This week’s blog comes from a self-proclaimed atheist and free-speaker, Jonas Pullman.
Take a look outside the window, that world you see is a different place to the one that birthed the Bible.
The purpose of this particular blog is not to savagely critique the parts of the Bible that might seem outdated, or particularly archaic, but rather to question whether our modern age has simply changed too much to accommodate the learnings of such an ancient text.
How old is too old?
Certain sections of the Bible have been dated as far back as 408 BC, and whilst it has proved to be an impossible challenge to source every single edit of this monumental work, we can all at least agree that the Bible is the oldest, widely read texts in the world. In the 21st Century we’re often taught to treat older sources differently to more recent ones. When we’re reading the news, we often take note of the date of its publication and take any older articles with a pinch of salt; should we be going the same thing with the Bible? There are many lessons the Bible teaches that are still valuable, but have other sections dated beyond practical use?
Does it have a place in our secular world?
For better or worse, our world is becoming increasing secular. Despite religion being a more talked about point than ever, is there a possibility that such an old, biased text is perhaps too religious for it? Before we have the whole community up in arms, we could undoubtedly say the same thing about every other major religion’s core text. There is no religious text on Earth that can be free from scrutiny, in fact with each passing year the Bible (and its brothers and sisters) only becomes more fallible – is it possible that we’ve put too much faith in these books? Should we instead be looking within for life’s great answers?
Can’t we write our own texts?
What stops us from rewriting the rules for our 21st Century post-modern society? The world has changed, we have changed – shouldn’t the codes and law that we live by change with them? I don’t believe that we should completely cast aside the religious books that have been guiding us for centuries now, but I do believe that we should apply our critical thinking minds to creating new texts that we can all agree with and live by. When a teacher takes over a new class they often run a exercise with their students that involves asking their students to come up with rules in relation to how they should be treated, and how they should treat their teacher. Surely we’re capable of doing the same?
21st Century Humanity: Impossible to Police
Unfortunately our society has officially grown to become far too sprawling in its behaviour and logic to be policed by either religion, politics or law. The internet has connected all of us together in such a way that defies the rules laid down in any holy book. Our actions, both offline and online, are sometimes impossible to distinguish from one another. The Bible makes no reference to the internet, there are no ground-rules in our Holy Books for how to amass an Instagram following whilst maintaining one’s moral integrity and we have no way of asking the Lord how to respond to haters on Twitter. So what is to be done?
As an atheist, it might be hard for you to understand my viewpoint, but it’s worth considering that our numbers are growing and that, in order to coincide peacefully with one another, we should be able to all live by a set of moral guidelines that aren’t based piecemeal on a text that is thousands of years old…
In our haste to become modern day establishments – are Britain’s churches becoming less focused on religion?
The face of Christianity has changed a great deal in the last 30 years.
It’s the year 2017 and the United Kingdom has never been more secular. In a recent study analysed by Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and sociology at St. Mary’s University, it was revealed that the numbers of Christians has been steadily dropping for the last 30 years. In 1983, 55 of Briton’s identified as Christians, whereas figures in 2015 suggested that this number has dropped to 43. In the meantime, the proportion of people who identify with a non-Christian religion has quadrupled.
Whilst it might be tempting to seek a knee-jerk reaction for this and see this drop in the number of Christians as ‘the beginning of the end’, it’s worth considering the ‘whys and wherefores’ of the decline in Christian-believers.
Bullivant’s analysis suggests that a new type of person has risen in place of the traditional Christian – he calls them the ‘nones’ and, according to his research, they now comprise 48.6 of the British population. Usually white, male and working class – these people are raised Christian and then transition to becoming non-believers. With an increasing amount of children being sent to secular schools, instead of the traditional C of E schools, there are now less young Christians in our ranks and, sadly, we lose good Christians every year to old age and illness.
Our reaction to this drop in congregation numbers has been admirable, but might have served to alienate more people than attract them to the church.
The turn of the 21st Century, ever-changing societal values and rapidly advancing technology has made this an exciting time to live in, but is there a chance that, in an attempt to keep our churches up to date with the times, they are becoming less focused on religion? Could the forced change of our churches have had an impact on pushing away church members and simultaneously alienating new members?
Whereas the Church might have used to be a place of quiet contemplation and servile prayer; most churches have become multi-purpose event spaces that attempt to cater to the whole community at once. The result of this? Our churches have become less about welcoming in new members and more about desperately clawing for relevance in this new modern world.
Now, I understand that we can’t simply turn back the clocks and change what our society believes in. We might even have to abandon the prospect of the numbers of Christians in this country ever returning to their previous heights. I don’t think that cancelling all our programs and activities is the way forward, nor am I suggesting that the Church’s representatives take a leaf out of the pastors of yore (see below).
We need to find a way of returning to this status quo, so that we can continue being present for our communities, whilst remaining strong as Christians.[Top]
Is Temptation Eating You From The Inside?
For many modern Christians, Lent is a second opportunity of starting the year over again.
By the start of March all the good will that is conjured up at the start of the year has all but dissipated and now all that remains is bitter disappointment. Thankfully, by the time Lent comes around, we have the chance to either recommit ourselves to a change or, at the very least, lower the bar somewhat and find some sort of compromise.
Anyone who’s seriously attempted giving anything up for Lent will know the crushing obsession that soon follows the first day of the forty. The classic things we usually give up: Cake, Alcohol and Television are usually the hardest to avoid. The reason why we enjoy these things so much is because they fill a certain hole in our lives. Over time, we grow used to enjoying these luxuries and soon we come reliant on them.
It doesn’t matter what you’re choosing to give up, there will come a time between Shrove Tuesday and Good Friday when you’ll feel the weight of the world on your shoulders and the only way to relieve the pressure will be to give in to your cravings.
Before you fall into temptation, try and distract your frantic mind with one of these activities:
Clean Your Kitchen
Far be it for me to judge the state of your kitchen, but I know from experience that a kitchen can always do with a clean. Before you reach for the chocolate, try putting it out of your mind by getting down and dirty in your kitchen. Pull out the appliances and give everything a go over.
If you’re feeling particularly brave you can even try having a go at cleaning your oven (or you can just hire an oven cleaner).
Have A Spring Clean
There’s nothing like a bracing clear out of junk to clear the head and lent is the perfect time of year to do one! Everyone has a junk-room or junk-corner where life’s flotsam and jetsam washes up and remains in an unsightly pile – now’s the time to exorcise it.
Clearing out garbage has been proven to clear the mind, as you de-clutter your home you’ll be able to breathe a little easier and soon you won’t even be thinking about having that evening drink.
Go For A Run
If the biscuit tin is glaring at you with an intensely sultry expression then do the sensible thing: run away! Although you might try and clean your home of forbidden items, the odd crumb might still remain. Banish any thoughts of caving in by throwing on your trainers and going for a run.
Exercise is a great way of suppressing appetite that has also been proven to reduce stress levels, if you’re not quite up for jogging then a brisk walk can do just fine!
Bake A Cake
Cake is one of the classic luxuries that most people choose to swear off over Lent – but baking the cake itself doesn’t have to be off limits. The whole baking process is a therapeutic one. Following a recipe can ease your mind and take it off whatever you’re missing.
Once the cake’s finished, you’ll have the satisfaction of completing your task and you’ll have some baked goods that you can share with friends or even sell for charity.
Watch An Easter Movie
Nothing focuses the mind stronger than reminding yourself of Jesus’ struggle. If you need to take your mind off the idea of reaching for the chocolate, then grab a healthy snack and sit down with a religious movie that gives you a deeper understanding of the journey of Christ.
Take a look at our list of 4 Easter Movies and watch a film that will remind you of the sacrifices that he made to save our souls.[Top]
Although there are many Faith-based movies set around Christmas, films set around Lent tend to be a little grimmer.
During Lent, we make small sacrifices in order to understand what Christ went through in the Desert.
His 40 days and 40 nights are briefly covered in the Bible, with different accounts given by both Matthew and Luke. Many filmmakers have attempted to catalogue this time, fleshing out the temptations laid on by Satan and adding colour to Jesus’ struggle. Easter Week itself has been adapted frequently; with the drama of betrayals and subterfuge, the Easter story is perfectly formed for a dramatic treatment.
Here are the 5 inspirational Easter movies that will get through Lent, just make sure you keep your hands away from the popcorn:
When Martin Scorsese released The Last Temptation back in 1988, he was forced to open the film with a title card stating that the film in no way took inspiration from the Gospels for its interpretation of Jesus. The screenplay for the controversial movie was based on the equally contentious novel of the same name – a story that attempted to depict Jesus as a human character, rather than a perfect being.
The Last Temptation pick up Jesus’ story as a carpenter and follows right through to his death. Because of the no holds barred approach to depicting Jesus as a simple man, those with a rigid view of him may not approve of this film and it certainly isn’t for children.
This is a film that humanises the challenges that Jesus faced and successfully puts his plight into context.
Last Days In The Desert 
An altogether different take on Jesus, Ewan McGregor takes on the mantle from Willem Defoe in this small story that takes place towards the end of Jesus’ time in the desert. Last Days imagines another test, set by Satan, with an ordinary family at the centre of the problem. McGregor’s Jesus is a tired, worn man, reaching the edge of his limits – a new side to the character, yet to be seen.
At just under and hour and a half, this is a film that should surprise and please Christians of an older age.
The story is a simple one, but deftly explores ideas of human conflict with a troubled Jesus Christ as its centre.
The Passion of the Christ 
Mel Gibson is a man constantly dogged by controversy and this movie is no different. Depicting Jesus’ last 12 days before his crucifixion, the movie makes no attempt to avoid the grisly details of the grim trials that he was put through. Some have gone as far to say that Gibson revels in the violence somewhat – a claim that is backed up by the R-Rating given to it by the MPAA.
This is another film that is not suitable for children, the excessive graphic violence can be hard to watch at times which is one of the movie’s strengths. Jim Caviezel’s portrayal of Christ accentuates the grim determination and patience that he must have shown to deal with such overbearing abuse, something that we can all learn from.
The Miracle Maker 
After three relatively adult oriented movies, this is one for all the family. Although most Sunday School teachers will be familiar with this popular stop-motion animated movie, some younger ones might not have had the pleasure of watching it yet. Miracle Maker does a wonderful job of depicting the hardships that Jesus had to face as a younger man, attempting to achieve a similar result as The Last Temptation.
Although the animation might seem a little outdated today, young ones will nevertheless be enthralled by the visuals that this film offers. The characters are all voiced by British actors with a warmth and kindness that makes for a truly wholesome feeling.
The movies in this list might well be fictionalised versions of Jesus’ life but watching them can still bring us closer to God.
How young were you when you first took a serious moment to lean back and try to survey some spread of reality and consider it?
When you first got a grasp on things beyond yourself?
I remember distinctly the time when I had not got my head around the idea that other people existed in their minds in the same way that I did in mine.
I remember travelling as a little tiny young person to London for one of the first times. I was peering out of the train window and looking at the rows and rows of houses, and just had a sort of realisation that behind every door there was family that existed to exactly the same extent as my family did. It was over awing.
There are so many others and so much happening. I remember just watching them fly past and not really being able to fully comprehend the magnitude of it all, but knowing I was having a realisation I had not had before, and one that was important and real.
I still have not completed that thought, I’m still struggling with it.
The thought: in a world of such scale, and a life of such vastness, how should you perceive yourself? Now this may not be the question that dominates everyone’s life, but it sure plays a role in mine. God is kind here, because it is his perspective that matters, how he perceives you that matters, your relationship with him that matters, and you can just let the rest of it fall into insignificance.
It takes a lifetime, pondering these questions, but last week it only took me a few hours to visit North Wales.
Beautiful, peaceful and serene.
Sometimes a change of context really helps you to gain some perspective. When I travelled to London that new perspective was terrifying, when I visited North Wales it was simply relaxing. Comforting even. Seeing those folk just living day to day as part of the land where they live.
You are not a single, alone thing. You are part of everything, and that is a good thing.[Top]
The words we have are so old.
They have sat in the books in which they were written thousands of years ago.
These great books, these great works, these great words.
These words have sat and have been observed, absorbed, occasionally ignored, sometimes loved, sometimes hated. Now it is certainly the time to return them to the world, to get them out there, out there to the people.
I was walking through College Campuses in the US recently and saw a whole new world, but a world that was all easy to know and shared in all its true form with the world as we all know it and perceive it. There are thousands of souls on college campuses around the United States who could do great things from the work of the early christian scholars. From the work, for example, of Justin Martyr.
One of our great early scholars of our great faith.
A man who thought tirelessly about Christ’s life and the meaning of that life in this stage so close to his assent to heaven. He studied so intently and pored his life into the work that he was producing. What greater inspiration to college students could there be than that? There are ways of marketing in college and on campus, it’s just up to us if we want to use these techniques and services.
How much do we want to return Christ to the lives of college students?
And not the muddled, dirtied, confused Christ of the modern church but Christ as he was reflected upon by these early and brilliant scholars. If we can do this we can truly change their world and change our world and solve so many problems. I believe that. These ancient scholars were wise and insightful, they were bold and brilliant. They were in tune with Christ as he was and his teachings as he taught them.
Now that is what the world truly needs to be, now more than ever.[Top]
Patristics is the practise of studying not current Christian scholars but looking back at the very earliest Christian writers, those greats who are designated by many as ‘Church Fathers’.
It may not make sense to all to look back to find out how to move forward, especially looking back to the period that stretches in between the end of the New Testament times, or perhaps even the last times of the Apostolic Age (depending on who you listen too) to perhaps AD 451 (the Council of Chalcedon) of perhaps a little later at the Second Council of Nicaea in the 8th Century.
We look back to this time because the present can be far too obsessed with very transient, very ‘now’ ideas and problems. There is plenty that constantly changes and plenty that progresses and gets better BUT, there is plenty that is eternal and plenty that will always be true.