What's that Gilbert and Sullivan line? "I have a little list." [laughs] Any consideration of Christian life and ethics must always ask "what is distinctive about the Christian life?" What's the difference between being a Christian and being a nice guy, a good neighbor, an upright citizen, or an honest businessman? We all know people to whom we will give our house keys and the combination of our safe who don't believe what Christians believe. So it's quite possible, despite what some evangelists may say, even without faith in God, to be an honest and upright citizen. So what's the value added of being a Christian? Part of the answer is the motivation for doing [good], and the safety net when human weakness brings about a minor or major violation of the code of conduct we profess. What do you do with others or yourself as a sinner? The trouble with morality is it's not self-perpetuating. You need to have some way of coping with the human propensity to hypocrisy and deception and self-deception. You could say the creed is there to motivate, on the positive side, and to heal when there is a violation. The word salvation in Greek really means healing. Without that, a code of moral conduct by itself--the Scout oath--won't sustain you. That's why St. Paul says all those things about the law without faith.

Would meditating on a certain part of the creed impel you to a certain action?

It often does. Start at the beginning: when you take the interpretation of our environmental responsibility--one that's been articulated so beautifully and powerfully by the current Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew (who's known as the 'green patriarch')--all of that comes from this old man sitting in the middle of Turkey thinking about what it means to say "maker of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible." [Read the statement.][It's saying] I live in a world that is a continuum from the angels to the oysters. All of it is the product of divine activity. That's what the creed says. If that's the case, in a very real sense, every creature comes from the same Father, and that makes them all brothers and sisters. Without identifying the world with God in a pantheistic way, it nevertheless provides a direct and powerful motivation for treating creatures as our fellows. That's one example.Are we moving beyond the era of creeds?In my book, I raise the question "Do creeds have a future as well as a past?" I invoke the analogy of a CD. There's nothing more static than a CD: they stack up on a shelf, get dusty. They can go from year to year without ever touching anyone. But anytime you want to, you can put that CD in a player and all of a sudden out comes the Credo from the B minor mass of Bach. It's been there all along.

So it is with creeds and their history. At crucial times, when you can no longer count on your own strength of will, character, conviction, and guts, you simply say "I don't know where I am right now, but I want to be part of the company that says 'I believe in one God.'"

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