Alpha & Probably Omega

When I first started to write Genesis of Man in 2001, I believed the book would be solely about crystal skulls. As time went on, and the book hit 100,000 words, it became obvious that there was far more to this book than I had originally expected. The more research I carried out, the more links I started to uncover between the skulls and other areas of investigation. One of these areas was the origins of the Christian faith and the role it has played and continues to play, in the lives of those who choose to embrace this particular belief system.

In an effort to understand more about the faith I chose to enrol for an Alpha course that was being run at my local Anglican Church. Alpha is a 10 week course, run by various Christian Church’s throughout the world, which is designed as a means of presenting the basic principles of the Christian faith to would be Christians in a relaxed and informal atmosphere. There are both Anglican and Catholic versions of the course, as well as Alpha for students, youths and prisoners. The meetings follow a set routine, whereby the participants eat together as a group, before watching a video on different aspects of the faith. These include subjects such as who is Jesus, why did Jesus die, and how does God guide us. The evening is then rounded off by a question and answer session. During the course that I attended, I was the only participant who was not already attending Church, and there were more helpers than participants. This seems to be the experience of other people I have spoken to, who have also attended these courses.

The Alpha course has in fact been running for almost 20 years, but it was not until 1993 that its possibilities for what the Alpha website refers to as ‘a vehicle for evangelism’ began to emerge. Nicky Gumble, who took over the Alpha project in 1990, was leading his second course when he looked around the room and realised that none of the participants were in fact Church goers. At the end of the course, Gumbel was delighted when the participants simultaneously announced their conversion. This made him realise the huge potential that these courses had. From that time onwards they were re-designed, and marketed to specifically appeal to non Church goers, at least that is the idea. However, I personally left the course being no closer to understanding Christianity than I was when I started.

I was honest with them from the very beginning, and told them why I was there, which was to help me with research for my book. To begin with, all went well, and I was given a very warm welcome, however, during the seventh week, when we discussed the concepts of good and evil, things changed abruptly, and the Church’s true colours were revealed.

During the video Gumble, stated that there had been a worrying surge of interest in the occult and divination. According to him, the reason that this is so worrying is that the Bible states, in various passages (detailed in his book Questions of Life) that both of these are inherently evil. In particular he singled out astrology, tarot and channelling, stating that these are all the work of the Devil. As such, he advised us to destroy any books or other information that we have on the occult and divination. He also stated that there is no such thing as white magic, only black.

The following is a copy of a letter I sent to the members of the group, setting out my personal beliefs on this subject. I set out my conclusions after this letter and leave you to draw your own. However, I would say that these are my views, which are naturally coloured by my experiences of those weeks. If you are a Christian and you feel that your views and beliefs represent who you truly are, then it is not my intention to dissuade you from your path, I merely ask that you read with an open heart and open mind.

“Dear All,

I am aware that some of you may have been surprised at the views I expressed on Wednesday following the video on good and evil. I thought that you all may benefit from further clarification, so that you are aware of why I hold these views, and where I am coming from. First of all however I must apologise for the length of this letter. This is necessary in order to fully explain my views.

I found Nicky Gumble’s assertion that anything to do with spirituality and divination is evil somewhat puzzling, for the reasons that I shall give below. In particular he singled out astrology, tarot and channelling, stating that these are all the work of the Devil. As such, he advised us to destroy any books or other information that we have on the occult and divination. He also stated that there is no such thing as white magic, only black.

According to the dictionary, divination is the practice of foretelling the future by, or as if by, supernatural means, insight, or guessing (in other words, using intuition). The Thesaurus revealed a wealth of alternative words, including prediction and prophecy. Prophecy is further defined as the interpretation of divine will, the act of revealing such interpretations, the foretelling of the future, or a gift or aptitude for predicting the future.

I find that a lot can be discovered about the true meaning of words by looking at the way in which they are structured. Divination equates to ‘divine nation’. During a discussion in one of the earlier sessions, entitled ‘How does God guide us’, it was stated that one of the ways in which He does this is by providing signs. Nicky Gumble gave the example of seeing messages on billboards. As the Divine is another name for God, my interpretation of divination would be that this too is just another way of enabling God to provide us with the signs that we are seeking to confirm that we are on the right path. Tarot and astrology are therefore just two of the myriad of ways that God uses to provide us with information that we are seeking. As He has also given us free will, it is up to us how we choose to use that information.

Most scholars are in agreement that the three wise men mentioned as present at the birth of Jesus were members of a school known as the Magi, whose teachings included astrology. Anyone who has read, or has any knowledge of the Bible will realise that it is
full of prophecies. The Book of Revelations is essentially a book of prophecy. And what about the Biblical Prophets, such as Isiah and Ezekial? In the video Nicky Gumbel advises us to destroy anything that we own that is remotely concerned with divination, would this then include the Bible?

Gumbel also singled out the practise of channelling, which he defined as ‘communicating with the dead’. This is a misperception, which I was at pains to point out during the discussion. Channelling is a means of communication, sometimes, but rarely with the dead. It is allowing the spirit of another being, human or otherwise, to communicate through you, using either the written or the spoken word. It is sometimes, but not always carried out in a trance state. There is nothing to be feared from this process, and there is nothing supernatural about it. We all do this to a certain extent, but have chosen instead to call it intuition.

Many people have moments of unexplained clarity, where they find themselves saying the most profound things, without knowing where they came from. This too is a form of channelling. Sometimes the information will be channelled through our spirit guides, at other times it is coming direct from our higher self. In order to explain this further, it is necessary for me to detail exactly what I mean by the terms spirit guides and higher self.

The higher self, or soul, is the wise part of ourselves, that knows exactly what we need. It is a source of infinite wisdom that we can tap into, as it contains all the knowledge and understanding that we have gained throughout the multitude of lifetimes that we have experienced. When we learn to tap into, and trust this wisdom, we realise that we do not need to seek answers elsewhere, for all that we need is already held within.

Our spirit guides are loving beings of light who have chosen to help us on our journey through each particular lifetime, assisting us to understand the lessons that we have chosen to experience. They will often appear to us as Angels, if that is what our mindset requires, although this is not necessarily representative of their true form. In most cases we have already spent several lifetimes in the company of these guides, and have formed a close attachment to them. In order to comprehend this, it is also necessary to understand the concept of reincarnation, and how I believe we are connected to God.

Since experience is relative, in order to experience one particular thing you must first have another opposite experience from which to draw a comparison. You cannot for example experience love without experiencing hatred, as you have to have something to compare with. As God is limitless, He realised that in order to know Himself and his
limitlessness, He would also need to know what He was not, in other words to experience limitation.

He therefore divided Himself into a number of pieces so that He could then look back and experience Himself from the viewpoint of the separated piece. These separated pieces were then sent throughout the universe, in order to experience a limited frame of reference. Some became animals, others became birds, while still more became human beings. In order for God to understand the full impact of limitation it became necessary for these souls to have an infinite length of time in which to experience many different facets of life.

While this great experiment continues, we continue to gather experiences through this life, and past and future ones. When we return to God, between lives, these experiences are absorbed by Him. Our experiences are then His, and He continues to experience Himself through us. In this way, we are all aspects of God. This idea makes a mockery of religions that teach the concept of a judgmental God, for if this is true, then in judging us, He is also judging Himself. God does not judge, he merely observes. Once you begin to realise this it can be truly liberating, as you freed from the need to observe so much of the dogma and doctrine that has grown up around the various religions, and you realise that failure to observe such rules will not result in you going to hell, for as our Gnostic forefathers realised, belief in such ideas of hell and original sin are themselves hell, and are as far removed from God as they can be.

The evolution of the soul, as I have come to understand it, follows two paths spread over a series of lifetimes. These are known as the outward path and the path of return. Somewhere in the middle we meet what is known as the point of integration. The outward path is purely about discovering the physical, material world, while the path of return is about introspection, looking inwards, where we begin to understand ourselves more in a spiritual sense. The outward path is characterised by a me, me, me attitude, whereas the path of return is about learning what we can do for others, rather than for

The choices and decisions that we make have outcomes, and so we gain in experience. In the process we experience many bumps and scrapes, sometimes incurring deep and profound emotional and spiritual wounds. However painful this may seem, these are nevertheless an essential part of the learning process, for without them we would not grow.

It is usually at the point of integration that the pain and suffering are at their most intense, for it is only by coming to a complete point of surrender that we can begin to tread the path of return. It is also at this point that we begin to feel a deep need for recognition and influence. These individuals are often extremely strong willed and dogmatic, believing that their way is the only way (politicians, entertainers and TV evangelists all spring to mind here). It is the unceasing demand for recognition that eventually brings us on to the path of return.

As we begin to walk this path, old wounds and patterns come up with ever increasing frequency to be healed. As I know from personal experience, this is no easy task, but once these patterns have been worked through, our understanding of who and what we are begins to deepen more and more. We begin to associate less with ourselves as individuals, and more with humanity as a whole, taking into account the good of all. We learn the true meaning of words such as forgiveness and compassion. This is often tempered by a desire to serve others. Many on this path become healers and counsellors, or do charitable work.

Through a series of lifetimes, we develop a finer and finer vehicle for the expression of the soul, until eventually the division completely dissolves and we reach ‘at-one-ment’. We then return to our higher self, or soul, and ultimately God, and no longer need to incarnate. Jesus is one of the few individuals who have managed to achieve this aim.

According to Nicky Gumbel, the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God. God though does not have physical form, and is therefore incapable of picking up a pen and writing. He therefore had to find another means of conveying His message; through the hands and mouths of human scribes. This then must mean that the Bible itself is channelled. If channelling then is evil, then so too must be the Bible!

Until eight years ago I was as sceptical about spirituality as many of you are now. As my father was a scientist who believed that if you could not see it, touch it or feel it, it did not exist, this attitude naturally rubbed off on me. Science teaches us to look outside ourselves for the solutions to our problems, whereas spirituality does the complete opposite. This scientific viewpoint led me to spend my time trying to think of ways to circumnavigate my problems rather than face them. Eventually the pain I felt became so acute that I could no longer ignore these feelings, and that is when I stepped on to the spiritual path. One day I was flicking through the local Adult Education Prospectus and found my eyes drawn to a class called The Art of Personal Growth and Transformation. I enrolled for the class and have not looked back since.

With the teacher’s help, I gradually began to awaken to many truths of which I had previously not been aware, including those detailed above. It has not been an easy process, but it has been a great awakening, that has given me an acceptance of who I am. I can honestly say, with the perspective that I have now, that there is no way I could return to being the person I once was. That person was a frightened little girl looking for love and approval from those around her, not realising that the only person who could provide her with this was not God, but herself. I used to think that other people were the ones who were creating the problems in my life, but I now know this is not the case, as other people are simply reflecting aspects of myself that I do not want to look at, like a mirror. What am I showing you about yourself that you do not want to look at?

When I joined this Alpha course I was looking for a way of helping me to understand Christianity from a Christian perspective. I believe that the best way to learn about something is to go and ask the experts, and not get a second hand viewpoint from someone who is biased. I would not for example ask a Muslim about Judaism, as I would not get an unbiased view. It is a shame that many of those who label spiritual beliefs as ‘evil’ do not do the same in return, notwithstanding the experiences which some of you mentioned. Christians however are automatically denied the opportunity to do this, as if Nicky Gumble is to be believed, to do so would mean that they are consorting with the Devil. This is a particularly insidious way of ensuring that people are denied the opportunity to make up their own minds as to what they should believe, and is really nothing more than a means of control.

When someone preaches, you tend to take their words and make them your own, as these are the only words that you have. It is however the preacher’s perspective that you are listening to, and not necessarily the truth. They tend to stick with one example, and use one set of words, thereby limiting the range of your understanding. When you take somebody else’s words without true understanding, you cannot adequately relay the meaning to somebody else, as you have not had the opportunity to do your own research, and form your own opinions on the subject.

Reading the Bible, and taking its words as infallible truth is problematic for the very reason that the words are open to interpretation. They are then no longer the words of God, but the words of the interpreter. Everyone else then has to assume that the interpreter knows what they are talking about. To assume anything makes an ASS out of U and ME.

From my perspective then, organised religion is like a club, with its own set of rules that you have to follow in order to obtain membership. These include the belief that the only way to communicate with God is through a mediator. If you choose not to adhere to these rules, then your membership is not welcomed, and sometimes cancelled. Most of these rules are fear based, promising retribution for your wicked deeds etc, etc, unless of course you repent.

According to the Church we have separated ourselves from God, due to the sins that we have committed. This supposedly began when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is interesting that many of the Gnostic Gospels, (most of which have been labelled as heretical by the Church) tell a completely different tale. The Church have obviously been studying these ancient texts for a lot longer than I have, and should therefore understand the true meaning of the words. Before they can label something as heretical, they need to understand these words. They must therefore know that their own views are heretical, as they do not adhere to the views presented in these earlier texts. I will not go into details here about exactly what these texts say, but instead leave you to read these for yourselves so that you can form your own opinion. It is interesting that the Church leaders were allowed to read these texts, when for many centuries we were not. This is only now beginning to change.

Originally the word heresy meant a sect, or school of thought that held views different from others. It was only later that it came to mean beliefs that are contrary to orthodox teachings. The word actually derives from the Greek hairesis, which means choice. This is somewhat ironic when you consider that what the Church were actually doing by banning these books was removing the people’s right to make an informed choice as to whether or not to conform to Church thinking.

The bottom line is that according to the Church we have separated ourselves from God. This is utter nonsense. We cannot be separated from God. Nothing is separate from God, as He is in everything that exists, ever has existed and ever will exist. In condemning ourselves we are therefore condemning Him. This must surely be the ultimate heresy.

The whole idea of repentance seems to me a bit of a misnomer anyway. If God does not judge, then why do we have to repent our sins in the first place? This is simply a way of assuaging our own guilt. All we are really doing is asking permission to forgive ourselves.

Religion then is an institution based around particular ideas of how things are. These ideas have become hardened and set in stone, becoming dogma and doctrines. These are largely unchallengeable, as religion requires you to believe these teachings. Gumble’s insistence that religion is the only true path to God is nothing more than a tool to help the Church acquire and keep new recruits, thereby continuing its existence. However, the fact that Christianity has existed for so long is an indication of its failure rather than its success, as the moment an organisation serves the purpose for which it was created, it becomes obsolete.

Spirituality is not an institution, but an experience. In stark contrast to religion, spirituality encourages you to set your own beliefs, based on personal experience. It also teaches that you can communicate directly with God, without the need for intermediaries, calling into question the need for Priests of any kind. No wonder the Church finds this whole concept so threatening.

These experiences become your own authority, rather than something that someone else has told you. These beliefs are not limitless, but are bounded by the concept of only acting for the highest good of all concerned and the harm of none. Whenever I am preparing myself to do healing work I say a short invocation to this effect. I find that the human mind has an amazing capacity to set its own limits and boundaries when allowed to do so, without the need for defined rules as to what is and is not acceptable behaviour, dictates by Churches and other organisations. God has never set down rules governing how we should and should not behave, for to do so would be an infringement of the free will that He has given us.

It seems to me that many Christians seem unable to make up their mind as to what kind of being God is. On the one hand they teach that God loves us, and has given us free will, but on the other hand, if we do not do as He asks, then when we die we will face judgement and damnation. This seems to me to be somewhat of a paradox, as a loving God cannot also be judgmental. The two are fundamental opposites, and simply do not go together.

Gumbel stated that he believes there is no such thing as white magic, only black. At the start of the course, one of the helpers relayed a story about how he came to Christianity. He had been seeing his girlfriend, who was a Christian, for some time. As the relationship deepened, he realised that this was the woman he wanted to spend his life with. As he was not a Christian, this threw up all kinds of conflicts. He realised that in order for the relationship to work, he would need to understand Christianity more, and so started going to Church. For a long time he struggled to understand, until one day he had a sudden revelation. He was later told that the rest of the congregation had been praying for him, in other words, attempting to influence his decision.

I see this as a direct infringement of his free will, as his own journey to Christianity would have taught him a lot more, had he been left to his own devices. It is the journey that is important, not the destination. In a way I see this as black magic, as the effect of prayer is very strong. Since he did not know about this, their prayer was altering and possibly disturbing his life path. Maybe on the other hand, he was meant to experience this and become a Christian. It is always preferable however that the person reaches this understanding on their own, without interference from others, no matter how well meaning they may be.

Christians equate God with love, and the Devil, or Satan with fear. We are taught to view the Devil as an opposing force, external to ourselves, that must be kept in check. As this force, like God, surrounds everything in the universe, it is in fact both internal and external. The Devil is therefore a force which is both equal and opposite to God.

The Devil, or darkness as I prefer to call it, is the voice of fear, or negativity, the voice that tells us that we are weak and unworthy, and tries to sabotage our efforts. The light, or God, is the voice of love, the voice that says we are worthy, and the voice that encourages our efforts. Many people believe that Lucifer and Satan are one and the same, but I am not one of these. I believe that Lucifer is merely the light twin of Satan. As Satan stands in the light, keeping it in check, so Lucifer stands in the darkness keeping that in check, striving to maintain balance. It’s a tough job – but someone has to do it!

This reminds me of the force in the Star Wars films. This is described as ‘a force that is neutral, but can be used for good or evil purposes’. Luke Skywalker is depicted as working for the light, whereas his father, Darth Vader is seduced into working for the dark side of the force. At the end of the sixth episode, Return of the Jedi, Luke refuses to kill Darth Vader, as he knows that if he does, he too will have been seduced by the darkness.

Although the force itself is neutral, like us it has two polarities. Everything has its opposite; wherever there is light there is darkness, and wherever there is darkness there is light. This is perfectly illustrated in the Yin Yan symbol. Neither is intrinsically evil, they are simply striving to maintain balance.

God is in fact the only force in the universe that is completely balanced. Before we can return to God, at the end of our series of lifetimes, so too must we be. Therefore we must strive to incorporate both the light and dark aspects of our being, reaching a point of neutrality. If we work wholly for the light, and ignore our negative emotions, then we will be unable to return to God. If we work wholly for the dark, then the same thing happens.

The Devil or darkness is not a force to be conquered into submission, but a force to acknowledge and work with. It is a force which exists in each and every one of us, whether we choose to admit it or not. Ultimately the only way to transcend the darkness is to embrace it. This does not mean that we must ignore our light side and work only for the dark, for all this does is create a state of further imbalance. What it does mean however, is acknowledging that it exists, for by failing to acknowledge that part of ourselves, we are merely giving it more energy. Pain does not decompose when buried, but continues to fester beneath the surface, waiting for an opportunity to express itself, and burst forth. Ignoring this aspect of ourselves is therefore a very dangerous and selfish thing to do, for everyone around us.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I found Gumble’s comments regarding my chosen path to be offensive and discourteous in the extreme. They showed a complete lack of respect and tolerance for the views and beliefs of others. Spirituality encourages us to take things at face value, fully accepting seemingly different views without judgement. The intolerance and prejudice fostered by Gumble’s views leads to a lack of communication and understanding. It is precisely this attitude that starts wars.

I resent the assertion that the things I believe in are evil, and that by implication I too must be. I believe that all paths are equally valid, and no one is better than any other. Our views may be different, but they are just that, different, neither one is any better than the other. What makes Nicky Gumble think that he has the right to foist his views upon others, and tell them how they should live their lives? We live in a free society, where we should be able to make up our own minds. This is a direct infringement of the free will that we have been given. It is obvious to me, from these comments, that the Church is working from a point of love of power, rather than power of love.

After careful consideration I have therefore decided to leave the group, as it obvious that there is no room for my views here. When the leaflet about this course came through my door, I saw this as an invitation, and sign that I needed to explore Christianity in more detail. My intuition told me that I could be in for a difficult ride, and I am saddened to say that the discussion on Wednesday only served to confirm this view.

Shortly before the millennium, another leaflet came through my door, entitled Jesus 2000. On the back of this leaflet were words to the effect that we should not listen to our intuition, as it cannot be trusted, and may be seeking to divert us from our path. The leaflet suggested that God knows better than anyone how we should live our lives, and we should instead turn to Him. The irony is that intuition is one of the many ways that God uses to reach us. Intuition equates to inner tuition, or teaching from within, in other words, tapping into the higher self, or soul, which is in itself part of God.

Finally, I would like to wish you all well on your journey through life and thank you for being such good teachers. You have shown me many things about myself which I did not wish to acknowledge or look at, not least of all the fact that I can be as judgemental in my views as you, and the religion that you represent, appear to be. Having said this, at least I have had the opportunity to make up my own mind, and not take someone else’s words and views as my own. For this I remain eternally thankful.


June Austin”

I believe that far from the Alpha course being the Church’s saving grace, it will ultimately lead to their downfall, hence the title of this article. Despite the Church’s assertions to the contrary, without exception, every single person that I have spoken to who has done an Alpha course relayed experiences very similar to mine. Rather than  appealing to non Christians, or those who are wavering, these courses cater more readily for the needs of those who already understand the basic concepts of Christianity and are seeking guidance to help them place these into a broader context. It seemed to me more like a club where people can go to discuss common views, rather than bringing in new blood to swell the ranks of the Churches.

As the course progressed, and I began to voice my own views and  confusions, it became obvious due to the heated discussions and negative comments by some members of the group, that they were being challenged to the very heart of their own beliefs. In my experience, people only get angry when they are not secure in their own beliefs to begin with. My comments only served  to heighten the sense of disparity between the group members. Most of the examples given during the course videos were those of the narrator, Nicky Gumbel. It was interesting that when members of the group asked for  clarification on these matters, the course helpers reiterated with the exact same examples. There was no attempt to paraphrase, or give analogies or alternative explanations in order to further explain the concepts. This led me to conclude that the course helpers had themselves not understood. They were very much acting as the sales person, where the script cannot be altered.

One of my writing reference books, written on the subject of copyright, states that if you are unable to paraphrase something that you have read elsewhere in your own words, then you have insufficient knowledge on the subject, and should therefore not be writing about it at all. The fact that these helpers were unable to come up with new ways of explaining the concepts, described in the course, indicates to me that they themselves had insufficient understanding. Having said this, I have often heard others say that you teach what you need to learn.

As Nicky Gumble is the spokesperson for Alpha, and indeed the Church, through his role as head of the Alpha project, his views have been taken to be infallible truth. The helpers and group members have put Gumble on a pedestal, thereby placing him above everybody else, including themselves. In this way, they are turning religion into a cult, which is ironically the very thing that the accuse the New Age of being.

I believe that everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but when these beliefs impinge upon the lives of others, they need to be questioned. If we deem our beliefs to be the only truth, and destroy, kill and maim in order to maintain those beliefs then they are clearly not serving us, or the rest of humanity. The history of Christianity is littered with many examples of this, such as the Medieval Crusades, and the killing and torture of countless Gnostic groups at the hands of the Inquisition. I recently learned that The Inquisition are actually still in existence, but under a new, less menacing name, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They no longer burn heretics at the stake, but instead use more covert means to control peoples ability to make their own choices.

Their official duties are to protect the power of the Papacy, and stifle dissent. The Congregation’s Chief Executive is known as the Prefect. The current Prefect is Cardinal Ratzinger, [now Pope Benedict XVI] who is [was] a personal friend and confidant of Pope John Paul II, and known as his ‘right hand man.’ According to Ratzinger, any Priest who was not ordained into the Catholic faith is not a true representative of God. Not only has he divided the Catholics, but he has forcibly split them from other Christian denominations too. It seems to me that we need to focus on our similarities, not our differences. If we can do that, then we will realise that we are basically all the same, and that we are all searching for the same thing – the remembrance of who we really are. While the Churches continue fight over these semantics, they scratch their heads and wonder why their congregations are continuing to fall.

As well as reassessing promotions and appointments at Ecclesiastical Faculties, the Congregation also examine the writings of Theologians that are brought to its attention by other members of the Church. Particular attention is paid to those whose views, or writings reach a wide audience. In 1983 a Canon Law was passed stating that all teachers of Theology at Institutes of Higher Learning had to apply for a mandate to teach from the Church. Many Theologians have been banned from teaching for falling foul of official Church teachings, with one stating that his examination by the Congregation was worse than the four times that he had been hauled before the Nazis!

I consider myself lucky that I had the strength to walk away when I did, as it would have been all too easy to be sucked in; frighteningly easy in fact. For me one of the greatest conflicts that I had to deal with throughout this whole sorry state of affairs, was how such seemingly nice people could hold such intolerant and bigoted views. I must admit that after seven weeks attending the course, and discussing such important issues, I could sense a growing feeling of camaraderie between myself and the other group members. Many people join these courses at a time when they are experiencing great crises in their lives; they are desperate for answers and understanding. When they begin to feel a connection between themselves and the other group members, they believe that they have finally found the acceptance that they crave, and they are loathe to give this up. However, this acceptance comes with a price, as it is conditional upon them renouncing all of their previous beliefs, in favour of Christianity. In my view, this is not true acceptance at all, but a very subtle form of coercion and brain washing.

When I attempted to discuss my views on these issues, I was told to pray for guidance to the Holy Spirit, so that I would then discover the ‘real truth’, insinuating that my own views were not the truth. In reality, there are as many truths as there are people. What is right for one person is not necessarily right for another. It was also suggested that I obtain a theological dictionary, as I was told that certain words have a completely different meaning in the Christian language to what would be found in an ordinary dictionary. No doubt prophecy is one of these.

The November 2002 edition of Alpha News announced that thanks to an extensive advertising campaign, more than 8 million adults around the UK are now aware of the Alpha course and able to recognise its logo. Awareness of the course has grown from just 8 percent of British adults in June 1999, to 17 percent in September 2002, with website traffic doubling in little more than a year. September 2002 saw 75,000 visitors to the Alpha website, with 22,000 requesting details of their nearest course. On the surface, this would appear to be a significant number of people, but this represents a fraction of the UK population as a whole. 1.5 million people are believed to have completed a course, representing less than 3 percent of the UK population.

For the first time, the 2001 census for Great Britain asked people to specify their religious beliefs. The results, which were announced in February 2003 revealed that 72 percent of the population regard themselves as Christian, whilst 23 percent either did not specify a religion, or refused to answer the question at all. I believe however that these figures are somewhat misleading. Although many people would regard themselves as Christians, it does not necessarily mean that they go to Church or read The Bible, in many cases it simply means that they were brought up as Christians. In reality though this is little more than a label.

Christians like Gumbel delight in telling us that The Bible is the biggest selling book in the world. What they fail to tell us however is the reason why. The majority of these are not bought by people converting to the faith, or even by Christian families; they are bought by Churches needing to replenish their stock. Since they buy them in their thousands, this helps to keep the figures artificially high. A survey conducted by a large British hotel chain in 2002 revealed The Bible as the most useless item in the average hotel room. How many hotels are also helping to boost these figures?

A series of nine programmes entitled The Soul of Britain was broadcast on British television during June and July 2000. The programme makers conducted a poll of attitudes towards religion, the results of which proved to be highly revealing, with less than 15 percent describing themselves as regular Church goers. Twenty seven percent described themselves as religious, with 31 percent preferring the term spiritual.

The British Social Attitudes Survey 2000, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research indicated that the number of people claiming to be members of the state religion (Christianity) has dropped by 40 percent since 1983. The report found that 48 percent of people in the UK claimed to belong to a religion, compared with 86 percent of people in the US and 92 percent of Italians. Perhaps more worryingly though, two thirds of those aged 18 to 24 claimed no religious affiliation at all.

Despite the Church’s best efforts, they still appear to be losing the battle. Despite their
claims that 1.5 million people have attended an Alpha course, it would appear that the majority of these have not been converted to the faith, attendance at Church of England services fell below the one million mark for the first time in the late 1990s, and is showing little sign of recovery.