Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: Interlude

Everything, good morning. You are ineffable, un-nameable, the totality of all being. Thank you for the communion we all have in you. Thank you for every flower, every person and every word. Bless us all with provision for our stomachs, protection from misfortune, and forgiveness for our flaws, as we forgive others their flaws. And may your universal republic - peaceful, sustainable and just - come upon the Earth. Amen.


The sermon I expected to write isn't ready yet (my apologies) so, in a way, I'm having a break. But I will take the opportunity to speak informally to readers.

After nearly six months this blog is getting about 500 page views a month, with a slow, steady increase. My estimate is that there is between 40 and 50 of you, regular readers. Most are from Australia and the USA, though there may be one or two regulars from Germany the UK and Eastern Europe (there's a smattering from many places, but I assume one-offs are random people who found The House via Google and may never return). From the sample of information that I have you are a loose mix of Christians, ex-Christians, atheists, pantheists and, perhaps most importantly, other. In terms of the demographic of the readers of this blog, that's all I know, and it is half guesswork.

So thanks for coming by each week and having a read. I fear that I am so full of whatever it is that I am full of that I would eventually preach to the walls, and will continue to do so here regardless of audience, but to have a small audience is really gratifying. I sincerely hope my offerings are entertaining, interesting and critically helpful in some way.

When I pray at the end of each sermon that people not be deceived I am expressing a real fear, that by opening my mouth and teaching, as I seem constituted to do, I may by being wrong actually do damage. I have had a long and winding journey, and have already been wrong, in my current view, in very many ways. In deciding to preach, as my heart would have me do, I feel I have taken on a responsibility to try with all my heart and mind to see clearly and to 'get it right' regarding the major religious questions I am addressing. But all I can promise is a continued, hopefully developing, attempt.

So that is for anyone who was wondering, "Who the hell does he think he is?" I am a humble teacher, doing my best to speak truth and light to my generation. I could elaborate a long, anxy description of how I came to be comfortable with that identity, but I'd prefer to just leave it at that. To anyone who would learn, I do teach.

Perhaps over time I will tell more of my story. It is the story of a creature of great impressionability - even gullibility - alongside an almost infantile integrity and desire to explore. Most of my philosophical biography is most unflattering, but I can say that the positions I am most critical of today are positions that I have occupied, internalised and defended in the past, before clawing my way, via the inevitable contradictions that arise through practice, to new places. I suppose there are some preachers who might claim some authority on the basis of previous blamelessness, but I can't do that. Any benefit I might have from my past is the cumulative benefit of the trial and error of many pathways.

And what do I plan for the future? Mostly more of the same. I do dream of an assembly, an institution, even a formidable religious force, but I also dream of reformed religion in general - reformed Buddhism, reformed Islam, reformed Judaism, reformed Zoroastrianism etcetera - being a positive - indeed crucial - force in the globalising world. And there are wonderful signs everywhere. Every major religion has important and growing reformist elements, and in institutions like the Parliament for World Religions they are espousing very modern, universalist values.

And maintaining a proposition like, "Humanity is important" or even, "life is important" requires religion, in the end. Science and reason won't give us those conclusions, however crucial the same are to virtually every aspect of life. The economic market won't either. Religion has a horribly flawed history, and has many nasty expressions today, but we need it more than ever.

But for now, whatever the future may hold for this preacher and The House of Every, here is my platform, to preach my message of a consciously engineered religion in service of a new age of human awareness. Please, if you do like a sermon along the way, share it with friends who you think may be interested.
Every, bless my readers. Help them find their own way and to be what you have constituted them to be, with joy and celebration. And help them find the measure of my own words, that they may only profit from reading them, and are not deceived. So be it.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: Your Own Personal Anthropomorph

Good morning Every! Thank you for all things. Thank you for our life, our bodies and our minds. Bless us as we wander through your wonder. Help us help ourselves avoid misfortune, find freedom from want and forgive the flaws of ourselves and others. May thy will be done on earth. Amen.


Last week I begun a short series about Jesus with a discussion of the historical Jesus. Today I am going to talk about the 'personal Jesus' which many Christians experience, and next week (and maybe the week after as well) I am going to discuss Jesus' message(s). Both of these discussions are, for practical purposes, completely detached from historical questions. The personal Jesus is about psychology and personal spirituality, and any message of Jesus is obliged to stand or fall on critical examination regardless of whether he existed or who he was. So to those who were offended last week that I had reduced such a powerful narrative, critical to so many people, to a question of evidence and history, my apologies and I hope I make up for that to some extent in the next weeks.

I have seen dozens or hundreds of atheists, in debate with Christians in particular, flabbergasted by the iron grip that faith has upon people, apparently regardless of any quantity or quality of evidence and reasoned argument brought against it. We must always pause when we find ourselves proclaiming, "I don't know how anyone can think that!", because we are only proclaiming something about ourselves - that there is a thing that we lack understanding of. One hope I have for this sermon is to help non-religionists understand the power that a personal god has over someone.

In short the hold that Jesus has over a Christian, leaving aside habit and peer group pressure (which clearly play their roles), is to do with the personal relationship many Christians have with their 'god' Jesus. I don't make this proposition smugly, as if I have figured out the big secret. I am speaking of personal experience. For I have known Jesus as 'my personal saviour', years ago when I was a teenager. I understand the existential reality of Jesus to a believer, how Jesus helps a believer in everyday life, and how painfully difficult it is to turn one's back on that relationship.

As I discussed in 'Prayer', there is a function in the human brain which the ego can develop and converse with, which I have called the IF (Imaginary Friend) function, and it has real benefits - possibly evolutionary benefits, originally. The Christian relationship with Jesus is far from unique. Krishna is another god worshiped as a personal companion, and the practice of prayer and supplication to Jesus is the link modern Christians have with ancient pagan worship as well. The ancients all prayed and sacrificed to named personal anthropomorphs, a practice which Judaism had spent centuries attempting to reject. In terms of psychological mechanism, ancestor worship is also no different, in this view.

To ask a Christian to deny their personal god, especially if they have developed the relationship for some time, is to ask an addict to give up heroin. To many 'born again' types Jesus is not only 'saviour' in an abstract sense but the being who actually saved them (from depression, addiction or just the unsatisfactory meaninglessness of it all). Jesus sustains them each day, watches over them and makes it possible to sleep at night. As someone to talk to Jesus is, in ideal at least, forgiving, non-judgemental, kind and endlessly patient. To judge the implicit ignorance in this perspective is fine, but we should also acknowledge that humans are very complex, dependent on networks of familiar humans as well as networks of familiar neurones, and stakes can be high.

If there is such a thing as 'IF' in our brains and it is a useful function at all, and not something that needs to be repressed, then it follows that we should take some care as to what we put into it. For myself, also as discussed in 'Prayer', I did begin to commune with it again some years ago, not as 'Jesus' this time, but as an unnameable, transcendent 'All'. For me the practice is extremely helpful, and I credit it in part with helping me find a way from depression to a place of much greater contentment and purpose (whilst avoiding a whole lot of supernatural crap). But to any atheist readers, beyond making such statement as honestly as possible, I will not try to convince you of the practice. I will take responsibility only for putting the idea there on the table between us. You can find your own reasons to pick it up, if you do.

But to Christian readers, firstly I want to say that I understand. I really do understand how real and unarguable Jesus is to you. So much so that I fear that this effort is vain. But there is a way to a transcendent, universal (non-idolatrous) God, through your man, that does not involve cold turkey. Jesus, according to your text, offered himself to you as a way to 'the father'. Ask him to show you the way ("and it shall be given"). I note that Jesus preached no 'trinity', which was developed a long time afterward, and had no conception of anything but one (Jewish) transcendent god. Jesus may have referred to his 'father', but he also referred to us all as God's children. And it was Jesus' footsteps we are asked to follow in, not God's; we are asked to follow them to God. Finally, there have been many Christians in history, including early Jewish Christians, that saw Jesus as saviour without seeing him as God. It's just plausible that the Roman Church got some of those massive repressions of 'heresy' wrong, after all.

I am obliged, unfortunately, to further confuse the issue with a digression because obviously the term 'father' is completely inadequate today as a term for a transcendent god. It's quite clearly a metaphor, in that no one thought that God inseminated their mothers (Jesus's aside). And it's an understandable metaphor (as are the terms 'Lord' and 'King') in a society that knows only patriarchy and monarchy as sources of power and authority. In short 'God' was gendered male because power was gendered male.

It was still a mistake for that ancient reason, idolatry. As soon as God is gendered we have the beginnings of carved features in our conception of God, which mocks God and will divide us every time. But at least, in the ancient world, it was understandable. In an age when monarchies and patriarchies no longer dominate the social landscape, "Father", "Lord" and "King", even as metaphors, have become grave limitations on our conception of the divine. Let's note as an aside that "Mother" is not philosophical progress, but merely reaction.

I have a lot of respect for those I call "Christians". The quotations are to indicate that the term requires definition before we might say whether we have any respect for it or not. Many feel obliged to remind us of the hypocrisy that Christians are capable of, or the innumerable horrible, bigoted and violent episodes in church history. But I also note many Christians speaking up for decency and tolerance, for gay marriage for example, and for refugees, and against war and corruption, clearly motivated by their religion. And I see them helping people in need.

I'm thinking that perhaps there is a sort of objective, technical definition of 'Christian' that we might use, as Jesus appears to suggest when he states that we "shall know them by their fruits". According to this text (Matthew 7), self-identity - whether a person actually calls Jesus, "Lord, Lord" - is not a basis for defining what a Christian is. It's what they do which defines them, which might make Mahatma Gandhi or even Christopher Hitchens more of a Christian, in this technical sense, than many who give themselves the title. This definition will have to wait till next week, when I try to grapple with Jesus' philosophical contributions - his message - but for now I want to note that my respect for the Jesus cult is real even as I wish more Christians focussed upon Jesus' message rather than esoteric theology, miracles or Jesus as a substitutionary blood atonement for our mistakes.

Yaweh ('being'), Allah ('the god'), Vishnu (the supreme being in Hinduism) and many other names, ancient and modern, all struggle to mean the same thing, and if they don't we should be worrying about why. All of them are 'the god', the totality of all being, the universe itself, Everything. Oddly, "no god", or "nature" also means the same thing.

The thing is, I don't want anyone to stop praying or attending their House of worship. This entire project rests on the conviction that religion is extremely important to all of us. The House of Every doesn't mind which gods you pray to, with the critical proviso that all of our anthropomorphs are but temporal motes compared to Everything, and Everything, the single God over all humanity and all of our other gods, is unnameable, ineffable and transcendent. As I explained in Lao Tsu and Moses, when it comes to idolatry Every is self-confidently smug rather than jealous. But the proviso doesn't seem unreasonable and, if we are to worship at all, if religion is to renew its creative positive contribution to social life and hence survive into a new age it is, frankly, essential.

Everything, thank you for the wealth of story we have with which to seek wisdom and direction. Bless us in our pathways this week, for whether we have conversation with Jesus, Buddha, Mary or Cristiano Ronaldo, there is only one of you and you are the only one to whom every one of us is subject. Bless my readers with the wisdom and discernment to profit from my own words, however wise or foolish they are. And help us all to do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: Jesus in History

Good morning Everything! God of gods, totality of being, all-rocking dance of nature, thank you for the experience of life. Thank you for the opportunity to experience at all. It is our living privilege, and we are grateful for every moment. Bless your living Earth this week in all its ecological and social tapestry. And bless us, your humble people. Help us to not be overwhelmed, but to keep our nerve even if we were to gaze upon your fullness. Help us to do thy will. Amen.


This is the first of a series of three or four anticipated sermons about Jesus. You've probably heard of him. I guess he's up there with the most heard-of people there are, and the most talked about. My intention this morning is to introduce the series and provide a rough sketch of a plausible historical character behind the layers of myth and story.

But frankly, when I come to do the latter I am mostly at a loss, and I say that after a fair wack of my lifetime (not to mention the last 24 hours) reading and considering the question. To begin with, it is arguable that Jesus did not exist at all, and that the entire gospel narrative is a construction of myth from various sources. I have occupied that position and defended it in the past, but the more I have comprehended the textual evidence we have available, as honestly and as critically as I have been able, the less I have been able to doubt that there was a man. Jesus did live and teach. I wish I could say any more about him with as much certainty.

With as much certainty however I can also say that John (who Christians later called 'the Baptist') existed, and taught, and Jesus was his successor. And I think we can, but not without a lot of critical thinking, be fairly clear on a central set of teachings, which include what I call the Gospel of Empathy but also include some pretty far out nonsense. But it's impossible to say which parts were authored by John or Jesus, and often unclear which parts were added between the time of these ministries and the time their words and acts were recorded in script.

We don't know anything about Jesus' birth at all, but we might assume he was born in the Gallilean village of Nazareth, as there is no reason to doubt the tradition of him coming from there.  He was itinerant however, possibly from a very young age. It's possible he had a few followers before being baptised (or not) by John, in Galilee, but they joined John's movement and embraced its teachings. Most of the action happened after John's execution when Jesus inherited the movement. Like John's, Jesus' ministry didn't get to run for long.

Frankly Jesus was pretty obscure. It is the only other way to deal with the evidence for him not existing at all. My conviction that Jesus did exist is built upon the existence of the series of narrative traditions which appear about a century later, all obviously about the same story but just as obviously with an already long period of independent creation and development. Branching forth almost immediately from these is an ever-broadening and diversifying tradition of secondary literature which variously affirms the earlier material. And upon analysis these traditions - the Gospels, including the non-canonical ones - turn out to be based on earlier documents that already have a degree of independence. So, in brief, the conclusion is that this upside down funnel of history must lead back to a spout - an origin.

But nobody else at the time seems to mention Jesus, including prolific and world-knowledgable Jewish authors like Philo. The evidence for the story balloons very quickly, but in the first generation there is almost none. So if we are by burden of secondary evidence obliged to agree that Jesus actually existed, we are forced to conclude that he was also virtually unheard of outside his own lunch break.

I come across a really odd bit of criticism in this regard. It goes like this: If Jesus had thousands of followers, healed the sick, performed miracles and was raised from the dead, people would have been talking about that. So there should be multiple contemporaneous independent sources. There is not, therefore Jesus is non-historical. I just want to ask these critics, "Are you being rational or not?" If Jesus is historical, he didn't perform miracles, and hence the lack of ra ra about them should follow, as far as I can see. The only thing this sort of criticism establishes is that the movement celebrated in the gospel traditions was originally small and unnoticed.

Jesus' crucifixion under the authority of Pontius Pilate did occur, according to Josephus and Tacitus independently and without any good reason to make it up or to have been deceived about such a thing. Josephus, the earlier of the two, writing about 75AD, noted as an aside that 'some of Jesus followers are still active even now'. But the charismatic Jesus movement was barely heard of outside Galilee and, though he no doubt drew some sizeable crowds on occasion and drew scattered admiration, his real core of committed believers probably wasn't much more than the twelve. It's quite possible that there was less than 500 'believers' in the then-teaching of Jesus at the time he died, and apart from near the Jordan in Galilee, they were scattered and limited to individual households. All of them were Jewish and considered themselves such.

So in terms of any reason at the time why Jesus was to become one of the world's most famous dudes, size didn't matter, and neither did miracles or marvellous signs. The silence of the surrounding lack of evidence tells us that much.

But a moment of revelation - a manifestation of Logos as surely as any - had occurred, as within a generation there would be scattered groups of Christians, often living communally, from Alexandria to Greece. The best way to explain the taphonomy of the gospel evidence - none of which was written near Jerusalem except for perhaps the Gospel of John - is that the early movement, after the trauma of Jesus death and probably broader persecution of his followers, scattered, each telling their stories in the Hellenistic synagogues in Antioch, Alexandria, India (in Thomas' case apparently) etc, that these stories, each based on a memory of a man and a whole lot of claims a bunch of people had made about him, began their traditions.

These original tales were far more diverse than the ones presented in the gospels. Variously they were mixed not just with whichever elements of Judaism but with the mythopoeic symbolisms of the Hellenistic and worldly audiences, with personal biases and theories, and with aphorisms from everywhere. The gospels we have today were based on earlier texts which are based on hundreds of oral snippets from dozens of (real or claimant) witnesses. But at the same time as their diversity and indeed contradictions attest to their multiple journeys, their overall unity attests to the reality of an actual common source in real events.

And unless we are going to appeal to blind luck and a multiple outbreak of extreme serendipity, there must be something about that original real story which provoked the explosion of multiple conviction and excitement. External factors might be brought in to explain it, like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 which would have profoundly shaken the Jewish world, spread refugees everywhere and brought about a further distancing between diaspora Jews and the ways of the Jerusalem Second Temple era.

Those sort of things might have helped, but they might have helped any number of new ideas. They may have helped Manichaeism too, or gnostic mysticism. Besides, despite waves of criticism suggesting that the gospels must have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem, it is increasingly clear to secular scholarship that there are layers of text, as well as a living and growing movement, well before that event. Paul's letters were probably penned in the 40s, and they allude to a number of established groups, all, we might guess, with their own incipient version of the story for use in their services.

I have two possible explanations, both of which are internal to the historical Jesus events and both of which might have survived in multiple narrative packages after Jesus death. The first is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. That is, that the crucifixion was a failure (it happened), the corpse revived (it has happened) and the disciples, and Jesus himself, honestly thought that he had been raised from the dead. That would give a movement some kick. It's a highly improbable scenario, but is actually plausible and, if correct, would explain a lot.

But even that apparent miracle, in my mind, does not explain the explosion of the Jesus movement for its first two centuries. In the New Testament alone any number of resurrections are alluded to. Just because one really happened doesn't make the story any different to all the ones that were invented, especially after one generation of hearing.

The flesh of the second explanation will have to wait until next week, but in short it involves the message itself, or a key part of it called the gospel of peace, or what I call the gospel of empathy. In a way it is a precursor to liberal values, and most certainly not everyone who practices it today calls Jesus "Lord", and many who are still stuck in an era of judgement and retribution do call Jesus "Lord." According to Matthew's narrative, Jesus said that would be the case. For my part, I'll take the message, if it makes sense, and I think it does, and leave the lordship of the messenger. The message seems to be the point, a possible key to social peace.

In the next two or three weeks I am going to leave the historical Jesus behind. I hope my readers are aware that I have long ago left Jesus the god behind, and I note that my culture doesn't require religion to continue to obsess about and remanufacture this old story. Jesus Christ Superstar, The Life of Brian and The Da Vinci Code have all retold the story of Jesus, again, and joined the ranks of the gospels. In my job as a book dealer I am ever amazed not just at the variety of Jesus literature but at its wide popularity. Most of the Jesus books are non-Christian. Many of them are completely secular and many others come from different religious traditions. They have an extraordinary range of propositions, almost none of them which make much sense, but they keep getting published. It seems that it doesn't matter where someone's coming from spiritually, they have a need for some sort of take on the story.

And so I add my own take.

Every, once again I have made a sermon of my meditations. I offer it to you and to my readers sincerely and humbly. Help my readers in their own search for you Everything, especially that they not be deceived by the flaws that my words inevitably contain. Bless us all. Bless all life in the universe. And help us to do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: Re-enchanting The World

Good morning Everything. Thank you for your continuing revelation. The Higgs boson is very exciting so thanks for that extra special snippet this week. Bless us this week, and help us see that your real nature, nature itself, is far more interesting, effective and transcendent than any fiction. Guide your people, the people of the world, toward truth. Amen.


This week saw the discovery of (probably) the Higgs bosun particle. What makes it so cool, in my view, is that it has existed in theory for over 40 years and has long been integral to what is called 'the standard model' of the physical universe. To be more accurate the particle - well actually quite a lot of them - has existed for going on 14 billion years. It's just that the universe didn't know that about itself, as far as we know. In 1964 Logos, on our Earth, told us of it, and now the universe has seen for itself.

Somebody should write a song about it. Actually, I have no doubt that someone already has.

I think it's very cool that back in 1964 six scientists independently theorised the existence of the particle. This sort of simultaneous discovery has become ever more common among researchers and demonstrates that revelation is not a miracle or a freakish occurrence but a natural process in itself, a product of what I have called Logos.

That it is a natural process and not a supernatural one however doesn't mean that it's not revelation, and something to be celebrated and shared as a collective human achievement as well as a professional achievement of the scientists involved. Personally I'm awe struck by stuff like this. And as "we" find out more every day about our universe, most graphically documented in the continual mapping of galaxies, stars, planets and other heavenly entities, our celebration can only become more of a collective celebration. Every new discovery is a landmark not for an individual or a city or an empire, but is a landmark on a singular human journey.

In Carl Sagan's words, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant." I would only retort to Carl that the prophets, and the alchemists, astrologers, mystics and shamans were, as far as we can tell, doing the best they could. And even if they were deliberately deceiving their audiences, it's hard to say that any better answers to people's questions were available.

Actually, in the case of the institution of prophets in Israel they actually thought they were the harbingers of truth as contrary to superstition. That is, the official religion saw itself as a force against superstition (Deuteronomy 18, considered to be the establishment of the prophetic institution in Israel, is my text here). In retrospect the irony is obvious enough but we won't begrudge the prophets condemning child sacrifice for example and, frankly, avoiding astrologers, soothsayers and the like would not actually have harmed people's decision making. Maybe I'm splitting straws but what seems clear is that religion, for the vast majority of its history, did not think it was on the defensive against truth, and a perverted suspension of mental faculty was never a requirement for mass religion until quite recently. For practical purposes, for both clergy and laity, religion was where the truth was.

The problem with the idea of a 'prophet' of course is how we're supposed to know whether a prophet is a real prophet or not. According to the text I referred to earlier Moses thought of that, and makes it very clear that we can not know if a prophet is a real prophet before or whilst she prophesies, because the only test he gives is retrospective. It's wonderful, simple and very modern. From verse 22, "If the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken." As far as I can see that leaves all prophesy open to being debunked by conflicting evidence, but I know I'm being facetious.

Also, that would make Peter Higgs and his mates prophets. "Thus saith the evidence" has properly replaced "thus saith the Lord" but it's the same layered, cumulative search for truth that has gone on for millennia and Higgs, like Isaiah, will be forever marked in the annals of the human journey. I daresay the time will come when, among our ancestors, Higgs is revered more.

There are many reasons why I am a religionist. As I've discussed before I am someone who believes that religion is important in the scheme of providing human and social needs and hence underpinning a healthy and progressive society. But for the House of Every a sincere regard for truth is a fundamental, traditional responsibility of religion. And despite the canonisation of books that became the fashion in religion, revelation has continued, and continues to enthral. Biological evolution has replaced creationism, and has turned out richer and more wondrous than we could ever have imagined. Chemistry has replaced alchemy and neurology has replaced demonology.

To pursue an example, theoretically we can know quite a lot about a person from an analysis of the moment they are born. Their genes could tell us a lot of course, and this information is apparently endless as research continues. But even without genetics we can say things about what is likelier for a person from their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, socio-economic background, educational opportunities, cultural background, language, blood type and from their parents. Their astrological sign, on the other hand, won't tell us anything. There's no stakes here as far as I can see. I don't think astrology is doing a whole lot of harm. It's not evil, and there's no hell for astrologers to go to. It's just wrong, unhelpful and, compared to reality, childish and stale.

With the House of Every's mission to be inclusive of all humans I am aware that to be critical of anything at all is to risk a charge of sectionalism.  But to be critical of nothing at all is also to be formless, impotent and irrelevant, and the House opposes supernature precisely because it is limiting and alienating. Nature rather than supernature remains open to new explanations and ideas. Apart from the benefit of being real, nature alone can engage us all collectively.

It's pleasing to see a spirit of scientific reform infect Buddhism. Sponsored by the Dalai Lama 26 monks and two nuns have just finished a five year summer program in modern science, not for a degree, but so that Buddhism can change and remain relevant in the modern world. Here's a link to the story. I think it's kind of exciting and it is time for every religion to embrace the same attitude toward truth.

The real world is far more interesting and far more complex and mysterious than all the kabbalistic connections ever dreamed of. It is real and it is the era for us to newly put it into song, mine it for metaphor, develop new practices with new knowledge in mind, or renew old ones with new material to meditate upon, to praise Everything for it.

On an unrelated but also topical note, the House of Every supports marriage between any two adults who love each other and enter into their marriage contract freely. It is my dream that one day Ministers of the House will be able to conduct such marriages. Meanwhile all credit to the religious institutions who do so and to those political entities in the world who have already made it legally possible. Elsewhere may Every help those who seek to bring about this beautiful expansion of human freedom, being about the freedom of people to express their deepest love for one another. All society benefits from such deep, loving compacts.
Every, thank you for the gift of mind and the gift of the whole of us, that we may participate in such an apparently unique and awesome knowing of you. As we do so, wherever and however we engage with your vast word, help us to rightly divide that which is true from that which is false and hence to gain in wisdom and understanding, that we may better do your will. So be it.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sunday Sermon: One Earth, One People, One God

Every, good morning. Thank you for this day. Thank you for your body in which we live and abide. Thank you for one another, for every other human. Bless us in our respective pathways and help us to do thy will. Amen.


The goal of 'one humanity', closely associated with the dreams of world peace and the end of poverty, is a very old one. These days it is also associated with the goal of ecological sustainability as increasingly global cooperation is seen as necessary for humanity to achieve such.

In a secularised world people have not stopped pursuing these universalist style goals. In one way or another there are millions of very modern, educated and affluent people doing so. Each generation a good portion of the new youth launch themselves into activism to better the world, often on clunky improvised versions of very old wheels and, I would argue, largely ineffectively. In practice these days it means entering politics in one way or another.

But the thing about politics is that it is adversarial. What's more it is properly adversarial. Ironically it is only by believing in pluralistic politics that I can in conscience believe in unitary religion. For society needs pluralism and political conflict in order not to become totalitarian, even whilst it needs spiritual unity in order to be at peace. This is one good reason for the separation of religion and the state - they have apparently contradictory goals.

Religion is not about policy, though its values, its cultivation of empathy for others and the big-picture nature of its questions, like any other personal growth individuals discover within their lifeways, may well inform the political decisions individuals make.

But in the absence of a religious layer in society which is actually taken seriously by the broad population, politics colonises the vacuum, and I don't think it helps politics or religion. Today I have two songs and today I am commenting on them directly. In their essence they are religious songs though they are explicitly and self-consciously being used for political purpose and, although they are beautiful and moving, are somewhat poisoned thereby.

Bruce Woodley's "I Am Australian"

Woody Guthrie's, "This Land is Your Land", sung by Pete Seeger at an Obama rally.

I ask you to ignore that you've heard the songs about a thousand times and that they are patriotic schmultz. And if the songs succeed in their intent in impacting upon you emotionally, as would be expected (it is their design), I ask you to shift the lyrics ever so slightly along the way, just as an experiment. Instead of "we are Australian", try something along the lines of, "We're Homo sapien", and instead of "This land is your land..." try, "This world is your world, this world is my world." Ideally I want you to taste that idea, but at the same time keep a cool critical eye on the nationalistic nature and (especially with the Guthrie song) the charged political context of the song. In both cases an irrational nation is evoked, the most obvious limitation, but also in both songs the case the song is making is limited by the political charge itself. Millions of Republicans would love that Woody Guthrie song for example, but in that context they are alienated from it.

Both songs have a hymnal, liturgical sound, the melodies evoking a pathos of unity. Both songs are making extraordinary claims as they explicitly attempt to unite their respective countries, confronting the very real conflict in the societies with the promise of a unifying if somewhat fictitious narrative. This isn't what most people think of when they think of religion and the state intertwining, but in my mind this is the state making religious claims, and (potentially) dangerously so.

Both songs claim, via a common narrative, that despite all the differences the twelve tribes are in fact one people, a chosen people no less, united in their respective promised lands.

And there are truths even in the most ancient myths. For all the illusions that have been revealed regarding the biblical account of creation, it has also been revealed that all humans really did begin with a single ancestor, and a single coupling. Scientists have even had the grace and good humour to name the theoretical woman Eve. We really are, according to this ancient myth and according to science, one family on one planet. It is a religious claim, but it has more of a scientific basis than the nationalism which we might not consider religion at all.

And the political pursuit of one world is full of frightening ambiguities. Do we really want a homogenised polity with a single government? Aside, I happen to think that politically, in the long term, the world could break up a bit more if anything, allowing more individuation (and hence efficiency as well as cultural diversity) between social and ecological regions. What I'm saying is that unity is not properly a political claim. The world needs unity alright, but it is a religious claim, and needs to be, finally, a universal one, a claim upon the spirituality of humans. Hence it should be carefully regarded separately from politics.

In terms of songs, there are anthems of the world and its unifying story yet to be written. Let's note that state machinery has little motivation to put resources into promoting such world anthems. Will the United Nations or something find reason to do so? Or will we people of the world find our stories and anthems ourselves? "We share a dream and sing with one voice..."

Inevitably I discurse widely in these sermons and I hope it is clear by the spirit which I present that I consider little that I write here to be written in stone. As I noted a while ago, this is the moot stage of this religion. But there are a few fundamental building blocks without which a religion would not have my support for one, and this is one of them. All people are God's people, without exception, with one unifying story of our thousands of stories.

And if you're uncomfortable in the first place with the very idea of religion making such far reaching claims, I am just noting that you may be conceding the reality of far bodgier claims upon your identity being made by the state.


Everything, thank you for the gift of song and may it fulfil its promise of helping to bring all of your people together in a richly creative yet peaceful journey. Bless my readers, and especially their critical faculties, that they may find the worth in my words and disregard those which are worthless. So be it.