June 2014 Meeting Summary

Donna had chosen an article by Robert Rock entitled “The Case for a New Christianity” (sourced from the American PCN site) as a springboard for discussion. As a preface, however, she read a few words from Eric Butterworth’s book, “The Power Within You” which urged a positive attitude to humanity, not laying an emphasis on Man’s “sinfulness”. She later quoted the phrase “human in expression, divine in creation, limitless in possibility” from the same book. This was warmly received by many, but other members disagreed quite vigorously. If a man with a knife threatened you, would you feel the same way? There was, however, a little confusion about what was meant by “sinfulness”. One redefined it as “missing the mark” which in itself is a very benevolent interpretation.

There were some reservations about the accuracy of some of the technical scholarly aspects of Robert Rock’s article. One of the main tenets of the author’s thesis was that the closer texts were to the death of Jesus, the more they tried to communicate the religion of Jesus rather than make Christianity a religion about Jesus. There was considerable doubt about the author’s dating of St Thomas’s Gospel and Daffyd read a much less appealing section of the gospel to counterbalance the rather more attractive verses quoted by the author. The central distinction, however, most felt, still held good. A member explained the difference thus: the message of Pentecost was that individuals were empowered to discover that we all have the same capacity as Jesus to find God within ourselves with no need of a mediator. “God is in my heart” as another quoted from Graham Kendrick. The problem with the religion about Jesus as the Church eventually articulated it was that it was used as a controlling mechanism in a hierarchical structure telling people what they should believe. According to the article, it was the later texts which led to doctrines like “the virgin birth, Jesus dying for our sins, resurrection of the body, the end time” etc. but these were not part of the religion of Jesus

The question about whether it was possible, indeed beneficial, to espouse both positions was considered. One member felt that living within the grand mythology of the Christ story enhanced his religious life, but essentially, he trusted the depths of the religion of Jesus.

Finally, there was a significant number of members who were deeply distrustful of the complications they felt that the article introduced to the debate. One said that she had spent much time recently with people who had all sorts of problems and that challenges to the simple faiths they knew would take away hope for them. She felt that the Christian faith could accommodate all sorts of different approaches and understandings. Another also was worried that the more he read the less he believed and that the sturdy Christianity he had learned as a child led to “natural caring” which was in danger of being destroyed. Several attested to the knowledge of God which was in their heart and which nothing could alter. One particularly said that she had grown up with a Santa Claus image of Jesus but this had been replaced by a more realistic image culled from an unlikely source, a book about the historical Jesus by a Muslim called “Zealot”. A member asked whether reading the article had in fact affected the faith of anyone. It was absolutely clear it had not. It was suggested that it would be inappropriate to introduce the complexities of the debate to a more typical Christian congregation but it was the peculiar function of a group like ours to pick over the ideas.

A last image from Beryl who, as an illustration of how one can see images of God everywhere, told of a friend she was accompanying on a shopping trip who picked up what Beryl thought was dirty piece of paper. The friend put it into a bowl of water when she got home. It was, in fact a flower bud and after a day or two it developed into a beautiful bloom. “See”, said Beryl, “God is to be found everywhere - even in the supermarket.”

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