Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sunday Sermon: The Truth Really Might Help Set Us Free

Good morning Everything. We abide in you and serve you. Thank you for another week of life and love. Help us to do your great work, whatever that may be. Amen.


There is a common notion that religion should not have to undergo reasoned scrutiny; that matters of faith exist somehow detached from matters of evidence and consequence. It's an appalling and dangerous notion. Truth - theological as well as scientific - must be forged and reforged constantly in the crucible of scrutiny, criticism and open, public debate. Only by such constant testing can it maintain any authority, and such authority is only maintained as long as scrutiny and debate may continue. Divine revelation doesn't cut it any more, is what I'm saying.

It wouldn't matter if there weren't stakes I suppose, but at the same time as religion routinely ducks the need to have its tenets properly scrutinised, it controls a lot of the education system, gets involved in politics, demands behaviour of the non-religious, and even goes to war. Meanwhile it avoids taxes. Those who feel all religion should be abolished and repressed are thereby presented with a constant stream of very good arguments.

To seek God is to seek truth. That might be important for us.

For example, despite the beliefs of millions, Jesus is not God. It's not an inconsequential point. God is a big idea, and if you have this sort of thing wrong you're going to have a lot else wrong besides. The nature of Jesus has been the basis of many unnecessary wars already, which seems ironic given his message.

Another consequential example is that Jews are not God's chosen people. There are those who would call such a mundane insight anti-Semitic, but I am merely noting a very obvious archaism.

But that isn't the worst trouble I could get into. Insulting Mohammed is some kind of religious crime, and I admit that I fear stating the very obvious fact that he was not the last prophet. There are parts of the world where this is not considered merely impolite but can get you killed. It must be said that that's wrong. Really, really wrong.

These propositions, in my view, need to be debated fully and publicly, in full view of laity. They can not be allowed to hide behind faith. For let's face this squarely: if any of these propositions are true - that Jesus is God; that Jews are God's chosen people; that Mohammed is the last prophet - then they would be utterly critical for the entire world to know about fully and properly. Priests, Rabbis and Immams, show us! Convince us! The stakes are incredibly high after all.

But if any of these grand religious propositions are not true then, again given the stakes, it is crucial that they be exposed as lies, as currently many millions believe these profound and world-shaking ideas. If they are not correct they are clearly dangerous ideas, after all. They are dividing us terribly for a start.

None of these propositions are essential to their respective religions. All of them, in my view, can be identified together and mutually as idolatry, in the very terms of the respective religions. The monotheistic God is transcendent and nameless after all, eternal, ineffable, beyond human comprehension. That is theology that all three religions share, and it's theology that the House of Every will defend as well. It's also the theology that can unite all of God's people.

The thing is, the societies of the world need their Houses of God - the temples, synagogues, mosques and churches. We need the communities of truth seeking, culture, singing and mutual aid. We need the buildings in their community locations, on real estate which the communities can share and use. We need the direct human contact in helping the poor and forgotten of the community. We need embodiment around our values and our joy of life. Indeed it is my conviction that religion has an enormous role yet to play in the next great age of history. But fearing truth won't help it.

Religion, as society's heart, needs to be able to stand up for truth. Religion must preserve truth when it comes under attack or is repressed. Religion must preserve values in a world of business and power. But religion can't fulfil these functions in society if it fundamentally lacks credibility in the first place. Now, it may be in my madness that I am wrong about one of the propositions I challenged above. But if so let that be revealed through careful, integral enquiry and debate that does not hide behind 'faith'. If religion can not do this it should not speak on any other matter.

And here is the tortured knot in my meditations: society needs religion's voice. Society needs its religions to be the highest, most honestly sought embodiments of truth and values that they can possibly be. Religion is the only institutional layer in society which might do so. The only institution which should be able to be relied upon to have not profit or power at its heart, but the truth.

And there is more to truth than science, history and human nature. Values are much harder than that, and that is where religion must take its great responsibility.

I've used the word 'truth' a lot. It's an unfashionable word in some quarters. I don't mean a fixed item, as some see the Bible or a catechism. I mean the best, most honest, open, professional attempt at truth that we can manage, an ongoing process. I mean an integral engagement with living Logos.

Everything thank you for all Logos. Thank you for all that has been revealed and all that is yet to be revealed. Bless my readers with the capacity to discern truth from falsehood in my words, or in the words of others. So be it.


  1. Wow great song Hamish! I must check out the Playing for Change project, I'd like to know more about what they are doing. And thanks again for your words this morning.

    My main response today is to ask if and how you envisage the House of Every becoming part of the institutional layer of religion in our society. I mean, practically and pragmatically, how does the House of Every do all the great things that attribute to religion - providing a physical heart for embodied community, looking after the less advantaged and forgotten, music, standing up for the truth. We can find ways to do some or even all of these things as individuals with family and friends: how do we do it as the House of Every?

    I love you dearly, and will stand by you always, Dawn.

  2. The Playing for Change website is here. Aren't they wonderful!? As well as attempting to build peace they raise money to teach music to underprivileged kids. My sister tipped me off about them in a comment on a sermon a while back. I'm sure I'll use more of their songs in the future.

    You ask some really chunky, practical questions. They are questions that are often in my mind and in the writing of this morning's sermon they were churning away the entire time. I guess they are increasingly begged.

    There is one aspect of the question of "How?" which I intend to get to properly in a sermon and that is just what should be expected of any religion organisationally, in terms of authority, best decision making practice, transparency and the like. A charismatic leader whose word is the authority and who controls all the money, for example, is not a reasonable model. But I don't think that's all you're asking.

    To date it can only really be said that The House of Every is a literary project with a handful of readers. I don't think there is enough interest in any one place to establish an institution, but if that ever become the case, there are procedures to do that. If it got started so that it had a base with which to engage with community, media etcetera, I think a religion like this might find quite a demographic. But that's dreaming and, practically, premature from my current view.

    As well as a dream though, the literary project is also attempting to be a light on religion in general. It is not that I am torn between reforming current religion and creating a new one. I don't really mind if the impact is more one or the other, but they are not mutually exclusive and ideally they might reinforce each other.

    So far, it seems to me, I'm just trying to steer the great conversation a bit. I hope this non-answer helped a bit. :)