In a recent talk, I invited people to take the PRACTICAL ATHEIST TEST. You might like to take it yourself.
IMAGINE that it was suddenly been announced that it has been shown conclusively that there was not a God of any kind and that the Universe and the physical world as we know it just is. What difference would that make to your life on a daily basis?
For most people, it would have no impact on what they think and believe; who they enter a relationship with; how they bring up their children; what they eat and wear; where they work, go on holiday, or spend what little free time they have after doing all the things that they have to do each day. The reality is that for many the news that there was not a God would make very little real difference at all. And this is as true for many Christians and church goers as it is for those who have no religion. Practically speaking, we are all atheists now. Indeed, I suggested, that with just a little adjustment the Church itself could continue without God.
So, what about us as Synod? Could we continue without God? Or, to put it another way, what would we do differently in our Synod if there wasn’t a God?
Now you may answer that we wouldn’t be here in the first place if there wasn’t a God. But suppose, having discovered that there wasn’t a God, the Church decided to keep going as a spiritual club or society; one which believed in certain ethical or spiritual values without believing in a specific deity, would much change? To put it bluntly: what difference does God make to what we are doing and the way that we do it?
Christianity in our world finds itself at something of a crossroads. This is true for all the Churches, but it is particularly true for Anglicanism. On the one side, there are Churches such as those belonging to GAFCON urging us to go one way. Then there are those such as the Episcopal Church in the US urging us to go the other. (While those in the centre try to go in both directions at the same time!)
It is not for me, and certainly not for me now, to say which direction I think we should go in. But there is one decision we do need to make. Are we going to be just a religious welfare agency? One agency amongst many working for the good of the City and those who live in it alongside other agencies, albeit with our own take on things, but working essentially for the same thing?
Or are we going to speak of God and for God?
Here, especially as members of Synod, we will, of course, say that we want to be on the side of God. But there is a price to be paid for being on the side of God. It may mean that instead of being ‘for the City’ that we find ourselves ‘against the City’. I am not now thinking primarily of its political, financial, social, and cultural institutions. I take it as read that they, like the people in them, are both sinful and transient. But against the worldview of the City. A worldview that is opposed to God and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As St James writes: ‘whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God’ (James 4:4 )’.
We are not, Synod, called to preach a Gospel that the world finds relevant and wants to hear, but one that it needs and God wants it to hear. My fear today is that having ‘done God’ in our Eucharist, it will be ‘business as usual’ with God making little real difference. Instead of ‘business as usual’, we need to make it our business to know God for ourselves.
For if we don’t know God, how are we going to tell Milly about God?
Part Four: ‘We also believe, and so we speak’