Belief has always been at the heart of Christianity. The problem with belief is that it can be false. It is necessary to have the correct belief, or you will go to hell, and lead others there too: that is the idealistic justification for burning heretics, to save their souls. We use the word “creed” as a metonymy for religion because the creed- including such things as “born of the Virgin Mary”- is so important. The Church of England is defined by the 39 Articles, additional essential belief; and the Church of Scotland by the Westminster Confession. Now Fundamentalists believe in the “inerrancy of Scripture,” which creates innumerable impossible things requiring Belief.
This makes Christianity impossibly fragile. If Noah could not have taken four million different species of beetle into the Ark, then Christianity cannot be true. Still, creationists attempt to argue that the World is less than ten thousand years old.
It also makes Christianity pernicious. If a child is brought up to believe in Adam as a historical figure, such that they refuse any evidence to the contrary, they make it difficult to function well in the world: any university degree should confront them with evidence refuting it.
If people were inspired to write about the nature of the world, I doubt anyone before 1800 could have comprehended that the local galaxies are moving at a thousand kilometres per second towards the Great Attractor. I had not heard of the Great Attractor before idly googling to get a link for this paragraph. I see the first article is from 1998 and may have been superseded- don’t take this as gospel: I was only looking for some figures to bamboozle.
Instead, we have stories. Gordon wrote on facebook this morning, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
This is not dogma, or doctrine, or theology, or magical or ‘supernatural’. It is a poetic expression of the realisation of the experience of coming together in community to share our lives with one another. I agree. It does not matter whether Jesus said these words, and it is not necessary to imagine the Presence in the Midst literally. What matters is the experience of being together with this intention.
For me, Christianity in the 21st century has to get rid of belief entirely. The beliefs are so often impossible or ridiculous. Though when Hosea realised I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings he realised a better way for people to be together. Job suffered, purely because the world is like that; it does not mean he was bad; he is impossibly small, within the workings of the World; he realised this, stood up, and by his own efforts regained what he had lost. It is a story, and a worthwhile one.