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Why Do You Believe What You Believe? 21 January 2013

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Life.
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The following is the script for my contribution an Inter-Faith dialogue held at University in late November 2012. I have posted it here for several reasons, including the fact that I found it again and am unlikely to get another substantial blog post in today, despite the number of drafts I have. Maybe more importantly it addresses a point – as the inter-faith dialogue sought to do – in addressing the common fallacy that all religious faith is simplistic, credulous and thus inherently ridiculous!

Who am I? Stuart Mousir-Harrison, a Christian Priest in the Church of England, with a doctorate in Geography and further degrees in Geography and Christian Theology. I have been a Christian since my early teens, and an ordained minister since 2000.

Even as I begin I think it’s as important to say some reasons that do not explain my faith, especially in this context of interfaith dialogue.

I am not a Christian because of my parents’  belief. I was brought up in a non-Christian household. Not anti-Christian, but not actively-Christian either.

I am also not a Christian because I am “white”, “British” or “Western”. The cultural heritage of this country is derived from Christian faith, but many, probably a majority, of Britons do not know what the Christian faith actually is or stands for.

I am a Christian because as a teenager, like so many other teenagers, I was looking and thinking about the meaning of life, and about the place of one individual human, me, within it. Christian faith for me is a conscious decision, and like all faith, sometimes needs a conscious reaffirmation.

I am a Christian because I believe that Jesus Christ as recorded and revealed in the Christian scriptures, the Bible, is exactly who he claimed and showed himself to be. I believe that Jesus Christ is truly both God and Human and that through faith in him we can enjoy a restored relationship with God not just in the present but forever. There’s a lot more that follows on from that, about why we need a restored relationship and what it all means, but that’s where it all springs from.

I am a Christian because I believe the Christian Scriptures, the Old and New Testament, are reliable and tell us everything we need to know – not everything we might want to know. I don’t believe that they are all necessarily literally true, but that they do contain the timeless Truth. They are written by people inspired by God, not by the hand of God himself.

What I am not going to do this evening is quote passages in defence of my faith. That’s a deliberate decision: if you respect the Bible as the Word of God, a divinely inspired document, I can happily do that, but if you don’t then there’s no point in me quoting it at you! As far as I understand it I am here to explain Why I believe what I believe in an interfaith context, and to defend and expound upon that basis. I’m happy to go further, but it’s not about point scoring!

I am a Christian because I recognise that the Tradition handed down by the church, despite the Church’s imperfections and failings, is still reliable and trustworthy. The Church, and those who make it up, both living and the departed have formed our understanding of faith.

I am a Christian because Christianity is a faith based on Reason. When I was exploring questions of faith as a teenager what struck me most was the coherency of the Gospels, the stories of Jesus’ life. They make sense. They are claims I find to be true and reasonable, and so they demand a response. In a world that seems set on denouncing any faith as illogical, superstitious and unreasonable this is an important point. We should hardly need to note the faith of so many scientists and scholars over the century. Their rationality is not at odds with faith, but complimentary to it.

Scripture, tradition and reason – those are all good reasons for why I’m a Christian, and in fact they form a classical tri-partite defence. But I’m also a Christian for another reason which is just as relevant and just as important.

I am a Christian because of my Experience, experience which ratifies the other three.

Christian faith isn’t just about book-knowledge, it’s about what difference that knowledge makes.

Nor is it about adherence to Tradition. Times change. Expectations change. Manners and ways of doing things change. That’s why today the General Synod, the ruling body of the Church of England has been debating and voting on whether women should be bishops. Faith has to be consistent with both what has been handed on as trustworthy and must seek to engage with the now. And Christianity, like Islam, is a proselytising faith – it looks to change people’s lives. That means engaging with people where they are and in the language of today, not that of the past.

I’m not just a Christian simply because it is reasonable, or intellectually satisfying. Neither am I a Christian of any fear of death or judgement.

I believe what I believe because my experience tallies with my faith. Faith in a living God at work in individuals, communities and nations. I have seen prayers answered, and sometimes the answer has not been the one I wanted! “No” is as much an answer as “Yes”.

I have seen lives changed beyond human expectation – including a miraculous healing from terminal cancer. I know the strength of God to enable me to do what I am called to do, irrespective of my own abilities.

I am a Christian even because at the one time in my life when I wanted to walk away from faith, to let it go and throw it away, God would not let me go, and drew me back in.

You may not agree with me, and I may not agree with you. That is no reason to paper over the cracks and pretend we agree. If we are honest about our faiths we cannot totally agree, as we all have different truth claims. What we can do is respect one another, and say together that Faith matters, Faith is relevant, and that Faith is very much alive.

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Comments»

1. Jane - 21 January 2013

At some point I’d be very interested to know why you believe Old and New Testaments – that particular selection of religiously-inspired documents, rather than any other – to be reliable. Not here and now, I’m aware that’s a huge subject, but if you could dedicate a blog post to that at some point, it would be good.


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