Photo of David Graeber

In memory of David Graeber, 1961 – 2020

The following article was first published in ‘Sofia’ magazine. Sofia is the magazine of the Sea of Faith Network (UK) and is published quarterly. You can find out more about the magazine, and see some articles and excerpts from it, on the Sea of Faith Network website.

The article is written in memory of David Graeber who sadly died in September 2020. David Graeber was, in my view, a modern day prophet.

Photo credit: ANDREJ GRUBAČIĆ

Revisiting ‘Debt: The first 5,000 years’ by David Graeber.

I first read ‘Debt’ when I was starting university in 2011. The timing of the book’s publication couldn’t have been more apposite. The Coalition government was swinging the axe on benefits and public services, the Occupy movement were camped in the City, and the impact of austerity in Greece was in the news. The pandemic prompted me to revisit this book for three reasons.

Firstly, government spending on the pandemic response has reopened the public debate about national debt. Back in 2010 the media reported on this using a household analogy: the UK had overspent and run up a vast debt, which needed to be urgently repaid. In my first economics class, the Professor pointed out that this household analogy was ‘bunkum’, as was the supposed UK debt crisis, saying, ‘most households can’t issue their own currency.’ I worry that in the aftermath of the pandemic, the government will ignore the painful lessons of the past decade.

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Five Giants by Josh Philip Saunders

Structural sin

Cover image credit
‘Five Giants’, Illustration by Josh Philip Saunders. Further details available at: https://joshphilipsaunders.co.uk/Five-Giants
Commissioned by the RSA for their work on ‘Britain’s New Giants’

Christianity needs a concept of structural sin

For many people in the western world, their ideas of good and evil are heavily influenced by Christianity, even if they are not religious. The Church teaches children that a sin is an act they do. Those children grow up into adults who don’t understand how they, without doing anything particularly evil themselves as an individual, can still be part of much wider problems, like structural racism, inequality, poverty and environmental damage. These are all ‘structural sins’, and our ability to respond to them is stunted by our inability to understand our role in them.

Stuck with an idea that we are only responsible for our own direct actions, we end up unable to deal with any problems that lie outside our most obvious responsibilities as a solitary individual.

In secular politics, more people are now starting to understand and think about institutional or structural racism and structural inequalities. Secular society is learning the language it needs to describe systemic oppression. Christianity also needs a concept of structural sin.

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Why would atheists want to be part of the church?

This is the third blog post in the series about Christian Atheism. Links to the previous posts are below:

  1. Why is an atheist getting confirmed?
  2. Our obsession with belief
  3. Why would atheists want to be part of the church?
  4. (Planned) What does religious language mean to Christian Atheists?

My last blog post argued that people often overstate the importance of holding certain metaphysical beliefs to being Christian, at the expense of other important aspects such as community, living ethically, sacred space and enjoying cultural heritage. I’m not going to write at length about what the church offers, that is a matter for your personal preference and taste. But I do want to answer the question of why an atheist might want to be part of a church, despite not sharing all the beliefs of other members, and why the church ought to include these people.

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Our obsession with belief

This is the second blog post in the series about Christian Atheism. Links to the previous and following posts are below:

  1. Why is an atheist getting confirmed?
  2. Our obsession with belief
  3. Why would atheists want to be part of the church?
  4. (Planned) What does religious language mean to Christian Atheists?

In my last post, I wrote about there being a credible and meaningful, non-fairytale and non-supernatural way to be Christian, without believing impossible or unlikely things. That leaves people wondering (1) Why would someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural god want to be part of the Church? And (2) How can an atheist find religious language meaningful? Sadly – and despite my best attempts – a blog post on religious language is either too brief to do the philosophy justice, or too long and dense to be readable. Instead, I’ll use my next two blogs to:

Continue reading “Our obsession with belief”

Why is an atheist getting confirmed?

This is the first blog post in the series about Christian Atheism. Links to the following posts are below:

  1. Why is an atheist getting confirmed?
  2. Our obsession with belief
  3. Why would atheists want to be part of the church?
  4. (Planned) What does religious language mean to Christian Atheists?

‘But to ask, ‘Do you believe in God?’ is rather like asking, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ Show me the piece of string and I will tell you how long it is. Tell me what sort of God you have in mind and I will tell you whether I believe in him (or her? Or it?)’ –

Anthony Freeman, God in Us: A case for Christian Humanism

As a few of you might know, I’m being confirmed this September at St Pauls Bow Common, a liberal anglo-catholic church in East London. More of you probably know that I’m an atheist. I’m not writing this post to argue about the existence of god – though I’m happy to discuss that separately. I’m writing to explain what I mean when I say I’m an atheist but that I’m also a Christian, because I realise that to most people those will be contradictory things.

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