Responses to questions about belief in God, Jesus,
the Church and other Faith matters.
Who replied to the survey?
27 people emailed their responses, to which I’ve added the 17 who responded in the pilot group, (almost all of whom grew up in Crosby). There was a good mix of people in the Sixth form, people at college or university and people at work / apprenticeship/looking for work. There was also a good range of people who attend church weekly (or more than weekly), people who go less regularly and people who no longer attend Church. It was encouraging that all those who did reply said they’d found the exercise thought-provoking / interesting; nobody said they felt their time had been wasted
Those who were invited but who, for whatever reason, did not reply are most welcome to consider themselves as part of the conversation.
The important features for a fulfilled life
The most common features rated as very important / significant were: an interesting career, permanent relationship (generally but not always marriage) and children.
Second in ‘votes’, behind an interesting career, was ‘making a contribution to society’, which was given noticeably more importance than ‘salary to allow a wealthy lifestyle’, which 33 / 44 rated as no higher than fairly important. A continually developing spiritual life was considered a very important / significant feature by 11, with a further 11 saying this was fairly important.
A wealthy lifestyle and freedom to do what you want were not considered as significant or important features by a large majority, and this theme of being ‘other-centred’ was also clearly evident in what people want to be known for, where being empathic, loving, and being someone people turn to, as well as being intellectual, were rated as very important / significant by the majority (all more than 30 / 44), compared to being competitive and a ‘party animal’ which were not important / not very important for a clear majority (and more than half attaching the same importance to ‘style’).
Given this clear valuing of being ‘other centred’, it is worth pondering why so few (12) thought being known as ‘religious’ was important outside the family, and only 7 thought it important to be known as religious outside the family, with 18 wanting to be thought of as religious amongst family and friends. 25 caring, sensitive and ‘other-centred’ people don’t think being known as religious matters.
Influences on shaping attitudes and decisions.
Parents were all but universally significant, with friends, role models and ambition for personal goals also being hugely significant for more than ¾.
People were evenly split on Church teaching, (only 3 said it had no influence, 8 said it was a key part; 17 felt it was a factor, and 15 said it had a little influence after other factors.) God featured more as an influence, with 25 saying he was key / significant whilst 8/44 said he was no influence.
Prayer was also split evenly, with 22 saying it was a key / significant factor and 22 saying none or little. (As shown later, prayer is not restricted to regular church goers).
Worthy of discussion were the 2 influences which almost universally were rated as being of little or no significance; self-help guides, (38/44) and the Bible (35/44). Only 2 said the Bible was key. (More about the Bible later).
A number of respondents said that grandparents were a significant influence.
Two answers showed that one person’s influence is another person’s obstacle. Lourdes had been a significant feature in the growth of faith for one, but a key reason for moving away from the church for another.
Who to turn to for advice and guidance with a problem or after a mistake.
Not surprisingly, parents, friends and partner are the ‘go to’ people in these circumstances.
Quite a few people who attend church infrequently or rarely still valued a priest / religious ‘quite useful’ or ‘useful in specific circumstances’.
It was also noticeable that of the 16 people who go to church weekly, only 4 found church teaching very useful and 4 considered a priest / religious as very useful. Prayer, however, was very useful (8) for this sub-group.
Once again, the Bible was largely dismissed, with 33 finding it not useful / of little use.
Making a personal contribution.
38/44 had been involved in voluntary work, including visiting the elderly, serving people with disabilities, hospital visiting, tutoring both young and older people, visiting and serving the homeless and working with refugees.
Reflecting on these experiences, people were able to see how they had not only valued helping others but also how they had been changed by gaining a better perspective on life, becoming less judgemental and more understanding of people’s problems and the causes of these problems. A number were also more appreciative of family and health and felt they had become more grateful and more patient.
Faith and fulfilment
In the majority of cases, belief in God has changed since age 12.
16 people said their belief had developed or grown stronger, with reasons for this including being able to think for themselves when going to Mass became voluntary; recognising God’s help in difficult times and generally finding that their ideas about God have developed and strengthened as they had grown
The majority, however, are far less certain about either the existence of God, (a few now describe themselves as atheist), or about his nature. There were frequent comments about no longer believing in the image of God presented at school and in church, with people aware of the complexities of belief in the light of experience, particularly suffering, deeper thought which comes from wider reading and mixing with people of other faiths and no faith.
For these people, (and for most of those who still believe), the school version of God, and that presented in church when they were still attending, did not survive in the face of life experience or intellectual questioning. There were not many who simply said ‘don’t believe’, and it was clear that many are searching elsewhere for answers to their questions – often with some success.
The 3 questions people would ask God were a significant pointer to the reasons for people growing out of the simplistic ideas, and to where the answers available in church teaching are not being made available.
When asked how ideas about Jesus had changed, it was clear that nobody had a bad word for him! In a clear majority of cases, understanding of him has become more complex with some aspects becoming more prominent (e.g. his humanity or his relationship with other people), and for many there are now more questions about his divinity / humanity (not believing he is the Son of God was mentioned a number of times), and especially about the authenticity of the Gospel accounts.
Many don’t consider Jesus to be an active part of their life, although he is widely seen as a very good role model. His teachings are respected, with many comments about him being a good guide / teacher / leader, but many see him as an historical figure. A quarter of respondents, though, regard him as an active part of their lives.
Attending Church / prayer / bible
30 of the respondents who had attended regularly whilst growing up now don’t attend or do so infrequently. Of the 14 who still attend weekly (or more), 6 are in sixth form. This means that very few (8) continue to attend with any regularity after leaving home. Busy lives, a more lethargic attitude to going and other commitments are mentioned a number of times. Other comments, repeated a few times, revolve around an increasingly negative perception of the church and its teachings; the attitude of regular churchgoers, (the difference between what they profess to believe and their attitude to people). Only one person mentioned the word ‘boring’.
People’s prayer lives are varied, and do not always follow whether people are regular churchgoers. Of the 18 who say formal prayers daily or a couple of times a week, 5 rarely go to church. The most common forms of daily or regular prayer are asking God, thanking God and saying sorry, although slightly over half only say these prayers when they need help or never say them.
Silent meditation featured occasionally, particularly amongst people who don’t attend church regularly. (Without wishing to jump to conclusions, many people have experienced yoga, mindfulness and meditation for relaxation, so it is not clear whether the silent mediation would be considered as prayer by these respondents.).
Perhaps significantly, meditating on scripture is almost entirely absent, (apart 1 person who practises this a couple of times a week, 6 occasionally and 4 only when they need help).
It is worth noting, then, that ‘saying prayers’ is fairly common, but prayer as listening to God is almost entirely absent.
The bible does not feature in the vast majority of people’s lives, with 19 never or rarely hearing it or reading it and a further 17 only hearing it in church or at school – given that this includes those who only attend church infrequently, and that the bible is presented in small sections at church, this is rather different from the 5 who read it regularly.
Many people reported that where they used to think the contents of the bible were literally true, most now see it as something to be interpreted with cultural factors and symbolism to be taken into account. Not seeing scripture as divinely inspired / seeing it as put together by humans was mentioned a number of times.
Perhaps the lack of importance attached to reading the bible, (and its lack of influence noted in decision making / as a guide) might be explained by the very high number of respondents who say they have either never been taught how to read the bible, or only for exam purposes at school, (with a few noting how inadequate this was with regard to understanding the different styles of writing and how to read scripture.)
Interaction with other Faiths.
Of the 23 who said they’d had meaningful contact with people of other faiths, 14 recorded positive comments about realising how many similarities there are between different faiths, about the sincerity and devoutness of others, and that it enabled them to gain a perspective and deeper understanding of God.
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