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Not Cliff I'm afraid Mark, but the thoroughly credible Beth Nielsen Chapman. Also Jeremy Bowen, Nick Ferrari Britain's most complained about radio presenter) and the Bishop of Hulme, whose life in Moss Side is about as down-and-dirty as any Bishop's could be. We'll try to make sure you enjoy the experience. I recommend leaving your wooly jumper at home.

I've just been reading what they have said in your section on their website.

'The Shropshire town has been described as the most godless place in the UK after a survey revealed that only one per cent of people there ever went to church.'

That's wrong. It's 1% of Telford go to an ANGLICAN church. And with what you're doing, and FUZE etc, let's get Telford up to the least godless place in the UK!

I was disappointed to see that in the 21st Century there is still the funding and committment to convert people to Christianity (or any religion) in the UK. I watched the Heaven and Earth this morning and saw the section on Telford. I do not agree with this quest for the following 2 reasons:

1) On a spiritual level: The talk of offering people of Telford spiritual help to ask questions, and presumably get answers, about purpose and the universe means that, inline with teachings from the bibie, they will be told that their current life is an opportunity for them to accept Jesus Christ in to their hearts and be saved in the next eternal life after their death. Those that are vunerable enough to get sucked into this will not be getting the real help they need to deal with their current life now; how is Mark Berry qualified to help those that need help - is he a qualified Medical Doctor, Councillor or Psychologist?

2) On a practical level: Let's assume that 50% of the population of Telford come to find Jesus Christ and start attending church regularly....this means that 50% of the people of Telford have not come to require religion or something 'spiritual' in their life via this route. If you consider that Christianity teaches that those that have not yet found Jesus Christ have original sin, and therefore, implicity are more likely to sin and infact, in the bible's words are "evil", then this approach of trying to convert people to the church can only ultimately divide Telford, not bring it together. How can dividing people in Telford, instead of bringing them together be beneficial for any community.

I saw it in my housebound state. Thought Lauren Booth's question was probably the most helpful, it is a shame there wasn't time for you to address it. The non-clergy blokes question was just a bit silly, and seemed to completely miss the point of what you're doing, and what you'd explained already.

I have to say the 'godless' thing did make me chuckle. Oh yes, Telford, that well known modern Sodom and Gomorrah. Still, I did go there for my sixth-form ball, so there's probably enough to qualify it as a den of iniquity right there...

Matt and Libbie,
Yes, you are 100% correct, it is less than 1% for the Anglican Church and less than 1.5% for all Churches together... As for the "Godless" that is of course ridiculous from every angle, it originated from a Lady interviewed in the Town Centre by the Guardian 2 years ago, Telford actually has the 2nd lowest Church attendance in the UK (behind Hull)... What was annoying about Nick Ferrari's question was that he asked it 3 times, interrupting my answer twice to ask it again... meaning I didn't have time to address Lauren Booth's question... which is important, how we release/enable indigenous leaders etc.

Thanks for coming by... You are of course entirely entitled to disagree with what we are doing, I'm sure that there are many who do. There are sooooo many assumptions in your comment about what I believe and what we are about, and about Christianity in general (Original sin is not a belief held by all Christinas for example). that it sounds like you've had a bad experience with a more fundamentalist approach to Christianity, or at least a pretty limited exposure to what many Christians actually believe! Personally I do not talk about "conversion" nor do I tell anyone what they should believe... we share stories, my faith in God and my experience of people tells me that I don't need to persuade or scare someone into asking questions, many people are asking questions that are not within the realm of the health professions you mention... try asking your GP about spirituality??? Nor do I want or need to force people to accept any particular belief system/religion, personally I believe God is bigger and closer than all of that, what I do believe is that Jesus died and rose again in order that it might be possible for anyone to have a relationship with God now, to be restored to the way we were created to be, Jesus once said to a Lady that it wasn't what you did, in terms of Religion or how you did it that mattered but that you engage your Spirit in the search for truth... if you are interested in what we believe have a look around the web site itself.

Your second point is a strange one... it seems you are saying that it would be better (if you believe in Hell in the sense you seem to describe) for all Telfordians to go to Hell rather than for there to be division? Sounds a bit like your saying if you only have enough of something good for half the people, better hold on to it and allow all to miss out in order to prevent division? This makes no sense to me even if I accepted the premise... TBH, my concern is not about any afterlife per se anyway, more about people being reconciled with the Divine, supporting and healing community and challenging injustice/oppression/abuse right here and right now.

I realise this is only a partial answer/response to your comment, sorry.

Aahh Richard, I have just discovered that you have come from the Richard dawkins forum. Well, that explains alot. My friend, there is so much I could say about Mr Dawkins and his latest book, but I will simply say that "The Da Vinci code" contained a far better researched and less biased interpretation of Christianity than Mr Dawkins "Delusion". It saddens me that Mr Dawkins has lost touch with the meaning of Science; gone is the open minded attitude to new hypothesis, gone is the temporary nature of all conclusions, gone is the need to view the evidence objectively, gone is the willingness to be wrong... Mr Dawkins is the most Fundamentalist writer I have ever read, he is not a thorn in the side of Religion (we have our own fundamentalists for that ;) ) rather he wounds science every time he opens his mouth.

Mark, you are right, I contribute accasionally to a number of pro and anti religious websites with my views. I am actually an individual that has my own views and have read the bible (most of it) and have reached my own conclusion. I see that instead of answering my questions, that are very valid, you have decided to defend your position by attacking Richard Dawkins whom I have made no reference to. If he is not a thorn in the side of religion then he should be irrelevant and therefore you should not have needed to raise him at all here. So maybe you could spend a couple of moments and explain how my two points above are incorrect?

Hi Richard, OK, maybe I shouldn't have had a bit of fun with you on the Dawkins thing, but I followed your link back to the forum ;) on which someone suggests "evangelising" the people of Telford by sending them all a copy of Dawkins Delusions. Actually the reason I mentioned it is that in the past the followers of his that I have met have not been interested in a conversation, simply in an argument... which TBH serves no one.

I have tried to address your questions in the longish comment above. I respect your views on Religion, you are entitled to them, but there is much much more money wasted in the name of science than the cost of what we are doing here in Telford. There is one question in your comment I didn't answer which I should have, yes I am a trained Youth Worker and Councillor.

Mark - apologies - I had not seen your response in the second part of the post above. Please don't get me wrong - there is not often a sense of community in today's society and things that can be done to improve this, to bring people closer together is a good thing. But to do this in the 21st Century under the heading of religion and Christianity, in my view can only do more harm than good in the long run.

It is our differences that divide us, they do not unite us. If 99% of people in Telford do not believe in God, why use God as a means to bring the community together? It is like 99% of the people in Liverpool believing in Liverpool FC and you coming along and trying to give them a sense of community and unite them by encouraging them to support Manchester United FC.

One last point is this - if Telford is 'Godless' by any standard definition of the term, is Telford hell on earth? For example, is Telford an extremely unpleasant place to live with out of control crime, with everyone sinning on a daily basis and hurting each other? Or is Telford just like any other place in the UK? If the latter, then on what basis do you assume a lack of a believe in God is something that needs to be corrected?

Hi Richard, interesting questions...

1) I don't believe 99% of Telfordians do not believe in God... the voxpops on the film they showed today are a case in point, thought they were edited by the Beeb to show people saying "no" to the question "do you believe in God?", what it didn't show was that every single one said... "but I do believe in something", most talked about some sense of a divine energy/persona... one said "I believe in what God was before the Church called him God"... over the years I have found very few true Athiests, most people seem to have a sense of a divine being of some sort. All the research done Nationally also illustrates this... the problem people seem to have is with institutional religion.

2) I agree the phrase "Godless Telford" is a stupid one (see above) it was used by the Guardian to illustrate the low Church attendance in Telford (though this can be explained by numerous reasons to do with it being a new town with a large percentage of the population having moved in in recent years (so no instinctive/familial link with a Church), increased sunday activities for families, Telford has a larger than average population of young families etc.) In fact Church attendance is stable in Telford and attendance on a day other than Sunday is increasing year on year. From a purely Theological perspective, of course it's not Godless, if God is Omnipresent how can it be ;) I would equate it to the kind of thing St. Paul says in the Areopagus in Acts 17... go on you know you want to look it up ;) he he he.

It is interesting that our MP a non-christian socialist asked us to help him as he believes that a town without a spiritual focus will find it incredibly hard to have a clear sense of identity (his words not mine) Telford has neither.

Another thought... and I encourage Jem to comment on this, if your reading this conversation mate... there is a difference between 'uniformity' and 'unity', we can be 'united' despite, maybe even because of our differences, we could talk of "University" - I actually believe that 'unity' comes from embracing diversity and being willing to respect and learn from each others differences... 'uniformity' is a static state, nobody learns, nobody grows.

Mark - if your intention is to give people a vehicle to find a sense of purpose within their current lives, and to encourage religious acceptance of others (ie. to accept non-religious people, Muslims, etc as equals), and to encourage acceptance of other preferences such as sexual orientation, then that is great news for Telford. However, I am sceptical....

You mentioned yourself above that you would prefer to save 50% of Telford from hell than not to save any. This is my key point....in order to save any of them you have to 'help them' follow Christianity and 'help them' accept that Jesus Christ did indeed rise again after 3 days (as you believe) and, by accepting Jesus into their hearts they too will be saved. This implicity means that those that do not accept this will not be saved, which implicity means that God will reject them, which provides no reason for those you have 'helped' to need to accept anyone that does not conform to their belief.

Your terms 'Uniformity' and 'Unity' are interestingly presented. You must reach 'Uniformity' of the belief in Jesus to reach 'Unity' within Telford. That Uniformity includes the belief that through Jesus these people will be saved, therefore dividing them from those that do not follow this path - ergo 'dis-unity' with others outside Christianity.

Sadly, it is not miracles and prays that save people's lifes when disaster strikes or when someone gets a fatal disease - it is science that provides these answers, and it is understanding our societies, how we interact and how conflict arises that will help us humanity to unite. Helping a group of people believe in one of the many Gods, following one of the many religious belief systems will not provide this unity in the long term.

Richard, we have a few problems here... you have an image of me and what we are about which you seem not to be able to stray from... 1) what in anything I have said makes you sceptical of any of these things... you would be very surprised! 2) I didn't say I would rather save 50% from Hell, you set up that scenario I said if I did accept your premise your logic seems strange i.e. you would rather send all to Hell than make a division... ie. better all suffer than there be a division, I said that I didn't necessarily accept the premise, nor do I believe that the Christian faith is as fundamentally eschatological as you seem determined to make it. 3) On the question of "through Jesus" again you are reading your own interpretations into my words... it is quite possible to interpret the Biblical passage you refer to as meaning Christ made it possible for all people to be reconcilled to God now, i.e. no ritual was now needed, not a transaction but a liberation... secondly sure there are choices in life that can't always be avoided by closing your eyes tight, counting to 10 and hoping it will all go away, there is such a thing as personal responsibility in life... doing nothing doesn't always = peace!

On your final paragraph, I would in general agree with you re. science being a positive force but it has been an incredibly negative force as well... (science kills too you know, just ask the people of Hiroshima! and those for whom Global warming is threatening their very existence), once again though you seem to set up another straw man, pro-religion = anti-science, I know that is a Dawkins Dogma but is simply a falsehood... there are many leading Scientists who have a faith, Hawking being the most public example... nor does being a scientist preclude a belief in miracles. As a person of faith I find your faith in Science is admirable, but you have to stop seeing the world in such black and white terms.

Mark - I agree with you - science can be used for good and bad, as well as having the intention of being used for good whilst having negative side affects - eg. global warming. Religion can also be used for good and bad, as well as having the intention of being use for good whilst having negative side affects - eg. religious fundamentalism. The common denominator are us human beings; how we choose to apply science or religious beliefs determines the outcome, sometimes intentionally, sometimes because we have not considered the long term impications of the actions we take today.

You have said that you believe that people can be reconciled with God now, and you have set yourself a target to increase the number of people that are reconciled with God in Telford. Why do you suppose that encouraging a belief in an invisible, intangible being is what Telford needs? Wouldn't it be better to bring them together through community projects and community activities that enable them to get to know each other better, to give each a better sense of belonging and sense of purpose? Why does the reinforcement of a belief in God have anything to do with it?

You said this morning on the H&E programme that you wanted to help people understand their purpose and learn about the universe, and the only means you have to do that is through the words in the bible or your intepretation of it, unless you are planning to explain physics and evolutionary biology at your meetings? Will you be explaining to them that the jury is out on whether we were created by God or whether we evolved, as there is now evidence to suggest both, and also present them with the evidence and let them reach their own conclusions, or will you leave the scientific evidence and any references to it outside your sessions about God?

I have never met you personally and I am sure you are a nice person with a good heart....but any intention of doing good by re-introducing people to God as the divine creator, whilst at the same time ignoring the scientific evidence that has been acquired in the last 300 years or so, can only be a step backwards.

We are still a young society, starting to come to terms with the fact that we nolonger have a purpose to simply serve and worship the Gods of ancient times, but instead, we are all individuals whose original purpose was simply to survive until now, when we have managed to make survival implicit in the way we live, and we are now seeking a purpose that that survival instinct once filled.

If my sense of belonging and purpose is based on a being that is an illusion, then my sense of belong and purpose is also an illusion. If my sense of belonging and purpose is based on the real contribution I make to society and my fellow humnan beings, then my sense of belonging and purpose is also real.

Richard, once again I applaud your faith in modernity, unfortunatly I and most of the people in this country, even the world, do not share your Atheistic faith. I accept your logic based on your belief system, many many people however over the centuries and in the present day, including many leading scientists give testimony to their experience of God and believe that God is not an illusion. Our purpose is not to convince people that they should believe, we say simply that many people, (experience and empirical evidence back this up) because of the failings of institutional and cultural Religion and the arrogance of Science, (how many times have we heard that Science will solve all the worlds problems e.g. curing Cancer "within the next decade") have no context in which to explore the questions they do have... a process of spiritual science if you like... question, hypothesis, experiment, observe etc. You obviously have come to intransigible conclusions for yourself based on what, you haven't explained... it is not my place to force you to believe but I encourage you to be more scientific (a scientist should always entertain the possibility of false observation, corrupt data etc. ie. making incorrect conclusions due to variables and impurities in the experiment). You have no desire to explore the question of spirituality fair enough (I would suggest you one day to visit one of the hundreds of Mind*Body*Spirit fairs around the country and see how thousands and thousands of people do however have this need to question and explore).

Just one more thing, you have put words in my mouth again... I never said "the only means you have to do that is through the words in the bible" you are once again setting up straw men, I happen to believe (as the vast majority of Christians do) in evolution and all the scientific disciplines you mention, it may interest you to know that the Big Bang theory was propsed by a Christian (of course at the time Science proclaimed the "Static State theory" that the universe had always been and accused Christianity of stupidity for believing that there was a "beginning"!). You say that "the jury is out on whether we were created by God or whether we evolved, as there is now evidence to suggest both" perhaps with a scientific mind then you would say that the likely conclusion based on the evidence is that both are correct? As I say, I do and most Christians do. I do not ignore the Scientific evidence I welcome it, it does not as you seem to believe proclude God, rather more and more scientific evidence (as you point out with the question of evolution/creation (a flase dichotomy!)) points to many many more unknowns.

Can I make one last plea to you, I have no desire to convince you of my beliefs, what I would ask you to do is to broaden you understanding of what Christians actually believe, your charicatures are contaminating your conclusions.

Thanks for the conversation.

This thread has been an interesting read over my lunch! I'll write in the first person so that I own the views and don't project them onto others.

Just a couple of thoughts - firstly on the unity issue. The whole point about Christianity is that faith in God cannot be reached through a logical process - I believe that it takes a "divine" intervention and revelation - See Galatians 1:11,12. Gloriously, we are all different and have different emphases in our belief (often stemming from the nature of the revelation) which make uniformity impossible, but unity entirely realistic within a core set of beliefs - there are creeds spoken in many churches on a weekly basis which other church groups would quite happily share. That leads onto my second point..

As a Christian, I do not see myself as part of a separate society with a single agenda to convert the whole of Telford to Christianity. As Christians we are called to live in the world and make a difference. When I became a Christian I did not lose the ability to counsel someone, or cry with them or fight for them if they do not share my beliefs. I believe that living the life that God inspires me to, I can be a "good citizen" and encourage the right kind of things to happen without them having to be founded on Christian principles. Particularly pertinent this year (as it is the 200th anniversary) is the example of William Wilberforce who led the fight to abolish slavery - it was a fight that was borne out of his beliefs but did not preclude non-Christians joining the campaign. After all, social justice is social justice - something that everyone (including, and maybe in particular, Christians) should fight for.

While, of course, our desire is that all should believe in Christ - because we believe that it is true! - there are many ways in which a Christian community, living purposefully, can influence a town positively without 100% conversion!

Mark - whilst I find your intentions honourable, you are not presenting Christianity acurately; I did a quick search in Google using the word "Christianity" and the following three sites come up in the order shown and I have extracted a handful of quotes easily accessible to any person in Telford that wanted fo rind out more about Christianity - you will see these 3 are very reputable sites (one of them is the BBC).

*** en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity ***

“Christianity regards the Bible, a collection of canonical books in two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament, as authoritative: written by human authors under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and therefore the inerrant Word of God. Protestants believe that the scriptures contain all revealed truth necessary for salvation”

*** www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ***
*** www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/originalsin_1.shtml ***

Original sin is a Christian doctrine that says that everyone is born sinful. This means that they are born with a built-in urge to do bad things and to disobey God.

Original sin is not just this inherited spiritual disease or defect in human nature; it's also the 'condemnation' that goes with that fault.

Original sin affects individuals by separating them from God, and bringing dissatisfaction and guilt into their lives.

On a world scale, original sin explains such things as genocide, war, cruelty, exploitation and abuse, and the "presence and universality of sin in human history".

*** www.christianity.com ***
*** www.christianity.com/religiontoday/1462332.aspx ***

“WEST SUSSEX, UK-- As many as 250 million Christians worldwide will face persecution and repression in 2007, just for following Jesus Christ, according to the latest roundup of the world’s persecution hot spots by Release International.

Inspire Magazine reported that Release, a voice for the persecuted church, has found that most persecution takes place in four distinct "zones;" those of Islam, Communism, Hinduism and Buddhism. But persecution is growing fastest of all in the Islamic world”

*** www.christianity.com/faith/1463001.aspx ***

“Theology provides the foundation and justification puts in you a position to receive God's life-changing power, but then you must fight and fight hard and keep on fighting, knowing that sometimes you will fail. What then? Either you give in (which is what the advocates of homosexuality support) or you stand and fight in Jesus' name, fighting in the power of the Lord but fighting nonetheless.”

In summary, from this small list of quotes from recognised Christian websites, it is clear that Christianity is exclusive to those that do not hold the same faith in Jesus and therefore it is a belief system that is neither tolerant, accepting or undiscriminating.

How will you explain such information that can easily be found above to your potential Telford Christians? Do you tell them that the person writing about persecution is wrong? Do you tell them that homosexuality is the right of each individual if they so choose it? Do you tell them that original sin is not the cause of all war, cruelty, etc? If you want to bring people in Telford closer to Christianity, at least be honest about what Christianity currently stands for in todays society, and not your personal 'silk wrapped' version of it.

As I said, what you are doing may have good intentions, but Christianity has no place in today's society, as my quotes above make very clear to any tolerant, rational human being reading them.

Something seems to have gone wrong with the comments - the one that says from Jem that starts "Mark - whilst I find your intentions honourable..." was posted by me, not Jem.

Ok Richard... find a few web sites and say that defines ALL Christian thinking, if you have any understanding of Religion at all you'll know that there are many different ways of thinking/interpretations/hermeneutics... I could quote you far more offensive things that Christians have said/some Christians believe... see some of my earlier posts for example. I could also find some pretty offensive things that rationalists have said and done... try Communism for a start! As I said at the beginning of this "conversation" you have a stereotype that suits your argument (a very Dawkins approach) regardless of reality... I note that you have failed to answer any questions I have put to you... and this kind of Rock throwing serves no-one... TBH the only one who is coming across as intolerant and dogmatic is you... thanks again for coming by and please feel free to continue to do so, but as you don't seem to want to converse then I see no-point in continuing.

Mark - I have thrown no rocks and I have engaged in conversation and I am not sure what questions of yours I did not answer.

All I have done is present what Christianity is in it's own words - the same words your own target audience in Telford will easily find for themselves if they do the simplest of searches on the web.

Denying what Christianity stands for, from it's own words, does not suddenly make Christianity acceptable in today's society. If you do not adhere to the standard Christian doctrine then maybe you should add a page on your website that explains how your beliefs differ from these fundamental Christian beliefs and principles? Surely if someone is providing spiritual guidance it is essential for the individual being given such guidance to understand the worldview from which that guidance is being given.

To claim that you are providing spiritual guidance in the name of Christianity, but that you only accept all the good points about Christianity and deny all the bad points is the same as me saying, that I accept all the good qualities of humanity, whilst denying all the bad qualities. In which case there is likely to be no difference between Christianity and Humanist views, in which case Christianity becomes obsolete.

I sincerely wish you well on your journey and I truely hope that the support you offer helps. I also sincerely hope that I am not reading in 5-7 years time how Christian belief is on the increase because, since 2007, Telford has gone from circa 1% who believed in God to 30%, 50% (or whatever the percentage is calculated as at that point) and Telford is used as a shining example by the church that God must exist as clearly these modern people who were categorised as 'Godless' have since come to realise the real truth...

...but I hear you saying now - "What is wrong with saving these people?" Nothing if you could actually prove that we have immortal souls and that this life is just the 'test' before eternity in Heaven with God (although I not even sure if you believe that). But, as you can't prove this, isn't it better to allow these individuals to find absolute faith in themselves, instead of an imaginary being, and ensure that this single chance of life on planet earth that they have is fulfilled as much as possible, instead of hoping they continue to meet the demands of Jesus/God for the day they are saved following their last earthly breath?

Richard, what I mean by throwing rocks, is not really reading and thinking through the other persons comments... simply fowarding your own argument regardless... you have consistently failed to respond to the questions, comments I have made eg. the evolution/creation false dichotomy you set up, and you have put words in my mouth , which unfortunately you have done again in this post, often saying exactly the opposite of what I have actually said.

If proof = reality = value, then we would have no science, once again you demonstrate an unscientific attitude to the Cosmos... and how many times I have I said the 1% figure relates to Church attendance, national stats say over 80% claim a belief in God... but hey, we're going round in circles... feel free to comment again if you want to have the last word, but I will say no more on this particular thread... I am honestly grateful you came here and just wish it had developed into a conversation, i.e. we had been able to listen and understand each other... but I respect you beliefs, I don't believe that they are the best for individuals, society or humanity... but you do and you are entitled to them.


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