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.

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