I am convinced that almost all books produced by believers for the use of fellow believers or as defences of belief for a general readership, are defective and misleading if they omit an initial chapter which explores the foundational sentence of theology:


Most theologies will promote their version of this other sentence:


Refusal to recognise the human origin of all Gods encourages a sectarian (we’re right/ you’re wrong) view of reality which is at the root of all fundamentalisms. Although this refusal is made by people of irreproachable virtue, they cannot be exempt from the charge of encouraging dogmatic lies. Religions are far from being the worst purveyors of untruth in our electronically- connected world – the deliberate and systematic lies of murderous regimes come to mind- but because they purport to seek truth and guide people into goodness, they are the more guilty.

Healthy faith begins with a history of the human construction of its beliefs, so that the possibility that this or that teaching is wrong, insufficient, mistaken or plain bad, is kept before the faithful, and that genuine change and development may occur. There are people within the Christian Church who not only find gay sex unattractive, but are also convinced that God does. They are incapable of realising that a God invented by people who find gay sex unattractive, will probably share their distaste.

I am a Christian believer, who happens to find the doctrine of the Trinity illuminating, but I can see very clearly the history of this teaching – it barely exists in the Bible and is an interpretation of the Bible by believers in the first centuries of the church life. That does not invalidate it; indeed this doctrinal history is evidence that some human inventions are better than others. Scientists produce hypotheses which are tested against reality and revised accordingly; even long -accepted hypothesis called “laws” may revised or discarded. The truths of faith should in my view follow a similar procedure, although how they are tested will be very different from the scientific method.

But how then can faith give people the absolute certainty they crave? It can’t and will be all the better for admitting it.

I do not hold this reasonable scepticism with the truths of faith only; it is essential for any pursuit of truth and any criticism of others’ truths. Imagine how devastating it must have been for scientists to be told by Heisenberg that no scientific facts could rule out the human observer, and that some facts – such as the simultaneous knowledge of the position and velocity of an particle- are unobtainable. But they did not immediately abandon science as a busted flush; rather, they persevered while recognising new limitations on their procedures. They made Heisenberg’s scepticism part of science. For after all, every human perception is biased because it is human. The bird outside my window sees the tree differently from me. And as for me, I spent most of my life in utter ignorance of the underground life of trees, in which root systems are connected by fungi in such a way that trees can communicate with each other. Buddhist thinking encourages us to see that the names we give to “things” are just convenient ways of chopping our world into manageable chunks, whereas in reality everything is connected with every other thing.

A small dose of this sort of thought frees us from lazy dogmatism, and introduces a decent modesty into the human quest for truth.

A decent modesty does not mean a total scepticism about our ability to understand the universe, more a cautious optimism. I believe in one God, the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Messiah, his only son our master, and in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, but I know that generations of human beings have praised and prayed and pondered and invented the nature of this God. But surely it is God who has revealed himself to human beings? Well yes, that’s the nature we gave him. The imagination of human beings has been central to what we call the revelation of God. If that were not so, how would we have made him masculine and honoured him with a masculine pronoun? Our sticky fingers are all over the history of God. But just as the same imagination is capable of understanding the quantum nature of particles, so it is capable of understanding God. Just as there is no need to judge that there is no reality behind our understanding of particles, there is also no need to judge that behind our theology there is no God. Much “new atheism” misunderstands the process of invention and testing in theology and dismisses theological assertions as lacking proof. In fact the doctrine of God has undergone millennia of testing by millions of human beings who have believed in God. Richard Dawkins submits a Sunday School deity to a scientific kicking.

My purpose here however is not to give Dawkins a well-deserved kicking in return, but to urge that all theologies acknowledge their roots in human experience and imagination:


This confession would allow Popes to recant their doctrines and Martin Luther not to blame the scriptures for his interpretation of St Paul (” my conscience is in chains to the Word of God”) Believers would learn to take responsibility for their contribution to the nature of their God rather than pretending that the moment Jesus saved them he also gave them an implant of all sorts of garbage about gays, blacks and socialists; or that Allah issued them with a prescription for the killing of cattle and the proper headgear of women.

If I’m right in believing in a God of love, then of course he/she will want to communicate with her human creatures, and if she does so, will accept the consequence that her message will be filtered through the human imagination, with all its power to distort. And if ultimately she decides to hold nothing back, she will still have to communicate through the human imagination of her son Jesus, to whom she did not give the advantage of a son-of-God implant that could by-pass his human limitations. Maybe that’s why his story leaves us with the greatest question in the Bible:

“My God, my. God, why have you abandoned me?”

All theologies, I suggest, should be Chapter 1 theologies, which admit the human origins of faith and the corrigibility of doctrines.


After a peaceful demo in Bristol against the Police Bill currently under consideration was hijacked by people who attacked the Police violently causing injury and damage to property, a left-wing activist, who had not participated in the violence, defended the perpetrators on the grounds of ” all they have suffered.” Perhaps he can tell with certainty that the people who were violent are the same people who have suffered; I know, from being in other demos, that this identity cannot be assumed, and that there are often present people who want violence for their own purposes. But even if we assume that the violence arose out of suffering imposed by the state and the Police, does the suffering justify the violence?

The people of Myanmar have suffered for many years from the reluctance of its army to submit to democratic rule. Now again, the army has carried out a coup, dismissing the democratically elected government and its leader. Day after day, in spite of beatings, gassings and fatal shootings, the people of Myanmar have gathered peacefully in the streets, to indicate their refusal to accept a military government. They have been disciplined, determined and civilised, in obvious contrast to the army which has bullied and killed unarmed civilians. They have suffered more, far more than anyone in Bristol but they have refused to be violent.

The protesting people of Belarus have shown similar wisdom and discipline in their protests against Mr Lukashenko, their unelected ruler.

On the other hand the non-violent Christians in Syria have been decimated by killings and threats of further violence. Their peaceful responses have led to nothing that can be called good in worldly terms. Nor did Jesus’ peaceful opposition to the religious establishment and to the Romans. In worldly terms his mission was a failure. Perhaps non- violence is not so helpful, and the use of violent opposition, as in Bristol, may be justified?

Justification depends on moral judgements, which may vary, but I have always been amazed at the non-violence of the poor in the UK. They put up not only with the deprivations of capitalism, but also with the betrayals of those who purport to stand for their cause, and the oily lies of those in power. Why have they been so patient? Perhaps because, like me, they have a deep aversion to violence and a suspicion that its results may not be beneficial.

Back in the 17th century, in a poem about Cromwell, the poet Andrew Marvell saw clearly that even very successful violence might not lead to a successful peace, summing up his doubts in a concluding couplet:

The same arts that did gain

A power, must it maintain

He foresaw no end to violence.

Jesus’ teaching against violence is usually seen as an absolute ethical principle, leading to sacrificial behaviour which can only be rewarded in heaven, rather than as a piece of practical wisdom. Jesus suggests that it is divine wisdom, but surely that doesn’t make it impractical? Let’s look at what he said:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Yes, here is an absolute command, but it is backed up first by a series of very practical examples, concluding with the “golden rule” which makes a practical connection between how we treat others and how we hope to be treated. Then there is an argument which criticises a merely quid pro quo sort of morality. Finally there is an encouragement to imitate God. Clearly this teaching is neither an unattainable ideal nor a model for martyrs only. It is meant to stop the replication of violence, and the lazy acceptance of imitative behaviour.

It is unapologetically radical. Gandhi, who read the passage in the light of his philosophy of satyagraha, soul-force, said that this was not for cowards; if you lacked the courage to fight, you would not be able to oppose without violence. But he too, meant the teaching to be practical and indeed, like Jesus, practised it himself. Martin Luther King applied the teaching to his campaign for civil rights, and managed to infuse huge crowds of protesters with his vision and discipline. It is true that King, Gandhi and Jesus were all killed violently, but many have judged that they were not defeated.

Critics however, have suggested that non-violent opposition only works where the oppressive person of regime has some kind of conscience; and that utterly unscrupulous people will simply ride roughshod over it, killing and destroying, as Nazis did to non-violent Jews or Stalin’s thugs to millions of non-violent citizens. The wisdom of Jesus has to engage with the wisdom of those who argue that non-violence may sometimes make it easy for bullies and tyrants. It may be right to have soldiers to defend (but only to defend!) countries from attack, and police to defend (but only to defend!) citizens from violence, but in a violent humanity, it may be all-important to stop any violence at all.

Why have I never been violent? Because I have had a sheltered life; I have seldom been attacked and I have always been able to gain an adequate living. That means I have, in comparison with many, been lucky. So it’s certainly not for me to judge those who have protected themselves or their loved ones by violence. But my small experience of dealing with threat has only bolstered my conviction that Jesus’ way of doing good to enemies may be a wisdom that works and can be learned.


All public media in Scotland agree that the story of the Scottish Government’s handling of accusations against its former leader, Alex Salmond, have reduced its popularity and that of its leader, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I am by no means expert in this matter, but I’m sure, as most people seem to be, that the government has not been frank with the public about its own actions and omissions. That being so, the obvious question is why they have been so incompetent. Were they indeed engaged in a plot against Salmond? Does Salmond know something to the discredit of the government or its leader, that led to a desperate attempt to silence him?

As all conceivable reasons seem unlikely, I am forced to consider that the real reason for their incompetence is that as a government they are incompetent; lazy, arrogant and purposeless.

Now of course many will say that they have a firm and overriding purpose of gaining independence from the U.K. I doubt that. True, a repeated pretence of advancing towards that has been a mark of their governance. But surely any real march towards independence would have by this time led to some characterisation of the nation they hoped we could become? As it is, aside from vacuous boasts about a new Scotland, which are as full of substance as Boris Johnson’s riffs on global UK, together with anodyne promises that it will be progressive and democratic, there is not much to influence the voters. I guess any significant detail, for example on taxation and public services in the new Scotland, might upset the coalition of left and right wing voters which is thought necessary to achieve independence. But preference for mere independence in itself, does not suggest a burning, radical desire to remake a nation.

I think the SNP has no real intention of gaining independence but rather a desire to remain as the not very progressive government of Scotland it is, possibly with a few further spoonfuls of devolution. And it’s not very good at it: an educational policy which has led to a reduction in the reading age of pupils at the end of primary school; grossly inefficient handling of vast contracts for passenger ships and hospitals; delay after delay in establishing a humane policy on drug addiction: words but little action on the scandal of residential care and the pay of carers; lack of attention to the issue of robust local democracy. No, this is not a great reforming government with its eyes on the future, but rather a well-meaning, decent, lazy government hoping that things will stay more or less as they are. In their defence, I can see that the limits of present devolution are likely to encourage this mindset.


Given the appalling levels of poverty in Scotland, created by poor housing, exploitative employment and deliberately inadequate levels of benefit, it is clear that at least a quarter of its population lives without the resources for a decent life. More than a million men, women and children live without a serious expectation of security, health, creativity and joy. The existence of these deprived groups provides an easy target for further exploitation by money lenders, drug dealers, petty criminals and other scum.

Of course, there is global warming in all its aspects to be tackled in Scotland also, but I am convinced that attention to poverty cannot wait. As the Green Party keeps pointing out, policies for the elimination of poverty and of global warming can go hand in hand. The great texts of the Hebrew prophets, which express the anger of God at the oppression of the poor, remain a non-sectarian source of encouragement to churches, mosques, synagogues and temples, to demand governance that is for all Scots, with a determination to eradicate poverty. An alliance of people of faith ready to make specific demands in the name of the poor of Scotland, might make our desultory politics a little livelier.

The Scottish News today


Rangers Football Club, after years of comparative failure, made worse by the continual triumphs of Celtic FC, its main opponent, in a battle which is cultural and religious as well as sporting, won the Scottish Premier League yesterday. This was celebrated by thousands of supporters coming together outside the football ground at Ibrox in Glasgow and later at George Square, to sing, and chant and let off fireworks. Police pleaded with them to disperse but were ignored. The First Minister pleaded with them online but was ignored.

Clearly for them the victory of their club was far more important than concerns about spreading the corona virus amongst each other, and amongst other members of the public. The manager of Rangers FC, Steven Gerrard, excused the behaviour by saying, “These people have gone through hell” referring presumably to years without triumphs.


Prince Harry and his wife Meghan gave an interview to Oprah Winfrey on USA television speaking mainly about Meghan’s difficult experience with the British Royal family, who were depicted as cold, hidebound, and racist. The couple are very rich by ordinary standards, and have decided to live in the USA which is a beacon of open democracy compared to the UK. They would like to be loved and respected just for being who they are.


My Christian faith leads me to characterise both of these bits of frontline news as utterly trivial, neither Rangers nor the Sussexes have any real importance other than being somewhat different aspects of celebrity culture. Both the Rangers supporters and the royal couple exhibit a sense of entitlement which is a matter of concern.

Because the supporters have had to wait many years for their team to triumph, they feel entitled to break the law, putting their own and other lives at risk, simply to display this success in a civic space which they share with supporters of other teams and of none. Their years of disappointment at their team’s lack of success are presented as if they were the experiences of an oppressed people or downtrodden minority, rather than what they are: a hobby which has brought some trivial disadvantages along with its pleasures, which are for many spiced with sectarian hatred. A culture which excuses or promotes this sort of behaviour has lost its grasp of reality and its sense of civic values.

Oh come on, some may say, it’s just fun. Ask the attending policemen if they thought it was fun, and it might be good next week to get the views of those who’ve got the virus as a result of it: they could die laughing.

When it comes to the royal exiles, I have to confess that I am not a royalist, feeling a lack of democratic choice as to who should represent me and my nation; whilst admiring the choices made in Eire of people such as Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. I am sympathetic to the notion that there are victims of our perpetuation of a hereditary royal establishment. But here are celebrity young people, privileged in their past, present and future, who feel entitled to the attention of the world over their family squabbles. Perhaps the revelation that one established royal person asked just exactly how black Meghan’s first baby might be, may have the benefit of making the British public ask whether they need such dick-headedness beyond the demise of the present monarch; but I doubt it.

The existence of mass media which make money out of elite sport or the lives of elite people, encourages a sense of entitlement among elites and their followers, which leads to a public neglect of real worth and real importance, such as the real worth of nurses offered a 1% pay rise, or the real importance of the the people of Yemen who will suffer a reduction of British aid this year. Maybe a sense that the lives of human beings are graced by a divine love to which we are not entitled, can keep us sane, humble and committed to the welfare of our fellows.