What do People Understand by the Word God?

Let’s Talk about What People Understand by the Word God!

It was Richard Holloway the former leader of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, who suggested that the symbol ‘God’ is one of the most ambiguous of human inventions.
What do you think?

Have you been drawn away from Institutional Christianity –

I’m now 85. I became a Christian when I was 22 but walked away in the early 1970’s from an Anglican Church in the UK where I had been treasurer for 8 years in the 1960’s. Later I spent some 20 years as a member of a Sabbath-keeping Christian Church until a ‘church split’ in 1995 forced me to reconsider for a second time, just about everything I had ever been taught. I have no recollection of ever doubting the existence of God but my understanding of the meaning of that word has changed dramatically over the years. I have been using the internet since 1997 and created my first web site in 2000 – the beginning of an on-going Work-In-Progress. I gradually became more and more involved with the Emerging, Emergent and House Church scene. There was a time when many of us saw ourselves as part of the Out of Church Christians. I finally stopped attending church in 2009. Over the next couple of years after being influenced especially by the thoughts of Richard Holloway and Diana Butler Bass I realised that I had a faith that I could hold on to ‘loosely’.

How have your thoughts about God changed over the years?

I’ve never had any formal theological training.
I was fortunate enough to enter the world of business computing as a computer programmer as long ago as 1967 – said by some to have been the perfect job for somebody living with Asperger’s Syndrome.
I gradually became disillusioned with the Church of England – highlighted perhaps by the time that I was leading a Men’s discussion group and asked the question, “What is the purpose of life?”. The immediate reaction of the Vicar with whom I was very friendly, was “Peter, you can’t ask that. That is the 64,000 dollar question (a lot of money in those days). Let’s go on to your next question”.

I have long had a bit of a reputation for asking some of the awkward questions to which there are no easy answers. Over the years I have had the chance to share something of the thoughts of more than 2,000 people who have been drawn away from churches (right across the denominational spectrum) that they might have attended for many years. A significant number of those people, including some leaders, were from Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches in America. As someone who never believed in the traditional teachings of hell, I have developed a particular affinity with many who have suffered from the fear, guilt and shame generated by much of that theology.

It was in the autumn of 2018 that I decided to step back from all of the divisive, denominational theology that had been so much part of my life for so long.
It was after listening to Barbara Brown Taylor early in 2019 that I realised that I had reached a point where I simply wanted to encourage even just a few people to reconsider what they really understood about the place of God in their lives now.

I had been introduced to the Enneagram in 2017 and reintroduced to Spiral Dynamics in 2019. something that I had known about several years previously. I have recently been introduced to Integral Theory.
Anyone who is familiar with the Enneagram will know something of how difficult it might be for a Type 9 to ‘bite the bullet’ and stop trying to dot every i and cross every t.
I’ve long been interested by what makes people tick. A glance at the Mind Maps that I created nearly 20 years ago will show what I mean!

Does any of this ring any bells with you the reader?

I would appreciate any feedback and or questions here, on Facebook or by Email.

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1. A New Starting Point

I updated my blog yesterday. This is the first of five initial Posts where I have drawn together some of the earlier material from my blog – just a little background.

Have you ever asked yourself:

  • How well do I really know God?
  • Do I really know what I believe?
  • How did I come to believe in this God?
  • To what extent have I been influenced by my own culture?
  • How would I describe the purpose of life?
  • Christian faith presupposes that we can talk to God, but what does that mean to you?
  • What place prayer and worship?

Here is just a brief reflection of some of my own thoughts and feelings at this point  in time:
I have been attracted to the idea expressed by Paul Tillich of the Ground of Our Being – the electricity of God that everyone can be plugged into!
Are we moving from God up there somewhere to God as source or that from which everything flows?
Do we have communications with others that resonate – feelings of being connected to everything – to nature – a deeply divine presence – a strength that is available beyond self?
Are we moving from God being somewhere else (who may or may not be involved from time to time) to the God who is right here with us?

What can we learn from other people’s thoughts?

It was in 2016 that Rob Bell and Pete Rollins got together for a 4 part discussion, “Let’s Talk About God” (Robcast 111). This was one of my starting points. The series gradually became rather more academic but I collected my own thoughts from the first part. This is what I wrote:
“Let’s Talk about God”.

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2. Moving through the Emerging and Emergent Church Scenes

How I moved on after 1995 through the Emerging, Emergent and House Church scene to the time when I finally stopped attending church in 2009 is a very long journey that I have tried to describe elsewhere on the blog.
By 2010 I was involved with a couple of para-church groups in Brighton where I live, including a church in a pub run by an Anglican priest. I was also introduced to the writings of Richard Holloway – the former leader of the Episcopalian church in Scotland. It was Richard who suggested that the symbol God is one of the most ambiguous of human inventions. He had a big impact on my thinking – see “Broken Myths”.

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3. Christianity After Religion

In 2012 I found a review of “Christianity After Religion” by Diana Butler Bass (see sidebar) that was another one of those light-bulb moments, as a result of which I found myself with a faith that I could hold on to ‘loosely’ despite no longer attending church.
It also made me realise that even at that time I had been an outside observer of American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism with it’s emphasis on fear, guilt and shame for over 15 years.

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4. An Introduction to the world of Academia

It was in 2013 that life became really interesting when I joined the local branch of U3A (University of the Third Age) and started attending classes in Philosophy, Psychology, Counselling, History of Christianity, History of Religion, Buddhism and Islam – just two or three hours a week for four years.

Some of the major influences since then have been Barbara Brown Taylor, Rob Bell, Richard Rohr, Bart Ehrman, Pete Rollins and Eckhart Tolle.

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5. The End of a Three Tier Universe

It was in 2015 while talking about her then new book,  “Grounded” that Diana Butler Bass suggested that a three tier universe with God in heaven had been the cornerstone of religious life that provided untold millions through the ages with meaningful comfort. She went on to say that a logical response is that there is no such God and that a distant God in heaven is no longer acceptable to many who have left church, synagogue or other forms of conventional religion.

See “Where is God?”

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