Rescuing God from Religion by Muriel Seltman
Encourages people to construct their own ideas of God free of religious doctrine: presses many of the right buttons, but is less than fair to many who have struggled with them over the years
Rescuing God from Religion
By Muriel Seltman
Matador, Kidworth Beauchamp
Reviewed by Alec Gilmore
Stand by for the D-I-Y God. Seltman unashamedly challenges the idea of God and much of the baggage proclaimed by traditional religious institutions. She says they claim to hold all the keys to understanding God and it is now time to 'empower ourselves'.
Describing herself as a 'nontheist' (as against an 'atheist') and never letting us forget it, she is hardly a crusading 'non' because she sees 'no reason why any of us might not create our own individual 'God-idea'.
Sounds OK, but is it? Might it not mean that instead of building our lives in the image of God as interpreted by the tradition, we end up constructing an image of God on our own particular life style? Surprisingly, in what is clearly a personal testimony, we learn little about how she arrived where she is though reading between the lines suggests she is the victim of some very bad church experiences over many years.
Unfortunately a number of valid and helpful points are often marred by sweeping generalisations. For example, 'Clergy of all denominations speak and preach as if their scriptures presented literal truths . . . Biblical criticism seems to have passed them by' (p 10). Really? Some yes, but by no means all.
Or, 'the masses . . . buy into religion, visions and images and all'. Do they? Some yes, but she seems unaware that just because a church has a strong line on (say) family planning you cannot assume that every member goes along with it when they get home. She calls it 'the imprisonment of the mind' but many are not nearly as imprisoned as she might think.
Many of her claims, such as the right to query, imagine and question (p 20) and to make one's own decisions rather than simply do what the higher powers dictate are valid, but hardly new. Religious groups, from Job to the Quakers, have been doing it for years. True, others have always been resistant but we need the first group to deal with the second and no hotchpotch of individuals can do it in isolation with a variety of D-I-Y versions.
In a welcome plea for openness (p 68) and a change of language, she wants 'religious' to mean 'wonder, awe and astonishment in the face of the universe' but with 'no deistic or theistic implications'?
Why not? Not much openness there. 'Open' surely has to mean open to theism, even with theistic structures. She also wants to abandon 'many ideas about life, death, war, peace, economic growth, money, commodities and religion' in favour of 'a transformation of the spirit' but much of the religious tradition she is gunning for has been been doing that at least for a few hundred years.
Overall she presses many of the right buttons, but is less than fair to many who have struggled with them over the years and continue to do so.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister