Sunday, 29 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: To Have Faith!

Everything, good morning.
Thank you for another week of life, love and work.
Thank you for all of us.
Thank you for our life on this glorious earth.
Help us help you make it better for our descendants.


We are not here to insult God. We are not here to be idiots and make mockery of God. Everything has given us mind and an extraordinary and ever-accumulating legacy of thought and understanding. If there is a narrow, holy path of truth, it is using all of the faculties God gave us humbly and honestly.

"Proclaiming themselves wise they become fools" is a bit of biblicism that is often heard against science and reason by closed-minded religious bigots, but it is a sentiment that is deserved in the other direction, against those who think they're wise because... well, just because. Generally, in practice, it's because some teacher said so. Reason and evidence do not proclaim wisdom. They proclaim evidence which can be challenged, contingent upon further evidence. They properly begin with Socrates' insight that we know nothing at all.

So to be clear, to the extent that 'faith' means 'believing stuff that ain't true', we should reject it out of hand. This is most certainly the meaning for many modern religionists but, to be clear, the Bible's definition of faith ("The evidence of things not seen" - Hebrews 11:1) is not this idiotic. To be sure the context of the definition was the belief that the Christian founder Jesus was going to be resurrected from the dead, but this didn't actually contradict what they knew. Resurrection stories were fairly common in the first century, and early Christians honestly thought it could and would occur. We do know better now.

But today a fairly reasonable use of the term faith ('evidence for that which we can't see') might be the faith we have when we flick a light switch. Most of us don't really understand electricity and certainly can't see it, but we flick the switch in full knowledge that the light will go on. Hume was kind enough to point out to us that we have no reason to believe anything at all, including, say, that a ball released will fall to the ground, except that it has happened every other time we've done it. It's faith, if you like, 'evidence for that which we can't see'.

But that is all meant to clarify what I am not meaning by faith, so that I can get to the point. The House of Every is to be a congregation of those of a like mind about certain things, and there is most certainly a faith - a belief in some things that we can not immediately see - that I hope we can share in, and I am not merely speaking of the everyday.

We believe that the world can be a better place for those who will come after us.
We believe that war can come to an end.
We believe that poverty, malnutrition and an enormous amount of disease can be abolished.
We believe that the world economy can be rendered sustainable, that biodiversity can be preserved, forests and reefs protected and expanded and that world civilisation can move toward renewable energy.
We believe that governance can be democratic and transparent, without corruption, and that education can become universal and good enough that such democracy may respond to a well-informed and critically thinking constituency world wide.
We believe that the problems facing humanity have solutions that may be found if we are conscious, courageous and confident in humanity, the universe and existence itself.

This is faith. This is hope. In a way, this is also love, and it is certainly collective self-love. Similarly as with our individual paths - our attitude to our individual biographical pathways - humanity must have a bit of nerve, a bit of confidence, a bit of self-belief. Humanity must have self-love. This is faith.

And without faith we are lost.

Most importantly of all, please, please never tell your children that there is no hope, even if you think that it appears that there is not. Faith is essential to mental health, to social health and to getting on with history in a positive way.

If you want to have a good week, have a bit of faith in yourself and your immediate environment. If you want the world to have a good millennia, have a bit of faith in biology, humanity and consciousness.

Rather than choosing a song about faith, I have chosen a song and video of joy, as in my view joy feeds faith. I hope it is as uplifting to readers as it is to me.

Everything, bless the readers of this sermon. Bless us all. Help us discriminate between what is true and helpful to us and yourself, and that which is of no use. Most of all, help give us that bit of nerve as we face the future, that we may participate, that we may be agents and not passive spectators. So be it.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Great Commission

Everything, our one God worthy of universal worship, good morning! Thank you for giving us a place and a moment in your body. Help us to play our fulsome role in the great work on Earth, this glorious planet of life, love and consciousness. Amen.


For the House of Every the Great Commission is, quite simply, to spread literacy to all the peoples of the world.

It is very important however that this imperative is is not merely seen as some quirk of the House of Every. Regardless of who we are, regardless of our religion or our relationship with our world, if we care about our world and we want there to be a future, this is an enormously important task.

When we consider broader purposes for humanity literacy is clearly not the only thing. We need to abolish poverty, feed the world, end war, and preserve and expand biodiversity and ecosystems, just to name a few biggies that come to mind. All of these things can be done by the way, and a reason for deliberate community worship and engagement is indeed to mobilise everyday people around such common values in order to achieve such things, but the entire project depends on literacy and, concomitantly, education.

One of the primary reasons for despair today is the world's increasing population. It is a very misunderstood issue. For example, I often hear of how the Catholic Church is irresponsible in this regard because it is anti-contraception and anti-abortion. Just to be clear I think the Catholic Church is being absurd about these things as it is about many things, but let's note that Italy, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, has a fertility rate well below the replacement rate of 2.1. Apparently it is 1.39 which is potentially so low it is concerning. Clearly Catholics aren't listening to the Pope in this regard, and there must be other factors involved.

Here is a list of countries by fertility rate. The reason we should not despair is that most of these countries are actually depopulating over time. There are many apparently correlating factors, generally to do with development, such as GDP, income and access to health and education services, but the single most correlative factor is literacy. If you'd like to do some comparisons yourself here is a list of countries by literacy rate.

To be absolutely clear, the critical factor here is literacy of women. Unfortunately education programs in many countries, especially Muslim countries, manage to leave women out too often, and that's not going to work the way we need it to. It is with literacy that women have children later, less and further apart. It is due to literacy that women have choices apart from breeding as a purpose in life. Many educated women choose not to have children at all.

There are many misunderstandings around this issue and I want to dispel one more before I go on. The factor is not education about contraception or family planning, as such, and calls for these things can often be patronising and are always limiting compared to the possibilities of general literacy. Literacy, regardless of content and ideally in one's own language, is empowering. Now when women are literate some of the first things they may well want to read about are contraceptives and family planning, but there is absolutely no reason to patronise anyone by insisting on a curricula. The amazing thing about literacy is that it brings choice. And choice brings rewards. Call it magic if you like. I call it the natural dance of God.

Of course literacy is only the beginning and education underpins the solving of all sorts of problems. Meanwhile, in terms of development aid schools are often the vehicle for introducing other basic development like nutrition, water and vaccination programs.

So what does this mean to an individual? The very question illuminates how alienated and disempowered we are even when we are highly educated. To me it illustrates our lack of collectivity but, even as things are, many of us are privileged, living in democracies, and our governments and non-government institutions are obliged to respond to our lobby, our vote and our dollar. So it is important to understand this issue. As I've indicated, the issue is not merely critically important, but serially misunderstood as well.

For those who believe that religion has no useful place in the modern world, it might be worth noting that Christians believe in another version of the Great Commission, and they have no trouble at all envisioning how they may pursue it. Every year thousands of Christians with hundreds of millions of dollars behind them travel the world telling people that if they believe in Jesus they'll live forever. Intelligent moderns will note that this is an absurd con, but when we hit upon universal projects that really are important, we might want to take some notes.

Everything, thank you for your word and its power to transform us and our world for the better. Help us all to critically separate that which is helpful and empowering from that which is erroneous and limiting. So be it.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Promise of Monotheism

Everything, good morning. Your wonder knows no bounds. Thank you for your earth and sky, for the life you have cultivated and for our mindful existence. Thank you that we are able to see and to love you and one another. It is a great privilege. Amen.


Monotheism has developed a terrible reputation, and for good reasons. The 'one god' whose narrative begins with Moses has become three monotheisms, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and between them they have contributed to some of the most horrible oppressions and wars that the world has known. Let's make no mistake about that.

At the same time, 'all people are equal in the sight of God' has been a liberating, empowering phrase for justice and peace throughout history and, in a way, forms the basis of a liberal legal system. Is there hope for this idea, and if so, where did it go wrong?

Let's go back to that Moses story. In the story Moses had led not one but twelve separate peoples out of Egypt. We can see the 'one god' that Moses insisted upon as a political device to unite these twelve tribes, for as long as they had their different gods and beliefs and narratives they would remain divided. This new god, named 'being' (Yaweh) in the language of the Bible, was to replace all of the gods and their names and images, and the story itself, of being led out of Egypt, was to become the single story of all these twelve tribes. As the story itself continues we can be very clear that Yaweh did not bring peace, but it did bring peace between the twelve tribes.

It's not our only example of this device being used to unite disparate peoples. Under Constantine the Roman Empire attempted to institute the Christian god as the single god of the Empire to replace the thousands of cults that previously existed. It appears very unlikely that Constantine himself even cared, but he did care about the unity of the Empire, and that was the point.

When the United States was formed 'under God', the founders had a very similar intent again. To be sure they did not have the Islamic and Buddhist gods in mind but they did have in mind all the many factions of Christianity as well as Judaism. The 'one god' of the early U.S.A. was intentionally not defined any more than that, for if they had defined, say, the Plymouth Brethren god as the god of the new nation, they would never have had the desired unity.

Similarly the Indonesian Constitution laid down in 1945 stipulates that "The state shall be based on the belief in the one and only God." The writers of this constitution were very aware that the Indonesian state was made up of many religions, and once again the stipulation was a deliberate attempt to find a unity of belief as a basis for political unity. Explicitly the 'one god' was not Islamic, Christian or Hindu. The sectarian term 'Allah' (meaning 'the god' in Arabic) which the majority Muslim population wanted in the Constitution was rejected for this reason.

None of these attempts were really successful of course, but in each case (especially the two modern examples) they were far more successful than would have been without them. In each case they left an 'other' outside the new political unit which of course left plenty of room for ongoing strife. In the latter case in particular they also left out the traditional folk religions for whom monotheism was foreign.

The history of expanding monotheism has a parallel history and faces parallel problems as the history of sectionalised humanity. So long as there is an 'us' and a 'them', war and strife exists implicitly even when it is not in open manifestation. We have the irony of pax romana where although Rome is never actually at peace, all the peoples within the Roman Empire are at peace with each other. The hope of many political theorists today is that if the World can finally be politically one, then there is no 'other' left to fight.

It is with this understanding of the political purpose of monotheism that we should approach the original idea of the 'sin of idolatry'. Remember that the Mosaic conception of God was pantheist (Yaweh=being), and hot on the heals of 'there is only one god' are the edicts to never form an image of god and never to name god. We can see why. If God looks like something or has a certain name then every other image or name is implicitly antagonistic to God.

But if God has a 'chosen people' then, whilst those people may find some harmony, they are by definition in antagonism to all others. The origin (by no means an excuse) of anti-semitism, which predates Christianity by centuries and has had repeated, independent emergences throughout Jewish history, is right here, in the Semites' own apparently arrogant claim that they are special in the eyes of the one God. Some may find this controversial but in my mind it's pretty obvious. If God speaks a certain language, or has a special book or a specific cultural narrative, these too are ways to define and limit God. The Bible and the Koran are graven images of God as certainly as any statue, as are holy cities or holy places. The error each time is to limit God by defining what God is, and hence by implication what God is not.

To define God with our puny minds is to insult God, to make a mockery of God, to bring God down to our finite, ever flawed viewpoint.

There is a conception of one God which is equally so for all people, even people we've never met from other planets if they happen to exist, and that is the pantheist conception of God. If God is equivalent to the universe itself, to the totality of all being, then we are all, by definition, under the same god, God's people. This is very important. This is the promise of world peace.

Now, to be sure, even the 10 Commandments do not insist that there are no other gods, but merely that there are no other gods before the One God which is being itself. To be sure, even the most monotheistic religions have had all sorts of superstitions about transcendent beings beneath God, whether they are called 'gods' or not (in the case of Judeo-Christianity: demons, angels, archangels, the Devil, saints etcetera). I want to be very clear that the point is not to denounce every belief as idolatrous (even when we may think they're ridiculous). But all of us, whatever our stories, beliefs and superstitions, are implicitly one under a single totality of being, and this is the only being that I will capitalise, 'God'.

The question remains, why not just abolish all gods? Surely we can be a united humanity if we are all atheists. Yes, possibly, and this is the point where we might agree with the mystic's equation, 1=0, as the actual belief is virtually identical. Indeed there are no 'atheists' when it comes to the pantheist god, but only quibbles about nomenclature, because even atheists believe in our wonderful universe and are obliged to have a relationship with It, and everyone has a relationship with the same, single universe. We may even hear atheists praising the wonder of the cosmos, and how can they not? Meanwhile, as I have spoken of elsewhere, there are real psychological and community needs fulfilled by worship.

We are slowly becoming one people, us humans, and the House of Every seeks to celebrate and promote this unity in a fulsome, sacerdotal way. There is one Everything, with one people, one word and one story. Praise God, for we are one.

Everything, I offer my sermon humbly in your service. Fervently I pray that you not allow my words to deceive any that read here, but that you grant readers critical discernment, that they may in their respective journeys discover only truth and not be misled by my flawed, finite understanding. So be it.

Have a wonderful and wondrous week everyone.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: Read a Book

Everything, good morning. Thank you for the gifts of life and love on our beautiful earth. May we not take these gifts for granted, and help us to do them justice. Thank you for the gift of language, for the privilege of education which it is our sincere endeavour to spread to all people, and for the gift of mind with which to build ourselves and one another. We are truly spoiled and for that we love you. Amen.


Happy Easter holiday everyone, whatever it means to you. If it means nothing to you at all, happy days regardless.

I am going to quote the Bible a bit today which I wish to be clear is, qualitatively, no different to quoting any text to find and tease out meaning. The other thing I'm going to do a bit of is critically engage a particular Christian idea. Bear with me please.

"All books are breathed by God and are profitable for teaching, insight, correction and character building."* (II Timothy 3:16) The context is the apostle Paul toward the end of his life (tradition is that Paul was writing from prison before his execution) writing to his young student Timothy.

Now this is the verse that Christians will quote every single time as their evidence that the Bible in particular, exclusive from other texts, is 'inspired by God'. In arguing for the idea of the canonisation of the 66 books into the Bible, it is about all the Christians have actually.

Now I'm going to forgive the immediately obvious thing that will occur to intelligent readers straight away - that it is a circular argument. It is almost embarrassing to point out that, 'The Bible is inspired because the inspired Bible says so', just makes zero sense. It's very silly in fact.

More interesting to me is that the verse says exactly the opposite of what they want it to mean anyway. Let's note that there was not even an established 'Old Testament' canon at the time the verse was written, that the New Testament, apart from a few letters by Paul himself, had not been written at all, and that the New Testament quotes all sorts of books and versions of books that did not end up in the official canon.

Paul, who was clearly a reader, was advising young Timothy to read widely and critically. This interpretation is backed up by the rest of the letter, which also admonishes to "Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman without shame, rightly discriminating what is true from what is false." (2:15) It is also supported by the observation that Paul did quote very widely, including from Greek literature. It appears indeed to be an extension of Paul's theme of pushing Christian thought and practice away from Judaism alone and making it relevant to the rest of the world which, for Paul in practice, meant the Hellenistic (Greek speaking) world.

It's an easy proposition to test. If this was Paul's meaning then we would expect that early Christian writers would have known that and hence themselves quoted and placed importance on Greek as well as the full variety of Jewish literature. They did, in the biblical writings themselves as well as the writings of church fathers. Augustine, who argued at one point that Aristotle was 'saved', is the most famous of many examples. It was centuries later, with the canonisation of the Bible for church-political reasons, that 'non-canononical' literature began to be de-emphasised if not actively repressed.

Despite this tradition however, to be clear, book burning of hated texts (books about "curious arts") was begun early (Acts 19:19). I suppose they thought this was an extension of "rightly discriminating what is true from what is false." It is hard to see that Paul, writing much earlier than the author of Acts (essentially a historical fiction which, although featuring Paul, has virtually zero correlation with the letters of Paul), had this in mind. Sadly the tradition survives today among modern Christians. According to the Landover Baptist Church, "burning a book is one of the most loving things a Christian could do for a person they really care about." It seems to me, far from being 'loving', to be a very lazy and dishonest way to defend archaic and otherwise indefensible beliefs.

Generally however, early Christianity was not a religion 'of the book' but was a religion of books. It was a religion that practically fetishised literature and indeed reworked the already ancient Greek idea of logos as something incarnated on earth in the man Jesus. So when John the gnostic said that "The word was God" (John1:1) and that "the word became [Jesus] and dwelt among us" he was referring to a mystical identity of literature itself, a profound (if ludicrous) idea and one of the key Christian ideas that was used to seduce the Greek audience to this new version of Judaism.

It was canonisation of literature, which occurred more-or-less simultaneously in Judaism and was later followed by Islam, that was the single most disastrous wrong turn for Western religion. From that point on, there was no 'living word'. From that point on the 'word of God' for these religions was ossified, dead, unresponsive to change and history, and eventually downright absurd and dangerous. To the extent that the Middle Ages were 'dark' and regressive, the blame can be squarely laid at the feet of canonisation.

Literacy, regardless of the texts involved, empowers people. The House of Every embraces the 'Great Commission' of spreading the word of God to all lands, because to us this means spreading literacy to all peoples, and hence opening up the world of literature of all types to all people. Right now the most compelling reason for this imperative is that literacy (as long as women are not left out) is the single biggest factor in reducing fertility rates and hence stabilising the world's population. Universal literacy is a critical task.

But books change us. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin played an enormous role in bringing the reality of slavery, and hence broad empathy for slaves, home to all sorts of people who otherwise were able to ignore the issue. Let's note that the Bible didn't help there at all. Similarly Dickens' Oliver Twist brought the reality of child labour home to people and is widely considered a factor in the public demanding an end to the practice. These works aided in empathy. In Christian terms they made real the edict to "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you" because they showed people what they as a society were doing unto others. Add Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and any number of others. George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm remain for us a warning of what can go wrong in society if we are not vigilant against the control of ideas (including book burning). Literature changes us, makes us better people. No good if you can't read, though.

It is common for Western religionists to read 'the book' (Bible, Torah, Koran) a little each day. If the content was not so limited, it would be a good practice. The House of Every recommends that we read a good, challenging book regularly. There's no formula as to how much or often, but let's say half an hour to an hour a day as a yardstick for practice. There's also no formula as to what to read, especially as everyone is different in both interests and level of literacy, but make it something a bit challenging: not so difficult as to be tortuous and not so easy as to be a waste of time. To be sure, many people (including me) use easy formulaic reading (whether crime fiction, sci-fi or romance) as a way to recreate and escape, and the last thing I want to do is suggest we shouldn't, but this is not the reading I'm talking about. I'm talking about reading as a deliberate practice for self-improvement, and a little every day, or every other day, might be a good practice.

Read widely. Read critically. Read alone or with a friend or friends (reading aloud, using voice and breath, has a whole range of its own benefits). But it's no chore I'm suggesting. Enjoy. If you're not enjoying a book, try another one.

I think it is nice to end these sermons with a song, and I intend to do so from now on. This is a fun celebration of the book:


Everything, bless my readers. May they not be betrayed by any errors or limitations in my own humble contributions to your logos. May they develop not only in their knowledge but in their faculties of comprehension and criticism, that they may separate the wheat of my words from the chaff and, in their respective paths, grow in wisdom, understanding and capacity for your great work in the world. So be it.

* All translations are my own, but are not intended to subvert the meaning of the King James Version but to make the meaning clearer through modern language.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: What's the Point?

Everything, good morning. Thank you for all things. Thank you for this existence and its opportunities to behold and serve you. Thank you for our beautiful planet, and help us to do justice to its beauty with wise action. Amen.


The purpose of the individual beyond the interests of the individual and her home is the interests of the collective and the commons.

I have a text today, courteous readers, a parable from nature from a gem of a book, Lewis Thomas's The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974). It is a beautiful book, ahead of its time, foreshadowing James Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis and, in many ways, a modern spirituality. Anyway,

Two or three termites in a chamber will begin to pick up pellets and move them from place to place, but nothing comes of it; nothing is built. As more join in, they seem to reach a critical mass, a quorum, and the thinking begins. They place pellets atop pellets, then throw up columns and beautiful, curving, symmetrical arches, and the crystalline architecture of vaulted chambers is created. It is not known how they communicate with each other, how the chains of termites building one column know when to turn to the crew on the adjacent column, or how, when the time comes, they manage the flawless joining of the arches. The stimuli that set them off at the outset, building collectively instead of shifting things about, may be pheremones released when they reach committee size. They react as if alarmed. They become agitated, excited, and then they begin working, like artists.

Now we are not termites, though when we are alone and alienated it can sometimes feel like we are, apart from surviving, merely moving pellets from one part of the chamber to another. On the other hand we might also find in this analogy a reason to believe, even if we do just feel like we're randomly moving pellets around, that something bigger is happening that we are not properly aware of.

The preliminary answer to the question of the meaning of life is that it is to live and procreate. All life does it and it doesn't seem to need any other motivation. But cursed with the comprehension of all this there are many times in life when we need more to live for. If we are privileged (ie. live in a developed economy), many of us find ourselves struggling with the question of higher purpose, a reason to try to shine all the brighter. When all is horrid on the other hand we may find we need a reason to keep pushing pellets at all. We also all face death, some time, and we all have a need to avoid madness.

It may help us think about higher purpose if we stay away from humans for a bit yet. I suggest that if we are considering the purpose of a possum we would be considering its ecological environment, and especially that which is in any way adjacent to or downstream from the possum. We would be speaking of an ecosystem, a larger system of which the possum is a part.

In many ways we are not so different to a possum, but similarly if we were to discuss the purpose of an astronomical body we would be looking at the gravitational relationships with other planetary bodies in their various orbits and trajectories, and if we were to ask the same question about a Hydrogen atom we would find ourselves referring to its chemical environment.

In short, a simple approach to defining higher purpose (than existence and survival) of a given element is, tautologically enough, identifying needs for existence and survival of the larger system of which the element is a part. Simple, but also very practical, for both ourselves and the purposes, hidden or not, of Everything.

My apologies to readers if this does not sound especially transcendent. It terms of "What do I do?", God does not help us much, and the thing we all have in common is that not one of us knows what the purpose of the totality is, or the purpose of God. If we spend too much time and effort trying to be impossibly profound, I suspect we might miss out on actually helping anything at all. And that is not generally the human need. The existential human need is for purpose higher than self.

In terms of human needs - our needs - the transcendental scholasticism is not important. What is important for everyday psychological survival and fulfilment is embodiment as contrary to alienation. To be doing more than merely moving pellets from one part of the chamber to another we need to be grouped in place as well as in spirit, not just one-off but over a long enough period to build a cathedral, or indefinitely, whichever comes first. But I've discussed that before.

Family is a higher purpose than self, as is community, and millions live for these things and indeed will die for them. Disturbingly at times millions find deep purpose in tribe and nation, but with humans all sorts of collectives have emerged and there is a fulfilment of the need for purpose in larger collectivity. That larger system of which we are apart, however, is not merely human.

Let me cut to the chase. The sacred duty of the House of Every is to pursue the interests of all of humanity: the interests of ten thousand years of future civilisation, inextricably the interests of the ecological earth, in a sacred manner - a manner distinct and independent from (but not disregarding) the political and economic interests of our world. That is enough purpose. We can not yet know, after all, if the earth itself is not merely a termite, unwittingly a part of a far greater emergent patterning.

But first of all, beyond ourselves, the point of life is our place, and our community. If people are connected to it, that is enough almost all of the time, even whilst the ultimate purpose remains mysterious. Together our moving pellets can become a cathedral, a better world. This is a profound and challenging task, a worthwhile one and I believe a sacred one.

For one implication of worshiping Everything is that serving nature, including human nature, is itself a holy act. The point is not to render religion secular - we have thousands of secular organisations. The point here is to enchant and enrich reality, with embodiment, story and song. And a result of this will be effective agency.

Before I sign off, there is a key difference between us and termites which I feel obliged to note carefully. We move pellets of knowledge about. Next week will be the first (of several, at least, before this first series is complete) sermons about logos, the living word of Everything, the uniquely human layer of cathedral building. There is a brief introduction to the subject linked above.


Every, forgive me for my rambling presentation of something so important as the purpose of our existence. I am humbled by the very absurdity of attempting it. Help my readers think about this one, and to critically discern from my sermon that which is helpful to them, and to disregard the rest. So be it.