Sunday, 24 June 2012

Sunday Sermon: Logos 4

Every, good morning. Thank you for all things. Bless our dance and help us to do thy will. Amen.


Today, to complete the series introducing an expanded idea of the 'Word of God', of Logos, I am going to talk about the journey of the word itself. I'm hoping the journey serves a double purpose, both for the information about the word and its meanings, and for the illustration of Logos that the word itself provides.

It was in the Hellenistic layer of Logos which I introduced last week that the word logos (λόγος) arose. It did not mean language, though the word dialektos, which does mean language, is based on the same stem as logoslego (λέγω), 'I say'. Yes, that's right, all of this is made of lego.

Importantly logos did not ever mean 'word' in the sense of 'a word in a sentence'. The term for that was λέξις (lexis), but yet again you can see the common stem.

Originally it seems to refer to the internal thought behind the externalised utterance - a sort of perfect platonic form (albeit before Plato) of that which we are attempting to say. My trusty Liddell & Scott Greek dictionary has a long list of meanings (and there are longer ones - no doubt there are books written on the word), but its very first definition is, "The word by which the inward thought is expressed," and this seems to be close to the original meaning of the twist on lego.

Heraclitus (early 5th C BC) was the first to make a special fuss of the term, though without changing its meaning particularly. Interestingly to pantheists he said, "Listening not to me but to the logos it is wise to agree that all things are one." Possibly he was the first to suggest that logos was an independent, universal entity.

It was a slippery word. But its importance increased with its variegating meanings. For Aristotle it was part of an elaborate system and meant something close to 'logical argument' (as contrary to emotional arguments - pathos - or arguments appealing to the morality of the speaker - ethos). By the time the word got to the Stoics and to Philo it had been divided up into types or aspects of logos, one of which was the creative principle of the universe, and hence was a philosophical challenge to traditional religion.

It was Philo of Alexandria who, pretty much contemporaneously with the Jesus saga to the East, first introduced logos into Jewish philosophy though, to be sure, he did it in Greek and probably couldn't read Hebrew. And here meaning dances between the languages for in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that Philo (and the Hellenistic world, though there were other Greek translations) referred to has the Hebrew for 'word' in 'the Word of the Lord' translated not as lexis but as logos, in several places. Philo fully celebrated this apparent harmonising of Greek knowledge with the very breath of his Hebrew god. And so logos entered the Bible through translation.

And the Jews were to hurl logos right back at the Greeks, ironically not as a transcendent principle as we might have expected vis-a-vis Yahweh but in Greek form, incarnated as a god-man. An author I read recently heavily used the metaphor of ideas having sex and producing progeny. In my imagination this is an ideal example as we see a new meaning emerge from this Greek word entering a foreign belief system and bearing the Hebrew-Greek baby Jesus. (Incidentally one of the stoics' logoses was logos spermatikos, the universal law of generation.)

One of the most compelling, seductive verses in the New Testament is the opening verse of the Gospel of John, written in the second century AD. It's with its living world of meaning of the word logos in mind that we should read it if we want to gauge its full impact. "In the beginning was logos and logos was with God, and logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God." So far we have pretty much a Stoic/Philo conception incidentally, which would have been familiar to the whole Hellenistic world. The radical bit which was to steer the meaning of logos for the next two thousand years, is in verse 14: "And logos became flesh and dwelt among us."

In my mind, this verse, or this idea anyway, won the ancient world to this hybrid Judai-Hellenism called Christianity. There was a bit more to it of course, but this was the philosophical fit, without which the practice and teachings of the early church would not have taken in the Greek cities. It was in these Greek cities that Jewish communities had themselves already been seduced by logos after all, through the Greek translations of their own literature along with their rich philosophical environment. And the Greeks themselves, great consumers of others' wisdom, were exposed to these extraordinary ancient writings of the Jews through the same translations, with its transcendent, rather Platonic God and its universal narrative that now included them.

If you've read my last few sermons about Logos you'll know that like John, I do see logos as a creative principle that is implicit in the universe even before the origin of humans or language. It is a generative principle in the universe itself, of which neurology, consciousness, language and story are sequential flowerings. But of language it is not the words themselves - which are merely shared symbols, matters of religion - which are Logos but the mechanics of language, the innermost grammar and rules, just as with consciousness it is not the meat of the brain which is logos but the mechanics of the neurological system.

Logos then is a word for a universal generative principle, a principle by which symbolic expression between agents might collect, store, accumulate, trade, transmit and develop information systems. It is also the sum total of that accumulated system. It is not a mystical idea as it is being properly researched in my view by neurolinguists and many other fields, but it is full of mystery, as well as being a critical and a universal idea. It is an idea that theology needs to thoroughly re-examine if it is to be relevant.

For the big picture is that Logos has become flesh, and furthermore that through it, the child of Everything if you like, Everything has become flesh. Through the symbolic, metaphoric world of language and story we are harbingers of the generative principle of the universe. Logos has ballooned beyond the capacity of our collective living minds of course and is stored and constantly rearticulated with revision in books and on the internet. But we remain its living conduits through time, without which Logos would become dust. We are the steppingstones along logos's pathway, and it is bigger than us. We are born with the legacy of Logos and die leaving it a bit further along than it was, whether we play a part in that or not.

And so where does this leave Jesus? Obviously a man can't be Logos, and I've talked about the danger of idolatry elsewhere, but am I saying he wasn't special, that he wasn't in any particular way logos incarnate? This is where I am going furthest onto a limb I think, because I think Logos has a sort of directionality and logic whereby a very new way of seeing something - a new constellation of words and ideas - can coalesce inside a human brain subconsciously and appear to leap ahead of itself. These days I think this normally happens to thousands of people fairly simultaneously with your average new idea, but it's the best explanation I have for the idea of the prophet, the muse, or of genius, and thereby yes, I think Jesus may have been a particular incarnation of Logos, but no more than Socrates or Charles Darwin. He was inspired, if you like, and if I ever use the word, this is what I mean by inspiration. It doesn't leave any idea immune to ongoing scrutiny.

Way back among the earlier Hellenistic writings so many of the meanings of logos - a proposition, an argument, a ground, a plea, a position, an expectation, an account, a reason - might be summed up as an active packet of language, an utterance meant to have an impact. Another word for that is 'spell', and there is a sense in which the word is permeated by a sense of active power. The reason I bring this up right in conclusion is because my final proposition is that understanding language is the key to breaking the spell, whether it is the spell of propaganda or advertising, of persuasive individuals, of group think; the spell of the logo. It is also the key to our own power, individually and collectively.

Logos is such that we may be wholly passive to it, and it will control us almost entirely, or we may be very active in it, which we should see as an enormous responsibility. It is our bigger self, our higher collective purpose. However inadequately I have presented the idea in these past four sermons, the least of my hopes is that I cause readers to consider this idea anew. The Logos has not finished with logos.

Everything, thank you for this opportunity to expound such lofty themes to my fellow humans. I pray that any who read my words benefit by doing so and are in no way deceived by my words. Bless all my readers. So be it.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sunday Sermon: Logos 3

Every, good morning. Thank you for all things: your world, your music, your people, your word. To play our parts in your great, unique journey is a privilege and for our opportunity we are truly grateful. Help us help you, body of all things. Amen.


Every is unnameable, unknowable, indescribable, but Logos is not. That symbolic, arbitrary cultural residue that we all take for granted, that language which we speak and read... that is our shared religion. Logos is civilisation's symbolic engagement with truth and meaning, with the divine.

Most readers will, I expect, know the joy of discovering someone who is reading or has read the same book, and hence of being able to build excellent conversation around reflections on its characters and themes, the virtues or otherwise of the author, implications for contemporary issues etcetera. The shared narrative facilitates and accelerates our engagement, and is fruitful. In the bed of the story our own ideas, hundreds of miles or years from the story, might make love and have babies. If you're bothered by the schmaltzy metaphor: shared story is software for a larger computation device. Anyway, that's just a preliminary thought.

To speak of Logos in history we are obliged to see it in many language groups and traditions, indeed as many logoi. Though it was always somewhat connected, at least if we leave out the New World of the Americas, it is only recently with the internet, translation software and mass accessibility to translations of millions of international works that Logos has truly become a single whole (though still with its rich organicism of parts, each language operating as a separate mnemonic and contemplative organ). This is indeed a new age for Logos, and The House of Every is a religion designed specifically for this new age, of the living, universal Word of God, in all its vastness and mystery, and equally accessible to all.

But I'm going to talk a bit about the Greek language. Please don't accuse me of Eurocentrism or something. It is a wonderful ancient tradition which has had an enormous impact on successive world history, and it is one that it is my own practice to engage with closely, but it is not the only tradition.

At approximately the same time as the outbreak of Greek literature and learning I'm speaking of (latter half of the first millenium BC) was the Spring and Autumn Period in China. This gave us the seminal literature of the Chinese people which continues to unite and inform the Chinese language and culture today. Its well known figures even in the West include Lao Tsu, Sung Tsu (Art of War), Confucius and Mencius and there were many others. The I Ching was completed in this period. It was a full, true renaissance, also called the 'Hundred Schools of Thought'.

Meanwhile, about half way between these two great unleashings of Logos was a major period of Vedic literature in North-West India. Both the Han and the Vedic traditions, not to mention innumerable smaller language traditions of learning, story and literature, are not merely more relevant than the Greek tradition to billions of people, but are currently expanding influence in the ever-globalising Logos.

But all of this is merely to say that I am going to focus more on the Greeks which, I admit, are the root of my own inherited legacy of religion, language and meaning (by the way I am not Greek, just to prevent any misunderstanding).

Logos has an archaeology with distinctive strata, as I've indicated. I could go back before Greek to find stories in an earlier layer of literature (first half of the second millenium BC), though those left to us are few and far between. Once upon a time we must assume a story like the Epic of Gilgamesh had a literary and social context. It was alive and meant varying things to different people, shifting across generations and permeating collective ideography. We can see traces of it in the Hebrew texts which certainly belongs to the strata we're talking about (especially after they were translated into Greek which is how most read it), and in Homer itself. But the fact is we have very little to examine, the measure of ongoing influence is meagre, and my last two sermons have had wild speculation enough. The Greeks provide us with our first (in the West) living, broadly evidenced and examinable world of story, literature and learning.

Arguably there was a decisive development with the Greek alphabet. The first writing systems were a bit like the first computers, not designed to be 'open source', but tools of the elite. There is some argument that Egyptian scribes actually attempted to make their script more difficult in order to maintain their elite access to it. Certainly early written script wasn't widely known and was very difficult to learn, for a long time.

The first real alphabet was apparently invented by the Phoenicians, a maritime trading people (the first glyphs are often associated with trade) and the Greek alphabet was one of a number of versions of it that washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean. The specific innovation in Greek was vowels, and hence some call Greek the first true alphabet. I'm not going to go into it, but vowels helped make Greek that bit more accessible and transferable, especially for transliterating previously unheard language.

It is easy to get the impression that pretty much the entire legacy of knowledge in the West comes from the Greeks, and some seem to have that impression. Aside from historical reasons since, one reason for this impression is because the Greeks wrote stuff down.

Thales, generally listed as the first of the pre-Socratic philosophers, and hence at the very beginning of the Greek philosophical and scientific journey, was the first of many to use the Greek alphabet to write down the knowledge of far more ancient cultures. He was from Miletus in what is now Western Turkey and what was then the Western edge of the Persian Empire. He also made visits to Egypt and when his students wanted to study deeply he basically sent them to Egypt. He was largely just writing the stuff he learned from the Persians and Egyptians down in Greek.

As much as an engine of invention, the Greek alphabet and language was a sponge. In the same sense that the King James Version of the Bible is a seminal part of the English language, Greeks made all the knowledge of the known world their own literature. Or, at least, a larger, more mature and universal Logos emerged in Greek. I'm not sure any person or people could be said to be conscious agents in the matter.

I suppose I'm daring to suggest that the first fullsome Logos - literary, accessible, relatively immortal and beyond anybody's individual or collective control - came about in the Greek alphabet. Today we call this world of literature, along with Latin literature, 'the Classics'. But it includes the world from Thales and the pre-Socratics through the 'first historian' Herodotus, the first playwrights, Socrates, the scientific tradition begun by Aristotle, the translation of all sorts of texts into Greek including the Hebrew texts (without which they would have probably remained obscure), more historians like Plutarch and Josephus, and all the way to the writing of the New Testament and its voluminous associated literature.

It's quite a creature and quite a journey. It didn't end there of course, but the Classics became a fixed strata impacting upon history thenceforth. In the English world people were learning it until only a couple of generations ago. Personally I think we lost something profound when we discarded it from the education system, but I'm also confident that there will always be people learning and engaging with this ancient Greek world. Meanwhile it inhabits our language, ideas and institutions, and is with us to stay, whether we engage with it or not.

But Thales was not the first major figure in this development. This entire period of Greek writing was prefaced by the stories that united the Greek language and indeed the Greek people, stories that were, before they met the Phoenician alphabet some centuries earlier, transferred orally. I'm referring to the stories of Homer and Hesiod, but especially Homer. I think it's fair to say that everywhere in the world that might be said to be 'westernised', has been touched by Homer.

My point is not to talk up the virtues of Homer, who I am not even going to review really. My point is to highlight the role of shared story in the first great intellectual explosion leading to the modern world. For us perhaps, the stories of that time - of the time of the polis, of Hellenism and then, of course, of Jesus and co, are a deep unifying narrative of all Western civilisation. But at that time they already had a deep, unifying narrative strata in Homer, already somewhat lost in their own antiquity.

For even earlier on the Greeks were not unified politically, but by their language and the stories it embodied. Later on Greek became the language of learning throughout the Hellenistic then the Roman world, even as Greek power radically declined. At this point this particular language of Logos had actually outgrown and outlived its people but very early on, I'd say, its people lost control of it. Logos had become its own life form, and the people merely hosts.

What I'm proposing here is that Logos required a story in a popularisable written form in order to really find its feet in the world, to really 'incarnate' in any sense. But I'll get to that theme next week.

Our great people are heard to proclaim humbly that it is the shoulders of other people they stand upon. But weren't they also standing on others' shoulders? What are the muses? What gave Leonardo or Einstein (or Isaiah) their revelations? What is the nature of genius? If two or more people invent a thing simultaneously, as has often occurred, can there be said to be a common source? For that matter, why is it that whenever I think I have a new idea I just have to google it to assure myself that it has been had by hundreds of others in the recent past?

The answer to all of these questions, in my view, is the creature called Logos, of which we are merely temporal hosts in our turn. There is a real sense in which Charles Darwin can not be said to have written The Origin of Species. Logos wrote it.

Before I go to yet another Leonard Cohen song, here is how that man put it in his acceptance speech for the Spanish Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, 2011, reflecting on the ambivalence he feels taking credit for word craft: "Poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers... If I knew where the good songs came from I'd go there more often."

Every, bless my readers wherever they be on their own respective pilgrimages. Give them the capacity and the responsibility to critically organise the wheat of my words from the chaff. And help all of us do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Sunday Sermon: Logos 2

Every, good morning. Thank you for this week. Help us to help ourselves. Bless all the earth. Amen.


Last week I attempted to describe in sketch, as a kind of dialectic, the origins of logos. I'm aware that I am way outside of anything close to an expertise and will not be doing the subject of the origins of language any real scientific justice. I did have to try though, and there was a point to it.

When we use the word 'mind' we are generally referring to the modern human mind, even though, as we should meanwhile understand, the brain and cerebral cortex has a very long evolution and exists in thousands of creature types. It was important for me to illustrate that although I am generally referring to the world of literature when I use the term 'logos', it also has a long evolution and sort of means its entire evolution as well as its most modern and developed forms.

Theologically it is also important that logos is not something that came to earth by chance in about 3000BC (say), but is something rooted in and a part of the greater process of the unfolding of the complexity of the life and consciousness of Every. In the beginnings of the universe, with barely anything more complex than a neutrino in existence, the potentiality of complex, conscious life already existed as surely as it exists today. Life was in the universe, implicitly, from the beginning, as surely as a chicken may be in a freshly laid egg, and that's a compelling thought. The universe as a natural system wants (tends naturally) to live.

And even more astounding, I am suggesting, logos itself - the universe's capacity to seek knowledge of its own identity and purpose, was implicit from before the foundations of the world. Now I'm not trying to assert that the universe has any organised 'will' in the matter, but in the same way that it can be said, metaphorically, that gravity wants things to fall, it can be said that the universe wants to know itself.

And we're it. That's the central idea here.

The origin of spoken language is one of those wonderful questions which scientific enquiry has virtually dismissed as folly due to lack of any evidence which might substantiate or contradict any theory. Hence, in my view, it is precisely the sort of question where enlightened theologians should be able to freely swap notes with secularists. (It's neat in my view that for an Everyite 'enlightenment' actually refers to the Enlightenment.)

Look, I suspect that a range of nouns - animals and places, followed by proper nouns based on these used in courtship, and intonated by the range of grunt-meaning available to many creatures, was the first proto-language, but there are many theories and we can not really know. The point is that even the simple hypothetical sentence, "Bear!", with an intonation of fear, only communicates everything intended with 'us' (not 'them'), with a shared community.

But regardless of the nature of the first proto-languages or how they first began to develop into the elaborate recursive grammar we now have available to us, there is, it seems to me, a step in development between the first proto-language and written language that, however little we can know about it, can at least be broadly identified. That is the development of story, as in extended, repeatable and regularly repeated narrative, which occurred way before written language, and existed for millennia in oral form, but must have occurred way after the first major developments of vocabulary and grammar.

It's an odd thing. We cannot know anything about the details of this development, which isn't generally discussed scientifically because it is smack bang in the middle of the unknown, but in recognising that it must have happened we open up the possibility that it might be very important. Could it - the development of communally shared story - be the developmental basis of the outbreak of modern humans that happened about 80,000 years ago in Africa? Neanderthals and other Homos had apparently been using some form of language for many millennia, after all, so it wasn't language as such.

Story. That is my candidate anyway, but let's be clear that we shall probably never really know.

The thing is, we can talk about 'language' as an anthropological development, but language, beyond the universal grunt expressions of fear, opportunity, happiness and the like, only has any usefulness as an operation among a specific community which shares the language and hence necessarily shares a history. And because the survival of given language is embedded in this living community - it does not exist if it is not shared - and at the same time language is plastic and arbitrary, the range of the language might start as very limited. Archaically I guess, the first shared word-meaning begins between two people, and is then shared among a kin group, but only survives as long as they survive and stay in touch.

I suppose I'm suggesting that the Tower of Babel bit of Genesis (Ch.11) got it pretty damn wrong, even as a metaphor. With very early language - first shared word-meanings between individuals and small groups, coming and going probably over hundreds of millennia - there was not a single language that broke into many but thousands of languages that overlapped, coalesced and variegated once again and could only slowly become fewer languages of larger groupings. Once again, even if language had a single origin (possible), the thousands of millennia, the massive geographic scale and the apparent plasticity of language would have ensured that language across the late palaeolithic earth was very diverse indeed, constantly reinforcing the everyday 'us and them' conflict between religions, between adopted shared meaning; crucial to survival yet different from the others'; bound to for life however arbitrary; names yet not eternal or universal names.

Tribalism based on shared narrative, along with its concomitant 'other', still firmly exists in our genes and in our society, as far as I can observe. The time I'm attempting to discuss is the time when these tendencies in human nature evolved.

One of those analogy operations that we know will sometimes bear fruits of illumination but scientists strictly can't use (but may be inspired by) is that between the development of written language, for which we have a wonderful paper trail, so to speak, of evidence, and the incremental development of spoken language, for which we have no evidence at all and almost by definition can not have any evidence. There is a sequential trace of our long biological evolution in our foetal development, for example, so perhaps there is a sequential trace of the development of spoken language in the well documented development of written language.

If so, I'm not going to discuss it much. I'm just going to leap way ahead of the story to 14th century England. At that time there were many 'Englishes', many of which would not be able to understand one another, as well as various versions of Latin and French. Outside the aristocracy, for what it was, local dialect ruled. That is when Chaucer invented the first widely recognised English language which became the basis of a much bigger world of shared meaning. English speakers would barely recognise this, but it is historically arguable that before Chaucer there was not a standard English. With him, English as we now know it was born. They may be more likely to recognise the next layer of deep, long-term standardisation of English two centuries later. For in a very real sense the English that so much of the world broadly shares exists as a unity upon Shakespeare and the King James Bible. Shared story alright. Pretty good stuff too. We're privileged.

And maybe there is an insight into developing spoken language from Chaucer. As more elaborate narratives could be shared with the use of mnemonic devices like rhythm and repetition, and as stories were able to recurse upon older stories, as much later on in writing Aeschylus was to recurse Homer and Shakespeare was going to retell Plutarch, it became possible for larger groups to share the story, hence the language. At its very origins, language is a story, and in a strong sense a religion. It is very difficult to separate the three phenomena in the late palaeolithic, in my view.

My apologies for being a bit discursive, a bit rambling perhaps. I admit these ideas continue to emerge and I am obliged to flesh them out exploratorily. As always, your feedback, dear reader, is most welcome.

Next week I promise I will talk about the development of written literature which is, in practice, mostly what is meant in the House of Every by 'logos'.

This guy reckons that if everyone played a ukulele the world would be at peace. Who knows? His gift is stunning.

Every, bless my readers. Thank you. So be it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sunday Sermon: Logos I

Every, good morning. Thank you for this new week within which we can know you and serve you. Thank you for the gift of logos. It is also our gift to you, in text, speech and song. Amen.


I feel sometimes all I really want to write sermons about is logos, but apart from Read a Book and The Great Commission, I haven't really begun to discuss it. Part of the reason is that I know for a fact that I simply can not do it justice. But I'll have a go, as I think it is the real theological contribution the House has to offer all world religion, and a powerful and helpful personal idea as well. I'm sure it won't be the last time I try.

In short logos is language, and in particular written language, but all the writers, editors, linguists, grammarians, translators, philologists and literary critics together would, I'd wager, struggle to do that subject justice.

For logos is a singularity of rather awesome scale. It is the distinctive human attribute. It has a direction. That is, it is doing something over time. As well as growing it is striving to know everything, striving for the truth. In a sense it is an evolving incarnation of God. And we collectively, along with our literary and technological artefacts, are its temporal hosts for our time.

But, philosophically and in time, I want to go back a bit.

None of us, not one living creature, gets a fresh, unaffected environment. All of us are obliged to live amongst the increasingly various detritus of previous generations and, as we live life, the detritus of ourselves. We are obliged to account for it, engage with it, 'read' it, learn from it, make decisions thereby and hence to add to it. This is the two-way engagement with Every which every creature must endure.

It hasn't always worked out well. Cyanobacteria, a rather distant ancestor of pretty much all life on Earth, found that out the hard way when it oxygenated the atmosphere and wiped itself out about 2.4 billion years ago. But that opened the world up for our slightly less distant ancestors, who were quite happy with the oxygen, and on the whole they were much more interesting anyway, so things worked out there.

This inevitable cumulative process - life living in its own shit impact - may be one reason why evolution continued and was never able to find a happy stasis between disastrous mutation and costly adaptation. It's not that nature did not have a strong conservative streak. Finding balance is what it does if it's given enough time. But even if there was no other major impact so an ecosystem could have millennia to adapt into a perfect equilibrium, the environment slowly changes with the impact of the biology - leaving detritus, reorganising nutrients, carving minerals from the rock to build soil, clogging and altering waterways - so new niches come about and old ones are threatened. Biology must always retain its capacity to adapt, no matter how cozy things get, for ultimately it is obliged to adapt to itself.

One of the adaptations life made early on was to start impacting the world strategically or, in other words, reorganising their environment for their own needs. Easy examples are birds building nests or spiders weaving webs which don't merely provide for the respective creatures' needs but leave an organised detritus. Indeed they organise components in the environment into forms another creature might recognise as detritus of their particular species.

Webs, nests and mushroom rings don't last long though, and it is hard to argue that any design of, say, a spider web, was ever influenced by a spider looking at the other webs in the area. The very location of these existing features of the environment might though, existing spider webs hence becoming active agents in the placement of the next spider's web. Could birds' design be influenced, however subtly, by the design of existing bird nests? More so than spiders we might guess, but apart from changing materials as they become available, we would not expect the nests or the locations to change much. There is little ongoing, developmental, living culture of nest building, as far as we can see, but a portion of nest-building in some species may be learned, and part of any such learning must be the example of other nests being built. This detritus is already becoming creative, and a part of the world of meaning and knowledge.

Tool using primates were the ones to really open up the creative possibilities of not merely arranging the environment strategically, but being able to 'read' the impacts of other tool using primates in order to learn from them. Tool using cultures can be identified fairly distinctively by their tools and artefacts from very early on, due to the resources in the environment and the particular needs of the environment but also, increasingly, due to an accumulative culture of knowing through watching, 'reading' and learning.

To get a little bit less abstract I'm going to talk about a man (a preliterate but somewhat lingual man, say a neanderthal, we'll call him Neo) who is building a wall around a garden area to protect it from animals. Presumably this guy learned how to build walls from his parents and relatives. The particular culture builds lots of garden walls, so he grew up building the odd wall, usually in the winter time.

But that experience and those relatives are not all Neo brings to the task. To the extent that he engages life more meaningfully than survival, perhaps, there is another factor which might well influence him. He has a text. And that text is every wall he can see and has ever seen, some of them ones he helped build and some of them that have been there hundreds of years. He might spend some time studying his available text. He may see a flaw developing in a particular type of wall, he may want of a popular material and need inspiration to adapt, he may through seeking status wish to build the best wall ever, but the existing state-of-the-walls is Neo's unique text and it may impact his wall.

Pre-literate society is not renowned for its rapid development. It did develop though, however slowly, and in increasing active dialogue with its own increasing detritus. The huge enabling factor for this capacity for generational, cumulative learning was of course spoken language which, believe it or not, is the topic of this sermon. With spoken language humans adapted much faster than biological evolution ever allowed, even if it appears to us to begin ponderously.

Aside from being born, which we might call a creature's first initiation into the religion of Every (if we are being very loose and broad), the first religious initiation available to humans is learning their first language, learning how to speak and listen in aural symbolic patterns. The content of these sounds are arbitrary, abstract and cultural. That is, the words and grammars are learned by listening to others babble them even if a brain-language which needs to upload the going software for speech is in fact innate. (There is ongoing and fascinating research continuing on these topics). That's why people born in Japan will speak Japanese, regardless of where their parents are from, but they'll be able to communicate, more or less, the same sorts of things as children in England.

We like to call this learned part of language 'cultural' but it is, in a very real sense, religious in itself. I've often thought the bit of the Genesis story where Adam gets to name the creatures is about right. They only have names because we named them (but that name we use will not be the eternal name). And the only way our name will 'work' as a communicative bit of detritus is if other people 'believe' the same symbolic utterance represents the said thing (I'm thinking of a dog). There is good reason for language (evolutionarily, say), to have a word that means 'dog', but no good reason for a particular language, a particular word. They're all capable of being very good. We get our particular language from the ongoing aural detritus of our society. It's our religion and once bought into no other is conceivable, more or less.

Which is why I include language itself in my admittedly very broad definition of religion. In itself language may not constitute shared story, but that is its tendency, and in the earliest times of language the very narratives, not just the words, must have been shared very closely among a language group. Words don't really exist outside narratives. And all of the narratives surrounding Neo, say, are mythopoeic.

I am not the first to suggest that the origins of religion and language might be coterminous, just incidentally.

A major difference between an existing wall, which may have been built 200 years ago, and a word, 'wall', is that if no speaker says the word for a generation the word is lost forever. The existence of the word is dependent on a host of living memory, a living, procreating community. The word isn't 'just in Neo's head' though, because if it is not spoken in reference to its understood meaning repeatedly it is lost. It needs heads to be in but can only continue to exist if it is actually breathed between them, is actually made a part of the observable environment, however fleetingly.

And meanwhile without language Neo and his community probably would not even be surviving. They have become dependent on it like spiders are dependent on their webs. And they are not merely dependent upon it in order to survive in their current ecosystem, they are dependent upon it for their capacity to adapt (to an increasing detritus of increasing types, even if nothing else). Language - language in narrative - had become society's meta-memory and meta-computer.

I have gone on long enough for one morning, and I have not really talked about logos. Already, with life's interaction with its own cumulative detritus, I have discussed a possible philosophical and archaeological starting point for the idea of logos, as well as a possible engine for change and a pathway to more elaborate, semi-communicative change. Then I have talked about language which, though half a cultural artefact, with cumulative knowledge and increasingly interesting stories has started to look like logos.

But I still don't think what I have described deserves the term logos. That will have to wait to next week, when I sketch from here the origins of written language and written, popularly accessible and transmittable, stories. That's where logos goes off, as does religion and most everything else.

And if I might draw attention to the lyrics of a verse not in this version:

You say I took the name in vain
Well I don't really know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to ya
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The broken or the holy

Everything, thank you for this opportunity to teach what I have to teach. I pray that I bore few and deceive none. Bless all my readers, those that think well of my words and those that don't. So be it.