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Feather's Miscellany: Religion

"...religion played a very important part in my life right from the start and as I grew up, it gave me a moral code to live by,'' declares John Waddington-Feather.

Religion is an intensely personal, private thing. It is the individualís thinking out what life is all about in light of his or her own experiences in life.

You canít impose your religious beliefs on others; simply because they havenít lived your life. But you can share your beliefs with others if they want to hear about them Ė and here are mine, if you want to read them!

I believe in God as taught by Jesus Christ, primarily because from an early age I went to a Christian church and sang in the choir; and that meant I had to listen to sermons and readings from the bible and sing church music which was bible-based. At first, I didnít understand what I heard and read, but I enjoyed the loving fellowship of the church and the music. Later I began to understand more and as I grew older to question.

My religious beliefs were also coloured by what I learnt and did at school. From primary school right through to my Grammar School the day started with an assembly where the whole school gathered for prayer, a hymn and a bible-reading before announcements were made involving the whole school. As well as introducing a religious dimension into school life, the daily assembly gave the school, from the first form to the sixth, a sense of community, a sense of belonging.

The prayers we said were very meaningful, when our fathers, siblings and neighbours were away serving in the forces during the war, some of them overseas. We didnít see them for months and years at a time and never knew if theyíd come back alive. Some were killed and we stood and said prayers in their memory. So religion played a very important part in my life right from the start and as I grew up, it gave me a moral code to live by.

But as I grew older I began to question my beliefs, beliefs sometimes not shared by others: fellow students and friends who belonged to other faiths or who were atheists. Examining my own faith has been a continuous process, which started when I began questioning the anomalies in the Bible; for I realised early on that the Bible in places contradicts itself; that it was written before the age of modern science and consequently sometimes at odds with what I was being taught at school. And as a result I came to the conclusion that an understanding of who God is and what oneís beliefs are donít end with the Bible. Itís an on-going process worked out by oneís experiences in life.

The Old Testament unfolds the evolution of manís soul and some understanding about his Creator. The presentation of Him/Her changes as the bible progresses; from a superhuman figure living in the heavens above to more like the Being ultimately beyond our comprehension, yet watching over us and in communication with us through prayer.

I believe the profound opening of St Johnís Gospel embodies what Iím trying to say; that from the very beginning of Creation Godís Mind was at work and behind it all. Godís Mind (Logos in the original Greek of St John) was there from the start, and from that Mind came all that is good and loving, all that is beautiful in human life.

Above all, my religious beliefs have ben coloured by the life and teachings of Christ as revealed in the New Testament and the Epistles. Yet I read them with caution. I donít accept them as ĎGospel truthí for very often they are expressing the ideas of whoever wrote them and the early Christians. They were written from memory sixty or seventy years after the events took place Ė and as we all know memory can play tricks on us. Hence the contradictions in parts of the Gospels.

And the Gospel writers interpreted the teachings of Christ in light of their own lives and traditions. The Jew Matthew has a different slant on Christís life and teachings from the gentile Luke. We, too, must interpret his teachings in the light of our contemporary world and knowledge.

Nevertheless, there are timeless truths in the Bible shared by every generation. The Ten Commandments are as true today as they day they were written. If people arenít taught them from an early age, they will formulate their own codes of conduct. Forty years as an NSM chaplain in prison proved that to me. Criminals will formulate their own codes of conduct and follow them if they arenít shown any different, if they arenít told from the beginning what is right and what is wrong at home and at school.

Christ taught humility, love, non-violence, concern for others. He taught us to love even our enemies and those who wrong us. He also taught us to communicate with the Mind who made us through prayer and worship. And he taught that each one of us is a unique projection of the God who made us.

The great weakness of atheism is that it can lead to us making gods of men. In the last century atheistic creeds produced monsters like Hitler, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung, who had millions slaughtered. Mankind, it seems, must worship a god of some kind, and if not a God of love then a god of greed, power and hatred.

Over time, the Christian church itself has fallen well short of its own ideals and teachings, as the recent paedophile scandals have shown and the dreadful killings during the Crusades and the Reformation and Counter Reformation in earlier centuries.
Those then are some of my observations on religion, which I hope are of interest even if you donít agree with them. Above all, I hope they will help some of my readers to a deeper understanding of their own personal beliefs.

John Waddington-Feather ©

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