The 4 February edition of the New Statesman had a series of articled, subtitled 'The God Issue'. There's too much to cover in one blog post, but I hope to cover most of it over the coming weeks.
To begin with, I thought that I'd respond to the shortest section of the article, little interviews with various public figures with a few questions on God.
One interview in particular struck me, with Peter Tatchell, human rights activist.
This is what he says.... "The idea [of God] is synonymous with irrationality, superstition, ignorance and usually dogmatism, insecurity, authoritarianism, ignorance, self-loathing and injustice."
He goes on to compare God with Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy, before finishing with answering the question "Where would be without God?"
His response..."Much better off, with a more enlightened, just and humane world....religion has been mostly an instrument of war, bigotry and oppression"
The thing Tatchell forgets to do is distinguish between God and His followers. Christians and other religious people can all be hypocrites, and over time the Bible and other religious texts have been used to justify pain, war and oppression. People have perpetrated injustices in the name of Jesus and even now Christian fundamentalists still have what appears to be a very narrow-minded, judgemental point of view on some issues.
Christians and followers and other Gods aren't perfect. Everyone knows that.
God Himself is different. The Bible is different. Jesus is different.
The Bible talks about a God who is all-powerful, who is perfectly just, who loves everyone completely unconditionally, so much He gave His Son to save us. A God of grace, mercy and forgiveness who stands against the wronged, the persecuted and hates injustice. A God of peace and love. A God who gives us the ultimate security.
Peter Tatchell has based his judgement of God on Christians and religious people.
Is that not a challenge to us?
This sort of thing is going to happen. Its no surprise that some people think this way. A lot of people are always going to look at the church and look to the behaviour and lifestyle of Christians and that will be who they think Jesus is and what He's about.
They do need do understand the concepts of grace, mercy and forgiveness. They need to understand that Christians aren't perfect. We need to tell them. We need to explain to them.
But to get to that point we need to show them at least a glimpse of who Jesus is. Jesus needs to be the focal point around which our life is built, not something we bolt on the side.
We need to show the same grace, mercy and forgiveness He had. We need to stand and take the lead against injustice as He did. If we are doing that, if we are making tough choices putting God first, then people will notice. Eventually.
Unfortunately, the most well-known areas of the church outside the church don't often give a Christ-like image of the rest of us. The fundamentalist, right-wing evangelical church in America, The Catholic church, the Church of England.
These are all very prominent in the public eye for the wrong reasons right now. They certainly aren't giving off an impression of the Jesus I know and read about in the Bible.
I don't profess to be perfect, and no church is perfect at all - after all, we're all sinners - but these are really in the public eye, and to my mind they are harming the name of Jesus and of God with some their words, tradtions and actions.
To change the mind of people like Peter Tatchell, then we need to change the church, and the public perception of the church as well. People need to see a church of love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and social action.
What an amazing thing it would be for the church to be in the news for the right reasons, instead of the wrong ones.