My faith (1)

This post is lengthy – so feel free to skip.

Jock’s McSporan’s comments on one of Scoop’s posts and my own recent watching of videos by Dr Jordan B Cooper have led me to consider writing this series. It is a kind of testimony, but not, perhaps a conventional one. I have long resisted writing anything quite like this for two reasons:

  1. It feels egotistical to write something like this and in this format (that may perhaps just be a by-product of English culture, of course).
  2. I do not feel like a good model of how to be a Christian (though, perhaps there are things to be learned from my life – we should all be learning from each other’s experiences anyway).

This series will involve thematic explorations. I do not propose to write the story of how I became a Christian as such (though I gave a testimony when I was baptised) – but there will, no doubt, be elements of that story here and there. There is no particular order to how the elements of this series are arranged – but within a given section there may be a kind of sequence.

The Catholic tension (1)

I am half-French and lived abroad for a portion of my life (USA and Continental Europe), so I have been exposed to Catholicism. I was not raised in a religious household, but I was taken to certain church services in a military context (Remembrance Sunday, etc).

As a toddler – though I cannot say how much influence it really had on me – I attended a kindergarten ( ?and reception? for the English readers here) at a church outside Philadelphia (I lived in the USA at that time). I do not know what denomination the church was (though it may have been Baptist), but it was certainly Protestant of some description.

In primary school back in the UK, I was exposed to Sunday school-style presentation of Bible stories. I remember taking part in a nativity play (I think I was a blackbird, which people in the UK will understand given our insistence on everyone taking part). I also remember an Easter presentation in which I had to read out a passage that mentioned Pontius Pilate (it sticks in my memory because I had to learn how to pronounce that name). I think there was an element of re-enaction in this, but I do not recall the details now.

In Continental Europe, although I went to a British school, I do not recall anything particularly Christian in those years as part of my education. We attended certain services because we were part of the military community and these were not organised through my school. These services were held at the National Basilica, and it being a Catholic country, although the service was in English, it had European, Catholic clergy, I believe.

In this context, I became used to seeing statues of the Virgin Mary in glass cases on houses and by roadsides, as well as roadside crucifixes. I think I the odd church and Cathedral as a tourist (also in other European countries on holidays and school trips). I understood little about Christianity generally or Catholicism in particular (except what I gleaned from popular culture, such as The Simpsons, which in those days was played on the BBC, which we could get in Europe, and I had seen on VHS and DVD).

I do recall a few elements of Christian engagement at school in those years. There was a chapel of Saint Hubert in the park behind my school and one of my teachers (I suppose as part of local history) explained about Saint Hubertus and the stag. There was a famous chapel in a city we visited, connected with the Crusades. As part of learning English history, I was taught about the religious upheavals during the Tudor monarchy. I “learned” that “Bloody Mary” had people burned at the stake, but that she thought this was necessary to save them.

In my last year in Europe, “The Da Vinci Code” came out and I read it as part of the craze. Unfortunately, I did not have the means at the time to reject the conspiracy theories it espoused, but in later years I would have the means to do so. I suspect that I had largely forgotten about it when I became a Christian. When I started really looking into the faith, it soon appeared ridiculous.

When I became a Christian in my teens, I intended to attend a Catholic Church in my locality. However, it seemed a little far and I did not want to ask my non-religious father to give me a lift every Sunday, so I instead opted to go by myself to the local “Community Church”. This was within easy walking distance and meant I could get back in time for Sunday lunch with my parents. In this way, I felt I would not be a bother to anyone.

It turned out my church was a Baptist one, and we would eventually change our name to reflect that reality. By this time, I was a member, having been baptised, and thus able to vote on the matter. I personally was opposed to the decision as I felt that denominational differences were less relevant among Protestants in this day and age – but that’s how it went and, though I still disagree with the decision, I can understand the reasons for it and respect that.

During those early church-going days after my conversion, I made the acquaintance of an older Christian who decided to mentor me. He recommended certain websites to me and books to me, which proved influential. In later years, when I severed the mentoring aspect of that relationship and grew more confident in learning for myself, I would come to reject a lot of what I read and become agnostic on other parts.

Nevertheless, at the time, I was struggling with issues of salvation/justification/sanctification. I decided at one stage to read the Bible in the course of a year. Although my parents gave me a King James version earlier in my life, I struggled to really engage with the text. Although I could understand it, and could persevere with trickier sentences, it just did not seem to really touch my soul (at least not in ways that seemed to matter in the unverbalised parts of my subconscious).

So, having come across the Good News version at school in my religious education, I asked for a Good News bible, and worked my way through it in the course of a year (or so I recall). I generally do not read from the Good News these days, but I consider that it was a good foundation for getting some basics out of the Bible. I would later be able to refine my thoughts and engage directly with the Greek and Hebrew of the Bible (I don’t have any Aramaic to speak of – just some basic awareness of vocabulary).

My religious education at school was split into two parts: compulsory and optional. The compulsory part (national curriculum), focussed on ethical issues (I suspect that if I had been at that school earlier, I may have received a proper introduction to Christianity – but I was in Europe at the time, and this school was taking a progressive approach, rather than recapitulating things each year). I was struck at the time by the integrity of the Catholic position on a number of issues, especially abortion.

As for the optional side, I had chosen Religious Studies as one of the subjects that I would be examined on (GCSEs) in addition to the core subjects (English, Maths, Science, etc) that everyone had to take. GCSE RS had two components: a study of Luke’s Gospel and ethics considered from a Christian perspective.

30 thoughts on “My faith (1)

      1. Nicholas

        Very true – this brought back not only the original memories, but the time I spent talking about some of these things when I had counselling. I hadn’t appreciated initially how long the post would be. I would like to look at a few areas of interest besides my relationship with Catholicism: (1) Christianity and my economic views; (2) Christianity and my moral and political views; (3) Christianity and science; (4) Christianity and doubt; (5) Eschatology; (6) – maybe – Christianity and my nationalism – which would be hard to write.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Be an interesting series. It shouldn’t be that hard to combine nationalism, especially the British/American kind with Christianity, although I’ll admit Luther helps me to.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Nicholas

        Well, I’m just concerned about what I have become over the years; the darkness in my soul. It’s also important to remember that the UK was largely an ethnostate (perhaps not quite like Japan, but still the term is meaningful) until the big immigration waves of the second half of the 20th century to now. I think in ethno terms, which is harder to do in the USA perhaps. I suppose for ethno, read “Anglo-culture” in the USA?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Maybe, before the war, but since Britain has always looked as, maybe not exactly creedal, but not ethno either, some compound based on the empire. The US truly is creedal, although Anglo-Saxon at it’s base, for us it truly is the documents, which for rather a non (maybe extra-) Judeo-Christian doctrine for us

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Nicholas

        The emotions we feel about these matters are quite primal, and not always verbalised, which is why (for me personally) it’s difficult to be sure. When I look at the mess my country is in, I object to the large presence of Islam and practices from other cultures that are abhorrent to the English (if we could be honest about these things). Is it also a race thing? Few people would say yes to that last point, but some might comment that they are concerned that “the inheritance” will be lost – that comment is about a lot of things, including economics, political insitutions, ownership of land, etc. It’s a big can of worms that a lot of conservatives really feel strongly about, but do not feel they can have a full and frank discussion about. I certainly don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I’ve run across a fw English that decidedly are full blooded ‘blood and soil” in the German sense – you’re not even close!. I don’t see it, I see (other than some loons) very few problems with West Indians, and Indians (brown with a dot, as we say), as long as they assimilate, and they do.

        A lot of the difference with Islam, of course, is that they are outside of western civilization, by their choice, and that gap is unbridgeable, for any of our countries, if we are to remain as our countries per se. In a sense India is moving towards us, because they are proud of breaking with the empire, and yet lament loss of the anglo saxon input, and with us, they can have both.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Nicholas

        Here’s hoping for a good future, but I genuinely think some kind of Christian Revival will be necessary to really help us heal the divid and start to stabilise our society. I really don’t see how the current level of immigration is sustainable.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. Nicholas

        Yes, I think he will bring about some big reforms, but other things will have to be stones and ripples, so to speak. In truth, I think your President works thhat way too. Some of the best stuff he does is just putting ideas out there for your country to put into practice State by State, county by county, not just at the Federal level. We need healthy cultures – these will produce healthy economies and healthy laws and healthy charities.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Agreed. I was rather nonpulsed one time when C and I were speaking of this and he commented that you didn’t have enough competent people to staff local government. It still seems unlikely, but you do seem to have a shortage even in Westminster, of course so do we.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Nicholas

        Yeah – that’s a whole other mess. I recall recently reading that some council in Wales is having people sent to it to help them through a rough patch because people are feuding with each other or something.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Jock McSporran

    OK – so which half of you is French? Are you French from the waist up (like Strephon from Iolanthe)? What is the other half? Is it American or English (this wasn’t completely clear from your post)?

    From what you have written so far, your upbringing – with a lot of moving about from place to place – seems to have been seriously discombobulating and you did well to survive it.

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    1. Nicholas

      Discombulating in various ways, some of which will always be with me, but it was in many respects more stable than some military families, and avoided boarding school, which does not agree with all children. I would also say that as a family we were much closer knit than some expats who, being wealthy and part of a different stratum of society, have less contact with their children, farming them out to nannies or letting them run wild. Were we perfect? No – but no family is.

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      1. Jock McSporran

        Yes – I think you’re right about boarding school. I never had anything of that myself (I went to the local comprehensive, which was within walking distance of the house – in a small rural town).

        One friend of mine, whose daddy had been Ambassador, even into his 70’s could not forgive his parents for sending him to a boarding school as a teenager, thus splitting the family, when his father got the Ambassador job. This was a sore point with him for the rest of his life. So you’re probably right about this.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nicholas

        Of course, I’m generalising. I know public school people who turned out fine – but there are also loads of anecdotes about bullying, feelings of loneliness or lack of connection, excessive macho behaviour, and, of course, going back earlier in time, fagging.

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  2. Jock McSporran

    To Nicholas and NEO – would you say that the system of government in the UK with all its over-centralisation is worse than Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar?

    Nicholas’s original post described the origins of his Christian faith. I’m having difficulties seeing the transition to politics and national governments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nicholas

      Well, NEO and I like to talk about these things at his blog and it rolled off what I was saying about the different themes I want to talk about as the series develops (Christian liberalism vs Christian conservatism and expectations about good works, etc).

      I think the question of government is relevant to your prayer life, voting according to your conscience, and can affect how you see the Kingdom of God. For me, personally as you will see in future posts, it plays a lot into the labels we apply to ourselves – liberal, conservative, etc.

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      1. Jock McSporran

        Actually – it is easy in the country where I am living. They have their elections on Sundays, so I can’t vote (since that would mean breaking the Sabbath).

        My view on the Sabbath: don’t participate in anything which causes other people work on Sunday which could be done on a different day. An election, along with all the vote counting, could be carried out on a different day.

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      2. Nicholas

        Thankfully elections are on Thursdays generally in the UK. I remember voting in the general election in December on my way home from the office.

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  3. Jock McSporran

    … and did you vote for the fornicator or the Comrade?

    If I had been eligible to vote in the election, I would have voted for the party that was shouting loudly that Julian Assange should be freed. He is another fornicator, but that is not what the trial is about.

    As Christians we should pray that we can live in peace as Christians – and that The State won’t place restrictions on being Christian, professing our faith, etc …. At the same time, there is a serious problem when the justice system stinks to high heaven – as it does here.

    One important blog that I follow is the blog of Craig Murray.

    https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2020/02/your-man-in-the-public-gallery-the-assange-hearing-day-3/

    Some of his politics is `off the wall’ other parts of his politics are just plain nasty, but on the Assange case, he is right on the button – and he was also right on the button with the Skripal case.

    Liked by 1 person

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