Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: One Earth, One People, One God

Every, good morning. Thank you for this day. Thank you for your body in which we live and abide. Thank you for one another, for every other human. Bless us in our respective pathways and help us to do thy will. Amen.


The goal of 'one humanity', closely associated with the dreams of world peace and the end of poverty, is a very old one. These days it is also associated with the goal of ecological sustainability as increasingly global cooperation is seen as necessary for humanity to achieve such.

In a secularised world people have not stopped pursuing these universalist style goals. In one way or another there are millions of very modern, educated and affluent people doing so. Each generation a good portion of the new youth launch themselves into activism to better the world, often on clunky improvised versions of very old wheels and, I would argue, largely ineffectively. In practice these days it means entering politics in one way or another.

But the thing about politics is that it is adversarial. What's more it is properly adversarial. Ironically it is only by believing in pluralistic politics that I can in conscience believe in unitary religion. For society needs pluralism and political conflict in order not to become totalitarian, even whilst it needs spiritual unity in order to be at peace. This is one good reason for the separation of religion and the state - they have apparently contradictory goals.

Religion is not about policy, though its values, its cultivation of empathy for others and the big-picture nature of its questions, like any other personal growth individuals discover within their lifeways, may well inform the political decisions individuals make.

But in the absence of a religious layer in society which is actually taken seriously by the broad population, politics colonises the vacuum, and I don't think it helps politics or religion. Today I have two songs and today I am commenting on them directly. In their essence they are religious songs though they are explicitly and self-consciously being used for political purpose and, although they are beautiful and moving, are somewhat poisoned thereby.

Bruce Woodley's "I Am Australian"

Woody Guthrie's, "This Land is Your Land", sung by Pete Seeger at an Obama rally.

I ask you to ignore that you've heard the songs about a thousand times and that they are patriotic schmultz. And if the songs succeed in their intent in impacting upon you emotionally, as would be expected (it is their design), I ask you to shift the lyrics ever so slightly along the way, just as an experiment. Instead of "we are Australian", try something along the lines of, "We're Homo sapien", and instead of "This land is your land..." try, "This world is your world, this world is my world." Ideally I want you to taste that idea, but at the same time keep a cool critical eye on the nationalistic nature and (especially with the Guthrie song) the charged political context of the song. In both cases an irrational nation is evoked, the most obvious limitation, but also in both songs the case the song is making is limited by the political charge itself. Millions of Republicans would love that Woody Guthrie song for example, but in that context they are alienated from it.

Both songs have a hymnal, liturgical sound, the melodies evoking a pathos of unity. Both songs are making extraordinary claims as they explicitly attempt to unite their respective countries, confronting the very real conflict in the societies with the promise of a unifying if somewhat fictitious narrative. This isn't what most people think of when they think of religion and the state intertwining, but in my mind this is the state making religious claims, and (potentially) dangerously so.

Both songs claim, via a common narrative, that despite all the differences the twelve tribes are in fact one people, a chosen people no less, united in their respective promised lands.

And there are truths even in the most ancient myths. For all the illusions that have been revealed regarding the biblical account of creation, it has also been revealed that all humans really did begin with a single ancestor, and a single coupling. Scientists have even had the grace and good humour to name the theoretical woman Eve. We really are, according to this ancient myth and according to science, one family on one planet. It is a religious claim, but it has more of a scientific basis than the nationalism which we might not consider religion at all.

And the political pursuit of one world is full of frightening ambiguities. Do we really want a homogenised polity with a single government? Aside, I happen to think that politically, in the long term, the world could break up a bit more if anything, allowing more individuation (and hence efficiency as well as cultural diversity) between social and ecological regions. What I'm saying is that unity is not properly a political claim. The world needs unity alright, but it is a religious claim, and needs to be, finally, a universal one, a claim upon the spirituality of humans. Hence it should be carefully regarded separately from politics.

In terms of songs, there are anthems of the world and its unifying story yet to be written. Let's note that state machinery has little motivation to put resources into promoting such world anthems. Will the United Nations or something find reason to do so? Or will we people of the world find our stories and anthems ourselves? "We share a dream and sing with one voice..."

Inevitably I discurse widely in these sermons and I hope it is clear by the spirit which I present that I consider little that I write here to be written in stone. As I noted a while ago, this is the moot stage of this religion. But there are a few fundamental building blocks without which a religion would not have my support for one, and this is one of them. All people are God's people, without exception, with one unifying story of our thousands of stories.

And if you're uncomfortable in the first place with the very idea of religion making such far reaching claims, I am just noting that you may be conceding the reality of far bodgier claims upon your identity being made by the state.


Everything, thank you for the gift of song and may it fulfil its promise of helping to bring all of your people together in a richly creative yet peaceful journey. Bless my readers, and especially their critical faculties, that they may find the worth in my words and disregard those which are worthless. So be it.


  1. Hi Hamish. I enjoyed your sermon, the first one I've read, to my shame. Funnily enough, I attended my first gathering of people interested in spirituality at Hopewell Hospice today. Its founder, Ian Mayor, pulls together interesting readings on a topic on the first Sunday of each month. He played a song you might find interesting, given your desire to take the nationalism out of inspirational songs. It's Stand by your man, by a group of people around the world seeking a sense of spiritual unity among its peoples. You'll find it here:

    Could you email your address, as I'd like to send you his notes for this month, on the theme, What is spirituality?

    I'll be back next week!

    love always,


  2. Thanks Margo. Will do. Great song! I might have to use it one of these weeks.