Reshaping the Christian Culture which shaped us

Lloyd Geering
A paper delivered to the Sea of Faith Network (NZ) Conference "You Make Community Makes You: Identity and Belonging" Auckland, 21 September 2001

At the outset I am assuming that we all acknowledge the importance of human culture. The genetic code we inherit from our ancestors determines our physical structure as animal organisms, but it is the culture into which we have been born which shapes the way we see reality, which determines what we believe we know, and which provides us with our basic identity. It is by our culture that we develop our potential to become human. Then, it is our personal experience within that culture which makes us who we are as personal individuals. We humans live in a symbiotic relationship with culture. It shapes us and we in turn shape it.

Whether there was ever a time in the past when there was only one human culture, however primitive, we do not know. But we do know that over time a bewildering plurality of human cultures has evolved, as the Tower of Babel myth symbolically describes. And so we can ask: if it is by being nurtured by a culture that we become human, does this mean that there are many different ways of being human? Yes, it does! Just as there is an endless number of individuals — we are all different – so there are different ways of being human. There has been a Maori way of being human, a European way of being human, a Chinese way of being human, and a Christian way of being human. Cultural differences do turn us into slightly different types of human being.

Until recently people of each culture assumed their own to be greatly superior to others, and to constitute the norm or truest type of humanity. When the black tribal people of the sub-Sahara first came to the attention of Europeans, the Pope faced a dilemma – were they sufficiently close to real humans to be the recipients of the Christian Gospel? It had been common in the ancient world, for example, to distinguish between the barbarians and those who were civilised. Even as recently as last century, Europeans tended to regard tribal peoples as savages.

Among those people who regard themselves as civilized, Christians long assumed that being a Christian is the ideal way of being a human; but in Islam, the ideal human being is a Muslim. Today all such judgements, whether ethnic or religious, are seen as cultural chauvinism. We have become aware of cultural relativity. Just as there is no centre to the universe and no earthly species that is biologically superior to all others, so no particular human culture provides the norm to which all cultures should conform. All human cultures are relative to time, place and experience.

The evolution and diversification of human cultures has taken place in a much shorter time than biological evolution. By the same token human culture also changes much faster. No culture ever stands completely still, even though some change more slowly than others do. Each culture is a living, changing process, and it changes as a result of human thought, activity and decision-making. Each new generation inherits the cultural deposit of the past and adds something of its own.

Today human cultures are changing much faster than at any previous time. Many find this very threatening, for since we are largely shaped by out culture, we remain partly dependent on our culture for our identity. Think how we used always to describe ourselves. 'I'm Irish'; 'I'm Australian'. I'm sure you've all heard the story of the man who proudly announced to his audience that he was born an Englishman and would die an Englishman, only to hear from the back of the hall, 'Mon, ha' ye no ambition'.

Because our sense of well being and our understanding of the meaning of life is largely derived from our culture we may find rapid change in culture very threatening. Smaller cultures are today being engulfed by large cultures and even the great cultures are undergoing erosion and loss of confidence. This fear has prompted some to try to preserve their culture in its assumed pristine purity. Indigenous peoples are struggling to retain and revive their cultures; the extremists in this endeavour become ethnic fundamentalists. Religious fundamentalists, whether Christian, Islamic or Hindu, are engaged in fierce rear-guard actions in an attempt to defend and preserve what they take to be the eternal and absolute fundamentals of their respective cultures.

Our new awareness of cultural relativity, however, leads us to the painful conclusion that no culture can ever be absolute or permanent. The attempt to halt all cultural change simply creates living fossils, which together become a living museum of the past. Because we have been shaped by a culture and feel dependent upon it, the best we can do is to value it, draw from it and then assist it to evolve in the way most helpful to all humankind and to planetary life in general.

The great changes taking place in all human cultures today may be described under two terms: secularization and globalization. These twin processes originated in Western Christendom and are often seen in the rest of the world as simply another manifestation of Western imperialism. Because they did come out of the West there is some truth in that and we need to be aware of it. I shall presently argue that these processes are the logical consequence of trends within Christianity itself. But it is not the whole truth, for traditional Christianity has been just as much affected by these processes as have been the other great religious cultures and it feels severely threatened by secularization.

Let me briefly describe these two processes. Globalization is the great new phenomenon of our time. It is the process by which all human activity — scientific, cultural, religious and economic — is being drawn into one worldwide network. Humans of all ethnic groups, all nations, all cultures and all religious traditions are being drawn together into one global community. Without being able to exercise much choice in the matter, individual or national, we humans are becoming part of a global interchange of news, knowledge and ideas; we are increasingly dependent on one global economy, and being increasingly shaped by one emerging global culture. This is in spite of our diversity, our frequent mutual animosity and our all too common fear and distrust of all things foreign. Globalization was promoted, in part, by the Christian mission to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations.

But along with globalization has gone secularization. By this I mean the growing recognition that there is only one real world. It is a physical universe of space and time, so vast that our little minds cannot comprehend it. Saeculum means 'this world' and 'this time'. Time and space are simply the almost infinite dimensions of this one and only real world – the physical universe. And on this tiny planet we earthly and finite creatures have only one life, stretching between conception and death. Even our human species, like other earthly species, may be confined to a limited span of existence within geological time. This physical universe was not created for us. Indeed, it exists for no obvious purpose at all. The universe is amoral and religiously neutral. It is we humans, looking through our various sets of cultural spectacles, who see purpose and meaning in the universe in general, and in human existence in particular.

The realisation of this is all very new to us humans. Until the advent of the modern world and the discovery of cultural relativity, it was not possible to realise it, though a few rare individuals of great insight in the last three thousand years occasionally had glimpses of it. One of them was the Buddha. Jesus may have been another.

But for nearly all humans, until quite recently, it was quite otherwise. Mediaeval Christians, for example, were completely unaware they were wearing Christian spectacles. They looked at the world though lenses tinted by Christian ideas and values. Their geography was a Christian geography, with Bethlehem at the centre of the world. Their history was a Christian history of the world, drawn from the Bible. Their cosmology or mental picture of the universe was a Christian cosmology, based partly on the Bible and partly on Aristotle. Today we are becoming aware that it was a 'Christian cosmology' in a way they were not. For them, it was simply the real world. With appropriate cultural differences it was the same for all peoples.

It is not surprising, therefore, that it was a change of cosmology, which was the first step in the transition from the 'Christian world' to the modern secular world. By introducing the idea of a solar system in the heavens, Copernicus and Galileo displaced the earth from being at the centre of the universe. The church authorities rightly felt threatened because the implications of the new cosmology were so far reaching that most Christians have still not come to terms with them. What does it mean, for example, to say that Jesus descended into the underworld of the dead and later ascended into heaven?

The new cosmology was only one factor among others in leading Westerners out of the mediaeval 'Christian the secular world of the space-time continuum. The more we realise our forbears were viewing reality through Christian spectacles, the more human attention began to turn to the 'Christian spectacles', to subject them to close scrutiny.

This is why it is really only from the sixteenth century that people began to talk about something they called Christianity. Before that time Christians talked about the church, about faith or about religion (by which they meant devotion), but never about something called Christianity. The founding document of the Church of England (1562) was not called 'A Manual of Christianity" but 'Articles for the Establishing of Consent touching True Religion'. In them there is an occasional reference to 'Christian men' (sic), but none to 'Christianity'.

It is no accident that the first books to be written specifically about 'Christianity' appeared in the 18th century, just as the modern world was beginning to emerge. They were beginning to look more objectively at the Christian culture which had shaped them, and to subject to rational examination what I have referred to as the 'Christian spectacles'. These were the concepts, ideas, stories, beliefs and practices, which gave Christian culture its distinctive character. They referred to these as 'Christianity'.

This growing practice of treating Christianity as an objective entity then gave rise to the problem of defining it. What does one have to believe and do to be a Christian? Does it mean belonging to an institution, such as the church? Does it mean holding a clearly defined set of beliefs? If so, what are these beliefs?

These were proving very difficult questions to answer. Already, from the Protestant Reformation onwards it was very clear that Christians could be equally sincere and devout and yet hold quite different beliefs and belong to different churches. Christians were becoming hopelessly divided on just what this thing is that was called Christianity. The problem was becoming intensified by the emergence of the modern world. Some beliefs held by Christians at earlier times were now coming under severe criticism. It was clear that some things had to change but if so what? Many were fearful of throwing out 'the baby' with the bath water. They searched for 'the baby' or what they called essence or sine qua non of Christianity.

This search may be said to have reached an interesting peak point with the publication in 1900 of a widely read little book by the famous church historian Adolf Harnack. The German title meant 'The Essence of Christianity' but its English translation was entitled What is Christianity? Harnack stripped off what he took to be the excrescences which had come to hide the essence of Christianity and asserted: 'The Christian religion is something simple and sublime; it means one thing and one thing only; eternal life in the midst of time, by the strength and under the eyes of God'[i]. Elsewhere he described this in terms of loving God and loving one's neighbour.

Although this book received enthusiastic acclaim in some quarters and was widely influential, many more thought it to be inadequate and reductionist. One of his chief critics was the Catholic Modernist Alfred Loisy (1858-1940). In his book 'L'Ιvangile et L'Ιglise (The Church and the Gospel), 1902, Loisy set out to defend Catholicism against the Protestant Liberalism of Harnack. Loisy took quite a different approach. He argued that, though Christ neither founded the Church nor instituted the Sacraments, it was perfectly legitimate for Christian faith to develop in the way it did. The essence of Christianity, said Loisy, is not to be found in any objective doctrine or practice but in the ongoing experience of faith in the hearts and lives of Christians. (Loisy, though he was trying to defend Catholicism against extreme Protestantism, found himself immediately condemned by the Catholic Hierarchy and was soon after excommunicated. He went on to become a brilliant scholar in the history of religion.)

Loisy was arguing that, in trying to isolate the essence of Christianity, Harnack had said both too little and too much. Harnack had said too little in that at any one time in history Christianity was very much more than the simple formula he had arrived at. But Harnack had also claimed too much in contending there is some absolute and unchangeable objective content to be found in the long and complex story of Christianity. For Loisy, Christianity was not a permanent, static entity but a developing process. Orthodox Christians accused Harnack of throwing out the baby with the bath-water; Loisy was saying, in effect, 'there is no baby; its all bath water'. Loisy had put his finger upon a new and important mode of understanding, not only Christianity but also every religious tradition.

Those who try to discern the essence of Christianity are on the wrong track. Christianity has no essence. The fundamentals so beloved by fundamentalists are not Christianity, for Christianity is not a thing. Christianity, as we use the word today, is simply a very loose term which came into use about four hundred years ago to refer to some of the most distinctive characteristics of the culture of their time. But that culture had been evolving for at least three to four thousand years.

Within the total compass of human history each culture may be likened to a stream flowing through the plains of time. Like a river, it gathers new material from the banks it passes through, and from tributaries which join it. Sometimes more rigid objects may crystallize within it. Sometimes it leaves these objects on the bank, along with other forms of sediment it has been carrying along. In the Christian cultural stream such objects as beliefs, creeds, institutions, and even the Bible, have often come to be regarded as being of the essence of the stream. Yet none of them has as much permanence as the stream which carries them along.

The Christian cultural stream has not always been called Christian. It originated in the cultural stream of ancient Israel. Even the pre-Christian Jewish stream was already much more multi-cultural in origin than its Holy Scriptures tend to imply. From the sixth century BCE onwards it was penetrated by tributaries, first from Persian Zoroastrianism and then from Hellenism. Much of these two streams live on incognito in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic streams, into which the Israelite stream eventually divided.

To the influence of the Zoroastrian tradition, for example, we owe such ideas as the Last Judgment (preceded by a general resurrection), an after-life with rewards and punishments, the division of time into meaningful millennia, the concept of a personal Devil, the writing of our life story in a heavenly book of life, and the naming of angels with specific functions.

The stimulating influence of Jesus of Nazareth had the effect of bringing such a sudden burst of vitality to the Jewish cultural stream that it caused part of it to break out of its banks and form a new cultural stream. This Christian stream took with it, among other things, the Jewish Scriptures, the monotheistic God and the institution of the synagogue.[ii] Even the Eucharist probably owed something to an ancient synagogue rite of sharing food and wine.

When the new and vigorous Christian stream broke out of the banks of the Jewish stream and began to spread into the Gentile world around the Mediterranean it picked up new and significant ingredients from the Greek and Roman cultural streams into which it flowed and mingled. Philosophical terms (such as the Logos), analytical reasoning, a different understanding of the human condition, new notions of God and even the intellectual discipline known as theology, all came from the Greeks. Legal and organizational strengths came from the Romans. Indeed, the reason why the church eventually split into Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic owes much to the fact that Greek culture permeated the former and Roman culture dominated the latter. The Western Church filled the power vacuum left behind by the fall of Rome, with the Pope assuming the mantle of the Emperor by taking the imperial title of Pontifex Maximus.

In spite of many rival spiritual influences the Christian stream was so vigorous, as it penetrated the Graeco-Roman streams and moved even further afield, that it eventually created the culture which came to be known as Christendom. We call it Christian culture because dominant within this cultural stream were the ideas, values, myths and goals, which had come to be associated with the name Jesus Christ. Although many of these concepts, ideas, and beliefs had originated both before and after the man Jesus they became part of the very complex developing stream and were stamped with the Christian label.

As we look back over 2000 years of Christian history (to say nothing of 4000 years of the Judeo-Christian stream as a whole) we can readily discern distinctive phases, each with its own particular emphases and characteristics. What was regarded to be of essential importance in one phase could become quite secondary and almost disappear from view in another phase.

In the very first century the first Christians, being Jewish, believed it to be vitally important to preserve Jewish practices, as Jesus himself had done. These Jewish Christians (who denied the Virgin Birth, used only St. Matthew's Gospel and rejected Paul) were eventually judged to be heretics by the Gentile church and their community faded out after the fifth century. Largely through the influence of Paul, however, it was the Gentile part of the Christian stream, which won the day.

At each new phase in the developing stream of Christian culture, there have been those who have strongly resisted change believing it to entail the loss of something essential to its being. Time enables us to put those things into perspective. We should keep this in mind as we now look at the most recent change taking place in the Christian cultural stream.

During the last four hundred years, as a result of the new thinking of the Enlightenment, the rise of empirical science and the development of new technology, the Judeo-Christian cultural stream has entered a radically new phase. Out of it there has emerged the modern secular and globalizing world. This is the cultural product of Western Christendom in the same way as the Christian cultural stream was the product of the Jewish stream. As the majority of Jews rejected their unwanted Christian offspring, so Christian officialdom today rejects as foreign and unwanted the secular offspring to which Christendom has given birth.

The modern secular world, with all its faults and problems, represents a new but legitimate stage in the developing Judeo-Christian cultural stream. The people who pioneered the modern secular world were not bishops and popes (just as Jesus was not a high priest, nor Paul one of the twelve Apostles!). Here are a few of them — Francis of Assisi, Roger Bacon, William of Occam, Erasmus, John Wyclif, Copernicus, Galileo, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, David Strauss, Ludwig Feuerbach, Charles Darwin. They were on the Christian margins, rather than at the centre of Christian officialdom, as Jesus was on the Jewish margins. But these pioneers of the modern world never regarded themselves as in any sense the enemies of Christianity. On the contrary, they not only saw themselves firmly established within the Christian tradition but they were all theologically literate. They were simply trying to pursue truth to wherever it led them and to discover the laws of nature. They did not intentionally, or even knowingly, lead the way to modern secularization. Yet, step by step, they were turning the Christian stream in that direction.

Take, for example, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), hailed today as the patron saint of conservation by secular conservationists. He was the first to reverse the Christian attitude toward the world of nature from one of negative devaluation to one of positive appreciation. Furthermore, he founded the Franciscan Order out of which came such pioneers of empirical science as Roger Bacon (1214-92) and the pioneers of modern philosophy such as William of Occam. Occam's nominalist philosophy, known as the via moderna, not only influenced Luther but laid the foundations of the materialist philosophies of the 19th century and of the non-realist theology of the late 20th and 21st centuries.

As Francis and his successors revalued the physical earth upwards, so the humanists of the Renaissance, such as Erasmus (1466-1536), laid the basis for a more positive evaluation of the human condition. Although the revaluing of the earth and humanity appeared at first to be a clear rejection of long-standing Christian beliefs such as the fallenness of the earth and the sinfulness of humankind, we find to our surprise that, in some respects, it actually brings us closer to the primitive Christians than even medieval Christians were.

The modern secular world is therefore not the anti-Christian enemy it is often made out to be by church officials; it is the natural continuation of the Judeo-Christian cultural stream. This new phase of the Judeo-Christian cultural stream has not given rise to a new organization, as it did in the earlier phases. That is partly why we have been unable to get a clear understanding of what has been happening. As people have increasingly questioned and abandoned specific Christian beliefs and practices of the past they have been slowly disengaging themselves from the organization of the church. Although they have not established a new organization to replace the church, they have been, often unknowingly, helping to build a new kind of society — a global secular society.

Not only in the West, but in other cultures also, people have been freeing themselves from their past cultural conventions and religious beliefs and have been coming to acknowledge their common humanity, as illustrated by the Declaration of Human Rights. We are learning, all too slowly perhaps, to acknowledge our responsibilities to one another and to the earth. We are endeavouring to put into place the legal and commercial organizations desirable for the new global society. This emerging secular world is not Christian in the way the mediaeval 'Christian world' was. But neither is it anti-Christian. It can be rightly called 'post-Christian', a word which acknowledges that it owes much to the Christian past out of which it has come, but it is post-Christian in much the same way as the newly emerging Christian stream of the ancient world was post-Jewish.

The various cultural streams are flowing together. Whether the stream of emerging global culture may still be called Christian is largely a semantic issue, and could be judged sectarian. But it is certainly in continuity with the Christian stream of the past and has largely resulted from it. The chief difference is that the cosmic superstructure of the 'Christian world' is fast disappearing from view. It was created by ancient Christian imagination in the early centuries out of the raw material of the three-decker cosmology which prevailed in the ancient world. A post-mortem life in Purgatory, hell or heaven is no longer tenable or meaningful.

Where do we go from here? What can we contribute of value to the embryonic global culture, which is already taking shape?

Since the number now contributing to the evolution of human culture number more than six billion, we need to concede at the outset that any contribution we can offer as individuals is so minute as to be virtually non-existent. This general state of affairs has, of course, always been the case. That is why, in the days when God was conceived as the divine being who controlled the world's destiny, it used to be said, 'Man proposes but God disposes', to quote Thomas a Kempis.

But having said that, the same applies to all the other individuals who together make up the global population. The great and impressive cultures of the past may have been inspired in part by some individuals but they were created by communities. It is what we all do that counts, as casting out vote in a modern democratic election reminds us. No matter what we do or fail to do, we are contributing out infinitesimal addition to the world's future, for better or for worse. The future of the world and humankind is more in human hands than ever before in the history of this planet. So the question is: how can we try to make sure it is for the better rather than for the worse?

The first thing to do is to attempt to understand as clearly as we can the cultural situation in which we find ourselves. The universe in general, and human culture in particular, constitute the 'god in whom we live and move and have our being'. In this new secular and global age the understanding of the cultural situation in which we live constitutes the new form of spiritual knowledge. And the ways we respond positively to this knowledge constitute the mode of the new spirituality.

It is the understanding of this cultural situation which I have been trying to sketch in this lecture. And, as some of you know, it is what I have been exploring at greater length in the trilogy of books, which I have written, concluding with The World to Come.

The mental exercise of trying to understand the cultural situation of today's world leads us down a middle path between two extremes, both of which are unfortunately altogether too prevalent. Both extremes can cause us to waste too much energy and time in fruitless debate, which achieves nothing for a worthwhile future and even militates against it.

The first extreme is to regard the new era as so entirely different from the ages of faith which preceded it, that we can forget the past and concentrate wholly on exploiting for our benefit all the new tools, powers, institutions which we moderns and post-moderns have created, supposedly, by our own unaided efforts. This extreme is inclined to dismiss our cultural forbears as old fuddy-duddies and superstitious simpletons. Though such words are only a verbal caricature, they nevertheless highlight an all too prevalent attitude to be found in the hard-nosed company of world of business, economists, politicians and the international corporations in the secular world. They know we live in a very different world but they have very little appreciation of how we got here.

At the other extreme are the institutions, which have survived from the past – ethnic institutions, social institutions like monarchies, and, especially, religious institutions like the churches. They deplore the rapid cultural changes. They feel rightly alarmed that some of the great social and spiritual values of the past are being lost. They try to stem the tide sweeping over them and, like King Canute, to hold back the waves of change.

There was a time in western society, five hundred years ago, when church and society were one and the same. Today a great rift has opened up between church and the rest of society, which is now mostly secular. The ultra-secular elements of society see the church as a museum piece from the past, quite irrelevant to the 21st century. The church sees the secular society as a threat, which has to be held at bay, overcome and brought back to spiritual reality. They both fail to see they belong to each other.

That growing rift needs to be bridged for the good of western society in particular and the world in general. There is a middle way between the two polar extremes. This is to acknowledge the reality of the modern world but also to understand where it came from. The middle way affirms the human values in the secularization and the globalisation of human culture. It does so because it sees the roots of these in the Judeo-Christian stream of culture, out of which the modern world came to birth. The middle way also acknowledges that so many of the Christian beliefs, forms and practices of the past are no longer relevant; they must be discarded and be replaced by others yet to be created. The Sea of Faith Network is simply one tiny manifestation of the middle way, exploring and engaging in the new creations.

As we engage in this creative process, there is much from our cultural past we can continue to draw from. This process is not unlike the way the first generation of Christians continued to draw from their Jewish heritage, as they learned also to draw from Graeco-Roman culture and so create Christendom. As we draw from the past, we must also incorporate secularity and accept our place in a wholly physical universe.

At the beginning of the Christian era, the Jewish tradition had no intention of giving birth to the Christian stream. The new Jewish sect known as 'the Christians'[iii] was regarded as an heretical movement even though its key figure, Jesus of Nazareth, and his chief interpreter, Paul, were both Jewish to the core. For their part, also, the Christians did not see their movement as the abandonment of the Jewish tradition but as its fulfilment. They interpreted Jesus as saying, 'I have not come to abolish the law and the prophets but to fulfil them'[iv]. The new middle way has not come to disown our cultural past but to take it forward into the future in the most creative and fruitful way.

Let me conclude with an example. At last year's Sea of Faith Conference I offered an elective lecture entitled 'Christianity minus theism'. Any of you who heard it will know that it was a little light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. Unbeknown to me our very efficient newsletter editor, Noel Cheer, put it on our website. Subsequently I received an email from Polebridge Press, the publishing arm of the Jesus Seminar, for permission to publish it in their journal. This you see is how globalization changes our lives. Following that, Bob Funk emailed me requesting me to turn it into a book. I discussed it with him in California last March. I have now nearly completed the book.

It is likely to be called 'Christianity without God?' In a funny kind of way it is nearly all about God but eventually dispenses with God-talk. The church has become so used to Christian orthodoxy that it has long since forgotten that, in the first give centuries, Christians created an entirely new way of talking about God. They talked about God as the Holy Trinity. They horrified the Jews and the Muslims, who rejected them as primitive polytheists. The Christians were simply relating the Jewish heritage to their current experience. So must we. But though we participate in the same cultural stream as they did, we live 2000 years later and our experiences of reality are very different.

Our experiences of reality are leading us, strangely enough, to another kind of trinity — what we may call a secular or this-worldly trinity, a trinity which encompasses everything which is sacred to us. What are we moderns learning to put our trust in? No longer a divine being in the sky. Not even a divine saviour come to rescue us. What we are being led to put out faith in are these:

  • First, there is this self-evolving physical universe itself, which as we understand it, encompasses the whole of reality. It is truly awe-inspiring.
  • Secondly, there is the human species that has evolved out of this creative universe and which, by its own evolving cultures, has brought us into existence as personal human beings.
  • Thirdly, there is that which the collective consciousness of humankind has in turn brought forth – the body of cultural knowledge and values, without which we could not be human.

These three constitute the God in whom we 'live and move and have our being'.

As the ancient thinkers went to great pains to keep the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit clearly distinguished from one another and at the same time to affirm their essential unity, so it is with us. We distinguish clearly between the physical universe and the human species, which lives within it. We also distinguish clearly between ourselves and the inherited cultural knowledge by which we interpret our life in the world. Yet these three are so essentially one reality that they cannot exist in separation from one another. The self-creating universe, the self-evolving human species and the emerging global consciousness are all one because of the cosmic creativity which permeates all three.

This understanding of the secular trinity owes not a little to the earlier affirmations of the Incarnation and of Holy Trinity. The reason is, as have seen, that the modern secular and global world emerged out of the Christian West. The modern secular world was conceived within the womb of Christendom. When it reached its birthing, it too had to free itself from the restrictions of its matrix, just as Christianity had to burst out of Judaism.

There is much in the modern secular world to praise – the growth of democracy, the affirmation of basic human rights, the abolition of slavery, the rejection of racism, the emancipation of women, the acceptance of homosexuals. These have all evolved out of Christian matrix and today are even sometimes referred to as Christian values. Yet at each of these innovations the developing secular world has found itself in conflict with the entrenched dogmas of conventional Christianity. Sadly and paradoxically, it is often the case today that humanist and secular leaders in society are doing more to promote the human values of justice, peace and goodwill than many of the church's officials. The faith dimension of the emerging global future is already taking shape around us and is often more to be found outside of the churches than within them. It is faith in what may be called the secular trinity — faith in the world, humanity and global consciousness.


Endnotes

i. What is Christianity?, p.8
ii. In the pre-Christian Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) there are two Greek words used to translate the Hebrew word for 'congregation' — synagoge — and ekklesia. The Jews were already using the term synagoge so the Christians adopted ekklesia.
iii. Acts 11:26
iv. Matthew 4:17