'Until the day when God shall deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in these two words,— "Wait and hope".'
'WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.'
I grew up under the influence of the Church of England and with its liturgy as an almost daily adjunct to my schooling. It's hard, therefore, for me to tune out altogether the sense that sometimes jumps out in my mind that there is somehow someone watching and judging me, a kind of all-seeing eye that knows not just what I do but why I did it as well. That second quotation, from the Articles of Religion that the Church of England still uses to this day (and which were, for the most part, written by our man Thomas Cranmer), is part of possibly the most terrifying doctrine of all. It says, for want of a more delicate way of putting it, it's not what you did but what you thought of doing that counts. It suggests that, for example, someone who refrained from sin out of fear of the consequences (Hell) or on the basis of some sort of transaction (I do good, I get into Heaven), would not meet this condition. The person's faith in Jesus is what needs to drive the good works. I suppose the thought is that if people are faithful, believe in the words and the power of Jesus as he appears in the Bible, then they will do good without the need for further persuasion.
What it says to me is that, rather sadly, the moral-behaviour-guidance part of Christianity, with which for the most part I can agree, is tied in to a metaphysical commitment with which I am not so comfortable. There are parts of what Christianity does and has done in the past that are at odds with my broadly humanist outlook. But there are parts - the central, 'be excellent to each other', part in particular - where my worldview does not conflict with what my Christian education of twenty-odd years ago taught. Why should the metaphysical matter, if you are good, kind, loving? I don't know, but I think it demonstrates the rather distressing point that the religion has to find a way to make itself relevant, so you have to have all the ceremony, the collective act of worship, the fear of everlasting torture, all of these to make the religion itself, rather than the moral teaching, matter.
I once had a brief and unresolved argument with someone who, I think, was trying to be clever, who got up from the dinner table, asked a question about how faith in Science differs from faith in God, and disappeared. He didn't stick around to find out the answer to that question (which would centre around the simple fact that everything about what Science is distinguishes it from faith in revelation, with many details to be filled in!), and that kind-of sums it up. A scientist might take up that question by framing it around mechanism of belief-formation, or the ability to explain diverse phenomena, or mathematical predictive power, and try to build an answer. A good scientist would not prejudge the question, and would do their best to allow similarities and differences in the two approaches to become apparent. To be satisfied that the question is enough is an article of faith.
Interestingly, the idea that some (many? most?) people have that Science deals in proof is just plain wrong. Unless you are willing to adopt a very old notion of 'proof', which is akin to something more like 'tested in all the ways we can think of, but still conjecture, provisional, subject to change.' I'm not a good scientist, in the sense that I haven't done anything significant to test a theory or conjecture made by someone else, nor have I made a theory of my own. But I do understand how to frame those questions. I'd also say that I strive to be good. Whilst I miss, sometimes, I fail, I make a selfish decision or I ask someone to bear a burden that should be mine alone, I speak (ill) when I could remain silent, my repentance is not to anything or anyone, save perhaps those that I hurt. What made those actions wrong was that they hurt someone. Faith in Jesus might change my expectation of the effects of my doing good, but it is my faith in humanity, collectively and most especially individually, that drives me to seek to be good. There is no hope in it, no promise of reward, no expectation of everlasting life. That is what makes it good, I think. That I would at least try to be kind, even in the face of others failing to be so, that I ought to share with Christians.
As we (that'll be Void, the band) wrote in this recent one, 'I don't believe in Heaven / I don't believe in angels'; take the promised reward away and what is left?
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When to the sessions of sweet silent thought