Monday, 1 July 2013

The Sunday Assembly Project

Hello Everything. Thank you for another week of wonder and life. Bless us in our footsteps as we pass by here, and help us serve your purposes. Amen.
Hello everyone. This week there has been a shift in what I'm doing. I shall explain. Well, I'll try.

Where I was up to, before I went AWOL there, was a theoretical and practical discussion of embodiment and its importance to both individual wellbeing and social health. Embodiment is the baby in the bathwater of religion, the absence of which we call alienation.

Now it is in the service of the imperative of renewed social embodiment that I have this blog, mostly about theology. That is, it is my view that a House that is to weather the storms of time needs a coherent theological ('philosophical' if you like) foundation (even though most are rarely interested in it), and so I saw it as my task to develop that foundation as I went about promoting the idea of embodiment in general. The plan was to attempt to get the 'Sunday morning thing' off the ground at some point, when I felt there was enough interest and that the timing was right, or just when a miracle occurred.

To be clear my instinct was that the timing was generally right. I knew the demographic was there because I kept meeting it in different places. And my motivations became concrete with the events of September 11 2001, which drove it home to millions just how frightfully dangerous religion might be. Others were also motivated by that moment, and 'new atheism', a radical and uncompromising indictment of all religion, was born. My response, resting on the premise that religion is a natural part of all social life (quite an orthodox premise in anthropology incidentally) and that, like economic and political systems, could not be abolished entirely without leaving a vacuum to be filled by another form, and that, also like economic and political systems, could do with a radical and sustained reform program, was very different to the new atheists.

In the space between an often socially naive atheism and reactionary religion were a lot of real people with actual needs (same ones as always really) in actual communities, and dialectically the time was clearly ripe for modern, secular religious movements. I mean you could feel it in the air.

What goes largely unnoticed in the ugly religion vs atheism debates is that the vast body of traditional religion is reforming toward secular values very rapidly. The Dalai Lama preaches that religion which contradicts science is wrong and Westerners flock to him for spiritual guidance. Atheists like telling us about clergymen who have become atheist, but many of these carry on clergying anyway, and there are even old churches that have gone atheist, and carried on in their embodiment. 'Humanist churches' have had a boost, as has Unitarian Universalism, who have had decent theology for a couple of centuries incidentally and deserve a fulsome review (it will come). And once again I'll mention those quasi-religious manifestations like sports fandom, oddments like Join Me, and nationalism, which all seem to find extra breath in these times, but which only partly satisfy our needs, and alone would leave society a bit dysfunctional. Our religious natures twist and turn in their manifestations, but they never go away.

There is an individualist reluctance to 'join' anything at all for fear of sacrificing portions of self, ironic because this leaves all power over our individuality and all source of collective value to flow straight to the institutional centre - the state. Embodiment in a multiplicity of centres is the very stuff of decentralisation, the social stuff which allows our individuality full expression in a terrain of centralisation, gigantism and homogenisation. Human societies, like those of many herd and flock animals, are not made of individuals and can not be understood as merely individuals. Human life can not be lived as an individual, or even merely as a nuclear family. It is fully lived as some form of polis, the body united by narrative and song.

To get to the point good readers I feel the zeitgeist has caught up with me, and it is time to subordinate my theological project, which will continue nevertheless, to a movement which has begun without me  and which I view as a living, viable vehicle for bringing many modern people otherwise disillusioned with religion into functional, joyous embodiment. I refer to the ('atheist church') Sunday Assembly movement begun in London in January by stand up comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans.

The Sunday Assembly website is here. I will discuss it in some critical detail as time goes on. In short it has little theology except for a motto of "Live better, help often and wonder more" and at this stage, along with the absence of gods and the practice of regular embodiment for word and song, this has been adequate to mobilise people. Some of the Christian criticism to date suggests that these things will not sustain the movement in the long term and although my answers would differ I don't entirely disagree with them. To some extent the initial growth is a function of novelty and entertainment, and some more robust thinking may eventually be necessary to sustain the movement, but for the moment embodiment is the thing, and it is very exciting that many people who could find no place to 'worship' are now finding one.

So although I'm not giving up my theological project, and suspect still that such thinking may have importance in the longer term, it has always been subordinate to the project of embodiment itself, and the Sunday Assembly is a vehicle imminently capable of achieving embodiment in my city of Brisbane for many people who at this time have no such option. The urgency I feel for this to occur in my society outweighs my need to think through and teach a systematic secular theology. The latter will continue, but quite separate from the pursuit of a Sunday Assembly in Brisbane. For that matter my theology may be a pile of shit, unnecessary and inadequate, but embodiment is essential.

Anyway, that is my explanation. In brief the plan in Brisbane is to mobilise enough support to attract Sanderson and Pippa to include Brisbane in their October "Forty Dates in Forty Nights" tour, in which they intend to kickstart Sunday Assemblies in cities around the world. It is very early days but with a very positive response, reflecting response around the world. 85 'likes' in the first four days isn't bad - it's not like the page offers free cake. Please register your own interest on the Facebook page, Brisbane Sunday Assembly.

Have a wonderful week everyone.
Everything, thank you for all breath and all opportunity. Help us find the best pathways toward your light. Bless all the readers of this sermon Everything, that they discover any wisdom in my words and are wise to any folly. Bless us, bless all, bless you. Amen.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sunday Sermon: The Collective Conscious, the Mind of Logos-on-Earth, A Summation of Human Duty, in Brief

Hello Everything. Thank you for all things. Thank you for every breath, every step of our journey, every moment of beauty. Help us in it to serve you and to further your great plot, whatever that may be. Amen.

The individual 'will to power' (identified by Nietzsche) gives rise to politics in social life; the individual will to self-expression gives rise to art in social life; the individual will to profit gives rise to economics in social life; the individual will to know gives rise to philosophy and science in social life; the individual will to meaning (identified by Frankl) gives rise to religion in social life.

All of these things remain in tension always, within themselves and between one another. None of them can be dismissed and none of them can be considered properly alone.

Thus all society is permanently a complex dialogue, a dialectic, a mind. And 'human nature' can only be fully considered as its collectivity, with individual personalities merely pursuing their own respective idiosyncratic mixes of power, self-expression, profit, knowledge and meaning.

I'm sure there's plenty of other ways to summarise all of psychology, society and historiography but there's a version in three paragraphs that many people could broadly recognise.

But hang on a sec. How simple is it to stop there and leave out the human will which makes every other type of consociation possible? How easy is it to analyse society all day without once mentioning love? It's like discussing human physiology without mentioning breathing. The will to love and be loved gives rise to society itself, and all other will is subordinate to love, psychologically and dialectically. Love is our only duty. To love our life (our reality, the only universe we have - God) and to love one another: it's been said before I know but it remains the truth that this sums up our entire duty.

Everything bless the readers of my words. Bless their faculties of mind that they not be deceived by me or any other, but only grow in their path with you. Bless you Everything. May your furtherance be a joy for all humans on earth, your precious blue jewel. So be it.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sunday Offering

Hello Everything. Thank you. Thank you for your blue jewel and all its beauty. Thank you for the completeness we find in one another. Look after us please, and may the universal republic of peace come quickly. Amen.
Well I still haven't finished anything that I'm prepared to call a sermon. My meditations have been about ekklesiology which, in traditional theology, means 'the doctrine of the church', though for the purposes of Everything, 'the doctrine of embodiment' is clearer.

The material keeps expanding but I can summarise what I'm thinking about in one proposition: Both individuals and communities gain benefits from embodiment - participating in religious community - but the benefits have nothing at all to do with the content of the beliefs.

Have a lovely week everyone. May Everything bless you and keep you.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Sunday Prayer and Song

Hello Everything. Thank you for our existence, for our place in you, and for the consciousness with which to behold and love you. Forgive us our indiscretions as we forgive the indiscretions of others. Bless us and help us in our journeys, that thy great work be done. Amen.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Prayer, a Song, and a bit of a Prelude

Hello Everything. Thank you for delivering us to this moment safely. Please give wisdom to those who need wisdom, comfort to those who need comfort and strength to those who need strength. Help us to grow as your people and to combine our free will in your greater service Everything. Help us to do thy will, whatever that may be. Amen.
Hello everyone. Once again I mostly have a song and a prayer for you, but there's no harm mentioning what I'm working on. I'm back close to the heart of what The House of Every is really about, with the subject of repertory social embodiment, for song, a collectivised (hence hugely enhanced) engagement with logos, for mutual aid and for agency. In short, this is the call for us as a society to get back to doing the Sunday morning thing, though in a modern, respectable and empowering way.

For any new readers in particular my second Sermon, The Baby In the Bathwater of Religion, is a very good place to start in order to get a sense of what is going on here in general. Further however I have recently subtitled it "Embodiment 1" and I will be treating that sermon as the first part of a series to which next week's (all going to plan) will be the second part. So if you're missing the content this week, that's a good one to read or re-read. It will be helpful as my intention is to develop the subject rather than repeat too much.

Have a lovely week everyone. Thanks for dropping by and reading my material. May Everything bless you and keep you. So be it.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A Song and a Prayer

Hello Everything. Thank you for your beautiful world, for life, consciousness and love. Be with us in our breath, our conversations and actions. Help us to see clearly, dance deftly and contribute humbly to your wondrous whole. Forgive us our flaws Everything, as we forgive others their flaws. And may your universal republic of peace and Logos come quickly. Amen.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Sunday Sermon: The End of the Garden 2 (The Garden Final)

Hello Everything. Thank you for our lives and our parts on your beautiful blue jewel. Help us, in our meditations, our conversations and our actions, to bring closer to Earth a republic of peace. Bless us and help us to do thy will. Amen.
Hello everyone. It's taken me a while but finally it has come to the point in prehistory where, to return to our primeval narrative, our species ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and were expelled from the Garden forever.

The eating of the 'forbidden fruit' appears as a mythic explanation of an awareness of moral difference ('good' and 'evil'/'right' and 'wrong') along with sexual self-consciousness. From the point of view of the mythmaker's generation, as well as our own, these are real occurrences somewhere in human history, apparent differentiators between humans and other creatures, which demand some sort of explanation or narrative. Something happened to us, sometime, to cause these distinctively human characteristics.

Aside, note that although we know that extraordinary changes in consciousness and social life most definitely did occur among our ancestors, the academy properly avoids them as they are all but beyond evidence. For everyday people who perennially ask questions about who we are, where we came from and what's the point, science and the academy therefore offer too little in answering these reasonable enquiries. It doesn't stop us asking, or requiring a capacity to interact with these questions socially. This is a major reason why religion and its questions and narratives can and will continue to be part of social life and yet need not ever be threatened by scientific enquiry. Scientific enquiry and evidence must inform our narratives wherever possible. Indeed as seekers of truth we should be craving such evidence. But for the mind at the grass roots of Logos, science may never provide enough, so intuition and a looser criteria of plausibility rather than evidence must often suffice to fill out our collective narrative. Science isn't everything, is what I'm saying, even if we consider it decisive when it does speak.

But back to the plot, our writer of myth may have had a similar response to the oft-nakedness of tribal peoples as did Europeans of the colonial era - interpreting it as a form of sexual innocence. Then as now this would be a misunderstanding. For one thing mores about clothing and appropriate dress vary enormously, influenced by climate as much as anything. Clothing appears firstly to be an innovation to adapt to either new country or changing climate, not a response to guilt. At the same time even in the most naked society in the world - Aboriginal Australia - there was a strong sense of sexual right and wrong - adultery was punishable by death for example, as it was in many traditional societies. So the connection between origins of morality and the realisation of nakedness seems stretched at the least.

Even less clear though is the connection between these developments in consciousness and the end of the Garden. To be honest I don't think the metaphorical eating of the fruit was the break with the Garden we're looking for, despite the myth. To explore any reality in that myth we have to go back a lot further into depths of the history of the Homo genus, possibly even to Homo habilis. I may of course be completely wrong about the identification of the Garden with observable prehistoric societies, but to follow my proposition I have to admit that this society already has religion, sexual morality, violence and indeed the fulness of human consciousness, warts and all.

The Garden first broke down with a new type of social violence, and not merely semi-ritualised violence between tribes, which might actually have helped preserve tribal identity as well as sustainable populations, but violence within tribes. The breakdown began with a war between totemic kin-groups. In short, Cain killed Abel. The primal herder of sheep warred with the primal agriculturalist. This conflict between herdsmen and agriculturists never really ended in the ancient world, and is still reflected in modern politics between country parties and urban parties. I am not the first to propose that this conflict was the initial major split in the ecological society humans had enjoyed for millennia.

(Candidly, if we wish to include the earlier myth in this view, we might conclude that Cain then blamed his parents, mostly his mother, for their substance abuse.) 

That the very first violence in the Bible is between these brothers - "a keeper of sheep" and a "tiller of the ground" is for me one of the finest moments of intuitive truth in the entire Genesis narrative. Archaeology and history repeatedly confirm the primacy of this conflict in the ancient world. So once again, regardless of whether we want to give these ancient accounts any reading at all, they speak of an issue in our origins which begs explanation, and which will reflect light on how we came to be as we are.

Totemic families were not equal, even in Aboriginal society. Some totems were more prestigious than others, generally according to how dependent the tribe was on them for survival. The kangaroo totem might enjoy prestige if it was from kangaroos and their ecologies that the tribe was getting a lot of its tucker, for example, but if the kangaroos failed one year another totem might gain greater prestige. In this way there was great flexibility even whilst all sorts of possibilities were maintained.

I can only attempt to imagine the nature of the Garden in the Fertile Crescent, but doing so I have to conclude that the Australian Aboriginals had it pretty tough. I mean, compared to kangaroos, herds of sheep must have been a doddle to manage, even in their pre-domesticated state. I imagine tribes simply following the herds and, taking care to sustain the population, harvesting them at will. Further, I can even imagine the sheep learning to stick near the humans for protection against other predators, especially if the humans also actively helped with other needs like maintaining pasture land. The humans could exploit them and guarantee their survival at the same time, as contrary to merely exploiting them.

But not everyone concerned themselves deeply with sheep. Remembering that these ecological relationships are totemic, utterly embedded in religious narrative and law, there are also people kin with other species. Along the flats of ancient valleys there were those whose totemic vocations developed the sustainable use of grasses - early wheat and barley - for human food. That's great of course. There's once again a variety of options for the tribe in the region, but there is an implicit conflict.

For one thing both of these totemic vocations will over time increase population capacity, and indeed the evidence is that populations slowly but steadily increased in the Fertile Crescent over time. I'm happy to assume that, as we observe in many modern traditional societies, the peoples had cultural mechanisms for population control. But with a developed and diverse totemic society and such wonderful species to work with the population did grow, to the point where any failure of the system, through climate change or immigration from climate change (like glaciation) elsewhere, could suddenly stretch the system.

And at a certain point the managed wheat and barley looks like grazing land for the herders, and to our proto-agriculturalists the precious wheat or barley fields become threatened by the sheep. Both groups can lay claim to the absolute importance of their totemic kin. Both groups are bound by sacred duty to their totems. Something has to give. And hence Cain came to kill Abel, dividing the tribe and beginning modern human history. The wheel was broken, in the first place, from within.

To sum up the whole series, I am proposing that Homo sapien is naturally a conscious gardener of the environment, who collects and develops knowledge and management techniques through the device of language, of Logos, though not in writing but in narrative, art, song and dance. This elaborate and evolved nature, as ecological, situational and stable as any creatures', must have had ups and downs constantly for any number of reasons, and was highly adaptable (that was its evolutionary point after all). But at a certain point this ecology broke irreversibly, leaving us with a disconnected Logos that we might call the first 'religion' contained by a population alienated from the existential reality of that Logos.

I've had a subtle shift in my view even since beginning this Garden series. At first I considered the Garden a special era toward the end of human prehistory and leading into history. Now I consider it as almost defining the human species. We might have been called Homo gardenius for my current understanding. Tools and fire don't define us, as they came long before. Language might define us, but it doesn't in itself define much except that we are chattering. What defines us is our capacity to garden and for the garden itself to be a text, read and exchanged among us by narrative. Logos was our initial technology of information and computation.

The mystery, the difficulty, the ever-since human crisis, is that we became alienated from that nature and have never since attained the same harmony between one another and the environment. To get from there to a new human harmony is the goal of most major religious systems, and it is the goal of the House of Every.

So I come to the end of my attempt to modernise the subject matter of Genesis 2-4. I stress that although I teach, this is not 'doctrine' in any traditional sense, of the House of Every or of me. The series is an attempt to introduce the subject of human beginnings with reference to our legacy of myth but alongside modern evidence and reasoning. It is an invitation to ongoing reflection and discussion, to an ongoing collaboration in our collective search for truth, meaning and ourselves.
Everything, thank you for all the teachers who have come before, all the evidence and analysis collected by your prophets and scholars, and all unfolding Logos. Send us more evidence Every, more insight, more brilliantly thinking searchers of the truth of You for us to learn from. We want to know and we want to collaborate in the searching and the knowing. Bless my own readers Every, that they may be critical, original and mindful in their own searching, gleaning that which is helpful from my own teachings and disregarding anything that is flawed. So be it.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Sunday Sermon: The End of the Garden 1

Hello Everything. Thank you for all things and all people. Thank you for the living Logos. Allow us our humanity as we allow the humanity of others. Thy will be done Everything. Amen.
My intention is to go back to the Genesis story and speculative prehistory, but Saturday was 'Australia Day', which Aboriginal people and their supporters call 'Invasion Day', accurately and understandably enough. The Australian Aboriginal society has served as my main model for discussing Garden society after all, and like every other Garden society in history it has indeed been broken, the people cast out apparently never to return. Weirdly, last Saturday Australia celebrated this event. It may be the only Garden destruction event with its own national holiday.

For in Australia we can date the end of the Garden very accurately, and it is fairly well documented. They didn't eat any forbidden fruit. They were invaded by a post-Garden society and their land was stolen. That much is a matter of history.

Future Big Historians may note that the Australian Continent was the last of the large-scale Garden cultures to have their ecological society broken. To study the destruction feels to be almost in bad taste, as the wounds of the survivors are still fresh, as is the guilt of the invaders. On Australia Day the country becomes its most polarised, between those who celebrate "Australia Day" with drunken, flag-waving fervour and those who mourn "Invasion Day", for the death, dispossession and genocide that it represents for them. Somehow within this emotional and political turmoil, my intention is to see what we might learn about the destruction of the Garden generally.

We won't learn a thing about the original dialectical situation which might have unravelled Garden society, because culturally and demographically Aboriginal society was fairly stable. But given the Australian destruction came about by interaction with an expanding, colonial population which had far superior destructive and productive technology and a weak spiritual connection to land, the themes that arise may well be indicative of stories throughout the Old World from about 10,000-2000BC.

For, to recap the previous three sermons, Homo sapien managed productive landscapes all over the world. In our prehistoric nature, it's what we did. We neither 'hunted and gathered', strictly speaking, as did Homo erectus, nor settled to sow the land and build fences for animals. We gardened, and free-ranged the herds and flocks with great skill and knowledge, generally wandering over a lot of territory to both manage the country and to enjoy its harvests, camping in our favourite spots for periods of the year along the way. I'm not saying all societies were just like Aboriginal's - there were enormous differences, not least the ecological differences that induced different land management techniques. But they all developed long-term conscious relationships with their country, which incrementally developed the productivity of the landscape and probably developed many species (even if inadvertently) to their pre-domesticated states. I have discussed all this and how it might work enough perhaps, but here I am emphasising that this is our species, all over the world, for the vast portion of our existence.

Next Sermon, God help me, I will attempt a dialectical, if still very speculative, explanation of how Garden society first broke down, giving way to higher concentrated populations with urban centres and the beginnings of hierarchies of power, a process which shattered not just relationships with country and kin, but also began the process of the subversion of totemic and shamanistic religion into the ancient pagan systems we are familiar with from early history. God help me, that is my brief for next week. But explaining how garden society was destroyed after this first event (it may have happened more than once, but only once is needed) is much, much easier, tragically enough, so that is my current task.

Disease was probably a factor from the beginning. Diseases spread and evolve quickly in more concentrated populations, and pathogens which evolved alongside the concentrating populations may have found good low-resistant carriers the further from that population it went. There may have been many occasions in human prehistory where disease "prepared the way" for migrations of people. The Australian and American experience shows us how horribly effective this process is. In the Australian case there is solid evidence that the invaders made deliberate use of this local vulnerability to accelerate their 'advantage', through actively contaminating food and water. There is every chance that our ancestors also used this cruel technique, just as accessible then as now, around the world. Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1997) discusses the role of disease in history extensively and is very accessible.

The most striking possible metaphor I can find in the Bible for the invasion and occupation of gardens is the Biblical 'promised land', painted for us as a land not merely full of milk (half-tamed herds of goats probably) and honey (accessible bee colonies selected for productivity and placidity for generations), but of tended fruit trees and vineyards as well, and with a very small population to defend it. It was, according to one version of the story, there for the taking.

Aside, there is as much archaeological evidence for the Hebrew invasion of Canaan under Joshua as there is for the Garden of Eden - ie none - so once again I am treating this story of imminently occupiable 'Promised Land' as a possible tribal memory, or the intuition of a memory, probably with no original connection to the rest of the story. For me it evokes the English invasion of Australia, with endless well-managed pasture (meant for kangaroos) the promise rather than vineyards and olive groves. Areas like the Darling Downs, when they were discovered, evoked the phrase, 'promised land' repeatedly.

For we can see that the Garden society is as vulnerable as it is ecologically complex. The Garden country is immensely attractive to an invader - far more attractive than unoccupied wilderness. And yet it sustains a relatively small population. Any larger population, even with no technological advantage but especially if it is organised, has the capacity to occupy the Garden and instantly marginalise its inhabitants. If such an organised invader also gains a taste and talent for war and occupation, the destruction of Garden might have occurred very rapidly.

And there is a chain-reaction as the displaced Gardeners become refugees crowding the land of other tribes, as did happen in Australia also, causing conflict between tribes, bringing disease ahead and pressuring resources, all contributing to the destruction of the ecological totemic and kinship relations of the country. Once this starts somewhere - and I think it did probably begin in the Levant, quite aside from the Hebrews - it is relentless. The Garden populations will defend themselves. The country is their whole being so they have little choice. But even with occasional persistence from higher populated and organised invaders, they cannot stand.

Broadly we are in a position to see how rapidly garden society can be destroyed and how little evidence for the society might be left after only a handful of generations. Many Aboriginal languages have become extinct and even where tribal lands are still maintained the complex totemic and legal relationships with country and kin are a shadow of their former selves. With not a little irony it is our affluent, liberal society which is at least making some efforts to help preserve whatever possible, and we can easily imagine that invading peoples of millennia ago would not have mourned cultural loss nor felt the sort of abiding guilt that liberal moderns do. Even less ambiguously than our Christian ancestors with their Bibles in hand, our ancient tribal ancestors saw such conquests as victories for their gods. An occasional word for a place-name might be the only remnant, if there is any at all, of thousands of venerably ancient cultures.

I have just carved through, in a fairly impassionate way, some territory that is fraught with not only emotion but hotly contested policy implications. This is ideographic landscape which requires compassion at every step. I am a descendent of the invaders of Australia, after all, and the descendants of the displaced gardeners are still too often in pain, socially and spiritually, and too often alienated from the society which I so much enjoy, somehow caught between a past they cannot return to and a future that seems unavailable to many. I might forgive my English and Irish ancestors, but I am not prepared to forget or ignore our real past, nor pretend the resulting problems have disappeared. Most of all, I want us to help the survivors retain as much as we can of the wisdom and culture of these ancient societies, and to find, from the past and the future, full selves in Every's diverse blue jewel.

But I'm not really going to discuss the politics or the morality of the current situation - there is much debate about it elsewhere and, if I really tried to do it justice as a subject in this format I fear it would take many sermons. But I will say that I think it is possible for all parties to face the full humanity of the tragedy honestly, without denial, guilt, blame, inferiority or superiority, and that such honest, non-sectarian reflection will help all of us continue forward. I'll also say that by doing so all of us will learn very important things about ourselves, and especially about our psychological and ideographical genesis.

For the past series of sermons about the Garden is not for the sake of a random intellectual excursion. The Garden of Eden provides the origin story for most of the world, including arguably our oldest continuous but post-Garden religious tradition, Judaism, which indeed appears to tell a version of a story of all of us. It has anchored our sense of ourselves into our pre-human past and in doing so provided us with symbolic and ideological frames for values and agency. Genesis is not the whole Bible of course, and the Garden is not the only source of ideas, but it is, let us say, primal. Its motifs, thousands of years after authorship, still impact our world in a big way. And what I am trying to say is that we have some new information. There have been further revelations. The text of Genesis has grown. And religion must grow with the living text.

Kev Carmody should have the last word. Whether or not we think that Kev's people can get their land back, and it is with no pleasure that I suspect they can't and won't, there is one part of his message about which there should be no argument. We must heal the land, as it is terribly damaged. And that is another sermon.
Everything, please bless this continent of Australia. Help us to all to empathise with one another and to work together toward your future. Bless every strand of our diversity, but that every strand may weave a greater harmony. Bless all of those in pain, and help them find a more understanding and helpful tomorrow. Finally Everything bless my readers, that they may consider what I have to say with clarity and discernment, mindfully sifting the wheat of my words from the chaff. So be it.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Sunday Sermon: The Garden 4

Hello Everything. Thank you for all of your country and all of your people. Thank you for this opportunity to live a unique life in your service, Everything. Amen.
Hello everyone.

As repeatedly promised, I am going to discuss the religion of humanity's Garden Era. Attentive readers may have noticed in Garden 2 the difficulty I was having keeping my discussion of land practices from slipping into a discussion about religion, and the reason is that the two things are inseparable. The inseparability of the ecologically embedded lifestyle and economy on the one hand and the religious mentality behind it on the other means one can not be comprehended without attempting to comprehend both, or not adequately anyway. This sermon might be read with Garden 2 for that reason.

I was tempted but I can not offer a Sermon called "Religion Review: Totemism." Totemism is not a religion you can join, even if  you really want to, as it comes from a lifelong, all-encompassing embeddedness in country and kin. If that embeddedness, or the country/kin itself, is broken, it is impossible enough even for lifelong totemists to fully regain their religion. As Black Elk put it looking back on his life, "the nation's hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead." Don't get me wrong - native peoples can retain an enormous amount of culture, and they should be given every help to do so, for the benefit of us all, but their original deep religious life, like a clear felled ancient rainforest, cannot be regrown in just a generation and will never be the same again regardless.

For the Aboriginals of Australia when a person was born they were born directly from the earth at the place of birth. This was expressed so strongly to early European immigrants that for a long time it was an urban myth that Aboriginals did not actually get the relationship between coitus and pregnancy. It is very clear now that they did, and we should never mistake a people's mythological descriptors for ignorance of everyday reality. But religion, to the gardeners, is not inherited from parents or elders but from the country itself.

Similarly Law does not come from elders or society at all but from country, at least as it is perceived. Aboriginal Australia, and in my view Garden societies the world over, were terracracies (gaiocracies? envirocracies?), ruled, watched by and beholden to the existential environment itself, the living earth, sea and sky. That was the perception. In retrospect, to the Hebrew mythmaker, the gardeners "walked with God."

As I've noted variously before, religion is a human universal and remains so today. It has not diminished but changed. But the religion of the Garden might be called something else to distinguish it from anything we are familiar with. It is an elaborate ecological spirituality, adopted from birth alongside language and social behaviour, utterly embedded in country. Indeed there is no distinction between these latter things and 'belief'. The question, "What is your religion?" has no meaning in the Garden. One's 'religion' just is, and is connected inextricably to every aspect of living.

Whenever religion evolved, it came about simultaneously with language. Language can not exist without a system of meanings, and meanings had no science or scrutiny to refer to. Meanings had no referent at all in fact except the realities of life, and dreams and memories of the dead were as apparent as geographical features or animals. So the first meanings could only be, in effect, mythopoeic. In a way, religion and language are the same development. Neither are meaningfully comprehensible without the other. To have language is to have a belief system - a system of information, however nascent - and visa versa. Needless to say reason just hasn't come into things yet.

It is easy to imagine religion as a process of anthropomorphising non-human reality - giving places, creatures, ancestors and imaginary creatures minds and personalities. But the journey has been the other way around. The earliest consciousness had not yet any reason to believe everything else was not just as conscious as it was. People didn't have ideas, or they didn't credit their egos with ideas anyway. Muses had not been invented and neither had 'inspiration' or 'genius'. For consciousness in the Garden, ideas came directly from the general consciousness, from the land itself or from spirits, ancestors and creatures. It was all, quite obviously and uncontroversially, conscious.

An anecdote from early Australia has a black tracker on the trail of an escaped convict for some days (the Aboriginals were legendary trackers). After losing the trail for some time the native Australian said he would go and talk to his friend Koala. When he came back from his chat with the koala he said that he had been silly and Koala had set him straight. He led the crew in another direction and found the trail. This is a simple example of what I mean. The only interpretation we might reasonably have of the event is that the Aboriginal man in fact had access to deep intuitive powers of his own, informed by a lifelong experience of the country, but accessed them through a religious practice - his communication with the koala spirit. It didn't occur to the man for a moment that it was his knowledge guiding him.

To think about the religion of the Garden we constantly have to remind ourselves of this lack of self-consciousness. Garden life was not an examined life. No one was wondering what they should believe because what they believed was their very existence, including their economic existence. It defined their role in the social ecological environment in great detail, including who they were kin with and what their responsibilities were. All of it was preserved (and developed) in narrative, in stories, but the stories were directly connected to real world existence. And survival was ruthlessly dependent upon adherence to law.


In the end spirituality/life was about relationships, about modes of kinship in fact, and the best descriptor of the religion is totemism - the belief in kin groupings that include not only humans of blood-relation but specific species, places and natural phenomena (constellations in the sky, a particular gully, the south west wind, red loamy soil, whatever). 'Totem' means, quite literally, 'kin'. It is conceived as a family group.

According to Bill Gammage:
"Totems are ecological. The well known Eaglehawk and Crow division separates hunters from gatherers, and most totem names combine place, creature and totem: Tanda (Adelaide) red kangaroo, Wurundjeri (Melbourne) Ribbon Gum, Narrandera (NSW) jew lizard and so on. People studied first their own totem and its allies and habitat, to everyone's benefit. Jew lizard people studied the plants and animals around narrung's sandy habitat, the insects in the sand and the bark, the birds visiting, the winds, the water, the fire needs. To keep each in balance required repeating spiritually the same ancestral ceremonies, and ecologically the same management practices. Both are work, a dance as much as a fire regime, both protect the Dreaming and biodiversity, from long repetition both can be fine-tuned for success. Yet if the ecology changed, for example when rabbits or camels arrived, totems were adjusted to fit. 'Those totems were always there', people say, 'it's just that we didn't know about them before.' (p.136)
So a totem was not merely an animal. For one thing it is generally an animal in a particular area rather than an entire species. But more importantly a totem, although generally named after an animal of the totem (in Australian Aboriginal society anyway) was a grouping of creatures, places and human kin, along with all that totem's ancestors and spirits. It was a mythopoeic family, with all sorts of kinship responsibilities to go with it. Generally you could not eat or even touch your totem animals, for example, but most of the responsibilities involved enacting dances and songs in order to keep the many natural cycles going.

Note that the dances and songs are, however ineffectual to our modern view, generational mimetic vehicles for the content, which is the tribe's accumulated information technology.

The human capacity for this sort of ecological bonding with the environment and hence for steadily increasing the country's capacity to provide was precisely our evolutionary advantage over other creatures including other species of Homo. Detailed information is maintained and developed within each totem group via narrative, dance, music and song. And because there are many totem groupings there are many different strands of knowledge and law. Society can not only know more, but can pass it along accurately and developmentally. Logos has been born.

Although totemism is very foreign to us, to say the least, there is something very modern about it that I fear is often overlooked. For when we read about the development of the first agrarian societies we are given the impression that this is where the first division of labour (beyond age and gender divisions) occurred. It is not. An elaborate division of intellectual labour, beyond just age and gender divisions, was very well developed in the Garden. The first 'vocations' were totemic. As this proto-vocationalism elaborated, humans became more successful, and the Garden became increasingly comprehended (albeit as spirit, but the understanding was real) and managed.

In fact there was not one religious understanding and practice, even within a single tribe. If we were to interview in detail all the people in a Garden tribe and hence redact a tribal cosmology and religion, it would not make sense to any individual in the tribe. An individual was a totemist, not a tribalist, but collectively the totems made the tribe and the country. Garden religion was an ecosystem of ideas.

Totemism as a part of abiding human nature is manifest today, in my view, in vocationalism, especially the father-teaches-son variety which is becoming less common, and as more meagre remnant in obsessive behaviour generally. Broadly a totemistic nature appears to exist in our propensity to diversify our interests (even within a nuclear family) and find broader communities of those interests, however obscure. But that's an aside.

Over four sermons now I have attempted to broadly outline what I have labelled humanity's Garden Era. I am an amateur and I don't know if I have done the subject any real justice, but I hope to have at least painted a plausible picture based on what we know, and a basis for further critical enquiry and meditation.

For humans do have a nature - an embedded ecological nature as with other creatures, but including fire, technology, language, religion and all - which evolved to be that nature. We are also a colony species, and our nature did not evolve with us as individuals vs the environment but as colonies vs the environment. The myths about the Garden and the Golden Age and the like may or may not be tainted by actual memory, but the ancient mythmakers, in times far less detached from the Garden than we are now, were trying to describe something - grapple something - which they knew was real: the fact that there was once a nature and that it was, somehow, broken; that somehow we were now in a wilderness of our own nature, even as we left the wilderness behind.

The evolution of human nature, in aeon long eras of relative ecological stability, occurred in a particular manner, in particular types of colonies, with some particular unique specialities like language, fire and tools. And although that elaborate ecological system has gone, the nature which evolved within it has not. And that is the conundrum that this overall narrative - the Genesis narrative - is attempting to address.

[Tony Swain and Garry Trompf, The Religions of Oceania (1995) is a less romantic and more critically academic survey than Gammage's book, but this essay is indebted to both books, along with much Wikipedia. Obviously the spin is mine.]
Everything, forgive me my intellectual trespasses as I forgive the intellectual trespasses of others. Grant my readers keen minds and pure hearts, that they may discern my wisdom from my folly. In the cultivation of our wisdom Everything, our own small stake in your wisdom, help us all to do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

No Sermon Today

Hello Everything. Thank you for your singular being in which we all abide. Thank you for our consciousness, our capacity and nature to engage with you. Dance with each of us Everything, and help us all to dance together. And in this great dance of us and all things, in and of you, may thy will be done. Amen.
I resist attempting to explain my process for producing these sermons. In short it's there in my head, has been for two weeks, and is half written, but it is not coming to birth yet for reasons not properly understood. At the same time I don't have time, due to other commitments, to stress myself too much. So my apologies. Have a lovely week everyone. Dance, learn and love.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Sunday Sermon: The Garden 3

Hello Everything. Thank you for a new year in which to be and grow. May our own growth and becoming be of service to the single complete wholeness of your own becoming, Everything. Forgive us our faults, and forgive those who may fault us. Thy will be done. Amen.
Hello everyone. I'm not yet ready to talk about the religion of the Garden, which was to be this week's Sermon, so that will have to wait until next week. "Leaving the Garden" will come after that. Today I'm going to talk about what I'm doing with this series a bit, as it's very easy material to misinterpret.

As I am in the territory of a wide variety of academic disciplines, all of which currently have very active coalfaces of enquiry, there is no way I am actually qualified to talk authoritatively on human prehistory. My own formal (and quite humble) training is in Classical (Greek)  History, but I wouldn't call myself authoritative even there. If anything my central urge is to study the whole, which of course makes me a specialist in nothing at all.

I do make a sincere effort to get all my facts straight in my discussions, and to be clear where I venture into my own speculations, whilst keeping the door to criticism and correction wide open. My prayer is that that is enough to do my duty as a teacher of Everything.

That stated, it is not my intention to efface myself here either. Which preacher was ever qualified to preach about the Genesis of humanity? I submit my attempts to modernise the discussion humbly, and not as a new authority on the matters, but as an invitation to freely and sincerely engage these ancient, psychologically and socially poignant themes of prehistory. The text of Genesis has greatly expanded, after all.

I haven't begun at the beginning of the Book of Genesis but have jumped straight to the bit where (modern, as we must now qualify) humans come in. Clearly our current comprehension of the stuff before this, about the creation of the 'heaven and the earth', has expanded enormously as well. But creationists have given this ancient creation myth such a bad name, and skeptics too often speak as if reading the account might itself magically cause people to believe its literalness (no one really bothered to see Genesis 1 as a literal six day account until about the middle of the 20th C), that I am going to offer it a brief defence here.

Years ago I spent some time reading creation accounts. There are many Jewish ones, numerous from the Dead Sea Scrolls and other approximately contemporaneous sources, and then innumerable accounts from all over the world. I guess I only read a tiny portion of those extant, but it was a significant phase of reading and I carefully read quite a few. They are, as a rule, fantastic in the original sense of that word - the stuff of fantasy - at least to modern eyes. There are dragons and all sorts of creatures, and complicated plots. We should not diss any of them I suppose, as none of them had any way of knowing about origins, and the purpose of the texts were far from scientific anyway, but let's say the modern mind may be tempted to call many of them nonsense.

Which is why when I read the opening chapter of Genesis I am genuinely impressed with the soundness of mind displayed. The brevity of the account itself speaks to a lack of pretension of knowledge. In other words the author had no real idea and didn't make up a whole lot of shit to fill the gap. Meanwhile the author's intuitions here and there weren't too bad, at least once you're past the flat earth and domed heaven separated by water. The order of creation - grass first, then herbs, then seeding trees (then light which is a bit of a problem), then creatures from the water, then other creatures, and finally Adam (which means 'mankind' or humanity, as I prefer to term it), would not pass anyone's palaeontology exam, but given what they knew could be a lot worse. I think someone actually gave this serious thought in their own way. And I also think this was one of the attractive things about Jewish mythology to the Greek, Roman (and later Arabic) minds. It made more sense than anything going, as did monotheism to them, which the myth serves.

It also reads beautifully, even today in King James' English, and the rest on the seventh day, reinforcing the Sabbath so critical to Jewish culture, is a nice touch. Arguably the Sabbath is a Jewish contribution to civilisation, and a profound and welcome one.

But there's good reasons why the story really kicks off with the allegory of Adam and Eve, and they may be the same reasons I have so far ignored the earlier mythological eras. That's us. Our ancestors. And the story once again clearly has no scientific intent, but is meant to explain a lost part of the human condition, when humans were still in the environment they had named themselves, highly embedded in it as they initially evolved to be (we now know). Whilst language had developed, the environment itself was our text, our first Logos. Narrative and meaning were not detached from reality - from Everything. (Next week's subject as I keep promising.)

I have said already that I agree with the myth's conclusion that the way back to the Garden is closed to us. But I still feel compelled to elaborate on what I do not mean by the Garden. The Garden is not actually a paradise or a golden age. It is not "heaven on earth". If we could go back to it, most wouldn't really want to. Maybe once, when the full horror of days of backbreaking labour (let alone slavery) had dawned upon a large portion of early societies, but not now.

There was death in the Garden. There was a lot of death by childbirth. There was violent death. Even occasional ritualised warfare with one or two casualties a year on average means a very high chance of a given person perishing by violence, and that doesn't include hunting accidents or indeed being the prey of non-human hunters.

There was disease in the Garden, and when disease came it was utterly frightening and beyond control. The best explanations and attempts to control disease involved evil spirits and sorcery, which probably provided more extra unpleasantness than help. As I suggested in The Garden 1, there was quite likely less disease, and perhaps even a perceived lack of violence from the myth maker's point of view, but they did exist, is what I'm saying.

There was a lot of hard work for no luxuries. Modern society has so many things that we should not be so naive as to think we would not sorely miss, and that require complex social organisation, like running water, flushing toilets and a regular supply of milk, not to mention communication and information. Life was great compared to the two million years of wandering fairly randomly in small bands of Homo habilis. The Garden would have been terribly missed by any refugees from it, if they didn't die a spiritual death outright, and perhaps even was remembered with nostalgia by early post-Garden society, but it wasn't that great.

I'm just trying to provide a basic antidote to romantic idealism here. The Garden is important to understand in my view, and contributing to the understanding is the intent of this series of Sermons, but it has gone. Any possibility of utopia is not behind us but before us. After forty centuries in the wilderness, if we can keep the Commandments (another scripture that certainly needs modernisation but should just as certainly not be discarded) and seek only Everything, we can get there, to a new global harmony, and get to eat of the Tree of bloody Knowledge too! (Plausibly even the Tree of Life: immortality may elude humans forever, but that's no longer certain.) Anyway, that's my narrative, more or less.

The decisive reason we can not return to the Garden, even if we ignore our social development, technology and mentality, is because the Garden provided for a very small population compared to today. It may seem tragic, and is in a sense, but to advocate today for everyone to go back to nature and produce their own food is to imply that about six and a half billion people have to um... disappear somehow. It doesn't work out.

Anyway, my final note is that I am thoroughly enjoying researching this subject, as I have many times before, and as I note as a bookseller that many people do. Armies of amateurs, all connected now, study and theorise about the genesis of humanity, each typically with their own iconoclastic mix of some of palaeontology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, animal behaviour (ethology), sociology, anthropology, linguistics, mythology, comparative religion and any number of other disciplines. Millions of us might be over the Bible, and with some good reasons, but our obsessions haven't changed that much.
Everything, bless the community of the readers of Every. Help us find ourselves in you Everything, that our respective pathways into the new year be clear, leading us to fulfilment, joy and the furtherance of your will. So be it.