Monday, April 04, 2011

The Good Book

You might think it not worth the bother to rewrite the Bible when there is a perfectly good one already available and the one A C Grayling owns remains unread. If he has read it, which I am sure he has at times 'dipped in' being such a highly qualified clever chappy, he certainly hasn't grasped the gospel. In this fascinating interview, Grayling, one of the 'Atheist Trinity' (which includes Dawkins and Hitchens),  has written The Good Book which he has called a secular bible. The section of the interview I found most telling was the presumption that Christianity is a religion. It isn't- it's gospel- but let me unpack this a little.

First here is Grayling:

"He is very cross, for example, with the question in the current census that asks: "What is your religion?" The British Humanist Society has just conducted a poll that asked those surveyed if they were religious – to which 65% said no. But when asked, "What is your religion?" 61% of the very same people answered Christian. "You see, they say, 'Oh well, nominally I suppose I'm Christian.' But two-thirds of the population don't regard themselves as religious! So we have to try to persuade society as a whole to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups; they exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody else, any political party or Women's Institute or trade union. But for historical reasons they have massively overinflated influence – faith-based schools, religious broadcasting, bishops in the House of Lords, the presence of religion at every public event. We've got to push it back to its right size."

As ever with atheist's who don't understand the gospel, he makes the mistake they all do of lumping religion and Christianity all into the same bucket because he assumes the religion bucket and the gospel bucket are alike. In his defence, institutional Christianity is in the main 'religious' and I can share some of his beef with the hijacking of the culture with platitudes, men in silly costumes, psuedo-religious political posturing and boring religious ceremonies often addressed by people who can't preach for toffee. However, it does seem to me perfectly possible to tick the box 'no religion' and see yourself as a Christian. They are not inter-changable terms and if you use them in this way it is unsurprising the poor old atheist's have got themselves in such a confusing pickle. It's worth reminding ourselves that religious people nailed Jesus on the cross.

Keller in his brilliant new book The Kings Cross describes this well:

"The essence of [religion] is advice; Christianity is news. [Euangelion in Greek, which is translated as "good news" or "gospel" combines angelos, the word for announcing news, and the prefix eu-, which means "joyful" Gospel means "news that brings joy"] Other religions say "This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God" But the gospel says, "This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you". Christianity is completely different. It's joyful news.

[Kings Cross, Page 15]

Grayling doesn't get this but then again nor do thousands of people attending church every Sunday 'religiously' hoping attendance and ritual will pass muster as gospel. It won't and it doesn't. Jesus dying on the cross is the event and its good news if we will accept its gift and receive its grace.

I did very much enjoy Grayling's description of an atheist:

"And besides, really," he adds with a withering little laugh, "how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don't collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It's like sleeping furiously. It's just wrong."

'Sleeping furiously'- of all the phrases one might pick that one just about nails it.

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