027: ON SURVIVING THE ALPHA COURSE

“A warm welcome to  Zingcreed, the totally unique Christian/Atheist blog where nothing is sacred! This particular Post is one of the most viewed I have ever written. In this personal polemic I think aloud about religion and life. I hope you get something out of it!”

THE  McDONALDIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY?

by Peter Turner

Holy Trinity Brompton anglican church spawned this set of ten evening classes with a difference. With no pretence at impartiality it starts with hymn singing and prayer (in a warm welcoming atmosphere with refreshments it must be admitted) where if you don’t sing along or stand for the prayers you feel self-conscious. It has recently (2013) hit the headlines as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is one of the course’s alumni.
You are told the point of the course is to explore the meaning of life, but the real aim is to convert the guests to a conservative evangelical outlook. The ultimate  hope is that you will “accept Jesus as your personal saviour”. By all accounts it has been very successful in reversing the church’s declining attendance figures – bums are definitely being put on pews.
After a video or sermon presentation based on the book “Alpha. Questions of Life” by Nicky Gumbel (i), the class splits into discussion groups (there being no chance to ask questions or raise doubts in the plenary session). Each participant is given an Alpha Manual. (ii)
The slick video presentation does tend to emphasize Gumbel’s personality in my view; for example he talks about how wonderful his marriage is (cut to his proud wife beaming in the pews), even though in the same sermon he appears to be endorsing mail-order brides!
He has been described as simplistic and shallow and “happy-clappy” (iii) The climax weekend where you are expected to get to know the holy spirit theologically and emotionally by Sunday lunchtime is “disturbing”. When I asked about homosexuality I was told that was not an acceptable option. Their sexual conservatism is also reflected in alpha’s attitude towards premarital sex. Gumbel tells approvingly of an engaged couple who were having sex but then got converted. For the next two and a half years until they got married they abstained.

Prepare yourself:
Read the articles on the web before you go, especially the series by the Guardian reporter. There’s even a book which offers a critique of the course. Words like ‘indoctrination’ and ‘brainwashing’ crop up.
Get Gumbel’s book if you can and read the relevant chapter before going and list the points you disagree with or don’t understand, so that you can raise them in the discussions. Check out the bible references with a reliable commentary and see what alternative interpretations might be offered. I used the Jesus Seminar publications. (iv) (v)
Check out the alternatives eg the “Living the Questions” course which takes a liberal/progressive  approach to the Christian faith. (vi)

My experience:
     I was unable to sit through the complete course and so missed the residential weekend where the three lessons on the holy spirit were taught and where by all accounts some people become very emotional, start talking in tongues, roll on the floor, and bark like dogs! I’m sure Jesus would be astonished to see how his message of love and compassion has been distorted into such self-indulgent crap; if indeed it does take place, as I say I wasn’t there to see it for myself.

I first heard of the Alpha course when my local Baptist church leafleted the area where I live . I knew nothing about the church or the course. About 50 people were there on the first evening and it soon became apparent that I was the only one who wasn’t already a member of the congregation !

Eight years later I attended the course again in an anglican setting in North London – am I a glutton for punishment or what? 150 people were expected – I was number 43 and the last to arrive which meant there was more of the delicious lasagne for the rest of us! Once again the majority of participants were either members of that church’s congregation already or were repeating the course for the second or even third time. I think it’s important to mention this because it gives the lie to Alpha’s statement that two point something million people have done the course in Britain. Maybe; but that is not the same as saying that that number of atheists or at least non-church-goers had come through the doors. What I observed in both churches was that Alpha is almost entirely ‘preaching to the choir’.
Another odd thing was the turnover of participants – people were constantly  leaving our discussion group or coming for the first time half way through the course. I also was surprised that at neither church was I ever actually invited to come to a sunday service or in anyway continue my connection with the congregation. Perhaps after hearing my views in the discussion groups  they thought I would  be a disruptive influence! I wasn’t even invited to the follow-up Baptist barbecue after the course ended, even though the organisers promised to mail me an invitation. On the positive side the homemade flapjacks brought in by the discussion group leader at the C.of E. course were awesome! If I ever go back  it’ll be for the food (9/10) not for the theology (2/10).

The unfortunate role of the fictional gospel of St John in Alpha thinking
In session after session great emphasis is placed on what John, the spiritual gospel, says. As John is now considered by most scholars to be fiction from end to end this is a pity. Of course it may have ‘spiritual’ truths in it, but is not a good place to start if you are looking for evidence about the historical Jesus. (See Zingcreed Post “Is the fourth gospel fiction“). It’s revealing that in every session the Epistles and other books are quoted more often than the synoptics. (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The marvellous gospel of Thomas and the Q gospel are not used at all. Of course the Alpha team know about them, far better than I do. Perhaps the new scrolls etc that have come to light in the last century don’t fit in with their theological party line. Or possibly they don’t want to confuse their audience. Perhaps we are considered unable to handle anything new?

THE COURSE: SOME THOUGHTS ON EACH SESSION

Introductory Session

  • If I was writing this course I would have started with the question everyone has asked themselves at some point – does God really exist? What would you have started with?
  • “What is the point of life?” Good question, but don’t assume you’re necessarily going to find a coherent answer on the Alpha course. To every question there is one simple answer, and it’s wrong!
  • We’re hearing the same self-centred introspection that all fundamentalists display. It’s not changed since my boyhood in the 1950s. There is no mention of Jesus core message – feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the widow and orphan, visit the sick and imprisoned. This is because the sector of Christianity which runs courses like this goes for Justification by Faith, not Justification by Works. Here you have to believe stuff to get stuff ( i.e. a place on the bus to heaven.)
  • Using the Jesus Seminar colour coding system for verses in the gospels, all the verses quoted in the Introductory Session come from John’s gospel so are rated ‘black’ for ‘fiction’.

Session One: Who is Jesus?
This is chapter 2 in Gumbel’s “Alpha” book.

  • I think one has to keep at the front of one’s mind during a course like this run by  enthusiastic lay people, and populated by their fellow church goers, that you can get swept along without realising it. Remember to ask questions and try to be intellectually honest.
  • The gospels are our only real source of info on JC. Even dear old Josephus has been discredited. Here’s a list of the problems – I don’t see how you can sweep them under the carpet. Bummer, but there you go.
    (a) The gospels were written by unknown authors decades after the events they purport to describe
    (b) they all contradict each other
    (c) there are contradictions within each gospel
    (d) the stories in them were passed on by word of mouth for half a century or so. Ever played Chinese Whispers?
    (e) they are not written by eye witnesses or even by people who spoke the same language as Jesus, Aramaic
    (f) all four writers belonged to different early churches, each with its own local agenda and its own axe to grind
    (g) the earliest gospels (Q, Thomas and Mark) say next to nothing about the birth and death of of the Man. Perhaps that was all written in later by other people
    (h) down the centuries the texts (which had no chapters or verses) were hand copied by true believers,  who must have been strongly motivated to tidy things up
  • Under the Jesus Seminar’s colour coding this session’s quoted gospel verses rank as follows: 1 red (authentic), 2 pink (may be authentic), 9 grey (unlikely to be true) and 25 black (not true).

Session Two: Why did Jesus die?
(Chapter 3 in book)
Here are some really subversive points to raise at discussion time:

  • Jesus never said he was going to die for our sins – if he had said it Alpha would have included that verse in the course!
  • Did Jesus choose this outcome? Or even if he didn’t choose to die, did he know what was going to happen?
  • Why, on the cross, did Jesus say “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
  • Why couldn’t God forgive us without killing his own innocent child?
  • “The greatest problem that confronts every person” is SIN! What a load of pigswill! Some people in England today are very poor, can’t buy a bus fare, pay the rent (or Council Tax – over 7000 defaulters in my London borough alone). Many homeless don’t qualify for benefits because they have ‘no fixed abode’. Half the social housing tenants in Newham have had the bailiffs in – 7000 families in all! (BBC TV News 22/08/2013) I should think that contemplating their ‘sins’ is some way down their list of concerns.
  • By harping on about victimless crimes (such as wanking?), the evangelicals aim to make you lose your self confidence, to crumble so that they can re-mould you . They should stick to apple crumble, they’re good at that!
  • What about the church’s sins. When did you ever hear an apology for the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, witch-burning, heretic hunting, forcible baptism of pagans, anti-semitism and other features of the Dark Ages – the one thousand year span when Christians had everything their own way, and  a time to which some evangelicals would like to return.
  • Jesus’ crucifixion was pointless: it achieved zilch. Contrast that with Spartacus and the other 7000 members of the slave revolt, who were crucified in Rome in about 60 BCE. Unlike Jesus they died for a purpose, for human freedom and human happiness. They lost, but just think what might have happened if they’d won. Their rebellion inspired hope in many down the centuries.
  • Jesus was far from being sinless (See Zingcreed Post on “Jesus – the dark side“)
  • In the lovely parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus contradicts this evangelical theology.The sinning son (representing mankind) initiates his own repentance and is reconciled to his father (representing God) without any need for human sacrifice along the way.
  • There are at least 30 different versions of Atonement theory; just think, you could believe a different one on each day of the month and if the date is the 31st, for a little frisson you could believe you’re going to hell.
  • Jesus Seminar rating of chosen verses: 13 non-gospel, so no colour coding for them, 4 black (untrue) gospel ones.

Session Three: How can We have faith?
(Chapter 4 in book)
It’s that ‘Leap in the dark’ time. That magic leap of faith that will bring you into Jesus’ bosom. Ouch, a bit bony, I think he needs some more goat stew and turnips.

  • I think most honest Christians would admit that faith is not rational, and is not an evidence-based phenomenon. If it were we would all have to believe. It might be comforting to have faith but would it compromise your integrity? Did you leave your brains at the door on the  way in, or are you keeping your critical faculties well lubricated?  (a little drink can help)
  • Look out for the word “personal”, as in “accept Jesus as your personal saviour” or “deep personal conviction”. You won’t find it in the gospels, as Jesus was more concerned with righting wrongs in the wider society than with some wealthy person’s mental processes 2000 years down the line (that’s you and me.)
  • Remember last week’s Zingcreed message that faith has lead to Inquisitions and Crusades. In my lifetime, nuns have marched down the streets of Croatia giving the nazi salute (the Ustase movement) while the men forcibly converted Orthodox Christians to Catholicism and executed those who wouldn’t comply (1940s)
  • Jesus Seminar : 18 non-gospel verses; 4 gospel verse, all black (untrue)

Session Four: How and Why do I pray?
(Chapter 6 in book)
Zingcreed quick answer: don’t bother – it’s all a delusion anyway.(Check out Post on prayer and meditation)

  • A good starting point is to ask oneself whether prayer works. A lot of people spend a lot of time doing it, so it could be a real time-saver for them if it could be shown to be ineffective; they could occupy their time more usefully. I append a list of such investigations, all of them showing it has no effect. (vii)
  • Gumbel, as is to be expected, overeggs the cake by making outlandish claims in the Manual that prayer is “the most important activity of our lives” (p.28) and “the best part of the day.” (p.30)
  • Instead of scattering dust into the wind, I feel people would be better off leaving God out of it and simply meditating on their lives: what went well today; what could have been handled better; who should I spend more time with; who might need more support – or less? What events in the news are of concern to my community/workplace? How can I support those being screwed by the system? How can I make my life-style more sustainable and less impacting on the environment? How can the status quo be shattered, once and for all?
  • Contemplation of something beautiful like music, art, food or a sunset can bring a real sense of peace in a world full of turmoil.
  • Christian prayer by contrast is all too often spent trying to believe 6 impossible things before breakfast, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland. Or in involvement with some mythical world in one’s head that is populated by angels and dead saints.
  • Instead of risking causing offence by telling your friends with problems  that you are praying for them, because they know that intercessory prayer is futile, boost their morale by telling them that “you have been thinking about them, and wishing with all your heart that they come through this OK.” This tonic does not need a supernatural supplement. (viii)

Session 5 Why and How should I read the Bible?
(Chapter 5 in book)

  • I recommend doing some homework before each session e.g. reading the verses that will be quoted in the next Session. If you haven’t been given the Alpha manual yet, ask for it. If you don’t own a Bible they’ll possibly give you one of those as well. I picked up my first bible in a charity shop last year for two pounds. Or read it on line. When you’ve read a verse, think about its meaning. Compare it with the other gospels using a Synoptic guide where all 4 gospels are set out in parallel columns. Check on line to see if the Jesus Seminar rate the verses as authentic. (Remember, St John’s gospel was relegated to the realm of fiction long ago.)
  • Beware of proof-texting, the practice beloved of televangelist hillbillies and snake-oil merchants generally, where verses are selected from different books, used out of context and juxtaposed to other verses written thousands of years later, all to prove some dubious point. (e.g. that Obama is Satan) An example of this can be seen in the Manual on p. 40: Psalms, John, Jeremiah, Romans, Isaiah, Luke and so on, quoted one after the other. Ridiculous.
  • Why should the library that is the Canon be treated with more respect than, say, the works of Homer or Socrates? As it’s laying down rules for our lives it surely demands even closer scrutiny.
  • Refer back to my comments in Session 1, second bullet point, on the Bible.
  • “All scripture is divinely inspired” (1 Tim 3:16) Well, of course it would say that, wouldn’t it? It’s like a defendant in a trial telling the judge “I’m telling the truth – I’m innocent” and the judge saying “Oh, in that case I’ll release you.” And Timothy is one of the fake epistles; St Paul did not write it. Self-validating statements aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. And there are no reliable outside witnesses to the events described. This goes deep. Take the Exodus for example. I can’t recall where I read this (when I do, I’ll insert the reference here) but the biblical account was written one thousand years after the events it purports to describe. Also there is absolutely no archaeological evidence to suggest that the Jews were ever in Egypt anyway.
  • The book has come down to us from long ago: look out for the sexism, the racism, the cruelty, the shoddy thinking; and the alarming ignorance of the writers that is on display.
  • Note Gumbel’s amusing belief that the coincidences that occur in his life are signs from God. Weird.

Session 6 “How does God guide us?”
(Chapter 7 in book)

  • Notice how both book and manual start: “Decisions, eg: marriage, job, home, money, giving, holidays, use of time, possessions.” Good so far, but what about the wider society in which we live? This nice cosy list keeps us all within our suburban comfort zone. Nothing threatening here. It’s all personal, not community based. It’s a sign of a weakened strain of Christianity that has strayed far from it’s founder’s teaching. It’s self-centred, not outward looking. Self-ish rather than self-less. Is the Alpha course sensitising us to the needs of the sick, the widows and orphans, the imprisoned and homeless, the refugees, the victims of drone attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or does it merely sensitize us to our own inner brain chemistry?
  • Some sentences that indicate the narrowness of Alpha’s core teachings:

“Once we have discovered what the Bible says we need search  no further” (book p. 102) Uh, no…
“We know that Christians are only free to marry other Christians.” (book p.102) Does that include Catholics?
“The best advisors are usually godly Christian people with wisdom and experience  whom we respect.” (book p.109) Really?

  • I notice my old acquaintance Dr Nicholas Zernov is mentioned on p.111. That was during my balalaika playing days in the House of St Gregory and St Macrina in Oxford in the 1960s. One thing he said to me has always stuck in my mind: “In war time you can kill an enemy as a sign that you love him. It is the Holy Spirit acting through you”. (I kid you not).

Sessions 7, 8, and 9 “The Holy Spirit” (Residential weekend)
(Chapters 8, 9 and 10 in book)

  • I am going to start by looking at what Jesus said about the Trinity (God+Jesus+the Holy Spirit) because that should be a good place to start on this Spirit business. I’ll then branch out and check my concordance for Jesus’s references to the Holy Spirit. It’s Zingcreed’s policy to prioritize the gospels over the rest of the Bible.
  • Gosh! Not only did Jesus never mention the Trinity, the cornerstone of the Christian faith today; the word isn’t even in the Bible at all!! My 3 concordances go straight from “trimmed” to “triumph”. I am genuinely astonished. I didn’t know that. All these years the church has been hammering on about the centrality of the trinity to Christian faith and it isn’t even in the Bible!
  • Here’s what Jesus (as opposed to the gospel writers themselves) says about the Holy Spirit (same as the Holy Ghost) :-

(a) “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit  will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Mt 12:32)
(b) “David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:…” (Mk12:36)
(c) (When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say) “for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Lk 12:12; also Mk 13:11)
(d) ” If you then though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Lk 11:13)

  • Jesus seminar rating: black, black, black, grey; i.e. ” Jesus did not say this” (x3), and ” Jesus did not say this but the ideas in it are close to his own.” Naturally the fourth gospel mentions the Holy Spirit, e.g. Jn 3:5-8, and this is quoted on the course book p.127, but John is a source of spiritual truth not a literal recording of what Jesus actually said. The epistles are quoted too, but the emphasis of Zingcreed is on the life and words of Jesus, not on what came after his death. I think 21st century people can work out what he meant without dragging in 1st century tent-makers.
  • That’s all the verses. Clear, then? How can Alpha devote 3 sessions – a whole weekend – to something that Jesus probably didn’t say  4 times in his 3 years of preaching, and whose meaning seems rather unclear anyway. Perhaps Alpha have an ulterior motive.
  • Jesus emphasised forgiveness and compassion; the coming Kingdom of God was something he couldn’t stop talking about. How come Alpha doesn’t spend 3 sessions on them? Think what else you could spend the (weekend accommodation costs) money on. Jesus might suggest giving it to the poor!
  • On p. 153 of the Alpha book, Gumbel reveals that he received the gift of tongues. The course managers will be very pleased if you too start talking incomprehensible gibberish before Sunday lunchtime on the residential weekend. They’ll be even happier if you get the whole “Toronto” effect and roll around on the floor foaming at the mouth and then start barking like a dog. I think I’ll go along and do it all for a laugh! Is this sort of stuff on You Tube?
  • Gumbel appears to me to be reducing the Holy Spirit to a trivial level when he says “We don’t know exactly how the Holy Spirit spoke. It may be that as they were praying the thought came into their minds. This is a common way in which God speaks. People sometimes describe it as ‘impressions’ or feeling it ‘in their bones’. It is possible for the Holy Spirit to speak in all these ways.” (book p.104)
  • If God guides us through dreams, visions/pictures, angels and audible voices (Manual p.41) how can we be sure that these are not hallucinations (or nightmares)? A psychiatrist might take hearing voices as a symptom of schizophrenia. When a woman in Costa Rica heard a magazine photo of a former Pope speaking to her, this was accepted by the Vatican as a miracle (not in the Middle Ages but this year, 2013!). What do you think?

Session 10 “How can I resist evil?”
(Chapter 11 in book)

  • This is the session where it is revealed that to be a full member of this evangelical sub-culture you are expected to believe in the literal existence of Satan, horns, pitchfork and all! You might want to say your good-byes and take your leave at this point. You are about to descend into a nether world which bears little connection to reality. And don’t be sure you can find refuge in other branches of the church; remember the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Oilwellby, as Private Eye calls him, backs this course without reservation!
  • My favourite radical theologian, Don Cupitt, (ix) (x) has this to say about sin: “I think sin was a concept that belonged in a traditional, structured, immobile  kind of society. It’s obviously  changing now in a society that’s fluid and shifting. What was thought of as sinful, disobedient and presumptuous in the past may today be the right thing to do. The whole notion of sin has become very fluid and uncertain. Also in the past the notion of sin has been a tool of power by which people have been oppressed. They’ve been made to feel guilty and dependent, So I think it’s quite right that for Christians nowadays, the forgiveness of sin should mean actually getting rid of the idea of sin from your thinking.”
  • This is light years ahead of medieval Alpha thinking where casting out demons or exorcism is still in vogue (manual p. 66) Even Hippocrates, 300 BCE, knew human conditions had natural causes. This reminds me of the heart-breaking Victoria Climbié saga. This young West African kid was taken by her abusive adoptive parents to my local UCKG church in North London because they considered she was possessed by demons. Instead of calling in social services or offering support, the staff offered fasting, prayer and exorcism. Shortly after, this innocent child was starved and beaten to death by her carers. (See all national press for details) They are now serving long sentences. Unfortunately the Brazilian millionaires who peddled this nonsense aren’t. None of the UCKG stalwarts patrolling the streets of Wood Green collecting buckets of cash ‘for charity’ today, a couple of years later, have ever heard of poor Victoria. What a wonderful thing short-term memory loss is! I make it my business to tell them.

Session 11 “Why and How should I tell others?”
(book chapter 12)

  • Ah, the ‘Zing’ verse! (book p. 175) (Mt 5:13, different translation, hence the replacement of ‘zing’ by ‘saltiness’) Here’s something I agree with; I shall quote it in full:
    “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds…Jesus calls us to have a wide ranging influence (‘salt of the earth‘ and ‘the light of the world‘). In order to exercise this influence, we need to be ‘in the world’ (at work, in our neighbourhood and among our family and friends) and not to withdraw into what John Stott calls our ‘elegant little ecclesiastical salt cellars’. Yet we are called to be different- to live  a radically different lifestyle from the world, so that we may be effective as salt and light in it”.
    If only the whole Alpha course could be like p.175-6 in this book!
  • Bear in mind what the Bible decrees  for those who won’t listen to you when you’re out there preaching: your listeners will “perish” (Jn 3:16) ie burn in the flames of hell for all eternity. Conservative evangelicals quote this verse more than any other in the whole Bible! It’s all part of the whole package you are considering signing up to. Secondly look at the fate of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. No wonder the whole church was filled with “great fear”! Two innocent people struck dead for nothing, and how does Gumbel describe it? (book p. 185) “God performing more signs and wonders through the name of Jesus”. Signs and wonders indeed! So, does becoming an evangelical make you more cruel and cold-hearted than you were before?

Session 12 “Does God heal today?”
(Book chap. 13)

  • I like the admission on p.188 of the book that “Of course God heals with the co-operation of doctors, nurses and the whole medical profession.” To which I would add “Of course the whole medical profession can heal without the co-operation of God.”
  • Although Hippocrates had shown the ancient Greeks that human diseases  and illnesses have natural causes three centuries earlier, no one told poor old Jesus and so he  upheld the already obsolete ‘possession by demons’ paradigm. If only someone had told him, we’d be spared a lot of pain and heartbreak as unqualified church people bumble around pretending they can heal. Gumbel is being very irresponsible in his encouragement of this nonsense; very.
  • This fanatical Christian extremism can kill. Eleven year old Kara Neumann of Wisconsin died of easily treatable diabetes in Wisconsin in 2008 (xi). Even though she suffered several days of ghastly pain, her devout Christian parents refused to take her to hospital, believing that prayer alone can heal the sick. At his trial, Kara’s father testified that  he had faith that God would heal Kara as promised in the Bible: “Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.” (James 5:14-15) He added “If I go to the doctor, I am putting the doctor before God. I am not believing what he (God) said he would do.” He could equally well have quoted Matt. 21:22; Matt. 7:7-8; Matt. 7:11; Matt. 18:19; 1 Jn 3:22;  Jn 14:12-14.
  • Why do so many ‘sinners’ remain in perfect health, and so many virtuous people get struck down in their youth?
  • In the DVD version of this session, Gumbel quotes an example of praying that a person with no kidneys might be cured. An optimist indeed!

Session 13 “What about the church?”
(Book chap. 14)

  • The first thing to be said about the church is that is a human institution like any other. It is riven by petty jealousies, power struggles and disagreements. More people are flowing out of the doors than are coming in. It is a top-down hierarchically organised body, and you are at the bottom. You will have no say over what happens to your financial donations to the church, but you can be pretty sure more of it will go to perpetuating the church’s structure than goes to the poor and needy!
  • The ‘body of Christ’ is split into tens of thousands of rival denominations, many of which devote all their energies to attacking other Christians.
  • The violent extremists within the Christian faith like to bomb abortion clinics (US), machine gun innocent Norwegian children (Breivik), and welcome Israeli military activity against her neighbours as a sign of the coming Armageddon.
  • Surveys have shown that Christians are less tolerant of others than non-Christians.(xii)
  • Some Christian groups, quite in keeping with Biblical teaching, are against further education for their children. The Jehovah’s Witnesses openly advocate your kid learning a trade rather than going away to college.
  • Alpha teaches (manual p.83) the church “needs to be at the centre of our thinking as Christians.” I beg to differ.

Session 14 “How can I make the most of the rest of my life?”
(Book chapter 15)

  • As in earlier sessions the emphasis is totally on the personal. ‘Ignore the wider world, be totally introverted, close the windows lest a draught of gritty reality blow in,’ it seems to say.
  • I say ‘Open the doors and windows, leave the church premises and never come back! Feel the sun on your face. Feel free. Stop and talk to that person begging for money; dip into a broadsheet newspaper to remind yourself where the current struggles are going on. Join  a charity or pressure group that works in an area you feel comfortable with – Shelter, Christian Aid, Médecins sans Frontières, Barnardos, Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity, the list goes on.
  • Put yourself last, put those less well off than yourself first, and support their struggles. Each of us in our own little way can contribute to setting up the Kingdom  of God on earth, or (as I’m not totally sure what Jesus meant by that), to making the world a slightly better place when we leave it than when we came into it.
  • In the unlikely event that the Alpha course makes you feel like doing that, then I would say it was a success. If it does not then, in my humble opinion, it’s a failure and is delaying the establishment of the Kingdom that Jesus spent most of his waking hours talking about. Read the gospels and check it out. Of course I could be wrong.

Finally a quote I wrote down in my copy of the Alpha book. It’s from Philip Pullman:
“Christianity is a convincing and powerful mistake. That’s all.”

If you find this commentary interesting or useful, why not print out a few copies and give them to others if you go on the Alpha course?

Related Zingcreed Posts:
What conservative Christians believe (and I don’t!)
To be a pilgrim? Seekers v. Believers (Progressives v. Evangelicals)
Sweet nothings
I should’ve gone to the pub instead, church and me
Prayer and Meditation (See, Judge, Act, and Review)
Prayers for Atheists
The Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of Nuisances and Nobodies

Sources:
(i) Gumbel, N.  “Alpha.Questions of Life” Kingsway Publications (1995)
(ii) Gumbel, N. “The Alpha Course manual” Alpha International (2008)
(iii) Barrett, D. “The New Believers”  Cassell (2007)
(iv) Funk, R., Hoover,R. and the Jesus Seminar “The Five gospels. What did Jesus really say?” Harper Collins (1993)
(v) Funk, R. and the Jesus Seminar “The acts of Jesus. What did Jesus really do?” Harper Collins (1998)
(vi) Felten,D., Procter-Murphy, J. “Living the Questions. The wisdom of progressive christianity” Harper One (2012)
(vii) (a) Benson,H. American Heart Journal 151 p.934; summarised in Dawkins, R. “The God delusion” Black Swan (2006) p. 86
(b) Byrd, R. Southern Medical Journal 81,7 p.826;
(c) Cha, K. Y.  Journal of Reproductive Medicine 46,9 p.781
(viii) Dennett, D. in Hitchens,C. “The Portable Atheist” Da Capo (2007) p.280
(ix) see Zingcreed blog “Don Cupitt for Dummies” August 2013
(x) “Frontiers of faith” 2 Transcripts of 2 Radio New Zealand Connexions programmes, part 2 St Andrews Trust (1997)
(xi) Stenger, V. “God and the folly of faith” Prometheus (2012)
(xii) Reference to be inserted

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