MORE LAMBETH BISHOPS NEED TO LOOK BEYOND CHRISTIANITY


Judging from the topics on the agenda of the Lambeth conference, it seems that Anglican bishops think that Christianity will be here for the long-haul, despite the fact that numerous religions have died out, partly as worldviews, sets of values and ways of living have changed. Over six thousand years ago, it is doubtful if anyone imagined in the Neolithic communities of Asia and Europe that their cultures and religions would be replaced, but they were. Neolithic rituals are no longer practiced, nor are their beliefs held.
To think of all religions as being transient, as having a shelf life, is not an idea that religious texts support. Most adherents of religions would be surprised at such an idea, because they still believe in divine revelation or in God choosing people to be God's representatives or in God coming to live a human life and dying for the sins of the world and of religions witnessing to these divine events. Such beliefs developed within a pre-scientific worldview in which the major faiths began. However some liberal theologians do not consider these beliefs to be consistent with a postmodernist perspective.
"What comes after Christianity?" is a question which must be asked of Christians, including bishops, despite appearing to belittle their endeavours to resolve the conflicts that today drive Christians apart in their thinking, believing, attitudes and actions. Many people are busy trying to save Christianity or at least to save the institutions which have become historic parts of it. In some cases, compassion motivates people to resolve the conflicts created by beliefs that are harmful. Accepting that religions are transient would change the basis on which arguments are made between Christians as well as between all the adherents of the major faiths, because their central beliefs would be recognised as being human claims without divine authorisation.
As well as being ethical systems, religions are a human response to the irresolvable questions of life rather than testimonies to a divine revelation. They are shaped by cultural and historical contexts. They speak of God or Ultimate Reality as beyond description and beyond knowing. We construct our images, our symbols and our metaphors to convey what we guess God (if God exists) might be like. Over the centuries many ideas have been generated: some are good (inspiring our adoration), others are repulsive. The mysterious God, if held to exist, remains hidden, unobtrusive and elusive. Does the universe exhaust all of life's meaning or is there another reality that completes life's meaning?
Are we moving to an age when human beings will not think of their religious identity as Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, or Hindu etc.? Perhaps people (whether religious or non-religious) will simply think of themselves as human beings engaged in a search, as citizens of one global village, for a spiritual, moral and political vision for life. Isn't it true that today's global citizens can draw, critically, on a resource of wisdom and spirituality, garnered over countless centuries, as well as add judiciously to it? Such a global resource has been created through reflecting on our experiences of success and failure in living authentically, on our capacity for making good relationships as well as our failing to do so - with each other, with other living creatures, with our planet and universe, and with the transcendent mystery that some believe completes the meaning of life, and last, but not least, by our asking the unanswerable questions.
It is liberating to have an understanding of the various scriptures which allows a person to say: "that is what people claimed thousands of years ago to be right or to be the will of their god, but what they believed then does not constrain how I think today". It is part of the dignity and responsibility of being human, and our human right, that we have to work out our moral conclusions, political ideas and (if we have them) theological convictions, however provisional, for ourselves. Without such a liberating understanding can we make progress towards a global spirituality where "global" is used in the best sense to describe something which is universal but also rich in diversity? Lambeth (and GAFCON) bishops should look beyond Christianity and not worry about redundancy packages!

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