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Letter from the Bishop – March 2016

There is some discussion taking place among major church leaders as to whether to change to a fixed date as with Christmas. Press coverage has noted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has shared in these discussions. However Easter remains at present a moveable feast linked to the full moons of the Jewish Passover as it has done for over 1000 years.

Holy Week and Easter form perhaps the greatest of the Christian festivals with the remembering of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In and through the Church’s liturgies there are for those of Christian faith opportunities to re-enact and re-appropriate
the great message of reconciliation with God through Christ’s redeeming work and the promise that death does not have the last word. To the sceptical and secular this whole world view is problematic with questions as to whether such beliefs can make any demands in an age of science and in a social context where human freedom is defined as personal choice and where each cherish their own truth.

Grace Davie the social scientist is among others who point out that contrary to what sociologists and political scientists expected thirty or more years ago the world has not exchanged religion for the secular. Both are present and both are growing. Religious belief and practice has not gone away. In some ways globally the world is now more religious. Some dismiss this as purely cultural conditioning: for those who are religious it is simply a matter of the communities into which they were born and raised.

The trouble with that is that if we all are merely the product of our social conditioning then the same applies to the secularist and pluralist. Nobody has a superior vantage point. We each have to do a bit more hard thinking as to where truth religious or otherwise rests.

All of us have beliefs or assumptions upon which we base and live our lives. From these we derive values and ways of seeing the world, ourselves and others. The person of faith cannot prove the existence of God and the atheist cannot prove their exclusive naturalism. Both hold beliefs. What each of us can do is ask ourselves what most convincingly makes sense of the world and human existence. Paradoxically the best way to do this is as one author wrote to take the leap of doubt: ruthlessly willing to question all our assumptions. What is unfair and dishonest and perhaps too often the case is the questioning of the religious and not of secular beliefs with the same degree of rigour. Easter invites us to leave no stone unturned, to look into the tomb and be open to life changing surprise.

+Alistair

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