Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sabbatical 2

Hello Every, God of gods, totality of being, object of all objects. We are here, all of your people in equal standing before your completeness, in gratitude for our part in your self and consciousness. Thank you for the extraordinary experience of participation in you. Thank you for all that has been revealed and for all that will be revealed. We seek and we are astounded and we praise you Everything. We serve you and worship you because it is not possible to do anything else. Help us find the way into our best selves. Direct our paths toward growth and agency in your service Everything; toward the best service we may be for all people and all life on Earth, your blue jewel. Thy will be done. Amen.
Hello anyone who might happen by this week. I'm enjoying my sabbatical - well, enjoying pursuing other responsibilities anyway, and doing some reading outside religious studies. But although I am not currently working on new material, this project is never far from my mind. I don't know when I'll resume full sermons, but I can't see it being very long.

Anyway, have a wonderful week everyone. I'll leave you with the four rules for life according to author Michael Crichton. They're not too bad I reckon. Worth a meditation at least.
1. Show up.
2. Pay attention.
3. Be honest.
4. Don't be attached to outcomes.

Everything, thanks for life. Have a good week yourself. So be it.

Saturday, 20 October 2012


Hello Everything!
Thy will be done.


Dear Readers, I am going to stop expecting a Sermon from myself for a while. I need some time to reflect, catch up with reading and prepare the draft for a more substantial presentation of the core ideas presented here. So to those few loyal readers in particular, my apologies, but I will be back.

And I'll probably touch base at least each Sunday. I just won't be expecting anything substantial from myself for a while. Love to all. Love to all things. Love to Everything, and hence to reality itself, to our existence here.

For everybody needs love. Everybody. And I admit that I really like this song.

Every thank you for this opportunity to blog. Steer us toward truth Everything, that we may serve you in truth. Help us discern truth from vain babbling. Amen.

Monday, 15 October 2012

(Late) Sunday Sermon: Religion Review: Soccer

Hello Every! Thank you for all our consociations with your people in the great organic embodiment of all humans on your blue jewel the Earth. Help us when and as we coalesce into organic social bodies to do so peacefully, democratically and empoweringly. And help us to further your will. Amen.


Good reader, I write a fair bit about theology - the stuff of belief if you like - and I will continue to do so. Gift or curse, theology is my calling, and in my view it has its important place. But in truth, and indeed as a strong feature of the theology that has attracted me, theology is not very important, and particularly not in the realm of real life and practice. A lot of people find it uninteresting, a distraction from more concrete, existential questions or just so much hyper-scholastic poppycock, and they have their reasons, including some very good ones.

For me theology - and in particular the proposition that 'God', our highest object of worship, prayer and service (if any) is equivalent to the entirety of our reality, real and imagined - is a foundation, the rock which can be relied upon to support our necessarily symbolic and social negotiation of life. When, as happens for most people at some time of life, someone wants to scratch the surface and ask the deep questions of existence, there is a real foundation of answers which will make sense, but which are available for the scrutiny of each generation. Their strength - if the answers have such strength - depend upon them constantly being buffeted by the wind and storm of such criticism. That they stay standing in all conditions is their only authority.

Religion however is about practice - social and symbolic (in case that term is scary I mean lingual, cultural, musical) life - and theology rarely comes into it. The strong connection between religion and belief has been somewhat artificially bolstered by the polemics of modern fundamentalists and new atheists (which, I tend to agree with Karen Armstrong, are two sides of the same historical manifestation). I want to explore the distinction further some time, but for any who want to follow up this distinction themselves James P Carse's, The Religious Case Against Belief (2008) may be an excellent place to start. The proposition presently is that old cliche hated by rationalists that you can't actually get religion if you don't do it. The belief is just a framework, quite obviously (looking about the world) very plastic; the activity is the thing which the individual and the society benefits from, in ritual and what I have termed 'embodiment'.

So I am not saying beliefs should not be criticised. Criticise the bloody things. It's an appalling desiderata of modernism and post-modernism that religion has lost its habit of endlessly debating propositions within itself, let alone allowing itself criticism from outside. And if criticisms strike home, change the bloody beliefs. We might spot in history that beliefs have changed before. That's how we engage logos and collectively grow in our understanding of God, of our common reality.

My apologies that my introductory remarks just kept growing there. I really am reviewing a religion called Soccer. And I must disclose that it is an overwhelming passion of mine and, coincidentally or not, has been so for approximately the same period I developed my relationship with Every. Make of that what you will. I'll also disclose that last night was my team's (Brisbane Roar) first home game of the season and they won 5:0 in style and in delicious circumstances. So although this sermon has been planned in outline for a while, you could say it's been forced because right now I will struggle to think about another subject.

Fortunately for yourself, dear reader, I have polemicised about the joys and details of this sport quite a bit before and I don't intend to repeat that material. If anyone does have an interest in the sport, apart from as an illustration of religion, I blogged about it for a number of years on Football Down Under and Beyond. Enjoy. :)

Now if I thought soccer was sufficient religion I would not be preaching these sermons but would instead simply be promoting sport. But when I entered the world of soccer fandom I was acutely aware of the patterns of my own religious nature being titillated and emboldened. Part of my enjoyment was this awareness (shared by many; soccer is routinely, if candidly, called 'a religion' by millions of its followers including some of its best writers; pop anthropologist Desmond Morris's The Soccer Tribe (1981) is a popular and fairly elaborate example), along with the lack of delusion involved or, at least, the transparency of the illusion. It is hard not to notice that the rise of cultish sports fandom has paralleled the slow demise of religion over the past century or so in the West. It's also hard to claim a direct correlation, but on the premise that H. sapien is a religious creature by nature - one of the premises of this blog - it makes sense that in times when belief becomes highly suspect that human religion might manifest in ways which have nothing to do with belief as such at all.

Meanwhile, as with my review of the candid cult Join Me! soccer provides a living illustration of our religious, symbolic, collectivist selves without a lot of the distracting baggage or, more accurately, with different distracting baggage than the usual supernatural narratives. As well as a novel illustration of the religious part of human nature in action in the modern world, there's a couple of general points I want to draw from it.

The broad outline of the parallels between sports fandom and religion are fairly obvious: narrative, heroes and villains, tradition, history, passion, song, solidarity, symbolism and ritual, all on a massive organised scale which deeply effects the lives of millions of individuals, families and communities all over the world. I'm not about to attempt to rationalise it, even though there is no faith involved. There is no belief involved in the way I've been using the word, but on the other hand belief is a very important word in all sport, for both athletes and fans. Like any religion, you don't get it if you don't do it.

Both in its play and in its fan culture soccer well illustrates embodiment; regular ensemble collectivity. Soccer is a relatively new religion, but with the oldest clubs over a century old, often dating back to factory teams, there are already rich traditions of narrative, values and song deeply rooted in family and community, a great diversity within the unity of the religion and its 11 "Laws of the Game".

Also in the soccersphere we can see the dark side of religious passion, especially when it is mixed with the tribal side of human nature. Like all religions the cliche gets rolled out about great majorities having their freedoms spoiled by militant and irrational minorities, but there is no apology that can be made for racism or violence wherever it arrises. We may have noted before somewhere that religion can be scary sometimes.

Racism and viciousness occurs among alienated populations too of course. Their roots are social and epistemological, based on ignorance and false narratives, as well as often economic. Indeed I would argue that they are maintained and bolstered by the ignorance of one another inherent in alienation. But when it occurs in embodied religious groups it really happens, and it's horrible. In this regard I offer two observations.

Firstly, although in mass fan culture we might see religious behaviour, it is culture without any implicit values except the need to win. Negotiating the emotional territory of winning and losing is a dialectic of self-improvement in itself of course, one which I daresay the Greeks would have approved of, and ideals like sportsmanship, determination, loyalty, avoiding hubris, focus and comradeship all become focusses of discussion and practice, but overall our society requires a little more moral compass than that in its religions, and the dark side ('winning at all costs') is an ever present temptation.

Incidentally, it is this poverty of moral compass, more than the absence of supernatural narrative or gods, which finally distinguishes sport from religion, in my own view. Though given the amount of players who cross themselves or bow when they enter the field or score goals they are also clearly not mutually exclusive. A persons symbolic life can rarely be described by a single religious label, with or without sport to complicate the question.

Secondly, as I observe the progress of the culture of the English League in particular, where racism and hooliganism have been very notable in the past, I wonder if the roots of these social evils aren't being exposed and worked against even by their explicit embodied manifestations. Once again racism isn't dealt with by our alienation. Not only have education campaigns (essentially against ignorance and for empathy) and reforms in policing and stadium design helped the situation, but active anti-racism campaigns headed by legendary players as well as mass petitioning by fan groups have not only addressed the problem in the sport, but arguably actually addressed the problem in the communities in a more direct, culturally authoritative manner than would otherwise be possible. If the task is to deal with racism in a community, say, do we trust the dialectic of alienation or the dialectic of embodiment to move society along that difficult path? Regardless of our social formations, we do not get to avoid the journey ahead of us.

I find it interesting that this dialectic - of problems and combatting problems - actually brings about by necessities active values among fan cultures, values of non-violence, anti-racism, empathy for the opposition and the like. From its highest levels, which are approximately as patriarchal and corrupt as the Catholic Church incidentally, soccer is explicitly universalist and seeking to end poverty, racism and war (I'm not exaggerating the rhetoric). As noted this religion is not that old and it continues to evolve its myriad church cultures. It's impossible to say how the game - and particular the mass fan embodied cultures - will morph.

The final lesson I'd love to draw from this game, which clearly I can not hide my love for, is that religious behaviour need not be sombre, serious or even sober for it to be distinctly religious behaviour. It is an expression of our natures, expressions of our collective natures, which involves endless creativity, joy, humour, dance and song as well as meaning.

In its embodiment religious culture evolves, which is why in the broad theological terms I generally write in I can not speak much of practice except in broad theoretical terms and in reflective explorations of my own experience. But ultimately religion, like music, language and sport, is something you have to participate in (even as spectator) to "get." And like the swarming of bees or the formations of birds such embodiment is our nature. If modern sporting culture teaches us one thing, the phenomena is not squashed by the absence of belief.

I leave you with one of the great football fan songs, performed by two of soccer's oldest and most established teams, doctrinally divided over who used the song first, but united here in breath, voice and vibration.

"When you walk through the storm hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm there's a golden sky and the sweet silver song of the lark. Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on! Walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone. You'll never walk alone."
Everything, thank you for Brisbane Roar's 5:0 victory over Melbourne Victory. Bless the hearts of the Melbourne fans that they maintain hope for better days, and garner the joyful hearts of Brisbane against hubris and complacency. Bless our humanity for all of its absurdity as well as its organicism and wholeness. And in all of the dance of life, through victory and defeat, help us to do thy will. So be it.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday Sermon: Regarding Everything

Everything, hello. Thank you for breath, beauty and one another. Thank you for our conscious part in your proceedings. Bless our pathways and the pathways of our families, communities and institutions, that we may do thy will. Amen.

I have called Everything my god for about half a dozen years, but it was much earlier I think, in a barely post-pubescent mystical phase of my religious journey, that I first made the equation of God with the totality of all things. I quickly learned, and have observed ever since, that it is a common observation of thinking people and is expressed in many ways. 'Universe', 'all', 'totality', 'nature', 'tao' and 'being' can all be pretty much synonyms for Everything, and are all often used in this way.

For as my young mind observed (though my term at the time was, egoistically enough, 'Else'), if there are lots of gods, spirits and spooky forces, that doesn't challenge Everything, for surely all of these are subordinate to the whole of which they are a part. If there is a grand creator who transcends all the known universe, that's fine too, but it's the interaction between that creature and the known universe where all the interest is, and together they clearly make up a greater single system, all of which effects me greatly and is worthy of my attention. If the universe has a dualism of spirit and matter or something, fine, but if so it is both of these things which together constitute nature. It's all Everything, and there's only one of them. There's no way out of that.

Similarly, rationalists freely speculate that there may be many universes and/or many dimensions - perhaps an infinite quantity, just as ancient theologians and modern role playing gamers speculate about various planes of existence, but once again, it is them all together which constitute the final, complete reality, of which there is just one, the same one for every sentient creature in it. Everything. What no scientist, mystic or theologian can coherently claim is that there is more than one Everything.

'Everything=1' may well be an essential axiom for physicists or other scientific theorists of reality, I would assume anyway.

Here is this unique feature of Everything put another way: Everything is profoundly, uniquely alone, with no reference point outside Itself. Try to find one and the best you'll do is identify more of the same Everything. Similarly it can not be said "Everything is like this", as if it could be like something else, for there is no other thing that it may or may not be like.

Perhaps that is why God is nameless. The very idea of naming is about identifying, and identity requires a reference. Everything can neither be identified nor denied, and I didn't pull that paradox out of the air like some new age aphorism. It's apparent to any thinking person.

The picture at the top of this blog was constructed by Australian researchers and it is meant to depict the universe itself on best information. One of those dots is our own galaxy cluster (there are three galaxies in our cluster, the largest of which is our Milky Way). Perhaps, assuming the universe derived from the Big Bang is in fact Everything and not merely a splinter of an exponentially greater reality, we might imagine this strangely cerebral looking stuff in an overwhelmingly large blob-like thing. I admit that is the best image I can sort-of do in my own meditations. But we have two major problems.

The first problem is about edges, and they are as impossible to grasp as the beginning and end of time, which are also edges. A blob has an edge, and an edge has another side. So Everything is a non-blob, or an edgeless blob, somehow. The second problem is related and is about perspective. We can only 'see' a blob from a place outside of it which, even if it only conceptual, is a part of Everything. All 'around' Everything, in time and space, is the mystery we refer to as 'infinity', 'eternity' or ein soph if we want to be trippy, which at this time we simply do not understand. I'd love to offer something new there, but no can do, sorry.

So we have this object, this singular creature that is absolutely rational and undeniably in existence, but simultaneously impossible to comprehend in any meaningful, coherent way.

A knowledge and understanding of Everything is the objective of all the human sciences and, I would argue as a dialectical naturalist, an objective of nature itself. Everything is keen to know itself, apparently, as I discussed a bit in Prayer 2. We might note that seeking knowledge in a scientific way is a relatively recent phenomena, and also that seeking God is not. We are just working with greater revelation, and well-developed systems of accumulative revelation.

We can look out, and look ahead, and gape at what we simply do not know, but we can also look back over our shoulders and see how much we have learned about heavens since the psalmist cried, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). And when we read of God mocking the ignorance of Job (Chapters 38 and 39 are fun in this regard) we realise we can not quite be so mocked today. To, "Hast thou perceived the breadth of the Earth?" for example (38:18), we can say, "yep." My favourite of these sort of passages is in Ekklesiastes where the philosopher is humbled, "thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child."(11:5) (Aside, God made no actual claims of the knowledge either which was pretty sneaky really.) But once again we can now say we understand wind and bone growth a hell of a lot better than the philosopher did. And we should celebrate that revelation, and keep seeking, in my view. It is merely nature itself at work.

And so we seek Everything and we might note that there is no thing else to seek. In this project - of seeking God - philosophy/science and religion were once united and should be so again. Any religion which denies the new revelations of science is doomed to either oblivion or absurdity. The Dalai Lama is typically more polite about it than me, but he seems to feel the same way.

If the House of Every was to have a catechism, a summary of essential doctrine, God=Everything might be the whole thing. I do not present it as "another god", "just as valid as any other god". Everything is the god we have been attempting to grasp for thousands of years, the Mosaic God that can not be idolised, I AM, and the Aristotelian god above all gods, the highest comprehensible object of attention, and the Tao that cannot be named or described, Brahmin etcetera. Not only is this a defensible proposition but I have every intention of arguing it proactively and am keen to debate anyone who feels God is something else. Everything does not require reference to faith.

It is not an argument atheists would find relevant. Religionists may seek Everything but unlike atheists, we also worship, meditate upon and even 'serve' Everything. The reason is a combination of a bit of a common human compulsion and a choice, but it is in this regard that next week I want to face off some very specific criticisms from New Atheism (specifically Hitchens), something that I think all religions with integrity are obliged to do.

But atheists aside, worship, and especially worship as a collective act, is perennial to human civilisation and whilst it has become diffuse and often political or trivial it appears to remain so. As I've argued elsewhere it may be our basic defence against becoming dysfunctional through alienation. If Jesse Berin (The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life, 2011) is right we are pretty much condemned by evolution to relate to God, and even atheist horseman Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena, 2006) seems to agree, though he sees religion as a redundant system, like an appendix of society or something.

If this is the case; if it is so that we have psychologic nature to collectively narrate our relationship with reality, and further that the resulting collective religious embodiment is the natural and healthy condition of society, then we - the whole world - need a god that makes sense, or that at least makes sense equally to every human and is scientifically defensible. Everything certainly makes sense, but as a god Everything serves other values well as well. There is no strict connection between theology and values - people are more complicated and unpredictable than that. But I feel it can be said that Everything better underpins values of equality, compassion and integrity than does any idolatrous god.

And any god but Everything is an idol, an impression carved from the whole, divisive.
Everything, my love, this one really is dedicated to you, even if it could be dedicated to another. Help my readers in their dance with you Every, whatever they call it, however they refer to it. Help them discern any justice I do you in my words from any injustice. And whatever it is Everything, may thy purpose be manifest on our planet. So be it.