GOD: OK Terry, it is time we interviewed you.
TERRY: Seriously? But you already know all about me.
GOD: We do indeed, but there are some things that you are not willing to discuss; because to you they seem childish.
TERRY: If you think this is necessary, who am I to argue?
GOD: When did you first start to believe in us?
TERRY: I have clear memories of my life from the age of three. As far as I can recall, I never doubted you. My father believed in you and so did I (I took Mum’s faith for granted). Of course I didn’t believe in your plurality, I assumed you were a big old father figure. Later, at primary school age I started to wonder why you told us not to believe in other gods, when there were not supposed to be any other gods.
GOD: How did your religious education, differ from the norm?
TERRY: From my earliest memories, my brother and I were dragged along to our family church, which could be described as obsolete, naďve, fundamentalist. The church never managed to provide a Sunday school so we were made to sit through the morning service which always included two sermons; one from the leader of the church and one from her husband.
GOD: Now tell your readers how you misheard a sermon.
TERRY: Are you sure you want me to say this?
GOD: That is why are conducting the interview.
TERRY: Well here goes. One Sunday I was listening to the lady preaching about the joys we would experience, if were good and “asked Jesus in to our hearts”. Apparently this would get us into heaven. And the lady seemed to be telling us that when we got to heaven we would have new and different ‘bottys’.
Now ‘botty’ was the family euphemism for bottom, which was (and still is) a polite way of referring to the genital area of the human body. Naturally as a small boy my attention was arrested by this shockingly rude talk, but no one else seemed to turn a hair so I supposed it was all right for adults to talk this way. As I pondered the statement I decided that the only way you could change our bottoms was by making the crack horizontal instead of vertical, but why this was necessary remained a total mystery to me. I couldn’t see my self queuing up for this type resurrection. This didn’t seem to be any incentive to be good and go to heaven at all; but then I didn’t want to go to hell did I?
GOD: We will come back to Hell another time, just go on with your story.
TERRY: As I kept listening to such confusing sermons I started to ask why we had to sit and listen to all this serious, but silly, religious talk. I then started to form the opinion, which has never left me; that when preachers preach, they tell a mixture of truths and fibs all carefully designed to persuade you to be good and religious. The fibs weren’t lies, because the preachers didn’t really know what they were talking about; they just used hopeful guesses with good intentions. If this sort of talk was good enough for my Dad to listen to, then I assumed I have to sit and endure it too.
GOD: What would have happened, if you had not misheard the word ‘bodies’?
TERRY: I have given you my earliest formative memory; I often rethought this topic of heaven and resurrected bodies during other boring sermons. I went from wondering if I would be resurrected as a girl; this would be initially very interesting but I wouldn’t want to be a girl for the rest of eternity (or a boy for that matter). So I started to wonder what happened to your age in heaven, did you keep growing and ageing for ever; or did you stay at the age at which you died? In the latter case heaven would be full of old people with a much lower ratio of children. In the end I decided that no matter what the Bible said, you couldn’t be resurrected with earthly bodies as they just wouldn’t suit heavenly beings.
Even without these very early misunderstandings, I would still have concluded that preachers told an authorised mixture of truth and fibs with good intentions. I also decided, from an early age, that as the Bible text determined the sermon content, it follows that the Bible, while being very important, would also have a mix of truth and fibs. It could not be literally true.
GOD: Why did you question the literal truth of the Bible?
TERRY: Well as I started to read it and listen to others read it, I found that there were many gaps in its descriptions. It simply could not be read as a history book or scientific text. For instance my brother and I wondered if Adam and Eve’s sons had to marry their sisters, which we knew was ‘very wrong’. So we went and asked our father, he replied confidently that “there were other people on the earth then”. This just happens to be left out of the biblical account.
The Genesis creation story always puzzled me; I used to read it when I was particularly bored in church as it was at the beginning of the Bible and quite familiar to me. Even as a child I could clearly see that there were two different accounts of creation. I concluded that no human being could understand how the world was created and so we had to have two versions and thus a bigger a range of ideas from which we could develop our limited understanding. I later decided that the Bible simply could not always be literally true as it was supposed to reveal background truths to different cultures in different ages. Since then, I have decided that the Bible has to be a metaphorical text.
GOD: And what do you think about these written truths now?
TERRY: Such texts are used by people to build their lives around comfortable psychological illusions. Inevitably these views of the world vary greatly between individuals. Where these views and intentions may come into conflict with mine, I have the right to put my point of view, but I cannot expect or demand that others agree with me. At the same time I have the right to avoid people who wish to force their political, religious, racial, sexual or other moral views on me. We can relate to each other but it is mutually disrespectful to fight or argue.
GOD: Has your scientific training changed your religious views?
TERRY: Hardly at all. You have asked me to outline how I came to think the way I do and everything that I have told you happened long before I started High School and science courses. Thinking back, it is clear that I preferred to study science because it suited the way my mind worked. Science is evidence based and clear cut; religion is important but it is much more subjective. As a scientist, I decided that it was a noble aim to try and prove whether or not you existed. I ended up concluding that it was impossible to prove either your existence or your non-existence.
GOD: When do you think you became a Christian?
TERRY: I always was. But of course you as the ultimate judge may have a different idea. I started with the faith that my parents taught me and after considerable analysis, I found my modified faith remained adequate. I say modified, because I left the family church in my early teens and chose to become a Methodist. I had slowly lost any respect that I may have had for my childhood church. But to be really honest, I wanted to socialise with teenage girls.
When it comes to Christianity I find the story of the gospels is clear enough despite the metaphors, parables and historical and cultural confusions. I agree with the scholar Albert Schweitzer, who wrote: “But the truth is, it is not Jesus as historically known, but Jesus as spiritually arisen within men, who is significant for our time ….”
GOD: Thankyou Terry, you have finished with a good summary of what you believe so we will end this interview here.