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.