Responding to Chapter 2: Continuity and Discontinuity
Daphne Hampson, After Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1996)
Favourite sentence: “If we fail to move on, we may well be left without any kind of viable spirituality.” (pg 83)
In this chapter Hampson seeks out to define Christianity. She writes that there is indeed a social message in Christianity, but this is not enough to fit the label of a Christian. She defines the main characteristic of a Christian as adhering to a past period in human history. Liberal Christians may see aspects of the Bible as symbolic myth, but to fit the label of a Christian, one must accept the unique revelation of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Hampson advocates a turning away from the use of biblical readings in services because of it’s problematic nature.
Presumably the point of proclaiming the myth (if that is what one thinks it to be) is to encourage human beings to bring about social justice. But then Christianity has simply become a humanism and Christian belief superfluous… I remember being present at a consultation of the World Council of Churches at which all sorts of radical politics was being propounded, duly backed up by the citation of biblical verses. It impressed me that it was not acceptable to question (in like radical manner) the truth of the Christian myth which lay beneath the biblical verses. Moreover it was apparently unacceptable to propound the radical political views without backing them up with biblical verses: an interesting testimony to the fact that Christians feel it incumbant upon them to make constant reference to the past revelation. All this is not very satisfactory. (pp.60-1)
She includes a quote of John Macquarrie’s re-writing of Hebrews 11:
Jesus and the other saviour figures [were] all of them seeking to realise the highest possibilities inherent in being a human person. In their several ways, they pursued justice, righteousness, love, compassion, peace and whatever else belongs to the well-being of the race. In them there is concentrated for us the greatest spiritual striving and aspirations that have been known on earth. They are figures of faith and hope who must not be forgotten… All of these saviour figures were mediators of grace. We have seen what this means in the case of Jesus Christ, yet these too were emissaries of holy Being. They too had given themselves up to the service of a divine reality, who might work in them and through them for the lifting up of all creatures upon earth… These saviour figures then were human beings, as Jesus Christ too assuredly was… By faith Moses… By faith Mohammed… By faith Gautama Buddha, By faith Krishna… By faith Confucius… And what more shall I say? For the time would not be sufficient to tell of Gideon and of Barak, of Zoraster and of Lao-tzu and of Nanak and of others who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, quelled aggressors.
– John Macquarrie, Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (London: SCM Press and Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1990, pp.420-2), in Hampson’s After Christianity, p.64
Hampson asks us to stop giving so much time to the Bible because “biblical women are dead and gone.” (pg 70) There are other sources that are greatly significant spiritually. The Bible might contain great stories and carry great truths within it, but why do we adhere to what the Roman Empire decided were the “holy” books? Why did this collection stop so long ago? There are other sources of inspiration that are more relevant to our experiences.
To a very large extent I agree with Hampson. Christians spend so much time arguing about what God wants, and much of these arguments are indeed fueled by the to and fro of quoting verses. The Bible has a place. But should it really have such a place?
Hampson is described as a post-Christian, not believing that Jesus Christ is unique, but appreciating the Christian social message and remaining spiritual. Hampson left the Church some years ago, and by the end of this second chapter I have felt myself connecting much more with what she is saying here. I would not call myself post-Christian (though some might). I do believe that Jesus Christ is unique. But I also take the Bible as an overrated source in Christianity, and see the sacredness in other saviour figures and religions, and in my own experiences. Some would call me a Christian, others wouldn’t.
Changing the Blog Name:
Honestly, I have not been to a church service since August. It feels like an awfully long time. I loved the community found in some congregations, communion and the sharing of the message of Christ. But when I withdrew from my life as an ordinand in June right before the date was due to be set for my BAP (Bishop’s Advisory Panel), I felt that I had no other choice, as much as I had wanted it previously (see my post “I’m Scared“). The Church can be great. But it can also cause a great deal of pain, creating outcasts (which doesn’t seem particularly Christ-like). I’m still scared. And I still miss the Church. But having left, I no longer have to be so afraid of being judged and “thrown stones” at for embracing my nature. So yeah. I sympathise with Hampson’s position as a feminist.
The problem with Christianity is that Christians hold that there has been a revelation in history, so that the past becomes a necessary point of reference. That is heteronomous. It is not how we think today. We need to take responsibility for our ethical stance and, equally, for our spirituality… Our ethical sensibilities and our overcoming of hierarchical relations must, in turn, affect our understanding of God. It is not somehow ahistorical to abandon a primitive religious myth. That it will seem like a disruption is only because our religion has lagged so far behind our understanding in other spheres. If we fail to move on, we may well be left without any kind of viable spirituality. Discontinuity, never comfortable, would look to be a necessity. (pg 83)
She is not calling for us to dismiss all our history. But she is asking us to take action and stop necessitating an argument over the past before we can change our future.
I once wrote on this blog that I would never change the name of my blog (Growing up with God) because I had stopped growing, because even growing from a high-school pupil to a university student, even writing as a full-time employer or a pensioner, I would still be growing. That is still the case. I will always be growing and learning. But I am not quite as charismatic with my faith as I once was. And I am no longer so loyal to the established Church. So it seems fitting that, with such a great change in my life, there should be a marked change of my blog title. I’m Scared seems appropriate. As I will be eternally growing, I reckon I will always be scared too. I used to be afraid of admitting that I was afraid because I used to see it as a sign of weakness. I have known for some time now that that is not true. Being able to admit that you are scared but carrying on, seizing the day, embracing yourself and fighting for the life you want… that is what I want to do. That is my new mindset. My new mantra of sorts. I’m Scared. I always will be. I accept it.