Front Cover

Unlike Richard Dawkins, Contemporary Creed (revised edition) sees no conflict between evolution and God, faith and modern science. But what sort of God creates a violent universe with a Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago and appears to do little or nothing to prevent built-in suffering & natural disasters like earthquakes, famines, disabled children and cancers? The Christian God leaves a lot unexplained. Some writers give superficial answers whereas Morris, who helps care for his own handicapped grandson, gets to the root of difficulties and succeeds in finding credible pathways through sixty problems of Christian beliefs and ethics. He writes for believers and unbelievers: for Christians like himself who admit their doubts, and for atheists and agnostics interested in big questions. His unusual format of 90% prose and 10% original poetry is entertaining, and the style straightforward everyday language, offering conclusions that are often open-ended, undogmatic. His systematic theology becomes a brief A-Z that may be read in any order for individual Bible study, or by house groups that want a provocative structure for lively discussion.
John Hunt Publishing
Back Cover
Content of First Edition 2005
: Contemporary Creed translates ancient beliefs into today’s language. It is written for those who, like the author, do not find it easy to believe and whose faith is married to doubt, but he points an intelligent pathway through sixty intellectual problems of traditional Christian beliefs. A library of theology books is compressed into this novel and popular mini-course on modern Christianity, in transparent English, without jargon. Original verse helps animates old truths and solve their difficulties.
John Hunt Publishing

ARTICLES

Here are only four of John's published articles.

 

NATURAL DISASTERS AND GOD'S SELF-RESTRAINT

Article by John Morris: p8 Church of England Newspaper Friday 05 May, 2017 FEATURE
                       
Traditionally, religions offer a God who is omnipotent, all-powerful, almighty, the cosmic sovereign in control of everything. He/she/it is also said to be all-knowing, omniscient, so he knows not only what he is doing but what everybody and everything else is going to do, and will do, from beginning to end. This is brave belief of what God is. But is this the sort of God we observe today?

It is often thought that modern science and common sense raise doubts. Would religious leaders be on firmer ground to put more emphasis on what God appears not to do?

Despite the beauty and wonder in nature, our painful world produces little evidence of a rescuing God who intervenes to stop suffering. Is that because the God who is believed to be omnipotent, has chosen to be self-restricting, to limit the use of his own power to achieve a greater long-term good that is obtainable only by the surrender of some power and control?

In John's gospel, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman that "God is spirit", 4:24. I take that to mean God is not a material object in one place, but immaterial, primal Energy everywhere. Not a being but Being itself, eternally present, before matter existed. "In the beginning God" used his inexhaustible energy to spark the Big Bang, within the framework of his already conceived laws, finely tuned in their maths. Sufficient of his energy transformed into matter, the immaterial giving birth to the material universe.

Starting from 'simple' singularity, matter has been creative, by growing complexity in stellar, chemical and biological developments. Matter appears to be self-organising and regulating, obeying its own instruction manual.

To the deist the universe's apparent independence shows that God, having set the ball rolling, has let go, devolving all power to nature to do as it pleases. But theists like myself can say that this apparent autonomy cannot prove that there is no hidden Spirit God interacting with, and influencing its progress, especially at key moments of evolutionary history.

An unbeliever may agree that life is mysteriously wonderful, whereas the believer goes further, in identifying that life force as Mindful God who, having invested in the universe some of his energetic self at the start, would surely want to continue to have a hand in its future, prefiguring - for the Christian - a more amazing later investment of himself on solid ground through Jesus.

The complexity in the natural world that astonishes us today did not appear instantaneously. Nor could it have been sudden, even for an Almighty Immaterial God. The material process necessarily entailed vast time.

Genesis reveals not a literal diary of events but metaphorical truths of God's fundamental role in both initiating and supporting creative processes. That role appears in Job, the Psalms, and "by faith we understand that the universe was formed by God's command so that the visible came forth from the invisible", Heb. 11:3.

Presumably, the Immaterial Creator of a creative 'other' realm 13.7 billion years ago, knew the risks he was taking in launching otherness. Because the product - our material world - is paradoxical, combining both regularity and irregularity, either by God's unrestrained choice, or by necessity if all possible physical universes entail these two 'opposite' features.

At the microscopic level there are some irregular, random processes like radioactive decay, where there is uncertainty about the behaviour of tiny individual particles. But these unknowns can be averaged out at the macroscopic level, to give greater global reliability. [Aside from the natural world, the insurance industry works on similar lines: car insurance is possible because, though actuaries cannot predict when an individual will have an accident, they know statistical probabilities en masse, so it is profitable for their companies to risk taking on that individual.]

General weather systems exist side by side with chaotic sudden rainfall in Colombia that killed many in mudslides April 2017 - suddenness so unlike the regular and predictable movements of the planets.

DNA has both order and disorder: in the literature it is common to read how successful living organisms resolve their seemingly contradictory make-up, both randomness in gene expression and structured determinism.

Hence creation includes both the predictable and unpredictable, structure and flexibility. It is through a dynamic and turbulent universe, on the border of order and disorder, that new things can emerge. The world's spontaneity maximises the opportunities for a fruitful diversity. Not least in plant and animal life where, in general, natural selection is not random luck but beneficial adaptation to the environment, resulting in greater complexity and biodiversity.

But sometimes particular changes may be random: a radioactive particle emitted in a random decay process can cause a biological mutation which may be harmful or helpful. Without those biological mutations that were advantageous for survival, new creatures and we humans would not have arrived.

The gradualism of God's inventive process of incremental improvement and adaptation, produces not only the successful survival of the fittest, but the failures and waste of trial and error, when some mutations prove to be detrimental, unfortunate dead ends.

We might digress into the gradualism of civilisation. The clock of human progress ticks slowly, usually; only recently have medical and technological advances accelerated. History is littered with sailors' bones on rocks, as ship captains sailed without safe knowledge of their longitude. But despite the British government's big Longitude Prize, it was not until 1759 that John Harrison, after forty years of clock-making, felt he had 'perfected' his winning fourth chronometer.

Nothing on Earth is perfect and safe from danger, error, and bad luck. Murphy's Law - a popular version of the second law of thermodynamics indicating increasing disorder and eventual decay - says if a thing can go wrong, it will.

Genes occasionally fail to copy perfectly; healthy bodies go downhill, by accident, disease or old age; and "the young lions roar for prey and seek their food from God", Ps 104:21. Such killing may look cruel to us but it is a necessary food chain, amoral, without moral choice. Predation was built into the system from the start of complex cells if - as is thought - a single archaeal cell swallowed a single bacterial cell that led eventually to the formation of mitochondria which power the 100 trillion cells in an adult human body. We can choose to view all such processes as routine natural behaviour and/or the marvel of 'natural miracles'.

Einstein was quoted to say: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle" (Des MacHale: Wisdom, The Mercier Press, Sept. 2002).

But natural 'miracles' are not always welcome - indeed, bittersweet. There is unavoidable ambiguity of joy and woe. Glory and grief are the opposite sides of the same rolling coin of dynamic change. Volcanoes and earthquakes are presumably part of what Genesis says the Creator saw each day as "good", meaning well intentioned and fit for purpose.

But even God cannot have the good of volcanoes, quakes, and dust storms, without their negative effects, the plus and minus, heads and tails. A newborn baby can be a joyful natural miracle for the great majority of parents but heartbreaking for relatively few.

For every thousand healthy children, maybe one will be a natural disaster with a genetic disorder so severe as to be beyond hope of one day of 'normal' human life, unable to do what comes naturally, like walk, talk, think and feed themselves.

The wonder of new baby rats and fleas might result in spreading the plague.

Mishaps are unavoidable in the evolutionary process to which God appears to be committed, in his gift of freedom to every part of his creation package to make itself. A knowing God could not foresee each precise outcome, nor predict the decay of each unpredictable particle in the quantum world. Nor could he constantly intervene to rescue, and to tinker with improvements to the laws of nature and their consequences, without being untrustworthy in his commitment to a largely independent creation package.

A generally rational and reliable universe and a typically non-intervening God are both necessary to enable scientific, medical and technical progress.

Suffering is the price of that independence and freedom. Especially if we include disastrous human errors and evil - which are not my subject here - by farming too close to fertile volcanoes, erecting flimsy buildings in quake zones, or selfishly contributing to climate change.

So where is God's sovereignty? It is one of purposeful love. A love that, before time began, was willing to surrender some power over something else. Immaterial God conceived and 'mothered' a future 'solid' material universe with its own integrity and potentiality to be itself and 'do its own thing'.

Human mothers and fathers are not completely different: when they 'make love' they show biological power to house another human being. But that weak baby soon 'turns the tables' and becomes wilfully independent, so parents are forced to learn that true love sets free. No longer controllers, the best parents can still have influence.

Jesus wept when his friend Lazarus died, and then acted. But no Almighty God intervened to stop Roman power, urged by Jewish leaders, from crucifying his own Jesus, or stop him feeling abandoned by his Father. On the third day he did act, achieving the unthinkable.

By raising Jesus from the dead, God signalled an unknown future when natural mortality and Murphy's Law will no longer reign, but all his creatures will be whole and reach all the potential he wishes for them. His unique victory over death - that continues to encourage and influence lives - reveals a God in Christ who suffers with the sufferers, knowing their shattered hopes coincide with his own as yet unfulfilled longing for universal wellbeing.

Today, God's uncontrolling love still chooses to give sufficient independence to natural processes and their creatures, so that all resultant life forms may, in their own prolific diversity, revel in their environment, and in their own 'language' tweet their presence and joy of being alive. Robotic machined life lacks that spontaneity and its 'virtues' would only be what were programmed into it, unlike the virtues that free people choose to practise.

If God's good purpose is to create the best possible habitat for all creatures, especially humankind, his natural processes cannot guarantee an outcome that is equitable for all its individual inhabitants.

Some unfairness, with winners and losers, is the inevitable result. Might we say that a severely disabled minority are disadvantaged and suffer vicariously to benefit the luckier, relatively healthier majority?

Faith gives God the benefit of the doubt when his love appears harsh or absent. It dares to look to an eternal dimension, beyond present space-time, with unending possibilities for the wellbeing of all creatures in God's mysteriously transformed cosmos. Therein lies enduring hope.

 

 

UNIVERSALS

Article by John Morris: On Religion, issue 5, October 2013, p46
                       
Dr John Morris considers some common ground between atheists and believers.

"Atheists are winning the war against religion" trumpeted Richard Dawkins at his book launch September 2013. For him, religion has had artistic value but no moral value now.

As a militant atheist, 'war' is what he seems to enjoy, but the language of 'war' is too destructive for another atheist De Botton, who in his Religion for Atheists sees the value of faith in the lives of many, providing "reinforcement" of whatever our basic beliefs and needs happen to be.

Sunday Assemblies for godless congregations are multiplying this autumn and their website logo has "live better, help often, wonder more". If religion has emotional and intellectual 'equipment' that increases forgiveness, peace of mind, community, and cultural value, unbelievers might utilise that 'equipment' to their own advantage, without losing their secularist beliefs.

Such common ground between atheists and believers entered my Contemporary Creed, Revised Edition, which argues that it is reasonable to have God AND evolution, so the 'war' between science and a modern faith is spurious. Both 'sides' are seekers after truth, and all of us have spiritual values.

Despite talk of 'New Spirituality' and 'New Age' there is nothing fundamentally new about innate human needs. The basic questions that perplexed the ancient Greeks are essentially the same as those that all of us ask ourselves from time to time. All I can do here is to sketch four universals and refer you to www.contemporarycreed.org.uk for more:

1. Meaning - does life have any meaning or purpose beyond what I give it, and will it die with me? Humans are meaning-making animals and religion - in its good not bad forms - creates what I suggest is a more coherent structure of meaning than secular constructs.

2. Origin - where did our mysterious universe come from, why is there something rather than nothing, and is there a rational Mind behind this rational, ordered cosmos? The atheist Martin Rees finds Just Six Numbers that underlie that order. The universe would not exist but for astonishingly fine tuning, so remarkable that it shook the atheism of Fred Hoyle who felt "a superintellect has monkeyed with the physics as well as chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature". Later he added: "The chance that higher life forms might have emerged in this way [that is by chance] is comparable with the chance that a tornado sweeping through a junk-yard might assemble a Boeing 747 from the materials therein" - a vivid even if slightly inexact analogy.

3. Values - do people matter, indeed does anything matter and last? Why is good good and is it just my opinion or something bigger than me? All of us want to know what is the best way to live, for our family and nation, so I offer six practical ethical guides - relevant not least to the current crisis in Syria - and while commending Dawkins's own charity, I assume it is not based on the pitiless logic of evolutionary biology but on his irrational kindness. Theology provides a more logical theoretical basis for such morality, despite failures in practice by all of us believers.

4. End - where am I going or is death the end of me? As we search the heavens, awe, wonder and mystery, are common responses. Even that great rock of Christian apology, C.S.Lewis, was shaken after his wife's death as he looked "up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces...I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch. She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?" Grief can overwhelm the Christian's only hope, the resurrection of Jesus that opens an otherwise locked door. I weigh the conflicting evidence for that belief and debate whether it was a spiritual or physical resurrection but still feel that the onus remains on the sceptic to produce a more convincing explanation of what happened 2000 years ago.

These four ultimate questions - Meaning, Origin, Values and End - MOVE for short - are perennial starting points for all humans, but our answers change as we move on in life, maturing emotionally and intellectually, on our spiritual journey. Like restless atoms and life in a state of flux and entropy, all moving from life to death, there is no still centre of certainty that we have arrived at four indisputable solutions. Provisional answers are the best we can hope for, helped by science, philosophy and religion. As my book's Introduction admits, "Religious beliefs are not certainties, but convictions that take risks, because they cannot be proved true. Faith requires us to live bravely with doubt and uncertainty."

 

 

Remain or Leave? Keep faith or give it up?

The question of suffering leads many to leave their faith. Why didn't I? By John Morris

The Baptist Times 24th June 2016

World leaders are waiting anxiously before the British referendum on EU membership on 23 June 2016, while Remain and Leave campaigners bombard voters with facts, opinions, and threats, causing confusion about what is true and what is false, and who could be believed. Many like me are 'Don't knows', between a rock and a hard place, with uncertainties on both sides.

Life is like that. It poses big questions and asks us to vote. To weigh the evidence, choose between not only competing facts but competing interpretations of facts, opinions, and risks, and reach a balanced judgement of what we think is right.

Life's most worrying question, asked 2700 years ago at the start of Homer's Odyssey, is this: in a world of suffering, does God exist and if so, does he care? No and no, is what many vote in our increasingly secular world. Church attendance is shrinking nationally, and Christian parents find their grown up children no longer Remain in church because for them God is dead, killed by science, or impotent to stop wars, floods, earthquakes, and pitiless nature, red in tooth and claw. God's package brings joy and woe - a duality, like Remain and Leave, with joy and woe in both alternatives!

I was brought up by Christian parents and in my late teens was asked to post a Christian leaflet through a stranger's door. When it opened, the owner refused the leaflet, told me his child was born incurably handicapped, and closed the door. I hurried away, defeated, with nothing to say. I felt like joining that parent in the Leave camp, the Brexit of faith.

I thought the same when our third child died aged three weeks after an infection in Uganda, towards the end of our nine years on the equator. The last chance was to give her my blood but despite two transfusions, we lost her. So why should one Remain in faith? I would have to Leave an unreal interventionist, protectionist God whose umbrella shields bodies from the rain of disasters. Another sort of God could be more real to our world.

Years later in 2000, we learned that our daughter's first son aged one, was born disabled, with a genetic defect of the brain. Since then my wife and I have helped to care for Daniel who is almost 17 and still unable to walk, talk, and crawl, and needing to be changed and fed. We shall not Leave Daniel - he still stays with us alternate weekends - but what credible reasons can I give to scientists - such as our eldest grandson studying Physics at uni - that it is possible to Remain in the Christian faith without committing intellectual suicide? That search for credible grounds and a fresh approach lies behind my latest book Suffering: if God exists, why doesn't he stop it? It aims to answer Homer's question by outlining a plausible solution to life's perennial question.

With one eye open, I could stop praying and Leave a God who appears to do nothing to stop Daniel's seizures - nor halt gunmen in their killing, nor planes from crashing. There are thousands of Daniels and millions of sufferers - though I am lucky, like the majority, to be healthy in old age. Creative God lets the physical, evolving Darwinian process that he upholds, take its course, and violence has been inevitable since the Big Bang, long before humans evolved - a violent universe confirmed again last week by the second detection of gravitational waves bursting from merging black holes. Thinking people today will Leave the faith - or not consider joining it - if they are told it's all Adam and Eve's fault for wrecking a perfect world. Remain must open both eyes and reach a more balanced judgement of biblical and other evidence, based on better theology and scientifically respectable grounds for faith.

To capture a wider audience, my 2016 book is the briefest I have written, perhaps the shortest and cheapest in Waterstones, 'a 100 minute read', over a drink or two! It is in straightforward language not church-speak, that can be given as a safe, unpreachy birthday present to atheist neighbours and wobbling believers, who may enjoy picking holes in the argument!

I shall gain nothing from the sales, as my royalties go to charity, Equipment for Disabled Children. My reward is simply to remove stumbling blocks to belief in Remain, and the satisfaction of spreading the good news of God's continuing existence and impartial love for all people. 'All' includes Hindus - as are most of the boys in a Darjeeling orphanage whose funding body I chaired for 18 years - so I write short sections on how suffering is regarded in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, compared with the distinctive suffering of Jesus. His resurrection might be thought an incredible fairy-tale so in an earlier book, Contemporary Creed, I examined the evidence and debated whether that could have been a spiritual or physical resurrection.

What improvements do you think God should make to his ongoing creation? I analyse several changes to see if they would be real improvements to the world or make it worse. I end Suffering on the brave conclusion - some would say foolhardy - that we live in God's best possible evolving world of unfinished business.

 

 

Measures for Counter-Terrorism: Rethinking UK Government's PREVENT Policy

John Morris, Spectrum article,

Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, Volume 38, December 2018, Routledge.

The Spectrum article promised a series of questions about religious beliefs, to be used by discussion groups of all sorts, multi-faith, single faith, or no faith, and hopefully by the UK Government's PREVENT policymakers.

1. Beliefs

1a. Doubt and uncertainty. Do you agree that the only certainty we have is death, not religious certainty?

1b. Provisional. Do you agree that beliefs are temporary, expressing your current thinking rather than what you will always think? We change our jobs, few of us ending up where we began; could beliefs change too? Young adults may be confidently dogmatic but later discover things are more complex and less clear-cut than before.

1c. Do you think it is embarrassing or shameful to change your mind or to reject the views of your parents and family? [8]

1d. Which religious beliefs do you think are major or fundamental? And which are minor, with nothing important hanging on them, so they can be put in the background? [9]

1e. Science. Should religious beliefs be kept in a separate compartment, insulated from modern science where all truths are provisional not timeless? New evidence may disprove previous theories, partly replacing Newton with Einstein. Our daily lives rely on science and technology, so for what reasons would we want to shut it out of our religion?

1f. 'Ought'- how we should or ought to behave. The Jews gave the world the Ten Commandments, and it continues to be a powerful religious and moral compass. Do you believe the ten are authoritative rules that tell you how you should act today in every situation or do they require re-interpretation and give you some flexibility or wriggle room?

Which texts in your Scriptures amend or add to the list of ten? [10]

2. Authority.

2a. Where does your ultimate authority lie, in your own mind, or family, your religion, your Scriptures, religious leaders, tradition, or a mix of all?

2b. If there is disagreement between them, how would you like it resolved?

2.1 Scriptural authority.

How do you know that your Scriptures are God's Word? Is it because it says so - it is self-validating - or is there some external evidence that supports it? [11]

Muslims are much more united on the answer to my question than Jews and Christians, believing the Qur'an is the reliable Word of Allah, and beyond criticism. What the Qur'an says, Allah says.[12]

2.2 Scriptural interpretation.

2.2a. Is the meaning of Scripture always self-evident, transparent, or is interpretation often difficult and ambiguous? Give examples of any obscure texts.

2.2b. If some historical sections are irrelevant today, can they be ignored, so that what matters is contemporary truths?

2.2c. Which important texts are understood not as literally true but as poetic or symbolic truth? This is complicated, because if texts are not taken at their face value, but are open to different interpretations, is your interpretation as good as anyone elses?! Whose interpretation is correct? [13]

2.3 Scriptural consistency.

2.3a. Give examples of texts that look as though they contradict another (perhaps partly from translation difficulties).

2.3b. If there are contradictions, how do you decide which text to believe and obey, especially on important subjects? [14]

2.4 Finished Scriptures.

2.4a. Are your Scriptures a complete guide today, telling you all you need to know about how to behave and serve God and be with him for ever?

2.4b. What else would you want the Scriptures to tell you? Some Christians believe in ongoing revelation, so they slightly amend and add to the Bible where it omits guidance about today's religious, moral, or gender problems.

2.4c. 'Change' is the signature or hallmark of our evolving universe. Does that pose a problem for all three religions of how to change with the times? As the Qur'an is unalterable, is the problem greater or less? Could a religion be better by not admitting change? - why? [15]

3. Tolerance and free speech. [16]

3a. What are the most famous Scriptural texts that encourage tolerance and hospitality towards immigrants, different races, and unbelievers? Tolerance gives permission for differences to exist; it means tolerating patiently what we may not like or endorse. [17]

3b. Multiculturalism and Assimilation. Which texts, if any, encourage mixed marriages and social integration between different cultures? Which texts require separatism between those of different faiths?

3c. If tolerance is always good, do you want everyone to have the right to wear, write, do, speak, and believe what they like? Or are there legitimate limits on human rights and freedom, where your increased freedom reduces mine, so one gains and the other loses?

3d. Good intolerance. The Ten Commandments imply it is good to be intolerant of ten things. Are there other things your Scriptures do not tolerate and perhaps punish? eg. some beliefs, words and actions in your home, community and country?

Does the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights mean that genocide, rape and child abuse are offences that no decent human would ever tolerate? If so, the prohibition is absolute, always binding. That 'ought' may seem firm ground on which to build the common good. Its opposite is the shifting sands of what is called 'relativism', where instead of an agreed standard, right and good are relative to different cultures and times, and vary from person to person, and each person's opinion is equally valid.

Geneva Convention rules of war exist.[18] They forbid the bombing of civilians, so the UN has often called for bombing in Syria and Yemen to stop to allow humanitarian aid and evacuation.

4. Killing

4a. Is it ever permissible to kill another, despite the 6th commandment given Moses? "Do not commit murder".[19]

4b. Which texts command believers to expand or defend the faith by force, and to punish blasphemy and unbelievers?

4c. Retaliation. When provoked, which texts justify killing, especially in solidarity with Muslim brothers? eg. against Western military operations in Muslim countries.

Is there a contradiction between a religion of peace and what Christian countries did in WW1 and WW2, including the Holocaust? While fighting each other, each country felt it was morally right and God was on its side.[20]

4d. Consequences. If self-defence involves random punishments or killing (as presumably white extremists threatened on "Punish a Muslim Day"; or when Isis shot not only Western soldiers but - accidentally - some innocent Muslims and children too) which texts in your Scriptures would approve?

4e. As a last resort, can war be justified as the least evil alternative?

5. Suicide

5a. Is suicide permitted in your Scriptures? If so, which texts, and for what reasons?

5b. What are the best arguments for and against taking your own life? Some who once believed in suicide as the best option, later say they are glad they failed.

6. Martyrs

6a. Is the best martyr one who dies not for reward but for the sake of others? [21]

6b. Guarantee: which texts make it clear that brave acts of terrorism or martyrdom for the faith cancel previous misbehaviour and guarantee entry to heaven? Without a guarantee, what does the bomber have to gain by suicide, especially if his motives are mixed and many innocent victims die with him?

6c. Equality: which texts promise an equal paradise for both sexes? Scriptures were written in patriarchal times, when male not female rights were paramount. But in fairness, are we entitled to interpret Scriptures as wanting equal rights for women too? [22]

7. Life after death.

7a. Can we be certain that death is not the end, even though "you are dust and to dust you will return?" [23]

7b. Do your Scriptures make it clear whether the afterlife is an eternal physical or spiritual existence? There is little evidence in the Hebrew Bible of personal survival and identity, yet Old Testament Jews still believed in God. Cremations, not burials, are now the preferred choice for most Protestant Christians, without - it seems - destroying belief in the possibility of a new future identity, or a mysteriously transformed resurrected 'body'. But Orthodox Jews and Muslims choose burials, preferably soon after death.

7c. Merit or gift. In your Scriptures does heaven have to be earned by good behaviour and charitable acts? If so, can anyone be certain they have done enough to merit a place, especially if they have done terrible things? If entry depends on the unknown discretion of God at the Last Judgement who will have mercy on some but not others, is it true that the terrorist has no more chance of entry than anyone else? [24]

7d. If the afterlife is physical, do humans have resurrected bodies similar to our present sexual bodies, capable of reproducing and expanding the population in heaven, but without ageing?

Jesus and the Qur'an seem to have different answers here. When asked about husbands and wives in heaven, Jesus replied that in eternity life was different, asexual "like the angels".[25]

The Qur'an and the hadiths believe sexuality continues. [26]

7e. What scientific or other evidence is there that suggests a physical afterlife on planet Earth which sooner or later will itself die, along with the Sun?

Finally, it is important to stress that these questions are not intended to evangelise or show one religion as superior to others but rather to increase respect for each other's faith - and to value the differences, from which I benefited during my nine years teaching in multi-cultural Uganda.

The questions are offered to PREVENT for a productive experiment, offering participants an enjoyable opportunity to reach a more mature understanding of their own and another's faith. As a result, participants who previously believed violence was the only solution, may become empowered by PREVENT to find more reasonable, non-violent routes to achieving good goals.

If PREVENT declines my course questions, there are wider audiences as I mentioned at the start, for believers in all three religions to engage in critical thinking, and dialogue within and between religions. With good publicity, the course list might appeal to youth groups, 6th forms, universities, U3A, and professional groups like Probus and Rotary. Above all, it may well appeal to numerous members of synagogues, churches and mosques, and their house groups. Though single-religion groups will feel safer arenas for most people, the most enjoyable learning will occur in multi-faith groups. The course questions might encourage an expansion in the network of inter-faith house groups, to promote greater understanding of each other's faith, in a friendly atmosphere with refreshments.

8 Some of the most intelligent people I know have changed their minds on big issues. Teenage rebellion against parents has always been true of all cultures - we all like to do things our way, not only in religious beliefs, but in dress, haircuts, marriage, jobs, where to live, etc.

9 My own 100 word creed on my website shows what I think is central to Christianity, omitting less vital beliefs. www.contemporarycreed.org.uk

10 The word 'texts' is used throughout to include verses (ayat) and chapters (suras).

11 I use the word 'God' to include the Jewish 'Jehovah', the Islamic 'Allah' and Christian 'Father'. "The Lord" revealed himself to Abram (Genesis 12) and when he called Moses he said "I am the God of Abraham" (Exodus 3:6).

12 The worldwide Christian evangelist Dr Billy Graham (who died in 1918) repeatedly used "God says" and "The Bible says" as identical. For centuries many Christians believed the same and still do. But perhaps many churchgoers today are less fundamentalist and more critical, thinking some parts of the Bible are inappropriate today, and believe the Word of God is not a book but the living Jesus.

13 All three religions accept revealed beliefs, God's revelation of himself and his purposes. So the Ten Commandments are taken as the words of God, not Moses' invention. But the opening pages of the Bible are less clear-cut: probably most Christians no longer read them as a scientific diary of creation and accept the evolution of our universe, after its birth nearly 14 billion years ago.

Old Testament prophets, instead of saying "I say", would often give their own words greater authority by saying "God says". But sometimes appalling things were put into God's mouth: Samuel ordered the slaughter of Israel's enemies, including women and children, for offences in previous centuries (1 Samuel 15).

To put it simply: a God who is Good, better than anything we can imagine, would be unlikely to command what the UN would call genocide, as if he were less moral than humans! So to avoid mistakes, deeper re-interpretation of the Scriptures is needed for good theology: here the writer meant Samuel believed it was God's commandment - but we can all make mistakes!

14 If at times the hadiths (reports of the prophet Muhammad) disagree with parts of the Qur'an, is the Qur'an always supreme?

15 Clearly the Scriptures are not intended to be a sufficient technical guide to get to the Moon or use a mobile or the social media!

16 If you think these are about behaviour not belief, I hope what follows will show their importance to religious belief.

17 My asking a question does not mean I approve or disapprove. I am here a neutral questioner whom I hope you can tolerate.

18 Or IHL, international humanitarian law, as it is known formally.

19 Exodus 20:13.

20 To avoid excessive revenge, Moses limited retaliation to only one "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Exodus 21:24). But Jesus replaced it. "You have heard it said 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy'. But I say to you 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'." (Matthew 5:38-44).

21 Stephen, a Jew, was the first of many Christian martyrs (Acts 7).

22 Gender equality and LGBT rights are issues that have divided Christians. Only recently have women been ordained as priests and a few become bishops in the Anglican Communion but not in the Roman Catholic Church.

23 Genesis 3:19.

24 In Christianity, heaven is not merited but a free gift on offer in this life by God's grace and forgiveness through Jesus. Some opponents say this is unfair, because belief is easy but earning heaven by continual charity is hard work.

25 Matthew 22:30.

26 Though Quranic texts describe Paradise, partly sensual, there is no mention of an actual number of virgins given as a reward. One of the six major hadith does report a number but I am told that this report is unreliable.

 

 

 

 

John Morris

AUTHOR: John Morris, MA, M.Ed, PGCE, PhD, was a teacher and lecturer for over thirty years before being ordained as an unpaid Anglican clergyman in 1995.

Archbishop of York

Back Cover Endorsements

We need books to bridge the gap between belief and unbelief, between the Church and the enquirer who cannot find the entrance and, for that matter, between the pulpit and the pew. This book does it... John Morris taught me when I was a young man ... (see p14 for full text)
Commendation by
the Archbishop of York
Sentamu Ebor

My problem with most books on God by believers is that they treat theology as though it were a science. It's not - and John Morris doesn't try to pretend that it is . Most refreshing!


John Humphrys, BBC 'Today', 'Mastermind', In God We Doubt.

John Morris addresses many significant questions about Christina belief in a careful and truth-seeking manner. His book should be helpful to many enquirers.

Revd Dr John Polkinghorne, KBE, FRS, physicist, theologiam, author.

In this admirable and cogently-written book, John Morris explains how he sustains a life-changing faith while being fully mindful of all the intellectual challenges and preplexities this entails. Even those of us who cannot share his beliefs will be stimulated by his arguments and enlightened by his perspective.

Lord (Martin) Rees, OM, Kt, FRS, Astronomer Royal, author.

A brilliant, honest, contemporary restatement of orthodox Christianity. It tackles 60 of the toughest objections to Christian faith with deep thoughtfulness, in well-organised topics and clear prose. His 100-word creed is a masterpiece, his poems a joy, and his profound handling of difficult issues will help many, atheists and believers alike.

Canon Dr Michael Green, theologian, university speaker worldwide, author.

Equipment for Disabled Children

Friends of Albella Boys Home, Darjeeling

Exeter University

Suffering: If God exists why doesnt he stop it

Remain or leave. Keep faith or give it up