Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Great Commission

Everything, our one God worthy of universal worship, good morning! Thank you for giving us a place and a moment in your body. Help us to play our fulsome role in the great work on Earth, this glorious planet of life, love and consciousness. Amen.


For the House of Every the Great Commission is, quite simply, to spread literacy to all the peoples of the world.

It is very important however that this imperative is is not merely seen as some quirk of the House of Every. Regardless of who we are, regardless of our religion or our relationship with our world, if we care about our world and we want there to be a future, this is an enormously important task.

When we consider broader purposes for humanity literacy is clearly not the only thing. We need to abolish poverty, feed the world, end war, and preserve and expand biodiversity and ecosystems, just to name a few biggies that come to mind. All of these things can be done by the way, and a reason for deliberate community worship and engagement is indeed to mobilise everyday people around such common values in order to achieve such things, but the entire project depends on literacy and, concomitantly, education.

One of the primary reasons for despair today is the world's increasing population. It is a very misunderstood issue. For example, I often hear of how the Catholic Church is irresponsible in this regard because it is anti-contraception and anti-abortion. Just to be clear I think the Catholic Church is being absurd about these things as it is about many things, but let's note that Italy, one of the most Catholic countries in the world, has a fertility rate well below the replacement rate of 2.1. Apparently it is 1.39 which is potentially so low it is concerning. Clearly Catholics aren't listening to the Pope in this regard, and there must be other factors involved.

Here is a list of countries by fertility rate. The reason we should not despair is that most of these countries are actually depopulating over time. There are many apparently correlating factors, generally to do with development, such as GDP, income and access to health and education services, but the single most correlative factor is literacy. If you'd like to do some comparisons yourself here is a list of countries by literacy rate.

To be absolutely clear, the critical factor here is literacy of women. Unfortunately education programs in many countries, especially Muslim countries, manage to leave women out too often, and that's not going to work the way we need it to. It is with literacy that women have children later, less and further apart. It is due to literacy that women have choices apart from breeding as a purpose in life. Many educated women choose not to have children at all.

There are many misunderstandings around this issue and I want to dispel one more before I go on. The factor is not education about contraception or family planning, as such, and calls for these things can often be patronising and are always limiting compared to the possibilities of general literacy. Literacy, regardless of content and ideally in one's own language, is empowering. Now when women are literate some of the first things they may well want to read about are contraceptives and family planning, but there is absolutely no reason to patronise anyone by insisting on a curricula. The amazing thing about literacy is that it brings choice. And choice brings rewards. Call it magic if you like. I call it the natural dance of God.

Of course literacy is only the beginning and education underpins the solving of all sorts of problems. Meanwhile, in terms of development aid schools are often the vehicle for introducing other basic development like nutrition, water and vaccination programs.

So what does this mean to an individual? The very question illuminates how alienated and disempowered we are even when we are highly educated. To me it illustrates our lack of collectivity but, even as things are, many of us are privileged, living in democracies, and our governments and non-government institutions are obliged to respond to our lobby, our vote and our dollar. So it is important to understand this issue. As I've indicated, the issue is not merely critically important, but serially misunderstood as well.

For those who believe that religion has no useful place in the modern world, it might be worth noting that Christians believe in another version of the Great Commission, and they have no trouble at all envisioning how they may pursue it. Every year thousands of Christians with hundreds of millions of dollars behind them travel the world telling people that if they believe in Jesus they'll live forever. Intelligent moderns will note that this is an absurd con, but when we hit upon universal projects that really are important, we might want to take some notes.

Everything, thank you for your word and its power to transform us and our world for the better. Help us all to critically separate that which is helpful and empowering from that which is erroneous and limiting. So be it.

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