I am a fingertip Christian (and still searching for the secret to golf)
MANY OF my fellow middle-aged men, I am a tortured soul. For much of my childhood and
all of my adolescent and adult life, I have been engaged in a desperate but fruitless
quest for an answer to the Big Question:
is golf so hair-tearingly difficult?
me, there have been times when I've been seriously tempted to give up the game - usually
when I think I've at last found the answer only to discover I don't really understand the
question. Golf can mess with your head like that.
yet I hang on, hoping that one day I'll discover the secret. In truth, despite the mental
and physical privations the game doles out, the journey is enjoyable - at least most of
some ways, my relationship with golf mimics my struggle with religion. I am a 'fingertip
Christian', clinging precariously to a tenuous faith.
are reasons - too many why I've been sorely tempted at times to just let go. But
like golf, something about Christianity, keeps me coming back for more.
into any large bookshop or browse the internet and you'll find an endless supply of
knowledge, tips, advice or wisdom about how to attain the perfect golf swing. I've
devoured countless instruction manuals and spent hundreds of hours on YouTube watching
video analyses of the world's greatest golfers in action. Yet the 'secret' continues to
cannot claim to have been so assiduous when it comes to religion. Nonetheless, Ive
read my fair share of faith and spiritual books, watched fascinating documentaries
attempting to trace the origins of Jesus, and Im an occasional Sunday morning
visitor to my local Church of Scotland where I invariably enjoy the ministers
thought-provoking sermons and feel a sense of community and friendship among the
enthusiastic congregation. I have even dabbled in Buddhism. (Many religious academics,
incidentally, believe Jesus was a Buddhist)
mostly, my attempts to comprehend and embrace large chunks of conventional Christian
teaching have ended in failure, confusion and frustration. Sometimes anger. A bit like my
many children of my generation, I had a conventional Christian upbringing. I went to
Sunday school, said prayers for loved ones and myself, and was earnestly encouraged by
elders to fear God because he was watching and knew everything I did. Worse still, he knew
what I was thinking - so God help me when I had ungodly thoughts. I was encouraged to view
God as a stern, intimidating human-like figure who sat on an enormous throne in heaven,
which was somewhere high above the clouds out of human sight. Deep below the earth was
hell, the unspeakable inferno where Satan reigned supreme and the destination for those
who strayed from the path of Christian righteousness.
was merciful but also vengeful and cruel. He was protective but sometimes punitive. He
apparently sacrificed his only son on a cross outside Jerusalem as some kind of repayment
for our sins. And, of course, God created the Earth and the universe, as well as Adam and
Eve. Jesus was sent to Earth from heaven and after his crucifixion he rose from the dead
and ascended to sit at his father's side.
as a child I believed all of it - literally. I wouldn't have dared otherwise because the
church, my teachers and my parents said it was true. They couldn't all be wrong.
the time I'd completed my formal education and began work, I was starting to have doubts
about the literal truth of certain biblical text. Was it really plausible that a loving,
merciful God would allow his only son to suffer an excruciating death nailed to a cross as
payback for our ungodliness? How was it possible for 'wise men' to follow a
star? Could there really have been a 'virgin' birth? And if the Almighty loved all his
children, why did he allow some to prosper while others were consigned to disease, famine
I did not have the wit or courage to air these doubts. But I do not recall anybody -
mother, father, teacher or minister expressing any doubt either. Nobody talked
about theological truth, myth or metaphor when it came to the bible. You either believed
it literally - or you didn't.
I made my choice. And in so doing, I found myself consigning Christianity and the church
to the bin. How many others, for similar reasons, have done the same over countless
in my case, I left the door slightly ajar. I hung on - not literally - by fingertips
because despite all the incredible hype surrounding Jesus, his life and his death, I
sensed a greater truth lay behind the myth and the miracles.
puzzle is that, until fairly recently, I had heard little to transform that precarious
grip on faith into anything firmer. It appeared the church was content to keep me
dangling - or even allow me to fall.
aim here is not to debate the reasons for this - that is a subject on its own. I am merely
relating my experience and why a combination of my reluctance to question and the church's
unwillingness to separate fact from fiction led to a kind of religious disenfranchisement.
thanks to a number of non-literalist theological authors as well as a preacher who has the
deepest understanding of Christian faith of anyone I know, I have so far escaped the
plunge into the abyss although my grip continues to be no more than fingertip. Every now
and then I feel it weaken.
on last Easter Sunday when, by accident rather than design, I found myself listening to a
service broadcast on Radio Four from Worcester Cathedral. I could identify with much of
what John Inge, the archbishop, was saying about his wish for the violence in Syria and
Iraq to stop. And this passage from his sermon was particularly poignant: From the
beginning Jesus entrusted his message to fallible people and he made no promise on
instantly transforming sinners into saints. Every Christian is a pilgrim still on a
journey, still exploring, still making mistakes and taking wrong turnings. A Christian is
not someone who has arrived at the journeys end.
immediately afterwards the congregation, in unison, chanted this: Christ died for
our sins. In accordance with the scriptures, he was buried. He was raised to life on the
third day, in accordance with the scriptures. Afterwards he appeared to his followers and
to all the apostles. This we have received. And this we believe. Amen.
am no fan of liturgy or ritual worship, although I understand why some people might find
it spiritually uplifting or nourishing. Many hymns and psalms are sung to rousing or
moving tunes but too often I find the words bizarrely militaristic, supernatural or dark
and foreboding. In short, they are off-putting. Not because they are rooted in the past
but because I simply do not believe many of the assertions they triumphantly proclaim.
Does that make me less Christian than those who sing them without questioning their
meaning? Does it make me unchristian - or just honest? Because honesty is the virtue I
find too often still missing in much of Christian teaching and leadership; that and a
stubborn unwillingness to accept that Christianity is a living, changing phenomenon that
should feel no fear or shame in adapting to the era in which we live.
get me wrong. The remarkable revival of Pentecostal and evangelical worship, particularly
in America and parts of the UK, is attracting many people, particularly younger
generations, to the church. A good example is the Fear Less project being run
by Hillsong UK in south-east London where services are held three times daily at weekends
to meet demand from mainly young adults. This, and other evangelical movements, may well
be genuine expressions of religious evolution. But if this revival relies on continuing to
promote myth as literal fact and representing Christianity as a supernatural enterprise,
is this really evolution or delusion?
allow me to be honest. Let me state what Ive discovered so far in my own search for
truth. I realise that many will disagree, while others will be offended by my conclusions.
The only mitigation I offer is that I have not arrived at them without wise counsel and
let me list a few things I believe to be NOT true:
is a human-like figure sitting in judgment upon a heavenly throne.
is an entity or a supernatural force.
is the creator of Earth and humankind.
Christ descended and then ascended to heaven.
was conceived by a virgin.
died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins.
now a few things I do believe to be true:
is a concept, the foundation of which is love.
was a human being, albeit a special one.
is more than one way to understand or experience the power and presence of God.
a Christian is as much or more with what you do rather than what you say or think.
search for truth is never-ending and never easy.
religion should be treated with great caution.
the final bullet point, I should add that the church can, and has been, a force for good.
I have witnessed this at first hand within my own Church of Scotland. But I remain a
fingertip Christian because the unraveling of the propaganda with which I was
indoctrinated for so many years is a long and sometimes painful process. It is eased by
the fact that I have a preacher who, much to the discomfiture of many of his fellow
clergy, is resolved to follow an honest ministry in which he is not frightened
to separate fact from fable in the search for theological truth.
you are a literalist or non-literalist Christian, the church can provide spiritual,
practical and social support. But there is much about the church, still clinging doggedly
to the past for power or preservation, that prevents me from securing a firmer grip on
faith through that particular institution.
few years ago, a Sunday Times survey suggested that more than a third of Church of
Scotland ministers did not believe in the virgin birth. I strongly suspect that today the
figure is greater than the 37% reported then. But what the research didn't reveal was how
many of those who preferred a metaphorical interpretation of the Nativity narrative to a
literal one were prepared to say so publicly or to their parishioners? In that case,
I suspect the figure would have been small.
not the clergy who believe in the inerrancy of the bible as the literal word of God with
whom I have an issue. My issue is with those who don't, but pretend otherwise.
that betrayal of trust is replaced with an honest-to-God declaration of faith, my faith in
the church will continue to be fingertip.
my search will go on, with or without it. I know I will never find the answer. But
thats not important. Its the trying that counts.
if only I could say the same about golf!
McKerron is a former national newspaper journalist and political campaigns media adviser.