Sunday, 6 May 2012

Sunday Sermon: Doing Religion

Everything, good morning. Thank you for the blessings we so easily take for granted in this moment. Thank you for our lives, our education, our meals and our medicine. Help us to take none of it for granted, and further help us use the opportunity to help you make the lives of others, now and in the future, even more blessed than our own. Amen.


There are so many people, from so many points of view, who would agree that our modern society is not healthy. Just to be clear, and to keep this message relatively simple and to a point, I am speaking of my own world. I am speaking to my city, Brisbane in Australia.

It's a frustrating thing because we have so much going for us. We have so much wealth, such high levels of education and so many techniques for good life. We have plenty to eat - all manner of meats, more varieties of fruit and vegetables than anyone in history, as well as delicacies, cheeses, nuts, spices and herbs.

We have medicines. The women among us rarely die in childbirth and as a rule we live to a very ripe age. There is not much disease. We have tablets for pain. We have dental care - not free to be sure, but very accessible and beyond anything humans even conceived of until very recently. When we do complain that dental care, say, is not free, we are not comparing the lack to the human experience. We are comparing it to a reality which has never been.

We can communicate with anyone in the world, by face, and we can travel anywhere in the city and even beyond, pretty damn quickly. Our homes are full of extraordinary equipment for comfort and entertainment, our wardrobes have warm clothes, our beds have blankets and pillows.

We have access to good information about pretty much everything.

Clearly I am not speaking for everyone in the world, and it may be that I'm being insensitive here toward some readers. To those I apologise, but from where I stand I am talking to many, many people - not merely a tiny elite as I may have been at pretty much any other time in history. I confess I am speaking for myself, though strangely I do not consider myself wealthy, and I am speaking for virtually everyone I know - even, to a large extent, those who are unemployed, aged or disabled.

Also unlike virtually any other time in history we are fairly equal under the law. There is no public torture in my city, no executions. There is no military conflict for thousands of miles in any direction. Extraordinarily most people are not even armed and feel no need to be. We actually get to vote for our leaders and, despite continuing inequalities, no one is completely above the law.

There is plenty to criticise about our leaders, our institutions and our media, to be sure, and my point is not to stop us from making such criticism. But even in these areas we have greater influence and access to information and power than virtually anyone in history.

Amazing, really.

It seems a great pity that our society is not very happy and very optimistic indeed. It seems odd when we lay out our extraordinary privilege like this that we are not able to face the real problems we do have robustly and with confidence of strong outcomes. Surely we should also be able to reach out and help less privileged societies in a huge and powerful way, but we don't really.

There is something else that makes my society fairly unique in history. We're alienated from one another, even within our neighbourhoods. We're so bloody privileged but each of us is alone. It's not how humans have ever worked.

We evolved to work in societies, with communal narratives and values - societies who share songs, celebrations, calendars and sacred spaces. And while we scrap about for new political parties or new government policies or a new social program, what we need is the regular deep massage of social tissue that only worship has ever provided.

Religion? Frankly I don't care what you call it, and no I certainly don't think we need to believe a whole lot of supernatural bullshit or discredited narrative myths. But we do need to sing together and to find our story and our values together. That I am 100% convinced of.

And when we do, when we learn to once again do religion, but this time without illusions, our society will become something we now barely dare to dream about.

Everything - universe, being, existence, totality of all things, that which is - here I am burning, straining, weeping, bleeding with this burden to say these things, and hopelessly inadequate to the task. I believe I am doing your will by preaching these things and I can only pray that, if I am merely a madman, that you give readers the critical faculties to tell it, that I deceive no one. There is enough stupidity and deception in the world without me adding to it, after all. So be it.

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