YOUR editorial (9 April) makes several excellent points about Christian values as interpreted by the churches.
The obvious answer to Cardinal O’Brien’s proposal that Christians wear a cross to symbolise their faith (presumably ignoring the range of doctrinal differences which cause so much angst among groups of Christians), is, as you rightly point out, that they should be better at practising what they preach. Contemporary people are rightly wary of institutions, even of the religious sort, and the problem of the cover-up of centuries of child abuse by some Catholic clergy will not go away, as we see regularly in the press.
The other point is that many people are living lives which are “Christian” in the sense Jesus intended, but they are neither inside the churches nor holding conventional religious beliefs.
It was a major setback for the Episcopal Church in Scotland when Richard Holloway retired. It should be perfectly possible for a man who has always been thoughtful and challenging in matters of faith to feel accepted by co-religionists, especially when his so-called atheism would be regarded by a Jungian psychologist, for example, as a perfectly valid expression of understanding spirituality.
It stands in significant contrast to some of the theology heard from the mainstream churches, which even clergy have described to me as “infantile”, yet they believe congregations could not accept anything more challenging.
I have been rereading over Easter the short poem by Leigh Hunt, Abu Ben Adhem. Ben Adhem appears to be a free thinker like Holloway – he has a vision of an angel making a list of all those who love God, and because of his own questioning, his name isn’t there. But he’s able to tell the angel: “Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The next night the angel returns: “And showed the names whom love of God had blessed, And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”
Jesus Himself constantly makes the point in the gospels that devotion to His ideas is indicated by what people do, not what they say, and that people who try to follow Him are often the outcasts of respectable society: the disreputable poor, the awkward challengers, those who are in same-sex relationships, for example.
Unlike the rich and powerful, they have nothing to lose. If the churches could go back to this message, develop more adult understanding of theological issues and spend less time condemning those they don’t understand, they would find that more “thinking Christians”, as Holloway called them, would want to display their faith openly.
(Dr) Mary Brown
Steuart Campbell (Letters, 8 April) says “Pilate’s cruel nature was whitewashed in the gospels” with “the true story of Jesus’ life… only revealed to those with ears to hear”.
However, my eyes reveal that Luke (chapter 13.1) speaks of “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices”. Some whitewash!
As for his point, that “most churchgoers … do not know that Jesus was not a carpenter, he was a builder”, the gospel records show he was the son of a carpenter, and clearly show that when Jesus speaks of “building my church” he was speaking not of making a physical building but of building up a people.
As Jesus invited Thomas to examine the evidence for the resurrection, and as the New Testament writers speak of the importance of accuracy of information, so Christians today encourage accuracy and thinking, such as www.bethinking.org.
It is the acceptance of the evidence for God’s love in Jesus that motivates Christians to a social role of community caring.