God knows there’s a heaven, God knows it’s out of sight

LAST week Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK is a Christian country “and we should not be afraid to say so”.
In a speech in Oxford on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, the prime minister called for a revival of traditional Christian values to counter Britain’s “moral collapse”.
“We are a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so,” he told the audience at Christ Church.
“What I am saying is that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today,” he added.
So is Mr Cameron right to align the UK as a country of believers of an invisible man in the sky and his divine son, who rose from the dead and walked on water?
Or is he just re-treading the same political road of former Tory Prime Minister John Major and his ill-fated “Return to Victorian values” of 20 years ago?
In the 2011 census 59% of residents of England and Wales described themselves as Christian when asked “What is your religion?” This was down from 72% in 2001. In Scotland, the figure was 54%, down from 65%.
Although the total number of Britons who described themselves as Christian had fallen by more than four million since 2001, the fact it constitutes a majority is “really, really significant”, said Christina Rees, a member of the General Synod, the highest governing body of the Church of England.
But Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, says the census question is “flawed” because it assumes the respondent has a religion in the first place. The 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey reported that 48% of respondents claimed they did not belong to any religion. The proportion of people who described themselves as belonging to the Church of England was just 20%, down from 40% in 1983.
“‘Any politician or government that tried to make Christianity and Christian beliefs the foundation of British values or social morality would be building on seriously unstable foundations,” says Copson.
And there lies the nub of it.
For all Christians their holy book the Bible is their foundation.
Most Christians believe the Bible is a direct communication from God to man.
But in reality the Bible is a man-made collection of mythology. It was not handed to mankind by God, nor was it dictated to human stenographers by God. The Bible, as we know it, was voted to be the word of God by a group of men during the 4th century.
Constantine the Great (274-337 AD), who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity, needed a single canon to be agreed upon by the Christian leaders to help him unify the remains of the Roman Empire. Until this time the various Christian leaders could not decide which books would be considered “holy” and thus “the word of God” and which ones would be excluded and not considered the word of God.
Emperor Constantine offered the various leaders money to agree upon a single canon that would be used by all Christians as the word of God. The Church leaders gathered together at the Council of Nicaea and voted the “word of God” into existence thereby dismissing any books which created doubt about Jesus being the divine son of God. They didn’t finish editing the “holy” scriptures until the Council of Trent when the Catholic Church pronounced the Canon closed. So the real approving editor of the Bible was not God but Constantine.
So where does that leave Christianity?
Most Christians don’t know why they should believe that the Bible is God’s word. That’s because they’ve been socially and psychologically engineered to assume that it’s a given fact, just like the sky is blue and the grass is green. That’s why in their normal line of thinking they would never question why they should believe that the Bible is God’s word.
One of the main reasons they don’t question the Bible’s divine inspiration upon their conversion into Christianity is due to the incredible promise of eternal life which they are offered for free just for believing. Their left brain never stops to analyse what they’ve been preached.
Preachers and evangelists often use sentiment, emotion and touching stories to convert people, rather than reason.
What followers of Christian fundamentalists don’t know and never realize is: nowhere in the Bible does it claim that all 66 books are God’s word or infallible. The doctrine of Biblical inspiration and infallibility was made up by Christian fundamentalists to create an artificial foundation for their faith.
In fact, many of the authors of the Bible had no idea that their books would be canonized into an “infallible word of God” book. Even in Paul’s epistles, he made it clear that he was writing personal letters, not dictating infallible words from God.
The doctrine of Biblical infallibility was not a central tenet of Christianity until early in the 20th century when the theory of evolution began to be taught as fact in classrooms. It was then that the Christians countered with this doctrine. Not only did it protect Christian tenets from the danger of Darwinist teachings, but it served other purposes as well.
Without the doctrine that the Bible is infallible and that every word of it is of God, it would put question marks on every verse. Anyone could then pick and choose which parts of it they wanted to be God’s word and which they didn’t, and that would greatly undermine the authority of it.
So this doctrine is necessary to keep the religion intact. Otherwise, Christians themselves would not be able to feel secure and confident that every verse in the Bible could be trusted.
Now, compare the man-made origins of Christianity and its various dogmas to the simplicity of Deism. Deism is belief in God based only on reason and the creation itself. It makes no claim to false “revelations” as all of the “revealed” religions do. To Deists, proof of the Designer is in the design.
On May 12, 1797 while living in France famous Deist Tom Paine wrote the following letter to a Christian friend who was trying to convert Paine to Christianity:
“By what authority do you call the Bible the Word of God? for this is the first point to be settled. It is not your calling it so that makes it so, any more than the Muslims calling the Koran the Word of God makes the Koran to be so. The Popish Councils of Nice and Laodicea, about 350 years after the time the person called Jesus Christ is said to have lived, voted the books that now compose what is called the New Testament to be the Word of God. This was done by yeas and nays, as we now vote a law.
“The Pharisees of the second temple, after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, did the same by the books that now compose the Old Testament, and this is all the authority there is, which to me is no authority at all. I am as capable of judging for myself as they were, and I think more so, because, as they made a living by their religion, they had a self-interest in the vote they gave.
“It is often said in the Bible that God spake unto Moses, but how do you know that God spake unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says, that God spake unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No.
“Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do, and because you don’t is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not an impostor?
“For my own part, I believe that all are impostors who pretend to hold verbal communication with the Deity. It is the way by which the world has been imposed upon; but if you think otherwise you have the same right to your opinion that I have to mine, and must answer for it in the same manner.
“It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man. That bloodthirsty man, called the prophet Samuel, makes God to say, (I Sam. xv. 3) `Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’
“That Samuel or some other impostor might say this, is what, at this distance of time, can neither be proved nor disproved, but in my opinion it is blasphemy to say, or to believe, that God said it. All our ideas of the justice and goodness of God revolt at the impious cruelty of the Bible. It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes.
“What makes this pretended order to destroy the Amalekites appear the worse, is the reason given for it. The Amalekites, four hundred years before, according to the account in Exodus xvii. (but which has the appearance of fable from the magical account it gives of Moses holding up his hands), had opposed the Israelites coming into their country, and this the Amalekites had a right to do, because the Israelites were the invaders, as the Spaniards were the invaders of Mexico.
“This opposition by the Amalekites, at that time, is given as a reason, that the men, women, infants and sucklings, sheep and oxen, camels and asses, that were born four hundred years afterward, should be put to death; and to complete the horror, Samuel hewed Agag, the chief of the Amalekites, in pieces, as you would hew a stick of wood. I will bestow a few observations on this case.
“In the first place, nobody knows who the author, or writer, of the book of Samuel was, and, therefore, the fact itself has no other proof than anonymous or hearsay evidence, which is no evidence at all. In the second place, this anonymous book says, that this slaughter was done by the express command of God: but all our ideas of the justice and goodness of God give the lie to the book, and as I never will believe any book that ascribes cruelty and injustice to God, I therefore reject the Bible as unworthy of credit.
“As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case.
“You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.
“My disbelief of the Bible is founded on a pure and religious belief in God; for in my opinion the Bible is a gross libel against the justice and goodness of God, in almost every part of it.”

Saving Grace

stand up to cancer

“By this time I thought I would be sleeping in a pine box for all eternity, My faith keeps me alive and I know I’m only living By the saving grace that’s over me.”

(Bob Dylan 1980).

“Tell me how it feels?”

It was my mother’s voice; there was no mistaking that. I struggled to say something but a dryness in my throat allowed only a smile.

She clenched my left hand.

Beyond her the ward clock reported 9.30. I drifted back to sleep.

Sometime later I again opened my eyes.

Mother’s own eyes brightened and, as if from her mouth, I heard my father ask: “How is it son?”

I was surprised. I managed to reply: “Fine, but I can’t move.” The ward clock betrayed 10.10.

“Is that all it is?” I asked looking up at the wall, knowing that I had been led to the operating table at 8.30am.

“It’s 10pm,” my father replied.

I gagged for some reason… why had I been out for more than 13 hours?

Over the next three days my parents, surgeons and nursing staff gradually outlined to me the most telling day of my life: a day when surgeons worked tirelessly to remove two thirds of my right lung and repair a damaged aortic artery.

It was an operation plagued with difficulty and twice they thought they had lost me. But working straight through, they never gave up and used finely honed skills to take away the cancer and repair my body.

It was the final stage of a rebirth of life and spirit.

Some eight months earlier, I had been diagnosed with a malignant histio-cytoma of the right shoulder.

The diagnosis followed a year of failing health, tiredness and a strange and growing lump on my shoulder blade that would not go away.

Eventually, after claims of a sebaceous cyst and a muscular haematoma, I was told the truth.

“I dinna ken what it is,” said the plastic surgeon, betraying his Glaswegian roots. “But it looks malignant and we had better have a closer look.”

It was like being knocked down by a bus: cancer only happened to other people. It was a disease, which was difficult to talk about and even more difficult to contemplate.

Now I struggled to take in what I had been told.

A simple biopsy of the lump, as we all learned to call it, confirmed the surgeon’s suspicions. I was quickly booked into a local hospital for immediate and radical surgery.

Whether in shock, or just out of single-mindedness, the diagnosis passed me by.

I responded by reading every piece of medical literature I could find. Somehow I had to cope and knowledge is a weapon.

My sister-in-law was a cancer research specialist at Leeds University Hospital and furnished me with reams of reports about this rare and seemingly deadly cancer.

As I prepared for the surgery, I asked questions of doctors, cracked jokes with my parents and worried for my ability to cope. I saw fear in the eyes of those I loved and suddenly felt alone.

Eventually I cracked… and phoned the Samaritans.

It was probably the most important call I have ever made. I hurriedly explained to the female voice at the other end of the phone that I was not suicidal, but terrified of dying. I detected an intake of breath at the other end of the line. There was a rustling sound as she rummaged through her files and with an uplift in her voice she gave me the number of the organiser of a local cancer support group.

I tucked the number away.

A few evenings later, when the depression hit me again I picked up the phone. Diana was her name. At 38, she was a few years older than me and had recently been given remission from breast cancer. Diana was ebullient, encouraging and above all told me that whether I lived or died was up to me.

“You must visualise this thing that has invaded your body and fight it,” she said.

“Only you can beat it… with perhaps a little help from the surgeons and God.”

That was the key.

Diana and I were to begin an enduring friendship. I was able to reciprocate her help, I hope, when her cancer came back to taunt her three years later. I began to learn the value of friendship.

But what about God?

I had always believed in the saving grace of a higher spirit, but my church-going days had lapsed many years earlier and to be frank I was an atheist.

Somehow I had to find my own strength and faith to deal with this cancer.

The next morning, calmed by a warm early autumn sunshine I walked to my nearest church. After all, if there was a God, this was where he was supposed to dwell.

Gothic, cold and empty, the church provided space to think and pray to whatever was out there.

I made a few more visits to the empty church over the next couple of days before I was taken back into hospital for the surgery.

The operation to remove the cancer and replace my shoulder and back with re-constructive surgery was awkward, at times bloody painful and most of all seemingly endless.

Many days and nights of lying cramped on my left side as the skin grafts and flaps healed. Days and nights to think and determine whether I would recover.

I didn’t fear death… but I did fear pain.

I lay there warmed by the gospel lyrics of my musical hero, Bob Dylan. I still find it difficult to call it God, but a gentle spirit always seemed to be there and never again did I become frightened of this cancer or its likely consequences.

Three months of radiotherapy followed at Cardiff’s Velindre Hospital. Three months of finding more about myself and more about my fellow human beings.

Housed in a small hostel within the hospital grounds, up to 50 patients of all ages and with all forms of cancer worked within and without to tackle their own disease.

There was Coral-Ann, who denied her own malignancy. “It’s just a small tumour and is what you say: benign,” she lied. There was Maureen, colostomy bag in hand, who sipped morphine as she told tales of her childhood in Rhymney.

There was my roommate David, whose pituitary cancer had given him a grossly large head, hands and feet and made him appear like a freak at his job in the local tax inspectors’ office.

“Well boyo, this thing won’t beat me,” he cracked. And it didn’t.

And then there was Andrea.

At 21, she was the sweetest and most beautiful girl I had ever met and we quickly became inseparable soul mates.

Racked in pain, with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer, she knew her chances of survival were slim.

“But I’m going to fight it,” she urged, willing me to do the same. “I haven’t yet got my degree, I haven’t learned to drive… and I’m still a virgin.

“I want to live a bit before I die.” She did.

But that did not dull the agony when three years later David and I stood together and shared tears at her funeral.

There is no reasoning in this.

My memories of Andrea remain. Her smile and her laughter as she beat me in a physiotherapy game of football, where she was only allowed to use her right leg and I only my arm. At the end of the game we collapsed side by side on the gym floor guffawing at how silly all this was.

And then there was the rainy December day when she returned from a Christmas shopping trip in Cardiff City centre laden down with presents and a £300 hole in her Visa card.

Her pleasure was manifest and her laugh stays with me.

A year before her death I visited Andrea again in a hospital in Birmingham, where she had undergone a hip replacement operation in a last attempt by surgeons to remove the seat of her cancer.

I sat and clenched her right hand and looked into her sparkling eyes.

I giggled. “Hey, you’ve got freckles and hair,” I exclaimed.

“Yes,” she answered, “I have been off chemotherapy for three months now to build up my strength for the op.”

I had only known Andrea as a tall, underweight, pale-faced girl under an horrendous NHS wig, which at times made her look like an extra in the Addams Family.

But now, holding her hand, this was how I was going to remember her.

I had found God in my fellow human beings and in the karma of knowing that far from myself being the key in this battle, the door was unlocked from without.

When the cancer returned to my right lung some months later I knew I had the strength to face it down.

My life was saved by the dedication and skill of the surgeons. But my spirit had already been saved.

At the time I was told I had less than a one in 10 chance of surviving beyond a year. But I was also told: “Doctors are seldom right when they predict the end.”

Now 26 years later, to the very month of the diagnosis and first operation,  the cancer is gone for good and I know my life is still in its springtime.

And Andrea never leaves me.