Sunday, 26 August 2012

Sunday Sermon: Religion Review: "Join Me"

Everything, good morning. Thank you for another week of life, love and consciousness. Bless the memory of your son Neil Armstrong now that his body has failed. For his footprint is a part of the story of all of us for all time, and is part of your story. May thy will be done. Amen.


In the very first Sunday Sermon I defined 'religion' as, "that part of ideography that deals with personal and collective meaning as contrary to everyday survival." There are reasons why I made it so broad but when I look at it now I think the definition is far too broad - so broad that there isn't much meaning to work with at all.

My reasons for wanting a broader definition of religion which is not limited to supernatural narratives are not just intellectual but have to do with my own story. For when I joined a Christian cult at the age of 14 (and stuck around for three years) I learned, if nothing else, that I have a religious nature, a nature vulnerable to the group-narrative and the cult. This is something I've had to come to terms with. It is something I've been obliged to know about myself.

But when I left Faith Assembly (that was the church's name; I'll tell you more about it one day) I thought I'd learned my lesson. No more organised religion for me. I should be right so long as I avoid superstitious bullshit, right?

But the lesson was a long time coming precisely because the religious nature, at least in my own case, was not dependent on supernatural narratives. I had no problem finding myself part of a hippy commune movement (which still refers to itself as 'the tribe' and has many cult-like social and belief features) and later a radical political (libertarian socialist) organisation. In each case the same parts of what I call my 'religious nature' were touched. In each case there was a system of identity, history and meaning which was shared and perpetuated by group-think more than reasoned consideration. In each case leaving the situation was socially and emotionally traumatic, reminding me of the social and emotional experience of leaving Christianity.

Reinforcing these very personal impressions was a very broad and obsessive study of the respective movements and their history. Part of my 'religious nature' I suppose is to study like a geek. At 15 I had painted in large letters on my bedroom wall, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (II Timothy 2:15)" and I never lost the habit. Studying revolutionary movements in history is so similar to studying religious movements that it is probably useful for them to be included in the same research. At the same time the best way for me to comprehend very early Christianity is as a political, communalist movement. In general, religious and political theory can learn a lot from one another, in my view. They may be the same thing and, in a way, I'm looking for a definition which can describe both.

All of this is a background to why the supernatural-based definitions of religion that the new atheists polemicise against are not adequate to describe my purview or for me to make sense of my own lifepath. But at the same time, my original working definition was too broad.

Clifford Geertz, one of the best known anthropologists of religion, probably did better, and his definition seems to work. For him, religion is a "system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [sic] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic." Where he says, "system of symbols" I would like to include the bigger idea of common narrative, but with this proviso the definition is now describing all of my religious life (including later becoming a Brisbane Roar - soccer - fan) and not just a part of it.

All of this is based on a bit of self-consciousness - that it is the same religious nature in me that has been engaged and satisfied by all these various chapters of life. Now whilst I am aware that I am a bit of an extremist nut when it comes to these sorts of things, it has to occur to me as well that what I am identifying as my 'religious nature' is not unique to me. I have no way of speculating that all people have such a nature, but I don't have to look far in any direction to note that it is very common, to one extent or another, and disturbingly, most are not so self-conscious, and many uncritically stay within a particular bubble of shared symbols for life.

And this broadening of the definition and hence the observation of religion also forces me to challenge Christopher Hitchens' observation that "religion poisons everything." It seems more useful, if religion is such a broad - perhaps effectively universal - phenomena, to be able to distinguish between benign or harmless religious behaviour and dangerous, potentially destructive religious behaviour. "All religion is bad" seems to give us the proverbial Hegelian, "night in which all cows are black" - ie. merely a new form of ignorance. As I've noted on several occasions now, what these critics really seem to be criticising is supernature, and in that criticism they have my solidarity.

But how far might we go in identifying human behaviour as religious? The question is important when we go to interpret census and survey data. The Australian census for example shows that traditional Christianity is losing influence and that 'No Religion' has gained. But unless we know what kind of behaviour we're observing it's hard to be sure whether this is not just shifting religion rather than declining religiosity.

There is sports fandom of course which appears to have arisen in the West in parallel with secularisation. And there are candid belief systems like the Church of the Holy Molecule or The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which are growing. There's also The Jedi Knights (some take themselves seriously) with full consciousness that their text is a science fiction story. It is only this consciousness which differentiates them from Scientologists, incidentally. Serious movements like Wicca are also growing significantly.

Political participation (joining political parties and the like) has also waned alongside church attendance which raises the possibility that all that is being observed is alienation rather than declining religiosity. I add my own observation that political parties have become more like religions in their group-think and us-and-them polemics based around questioning the morality of the opposition. In my view we should be aware of religious-type behaviour wherever it arrises. Groupthink and other religious type behaviours are as evident as anywhere among atheists. Here's a quote from the midst of a debate between atheist partisans: "sceptic-atheists like nothing more than arguing the equivalent rational version of how many angels can dance on a pin head and getting fuck all done. Well these people pushing atheism+ want a movement with some influence and like it or not you need direction, common goals and to some extent group think." Whatever, really. Sounds like someone pursuing their religious needs, to me.

And so I come to my 'Religion Review'. "Join Me" is a movement begun when the comedic writer Danny Wallace put an add in a paper saying "Join Me." Joinees, as they came to be called, have to send a passport photo to Danny as a step of faith, but apart from that it began with no doctrine at all. To me that makes it an interesting test of a definition of religion. If a religion can grow with no doctrine or narrative at all, then we should broaden the definition even further to basically just describe humans grouping around a thought.

In practice that wasn't enough though. But because the extra features - a mission for joinees, a growing tradition of stories and the development of a calendar of days - were added by the pressures of praxis and the accident of time, and as the religion after a decade is still apparently growing and going strong, we might find here the most minimalist religion possible. The least possible features with which you can call a movement a religion, perhaps. If not, it's a fun example of a movement to think about anyway.

As Join Me got to about 100 members the pressure from joinees for some sense of what they joined built up, not just through pointed questions but through the dialectics of organisation - Danny felt that another joinee would attempt to take over if he didn't provide some leadership (very likely). So he invented a purpose, which was a fairly ingenious pop mix of a bit of Christianity and a bit of Hinduism. The practice of joinees, to this day, is to perform random acts of Kindness on Fridays - called 'good Fridays'. In this regard they get together on Fridays and on particular days of the year, and in mass actions call themselves 'The Karma Army'.

They really do lots of random nice things, every Friday. By report the practice helps them have a nicer attitude through their whole week, which makes sense. It sounds strangely fulfilling if anything, and perhaps it actually would be. Wallace's thesis is that people really want to be nicer to each other but need an excuse. In this case it appears that religion is fulfilling people's need to be able to be randomly nice to each other.

As it turns out this was plenty for people to mobilise around. The traditions they developed were through practice, such as the strangely messianic importance of one Raymond Price, one of the first old men to be helped by joinees, who turned out to be a crook who ripped them off. The way Danny and the movement moulded this apparent blow to their whole reason into a narrative of selfless compassion shows, frankly, theological genius. Danny and the joinees would not call this a religion I don't think (with typical candour they are more likely to call it a cult - less threatening I guess), but in my mind it is working because it is providing for the religious needs of joinees. If it wasn't a religion, it wouldn't work and grow, in the way I'm understanding the term.

After reading Join Me's main text (Danny Wallace: Join Me - The True Story of a Man who Started a Cult by Accident, 2003) I am tempted to join! Here is the place to do so if you're interested. It is a very funny book, but touching on a very serious aspect of human nature. And let's face it I have to admire Danny's courage. Here I am attempting to develop a viable theology for a new religion, but do I have the guts to say, "Join Me"? Not yet.

Watch this one if you want a smile plastered across your face all day:
Everything, thank you for the entirety of your world and all its possible meaning. Thankyou for the fellowship we find with our fellow-humans, your people, however we find it. Bless us with wisdom and discernment Everything, but also bless us with a sense of humour. So be it.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Truth Really Might Help Set Us Free

Good morning Everything. We abide in you and serve you. Thank you for another week of life and love. Help us to do your great work, whatever that may be. Amen.


There is a common notion that religion should not have to undergo reasoned scrutiny; that matters of faith exist somehow detached from matters of evidence and consequence. It's an appalling and dangerous notion. Truth - theological as well as scientific - must be forged and reforged constantly in the crucible of scrutiny, criticism and open, public debate. Only by such constant testing can it maintain any authority, and such authority is only maintained as long as scrutiny and debate may continue. Divine revelation doesn't cut it any more, is what I'm saying.

It wouldn't matter if there weren't stakes I suppose, but at the same time as religion routinely ducks the need to have its tenets properly scrutinised, it controls a lot of the education system, gets involved in politics, demands behaviour of the non-religious, and even goes to war. Meanwhile it avoids taxes. Those who feel all religion should be abolished and repressed are thereby presented with a constant stream of very good arguments.

To seek God is to seek truth. That might be important for us.

For example, despite the beliefs of millions, Jesus is not God. It's not an inconsequential point. God is a big idea, and if you have this sort of thing wrong you're going to have a lot else wrong besides. The nature of Jesus has been the basis of many unnecessary wars already, which seems ironic given his message.

Another consequential example is that Jews are not God's chosen people. There are those who would call such a mundane insight anti-Semitic, but I am merely noting a very obvious archaism.

But that isn't the worst trouble I could get into. Insulting Mohammed is some kind of religious crime, and I admit that I fear stating the very obvious fact that he was not the last prophet. There are parts of the world where this is not considered merely impolite but can get you killed. It must be said that that's wrong. Really, really wrong.

These propositions, in my view, need to be debated fully and publicly, in full view of laity. They can not be allowed to hide behind faith. For let's face this squarely: if any of these propositions are true - that Jesus is God; that Jews are God's chosen people; that Mohammed is the last prophet - then they would be utterly critical for the entire world to know about fully and properly. Priests, Rabbis and Immams, show us! Convince us! The stakes are incredibly high after all.

But if any of these grand religious propositions are not true then, again given the stakes, it is crucial that they be exposed as lies, as currently many millions believe these profound and world-shaking ideas. If they are not correct they are clearly dangerous ideas, after all. They are dividing us terribly for a start.

None of these propositions are essential to their respective religions. All of them, in my view, can be identified together and mutually as idolatry, in the very terms of the respective religions. The monotheistic God is transcendent and nameless after all, eternal, ineffable, beyond human comprehension. That is theology that all three religions share, and it's theology that the House of Every will defend as well. It's also the theology that can unite all of God's people.

The thing is, the societies of the world need their Houses of God - the temples, synagogues, mosques and churches. We need the communities of truth seeking, culture, singing and mutual aid. We need the buildings in their community locations, on real estate which the communities can share and use. We need the direct human contact in helping the poor and forgotten of the community. We need embodiment around our values and our joy of life. Indeed it is my conviction that religion has an enormous role yet to play in the next great age of history. But fearing truth won't help it.

Religion, as society's heart, needs to be able to stand up for truth. Religion must preserve truth when it comes under attack or is repressed. Religion must preserve values in a world of business and power. But religion can't fulfil these functions in society if it fundamentally lacks credibility in the first place. Now, it may be in my madness that I am wrong about one of the propositions I challenged above. But if so let that be revealed through careful, integral enquiry and debate that does not hide behind 'faith'. If religion can not do this it should not speak on any other matter.

And here is the tortured knot in my meditations: society needs religion's voice. Society needs its religions to be the highest, most honestly sought embodiments of truth and values that they can possibly be. Religion is the only institutional layer in society which might do so. The only institution which should be able to be relied upon to have not profit or power at its heart, but the truth.

And there is more to truth than science, history and human nature. Values are much harder than that, and that is where religion must take its great responsibility.

I've used the word 'truth' a lot. It's an unfashionable word in some quarters. I don't mean a fixed item, as some see the Bible or a catechism. I mean the best, most honest, open, professional attempt at truth that we can manage, an ongoing process. I mean an integral engagement with living Logos.

Everything thank you for all Logos. Thank you for all that has been revealed and all that is yet to be revealed. Bless my readers with the capacity to discern truth from falsehood in my words, or in the words of others. So be it.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunday Sermon: Religion Review: Hinduism

Everything, hello. Everything, thank you. As we dance through another week in service and celebration of the whole of us, help us to do thy will. Amen.


This morning I am going to attempt something impossible: an introduction to Hinduism. The task is made particularly impossible as in terms of scholarship I am profoundly inadequate to the task and am, frankly, in awe of the creature which we call 'Hinduism'. One day, I hope, the House of Every will have teachers deeply schooled in traditions outside the Greek and Judaeo-Christian, but for now I offer this introduction in a spirit of viewing, albeit in a daze and from a place of the most superficial understanding, this glorious ocean of narrative and meaning.

The first, Christian, introduction I ever had to Hinduism was limited to the observation that it was 'polytheistic' as contrary to 'monotheistic', and hence my imagination had it as a kind of paganism of the East. There are far more universalist ideas which are familiar to us all however, like reincarnation attached to the idea of karma, as well as many ideas less well-known but still very available, like ahimsa (peace) and dharma (truth). Millions in the West practice vegetarian diets inspired by Hinduism, practice asana yoga (what we often just call 'yoga'), various forms of meditation and other practices such as tantra. Millions also, especially since the 1960s, have travelled to India, followed various gurus or joined the Hare Krishna religion, one of the rare evangelical manifestations of Hinduism.

But even if we are familiar with all of this and have read along the way (say) the Mahabharata (which includes the famous Bhagavad Gita), the Upanishads and also a good smattering of the works of (say) Radhakrishnan and Mahatma Gandhi - that is, even if we are by Western terms reasonably educated - we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. For Hinduism, its literature and its practices, is an apparently endless expanse. In a way it is a system of comprehending belief rather than a religion. In a way, and from a philosophical brahman's point of view, we are all Hindu. Hinduism, from a particular point of view, is the House of Every already.

We think of Hinduism as vegetarian, and indeed about 20% of India is lactose vegetarian. We think of Hinduism as celebrating many gods, and using elaborate shrines and statues, and that's got a lot of truth in it too. But there are Hindus who sacrifice cows and others who avoid all idolatry. There are various 'Hindus' who worship entirely different pantheons of gods, and there are others who worship just one. The one God, the supreme deity, has a few names, depending on the tradition (Brahmin, Shiva, Vishnu are just the ones I know), but they are also mutually recognisable. There are also various pathways of atheism recognised as Hindu, though these are traditionally considered 'difficult' paths.

In Hindu philosophy the Western monotheisms are deftly packaged and comprehended. Yahweh is a Semitic version of Brahmin (or the like), and Moses, Elijah, Jesus and Mohammed are all avatars of the god. The brahman philosopher doesn't have to wonder much about this - it is very clear within his or her worldview. I am told that many Hindus were converted to Christianity early on as they recognised the stories of Jesus as being about a clear manifestation of Krishna. The alliterative similarity with 'Christ' can only have helped, but the parallels don't end there.

Indeed Hinduism splinters and some of the splinters have become something distinct from Hinduism. Some would say that the Hare Krishnas is not really Hinduism, due to its Westernisation and evangelism, but it is clearly a derivative. In a way Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are all originally children of the Hindu mother. In the Indian Constitution the term 'Hinduism' means all of these religions.

There is, to the Western mind (well, to mine), a paradox in the way Hinduism is generally believed. Firstly it is the very embodiment of freedom of religion, constantly expressed in its sheer diversity, and this is a distinctive feature of Indian society. But the objective is to sincerely live by the religion one was brought up with and the sincere expectation upon others is that they will sincerely live by the religion they were brought up with. Not only is evangelism frowned upon, all 'conversion' in any direction is frowned upon. But whilst 'conversion' might not make sense to the Indian mind, a developmental pathway through different religious practices and even beliefs at different times of life does make sense, all within the same 'religion'.

There is a scene in the movie Gandhi which always stuck with me and now seems a good illustration of this very foreign (to my background anyway) aspect of Hinduism. A Hindu man comes to Gandhi overwhelmed with guilt that he has killed a Muslim man and orphaned his son. The penance Gandhi demands of the man is to bring his own child up as a Muslim. I remember as a youth (heavily influenced by Christianity) I found this unbelievable. I still think it would be an almost impossible penance for a Christian or a Jew (or a Muslim in the other direction), as to bring up a child according to another religion would be effectively condemning the child, according to deeply held theological prejudices. But now I can see that it would not be so impossible for a Hindu. It would be very difficult and challenging - a true path of penance - but it would not be theologically anethmatic.

It is important on a geopolitical level to note that this repugnance of 'conversion' is perhaps the major philosophical fault line between the Hindu world and the Islamic world. This feature of Hinduism has been greatly heightened by the conflict. In this regard we might note that the word 'Hindu' derives from the name of the Indus River, the ancient valley which is now Pakistan. One good reason to gain a little understanding of Hinduism is this very real conflict, which may remain one of the major fault lines in human empathy and understanding for a long time to come.

But there's other good reasons for us to open the door on Hinduism. It has often occurred to me how inadequate the Western religious canon is with regard to human psychology, physical health and sexuality. By contrast to Christianity anyway the Vedic (and Chinese for that matter) traditions place a far greater emphasis on these things, in meticulously developed knowledge-corpusses and practices to improve and enrich such everyday matters as our lives on earth. In Hinduism the heart of this difference seems to be an emphasis on the concept of self, atman, which is not just a singular abstraction like 'soul' but has an entire psychological and physiological anatomy that barely exists in Western monotheism. It is the vacuum of such ideas that has meant that Hindu practices (yoga, meditation, tantra, 'chakra balancing' etc) have exploded in the West much faster than Hindu theology.

Let's be clear that like all traditional religion Hinduism is laced with all sorts of supernatural beliefs and nonsense (to the modern) narratives. But cautiously, from my current understanding, the Hindu world has always been much closer to a view of such reality as metaphors, of worlds for the creative engagement with meaning, just as I suspect the pagan world was. Theatre, music and art, including the use of much colour and ornament, are important. According to Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a former Indian President who wrote a lot attempting to introduce Indian thought to the West, "Hinduism is not just a faith. It is the union of reason and intuition that can not be defined but can only be experienced." That sounds very modern, but as far as I can see he was not misrepresenting the ancient spirit of the religion. Canon, absolutism and scriptural literalness just don't seem to have ever been strong forces in India. It may have once been a weakness, but I think it has become a great strength.

And let's also not leave criticism of Hinduism aside. The most common ones that arise are the traditional caste system, arranged marriage and, most disturbingly, bride burning, the practice (among specific traditions) of a woman dyeing on the pyre with her deceased husband (oddly the practice was not generally reciprocated by husbands). But when we approach these issues we quickly realise that the best criticisms of these things are coming from within India, and Hindu society is reforming rapidly. Thankfully, bride burning is a thing of the past. Gandhi is the best known critic of the caste system, but quite aside from modern pressures, there is strong argument derived from the Vedas that status is a matter of merit rather than birth (apparently). Today's Indian women too, like their Western counterparts, are increasing in their social freedom due to forces within their own society.

In all of this I hope no one thinks I'm trying to convert them to Hinduism. I am merely identifying, outside the Western tradition, a gold mine of material and practices for anyone interested in developing conscious religion (like myself). The other really massive gold mine is Chinese religion, which I will also get around to briefly reviewing. Once again, for us to really get any meat from these traditions it will take more familiar theologians than myself. But I am very conscious of my own cultural limitations, and feel the need to at least get a more universal feel to the scope of Every.

And there is geopolitics. It's certainly occurred to me that Western commentators on religion, including its most vocal critics, have treated the overarching dominance of the Judaeic religions as a given in history alongside the political and economic dominance of the West. The religionists seem pretty smug about it and the atheists barely seem to comprehend religion outside the West. Let's be clear: As China and India relentlessly elbow their way into the point position of civilisation's march the rise of Confucianism, Buddhism and Hinduism will follow. Everything, to be sure, is unperturbed.
Everything, thank you for the sheer abundance of your word. None of us can hope to touch a portion of your provision. Help us, when we explore your ocean, to discriminate that which will build us in wisdom and understanding, in order to do your work, from that which will deceive and distract us from your work. For each of us respectively, each uniquely, guide us along pathways of love and growth. So be it.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sunday Sermon: Soteriology; The Gospel of Empathy

Good morning Everything! You are all things and all things are in you, of you and through you. We worship you because it is not possible to do otherwise. Thank you for the privilege of life and consciousness. Thank you for all continuing revelation. Bless your scientists as they land the new Mars Rover on Mars tomorrow afternoon. We await new knowledge of you with anticipation. Help us to do thy will. Amen.


The more I attempt to determine Jesus' historical message the less I want to write about it. His theology about the coming of 'The Kingdom' and his own central place in this plan, especially in retrospect, is not flattering at all, to him or his followers. If he was alive today he would be considered a nutjob, and rightly so. I don't see any point covering that up but it's certainly not what I want to get at either.

It's not the love and forgiveness stuff in itself I want to get at either, though that is very attractive, apparently liberal, doctrine. The important thing about "Love thy neighbour as thyself" and even "Love your enemies" is that they are quotes from Jewish scripture. That is, Christian love as taught is a Jewish idea, not an innovation of Jesus. I would go so far as to say that claiming these quotes as innovations of Jesus and hence Christianity is anti-semitic. The claim depends upon a degrading and misrepresentative caricature of the Jewish religion (as does Pauline Christianity in general, in a way).

The historian Josephus tells a story where Jews, protesting the installation of busts of Caesar in Jerusalem, were surrounded by Roman soldiers and ordered to yield. The protestors bared their throats and told the soldiers to kill them, and eventually Pilate backed down. Apparently even the power of non-violent action was not an invention of Jesus or Christianity. I think this is an important point.

For a full discussion of the non-uniqueness of Jesus' message, my source is EP Sanders', The Historical Figure of Jesus, 1993.

But that doesn't go far enough and to attribute the Golden Rule to the Jews would still be implicitly racist. The thing about 'The Golden Rule' is that it comes from everywhere. One does have to admire Jesus' (and the translator's) turn of phrase in, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you", and it is absolutely right for Christians to hold the principle in great importance, but it does not arise with Jesus and does not belong to Christianity. It belongs to everyone, and it appears as written Logos in dozens of places, times and languages. Rather than repeat intellectual labour that others have done better than I could, I refer you to Wikipedia for a good summary of the origins of the Golden Rule.

The thing that interests me in the Sermon on the Mount, the thing I'm calling, "The Gospel of Empathy," is more specific than just the Golden Rule because, although I've never seen anyone argue this, it appears to be a salvation message, a personal equation for Jesus' followers to seek forgiveness ('remission of sins') without needing to go through a whole lot of sacrifices, purity rituals and temple stuff. Jesus had no intention to be permissive, as some interpret Jesus injunction to "Judge not" (Matthew 7:1). He was very clear he wanted his followers to be very righteous indeed (5:48), according to Jewish Law, and that their 'perfect' righteousness was imminently crucial as the Jewish Kingdom was about to come, in some way defeating the Romans and bringing in a new dispensation (like, pretty much any time, maybe at the next Passover in Jerusalem). It was in this context that he gave them their means to salvation, meant as an imminently accessible ritual adjunct to actually being righteous from now on. Just not sinning any more was not enough, in Jewish Law or in the comprehension of Jesus.

So far I probably have a few Christians nodding eagerly because this is the narrative of Christian soteriology ('the doctrine of salvation'), at least up to this point. But at this point Christian theologians will start talking about Jesus' gruesome death, 'the atoning power of his blood', the slaughtering of lambs in the Old Testament, and the like, none of which Jesus actually taught. Dare I suggest that Jesus taught a gospel, a message of 'salvation', while he was alive? Furthermore, did it really depend on his person? On whether or not folk call the messenger, "Lord, Lord" (7:22)? In short, might he have offered us something useful, however accidentally? I think he did.

In short the equation appears to be that we are forgiven our faults by forgiving others, and that we are completely forgiven if we have completely forgiven the faults of others. By this interpretation, "Judge not that ye be not judged" (7:1) is the climax and key point of the Sermon and the key to interpreting the rest of it. The equation is also in the prayer (6:12), "Forgive us as we forgive" and immediately after the prayer it is interpreted explicitly, "For if you forgive your heavenly Father will forgive you" (6:14). That seems pretty clear.

Once you see the equation you see it more, and indeed the rest of the Sermon fills out the theme in different ways. Worry about the mote in our own eye (7:4). "Love your enemies..." etc so that "ye may be the children of your father." (5:44-45).

Interestingly in the very first book of the New Testament written, Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians, blood atonement is not mentioned, but this salvation atonement is: "Jesus made you abound in love toward one another and toward all humans to the end that he may establish your hearts unblameable."(3:12-13; my italics). This is the earliest known Christian document.

Can we note that not even Moses in himself was essential to Jewish salvation and the idea that Jesus taught that belief in him was essential to salvation, is barely plausible. Within Jewish thought that doesn't mean Jesus might not claim to be a great man of God, a prophet, a healer, an exorcist, even 'the messiah', which in context would imply that the people of his generation should believe him and follow him, but that does not make his person essential to salvation - such an idea certainly would be heretical, it is not in Jesus' teaching, and doesn't make historical sense. The messenger is not the message.

In contemporary terms (ie. ignoring the historical Jesus almost entirely) the principle is that we can be cured of anxiety and guilt over our flaws and mistakes - a very common, everyday condition of many ordinary people - by forgiving the flaws and mistakes of others. The proposition is that this works, it is potentially contagious especially if reinforced in a tight community, and may even help us explain both Jesus' popularity and his heresy. It is challenging to find any statement of Jesus that is actually heretical according to Jewish Law. If he was actually saying that remission of sins could happen by the act of forgiveness of others - ie it is in any Jew's imminent power - that would be heretical - and popular.

So what's the point of all this? There's two really. Firstly I think this is a way forward for Christians and the Christian church. The blood of Jesus stuff is archaic and, despite Jesus' own warnings against this, ties the notion of 'salvation' up with the messenger - with him. But to preach salvation from 'sin' (flaws, mistakes, addictions, depression, whatever) by means of the act of forgiveness of others - now that can still be a powerful doctrine, potentially a uniquely Christian yoga. Arguably, if you like, it is the hope of the world.

But secondly it is a practical principle. Most of life - relationships, politics, law, diplomacy - is so complicated that it's hard to test the proposition, but I find traffic a good, controlled testing ground for forgiveness. When some complete dickhead cuts you off, try actively forgiving them immediately. For one thing until you do your day will be crap and your driving will be more dangerous - that's a practical insight in itself. Meanwhile your anger will be having precisely zero impact on the dickhead. And when I think about it and consider why I might have been angry in the first place, is it possible it is because I know I've done exactly the same thing before? In my case anyway I can say yes, that's quite possible, in most of these types of situations. If nothing else the insight makes forgiveness easy.

So there it is, The Gospel of Empathy. I'm going to leave the Jesus sermons here for now because I want to travel East. But I will inevitably come back to Jesus. Humanity is stuck with him regardless of our various religions. Every religious tradition seems to have a take on him, our atheists, humanists and mystics are all obsessed with him, not to mention our historians. His story has become one of the universal stories of human civilisation, and the House of Every can only reflect that. It is a story however which, like all stories, must live and breathe.

Every, thank you for this opportunity to teach your word. I pray that I may do Logos some justice, and provide a fresh and fruitful perspective for my readers, and that if I have failed in this, that my readers not be deceived, and forgive my errors. So be it.