Sunday, 25 March 2012

Sunday Sermon: Prayer

Everything, your ways astound us and defy understanding. The grandest gods created by men are momentary motes when compared to you. All of our fantastic worlds, heavens and hells together are but a drop in your vastness. We serve you, worship you and seek knowledge of you because we love you. It is not for our worth that we were born but by grace alone, and by grace alone we may grow, prosper and dance, until such grace ends. Thank you. Our gratitude is profound. Amen.


It's very hard to talk about prayer, or I find it so anyway, and perhaps it is hard to talk about any spiritual practice for the same reasons. A given journey through life is such an individual thing, after all. How can I tell you how to pray or how to meditate or how to sing? I don't think anyone really can, but nevertheless I'll attempt to discuss the practice a bit in order to demystify it and hopefully make it seem accessible to some who may have thought it not.

First of all I must be very clear that when one prays both the subject praying and the object of the prayer (whether Everything, a god, ancestor or a tree) are both in our brains. I don't know enough about neurology, if anyone does, to really explain this, but my proposition is that there is a mental function available to us, a product of evolution most likely, which we can mentally engage with and also mentally develop with name, shape and personality. With candour I call it the IF (Imaginary Friend) function.

Some people talk to plants. I never have really, so can't talk about it, but I understand they gain calm from it.

I occasionally 'talk to' my father. I used to do so much more so soon after he died, as is very common with people who have lost loved ones. According to the theorists, it is losing loved ones that may be one of the origins of religion, and it makes some sense that it may have been the origin of prayer. The thing is, John Alcorn, my father, had a very developed reality in my head when he was alive, even though I wasn't with him the vast majority of the time. In my head he had personality, values, opinions, particular skills and also flaws. Apparently even the recognition of his face and voice takes up a big chunk of mental capacity. And none of this - not a jot - disappeared when he died.

So the theory is that people believed in the reality of people's existence after death (ghosts if you like) not for any positive reason but simply because they had no reason to believe they had stopped existing. They could still talk to a developed personality which induced in them particular feelings, fears, anxieties and joys. Once again, I think this casual practice of the IF is very common, whether it has been incorporated into a cultural mythos or not.

The IF can also be iconic, as is the case with the worship of pagan gods. Like the dead, these gods have developed personalities, histories, flaws and strengths. To engage with a particular god (Zeus or Elvis) is engaging a part of self. Note that these entities are shared by many, who may therefore speak of the god, discuss the lessons from the god and share stories and songs of the god.

Is that a useful thing? Well in the case of a deceased loved one, it is a way to maintain a connection to a real source of wisdom and self-knowledge, one that is unique and specific to your needs. If I might choose Poseidon as a shared pagan god to illustrate, when the sailor makes his sacrifices and prayers before a voyage he (it's an ancient sailor ok? I'm assuming this one's a 'he') is also praying to a very specific and developed part of himself. Now neither the ancestor nor Poseidon is 'real', but the constructed part of self is. In the sailor's case, it is mental preparation for the voyage. The sailor uses the shorthand of prayer and ritual, but the preparation in his mind is very complex, incorporating generations of understanding of what is required.

But moving along, what if, when I am praying to Everything at night before I go to bed, as I often do, I pray for my friends, my wife and son, my business perhaps? What about a friend who is in trouble in some way? Everything is far too amazing to be a petty interventionist after all, even if It was an anthropomorph.

This is what I think I'm doing in this part of the prayer: I'm about to go to sleep remember, which is when the subconscious takes over for eight or so hours. I've just had a whatever of a day. I'm pausing to make mental notes. I'm applying some configuration to what I want to be looking out for, subconsciously or not, hopefully at the expense of things that I really shouldn't be worrying about. I can do without such self-reminder I suppose, but I think it is helpful. It helps keep me on track.

Now I'm just sketching here and purposely using a lot of first person. I offer no tight formulas. My hope is that a reader's imagination might fill out the beginning of a practice of prayer that they might find helpful and relevant.

What about Jesus' advice to 'pray for your enemies'? Well, I've tried it, and it is magic, or feels like it. By 'enemies', I just mean the people I've been in some conflict with. Maybe someone I've had a fight with or a telephone seller that got me angry. But my conflicts are petty. Maybe right now you are in a massive court case with enormous stakes. Or indeed, maybe you are engaging in war as a soldier of your country.

Now I think it is a good thing to find peace with people, but one purpose of praying for your enemies is very obvious: It allows you to get to sleep. The day has ended. There may be more conflict the next day, or you may never see the person again, but it is utterly in your interests to make mental peace with the person. Never underestimate your own psychological power over yourself, for good or ill.

Everything, of course, can take your anger and hurt. It can take your curses, your, "Why me?". It will not reveal anything you say to any other so you can speak to Every about anything at all. You can enquire about any perverse fantasy or reveal any bazaar dream or shameful act. Everything is not judgemental at all.

I'd also suggest, as per a formula Jesus suggested, that Everything is 100% forgiving (in the sense that you are actually free of the anxiety of guilt) precisely to the extent that you have forgiven all others. It's still all in your brain, just to be sure, but your brain is not something which "mere" describes.

For myself, some years ago now, in a very dark period in my life, a period which, incidentally, I was not merely atheist but knew there was no meaning in anything at all, with all the agony that the knowledge entailed, I prayed my first prayer for many years. I was already aware that the only thing that deserved the term 'God' was the universe itself in all its entirety. I looked to the trees, to the sky, and further in my imagination - I 'looked' at Everything, and said, "Hello."

That was the only prayer I prayed for a long time, but I prayed it every day. It was a simple acknowledgement of the greatest thing, the macrocosm if you like, the singularity - beautiful and unique - which is everything. It immediately felt good and, imagination or not, life began to dance again, serendipity started happening more, again. With belief in no-meaning, serendipity seemed to have ceased and simple things appeared to constantly go wrong.

The next addition to the prayer, incidentally, was, "Thank you." That too, is immensely satisfying. I can't even explain the benefit of gratitude. Take it or leave it.

Most of the notes above about more elaborate prayers is actually fairly recent material for me, and I continue to speak with Everything, and Everything's IF part of my brain continues to develop. It's a meditation with words which develops very particularly with continued practice. I love it, as I love Everything (how can we not?).

This sermon about prayer is largely built on personal testimony. Tentatively, I commend the practice, but if it has no resonance, you should probably ignore it and continue developing whatever practices you already have. If it has a little resonance though, if it appears to be a practice that might help give life some structure and directiveness, try it. Say "Hello" to start with and keep it casual and unforced. Share with us how it goes for you some time. For that matter, I'd love to hear of anyone's personal practice of prayer.


Everything, thank you for the freedom to speak here. Once again I pray that you bless readers with open yet critical minds, that they may, for themselves, in the midst of their respective journeys, find the measure of my words and discern good fruit from bad. So be it.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Archive of Sunday Sermons from Facebook

These sermons began on this blog about a month ago, on Sunday February 26th. But that is not where they began. They began on Facebook last September but were initially short (Facebook status size) and snappy. This had the advantage of quick accessibility to people who happened upon it, but the disadvantage, which increased over time, that it was difficult to really explain anything or to make connections between different thoughts.

Nevertheless many of these engendered wonderful discussions, with many surprising points of view. Still, when I post my sermons and link them from Facebook all of the commentary and discussion has occurred on Facebook.

Here is an archive of all the Facebook sermons. You do not need to be my friend to access the links, but I think you have to have a Facebook account. Do feel free to befriend me on Facebook, with a message mentioning this page so I know you're not entirely random.

Throughout history, "all equal under God" has given solidarity to the oppressed. It is a powerful, liberating phrase, which still today can rub critically and creatively against inequality.

Note that if by 'God' we mean a defined god, an idolatrous god, the 'god' of the Bible or Koran, or the god-man or some other nonsense, then the idea immediately becomes divisive and violent.

On this day, the 11th of September, let us remember the common humanity of all seven billion of us, with our one planet, one sky and one ancestry, equal under one God.

The Hebrews are not the only people to have survived the calamities of history, to have crossed the Red Sea while many others drowned. All on Earth are the seed of survivors of repeated tragedy throughout human and indeed biological existence. We are all, by evidence of our ongoing survival, God's chosen people.

To find identity in one's current *belief* is perilous, as your self is exposed and vulnerable every time your belief is challenged. Better, to take Jesus' advice, to identify ourselves (and others) by our 'fruits'; what we *do*; our impact on the universe.

The messenger is not the message. The pathway is not the pilgrim.

You have heard it hath been said, "Read thy Bible each day." I say unto you that God's Word is so much bigger. Just make it a good book, interesting, broadening and challenging. "All books are God-breathed and are profitable," St Paul advised young Timothy before the 'Bible' tradition had begun. Idolising the Bible as a closed canon was Christianity's single worst wrong turn.

Taking the first stanza of John Lennon's hymn, "Imagine" as our text:
"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try.
No hell below us,
Above us only sky."
Lennon goes on to challenge us on many levels, about possessions, political borders and religion itself. But he started in the right place for the spiritual children among us. If we don't succeed in Lennon's first imagining, the rest are out of reach.

Sunday Sermon:
The baby that has been thrown out with the bathwater of religion is accidentally described in an account of the Wall Street protests:

"... a space made sacred by a community. But like Medieval churches, it is also now the physical center of that community. It has become many things. Public square. Carnival. Place to get news. Daycare center. Health care center. Concert venue."

Do not fear the battle of ideas, feet shod with the gospel of empathy. All ideas can win the day with clever rhetoric, but over many contests worthy ideas dominate, and unworthy ideas are relegated. If we despise the conflict in the name of despising conflict itself, there is never victory for the truth.

Sunday 30th October [Reformation Day is tomorrow]
Tomorrow, we're told, the population of the world will reach seven billion. Population explosions, along with their Malthusian limits, are not uncommon in nature but, uncannily, the universe has provided our species with an inoculation against it continuing. Education - in particular literacy - must be spread to every child, universally. This is the Great Commission of those who would seek God's will on Earth. We know that education turns the demographic curve, and it has endless other benefits to civilisation.

I don't necessarily envision *The Universal Encyclopedia of Practice* to ever be written. It is available in pieces already via Google and Wikipedia. Its main importance is as an *idea*. It is an encyclopedia of all spiritual practice available to the journeying human - prayer, meditation, tantric sex, voodoo, Tai Chi, chanting, fasting, dietary practice, ritual practice and everything else, complete with an essay history and description of each practice and a summary of criticisms, along with clear guidelines to further information.

There are very good reasons to be afraid.
There are also very good reasons to hope.
Which we act upon makes all the difference to our behaviour in the world.
Which we act upon is a free choice.

If all you can see is doom,
Just as suggestion, consider
that really it may be in tune,
and merely eclipsed by the moon.

(Thanks to Pink Floyd for the last bit).

When a handful of people eat and drink together, sing some songs and then engage their minds together about some ideas, there is 'Church'*. This simple, collective practice has been turned to nonsense by deadly dogma and tradition. The *basis* of collective worship is not belief or doctrine, but love.

This practice is the opponent of alienation, and the lack of engaged collective embodiment is the definition of alienation.

* The word is irrelevant. My own preferred term is "The House of Everything", or just "The House of Every".

The Gospel of Empathy is the first universal doctrine. I can not think of any philosophical idea that is more important.

Science and reason provide us with all the theology we need, all the metaphysics if you like, all the cosmology. It even goes a long way to answering the "Who am I?" question. But it still fails, in itself, to give us a reason to be, a reason to shine all the more when things go well, or to keep hoping and trying when things stuff up. It short it leaves us with the question, "What am I doing here?"

If rational people fail to provide broad answers to this question, people will still look elsewhere. To a human psyche, an answer to this question trumps all science and reason, most of the time, and especially when the chips are down.

In recent history God has laid down a new understanding of ourselves in the universe, most notably via the prophet Charles Darwin, a new relationship of empathy with one another, via the prophets of the Enlightenment, and even a new hymnal, via the musical explosion of the 1950s-70s.

Either via reformation or renewal world religion will enter this new age. That much is merely a matter of time. The new institutions of worship of the one God which is Everything, independent from politics or business and founded on reason and education, will not merely be joyful places of worship and helpers of he helpless, but active agents in world civilisation.

With the atheist triumverate of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens the religion of the new age, The House of Every, is born. They would not be impressed, to their credit, but all of them are prophets and saints of the House.

So in memory of a great and courageous public voice, RIP Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens', *God is not Great* is probably the best of the triumverate. It's a good time to consider giving it a read. The profound and ongoing impact of these books is not on Christianity directly but in breaking the public taboo against non-Christians speaking out about the obviously absurd. Do not underestimate this impact. It is deep and it is historic.

Sunday 25th December (Christmas Sermon)
Regarding this Jesus character, he was a man. A wonderful, insightful man with a profound and critical message, way ahead of its time. The modern church has all but lost the message for the fetishisation of the man. Like many great leaders Jesus went to pains to warn his followers against this. It is simply irrelevant whether or not someone calls him, "Lord, Lord." 

In short his insight was that love, empathy and forgiveness can serve us better than moralism and law, without actually abolishing the latter; that the real *intent* of law is better fulfilled by going beyond it in our interactions. The widespread development and practice of the message, at least in the West, had to wait until the Enlightenment to get a bit of a foothold. 

Merry Christmas.

Be well in 2012...

Seek the truth,
make some music
and look out for your loved ones,
including yourself.

...for there will be no apocalypse.

God=Everything; Everything=God (Look Mum, no dualism!)
With this equation theology is united with naturalism and science. From this equation (and no other in my view) a rational and defensible theology can be built. Call it the associative law of theology, the first axiom. If there be worship, if there be praise, if there be service, let it be the worship, praise and service of everything and everyone, for anything less is a transient, culturally particular idol.

Breath, music and song.

For better health, longer life, greater energy and the sheer joy of it, sing! Sing in the shower or the car or wherever. Open your lungs up and do it from down deep when you can.

Sing with others and you are engaging in, arguably, the original spiritual practice, universal, accessible, free and powerful.

Singing keeps us in tune. Like eating and breathing it is part of our everyday metabolism.

There are those who teach that there are infinite stakes. For these people our choices in life will lead to infinite reward or infinite punishment. They also teach that this setup motivates people to be good.

Let's be clear about the mathematics here: If the stakes are infinite, anything can be justified. Anything.

Sufficient unto the day is the risk thereof.

Regular, repertory embodiment (coming together in the same place) is a feature of every community in history until quite recently. A community can be said to be *alienated* to the extent that it is no longer embodied.

The terms and even the functions have changed. The Greek word once meaning "assembly of the city" (ekklessia) came to mean 'church', for example.

The 'House of Every' is a vision to, among other things, restore regular assembly to the fabric of modern society, and once again abolish alienation.

The House of Every takes its text from the universal bibliography, its hymnal from the universal musicography and its practice from the universal encyclopedia of practice. Logos ("The Book of Every") must live! It must never ossify, for when it ossifies the community ossifies with it.

On the other hand The House opposes the teaching of superstition and idolatry (along with lies, for that matter). It will be said that this is narrow and restricting, but it is because they are narrowing and restricting that superstitions are opposed.

Superstition and idolatry are great ossifiers, enemies of Logos, and enemies of enlightenment.

Our purpose beyond ourselves is the group and the commons. The highest conceivable purpose is everyone and everything, as one. Every, like the god of the writer of Ecclesiastes, is all but indifferent to our individual activities on Earth. But as an object of search, worship and service Every is humbling, equalising, life-affirming and ultimately as comforting and helpful as any deity on the market.

Every also has this wonderful attribute of empirical existence.

Prayer without illusions is available to all of us. We may exercise the imaginary friend (IF) function in our brains productively or we can let it whither, leaving its use to children and the insane.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Sunday Sermon: Eschatology

Everything, infinite, ineffable and inescapable, I offer my words humbly before your general awesomeness, with integrity and ernest hope that they be true and helpful to those who read them. If my words miss the mark of the moment, and not be of use, may they be dismissed with good humour. So be it.

'Eschatology', in theology, means 'the doctrine of last things'. Most of its content in practice is not about finality however but merely about future events. Eschatology is a fascination and sometimes unhealthy obsession of many religious traditions, and I think it's fair to say that every religion ties its narrative of meaning up with conceptions of that which is to come to some extent or another.

Ironically perhaps it is secular science, armed as it is with hitherto unconsidered aeons of time and the law of entropy, which actually offers us a final moment, when all is done, when things really do cease to happen, when black holes are the only stellar bodies left, drifting apart in an endlessly diluting ether of nothing more complex than a positron. That will be in about (let me spell the number out), 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years, according to my current cosmology text, David Christian's Maps of Time. Whatever, really.

Perhaps a more practical number is 3,000,000,000 years, by which time the Earth will be uninhabitable by virtue of an expanding sun, but even this relatively humble number is a bit 'whatever' to human consciousness. By that time God will have moved on, one way or another.

Just incidentally, 3 billion years is about the time that life has been knocking about on Earth so far. All possibilities of premature demise notwithstanding, the living Earth is about middle aged.

As with other religions, it's the next 10, 100 and 1000 years that are much more interesting, and where any eschatological fears, anxieties, hopes and excitements generally reside.

In that famously overplayed Led Zeppelin song we are told that "there are two paths you can go by, and in the long run there's still time to change the road you're on." The 'two possible paths' theme is everywhere you look in the theologies of the world: 'heaven and hell', 'New Jerusalem and Babylon', 'final victory and utter vanquishment', 'apocalypse and utopia'. So much of our intellectual and emotional vocabulary has apparently evolved around a dualistic view of the future, despite the ultimate intellectual indefensibility of said dualism, that I would wager that it is at some level hardwired into our cerebral equipment. Like tribalism, sexism and indeed ignorance itself, I suspect that this dualistic reflex tendency to believe things in starkly polar ways is something that cultural practice can overcome.

David Christian's aforementioned 'modern cosmology' offers us an interesting observation about civilisation's more immediate (next few centuries) futures. "It is easy" he says, "to imagine catastrophic scenarios brought about by nuclear or biological warfare, or ecological disaster, or perhaps even a collision with a large asteroid." "Almost as easy", he suggests, is it to envision "utopian scenarios" where many of the world's problems are solved, the population has stabilised with the universalisation of education, and sustainable technologies have delivered a reasonable sort of life for all.

But then he makes this poignant observation: "it is the in-between scenarios that are both most likely and most difficult to imagine." I'm just going to leave that one with you.

Philosophically, The House of Everything believes in free will, but it is not just a philosophical matter. If we have choice and agency, and our choices and agencies might be shoulders to the wheel of one possible future or another, then articulating desired futures, and futures we may wish to avoid, becomes a very practical activity.

Inevitably given my protestant beginnings I find myself pondering the metaphors the Bible offers for us. In this case I am thinking of the general idea of a future heaven or hell on Earth, and that if we do the right thing we, or at least our descendants, can have heaven, but if we pursue merely selfishness then we will have hell. As a bit of mythology, it clearly has its bit of truth.

That portion of the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" should, in my opinion, deeply concern most people who regularly pray it. It seems to indicate a version of heaven and earth not as equi-existent, but with 'heaven' the Platonic ideal the 'earth' strives to achieve. There is no indication of a place of eternal afterlife. In any case Jesus here asked his followers to pray for things to be heavenly "on earth". Maybe I'm alone here but I've always found that of interest.

In a way today's sermon is a sequel to last week's sermon about cosmology. As with last week's I have not presented the subject under review with much content but merely sketched some thoughts about approaching the subject anew and without illusions. Of course we can not know what the future will hold. But we (collectively, as humans) will think about the future, and as with the broader cosmology I discussed last week, such conceptions are an important part of our identity and our capacity to act purposively.

If I have any general advice it is to avoid the apocalyptic prophet. Always question the motives of someone who says the end is near, as in my observations they are virtually always attempting to manipulate us toward an ideological position. It is in the name of rigour that I concede that one of them may actually be right, and that our critical faculties should remain capable of putting the question, but so far, of many thousands over many centuries, none of them have been. Meanwhile they haven't really helped anyone.

On an individual level, on a communal level and on a the level of the global House of Humanity, if we believe that things can be better and act with hope and vision, then they can be and more often than otherwise will be.

Conversely, it is impolite to tell a person or a community that they are beyond hope, even if it appears true, because it is the single best way to eliminate hope. Beware of telling the world, and yourself, and especially your children, that there is no hope. There is extraordinary hope as well as extraordinary challenge, and humans are extraordinary.

May the dance of all things bless the readers of these words, that the same are able to critically determine for themselves whether the words are of use in their respective pilgrimages. However it occurs, let the truth come to the light. Bless us all Every, bless all life on our beautiful planet, for a long, long time. Amen.

(Just in case you've got it in your head like I've managed to do, here's that song.)

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Sunday Sermon: Big History

Everything, constant companion and comforter, bless those who read these words, that they divide well any which might be profitable from any which are dross. Amen.

For thousands of years people have been attending their respective houses of worship. Last week I discussed some of the social, pragmatic reasons that the practice might be beneficial, leaving doctrinal content and its controversies aside.

One of the personal reasons people go to church (or whatever) is to punctuate the week of work, family and necessity with a moment of consideration of the big picture; to touch the infinite, to transcend to a higher reality. The community of a house of worship - indeed the community of the earth - has this larger perspective in common, even when it has nothing else in common. This big picture is a big story, the story of all of us, our world and our universe, with origins, eras, moments of great change and of great revelation. It is a story that isn't finished, and there is hope that it has a long way to go. It is a story in which, in some minuscule way, we are all characters, and may make choices, enact actions and say sayings which, in some minuscule way, are part of this great endless dance, and which impact on the whole.

It seems to me to be a part of the nature of humans that we have answers, and we share them and believe them, more or less on a tribal or group-think basis. What I mean is that I don't think there was ever a time when if someone asked, "Where does the sun go after dark?" everyone would look at each other and say, "Well we just don't know. Some have thought about it but we just haven't got any conclusive evidence as to where it goes, sorry. Let us know if you come up with anything." Individuals may well declare that they don't need answers, but collectively I don't think we're capable of proceeding without a full complement of answers to any question that arises more than once. The idea of systematically answering, "we don't know" to many questions is very modern, generally speaking.

Every human society has narratives about everything. Interestingly a lot of early ethnographic research into belief systems is now held suspect because it appears the researchers often asked questions which were Eurocentric to begin with and not necessarily relevant to these traditional society's lives. The interesting thing to note is that the subjects of the research didn't ever say, "Oh we don't really have beliefs about that", but rather (especially as they were supposed to be authorities) just generated the 'traditional' answers on the spot. Answers, like words themselves, generate themselves spontaneously, regardless of whether there is any evidence available or any previous teacher behind them.

The beginning of the Bible is a narrative about some big picture questions for which, we might smugly observe, the writers really had no proper knowledge: the origin of the world, of life and of humans, along with an attempt to explain some of the persistent oddities of our nature. In terms of answers we might call these chapters of Genesis pretty hopeless, but we must also concede that the writers had no way of knowing better. It is hardly remarkable, given the fluid and spontaneous, generative nature of language, that these ancient people had answers. Indeed from around the world we have thousands of narratives about origins.

There may be strong psychological reasons why we need these answers, this narrative. David Christian's, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (2004) "attempts to assemble a coherent and accessible account of origins, a modern creation myth," as the lack of such an account "contributes to the subtle but pervasive quality of disorientation in modern life that the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim referred to as "anomie": the sense of not fitting in, which is an inescapable condition of those who have no conception of what they are supposed to fit into."

The book takes us from the Big Bang to the present, using the best possible evidence from a large variety of fields, accessibly and with the big universal themes in mind. I have my issues with it, but it remains the best attempt to present such a sweeping history of us all that I have read. I've placed a link to the Big History Project in the sidebar.

Earlier I used the word 'revelation'. We certainly have no need for a supernatural agent to recognise that things have been revealed to us since the writing of the Bible. In terms of the Genesis type questions, about origins and human nature, all religious thought from now on will be considered pre-Darwin or post-Darwin, such is the profound impact Darwinian evolution has had. In any case revelation is real, and we depend upon it for many things. In terms of how it occurs in the human mind it's still pretty mysterious, but we proceed with full expectation that yet more will be revealed about Everything.

My main sort-of criticism of David Christian's book is that he insists so much on a fairly classical materialism that as his narrative comes closer to modern history the accelerating, accumulating streams, hubs and centres of 'information', which are a theme throughout the book, never get to become a new objective level of reality with its own complex metabolism and directionality. It's not that he does not discuss, in turn, the origins of language and the origins of writing, but it is the freshly cumulative and purposive quality of these developments - what I call logos - which I feel needs to be explored in a separate and fullsome way. For Christian, it remains 'information', merely faster and more voluminous than before.

Well I think I set out intending to write a bit about a modern cosmology but I can see I haven't really talked about it at all. I have merely talked about the idea of a modern cosmology and perhaps that is appropriate enough. It is not for the House to engineer new orthodoxies after all, but merely to help show the way a bit, to point out that science, among other literary forms, is the revelation of God, and that the living, unfolding word of God is available to anyone who would care to explore it.

A deep value that I would have The House of Everything uphold and promote is education, from literacy where that is needed through to a lifetime of self-education and improvement. I don't think there is any transcendental duty we have to read, learn and search for knowledge and meaning. Nor do I think people who are smart or highly educated are better than others. But humbly, to myself and any readers, I would suggest that we not fear knowledge, that we not fear our own ignorance, that we ask the question when we don't know so that we then know, or at least know why we don't, and especially that we never belittle others who seek to know.

The philosophers, academics, scientists, researchers and engineers of all types are on the coalface of revelation, of the knowledge of God. Perhaps, somewhere in our prayers or ritual, we should give them a formal moment of thanks for their continued efforts.

Everything, I do fear I have rambled a bit this morning. I pray that my words be of benign impact to anyone who has read them, whether it be a profitable insight, a grindstone for criticism and hence clarity, or merely some lightly intellectual entertainment and stimulation. If there is anything I have wrong, either in detail or in broader thrust, let that be quickly transparent, that none be deceived. Amen.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Baby in the Bathwater of Religion (Embodiment 1)

Everything, I pray that my sermon spring from a love of truth and a desire to bring truth to life. If there be wisdom in my words, known or unknown to me, let the wisdom be heard and be fruitful. If there is foolishness in my words, let readers see through the folly. Amen.


The baby in the bathwater of virtually all traditional religion is the embodiment of a community for truth seeking, song and mutual aid. Any society can be described as highly embodied or highly alienated or something in between. Embodiment is a large factor in the health of society.

I'm aware that to those with no religious background at all this is a pretty abstract notion. Millions live their life without such an institution and they will report they are doing just fine without it. They may also think that our society has many problems, and they may even describe one of the modern issues as 'alienation', but these aren't their problems and it is a long way from nothing to see that repertory community worship might be one of the keys to getting society on a healthier keel.

In my experience however, people who have had religious backgrounds and yet have left their religions (generally for very good reasons) will immediately recognise what I'm saying. It's impossible not to occasionally miss the music and singing, the companionship that was taken for granted, the spontaneous acts of mutual aid and support that occurred, the rich content of conversation and just the security of knowing there was always the community of worshipers to turn to.

We experience embodiment in many ways outside religion of course, and it remains what health there is in society. Our family embodies for Christmas, we have parties, events and festivals, we go to sporting contests, concerts and the theatre. Some (I'm told) still gather around a table for meals. In Australia we consider the barbecue a national institution, even though I can't remember ever going to one.

But a repeated, regular embodiment of whole community (not meaning everyone but young and old, rich and poor etc), with ritual and song, is a feature of virtually every society in history, except our own. The word the English translators translated 'church' is the Greek word, ekklessia, which means 'assembly' and is used in the New Testament (and the Old Testament Septuagint) to describe secular gatherings of people as well as church gatherings. Even before the first century however it had a double meaning, but the specific meaning referred to something political, the assembly of people in the polis. The 'Church of Corinth', for example was not a new invention, but a Christian re-invention of an ancient Corinthian institution. Note that these earlier assemblies existed whether or not they had democratic power as in Athens, just as the Forum in Rome existed even though it never attained such power. It is political theorists rather than religious theorists who have recognised community assembly as a feature of every traditional society. But these assemblies were almost all religious to some extent, including the Athenian ekklessia. In our own social formations which emerged from the Europe of the Middle Ages, the remnant of it was the church.

The proposition here is not religious at all in itself. It is that when people form regular embodied community, stuff happens. None of it happens which doesn't otherwise happen outside religion (thankfully, as much of it comprises uncompromising human needs), but it's with regular embodiment that things happen constantly, developmentally (the happening can get better indefinitely over time) and easily.

One of the churches near me has a community garden, for example. Now people start community gardens (wonderful things), and they don't need a church, but it's not easy. You need to organise disparate people, find land (in practice often church land incidentally), source materials and maintain momentum when key people drop out. With an institutionalised body, it's not just that a community garden is easy to get off the ground, it is that an infinite variety of things might get off the ground. It is the collective part of human agency dealt with and assumed.

People meet each other. Yes, courtship happens. Again, people seem to get on with meeting spouses without church, but apparently our society needs a massive dating industry, and loneliness is epidemic, so again, it's not easy.

And courtship is only one reason for people to meet one another. Friendships occur, artistic projects, business ventures. Elderly people have company and the young have a variety of role models. This isn't abstract theory. Anyone who, like myself, has been involved in churches before, recognises all of this.

The local economy is stimulated in fact. If someone has a box of oranges they can't eat and someone else is poor, the connection is made. A small but healthy degree of communism occurs (though don't tell that to a conservative Christian). If an old pensioner needs weeding to be done in their garden, it is no trouble finding the young person who needs some weekend work. Again, this is not abstract unless you've never seen it. People do things for each other for the joy and love of it as well. Even without any ethical motivation, many people really like doing things for others. It's a matter of opportunity.

Music and song are another function of embodiment. But hey, we're surrounded by sound. Why do we need music? Well, apart from a few professionals, are we singing? Are we developing our God given musicality? Unless we're privileged are we learning instruments from an early age? Going a little deeper, are we developing cultures of music? That is, authentic community musical style? Clearly my view is no, and that embodiment facilitates these things.

Again this is not abstract. In terms of musical culture, the pentecostals have become one of the fastest growing and most influential forces in music. (Incidentally, in my mind the key to the current success of pentecostalism is that they get the importance of music.) A music director friend of mine, certainly no Christian, informs me that the best singers he encounters had a church background. It's no mystery. Doing anything repetitively from an early age makes one good at it.

When Christians travel, for fun or for work, they can go to the similar church at their destination and immediately find welcome and community once again. Loneliness, apparently, is for the secular.

The religious institution, ideally with land in a central place and a building, is a refuge and haven, a mobilisation point in a time of crisis and a point of contact for other communities. It performs these functions regardless of the theological teaching.

It is for all of these reasons that I am driven to promote the idea of modernising religion rather than abolishing it. In the end it is about a society that is healthy and fulfilling human needs. It is not the existence of religious institutions that is the problem any more than the existence of governance was the problem in the feudal 18th Century. It is the content that needs critique and reform.

One of the many questions which arrises is whether religion requires reformation or replacement with new institutions. For my part the question isn't closed, though this blog is clearly an attempt to articulate a new religion. But, without such an alternative, would I really encourage people to leave their church or place of worship? The reason I do not, and why I'd encourage others to think very carefully before doing so, is because at this time that church or place of worship is providing for the person's needs in ways that I probably can't imagine. I may vehemently oppose superstitious beliefs, but I'd prefer superstitious beliefs to alienation.


Thank you to anyone who reads my sermons. My authority is the same as everyone else's (ie pretty much none) and if there is anything useful in what I'm saying, what I'm needing to say, I hope that people find it by looking very critically at it. And if my thoughts and conclusions are wrong or unhelpful, then I hope I am properly dismissed. So be it.