COLUMN: Now is a good time to re-examine our beliefs
With the passing of Christmas and other festivals of faith, it is an appropriate time to engage in important spiritual questions that engage people in my own Christian faith community.
Perhaps there are other people of faith who are emboldened to move outside their orthodoxies as well.
This enterprise is particularly urgent for ‘People of the Book’ – Christians, with their Bible, Jews with their Torah and Hebrew Bible, and Muslims with their sacred Qur’an.
Each of these texts grew out of a specific era with very definite world views and perspectives on life.
Whether their authorship is described as human or divine, the writers were nevertheless bound by history and human constraints. And depending on the particular stream or tradition birthing these views their value and authenticity have become the hallmark conviction for each faith tradition.
In my faith tradition, the most challenging argument coming forward is around the particular world view that gave birth to our Bible. Most scholars insist that the ancient world view of the Bible was a flat Earth, with a domed sky above that opened to allow the sun to shine during the day, but closed with only small pin-sized holes that permitted the sun to be seen as stars, or an ever-changing hole for the moon.
The place where God dwelt was above – in the heavens – and God intervened in the affairs of earth and regularly engineered events on earth according to a grand master plan that was revealed to certain people at certain times and in certain ways.
Below the earth’s surface were the waters of the deep, and somewhere below that was a sort of hell that humans could descend should they misbehave.
However, for the faithful ones, their reward was to be up in heaven, where God and God’s emissaries (angels) dwelt.
Few of us believe in that kind of world anymore, but still there are some. Even U.S. president Barack Obama, in his address to the mourning people in Newtown, Conn., made reference to this heaven and paradise as the dwelling place for the 26 victims of the mass shooting. Of course President Obama doesn’t believe in this ancient world view himself, yet he still had to refer to it in his memorial address.
For many of us there still is this disconnect between the imagery and vocabulary grounded on an ancient world view, and a missing vocabulary and imagery that can satisfy us now with our Hubble spacecraft view of the cosmos.
In short, we haven’t got a story we can repeat to ourselves and our children that can fill the void and help us make sense of our human condition, and especially at times of great need.
What we desperately need are theologians and storytellers grounded both in current science and theology who can create new stories with new vocabulary and images, which have both integrity and power.
Until that happens we will have to rely on a schizophrenic perspective based on the old worldview no one believes anymore.
Dale Perkins is a retired minister of the United Church of Canada, living in Victoria, B.C.