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.