Review

Someone, just before Christmas, suggested that a small group to which I belong, should all get Christmas presents for one-another. What I really needed was some extra stress finding yet more presents for people.

My wife, suggested I should buy them all books, and made some suggestions. I’m never good at giving books I haven’t read myself, so I ordered a few for my kindle and proceeded to try and read them all before giving them away. Sadly, I just don’t read fast enought for that.

Nevertheless, this is how I ended up reading a book called Kissing Fish (Christianity for those who don’t like Christianity) by Roger Wolsey.

I have personally done a lot of thinking over the last few years, and my faith has changed as a result.

This book sets out to be a systematic theology for “Progressive Christianity”, and reading it, I find that a lot of the ways in which my thinking has lead me resonates with progressive Christianity.

The author tries to be very clear as to what “many progressive Christians” believe, and offers a broad spectrum upon which many would find themselves. He then sometimes offers a personal reflection about where on the spectrum he falls.

Some of the ideas described I would consider bordering on Christian atheism, or extreme liberalism (if that’s not an oxymoron), and go beyond my personal “comfort” zone. However, it is always useful to see the ends of the spectrum when trying to places oneself upon it.

What is interesting is how centred on the teachings and acts of Jesus, and of the behaviour of the early church progressive Christianity is, given the previous paragraph, and that the focus is largely about embodying Christian values of love and grate towards everyone.

This is a fascinating book, which has helped me to see that I am not alone in a lot of my thinking. I would strongly recommend reading it if you have any concerns around the “traditional” or “evangelical” Christianity