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I had a conversation recently with a friend, and we talked at length about the fact that the nature of religion , especially Christianity, appears to be rapidly changing in our post-modern world. It’s no longer ‘cool’ to have a very definite set of beliefs that suggest that you have a monopoly on truth. Young people of our generation are becoming increasingly disenchanted with dogma, meaningless tradition, and religion that focuses more on prohibition rather than liberation. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Within my particular denomination there seems to be a shift in certain quarters from focusing on the beliefs that make us different from other branches of Christianity, some of which are seen redundant, irrelevant and even downright wrong, to a seemingly more inclusive approach. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get bogged down  in conversations about religion, politics and society with labels such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ which often serve little purpose outside of allowing us to keep our ears closed to  the other side. So instead of defending a ‘side’or writing a list of criticisms of complaints, which, let’s face it we’re all good at doing, especially me – I wanted to write about some of the unique things I love about my church. They aren’t in order of importance, they’re just random snapshots of what I love about my faith:

1) Our focus on the Bible

I’m pretty sure I learnt a knock off version of Harvard referencing  system age 5, just from growing up Adventist. It was never enough for me to believe something just because I felt like it was true or it sounded like it was good.  It was never enough for my parents or a pastor to tell me something was wrong or right based on their childhood or a tradition that had been passed down to them. I would ask “Is it in the Bible? Where? Is that in the right historical context?”. And as I got older, that led to me questioning some of the traditions inside my own church and really digging deep to make sure that when I did make a decision in my late teens to actually join the church, that I believed in all the doctrines. Growing up Adventist taught me to take theology seriously and believe that God wasn’t content to just give me a rule book and leave me to it. He wanted me to engage, to ask questions, to understand the history and sociology, but most of all, to come to know and love Him through its study.

2)The health message

If you’re not Adventist, you’ll be wondering what that is – if you’re Adventist you’ve heard the phrase a million times. Adventists are known for their focus on health and a happy lifestyle, and many of us follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. I’ve recently made a commitment to stick 100% to a full plant based diet and I feel great for it. Not only has it given me a sense of achievement,  the discipline required to stay away from my occasional halloumi binges has extended to other areas of life – spiritually, physically and mentally. I love the fact that our ‘health message’ isn’t just about food, but encompasses a total state of well being. Taking time out each week to observe a day of rest, being physically active, getting enough sleep and most importantly, having trust in a power greater than myself give me a sense of well being that I’m incredibly grateful for.

I wish that more of us who are Adventists would try and experience the benefits that come from our health message especially as everyone else now seems to get that eating clean isn’t a chore when it’s done right!

3) Our commitment to social justice

I’ve never been someone who is content to believe that God wanted us to be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In fact, I tend to believe that the more heavenly minded you are, the mor earthly good you will be. One of things I love about being Adventist is that we’re often encouraged to believe that as individuals we can bring a small taste the kingdom of God to earth in the way we live our lives.The network of charities, hospitals and educational institutions run by the church always remind me that I’m not here to live for myself. My talents and my gifts are given to me to share with humanity and to offer whatever portion of peace and joy that I can to the people I interact with. Fighting against injustice, poverty, ignorance, and suffering are not jobs that I can leave to God – he’s given me my own job to do no matter how small, in reflecting his fight against these things.

4) The emphasis on lifestyle standards.

Being a teenager and an Adventist wasn’t the easiest thing. Before I developed a genuine relationship with God for myself, there was often a feeling of irritation. Why did I have to dress differently from other people? Why were my parents so strict about the things I could and couldn’t watch on TV? Why was it so bad to listen to 50 Cent? (I’m revealing my age aren’t I?) Why did I have to be so…different from everyone else? I was fed up of saying no to going certain places. I was fed up of being out the loop of everyone else’s favourite TV show or music video. I was fed up of not having sex.I just wanted to be normal.

As I grew to actually value my relationship with God I understood more and more why what I watched, what I read, where I went, who I slept or didn’t sleep with shaped the kind of person I became. And at times when I struggled a lot with these standards, I saw how I changed into a person that I didn’t particularly like and that my relationship with a God I had come to love and trust, suffered. I know now more than ever that my standards aren’t about arbitrary rules to control how I live but rather daily decisions about how I want the trajectory of my life to go. I realise that in order to be truly happy I have to be consistent in what I do publicly and behind closed doors and that that only comes from consistency in the outwardly little things I do every day.

I am glad that the youth of my church are not content to be stagnant in doing things the way they were done before for the sake of it. I want us though, to ensure that we are not afraid to be different. That our change isn’t powered by being molded by the unrelenting pressure of a secular postmodern world that paints Biblical faith as primitive, restrictive and embarrassing or a modern Christianity that is offended by any denomination that does not subscribe to a one size ecumenicalism. Now is not the time for cowardice or shrinking. We have a faith that can bring light and love and hope to so many. Find out who and whose you are, and live it!

What do you love about your faith?

 

 

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I remember the end of the first year and beginning of my second year of uni. I remember sitting in church, shivering, in the the midst of one of several seasons of doubt,and realising that this was it. I didn’t believe in this anymore. In between the stories of resurrection, talking animals and parting seas,I had found the ridiculous. I imagined telling my parents that this faith that they had grounded their whole lives on, that they had taught to my brother and I and practiced with consistency was something that no longer seemed plausible. I felt a sense of relief – no more confusion or questions. No more guilt over sins. No more struggling against the part of myself that wanted to do the wrong thing.

I had awkwardly a few years earlier, asked a friend at the time, “Do you ever doubt whether God actually exist?”. She looked at me strangely.”No..” she said, and shrugged.It was then that I decided that doubt wasn’t something that a lot of Christians coped very well with.

How I regained my faith is another story, but I will say that nothing miraculous happened (in the traditional sense of the word), there were no angel sightings, voices or divine coincidences.

Throughout my experience with faith though, I’ve had more than one person ask me how as someone who appears to value reason, I can believe in the God of the Bible. There are a host of websites which give reasons for faith, who offer answers for the difficult bible passages and scientific questions, and they do it far better than me.

What I do want to challenge, is this idea that the majority of people who identify as atheists are atheist because of some sort of rigorous thought process.

There is a new atheism that peaked in popularity a couple of years ago, before it’s patron saint -Richard Dawkins, went a bit doo-lally. The new atheism revels in painting believers and belief as a festering pustule of dangerous stupidity that has come to a head, and must now be eradicated from the planet if human beings are to ever progress. It delights in taking passages out of historical or social context, painting every moderate believer as a potential extremist, and making massive overreaches from science into philosopy. It prides itself on reason and intellect, and scathes at anything that hints at the spiritual.

But a lot of atheists are more apathetic than atheist. It’s become almost a badge of honour for 20 somethings to smugly proclaim that they are atheist. They are above the infantility  and naivety of virgin births and bearded prophets, but when you start to probe more carefully you find that their atheism isn’t very well substantiated. Not that there aren’t very good arguments against belief in God – there are – but they’re not familiar with most of them. They aren’t budding Bertrand Russells. They haven’t read David Hume and the New Testament and then come to a conclusion. Given the fact that belief in the existence or non existence of a God or gods could potentially be a life-defining decision, they haven’t given it much thought at all.

You see, some atheists tend to paint the decision to believe in a faith as an one that primarily rests in our emotions or as a result of cultural norms. It’s comforting to think that Sky-Daddy watches over you and there is something more than atoms, cells and oceans. I would argue though, that our natural instinct to self determination and our dislike of guilt are emotions that are just as powerful, if not more so.

It’s not the idea of God that is necessarily offensive to some of us, it’s the idea of a God with rules.  There is a reason why many of the new atheists tend to be less vociferous about Buddhism and some of the Eastern religions. They would contend that it’s because these religions are the most peaceful, that monotheistic religions cause wars and tragedy, (Which frankly, is a load of bunkum. People cause wars, many wars have little to do with religion and are largely cultural or economic with religion as a scapegoat)

I think a large part of the reason is that these religions appear (on the surface at least) to come with far less difficult terms and conditions. Western middle class interpretation of Buddhism appears to be mostly confined to meditating, various attempts at vegetarianism and a sense of ‘being a nice person’. This is a lot more simple and less guilt inducing for the average young westerner. If they discovered that included in Buddhism was no sex before marriage, no alcohol, modest clothing, some variation of kosher food laws, Saturday night clubbing being frowned upon, no lying under any circumstances, and a duty to actively share your faith with people you meet, they would have far less interest in Buddhism. (I can’t remember enough from R.E school lessons to comment on how many of these things do apply to Buddhism and to what degree)

Few people, even atheists, have a problem with spirituality, as long as it doesn’t prevent them from doing all the things they want to do or encourage them to do things they don’t want to do. Simply put, even if Christianity was true, many of them wouldn’t want to believe. This assumption that atheism or belief is solely to do with reason, logic and intelligence  or lack it, it simply that – a massive assumption.