Monday, 31 December 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Garden 2

Hello Everything. Thank you for every breath, for each one is only by your grace. Thank you for every moment of our consciousness, and for every fleeting part of you which we are able to perceive, as well as the infinitude of what we will never be able to perceive. Help us in our humble journeys along the lifespan you have allotted us, Everything. Help us to help ourselves, help us to help one another, help us to help you. Thy will be done. Amen.
Hello everyone. Last week I proposed that the Garden of Eden and other such myths of a previous Golden Age may be hinting of an actual era of prehistory, and I described in the most general terms what that era might have looked like.

It's possible that the connection simply doesn't exist, and that the myth of the Garden is just that - a myth - with no connection to any historical memory whatsoever. My main inspiration for the proposition for what I'm calling the Garden Age, immediately preceding historical time, was not the book of Genesis but a book by Bill Gammage called, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (2011).

The main thrust of Gammage's book is the extent and sophistication of the early Australian people's use of fire to manage the land. Australia's flora is uniquely fire resistant (sometimes even fire dependent) but of course all prehistoric people used fire, and we may everywhere underestimate to what extent, and to what precision, fire was used as a land management tool in all sorts of places. But what I'm interested in is the land management itself. For Gammage describes a people who are neither settled nor really 'hunter-gatherers', but mobile and conscious gardeners of their entire continental landscape. At the very least I think this fact has been under-appreciated, and it has implications in other fields of human enquiry.

Have a look at this picture of the Endeavour River (Cooktown in North Queensland), painted in July 1770. It is about the first known attempt to accurately depict an Australian landscape.
You can see the extent of the Endeavour's camp. All the rest is highly managed landscape where today there is dense forest - what we call 'wilderness'. Gammage provides dozens of these pictures, and argues convincingly that these are accurate depictions, painted by professionals who were the day's version of official photographers. He also provides innumerable written first-accounts of the landscape, with its clearings, its patched forest types and its well worn system of paths.

The 1788 country did not just look like parkland, as was often noted by early settlers and explorers, it was indeed carefully managed estate. It made moving inland very easy for the newcomers, along well established tracks, often along waterways with lovely cleared grazing areas. Macarthur didn't have to clear land to graze sheep - he just requisitioned and fenced ranges previously maintained for kangaroos. As for terra nullius, the legal basis for European possession, it is rendered an even more wicked and tragic fiction by these insights. The people were under their laws, with their territories, and they managed every foot of the land. So um, yes, the land was stolen.

The evidence Gammage presents starts with insights about sophisticated, carefully variegated burning regimes across the entire country, but it doesn't end there. There are methods of what we would unambiguously call gardening, like harvesting a portion of yams and leaving the best ones, sometimes moving roots to expand the area of 'cultivation'. There are elaborate and ingenious systems of dams and fish traps. Kit, including weapons and tools, was rarely carried far, as it was kept in stashes near the place the goods was normally used, the earliest farm sheds. There was seasonal settlement as well, and Gammage leaves us thinking not so much that the Australians might be nearly breaking into a settled agricultural mode of existence (say along the Hawkesbury River), but that they had been capable of that transition for centuries, and were even aware of this capability, choosing their continued nomadism with their eyes open, with the understanding that it was in their best interests given the needs and vicissitudes of the country that provided for them.

This isn't all new. There have been people chipping away at the idea of 'unspoiled wilderness' along with its passively harmonious hunter/gatherer denizens for a long time. But I think the enormity of the realisation is breaking through with this book, and what interests me are the obvious implications for the rest of anthropology and scholarly conceptions of prehistoric peoples all over the world, including those 10,000 years ago in, say, Mesopotamia. In short we have a new way to look at the emergence of complex human society.

For if the Fertile Crescent and the surrounding country was an extensive garden for, say, the last 25,000 or 40,000 years, we have a ground to explain the domestication of animals, the slow development of more intensive agriculture from more extensive gardens, early steady population growth itself, weirdo beehive cities with no apparent agriculture like Catal Huyuk, and perhaps much else. We need find no big break, no sudden revolution of thinking or practice, just a continued relationship with country.

When we look at 1788 Australia we are not looking at a 'timeless' situation. This level of complexity does not just appear, but takes time to evolve. A lot of time. Although we cannot narrate it in any detail, the complexity speaks of a long and involved history. Tens of thousands of years of it, with notable events and innovations almost every generation (plausibly anyway); a long, winding story of discovery, invention, crisis, innovation, leadership and, in short, cultural development.

Unfortunately the Garden Era is not an archaeological era, neatly delineated by a specific stone tool kit or something. The tool kit may not change significantly as the Garden develops or indeed even once agriculture is intensified. It is a social era, a dialectical era. It is also a distinctive religious era. If anyone is wondering why archaeology is not describing the Garden era to us, we should note that after just two centuries the evidence of the Australian garden is all but gone. (Not entirely, as Gammage carefully illustrates.)

One objection to the idea of highly complex socio-ecological development in Mesopotamia might be that warfare would prevent relationships from lasting long enough. I would love to say that warfare might not exist, but there is plenty of both archaeological and anthropological evidence to say that it most likely did exist. But if we take the range of peoples through Australia and Papua as a broad model (whilst not a universal sample, this covers a lot of cultural territory), an observed feature is that warfare is very rarely about taking territory, but mostly small scale and somewhat ritualised. This may be precisely because, a) the new territory is not understood as deeply and, b) territory requires management so more is more work so best stick to the territory you already manage. I'll note here that land management is also a deep religious motivation, but I'm leaving that 'till next week.

In short the intimacy of the ecological relationships in every territory - the capacity for which being the very advantage that Homo sapiens have (this is an important point tucked away here) - is its own gravity against major disturbance by war, even when seasonal, ritualised minor warfare plays an ongoing role in maintaining the necessary sustainable population. We'll also note that although stone age weaponry was pretty lethal, horses had not been domesticated, military units beyond a clan group had not developed, storage and supply were um... undeveloped and, well, war is hard work. There is land to manage and place-based ritual responsibilities to perform.

I have purposely avoided some of the most compelling material, about the inextricable religious motivations of the Aboriginal people, most notably in Gammage's chapter entitled, "Heaven on Earth", evocatively enough. Next week I intend to write about the religion of the Garden which at the most popular level (ie Shamanism aside) is basically the religion of totemic relationships, or totemism.

As I said last week, the myth tells us we can not return to the Garden, and in a deep historic sense I think the myth gets this right. There is a continuing tradition of wanting to return however, and following is an iconic appeal for a return, an appeal to romanticism. I don't agree with Joni, but I can empathise with the sentiment deeply, as I know many others do also. Here she is, that the argument be at least put perhaps, and because it is a beautiful song regardless:

Everything, thank you for the expanding text of Genesis. Bless our critical faculties as we attempt to comprehend the big history of your blue jewel and its creatures, that we not be deceived by any false teaching, especially if it be mine. Thy will be done. So be it.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Garden 1

Hello Everything. Thank you for another week in your body and in your service. Forgive us our mistakes and foibles, Everything, but only as we forgive the mistakes and foibles of our brothers and sisters, your people all. For we know that it is as we clothe others with judgement that we wear our own guilt. Humbly I ask that you bless our thoughts, our words, our relationships and our actions, that by them the universal, ecological republic of peace on Earth may come closer to being. Amen.
Hello everyone. Today I'm returning to Big History and times before developments of agriculture, husbandry and sedentism, in which many humans lived in "The Garden". I am proposing that the Garden is not a place necessarily but a particular pre-historical state of human society, mythopoeically remembered in various ancient myths. What I am not meaning by "The Garden" is "nature" or even "all pre-civilised human society", as for 99% of human experience there was no garden but rather continued struggle - dislocated and unpredictable - for survival.

The Garden really was, in its own context, seen as an ideal time. The myth is that it was a time when death and disease were defeated. Now I don't think this was true either by supernatural standards or by standards of modern society. People died and pathogens - or at least the distant ancestors of modern pathogens - must have existed. But in the context of pre-technological humans, for it to seem like death and disease had been defeated, to such an extent that people may observe, "Gee, we have defeated disease and death", it would merely have to be defeated to a large extent.

What I am suggesting is that the Garden was a time when death by violence from wild animals and other humans was reduced from 'really quite likely' (for a given person born) to 'not half as likely', and that through a relatively predictable and diverse diet along with a developed knowledge of the local pharmacopeia, disease was also vastly, albeit only relatively, minimised. On average, people who got through childbirth could expect to live a decently long life. That wasn't everyone's experience in antiquity, and it was appreciated and noted by the myth makers.

The observation need not be based on generational memory entirely as the myth makers would have knowledge of and be able to observe contemporary groups of humans who had reached this state, or approximated aspects of this state. The Greek story of a comparatively recent 'Arcadia' as well as the pastoral tradition of poetry in general appear to idealise approximations of this space-time which existed simultaneously with both peoples in tooth-and-claw mode and peoples in the toil of agricultural and sedentary life. So the myth makers were not completely guessing, or that's what I'm proposing as plausible, anyway.

The Garden is a state that requires a high level of intimacy with the environment, including with all its species and their habits, as well as with the local geography and long- term climatic likelihoods. According to the Biblical Garden all the creatures were named by Adam, which might be taken to mean they were all known intimately at this time. So the situation must have had to be relatively stable for an extended period of time, uninterrupted by major invasion or climatic upheaval. Also humans had "dominion over" all other creatures in the Garden. In modern terms we were on top of the food chain, with few predators and predating upon every conceivably useful species.

In the mythic garden we didn't have to work because all the fruits of nature were freely available - a mythic exaggeration again. We apparently didn't have to plant anything, but we did have to "dress it and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). We were gardeners, and compared to either the uncertainty of constantly seeking our next meal, which was the experience of many prehistoric humans, or of the days of backbreaking agricultural work which was the lot of the early historical humans to come, it was pretty easy going. In context once again it would have seemed like you didn't have to work much for survival. And a lot of the work would have been healthy, fun and without danger. Good times. Golden times. Perhaps.

It was an era of a lot of free time for music, religion and story telling. It can not be said to be where religion, art, music, narratives and cultural creativity in general got going, but it was an explosive, defining era for all of these things. It was the cradle of all ideography, in fact.

There is a partial illusion in Garden societies, held by both outsiders and insiders, that there is no domination of nature in these societies, and that the people are in eternal harmony with the cycles of the ages. Context is important once again and when we compare these societies to any that came afterwards then the observation of natural harmony holds emphatically. But these societies cannot come about just by humans moving in and 'acting naturally'. They come about with many centuries of human engagement, human's intimate learning, knowledge and indeed totemic identity with all the creatures and places, deep generational knowledge of cycles of seasons and creatures and, in actual fact, total control. The landscape has, over time with innumerable micro-engagements, been moulded for the use of the people. They are gardeners.

It's what makes Garden societies so vulnerable. If the people are detached from the land the people die spiritually and the garden is overgrown and ruined. They are old-growth ecological systems, with all the implied complexity and productivity but also sensitivity to impact from outside.

Apart from such major impact, of invasion or climate change, the main limitation of such a state of humanity is the carrying capacity of the country - that is, population. There are many theories about human emergence into the historical era, but all of them have increasing population as part of the equation pressuring sedentism and innovation.

Placing the Garden in the Modern Archaeological Scheme

According to the Jewish calendar we are currently in the year 5773, denoting that many years after Adam and Eve. If this is supposed to be the age of the Earth then it is of course an absurdly small number, but in terms of the archaeology of the first real break from the Garden, as in the development of sedentary agricultural civilisation in Mesopotamia, it's not too bad. That would make the time of the Garden a period before 3761BC.

For when we go back to archaeology, we're told that the first Sumerian city states came about at about this time. Uncannily the Jewish date is only 39 years off Wikipedia's end of the Ubaid Period (6500-3800BC). It really isn't a bad moment from which to date the entire human journey, a journey from the Garden to another place we haven't quite found yet. It's also about the time writing, and hence history in the formal sense, begins.

But in terms of the Middle East, and hence the Garden culture referred to by the Eden myth, we are more likely going back to the Natufian and Harifian cultures, seven or eight thousand years earlier. An intimately managed estate-type landscape continued to exist from then throughout the entire Fertile Crescent for millennia after that, sometimes falling into disrepair before being revived or partially revived again but nevertheless existing alongside developing urban society and, even as agriculture and husbandry developed, remaining an important source of resource.

When I speak of a garden I mean millions of hectares over multiple landscapes. The people didn't go out 'searching for nuts', for example. They not only knew where the pistachios were, and exactly when the best harvest times were, but they had deep totemic relationships with the trees, and understandings of them and their needs. If they didn't transplant or seed young trees where they wanted them (they did eventually, obviously), they cleared them by fire and axe where they weren't wanted and protected them from competitors where they were, thus over centuries having a major impact on pistachio distribution and productivity. Every species was like this, as well as places like fishing holes, which were managed so the gardeners could basically come and collect the mature fish at the right time, and herds of animals which whilst not fenced were able to be manipulated by maintaining crop grass areas and utilising natural barriers. The entire landscape was like this, requiring constant (but relatively light) management, and meanwhile behaving like a reasonably predictable supermarket. Old growth human ecology.

Anyway, all I've really done above is outline a myth and attempt to render from it a plausible time in the human experience. I base most of the above not on archaeology or the Bible but on modern studies of totemic, aboriginal people in Australia in particular, but also in many parts of the more recent world. That I will get to in more detail next week.

For now I will conclude with some general thoughts about the garden icon. Firstly, it remains a human nostalgia, mythic or not, expressed in many ways and still sought by a portion of every generation. Arguably it is in a garden - a human landscape constructed of natural living components - that the human spirit is most at peace. It has been commented on by many people, but surely this is a cultural prejudice. 1788 Aboriginal people wouldn't feel that way would they? Wait 'till next week before being certain of your answer to the question.

Finally, and tragically, according to the myth we've been kicked out and there's no going back. We have a word for wanting to go back and that is 'romanticism', and romanticism, despite its capacity to seduce the nicest of people, has never led us anywhere very helpful. The journey, in the Jewish narrative at least, begins by leaving the Garden and it is irreversible. It is a better future we must now seek as a better past has fallen beyond our reach. At this stage, "Leaving the Garden" will be the third in this Garden Series.

Oh, and Merry Christmas everyone.

Everything, thank you for the access we have, through your prophets and scholars, through Logos, to our past. Help us to understand our human journey on Earth that we may grow and learn and one day find a new harmony. Help my readers Everything, that they may discern wisdom from dross in my words, and only seek You in their own integrity. So be it.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Sunday Sermon: "Breaking The Taboo"

Hello Everything. Thank you for the dance of life. As we face the new week bless our lives, our work, our relationships, meditations and actions, that all things may work together for the good. May thy will be done. Amen.

Hello everyone. I haven't been much of a preacher lately and don't expect to be for a while as I'm simply not finding the time to do this kind of thinking and writing justice. But I do have something to say today which is of great importance to everything on Earth.

The world's major nations are currently conducting a war - not a metaphorical war but a real war - against three of God's life forms. It's an incredibly expensive yet ineffective war, a very destructive war and a war which is holding civilisation back in a variety of important ways. It's referred to officially as "The War on Drugs" and the life forms I refer to are Cannibis (a genus of three species actually), Papaver somniferum (better known as the opium poppy) and the four species of the South American family Erythroxylaceae, better known as the coca plant.

There are dozens of other species involved as well - funguses and flowers, leaves and roots. But cannabis, opium and coca are by far the main ones. I am also leaving out the constantly expanding range of laboratory contrived substances, which are mostly the result of criminal innovations to keep their markets supplied. That is, they basically produce laboratory alternatives to drugs which grow naturally. Crack is to the coca plant what moonshine overproof rum was to booze under prohibition, to parallel effect.

All of these species of course have been around for millions of years and share in the gloriously diverse ecological flowering with which our planet is so blessed. Our own species has been interacting closely with cannabis, opium and coca from a very early time as evidenced by their cultivation at, in their respective geographical areas, the very earliest times of human settlement. It is arguable from the evidence that cannabis was the very first species that humans cultivated, or at least among the very first complex of cultivated species. We might infer by this that hominid interaction with these species (coca aside, which is a New World crop) goes back a lot further than that, perhaps millions of years.

These species have some specific relevance here as they are variously suspected of playing a role in the development of early religious (basically shamanistic and ecstatic) life. Cannabis and opium are the two main candidates for early references to 'soma' in Eastern texts, and may have both played the role at different times. They may also be the basis of the myth of the Tree of Knowledge, and plenty have speculated as to the role of these psycho-actives on the development of human consciousness.

Such speculations might have some substance. We do know that humans are ritualistic, metaphorical dreamers, after all. But I can't help suspecting that the main role these drugs played in the thousands of years of human existence, in a world of violence (with other creatures if not each other), infection, hazardous childbirth and minimal dental care, was as a pain killer. They would have been very useful indeed, essential even.

References and evidences for human use and/or abuse of these plants abound throughout all of studied archaeology and throughout the history of world literature right up to modern times. Use  of these substances was considered normal by many of our favourite authors and most revered figures of history and thought. Up until the 1950s they were found in all manner of over-the-counter products. Strangely however, despite this saturation of the human experience there are no scriptural edicts against the use of these substances in any scriptural tradition I am aware of. If there are any somewhere, I would very much appreciate them being brought to my attention. No one, anywhere, until very recently, saw any moral problem with any of these plants.

Scripture has no shortage of moral statutes, including laws about very specific activities like which food to eat and how. The Koran denounces alcohol, and there are biblical recommendations for 'sobriety', generally seen to be referring to booze, which upon its invention must have appeared like an unnatural interloper into the human pharmacopeia, much as we might see laboratory produced drugs today. It's fair to suggest that the reason alcohol was targeted by ancient moralists, as contrary to other drugs, is that the latter were just too normalised and too essential to question. They required no technology to produce, everyone had constant, permanent access to them and they were mind-bogglingly useful. Alcohol, on the other hand, took special knowledge, was expensive to produce, was not available to all and hence potentially elitist, and meanwhile was likely contributive to violence and social mayhem as it is today.

So far I have ignored one particular elephant in the room. The substances humans derive from cannabis, opium and coca can, like alcohol, be very dangerous. They are habit forming, have variously possible medical side effects, can greatly reduce energy and motivation and at worst (opium and coca at least) can be overdosed on (though this would have been extremely difficult to do without modern processing techniques). People have very good reasons to be concerned about drug use and it is likely that throughout the big history this essay is covering drugs were a problem among a portion of the population, even if they were broadly seen as useful and necessary, or at least inevitable. What I am not trying to say is that good people who are concerned about drug use in society should stop being so concerned. The problem is real.

For these people; these people who want to keep the young away from drugs, reduce the levels of drug dependency in society and encourage people to appreciate the greater fullness and capacity of a life without drugs, the first thing that needs to be done is stop the War on Drugs. For the War on Drugs, like alcohol prohibition in America when it had its turn, must actually take responsibility for much of the problem. Another famous example is China, where in 1729 opium was banned. Under prohibition opium consumption and the opium trade blossomed exponentially, with the British East India Company playing the role of our modern drug cartels, leading to the Opium Wars from 1839-1860. In all cases, as is well argued in the documentary, "the situation (of drug proliferation) has not caused the War, the War has created the situation."

This is not a marginal issue. In terms of importance for the overall human project, ending the Drug War is high on the list of global priorities. The human, social and economic costs are stupendous. There are tens of thousands of casualties annually (I'm just talking about the violence here), ecological areas devastated from aerial poisoning, millions of people who could be easily helped incarcerated and criminalised instead, and the ongoing beneficiaries are criminals, extremists and the corrupt among police and bureaucrats. Unlike other critical issues however such as the education of the world's women or the long-term management of the biosphere, this is a great improvement in the economy and society of the world which can be made now, with no overall cost, and actually an economic dividend to boot. Ending the War on Drugs is all win.

The War has not merely failed but produced an enormous global drug market. A lot of qualified people have been saying this for a long time. In a recent documentary funded by Richard Branson and including a number of high profile people including world leaders, these facts are laid bare. Bill Clinton, an ex-drug warrior himself, says frankly, with not a little guilt on his face, "If you try to solve the problem with more policing a lot of people will die and the problem won't be solved." The theme, indeed, is ex leaders speaking out, which points to the problem of political will. Jimmy Carter is also featured, and we can put money down that after his presidency Obama will also talk about how the Drug War is lost. We actually need current leaders facing the facts.

It is not my intention to outline all these facts here, and I don't want anyone to change their minds because they read this essay. I do encourage people to watch this documentary, do their own research and to consider this issue very carefully. When you do see the facts, as so many people have, share the documentary and, in its own terms, break the taboo.

For The House of Every is breaking the Taboo. It is time to end the War on Drugs and start approaching the problem of drugs with empathy and compassion, with a view to helping people, rather than an approach of judgement and condemnation, with a view to the state incarcerating all the sinners. Religion must accept a large dose of the blame for maintaining the moralistic political environment which has, despite all growing evidence of its failure, maintained the war. So any religion which is more interested in helping others than condemning them should also, in my view, break this taboo.

Here is the full documentary, narrated by Morgan Freeman. It is about an hour long so you'll want some time to watch it.

But that isn't a song, and we still need a song. Let's see...

Everything, my complaint to you is that you have not given me the infinitude of time in which to get to know you as well as I would like. Nevertheless, thank you for every moment. Bless my readers with open, clear hearts and minds, that they may consider the issues I raise carefully for themselves and come to the correct conclusions, for the overall furtherance of your will. So be it.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Just saying Hi really

Hello Everything. It is a great pleasure to be here. Thank you for the whole experience. It is in gratitude and love that I wish to only further your higher causes, whatever they may be. Please help me and guide me. Amen.

Have a wonderful week everyone.

*Psalm 137:1, 19:14

Everything, bless my readers, and guide them to something more substantial and challenging to read. So be it.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Sunday Sermon: Prayer and God

Hello Everything. Thank you for another week of wonder and becoming. Feed our souls with words and with music, Every, and bless our paths, that we may further your will on Earth. Amen.

Hello everyone.

Whatever we do, whoever we are, all of us without exception are obliged to have some sort of working relationship with reality. I use the word 'reality' here in a similar way that a rationalist may use the word 'truth' - not as something I'm pretending to understand but as a label for whatever-it-is. 'Nature', 'the universe', whatever. God, even. Whatever it is, this reality, and whatever our individual understandings and misunderstandings of it, it is a thing which we share. There is only one of them, even as we experience it with vastly different perspectives.

Wherever there is consciousness in the universe there is a relationship between that consciousness and its reality. It may be a simplistic or even hopelessly delusional relationship, but it will be a relationship nevertheless. And, at least in our case, it lives and develops in our words, in Logos.

We barely know what we're doing in a conscious sense, of course. We can think about things and make decisions, but the vast majority of our activity, including our mental activity (let alone things like breathing and metabolising food or fighting off pathogens), carries on whether we like it or not. Indeed I can think of three occasions when any one of us may involuntarily make direct verbal communication with reality itself which may even be called 'prayer' in the technical sense of the conscious microcosm appealing to the macrocosm. They are the occasions of sudden shock or disappointment ("Fuck!", "Jesus!"), awe ("Wow!") and sudden relief ("Thank Christ for that!").

If these emotional experiences are not sudden, or if we manage some decorum and self control, we may not say anything at all on these occasions, but some of us may choose to express these things anyway, in a formulation that would more commonly be called 'prayer', and normally with a bit more delicacy. "I suffer Lord; help me in my time of need", "Thanks to the Spaghetti Monster for this beautiful pasta" and "Praise be to Allah for deliverance from mine adversary" might be respective examples.

But in their involuntary forms these exclamations are often culturally taboo words, especially in the first case when we are committing what in many religions is the crime of cursing God. In that instant, when the hammer hits the thumb nail, we might in psychological fact hate reality itself. It has betrayed us. And in some psychological sense the curse does alienate us from God in that instant, and make us quite useless until we can again become reconciled with the situation. But they do not for a moment indicate that someone actually believes in the reality of any deity mentioned. They are involuntary utterances essentially, directed not to any person (they are as likely to be uttered when no one is listening), but to reality itself, quite aside from our comprehension of said reality.

"Oh Zeus!" was the most common Greek version of the curse. But the moment was identical, from the hitting of the thumb with a hammer to the involuntary utterance and the resultant psychological turmoil, and possible offence from anyone in earshot. It just had different words, and those words had a different cultural setting. Even atheists involuntarily reach for a taboo word to encapsulate the outburst of emotion, and may even be confused in retrospect about why they appealed to Jesus Christ.

I'm not trying to be cute. Whenever I refer to 'God' with a capital 'G', whenever I pray to God, whenever I think of God, I mean all of reality, the entire mystery of our existence, the universe itself, Everything. I am fully aware that people mean, and have meant, all sorts of things by 'God', and in their comprehension they have discussed, worshiped and prayed to those things. We may point out that someone's conception of God (or some sort of spiritual world perhaps) is very limited and archaic, even fanciful, but we have not challenged the existence of the person's relationship with God, merely its conception.

It should be no surprise to us that an answer to a question should be refined and tightened over time. It's easy to forget that humans worked out anything we do know from scratch. Questions of human nature, origins and cosmology as well as things like illness, self-improvement and identity all have a long history of archaic answers, slowly improving with time and the relentless progress of Logos, 'God's Word'. And the thing about 'God', as contrary to fantasies like Santa Claus or indeed the Spaghetti Monster, is that it is an answer to a legitimate and compelling question. "What is the highest possible conception?" was the way Aristotle asked it, but we may in a more urban way ask, "What do we cuss when we scream 'Fuck!'?

As an aside to the new atheists, who are at worst as ignorant about philosophy when it comes to the question of God as they are of anthropology when it comes to their purview of 'religion', this is the basic difference between 'God' and Santa or fairies at the bottom of the garden. Rightly or wrongly 'God' is an answer to perfectly reasonable questions like "How did we get here?", "What is the highest realm of meaning?" and "What if anything is my purpose here?" The atheists have different answers to these questions, but let's note that practically nobody is seriously arguing the existence of fairies, there are no philosophical stakes involved in fairies and polemics against the existence of fairies would not sell many books even though many people actually do believe in them. It's just not an interesting argument with any content at all, unlike arguments about the existence of God which are currently absorbing a fair portion of the intellectual efforts of humanity.

Similarly to compare a person's current belief in God to the non-existence of the same's belief in Zeus ("See, we're both atheists when it comes to Zeus! Ha ha") is so blatantly anti-dialectical and defiant of context that it beggars belief that the argument keeps getting repeated by apparent intellectual sophisticates. Needless to say both the atheists and the ancient Greek would agree that Yahweh doesn't exist, too. But atheists, Christians and ancient Greeks are all attempting answers to the same questions. It's no profound insight that their answers are mutually exclusive.

But I can not polemicise against the new atheists without pointing out that their challenges are crucial. Their charge is not merely that religious ideas are incorrect but that there are very high stakes involved - that religion does and is capable of great damage. And to be clear the charges the new atheists bring against religion are not dismissed by challenging their definitions or exposing the weakness of some of their polemics. In short the new atheists have not dismissed religion as they attempted to do, but they have challenged it greatly. Every religionist should face off these challenges given the stakes claimed and the high profile of the arguments. And few religions should remain unaffected.

So do I expect my prayers to be answered? Does the universe get upset when I tell it to go fuck itself? No, but my relationship with the universe is deeply affected and the impact upon my life is undeniable. In the latter case, regardless of my beliefs, I do have to kind of make up with the universe in order to carry on. For some reason it also seems appropriate to apologise to and reassure anyone who heard my curse as well. Even those with not a religious bone in their body need to be 'ok with things' in order to just carry on. They need a decent relationship with God, in my own terms. Their own terms might be being 'all right with themselves' or 'ok with life'. As do we all.

Religion is a human universal. It does not fade. It just transforms.

I have written a little about prayer before. For anyone's interests, here are links to Prayer 1 and Prayer 2.
Everything, thank you for this world of life and Logos. Bless those souls who read my words with keenness of mind and purity of heart, that they may do so openly yet critically, with neither prejudice nor favour, and thereby not be deceived by the words, but only grow in their own paths toward wisdom. Bless the week before you Every, and may thy will be done. So be it.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sabbatical Sixth (and Last)

Everything, firstly, mostly and humbly, thank you. For breath, life and love. For consciousness and communion with one another and with you. Thy will be done. Amen.


Hello. It's late on this sweet smelling, mild Sunday evening. Late for my sermonising, that is, but once again I am compelled to at least say 'Hi'.

On the social network this week I enjoyed the outburst of gratitude from the Americans for their Thanksgiving celebrations. Gratitude, for life itself, is fundamental to mental health, in my view, and Thanksgiving is one of the really endearing components of the American national cult. It's a candidate for a globalised celebration.

This is the last time I'll use the term 'Sabbatical' for my sermons, as I intend to get back to this project in a more focussed way again from next week. But I don't think I'll call them 'Sunday Sermons' either, and nor will I expect too much of myself every week. I will instead continue to blog on a Sunday under individual headlines. Some of my essays might be quite elaborate and sometimes they'll be short and sweet.

There are very many versions of the following song on Youtube, almost all with a variety of the famous 'Zorba the Greek' dance to accompany. Dance away if you wish of course, but I purposely chose this one without any accompanying video because in this case I want to focus on the piece of music. A friend of mine who knows his music calls this a song of survival, and goes so far as to say that the modern Greeks will survive because of their music and because of this song. I don't know about that, but I do feel in this song a restorative; a cry of libidinal hope; a flowering and a celebration of humanity.

Cheers Everyone.
Everything thank you for our brains, our consciousness and our ability to creatively and critically swap notes. Help us in the journey of truth, our journey to knowledge of yourself, Everything. But even in our inevitable ignorances, misunderstandings and inadequacies, help us to do thy will anyway. So be it.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sabbatical 5

Hello you, reality of mine and of all subjects. Everything, thankyou for all of you and especially for the consciousness we enjoy for our time. To your will alone Everything do I willingly submit. Amen.
It has been an emotional week for me as my son and many other young people who have touched my life alongside him graduated from High School on Friday. At this time they are all at Schoolie's Week on the Gold Coast, as I was twenty-seven years ago, and no doubt having a blast.

I salute them. My overwhelming impression is that this generation is better adjusted, less illusioned and less repressed than my generation was. They are also more affluent, better connected by technology and more mobile. Their opportunities and choices are truly global. As are their challenges.

In terms of religion and the House of Every, it is my view that people should not firmly choose religious association until they are at least into their twenties, and the age my partner and I discuss as a possibly ideal age for any religious initiation (such as confirmation or baptism) is 28.

Youth is for studying, exploring, dreaming, travelling in space and mind. It is not for fixating and entrenching, in my view. I'm not saying they should stay away from religous services. I'm saying they should perhaps go to lots of different ones, if at all.

At the same time, I was very aware during the elaborate graduation ceremony with its emotion and its high sentiments, that one of the deep emotions from the students was the result of the end of a five (or twelve) year embodiment. The effect of this embodiment was illustrated by the school band and the ensemble performances, which were at a very high level, as is quite usual for mature school bands, as long as the music program is ok. It was also illustrated by the rousing football songs in the foyer, the many and various group hugs and photos, and the tears. "State High 'till ya die" was, however non-rational, the abiding sentiment. For many, I am aware, it is the most meaningful continuous embodiment they will ever experience, and indeed, 'old school spirit' of one flavour or another is a part of the religious structure of the lives of very many people. Embodiment creates deep, abiding meaning, is what I'm trying to say.

But all I really want to say is good luck to them.

This is a song that has recently meant a lot to my son. One wonderful thing is that neither he nor his friends will read this sermon, but nevertheless this is a song for them.
Everything, bless the pathways of the embarking generation! May they all in their own freedom contribute beautifully to the fabric of humanity. May they seek widely, think deeply and aim high for themselves. I am certain that by your grace they will do so more than we did, and thank you for that. Thy will be done with them. So be it.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sabbatical 4

Hello Everything. Thank you for the days, weeks and years we have to abide in and discover you. Dance with us Every that our own will may joyfully coalesce with your own, in wisdom and in love. Amen.
Today is Remembrance Day. Even when the world is at peace, when we have through efforts of compassion, consociation and culture all but stopped killing one another, we must never forget the millions who have died by such violence. When we defeat institutional violence in world culture, and I honestly believe we will, we will not have defeated our natures. We will not have defeated our implicit capacity for such violence. If for no other reason, that is why we must never forget the casualties of our nature.

If you feel that the proposition that violence is decreasing is crazy, or even believe as many do that our world is getting more violent and unstable even now, I highly recommend Steven Pinker's book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes, 2011. There is no guarantee of course that horrific world wide violence will never occur again, but there are real long-term signs that it is slowly disappearing, and this should be a source of hope and inspiration. Let's not let the chance go by.

Anyway, here's to all the victims of our own violent tribal natures. May we never forget the child-soldier cannon fodder, the holocaust victims and the innocents starved, displaced and broken, as well as the uniformed soldiers, of every country and tribe. If nothing else their sacrifice throughout history (and ongoing) is witness to our natures; natures which every one of us for all time most own and understand precisely that we may overcome them by our better angels of empathy, understanding and mutualism. We are all killers as much as every cat and dog, unless and until, by the grace of unfolding reality (Everything) as well as our own determination, we are not. May Everything help us get there.

Everything bless the words of your preacher that I may usefully instruct and encourage, and never deceive. And bless your people that if and when I do speak shit they are wise to it and are not deceived anyway. Oh and thanks for the time off. So be it.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sabbatical 3

Good morning Everything. Thank you for this day, this week, this life. Bless our ways and the ways of our loved ones, that we may further your will. And whatever it be, thy will be done. Amen.
Good morning everyone. This is an anniversary of sorts as last Wednesday was Reformation Day, the second since I posted 95 Theses to the door of West End Uniting Church and thereby began my identity and ministry as a modern preacher. At one point I envisioned that by this time there might be a small local congregation in Brisbane and even foreshadowed that there would be a baptism party at this time. It turns out that, at best, I was a bit ahead of myself there. Nevertheless Reformation Day, for me at least, remains a marker of time leading up to the 500th Reformation Day in five years time, and also an expression, which can belong to all of us, of the need for reform in all human religion.

Meanwhile my central yoga (and job) is managing a large second-hand bookshop and that is absorbing all my spare time right now. Every day books are added to the enormous collection and other books are bought from the collection. As they are books on almost every subject, although the collection can at any time only be a tiny fraction of published books, the shifting body of books represents for me a sort of breathing universal bibliography, impossible to read but which I am nevertheless obliged to comprehend and manage.

Professionally, even for the most mercenary reasons, I am obliged to at least respect every interest and every point of view. This is my practice and my duty to God. I love it, so although I feel unable to do justice to a Sunday Sermon at this time, my time at work is my everyday religious life, and Everything is never far from my thoughts.

I don't think I've even mentioned my professional life before on this blog, so this is a little background about me I guess. If you are a Brisbanite and haven't done so already, do drop in to Archives Fine Books (40 Charlotte St), one of Brisbane's great temples to Logos, and say hello.

To anyone reading these short sabbatical notes, have a wonderful week. Carry on, seek Everything, do your yoga ("connectedness through practice" will do as a definition here) whatever that is, share the love where you can, and always question those who try to tell you how to live your week.

Everything, thank you! You do what you will and reveal what you will. I, for one, am in reverential awe. Carry on Everything. So be it.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sabbatical 2

Hello Every, God of gods, totality of being, object of all objects. We are here, all of your people in equal standing before your completeness, in gratitude for our part in your self and consciousness. Thank you for the extraordinary experience of participation in you. Thank you for all that has been revealed and for all that will be revealed. We seek and we are astounded and we praise you Everything. We serve you and worship you because it is not possible to do anything else. Help us find the way into our best selves. Direct our paths toward growth and agency in your service Everything; toward the best service we may be for all people and all life on Earth, your blue jewel. Thy will be done. Amen.
Hello anyone who might happen by this week. I'm enjoying my sabbatical - well, enjoying pursuing other responsibilities anyway, and doing some reading outside religious studies. But although I am not currently working on new material, this project is never far from my mind. I don't know when I'll resume full sermons, but I can't see it being very long.

Anyway, have a wonderful week everyone. I'll leave you with the four rules for life according to author Michael Crichton. They're not too bad I reckon. Worth a meditation at least.
1. Show up.
2. Pay attention.
3. Be honest.
4. Don't be attached to outcomes.

Everything, thanks for life. Have a good week yourself. So be it.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Hello Everything!
Thy will be done.


Dear Readers, I am going to stop expecting a Sermon from myself for a while. I need some time to reflect, catch up with reading and prepare the draft for a more substantial presentation of the core ideas presented here. So to those few loyal readers in particular, my apologies, but I will be back.

And I'll probably touch base at least each Sunday. I just won't be expecting anything substantial from myself for a while. Love to all. Love to all things. Love to Everything, and hence to reality itself, to our existence here.

For everybody needs love. Everybody. And I admit that I really like this song.

Every thank you for this opportunity to blog. Steer us toward truth Everything, that we may serve you in truth. Help us discern truth from vain babbling. Amen.

Monday, 15 October 2012

(Late) Sunday Sermon: Religion Review: Soccer

Hello Every! Thank you for all our consociations with your people in the great organic embodiment of all humans on your blue jewel the Earth. Help us when and as we coalesce into organic social bodies to do so peacefully, democratically and empoweringly. And help us to further your will. Amen.


Good reader, I write a fair bit about theology - the stuff of belief if you like - and I will continue to do so. Gift or curse, theology is my calling, and in my view it has its important place. But in truth, and indeed as a strong feature of the theology that has attracted me, theology is not very important, and particularly not in the realm of real life and practice. A lot of people find it uninteresting, a distraction from more concrete, existential questions or just so much hyper-scholastic poppycock, and they have their reasons, including some very good ones.

For me theology - and in particular the proposition that 'God', our highest object of worship, prayer and service (if any) is equivalent to the entirety of our reality, real and imagined - is a foundation, the rock which can be relied upon to support our necessarily symbolic and social negotiation of life. When, as happens for most people at some time of life, someone wants to scratch the surface and ask the deep questions of existence, there is a real foundation of answers which will make sense, but which are available for the scrutiny of each generation. Their strength - if the answers have such strength - depend upon them constantly being buffeted by the wind and storm of such criticism. That they stay standing in all conditions is their only authority.

Religion however is about practice - social and symbolic (in case that term is scary I mean lingual, cultural, musical) life - and theology rarely comes into it. The strong connection between religion and belief has been somewhat artificially bolstered by the polemics of modern fundamentalists and new atheists (which, I tend to agree with Karen Armstrong, are two sides of the same historical manifestation). I want to explore the distinction further some time, but for any who want to follow up this distinction themselves James P Carse's, The Religious Case Against Belief (2008) may be an excellent place to start. The proposition presently is that old cliche hated by rationalists that you can't actually get religion if you don't do it. The belief is just a framework, quite obviously (looking about the world) very plastic; the activity is the thing which the individual and the society benefits from, in ritual and what I have termed 'embodiment'.

So I am not saying beliefs should not be criticised. Criticise the bloody things. It's an appalling desiderata of modernism and post-modernism that religion has lost its habit of endlessly debating propositions within itself, let alone allowing itself criticism from outside. And if criticisms strike home, change the bloody beliefs. We might spot in history that beliefs have changed before. That's how we engage logos and collectively grow in our understanding of God, of our common reality.

My apologies that my introductory remarks just kept growing there. I really am reviewing a religion called Soccer. And I must disclose that it is an overwhelming passion of mine and, coincidentally or not, has been so for approximately the same period I developed my relationship with Every. Make of that what you will. I'll also disclose that last night was my team's (Brisbane Roar) first home game of the season and they won 5:0 in style and in delicious circumstances. So although this sermon has been planned in outline for a while, you could say it's been forced because right now I will struggle to think about another subject.

Fortunately for yourself, dear reader, I have polemicised about the joys and details of this sport quite a bit before and I don't intend to repeat that material. If anyone does have an interest in the sport, apart from as an illustration of religion, I blogged about it for a number of years on Football Down Under and Beyond. Enjoy. :)

Now if I thought soccer was sufficient religion I would not be preaching these sermons but would instead simply be promoting sport. But when I entered the world of soccer fandom I was acutely aware of the patterns of my own religious nature being titillated and emboldened. Part of my enjoyment was this awareness (shared by many; soccer is routinely, if candidly, called 'a religion' by millions of its followers including some of its best writers; pop anthropologist Desmond Morris's The Soccer Tribe (1981) is a popular and fairly elaborate example), along with the lack of delusion involved or, at least, the transparency of the illusion. It is hard not to notice that the rise of cultish sports fandom has paralleled the slow demise of religion over the past century or so in the West. It's also hard to claim a direct correlation, but on the premise that H. sapien is a religious creature by nature - one of the premises of this blog - it makes sense that in times when belief becomes highly suspect that human religion might manifest in ways which have nothing to do with belief as such at all.

Meanwhile, as with my review of the candid cult Join Me! soccer provides a living illustration of our religious, symbolic, collectivist selves without a lot of the distracting baggage or, more accurately, with different distracting baggage than the usual supernatural narratives. As well as a novel illustration of the religious part of human nature in action in the modern world, there's a couple of general points I want to draw from it.

The broad outline of the parallels between sports fandom and religion are fairly obvious: narrative, heroes and villains, tradition, history, passion, song, solidarity, symbolism and ritual, all on a massive organised scale which deeply effects the lives of millions of individuals, families and communities all over the world. I'm not about to attempt to rationalise it, even though there is no faith involved. There is no belief involved in the way I've been using the word, but on the other hand belief is a very important word in all sport, for both athletes and fans. Like any religion, you don't get it if you don't do it.

Both in its play and in its fan culture soccer well illustrates embodiment; regular ensemble collectivity. Soccer is a relatively new religion, but with the oldest clubs over a century old, often dating back to factory teams, there are already rich traditions of narrative, values and song deeply rooted in family and community, a great diversity within the unity of the religion and its 11 "Laws of the Game".

Also in the soccersphere we can see the dark side of religious passion, especially when it is mixed with the tribal side of human nature. Like all religions the cliche gets rolled out about great majorities having their freedoms spoiled by militant and irrational minorities, but there is no apology that can be made for racism or violence wherever it arrises. We may have noted before somewhere that religion can be scary sometimes.

Racism and viciousness occurs among alienated populations too of course. Their roots are social and epistemological, based on ignorance and false narratives, as well as often economic. Indeed I would argue that they are maintained and bolstered by the ignorance of one another inherent in alienation. But when it occurs in embodied religious groups it really happens, and it's horrible. In this regard I offer two observations.

Firstly, although in mass fan culture we might see religious behaviour, it is culture without any implicit values except the need to win. Negotiating the emotional territory of winning and losing is a dialectic of self-improvement in itself of course, one which I daresay the Greeks would have approved of, and ideals like sportsmanship, determination, loyalty, avoiding hubris, focus and comradeship all become focusses of discussion and practice, but overall our society requires a little more moral compass than that in its religions, and the dark side ('winning at all costs') is an ever present temptation.

Incidentally, it is this poverty of moral compass, more than the absence of supernatural narrative or gods, which finally distinguishes sport from religion, in my own view. Though given the amount of players who cross themselves or bow when they enter the field or score goals they are also clearly not mutually exclusive. A persons symbolic life can rarely be described by a single religious label, with or without sport to complicate the question.

Secondly, as I observe the progress of the culture of the English League in particular, where racism and hooliganism have been very notable in the past, I wonder if the roots of these social evils aren't being exposed and worked against even by their explicit embodied manifestations. Once again racism isn't dealt with by our alienation. Not only have education campaigns (essentially against ignorance and for empathy) and reforms in policing and stadium design helped the situation, but active anti-racism campaigns headed by legendary players as well as mass petitioning by fan groups have not only addressed the problem in the sport, but arguably actually addressed the problem in the communities in a more direct, culturally authoritative manner than would otherwise be possible. If the task is to deal with racism in a community, say, do we trust the dialectic of alienation or the dialectic of embodiment to move society along that difficult path? Regardless of our social formations, we do not get to avoid the journey ahead of us.

I find it interesting that this dialectic - of problems and combatting problems - actually brings about by necessities active values among fan cultures, values of non-violence, anti-racism, empathy for the opposition and the like. From its highest levels, which are approximately as patriarchal and corrupt as the Catholic Church incidentally, soccer is explicitly universalist and seeking to end poverty, racism and war (I'm not exaggerating the rhetoric). As noted this religion is not that old and it continues to evolve its myriad church cultures. It's impossible to say how the game - and particular the mass fan embodied cultures - will morph.

The final lesson I'd love to draw from this game, which clearly I can not hide my love for, is that religious behaviour need not be sombre, serious or even sober for it to be distinctly religious behaviour. It is an expression of our natures, expressions of our collective natures, which involves endless creativity, joy, humour, dance and song as well as meaning.

In its embodiment religious culture evolves, which is why in the broad theological terms I generally write in I can not speak much of practice except in broad theoretical terms and in reflective explorations of my own experience. But ultimately religion, like music, language and sport, is something you have to participate in (even as spectator) to "get." And like the swarming of bees or the formations of birds such embodiment is our nature. If modern sporting culture teaches us one thing, the phenomena is not squashed by the absence of belief.

I leave you with one of the great football fan songs, performed by two of soccer's oldest and most established teams, doctrinally divided over who used the song first, but united here in breath, voice and vibration.

"When you walk through the storm hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm there's a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on! Walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone."
Everything, thank you for Brisbane Roar's 5:0 victory over Melbourne Victory. Bless the hearts of the Melbourne fans that they maintain hope for better days, and garner the joyful hearts of Brisbane against hubris and complacency. Bless our humanity for all of its absurdity as well as its organicism and wholeness. And in all of the dance of life, through victory and defeat, help us to do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday Sermon: Regarding Everything

Everything, hello. Thank you for breath, beauty and one another. Thank you for our conscious part in your proceedings. Bless our pathways and the pathways of our families, communities and institutions, that we may do thy will. Amen.

I have called Everything my god for about half a dozen years, but it was much earlier I think, in a barely post-pubescent mystical phase of my religious journey, that I first made the equation of God with the totality of all things. I quickly learned, and have observed ever since, that it is a common observation of thinking people and is expressed in many ways. 'Universe', 'all', 'totality', 'nature', 'tao' and 'being' can all be pretty much synonyms for Everything, and are all often used in this way.

For as my young mind observed (though my term at the time was, egoistically enough, 'Else'), if there are lots of gods, spirits and spooky forces, that doesn't challenge Everything, for surely all of these are subordinate to the whole of which they are a part. If there is a grand creator who transcends all the known universe, that's fine too, but it's the interaction between that creature and the known universe where all the interest is, and together they clearly make up a greater single system, all of which effects me greatly and is worthy of my attention. If the universe has a dualism of spirit and matter or something, fine, but if so it is both of these things which together constitute nature. It's all Everything, and there's only one of them. There's no way out of that.

Similarly, rationalists freely speculate that there may be many universes and/or many dimensions - perhaps an infinite quantity, just as ancient theologians and modern role playing gamers speculate about various planes of existence, but once again, it is them all together which constitute the final, complete reality, of which there is just one, the same one for every sentient creature in it. Everything. What no scientist, mystic or theologian can coherently claim is that there is more than one Everything.

'Everything=1' may well be an essential axiom for physicists or other scientific theorists of reality, I would assume anyway.

Here is this unique feature of Everything put another way: Everything is profoundly, uniquely alone, with no reference point outside Itself. Try to find one and the best you'll do is identify more of the same Everything. Similarly it can not be said "Everything is like this", as if it could be like something else, for there is no other thing that it may or may not be like.

Perhaps that is why God is nameless. The very idea of naming is about identifying, and identity requires a reference. Everything can neither be identified nor denied, and I didn't pull that paradox out of the air like some new age aphorism. It's apparent to any thinking person.

The picture at the top of this blog was constructed by Australian researchers and it is meant to depict the universe itself on best information. One of those dots is our own galaxy cluster (there are three galaxies in our cluster, the largest of which is our Milky Way). Perhaps, assuming the universe derived from the Big Bang is in fact Everything and not merely a splinter of an exponentially greater reality, we might imagine this strangely cerebral looking stuff in an overwhelmingly large blob-like thing. I admit that is the best image I can sort-of do in my own meditations. But we have two major problems.

The first problem is about edges, and they are as impossible to grasp as the beginning and end of time, which are also edges. A blob has an edge, and an edge has another side. So Everything is a non-blob, or an edgeless blob, somehow. The second problem is related and is about perspective. We can only 'see' a blob from a place outside of it which, even if it only conceptual, is a part of Everything. All 'around' Everything, in time and space, is the mystery we refer to as 'infinity', 'eternity' or ein soph if we want to be trippy, which at this time we simply do not understand. I'd love to offer something new there, but no can do, sorry.

So we have this object, this singular creature that is absolutely rational and undeniably in existence, but simultaneously impossible to comprehend in any meaningful, coherent way.

A knowledge and understanding of Everything is the objective of all the human sciences and, I would argue as a dialectical naturalist, an objective of nature itself. Everything is keen to know itself, apparently, as I discussed a bit in Prayer 2. We might note that seeking knowledge in a scientific way is a relatively recent phenomena, and also that seeking God is not. We are just working with greater revelation, and well-developed systems of accumulative revelation.

We can look out, and look ahead, and gape at what we simply do not know, but we can also look back over our shoulders and see how much we have learned about heavens since the psalmist cried, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). And when we read of God mocking the ignorance of Job (Chapters 38 and 39 are fun in this regard) we realise we can not quite be so mocked today. To, "Hast thou perceived the breadth of the Earth?" for example (38:18), we can say, "yep." My favourite of these sort of passages is in Ekklesiastes where the philosopher is humbled, "thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child."(11:5) (Aside, God made no actual claims of the knowledge either which was pretty sneaky really.) But once again we can now say we understand wind and bone growth a hell of a lot better than the philosopher did. And we should celebrate that revelation, and keep seeking, in my view. It is merely nature itself at work.

And so we seek Everything and we might note that there is no thing else to seek. In this project - of seeking God - philosophy/science and religion were once united and should be so again. Any religion which denies the new revelations of science is doomed to either oblivion or absurdity. The Dalai Lama is typically more polite about it than me, but he seems to feel the same way.

If the House of Every was to have a catechism, a summary of essential doctrine, God=Everything might be the whole thing. I do not present it as "another god", "just as valid as any other god". Everything is the god we have been attempting to grasp for thousands of years, the Mosaic God that can not be idolised, I AM, and the Aristotelian god above all gods, the highest comprehensible object of attention, and the Tao that cannot be named or described, Brahmin etcetera. Not only is this a defensible proposition but I have every intention of arguing it proactively and am keen to debate anyone who feels God is something else. Everything does not require reference to faith.

It is not an argument atheists would find relevant. Religionists may seek Everything but unlike atheists, we also worship, meditate upon and even 'serve' Everything. The reason is a combination of a bit of a common human compulsion and a choice, but it is in this regard that next week I want to face off some very specific criticisms from New Atheism (specifically Hitchens), something that I think all religions with integrity are obliged to do.

But atheists aside, worship, and especially worship as a collective act, is perennial to human civilisation and whilst it has become diffuse and often political or trivial it appears to remain so. As I've argued elsewhere it may be our basic defence against becoming dysfunctional through alienation. If Jesse Berin (The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life, 2011) is right we are pretty much condemned by evolution to relate to God, and even atheist horseman Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena, 2006) seems to agree, though he sees religion as a redundant system, like an appendix of society or something.

If this is the case; if it is so that we have psychologic nature to collectively narrate our relationship with reality, and further that the resulting collective religious embodiment is the natural and healthy condition of society, then we - the whole world - need a god that makes sense, or that at least makes sense equally to every human and is scientifically defensible. Everything certainly makes sense, but as a god Everything serves other values well as well. There is no strict connection between theology and values - people are more complicated and unpredictable than that. But I feel it can be said that Everything better underpins values of equality, compassion and integrity than does any idolatrous god.

And any god but Everything is an idol, an impression carved from the whole, divisive.
Everything, my love, this one really is dedicated to you, even if it could be dedicated to another. Help my readers in their dance with you Every, whatever they call it, however they refer to it. Help them discern any justice I do you in my words from any injustice. And whatever it is Everything, may thy purpose be manifest on our planet. So be it.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Not A Sermon Today

Hello Everything. Thank you. Help us to do thy will. Amen.


Readers, it is not without my usual effort that I have failed you today. Finally I have decided to keep working on the current sermon for another week. Hence there is nothing substantial today.

Thank you to those who do come to have a look. For anyone finding this for the first time, the best single sermon to give you an idea of what sort of House is being built here is probably The Baby in the Bathwater of Religion. The more I go on the more anxious I am that new readers do get themselves a bit familiar with previous material, and it is becoming clear that I need to write new introductory material to link from the top of the page. I do all this in my very stretched spare time, so I thank you for your patience.

Here's another stunning song from Leonard Cohen's last album.

Every, bless my readers with plenty of inspiring and interesting food for thought this week. I did intend to attempt to add to it, but have failed and for this I apologise. Help us all to grapple with you and your Logos with humility and integrity, in order to build our wisdom and understanding for your own great work, whatever that may be. So be it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sunday Sermon: Blasphemy and Idolatry

Hello Everything. Thank you for our lives; our moment of subjective consciousness before we reenter the wholeness from which we came. Dance with us this week, Every. Help us, as our hearts beat and our bodies metabolise, to do thy will. Amen.

Last week I made a theological challenge to Islam by proposing that their prophet is not the 'final' prophet or the final revelation for all humanity. As I hope I made clear, my challenge is not just to Islam. It is a challenge for all monotheisms to go back to their roots, shrug off their idolatry and come together once again under one, transcendent, unnameable God, just like they did at their origins. I'm not saying I'm Moses but I am, in a way, trying to be Moses.
Thus saith the Lord thy God, you are an idolatrous generation. You carve me into your books and worship your names, traditions and stories as if they were as transcendent as Me. Did I not say to each of you through My prophets to forego all idolatry, refrain from naming Me and hence to come together as My people? When did I finish my revelation to you? When did I say it was finished?
Thus saith Everything, when you engrave My nature into stone you curse and insult Me. When you engrave My nature into stone you ensure warfare and strife amongst yourselves. When you engrave My nature into stone you cease to seek Me. Those who engrave My name into stone do so to glorify themselves over others and to maintain power by control of truth, a power which belongs to Me alone.
Thus saith nature Itself, I AM the Lord the God of all people and all the Earth. When you curse one another you curse yourself and Me too. When you go to war you go to war against yourself and against Me. When you proclaim that you know Me and another does not know Me you mock yourselves and defile My name. I AM Everything, one, alone and eternal. No one knows Me, but there is no other thing to know. But every single one of you are equally my children. My people are many tribes united into one people, the people of the Earth, my blue jewel.
Thus saith the totality of all being, Repent from idolatry and its strife oh Human, and you may live forever. Repent not from idolatry and strife oh Human, and ye shall surely die altogether.
(Prophesy, in the way I have just written it is, like prayer, a literary form, ok? Just to be clear there's nothing spooky being claimed here.)

There are some problems in our world, including some really big, important and apparently intractable problems, that are theological problems. This isn't exactly self-evident, and many would disagree, but if the proposition is correct then the assumption that theology is irrelevant is impeding the resolution of these problems.

Once again I am reflecting on the ongoing discussion and debate about... well, I want to say it's about 'blasphemy laws' but many people want it to be about almost anything else. Of course I mean the anti-Muslim film made recently and its angry aftermath. According to the protestors, as contrary to the psycho-analyses of the same by various commentators, it is about blasphemy laws. If I was a protestor I would want to be at least taken at face value.

There are many issues here, and I don't want to stifle any important discussions about politics, the interventions and imperialism of the West into the Muslim sphere, the resentment of the West in much of the Arab world, everyday racism/tribalism, or anything else. It seems to me these things are being robustly discussed. I do find it disconcerting however how many commentators manage to ignore the existence of blasphemy laws, and a strong religious sentiment about the importance of blasphemy in the Islamic world. The thing is, the idea of 'blasphemy', unlike other forms of extremism, is not a minority position in Islam. It is a mainstream ideology that infects politics all over the world, and a nasty one.

The charge of blasphemy is by no means restricted to Islam, or even to religion. Remnants of blasphemy laws exist throughout the Western World though mostly they have in practice if not in legislation been defeated by forces of liberalism and the value of freedom of speech. The last time blasphemy was in an Australian court was 1919. On the other hand, Christianity still often utilises the charge of blasphemy (essentially a manipulation by fear) and Islamists today rely on a fair degree of solidarity from Christian leaders on the issue of blasphemy itself (quite aside from responses to it).

The charge of 'insulting the leader' or the party-line for that matter, is par for the course in any totalitarian regime, and in liberal societies the capacity to criticise and even mock the leader and the system is a defining feature of a freer society. Once again I wonder how different religion and political ideology are in terms of their impact, nature and social manifestations. Social scientists and historians of religion have a lot of notes to swap, in my view.

But what is very clear, and reflected in the response from many Islamic communities to occasions when non-Muslims in the West insult the prophet or Islam, is that mainstream Islam, throughout the World, believes that blasphemy is a meaningful category, and indeed a crime of some sort.

Blasphemy carries the death penalty in Pakistan and Iran and in various jurisdictions throughout the Islamic world carries punishments from fines and stripping of rights through to whipping, disfiguring and imprisonment. If you don't believe me, here are the Wikipedia articles, Islam and Blasphemy and Blasphemy Law. When a 13 year old girl can be sentenced to death for being accused of burning a Koran, as almost occurred recently in Pakistan, we have a human rights issue which should concern us as much as genital mutilation or the oppression of women in general. In practice these laws are barely used for reasons of piety but rather for petty religious tyrants to harm their opponents.

There is an ongoing campaign for the United Nations to expressly support international laws against blasphemy. In case you thought this was a minority position among Muslims, it is worth noting that the entire Arab and Muslim block is behind this initiative. It is difficult to conceive that this could be so without very broad political support.

Theologically, blasphemy law can be challenged in three complementary ways. Firstly it is contrary to the peace and compassion which is the objective of Islam as well as every major religion. Secondly, it is not a doctrine from the Koran or the Hadith but has arisen in many inconsistent and contradictory ways in (Sharia) law throughout the Islamic world, so it does not have the same authority as the doctrines at the heart of Islam (again, this applies to blasphemy in Christianity as well, and most ideology). Thirdly the category of blasphemy is, by inference, idolatrous (ie contrary to the fundamental opposition to idolatry of Islam). It's this third point I am about to explain a bit, but the first two, which I am hoping do not require as much explanation (see The Charter for Compassion for the basis of the first point and the Wikipedia articles linked above support the second), should be kept alongside.

In a way idolatry is the irrational act of giving a thing far more importance than it deserves. The ancients went to enormous lengths to paint it as 'evil', 'sin' and worthy of great judgement. Today we can see that it is merely wrong, an epistemological mistake that will inevitable lead to greater mistakes, and we may see in the ancients' almost pathological emphasis merely that - great emphasis; a loud statement of recognition of how important the prohibition is. Today we can all understand why idolatry is wrong, and don't require a supernatural channel to the information.

Dear readers, each of us is in the Plato's cave of our minds. Here it is again, the underlying problematic which we all share and yet struggle to share: Each one of us is a finite self which is obliged to be a part of an apparently infinite reality, a reality in which we are obliged to share but for which each one of us only has available information from our own finite self. In trying to figure out the impossibility of this situation, religion arrises, and it is a matter of everyday social existence and survival. The project here is to make it a reasonable one, and idolatry, along with the charge of blasphemy against insulting our idols, is unreasonable. The fascinating thing to me is how the ancients got this so right.

If it is possible to blaspheme a thing then it is an idol. If we are avoiding idolatry, there is no such thing as blasphemy. The corollary of the principle is that having legislation against criticism of an authority, idea or thing is making an idol of that authority, idea or thing.

We should note that in the process of protesting blasphemy in the current example, as a concomitant of idolising Mohammed, Muslims are also giving a bad film a lot of power, indirectly making it an idol in turn. The screaming fact in this instance that the film is a fourth rate production lacking in either production values or credibility and that deserves no attention at all reinforces the absurdity and wrongness of the attitude of offence at 'blasphemy' in the first place. We might, in other words, know the rightness of a doctrine by its fruits, and in this case the fruits of the doctrine of blasphemy are transparently, and rather embarrassingly, preposterous.

The practice of watching for and avoiding every form of idolatry is, of course, also the practice of attuning to a spiritual focus on Everything, the only 'idol' which we - every one of us - implicitly, undeniably share. In a way, when we feel someone is being blasphemous, we are being shown our idols.

This sermon is about blasphemy laws, but I suggested in opening that perhaps many of today's problems may be theological in nature. The two most compelling and intractable fault lines in human harmony today are in the Levant (Israel/Palestine) and the subcontinent (India/Pakistan). Both of these conflicts, for anyone who takes the time to attempt to look closely and gain some understanding, are an absolute brain-fuck (excuse me but no situation more deserves an expletive), especially if you are looking toward political solutions, as we must. It is my strong conviction that these problems will only be solved when they are approached as the theological problems that they are, with theological creativity. But we'll get back to that, I'm sure.

Religion can change. It changes according to different rules and time-frames than scientific theory, but it can and does change. It must. And it knows it.
Everything, thank you for this opportunity to speak openly. Especially as I enter the territory of criticism, Every, mark my heart and my motives and help them be as pure as they can be. Bless my readers on their own respective paths and help them differentiate in my words that which steps toward your truth from that which digresses from your truth. I love you Everything. So be it.