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 © Rex A E Hunt November 2016 A much shorter version of this Paper was part of oral Panel Presentations on two separate occasions: (i) at The Progressive Christianity Network of Victoria, in Melbourne, 23 October 2016, on new directions/ initiatives in progressive spirituality, and (ii) at The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, in Canberra, 14 November 2016

IT’S NATURAL! A ‘FORGOTTEN ALTERNATIVE' FOR PROGRESSIVE SPIRITUALITY “The capacity of the natural world to inspire a religious response from humans has long been recognised. From the nature mysticism of the ancients to presentday expressions of wonderment at the beauty and ferocity of the natural world, it is clear that humans have always sought to understand their relationship to the cosmos”  (Nigel Leaves) “Its great wings outstretched, the brown pelican spirals in the thermal air. Scarcely a flicker of those magnificent wings is required for it to soar further and further aloft. Finally reaching an apogee of the spiral, it gently banks and slowly descends, only to be uplifted again in its circling flight… For me, at that moment, this pelican’s flight is a compelling symbol of the numinous powers, presences, and wonders of the natural order to which we both miraculously belong.” (Donald Crosby) There is a new ‘old’ kid on the progressive spirituality block. It’s called Religious Naturalism, described by some advocates as the “forgotten alternative”. (Jerome Stone)  While it may be new to many it has a long pedigree, stretching from Christian medieval times through to today where it has been preserved primarily within Unitarian spirituality.  And centuries before all that when you take into consideration indigenous 1 peoples nature-centric songlines or Dreaming stories, that celebrate the sacred earth as the Kunapipi, ‘earth mother’. So at the Common Dreams 4 Conference in Brisbane, Australia, in September 2016, I 2 attended and was grateful for, several presentations and workshops which, for the sake of this Paper, I have grouped together under the heading ‘Religious Naturalism’: (i) Noel Preston’s workshop which featured a showing of the DVD ‘Journey of the Universe’, honouring the work of Thomas Berry, 

 Marginalised by old-line Church Christianity as a heretical institution, the first Unitarian church in 1 Australia was established in Sydney in 1850—just a whisker over 60 years after British colonialisation. The Melbourne Unitarian Church was founded two years later, in 1852. While the church in Adelaide was established in 1855 by English settlers.  Theme of the Conference was ‘Progressive Spirituality: New Directions”2

(ii) Jana Norman’s scholarly presentation on the Ecozoic Era—highlighting a radical shift in consciousness from human devastation to human beings learning to be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner, (iii) the more than playful ‘brush’ given nature by Diana Butler Bass when she unpacked some thoughts from her book, Grounded. Finding God in the World, and (iv) Rob MacPherson’s workshop ‘Spirituality from a Unitarian Universalist Perspective’, where he offered hints that many Unitarians see ‘spiritual’ as a deep concern with that which gives us life—a movement away from individualism, antiauthoritarianism and exceptionalism, to the promises of pluralism, generosity, and the creative imagination. Rob is pastor at the Unitarian Church of South Australia in Adelaide. Added to all this, just days after returning from the Conference I received notice of an interactive online conversation “Alternative Futures: Pathways Toward Ecological Civilization” organised by The Centre for Process and Faith at the Claremont School of Theology… which seeks to explore and inspire new ‘social imaginaries’—new narratives— that counter the dominant narratives surrounding climate change where the language seems to be all about survival of the fittest. So taken together these immediately shape the matrix for this Paper. But to be honest it all started further back than just a couple of months… Indeed, it goes back to the mid 1960s when during my theological formation I was being taught ‘to think theologically’. So then as now I had/have three questions: • Is religion, by definition, concerned with the supernatural? • Is it forever wedded to the premise that the supernatural exists? • Is religion about g-o-d and/or gods? Welcome to some of my journey! oo0oo Religious naturalism has two central aspects. One is a naturalist view of how things happen in the world—in which the natural world is all there is, and that nothing other than natural may cause events in the world. The other is appreciation of religion with a view that nature can be a focus of religious attention. So let me tease out some of this worldview called religious naturalism just a little… Naturalist views, grounded in science, provide a framework for understanding what seems real. These include a central story, the epic of evolution, that explains the origins of the cosmos and humans, with perspectives from which to consider why we do what we do. We are fully linked with our surroundings in time, space, matter/energy, and causality, and where the metaphor of ‘web’ is used to describe this interrelatedness. 3

 Some have challenged this understanding because the image of a web is too meagre and simple for the 3 reality. A web is flat and finished ‘and has the mortal frailty of the individual spider’. And although elastic it has insufficient depth. 

“As earth-creatures we do not live in straight lines; we truly do exist in a web, a network, a maze… When the relationality is mutually supportive, and not distorted, we truly can speak of ‘mazing grace’.” (Larry Axel) Religious orientation includes spiritual responses, which can include feelings of appreciation, gratitude, humility, reverence, and joy at the wonder of being alive. It also includes moral responses, involving values rooted in nature—to seek justice and cooperation among social groups and balance in ecosystems. Wonder, although not the only possible response when contemplating the immense scale of matter, space, and time, is surely appropriate once we realise we belong to something so very far beyond us. Such naturalistic wonder and awe counts as deeply spiritual. Professor of Theology Michael Hogue gathers up these characteristics and suggests, in part, that religious naturalism “…is a humble religious path that decentralizes the human species within the infinitely broader metaphysical and aesthetic rhythms of the Universe. It is a way of knowing that reveres the wisdom of collective human experience and reason more highly than any single sacred book or tradition. It is a quest for wisdom from wherever it may come: from the symbols, myths and rituals of the world’s diverse religious traditions, from literature and the arts, from the intricate splendors of indigenous knowledges to the mind-bending ways of the modern sciences.” (Michael Hogue) oo0oo Nature and naturalism are for us today ‘the main game’ for any progressive spirituality despite the continuing influence of neo-orthodoxy.  If we think back over the past two 4 centuries and recount the ways scientific knowledge has impacted our lives, what would top the list? I would suggest the recognition that nature is constitutive of who and what we are as human beings. “Whether or not we believe that there is something more”, writes Jerome Stone, “nature is so significant that all our beliefs must be reformulated so as to take nature into account.” (Jerome Stone)  Given a chance, the cosmogenesis (cosmic evolution) story is too compelling, too beautiful, too edifying, and too liberating to fail in captivating the imagination of a vast majority of humankind. “For just as the Milky Way is the universe in the form of a galaxy, and an orchid is the universe in the form of a flower, we are the universe in the form of a human. And every time we are drawn to look up into the night sky and reflect on the awesome beauty of the universe, we are actually the universe reflecting on itself.”  (Thomas Berry)

 Emil Brunner wrote: “Because man has been made in the image of God, therefore he may and should make 4 the earth subject to himself, and should have dominion over all other creatures… Man is only capable of realising his divine destiny when he rises above Nature”. (Quoted in Geering. The Greening of Christianity, 43.)

The human story and the universe story are the same story. We are not encapsulated, separated, isolated beings. Whatever we are, the universe is. “The reality inside of us and the reality outside of us are ultimately one reality. In us the universe dreams its dreams. In us the universe struggles for a moral vision. In us the universe hopes for new possibilities. In us the universe strives for self-understanding. In us the universe seeks the meaning of existence.” (David Bumbaugh) Names of religious naturalists to look out for? My grounding was with Americans Henry Nelson Wieman, Bernard Loomer, and Bernard Meland. Other former religious naturalists include Samuel Alexander, Mordecai Kaplan, Thomas Berry, and perhaps Gordon Kaufman. While current ones include Karl Peters, Jerome Stone, Loyal Rue, Donald Crosby, Ursula Goodenough, Michael Cavanaugh, Michael S. Hogue, Sallie McFague, David Bumbaugh, Charlene Spretnak, Joanna Macy, and the latter Lloyd Geering. The ‘naturalism’ represented by these authors is diverse. Generally speaking they can be grouped as: (i) those who conceive of g-o-d as the creative process within the universe; (ii) those who think of g-o-d as the totality of the universe considered religiously, and (iii) those who see no need to use the concept or terminology of g-o-d. Several are Unitarian in religious formation. Now… scholarly criticism and abstractions can inspire us. But as I have indicated elsewhere, the shaping of progressive religious thought needs both the voice of the critic— to keep any community free from sloppy sentimentality—as well as the concern of the creative artist—to strike a chord and resonate within. Ideally the two should function ‘in stereo’—simultaneous but different. To substantially change how we feel we may need to participate in storytelling as well as some sort of spiritual practice. The weaving of story (what we tell) and ritual (what we enact) are ways we make sense of our world. Traditional church religion has used liturgical practices—with all their supernatural connotations and general shaping from confession to pardon reflecting a presupposition of human guilt—through the employment of music, theatre, incense, architecture and other ritual elements that generate feelings of connection and wonder. But a radical reshaping of such liturgy/ritual is required. There is no reason why a ritual/liturgical link cannot be forged between naturalism and such feelings of wonder and awe. It’s finding the appropriate language along with designing rituals and practices that enriches these feelings with expressions of naturalistic beliefs.5

 “Underneath the surface of the various layers of Christianity lurk the remnants of religion that focused on 5 nature. For example… we still name the days of the week after the ancient Germanic gods—Sunday for the sun-god, Monday for the moon-god, Wednesday for Woden, and Saturday for Saturn. These relics remain in spite of the efforts of priests to eliminate everything that smacked of superstitious paganism” (Lloyd Geering)

• The musicians and lyricists among us must collaborate on new, more explicitly naturalistic songs and hymns—as Shirley Erena Murray, John Storey, and William L. Wallace attempt to do. A well-known traditional hymn suggests we are ‘pilgrims through this barren land’, but such words are demeaning of earth. Earth would surely respond: “If you read the landscape you will discover I am not ‘barren’ land [terra nullius] but an exciting ecosystem to be embraced and celebrated.” (Norman Habel) 

 Keeping on the landscape theme… Indigenous dreaming, for instance, is a tradition of story and ceremony, not a tradition of appeasement or offerings… the landscape itself is imbued with the sacred. (David Tacey)  A land-dreaming people. Sure, there are those 6 7 theologians who dismiss all this as just being faddish, insisting that any genuinely Australian theology “must consist of more than just scattering kangaroos and gum trees across the page.” Likewise Australian sociologists “also know very well that over ninety per cent of Australians live in big cities near the coast, and rarely visit the desert, rainforest or countryside.” (Elizabeth Smith)  Yet I, along with others, claim being landscape-aware is being real to ordinary experience—the only grounds of a living tradition. People tend always to read, think, and understand from their particular place on the planet. But it goes further. The natural seasons not only have symbolic value they also affect us physiologically. Seasonal changes in temperature, sunlight, precipitation, barometric pressure, and lunar cycles all have demonstrable effects on our moods and physical functioning. 8 • A challenge to artists and potters is to create art works and artefacts that examine the beauty and spiritual meaning that can come from an appreciation of the natural world. In the past I have been known to invite a potter to ‘throw a pot’ during a liturgy celebrating Spring! As one early American ‘liberal’ said: “Protestantism has been chary of the arts and suspicious of the artist.” (Von Ogden Vogt) • Creative story-telling trains us to anticipate many possible futures, making us good problem-solvers.  Story-telling helped us survive the rigours of natural selection, as it trained us to imagine the consequences of different possible scenarios for our actions. The prophetic voice of storyteller Thomas Berry: “…as we look up at the starry sky at night, and as, in the morning, we see the landscape revealed as the sun dawns over the earth—these experiences reveal a physical world but also a more profound world that cannot be bought with money, cannot be manufactured with technology, cannot be listed on the stock market, cannot be made in the chemical laboratory, cannot be reproduced with all our genetic engineering, cannot be sent by e-mail. These experiences require only that we follow the deepest feelings of the human soul.” (Thomas Berry)

 For Aboriginal people religious identity is more a question of geography than theology6 David Malouf. A Spirit of Play. Quoted in Leaves.7 McEmrys. ‘Living Liturgy’, 78

Poets of the calibre of Robert Weston and his beautiful “Out of the Stars…”, Eric Williams “The strength of the Earth is the stones…” and any of the poems of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, especially her “The Summer Day”: Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean– the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand… All need to be introduced into our rituals and liturgies. Sticking with only readings and reflections from the Bible is too narrow a canon. • Children’s Sunday Clubs, where they still exist, should teach ethics and respect and humility before the mysteries of life without resorting to stale and incredible biblical tales —as Cheryl Binkley and Jane McKeel have done with Jesus and his Kingdom of Equals. Or even better… if commentary such as Elizabeth Johnson’s on Jesus of Nazareth was included in sermons and liturgies, the ‘human/historical’ Jesus as sage would be more believable: “Born of a woman… and the Hebrew gene pool, Jesus of Nazareth was a creature of earth, a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet. Like all human beings, he carried within himself the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth. The atoms comprising his body once belonged to other creatures. The genetic structure of his cells made him part of the whole community of life that descended from common ancestors in the ancient seas.” (Elizabeth Johnson) • Social concern, for example the natural cycle of growth, destruction, and renewal, can also be focused ritually. Back in the late 1960s such a ritual, called by the mundane name of  ‘tea-drinking’, became part of several study groups on ecology/Composting. The session began with the members drinking [billy] tea quietly and ceremonially while sitting on cushions. “Then the group moved on to an actual discussion in which practical techniques [concerning composting] and questions were aired. Finally, at the end of the meeting each person reverently sprinkled used tea leaves on the compost pile and took away a cup of half-finished compost and two worms. These items were seed for the compost pile that class members would later begin at home.” (Karl Peters) Commenting on this ritual Karl Peters wrote: “In such a ceremony the rational understanding of natural, ecological renewal is combined with ritual actions that may help establish new behaviour patterns in human beings”.

Again, in the mid 1980s, Columban Father Vincent Busch developed a Stations of the Forest using the ‘stations’ format to lament the death of the Philippine rainforests. Various versions of it were used by Catholic agencies over the next decade. A revised production was updated in 2009 by the Columbans in the UK, incorporating additional global issues related to rainforest destruction such as the extractive industries and climate change. Five years ago, in 2011, an Australian version was edited.9 Now for a short commercial… In my most recent book, When Progressives Gather Together: Liturgy, Lectionary, Landscape… And Other Explorations, I offer commentary and liturgical 10 examples grounded in both a religious naturalism and a celebration of life. One such example comes out of a reshaping of the ‘Words of Committal’ from a Funeral Liturgy… The spirit of (NNN) shall not know the blight of mortality: for it shall live on in the lives made real by its presence, and its gracious influence. Those atoms and molecules which constituted his/her physical frame… Every one of them originated in the burst of heat and light which created our galaxy millions of light years ago. They persisted in bodies both animate and inanimate that came into being on planet Earth, and they reached their fulfilment in the generous life-form and personality of this strong, courageous, self conscious human being, we called (N). So reverently, lovingly, trustingly, we commit his/her body to the elements, which is welcoming to us at the time of our death. Ashes to ashes/Earth to earth, star dust to star dust. In the cycle of life and death the earth is replenished and life is eternally renewed. Another is from a ‘Celebration of Baptism’ liturgy where ‘earth’ is added to the traditional ‘water’ and ‘oil’… Child of the Earth Poets are also sensitive to events such as this.

 Produced by Columban JPIC Office, Britain with Australian additions by the Columban Mission Institute,9 Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice, Strathfield, NSW. eMail:  Phone: 02 93528021 Website:  2016. Morning Star Publishing10

At the beginning of his poem Robert Weston writes:   ‘Out of the stars in their flight, out of the dust of eternity,   here have we come,         Stardust and sunlight, mingling         through time and through space…’ Each time we gather in sacred or ordinary places we are reminded that Aboriginal people have cared for this land since time immemorial, loving it as their mother. Others have also come to this land from many places on earth and this place has now become home to all. Respecting the relationship between humankind and the earth insight of Aboriginal people, (N), we place your feet in this soil/clay. If child, held up, then feet placed/’planted’ in the soil If adult, invited to step into the soil tray You are a child of the Earth. You have inherited the responsibility of caring for this earth. Cherish it for all creation. May the sun and the stars delight and touch your heart with fire and so may you find passion to be both caring and creative. Both these liturgies have been shaped by language that is more relationship-building than “doctrinal specificity and ecclesial distinctiveness”, and with the ‘southern hemisphere’ 11 liturgical challenge in mind. As such they seek to overcome the dissonance between metaphor and experience. oo0oo No matter how beautiful some may consider it, a supernatural worldview, and the practices that reinforce it, anaesthetizes us to things we need to do if we are to create sustainability for our planet, our children, and their children. “Stripped of a divine plan,” suggests Gretta Vosper, “we are challenged to be active participants who can mould the world around us rather than simply passive recipients who engage, now and again, in acts of devotion with the hope of altering the course of events.” (Gretta Vosper)

 Cowdell, S. ‘Baptism in Australia’, 156.11

So, where to start personally?  Well… Start by taking a three year old child, (maybe your 12 grandson or grand-daughter) for a walk along some wet-lands track. Do not plan to be in a hurry. Every twig. Every coloured stone. Every duck. Every small grasshopper or lizard to cross your path will be an occasion for closer ‘looking’ and excitement. Such is the enchantment of a three year old for the natural world. Start with your own life. With the fifty trillion cells of your body that are converting energy to make protein right now so you can read/hear these words. Or… with the awareness that the body you are carrying around now won’t be the body you’ll be carrying around seven years from now. It will have completely rebuilt itself from the inside out. Allow yourself to be shaped by this creativity. This wonder. Webs of culture, life, and cosmos, “resulting in unending successions of ever-evolving levels of living forms”. (Karl Peters)  Each day “lifts its head from the dew-strung grasses and offers new hope, new possibilities, extra chances”. (Gretta Vosper)  Because every moment is pregnant with possibility. The miracle of each moment awaits our sensual wonder. Hosannah! Not in the highest, but right here. Right now. This. Horizontal transcendence. Nature embedded in humanity. Humanity embedded in nature. There is no good reason to believe that taking nature to heart leaves a person with any fewer spiritual benefits than taking to heart the teachings of supernaturalist traditions.13 The religious rituals of the future will celebrate the wonder of the universe and the mystery of life. “They will,” suggests New Zealander Lloyd Geering, “revolve around the natural processes that have brought life into being and continue to sustain it.” And then later Geering offers this reminder: “It is salutary to remember that the great annual Christian festivals [Christmas and Easter]… all originated as festivals celebrating the changing seasons of nature… As humankind recovers full appreciation of how much our earthly life depends upon the conditions and processes of the Earth itself, it will re-create the appropriate nature festivals to celebrate it.”  (Lloyd Geering) oo0oo The sacred is not a separate ‘supernatural’ sphere of life. Neither is it to be found separate from the pursuits of truth, justice, beauty and selfhood. It is more like the caffeine in the 

 When an edited version of this paper was part of an oral presentation, those attending were invited to 12 look at the moon on their exiting the hall… That night (14 November 2016) it was the closest full moon to earth so far in the 21st century. It would not be this close again until 23 November 2034 Lloyd Geering also writes: “…the dichotomy of natural/supernatural has now become obsolete. So far as I 13 can ascertain we owe the use of the term supernatural to Aquinas as he tried to reconcile Christian thought with the rediscovered thought of Aristotle. In any case we now find ourselves in a world where nature reigns supreme. There is no supernatural sphere”. (Personal correspondence, 25/8/2016)

coffee than like a strawberry on top of the pavlova. So what does religious experience look and feel like from the standpoint of religious naturalism? Again Michael Hogue is helpful: “Religious experience for the religious naturalist provoke questions about the meanings and values that ultimately orient life—they are interrogative rather the declarative. They are events, encounters, insights, relationships, undergoings, and overcomings that throw life into suspense, stripping away the pretence of the givenness of things, compelling one, even if just for a moment, to face the contingency of what is taken to be necessary, the vulnerability of what is taken to be invulnerable, and  the perishability of what is assumed to be permanent. Experiences such as these throw life into a new frame; they rend the veil of the ordinary. They interrupt and can sometimes transform one’s life.”  (Michael Hogue) My opening ‘pelican’ story—a very common occurrence on the NSW Central Coast where I now live—was told by philosopher and Unitarian religious naturalist, Donald Crosby. A similar experience of the ordinary is recounted by Brazilian Marcelo Gleiser. He had just finished attending a conference in Durham UK and decided to take a walk around the city —with its magnificent castle and well-preserved eleventh-century Gothic cathedral—a true medieval jewel. He writes: “A public footpath meanders along the river. I approach it through a narrow alleyway just beneath the castle. A huge sycamore bowed ceremoniously over the dark green water. I paused to appreciate the view, infused with a deep sense of peace. A cloud of mayflies wobbled just above the current, joyfully celebrating their twenty-four-hour existence. Suddenly out of the depths, a salmon leaped some three feet into the air, swallowed one of them, and dived back with a noisy splash. The fish must have  been at least six pounds, maybe more. I just stood there, motionless, mouth agape. “If there are such things as signs, this was one. Nature had just sent me a message; at least that’s how I saw it, which is what matters. Few moments in my life had been more meaningful. A cozy warmth spread across my chest, as I experienced a kind of revelatory awakening. I had just witnessed the simple beauty of the unexpected. ‘You need to get out into the wilderness more often. You’re missing the magic,’ said a voice in my head. This time, I was listening.” Whether all this is called ‘religion’ or ‘spirituality’ or ‘secular mysticism’ I am not really too fussed. In the debate between ‘being religious’ or ‘being spiritual’ if pushed I would claim to be ‘both’. More of a concern for me is that progressive religious thought respond to the challenges framed by ecological scientists. And such a response might be a kind of cosmic recipe for the functioning of all things. • A recipe for dancing with and living in harmony with, our world and the various environments that help shape us; • A call to live humanly and humanely; • An invitation to hope. Not hope for any time other than this time. But hope for the fullest and the best that human beings together in concert can achieve.

One important question remains: what of so-called God-talk? If g-o-d, using that devotional word as pattern of creativity—meaning the emergence of new possibilities and the selecting of some of these to continue—or event, or even the Darwinian two-step … if 14 g-o-d is to be known at all, g-o-d must be known in the only realm accessible to us. g-o-d will be identified either with a part of the concrete actual world, such as ‘creativity’, or with the totality of that world. Gordon Kaufman’s words still ring true for me: “I have proposed serendipitous creativity as a metaphor more appropriate for thinking of God today… The idea of creativity—the idea of coming into being through time of the previously nonexistent, the new, the novel—continues to have considerable plausibility today; indeed, it is bound up with the very belief that our cosmos is an evolutionary one in which new orders of reality come into being in the course of exceedingly complex temporal developments.” (Gordon Kaufman) An alternate liturgical language suggestion is to use sacred instead of g-o-d. While I am sympathetic to such, and indeed often use the term in my own  liturgies, I am still not prepared to let go of the term g-o-d altogether. I now tend to write it ‘g-o-d’ instead of ‘God’ to move it away from any personalistic or anthropocentric thinking. Let me be clear: religious naturalism will not save the church. However, it is the urgent hope of many that religious naturalism, the ‘forgotten alternative’, will prevail as the most universal and influential religious orientation on the planet. Listening again to the wisdom of Loyal Rue… “Religious naturalists will be known for their reverence and awe before Nature, their love for Nature and natural forms, their sympathy for all living things, their guilt for enlarging the ecological footprints, their pride in reducing them, their sense of gratitude directed towards the matrix of life, their contempt for those who abstract themselves from natural values, and their solidarity with those who link their self-esteem to sustainable living.” And then this claim, made all the more powerful because it was the title of his important book, Religion Is Not About God… “[Religion] is about us. It is about manipulating our brains so that we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively. Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments. Religions have always been about this business of adaptation, and they will always remain so.” (Loyal Rue)

 Darwinian two-step consists of a set of processes that brings about new variations and a second set that 14 selects some of these as more viable than others. (Karl Peters)

References/Bibliography: Axel, L. E. “Reshaping the Task of Theology” in William Dean (ed) The Size of God. The Theology of Bernard Loomer in Context, in American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 8, 1 & 2, January & May 1987 Berry, T. “Evening Thoughts” in M. E Tucker & J. Grim (ed) Thomas Berry: Selected Writings on the Earth Community. New York: Orbis Books, 2014 ————-, “The Dream of the Earth” quoted in L. G. Geering. The Greening of Christianity. Wellington: St Andrew’s Trust, 2005 Bumbaugh, D. “Toward a Humanist Vocabulary of Reverence”. Boulder International Humanist Institute, Fourth Annual Symposium, Boulder, Colorado. 22 February 2003. Accessed 20 December 2015. < humanist_reverence.pdf> Cowdell, S. “Baptism in Australia: Secularisation, ‘Civil Baptism’ and the Social Miracle” in S. Burns & A. Monro. (ed). Christian Worship in Australia. Inculturating the Liturgical Tradition. Strathfield: St Paul’s Publications, 2009. Crosby, D. More than Discourse: Symbolic Expressions of Naturalistic Faith. New York: SUNY Press, 2015 Geering, L. G. Reimagining God. The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2014 ————-, From the Big Bang to God. An Awe-Inspiring Journey of Evolution. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2013 ————-, Coming Back to Earth. From gods, to God, to Gaia. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2009 ————-, The Greening of Christianity. Wellington: St Andrew’s Trust, 2005 Gleiser, M. The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected. A Natural Philosopher’s Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. Lebanon NH: ForeEdge, 2016 Goodenough, U. The Sacred Depths of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 Habel, N. C. An Inconvenient Text: Is a Green Reading of the Bible Possible? Hindmarsh: ATF Press, 2009 Hogue, M. S. “Religion Without God: The Way of Religious Naturalism” in The Fourth R 27, 3, (May-June 2014), 3-6, 15-16 Hunt, R. A. E. When Progressives Gather Together: Liturgy, Lectionary, Landscape… And Other Explorations. Northcote: Morning Star Publishing, 2016 Johnson, E. “Deep Incarnation: Prepare to be Astonished”, UNIFAS Conference, Rio de Janeiro, 7-14 July 2010. <> Accessed 4 October 2016 Kaufman, G. D. “On Thinking of God as Serendipitous Creativity” in M. K. Cunningham (ed) God and Evolution. A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2007 ————-, In The Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004 ————-, In Face of Mystery. A Constructive Theology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993 Leaves, N. The God Problem: Alternatives to Fundamentalism. Santa Rosa: Polebridge Press, 2006 Loomer, B. M. “The Size of God” in William Dean (ed) The Size of God. The Theology of Bernard Loomer in Context, in American Journal of Theology & Philosophy 8, 1 & 2, January & May 1987 ————-, “Two Conceptions of Power” in Process Studies 6, 1, (Spring) 1976 McEmrys, A. “Living Liturgy: A Unitarian-Universalist Liturgical Theology in Theory and Practice” in The Journal of Liberal Religion 6, 1, 2006 Oliver, M. “The Summer Day”. Library of Congress, < 180/133.html>  Accessed 10 October 2016 Peters, K. E. Dancing with the Sacred: Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2002 ————-, “Storytellers and Scenario Spinners: Some Reflections on Religion and Science in light of a Pragmatic, Evolutionary Theory of Knowledge” in Zygon 32, 4, (December 1997), 465-489 ————-, “Interrelating Nature, Humanity, and the Work of God: Some Issues for Future Reflection” in Zygon 27, 4, (December 1992), 403-419

————-, “Humanity in Nature: Conserving yet Creating” in Zygon 24, 4, (December 1989), 469-485 Preston, N. “Eco-Theology: The Main Game for Religious Progressives” in R. A. E. Hunt & G. C. Jenks (ed). Wisdom and Imagination: Religious Progressives and the Search for Meaning. Northcote: Morning Star Publishing, 2014 ————-, “Exploring Eco-Theology” in R. A. E. Hunt & J. W. H. Smith (ed). Why Weren’t We Told? A Handbook on ‘progressive’ Christianity. Salem: Polebridge Press, 2013 “Religious Naturalism. A Religious Worldview Grounded in the Sciences, the Humanities, and the Arts”.  (Accessed August 2016) Rue, L. Religion Is Not About God. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2006. Sanguin, B. Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos. An Ecological Christianity. Kelowna: Copper House/Wood Lake Publishing, 2007 Smith, E. J. “Crafting and Singing Hymns in Australia” in S. Burns & A. Monro. (ed). Christian Worship in Australia. Inculturating the Liturgical Tradition. Strathfield: St Paul’s Publications, 2009. Stone, J. A. Religious Naturalism Today. The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative. New York: SUNY Press, 2008 ————-, “Is God Emeritus? The Idea of God Among Religious Naturalists” in The Journal of Liberal Religion 5, 1, 2005 ————, ”What is Religious Naturalism?” in The Journal of Liberal Religion 2, 1, 2000 Swimme, B. T. & M. E. Tucker.  Journey of the Universe. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014 Tacey, D. ReEnchantment: The New Australian Spirituality. Pymble: HarperCollins, 2000 Vogt, V. O. Art and Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921. (Second printing 1929). Vosper, G. Amen. What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012 ————-,  We All Breathe. Poems and Prayers. Toronto: File 14: PostPurgical Resources, 2012 White, S. J. Christian Worship and Technological Change. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994

About the Author Rev Rex A. E. Hunt is a religious naturalist, progressive liturgist, and social ecologist. A retired minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, his last placement was at the progressive Church of St James, Canberra, ACT, having previously served in parish settings in Victoria, Tasmania, and New South Wales, spanning more than 45 years.   In the middle of all this he was appointed Director of Communications with the National Assembly of the Uniting Church, serving for nine years.  And he has done a short stint as Acting Director, School of Continuing Education at the NSW Synod’s Centre for Ministry, in North Parramatta.   Along the way he was Founder and National co-ordinator of The Network of Biblical Storytellers Australia/New Zealand (1990-96), was the Founding Director of The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, Canberra (2002-09), and authored or edited seven books on progressive Christianity.     As part of his commitment to the progressive religion movements in Australia and New Zealand he was Chair of the Planning Team of Common Dreams Conference of Religious Progressives, Australia/South Pacific for eight years (2006-2013).  An Associate of the Westar Institute, he was for three years (2005-08) a member of its Literacy & Liturgy Seminar.  In 2004 he was made a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International through the Rotary Club of Canberra Woden.   An author/editor of seven books on progressive christianity, he and spouse Dylis live on the Central Coast of New South Wales (Australia). They have two married adult children: Brendan and Rowena, three grandchildren: Elsie, Romeo, and Lenna, and a ‘grand-dog’ called ‘Alfie’.

Literalism or liberation?

Reading the Qur'an, the task of Muslim women

Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and author of Islam and the Arab Awakening. In  the second of a projected three-part series on Women and Islam on ABC Religion and Ethics  in November last year, he reported on the role Islamic women are playing in interpreting the Qur’an.

Early ulama obviously could not undertake the task of addressing the question of women's being. As men, they could hardly do more than determine women's functions. As actors in a given culture, they could not transcend that culture. In addition to being subject to their gender, they were necessarily also products of their culture.

Yet, in the light of the higher objectives of Islam - the individual's dignity, integrity, autonomy, development, education, intelligence, welfare, health and inner balance - one can realise that a number of rules inferentially establish an explicit status for women as beings.

Their spiritual quest is recognised as part of their being and development like that of men, and education is an imperative requirement: "Seeking knowledge is an obligation for every Muslim man or woman." Women's recognised autonomy is outlined in their having the right to acquire property and goods and manage them as soon as they reach maturity, without having to answer to anybody (neither their parents nor their husbands), as well as their keeping their own family name when they marry.

On a more personal level, the recognition of their right to sexual pleasure, of their choices regarding marriage, divorce, contraception and even abortion establishes, both in practice and in the purposes of the Islamic message, the groundwork of elaborate discourse about women as beings, their status, their autonomy and their legitimate aspirations, before beginning any discourse about their rights within the limits of their families and social functions.

Scholars were remote from such considerations when they undertook the first legal deciphering. Interested as they were in the legal framework, they mainly focused on function. They were also influenced by culture, which fashions gender relations and the conception of the natural status of women in traditional Eastern, Arab (or Persian or Asian) and patriarchal societies.

Reading the early commentaries proposed by such great scholars as Al Tabari, Al Razi, or Al Qurtubi clearly shows that they were indeed immersed in a specific culture and that their comments about women - their role as well as how they should be treated - stem as much, if not more, from cultural projection as from normative critical reading.

In the light of the revelation's evolution of the Prophet's (PBUH) attitude and of the objectives that have been worked out, this might have continued to propose liberating paths for women if early interpreters had not confined themselves to formal literality or to stipulating rights and duties only or to accepting customs. Men, the texts' early readers and interpreters, felt no need for that, while women, who were directly affected by social realities and possible distortions of the texts, were absent from that legal elaboration. Malek Ibn Anas and Abu Hanifah were able to make daring comments regarding their environment, particularly in fields whose practices they knew from within such as clan relations or trade, but it was impossible for them to do the same in terms of women's issues, precisely because they were not women and they could not understand from within how the latter experienced interpersonal relations and integrated social dynamics.

Accordingly, we should indeed return to the texts and the modalities of their reading and interpretation in the light of the environments in which they were revealed. Islamic legal thinking about women is certainly the field that has suffered most from two phenomena: literalist reduction and cultural projection. The revelations, accompanied by the Prophet's (PBUH) example, represented a divine pedagogy that consisted, over 23 years and according to historical circumstances, in changing early Muslims' mindsets and leading them to consider the issue of women differently.

A study exclusively focusing on the texts, their substance, comparison and chronology - such as that of scholar Abd Al Halim Abu Shuqqah, Women's Liberation in the Age of Revelation - shows that this is a continued process of liberation that is accounted for by the message's global vision and by the objectives (maqasid) inferred from the process. Therefore, in addition to reading the texts, one should examine the cultural environment of the time and understand what these texts refer to and which issues are involved in what they say.

It would appear that in virtually every aspect of women's being and activity in societies, text sequences not only state injunctions, but also open prospects that can only be extracted through a holistic, goal-oriented approach. Whether about the relationship to God, to faith or to the mosque; about necessary education and autonomy, for oneself and towards others; about relating to the body, sexuality, marriage and divorce; about relating to work, money, politics or even war; one can observe that the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions take highly innovative positions, which are also very open about their understanding of and dialectical involvement in social environments. The issue, then, is no longer only to know what the texts say about women, but rather to understand what was promoted, defended and prescribed concerning women's being and power, in relation to the environment of the time.

The relationship between texts and contexts must be studied and this will enable us to extract principles and objectives. Texts do not speak by themselves and teachings are both synchronic and diachronic: the relation to time is crucial, and the relation to the context is imperative.

A literalist reading cannot account for those evolutionary dynamics and their tense relation to time and environments. Specialising in the contents of texts alone (as is required of fuqaha as a priority) is likely to restrict both the substance of the message and its higher objectives. Some existing texts are sometimes read and interpreted without considering chronology and context; it thus becomes impossible for some ulama to dare express clear legal opinions in the light of higher objectives. They should, for instance, speak out on the fact that keeping women illiterate, forbidding them to work, reaching financial autonomy and playing a social and economic role, as well as such practices as female genital mutilation, forced marriages, the denial of divorce or restraint against domestic violence, are absolutely contrary to Islam's message as shown through its evolution (over more than 23 years) and the Prophet's (PBUH) own attitude.

That, however, is not all. Such clear positions must be completed with studies about the different social dynamics or the management of real or figurative powers between women and men, shedding light on the complex situations in which (in the name of religion itself or of its rejection) rights can be lost, discrimination can set in or some forms of alienation may replace others.

Women are the first victims of those reductions of rights in the substance of texts and of the obstacles that lie deep within social structures - that is why they should train in the study of texts, acquire the tools to interpret them and complete the understanding of principles with thorough reflection about environments and the logic of discrimination or alienation. Such issues as the right to work, polygamy, divorce or inheritance cannot be approached only through the study of what the texts allow or do not allow. The approach can only be holistic and elaborated in the light of higher ends. Otherwise, the very essence of the ruling (hukm) may be betrayed.

What can be the meaning, in an environment where unlimited polygamy was the rule, of verses and Prophetic traditions that drastically restrict polygamy and add such demanding conditions that some scholars - in particular, of the Hanbali school - could claim that this requires the first wife's prior consent and that she can oppose it in her marriage contract? What is the higher objective of monogamy and of this restrictive toleration of polygamy?

The full scope of the message, from the texts to the context of their expression and their objectives, must be grasped as an entity. A literalist, strictly legal reading produced by men cannot, by definition, take up this challenge and meet its requirements. Women are necessary here, both to the text reading process and to the study of the social contexts in which they live.


Tariq Ramadan is professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University and author of Islam and the Arab Awakening. In  the second of a projected three-part series on Women and Islam on ABC Religion and Ethics  in November last year. (The full text of his address is to be found on our CPRT website.) He reported on the role Islamic women are playing in what CPRT members would call Progressive Religious Thought.  It is very interesting that the major philosophical “driver” of this movement is the same as that which drove Sue in her progressive odyssey — viz. Feminism..  (see her story in the Feb, 2014 issue of our CPRT Newsletter).

Before getting into Women’s Rights, professor Ramadan begins with a re-interpretation of the Qur’an in regard to the recognition of women as persons.  Instead of beginning his thesis in fundamentalist style with “The Moslem Bible says”, he makes an unsubstantiated foundational statement, about  “the higher objectives of Islam”.  These objectives, he claims, attribute   individual (NOT MALE) dignity, integrity, autonomy, development, education, intelligence, welfare, health and inner balance to everybody.  He then goes on to explain why Moslem women were not given this dignity as human beings by the early Ulama, those Islamic scholars charged with the responsibility of interpreting the Qur’an and regulating Moslem family life. In effect they failed to address THE BEING of women, prescribing only their legal status and their role and function within society.

Professor Ramadan then courageously introduces “sexual pleasure”, marital choice, “divorce”, “contraception and even abortion” as “groundwork” subjects for “elaborate discussion” about the BEING of women . He says that the early scholars were “remote” from such subjects!!  He uncritically states that they were immersed in their culture and understandably made negative comments about women and how they should be treated. Their interpretation stemmed more from “cultural projection” than from “normative critical reading”, he says.   I presume he is speaking about the reading of the Qur’an and the other sacred Moslem scriptures.

Professor Ramadan  excuses  the Ulama for feeling no need to “propose liberating paths for women” and who confined themselves to “FORMAL LITERALITY”, “stipulating rights and duties” and “accepting customs”.  I also presume he was here criticising them for reading the Qur’an literally. At this point in his argument I find his words to be quite ambiguous.  In describing the inspiration of the Qur’an he refers to a revelatory evolution of the Prophet’s attitude and principles as “a divine pedagogy” which would have led to the emancipation of women had  the cultural and literal (and chauvinistic?? – my words) biases of the appointed “modality” (the Ulama) been allowed for.  He writes:  
“In the light of the revelation's evolution of the Prophet's (PBUH) attitude and of the objectives that have been worked out, this might have continued to propose liberating paths for women if early interpreters had not confined themselves to formal literality or to stipulating rights and duties only or to accepting customs. Men, the texts' early readers and interpreters, felt no need for that, while women, who were directly affected by social realities and possible distortions of the texts, were absent from that legal elaboration.”

This statement places an unreasonable burden of responsibility on Moslem women for promoting progressive religious thought in Islam. It also to a large degree relieves male Moslem scholars from the responsibility of speaking out, and takes an incredible position by denying to men the ability to appreciate female sensitivities. But to do him credit, if I understand him correctly, Professor Ramadan concludes by advocating that Moslem women should be trained in the art of what Christian theologians call biblical criticism, and become involved in the re-interpretation of the Moslem bible. Does that mean they should become equal members with Mullahs on a post-modern Ulama? And how could that happen without facing the issue that the writings of the Prophet may not have been a “divine pedagogy” any more than that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God?                                        

Eric Stevenson  





Dick Carter, PCN Victoria has drawn our attention to the above pilgrimage which will take place from Wednesday, May 14 – Tuesday, May 27, 2014.  It will be Led by:

Marianne Wells Borg & Marcus J. Borg

Sarah M. Crossan & John Dominic Crossan

The pilgrimage combines

*Travel through one of the most beautiful countries in the world with more ancient ruins than perhaps any other country. Historical and theological conversations about Paul, early Christianity, and their significance for Christians today.

*The experience of a Muslim country.

*An experience of intentional Christian community.


This pilgrimage involves moderate physical activity, including the ability to walk a mile or two at a time, to climb stairs, and to be “on one’s feet” for a couple of hours at a time.


Pricing does not include airline taxes and fuel charges which are currently $407.00 and may change. $4,999.00 per person double occupancy.$899.00 per person single supplement. $4,599.00 Land only (cost of tipping not included).


Wednesday, May 14: Depart from JFK International Airport on Turkish Airlines into Istanbul. M

Thursday, May 15: Arrive Istanbul and connect to the flight for Kayseri. Drive to our hotel in Cappadocia. But why

start a Pauline pilgrimage in Cappadocia? Cappadocia reminds us that Paul himself was a celibate ascetic as he tells

us in 1 Corinthians 7:7-8—maybe even before Damascus since he never mentions Christ as model. Also, of course,

the celibate asceticism of those Cappadocian cave-churches and cave-monasteries continue Jewish and Christian

traditions before them and point to both Eastern and Western Christian traditions after them. Finally, in 1 Corinthians,

Paul described the Risen Christ “as the first fruits of those who have slept” (15:20). Resurrection is not just individual

for Jesus but communal for Jesus and “the sleeping ones.” Eastern Christianity has maintained better continuity with

that Jewish communal vision of resurrection than has our own individual Western tradition. Dinner and overnight

Kaymalki, Cappadocia. MD

Friday, May 16: We begin our first full day with an orientation meeting after breakfast. We then drive to Göreme

Park—an open-air museum of those just-mentioned cave-built monasteries and churches—and visit as many as

possible. We see frescoes depicting themes from Eastern Christianity that have no Western equivalents. We pay

special attention to frescoes of that communal Resurrection in such places as the Dark (Karanlik) Church (11th C) and

the twin Old and New Tokali (Buckle) Churches (10th C). Return to our hotel in Kaymalki, Cappadocia for some

afternoon rest, dinner, and overnight. BD

Saturday, May 17: We visit a completely opposite landscape to the strangeness of Göreme’s eruption-and-erosion

residuals. We walk for a few miles alongside a running stream through the deep and wooded gorge of the Ihlara or

Peristrema Valley. It has many cave churches but, unfortunately, due to lack of supervision, they have been badly

vandalized by graffiti. We pay special attention to the life-of-Christ frescoes in the Kokar Church (10th C) with, once

again, that typical communal Resurrection of Eastern Christianity. Return to our hotel in Kaymakli, Cappadocia for

dinner and overnight. BD

Sunday, May 18: Today we drive from Cappadocia to Lake Eğirdir (a little over 300 miles), we are avoiding an

overnight stop just to break the journey because this long-day trip will then allow for a free day on the Aegean coast at

Kusadasi. We will also conduct “Roads Scholarship” on the bus with time for Q&A discussions on what we have seen

and what is yet to come. Dinner and overnight at Eğirdir. BD

Monday, May 19: We travel from Eğirdir to Pisidian Antioch so identified because there were many cities named

after Antiochus—along its eastern shore of the very beautiful Lake Eğirdir. Antioch of Pisidia is surrounded on all

sides by distant mountains and, on its eastern side, the Anthius River flows through a deep ravine into Lake Eğirdir.

Read Acts 13:14-51 and think how well Barnabas and Paul knew—by foot—this striking mix of lakes and mountains.

Return to Eğirdir for dinner and overnight. BD

Tuesday, May 20: We drive from Eğirdir to Pamukkale. On arrival there, we look at the huge north cemetery of

Hierapolis and see where Paul got his novel idea that the revered or martyred dead would greet Christ first at the

parousia (1 Thessalonian 4:13-18). It is possibly the very best place to understand Paul’s vision of that consummation

as a congratulatory imperial visitation. Overnight at Pamukale. BD

Wednesday, May 21: We drive along the Meander Valley, the major east-west artery to the mid-Aegean coast of

Turkey—be it for river, road, or railway. We will stop at Aphrodisias, one of the most impressive archaeological sites

in Turkey and yet slightly off the beaten track for tourists. Its Augusteum or Sebasteion, dedicated to Rome,

Augustus, and “the Olympian Imperial Gods”, is a uniquely dramatic illustration of Roman imperial theology. Many of

its bas-reliefs are now beautifully displayed in the museum’s new wing—where we begin our visit. We will also see the

Jewish “God-worshippers” inscription from the ancient synagogue, dated around 200 CE. Drive to Kusadasi for dinner

and overnight. BD

Thursday, May 22: Today is totally free of any planned visits or sites. It is a pause in our pilgrimage and is

deliberately left free for any individual activities, for absorbing what we have done and what is still to come, and for

enjoying—we hope—the magnificent Aegean sunshine. Evening meeting, as usual, dinner at Kusadasi, and

overnight. BD

Friday, May 23: We visit Priene with ruins from the Greek and Roman periods. We see an important inscription

dedicating its main temple to Augustus as Son of God and God Incarnate. We see the shrine-room where the

Calendrical Decree changing New Year’s Day in Roman Asia to the birthday of the God Augustus was discovered and

moved to Berlin. The bouleterion (council chamber) and theater are particularly well preserved. It also has one of

the most ancient synagogues ever discovered in Turkey. Return to Kusadasi for dinner and overnight. BD

Saturday, May 24: We visit Ephesus, the best preserved ancient city in the world. Once on the sea, Ephesus is now

about 3 miles inland. Ephesus was a major center of Paul’s activities (see Acts 19), as well as one of the seven cities

of the book of Revelation (Rev. 2:1-7). Many of Paul’s letters were written during the years he lived here. We see the

Theater, the Library of Celsus, and the “terrace houses”, the villas of the wealthy, a special exhibition only recently

opened to the general public. We also have a special visit to “The Cave of St. Thecla” with a 5th century fresco of

her conversion by Paul—a site normally not open to tourists. Dinner and overnight Kusadasi. BD

Sunday, May 25: We visit the 6th century Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, the traditional site of his burial. Then

we visit Mary’s House a few miles away, a site sacred to both Christians and Muslims. Both these visits emphasize

the important distinction between historical sites—where something important happened—and liturgical location—

where something important is celebrated. At Mary’s House, we hope to celebrate the Eucharist in a small chapel.

Return to Kusadasi for dinner and overnight. BD

Monday, May 26: We visit Miletus where Paul met with the elders of Ephesus on his final journey to Jerusalem (Acts

20:15-38). We also see a reserved-seat inscription to the “God-worshippers” in the theater. Return to Kusadasi for

dinner and overnight. BD

Tuesday, May 27: We depart from Izmir and connect in Istanbul to our nonstop return flight to the USA arriving back

in the mid-afternoon. BM

B – Breakfast L – Lunch D – Dinner M – Meals on Aircraft

Pricing does not include airline taxes and fuel charges which are currently $407.00 and may change.

$4,999.00 per person double occupancy

$899.00 per person single supplement

$4,599.00 Land Only

$300.00 deposit due with application

Cancellation penalties:

October 1, 2013 – January 31, 2014 - $300.00 per person

February 1 or later - No refund

Group is limited to 35 participants on a first come first served basis.

Final payments due February 1, 2014



Recommended minimum tipping per person:

Guide for main pilgrimage: $100.00

Driver for main pilgrimage: $ 50.00

Guide for Istanbul extension: $ 22.00

Driver for Istanbul extension $ 11.00

Tipping in US Currency is acceptable

Turkish Visa which is currently $20.00 per person and can be obtained upon arrival at Istanbul Airport.

Airport transfers for those whose arrival or departure does not meet the group criteria.

Items of a personal nature such as room service or extra tips for extra services.


Brain surgeon, Dr. Charles Teo, reports that tumours kill more kids annually than any other disease and are claiming the lives of an increasing number of young people. Yet medical research to improve the quality of treatment is the least funded. Dr. Teo has devoted himself to extending the life of patients with brain cancer using aggressive surgery. He has also founded the Cure for Life Foundation which organised the fun run to raise funds for medical research last weekend. Dr. Teo has a hope which drives his medical and social endeavours.

It is that one day a procedure will be discovered which will enable him to say to his patients, “Do this and this and this and you will be cured for life.”Like most hopes, Dr. Teo’s hope was born out of crisis – the crisis of the brain cancer death toll. It meets a pressing need; it inspires the hopeless; it is realistic in the world of medicine; it elicits his full co-operation and it is open to redefinition and expansion with each new discovery in cancer research and each successful extension of the life span of his patients. That is why Dr. Teo’s hope is so meaningful Without this kind of hope, his surgical and social endeavours would be meaningless.

And I doubt very much whether an individual or a group could perform any meaningful activity without something like it? Hope has to do with an expectation of an ideal set of circumstances which will inspire you to keep beavering away until you arrive at where you want to be. In hoping for something I therefore have to decide initially what and where I really need to be. Then as a rational human being I will conceptualise and act on a hope which will motivate me to strive towards that chosen destination.

For the purpose of this religious talk, we are avoiding the luxury of indulging in our wonderment concerning the sublime beauty of nature, our transcendent enjoyment of the arts, the mind blowing intricacies of micro-biology and nano-science, the expansiveness of the universe, and the sanctity of our loving relationships. All these things almost completely enrich our days. I suspect however that we also use them to avoid facing up to life’s difficulties and as the antidote for our depressive reaction to the dark side of human existence. I am not trying to placate the whingers and complainers who think the world owes them a living. I am talking about our responses to those times when our morose spirits seem to be perfectly consistent with our broken dreams, and our unfulfilled ambitions, our dissatisfaction with our performance and our disillusionment with what is happening in the world. I hesitate to call them depressive episodes; they often are triggers for genuine depression, but are they not more like reality responses to the world the way it is? As stated in the reading, David Tacey disagrees. He says that our failure to give traditionally religious justification for the dark side is the cause of neurosis. To the contrary I am suggesting there would be something wrong with us if we were not depressed by it, and that traditional religion is not a meaningful cure for our existential anxiety. So, have we been misguided into seeking an antidepressant for it? Is there a more meaningful way for religion to deal with what seems to be a normal state of mind?

I think religious hope has to be like Dr. Teo’s, only a thousand times over. It is important because it is the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning and gets us through each new day. A meaningful ultimate religious hope must be based on a person’s urgent ultimate needs, not their wants. But this Holy Grail is not to be confused with our hope. I suspect that is why so many people are standing at the bus stop of life for a bus that never comes. It is because they have been easily tricked into wanting things and substituting those things for their hopes. The later gospel writers of the Christian story got their ultimate hopes tangled up with their ultimate needs. Their vain hope was that Jesus would come back again in person, in their lifetime, live his life among them and rescue them from poverty and servitude. Like all of us they wanted their loved one back again. They also formulated their hope within parameters which we no longer believe in. We have no theistic God, no physical after life, people don’t come back from the dead, and there is no spirit world within which to realise such desires. So our challenge in hoping our way to meaning is in firstly deciding what are our most important and ultimate needs and then formulating a hope which can be realised and which fits within the post-modern parameters of our post-modern world.

“The most important things in human experience are not things”. Not even happiness if most of the things that give rise to that happiness are temporary! Not even having popularity; those who have been betrayed, stigmatised and persecuted for swimming against the tide of greed and self-aggrandisement have achieved more for the people of this world than popularity. Not even good health; having courage in bad health is more important than that! Not even having all our faculties; Helen Keller went blind and said after that as a result she saw something more precious than the things of this world. Not even Freedom from anxiety; as I have said, there would be something wrong with you if you did not feel anxious about some of the current world events....

It is what we as living conscious creatures can do with life that is the object of hope; the object of despair is what we let life’s circumstances do to us. I think we can help each other so much in deciding what is supremely and ultimately worth wanting. It is difficult to do so, but so special when in our searching we can share with each other our sense of loss over what we mistakenly thought were the most important things. It is so good being in this place together working through to the position of defining our priceless treasure.......When every superficial thing has been properly devalued, what do we really want to be as individuals and as a fellowship of faith around the world? I presume that it has to do with the stated Unitarian principles of valuing the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and standing for justice, equity and compassion in human relations. For me these principles represent the precious ingredients of “LIFE finely tuned”.

Those principles for living no doubt gained their sterling value for us from our cultural heritage. It therefore makes sense to go back in history to the source of goodness in whatever religious culture one belongs. So let me to go back to the very beginnings of my traditional Christian culture, to the historical Jesus who never founded a church and who didn’t think he was dying to save anybody. He left a beautiful example of LIFE finely tuned. It ended in surrender for him and in tragedy for a minority of Jewish people who were hoping in vain for his non-material Kingdom to materialise. His vision of an imminent realm in which love ruled was at first misunderstood by everybody with the possible exception of a prostitute.

For all life’s mystery our ultimate hope depends on learning to value and practise the loving and compassionate ways in which LIFE* can be embraced, and to find in it something more pervasive and more purposeful than its apparent injustices and its pain, or even its un-intentional pleasures. It seems that the first Christian communities were not established by Jesus but by people like us who were endeavouring to hope their way to meaning. It is apparent that these early grief stricken and disillusioned disciples did not renew personal contact with their friend through physical resurrection as recorded by the later writers of the gospel narrative. They simply went on coping and living in the confidence that the abundant life which Jesus demonstrated had been “raised” to transcendent heights. Their desire was for a fullness of living to which they could aspire and into which it was possible for them to enter.

TIME OF SILENT MEDITATION. Let’s become more aware of this abundant life.... Is our ultimate desire for a world in which it can be experienced here and now? If so, where do we begin? I suggest in defining our ultimate goal we start where the original disciples of Jesus started – in our situations of crisis - when all of life’s superficialities have been revealed and stripped away. It is there that we will gain a passionate desire that has been purified and refined by the fires of desperation and by not a little suffering. It is there that we can let go of our resentments and regrets, relinquish the things that have been forcibly taken from us. and find release from the things which we have clung to for a pseudo kind of fulfilment. In order to inspire us to live life to the full, let us consider whether our hope has to be based on a realistic ideal? – an ideal which is nothing less than rational, practical, attainable, flexible and achievable? Or can it be only some of these things? Or none of them?

ADDRESS PART B It is what we as living conscious creatures can do with life that is the object of hope**. The object of despair is what we let life’s circumstances do to us. Millions of people, despairing of the means of sheer human survival have been and still are desperately reaching out for their dream of something better. Who knows how many have already sunk into the slough of despair? But a dream has been believed in by many others of all religious backgrounds whose circumstances have almost completely overwhelmed them. They have tried and are still trying to ‘hope’ their way above an existence which most of the time we would regard is devastatingly tragic. They do so by believing in a real and future perfect set of circumstances for living. – if not for themselves, at least for their children. For some it is after they die. Their conviction is that those ideal circumstances exist. Their hope is that they are attainable and will be a welcome relief for their present dire state of destitution.. Far be it for me to attempt to disillusion them. We cannot dare to sit in our middle class arm chairs and tell starving, diseased, tortured, people around the world how to hope. It is they if we let them who will speak to us.

Some conservative churches dictate what one’s ultimate hope should be, and have been doing it within a set of parameters that have passed their use by date.*** i.e. that there is a space-time dimension of existence beyond the upper atmosphere in a super natural world which will be a future compensation for the pain of our present existence. It is a seductive doctrine. It not only does not fit a post-modern world view. It also offers conditional materialistic benefits to the poor, the sick and the victims of injustice provided they keep the faith and do good - benefits which have already proven to be ultimately unsatisfying and unethical, and a phony foundation for hope.

The early Christians’ hope was radically different. It was that the kind of living exemplified by Jesus in the midst of abject poverty and servitude could be recognised and embraced universally and could be put into practice in the real world by the second coming of the Christ as soon as their God thought it was time to do it. Failing that, they eventually hoped their way to meaning by accessing the supernatural (the power of the Holy Spirit) which for us can be gospel-speak for taking personal responsibility for life . Can we hope like that without the help of an imaginary Saviour? I believe we can! Don Cupitt, without attributing it to Jesus, calls it Solar Living – living like the sun which is continually expending itself, radiating its light and warmth for the benefit of all creation. (“The Old Creed.and.the.New")

Adopting hope for the journey is extremely personal. I venture to say that no two person’s ultimate religious hopes are exactly the same. But our united passion for fullness of life can bind us together. This is where we can begin to hope. Assuming that all we have is life, this life, and the opportunity to live this life here and now, then all of life (including the life of the historical Jesus) becomes infinitely more precious than if it is regarded merely as a pre-cursor of eternal life or of a physical resurrection. If this life is all there is and all therefore that we can have then it has been under valued, under preserved, under protected, under cultivated, under respected, and under lived. If only it can continue to exist, be recognised, be promulgated and exemplified as each day dawns.! Let us celebrate it with the same adoration that the Moslems celebrate Mahomet and the same reverence with which the Christians attribute to Christ.

My hope therefore is that fullness of life is “doable”. Life, as i am using the word is not the tragedies which it involves (or its joys). It is not to be confused with the nasty things which some people do with it, or how they refuse to benefit from it. It is something which persists regardless of what we think or do. It is like a staff on which the high and low notes of a musical piece are written; it is the potential carrier of compassion and indifference, of faith and unbelief, of reconciliation and estrangement, of natural disaster and rejuvenation. If it were not valued as such people would not have anything on which to write love’s score. Hope has to do with our determination to endure the indifference, the unbelief, the estrangement and the disaster and to believe in the persistence and achievement of reconciliation, renewal, faith and love. ****

* In writing this address, I have endeavoured to clarify the confusion over the common usage of the words “life” and “living”. The popular usage for “life”(Life Mark One) is as a collective noun for the train of specific random events and the variety of circumstances involved in one’s human existence. This generally includes the self imposed or self generated ones, but more particularly, it is about the unscheduled, temporary, passing away things that happen naturally and beyond our control and without any moral judgement, and regardless of humanitarian consequences. C’est la vie! “Living” is used as a verb and adjective for existing under those conditions and coping with them.(Living, Mark One) Another popular meaning of “ living” is as an antonym for “dead” i.e. animate, alive. (Living Mark Two) However, there is a Life Mark Two in which “life” is also used more generically to describe the potentialities of all “Living Mark 2” things. Life Mark 2 as I understand it is possessed by every organism which has the capacity at its optimal level of existence to be fully functioning within the boundaries of its particular species. There is also an extension of the use of this “life” word, (Life Mark Three). That is, by inferring that it is a kind of animating spirit - that there is a superior or co-existent force or energy called “life” which is orchestrating the events and circumstances which I have alluded to above. We sing about it in our Unitarian theme song,“Spirit of Life”. I have therefore endeavoured to be consistent and use Life Mark 2 and Living Mark 1 in what I have had to say.

**In talking about an ultimate hope, I am questioning the reality of traditional religious hope involving an after life and a supernatural world. In this sense I am an “unrealist”. i.e. traditional religion’s hope is unreal. For me ultimate hope must be about how best to inspire me to reach and practise a demonstrable and attainable goal in this present world. The object of my hope will need to be perceived and appreciated with at least some of my faculties, or require the use of additional faculties which as yet I do not utilise. It will also be subject to progress and change with the evolution of knowledge. e.g.nano-technology and will require my full co-operation in achieving it.

** *Are things really controlled by a benevolent “out there” god? Does that provide sufficient meaning for us? If not we have no recourse to hope of a supernatural something better now or beyond the grave! To be meaningful it would have to be provided by a different kind of God. Assuming that she exists she would have to be something supra intelligent and non-personal of which we cannot conceive and which we are unable to perceive with our limited and subjective human senses or communicate with in our own language. On record she does not appear to be intentionally malevolent or reliably benevolent. The big challenge about thinking like that is “what about my faith?” Can I still believe in the existence of a pervasive life force? I think we should let people believe in something like that if they choose to. They haven’t necessarily lost their faith; they have just launched out on to the ocean of life refusing to stipulate the details of something beyond their present knowledge and experience. Much of the mystery and wonder of life which others have attributed to a personal transcendent being, they share but have chosen to live with that mysteriousness and wonderment rather than make a dogmatic statement about it.

****Our mission therefore is so to live in hope that life, being finely tuned, will always be recognisable and valued and demonstrable among us. We are inspired by the hope that it will always be possible for us and our friends to passionately foster an enhanced sense of reverence for and admiration of all life and to promote it and live it to the full. Our challenge, despite the threat of depression and disillusionment is to spend ourselves in preserving, cultivating, loving and celebrating it within ourselves and all of nature.



We owe the typed copy of this article on fundamentalism to one of our members who wrote, “I hope you find this article as interesting as I did.
Kind regards
John Neilson

Where there’s faith, so too doubt

Humility is the mark of the true religious believer. The fundamentalist is corrupted by an assumption of superiority.

Fundamentalism is like a steel trap that imprisons the soul and inhibits its freedom to wonder. Australia might be a determinedly secular society, but about 25 per cent of us will attend a Christian service of worship this weekend. Hundreds of thousands more will have participated lustily in a carols-by candlelight event. That might say more about our tribalism than our religious faith. Most religious practice is as much about satisfying the desire to belong as the desire for something to believe in. Both desires run so deep, it’s hard to disentangle them. “A Jew goes to the synagogue to sit next to another Jew,” said the Jewish grandfather of a friend of mine, and the same is partly true for Catholics, Anglicans or, indeed, Muslims. But that’s only half the story. Most once-a-year church attenders might hesitate to describe themselves as believers, especially since atheism has become so fashionable. Yet attending church – rather than, say, going to the movies – does imply something. A yearning for belief, perhaps? Or an echo of religious resonances from childhood that cannot be denied? Or the hope that, whatever you might think about what’s being said and done, the experience itself will be uplifting?

For more regular church attenders, Christmas is quite simply the biggest festival of the year, rich with symbolism and ritual and steeped in enduring myths and legends that – like most enduring myths and legends – have something useful to teach us. In this case, humility is the keynote. The Christmas story is about an unpromising start (no room in the inn; Jesus born in a stable; shepherds the first to pay homage) that ultimately led to a challenge to the established order, with revolutionary consequences. It is also about the idea of an innocent and adored child destined to live a short life that will end in a humiliating execution. We once thought it was about peace on earth, but the old King James Bible’s gloriously relaxed and inclusive reference to “peace on earth, goodwill towards men” now turns out to have been a shoddy translation from the Greek. Recent translators prefer “on earth peace among those whom [God] favours”, which is a rather more exclusive offer. Leaving aside the nuances of rendition, the Christmas story stimulates the imagination in powerful ways, and faith is, after all, the work of the imagination. It is a creative act; a tentative encounter with the possibility of eternal verities; a reaching-out for certainties that always elude us. Faith is also about trust; about deciding to settle for answers to questions we scarcely dare ask.

But faith can never be rooted in certainty. It evaporates under the pressure of rigid dogma. It is no basis for being judgmental, because it is about seeking, not knowing. Certainty denies the very essence of faith. It is the impenetrability of life’s mysteries that encourages our leaps of faith, not into the unknown, but into the unknowable. That’s why doubt is the engine, the oxygen, the essence of faith. We believe (in anything) precisely because we doubt. This is the great paradox of faith: we yearn to know but cannot know, so we construct a set of beliefs – or accept a ready-made set from an established institution – to satisfy our need to make sense of what’s going on. If it’s not religious belief, it might be astrology, “the free market”, feng shui, superstition, science, a particular psychological orientation – Buddhist, Freudian, Jungian – or a moral code we believe will make for a contented life and a better world. (None of these categories is exclusive, by the way: plenty of religious believers are advocates for other political, economic or cultural ideologies as well.) If we knew the answers that faith supplies, there would be no need for faith. And if faith – that mystical, clouded, elusive yearning – is corrupted by the arrogance of certainty, it ceases to be faith and becomes merely delusional.

Enter the fundamentalist.

In the religious context, fundamentalism refers to the tradition that places “holy writ” (Bible, Koran, Torah) at the centre of its theology, and is suspicious of modern scholarship with its more liberal interpretations of religious stories. Fundamentalists worship a God that takes a personal interest in each of us, rewarding the faithful and punishing infidels either here or in an afterlife. Within Christianity, the term “fundamentalist” arose from a movement launched after World War I by a group of US Baptists disturbed by what they saw as the inroads of liberalism into American life. They thought the idea of America as a “Christian civilisation” was an illusion and they saw a link between apparent social decline and a decline in religious observance. So they published a series of hard hitting pamphlets under the title “The Fundamentals”. Their purpose was not only to impose a hardline literalism on biblical interpretation, but to reform American society itself by taking it back to its Puritanical roots. That set the tone for fundamentalism as a religious movement. It has always been about more than religious doctrine and biblical interpretation; it is equally accurate to describe it as an ultra-conservative social protest movement.

It has never been exclusively about religion. Its agenda is packed with prescriptions about the moral (especially sexual) codes we should adopt, and how we should resist the blandishments of liberalism. Fundamentalists want to replace faith with acquiescence and obedience. Of course, they will say their moral, social and even political judgments spring from their faith, but that brings us back to the central conundrum: faith and judgmentalism are the most incompatible of bedfellows. You can recognise the religious fundamentalist by a kind of spiritual swagger. Whereas humility is the mark of the true religious believer (“I believe this, precisely because I can’t know it”) the fundamentalist is corrupted by an assumption of superiority: I know best; my beliefs are correct; if your beliefs are different from mine, then you are wrong. Such arrogance relies on absolute certainty, which is why the fundamentalist is so reluctant to acknowledge the rather misty historical and linguistic processes that have led to particular translations or interpretations of particular passages of scripture. Matthew, for instance, works so hard at presenting his gospel story as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies, some contemporary scholars regard the results as strained, if not fanciful.

None of this is a problem for fundamentalists: the way it appears, right there in the Bible they hold in their hands, is, for them, the inspired word of God. When people like Richard Dawkins criticise religion for its fanaticism or its blind embrace of scriptures riven with inconvenient contradictions, this is not a criticism of religious faith, per se, but of fundamentalism. The religious truth seeker, the pilgrim, yearns to see with the eye of faith but constantly falters. The famous plea from the father of a sick child healed by Jesus, quoted in Mark’s gospel, captures the idea perfectly: “I believe; help my unbelief.” That is the tension on which faith relies.

To deny it is to move into another realm altogether, though many churches would like you to move into that realm. The fundamentalists want you to develop a conviction so strong, you lose the capacity for doubt. They don’t want you to believe; they want you to know you are right, with the same conviction you might know it is raining when you get wet. It works for them, of course. If you’ve adopted a rigid world-view – religious, political, economic, academic or otherwise – you tend to see everything through the filter of your convictions and, not surprisingly, you see what you’re looking for. The more you use a particular theory for making sense of things, the more things seem to fit the theory. That’s why fundamentalists feel so sure of themselves. That’s why they can’t understand how other people could fail to see things the way they do (though everyone’s beliefs look weird to the person who doesn’t share them). It’s why they eschew the mystical: they don’t want to rest with the mysteries; they want to wrestle them into submission. Fundamentalism is like a steel trap that imprisons the soul and inhibits its freedom to wonder. It sucks the doubt out of faith and leaves a rigid shell that acts like armour. No wonder it’s so hard for a fundamentalist’s beliefs to evolve and mature: if you crack the shell, it falls apart and you’re left with nothing.

Yet fundamentalism is on the rise in all three of the Abrahamic religions – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – with the potential for divisive and disastrous consequences. Why now? This is one mystery we can penetrate. Fundamentalism (whether religious, political, economic or cultural) thrives at times of social upheaval and insecurity. When we are at our most perplexed or bewildered, gripped by moral panic and baffled by ambiguity, that’s when we are most vulnerable to promises of black-and white simplicity. Given our current anxieties – global warming, international terrorism, the mass migration of the world’s refugee population, the threat of economic meltdown – it’s not hard to see the appeal in a set of beliefs that seem to offer fixed points in a shifting geo-political landscape. The Age of Discontinuity, marked by rapid and unpredictable change, was bound to be a golden age for fundamentalism. Yet the religious practices and stories based on Christmas don’t rely for their survival on being accepted as literally true accounts of historical events in every detail. They survive because they have the power to transcend the local and specific aspects of our lives and reveal “the man within”, as the mythologist Joseph Campbell puts it.

How, then, might we approach a festival that has become such a complex amalgam of pagan, Christian and commercial messages? If you find yourself having difficulty with literal or quasi-historical interpretations of the Christmas story, relax: you’re in good company. Enjoy being comforted or uplifted by the familiar story and music. Sing your heart out. Focus on the inner meanings; the meanings for you. Fundamentalists might think there’s only one way to interpret the story; one way to believe. Yet they, having banished all doubt from their minds, have ceased to be believers at all. Merry Christmas – whatever Christmas means to you, and however you choose to celebrate it.


HITCHENS’ TWO GREAT MORAL COMMITMENTS. Scott Stephens* (Excerpts from Scott Stephens’ article in Religion and Ethics on the occasion of Christopher Hitchens’ death last month)

Let me briefly attempt to distil the essence of Christopher Hitchens, in the form of the two great intellectual and moral commitments that supplied his life with a surprising and often overlooked coherence. The first is his unwavering fidelity to justice, truth and solidarity - a kind of alternative triumvirate to the Christian "faith, hope and love" or the Jacobin "liberty, equality, fraternity," and which consistently proved more fundamental to Hitchens than any ideological alignment with the Right or the Left. In recent times, this took the form of identification with the Peshmerga, the Kurdish revolutionaries in northern Iraq and, for Hitchens, the remnant of an authentic Socialist International. His full-throated advocacy for the military offensive in Iraq was finally an expression of solidarity with the Kurds, and a determination that Saddam Hussein be made to account for the brutality the Kurds suffered at his hands.

.....There is a parallel here with Hitchens' later embrace of a flailing, uneven variety of atheism (or, as he always insisted, miso-theism, God-hatred rather than just God-denial). Rather than representing some positive, articulate position - he instead spoke of the virtue of uncertainty - Hitchens' atheism was the product of his judgment that "religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago: either that or it mutated into an admirable but nebulous humanism," that it had abandoned greatness, sophistication and poetry in favour of banality, stupidity, authoritarianism and even outright decadence.

One could point to numerous signs of this decline: from the hollow sanctimony and cant of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to the idiotic mantras of religious "life coaches" and pay-per-view hucksters; from the blunting of the sharp edge of orthodoxy to the emergence of what Hitchens beautifully called a "cut-price spiritual cafeteria" where religious consumers can customize their own faith; from the versions of religious pluralism that can embrace, and therefore condone, virtually anything to the inane worship of a god who, as Hitchens put it, "would reward cowardice and dishonesty and punish irreconcilable doubt."

What is striking is that, at precisely this point, Hitchens' critique of religion is so close to that of his believing brother, Peter. To take just one example, both rage against the impotence of Anglican theology and practice stemming from its replacement of the Authorized (or King James) Version of the Bible with the New English Bible (which, as T.S. Eliot remarked, was astonishing "in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic"), and the Book of Common Prayer with, as Peter put it, the "vague half-hearted mumblings" of the "new, denatured, committee-designed prayers and services."

These are indications, for both brothers Hitchens, of a church that had abandoned seriousness and self-respect, that vacated its post in advance of some anticipated secular attack, and that therefore cannot be taken seriously. Paradoxically, had Christianity in the twentieth century shown its theological and political mettle, as it were, Christopher admitted that he would have had greater difficulty dismissing it. Nevertheless, an intellectually serious form of Christianity was engraved deeply, irrevocably, on Hitchens' thinking and moral formation. It guided him, however much he might have kicked against the goads. And this brings me to that second great moral commitment of Hitchens' life: his loathing of totalitarianism of every kind. As he told Richard Dawkins in his final interview:

"I have one consistency, which is [being] against the totalitarian - on the left and on the right. The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy - the one that's absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes. And the origins of that are theocratic, obviously. The beginning of that is the idea that there is a supreme leader, or infallible pope, or a chief rabbi, or whatever, who can ventriloquise the divine and tell us what to do."

For Hitchens, the essence of totalitarianism is the utter subjugation of the will and therefore the intellectual freedom and the moral responsibility of the individual. As such, totalitarianism invariably adopts the form of politico-religious idolatry. Writing elsewhere:

"If once it was decided that the individual was of relatively little significance when contrasted to the imperatives of the collective, people would awake one day to discover that their own individuality was indeed of small account but, strangely enough, that they were also somehow compelled to exalt and worship, nay even to deify, a single isolated and enthroned person. It might be a human god produced by a history of self-abnegation like the Emperor Hirohito or it might be the product of a massified and aggressive populism like Stalin or Mao, but the pattern would be more of less the same: the less the idea of the individual was esteemed, the more likely that one individual would become promiscuously or even monstrously prominent."

It was precisely this inherent idolatrous dimension that drove Hitchens in the last few years to conflate religion with totalitarianism, to depict existence under any god as living in "a celestial dictatorship, a kind of divine North Korea" - hence Hitchens' preference for miso-theism, God-hatred, over any sort of benign a-theism. For Hitchens, everything, the entire theological-sacramental economy, is implicated in this malign totalitarian impulse, including the offer of forgiveness, much less the possibility of redemption. As he wrote in Letters to a Young Contrarian:

"Even the most humane and compassionate of the monotheisms and polytheisms are complicit in this quiet and irrational authoritarianism: they proclaim us, in Fulke Greville's unforgettable line, 'Created sick - Commanded to be well'. And there are totalitarian insinuations to back this up if its appeal should fail. Christians, for example, declare me redeemed by a human sacrifice that occurred thousands of years before I was born. I didn't ask for it, and would willingly have foregone it, but there it is: I'm claimed and saved whether I wish it or not. And if I refuse the unsolicited gift? Well, there are still some vague mutterings about an eternity of torment for my ingratitude. That is somewhat worse than a Big Brother state, because there could be no hope of its eventually passing away ... So the whole apparatus of absolution and forgiveness strikes me as positively immoral, while the concept of revealed truth degrades the concept of free intelligence by purportedly relieving us of the hard task of working out the ethical principles for ourselves."

*Scott is the Religion and Ethics editor for ABC Online. Before joining the ABC he taught theology for many years, and even did a stint as a parish minister with the Uniting Church in Australia. He has written extensively on the intersections among philosophy, theology, ethics and politics, as well as on modern atheism's dependence on the Christian legacy. Scott is also a regular contributor to The Drum, Eureka Street and the Times Literary Supplement. He has edited and translated (with Rex Butler) two volumes of the Selected Works of the highly influential philosopher and cultural critic, Slavoj Zizek.



a  Light  to the  Nations

Exploration by the Revd Clive H Norton on 23rd January 2011,

Third Sunday after Epiphany at

St Basil’s Anglican Church, Artarmon, NSW 2064

Readings:    Isaiah 9:1-4;   Psalm 27:1-10;  1 Corinthians 1:10-18;

The Gospel according to Matthew 4:12-25.


Jesus the Christ, Living Word of light and love,

taking form as flesh and blood among us,

living the fulness of our humanity,

full of grace and truth, we greet you.  AMEN




The second reading we heard today was from the apostle Paul’s correspondence with those who had become Christians in the large populous port of Corinth.  Paul had lived there for eighteen months and had established a Christian community that was composed mostly of poor people.  Over the following six years it grew strongly in numbers.  The extract we heard was written probably near Easter in 57 AD.  


Paul said, “I urge you … not to have factions among yourselves…”   Paul had received a message or letter from “Chloe’s people”.   Some scholars say the phrase suggests that she may have been a trader with a staff of slaves or freedmen. [1]    In Corinth there were serious differences among Christians who had labelled themselves after some leader.  


Paul after his own conversion from being a strict Jewish Pharisee to becoming a follower of Jesus, knew all about serious differences!    Paul disagreed with James and the others in the Jerusalem Christian community, who were mainly Jews who had become Christians.   He also disagreed with Simon Peter, nicknamed ‘Cephas’ meaning ‘Rock’.   In his letter to the Galatians, Paul recounts:  “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned;  for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.   But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction.   And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. … I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel.”  (Galatians 2:11-14)


The serious differences then [and now] were about whether Christian churches have to exclude some types and groups of people, or whether the Way of Christ is inclusive and open to all human beings.

With rhetorical irritation Paul demands, “Has Christ been divided? (1Cor.1:13)      Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel.”  -  Paul is implying that he did not want his name to be used by people claiming special status because he personally had baptised them.   He did not want to be labelled a ‘religious party man’.


“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”   (1Cor.1:18)   What then is the ‘message of the Cross’?    Across this globe today that question is again the cause of much serious disagreement among Christians and others.  That is why we sang the hymn before the Gospel: [2]


1   Filled with the Spirit's power, with one accord
     the infant church confessed its risen Lord:

     O Holy Spirit, in the church today

     no less your power of fellowship display.

2   Now with the mind of Christ set us on fire,
     that unity may be our great desire:

     give joy and peace; give faith to hear your call,

     and readiness in each to work for all.

3   Widen our love, good Spirit, to embrace
     in your strong care all those of every race:
     like wind and fire with life among us move

     till we are known as Christ's, and Christians prove.


The Gospel today is Matthew’s account of what Jesus did when he heard news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been arrested.   There are similar accounts in the Gospels according to Mark and Luke.  Matthew wrote principally for Jews who had become Christians because they had come to believe that Jesus was the Messiah.   His Gospel shows great interest in the details of the Old Testament and Jewish religious practices.   He is trying to help the Christian communities to live a spiritual life, following the example and teachings of Jesus, in a world dominated by the Roman Empire wielding its massive military power and by its wealth imposing its values on conquered peoples.  


What Matthew wrote some decades after the crucifixion of Jesus is relevant for us as Christians today as we see in the world around us the jockeying for secular power between the USA, China, India and colonized peoples who have been dispossessed.


Today’s Gospel started with, “Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.   He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali …”

You may have noticed that the first reading also referred to Zebulun and Naphtali.  On the front of the pulpit there is a map which helps to explain this reference by Matthew to these two tribes and on the lectern there is a map of Jesus’ extensive travels on foot and by boat.  (To get a fuller understanding of the Bible stories we need to know why some places and journeys are recorded in the ancient texts.  The two maps are at the end of this Exploration.)     Isaiah 9:1-4 in a word-picture speaks about the coming of a ‘Messiah’, an anointed ‘rescuer’ who will come.  “There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.   In the former time he [God] brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. ..”

Zebulum and Naphtali were both Israelite tribes, but they were small tribes that were considered either unimportant or were held in some contempt because they lived among the Canaanites and had absorbed some of their culture.   Isaiah the prophet for God promised them release from captivity and a more glorious future.   They would be a people whose population would increase, a sure sign of prosperity and freedom.[3]  

The OT readings since Epiphany day on 6th January have been from Isaiah and about what “being chosen” means.  Last week’s spelt it out:   “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel;   I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)  

Jesus by his actions lived out this wider task of being the servant of God, a light to the nations.

He moved out from the confines and pressures of home life at Nazareth.  He went to the fishing town Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.  He begins to select a team of followers who will have the stamina to learn what he wanted to teach them.  First he calls two pairs of brothers who were hardworking fishermen:  Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John.  “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”   In order to take up that challenge, they also left their fathers’ fishing businesses.

Jesus with his small team, to which others were added, travelled on foot or by boat through Galilee, Syria, the Decapolis, beyond the Jordan River, in Judea and Jerusalem.   He spoke in the Jewish synagogues and the open air, proclaiming good news of the “kingdom of God” that was radically different from the Roman Empire.   Crowds were drawn to hear Jesus, and they brought those in constant pain with sickness and diseases, epilepsy, paralysis or were in the grip of demons.   Jesus talked with them, touched them, and healed them, giving them new hope.


Implicit in all that Jesus did is that those who claim to be in charge of this world will not have the last word.   There will always be children, women and men of conscience who, like Jesus and those early apostles, will die and witness to another reality: that God is compassionate and is drawing us to be “a light to the nations”.


Aware of all the failures and evils committed by organized religious groups including Christian churches[4], Christ is leading us to a new open inclusiveness.     


Historians and philosophers may try to explain and excuse the lies, deceit, slavery, subjugation of women and minorities, genital mutilations, brutalities and horrendous killings of the past and present.  


But Jesus and the martyrs modelled a different way.  Something that was contrary to the teaching of Jesus in 30AD remained contrary to the Way he taught in 80AD or 800AD or 1500 or 1800, or now in 2011.   Often in order to prevent harm, injury, and threats of death to other people, tough measures of restraint and even preventative killing may be justified.    But preventative intervention must be distinguished from pay-back, retaliation, revenge and retribution.  


Today there is much talk about the need to be tolerant about what others say or do.  The pressure is on Christians to settle with some ‘lower common denominator’ than ‘The Way’ that Jesus and those first martyrs modelled.


There are people of other religions or none who do what is needed by others.  By their actions they do the right thing, they express love, respect and compassion   -  particularly for those who have few resources and are pushed to the edges of society.   We as Christians can work alongside them.   Jesus helped all people.  He did not ask them first what they believed about this life or beyond death.   We cannot by argument or threat change the way other people live their lives or what they say they believe. 


All we can do, as individuals and as Christian communities, is to respond to the Call of Jesus to follow his Way.   St Teresa of Avila  (1515-1582) expressed our calling in Christ beautifully:


Christ has no body now on earth but yours,

no hands but yours,

no feet but yours


Yours are the eyes

through which Christ’s compassion

cares for the people of the world.


Yours are the feet

with which Christ is to go about

doing good.


Yours are the hands

through which Christ now brings

a blessing.


Our lives and the lives of others will be enriched if we intently pray each day:

So I promise this day to keep awake,

to live each moment to the full

to look with eyes of compassion

and to act with kindness.[5]


HYMN after Blessing and Notices:


The Call to Discipleship - Gospel of Matthew  4:12-25,  lyric by George Stuart                                         of 148 Brighton Ave., Toronto, NSW 2283 (,

                         sung to Tune:  St Columba  TiS 523.


Near by the Sea of Galilee

Where Jesus called to some

To follow him, to fish for men,

He said God’s reign had come.


We may not have a boat to leave,

No fishing nets to mend,

But when compassion guides our path

We see God’s reign extend.


We may not have the gifts to heal;

We may not wish to preach,

But gentleness and deep concern

Are both within our reach.


God’s reign is couched in deeds of love

For those who suffer pain;

This love, for those who need relief,

Leads straight to God’s domain.


As Jesus called disciples then,

He calls us still today;

God’s reign is seen in us each time

We follow Jesus’ way.





Illustrated Wall Maps of the Bible, published in the Holy Land by American Map company, Inc.


No.5   The Coming of the Israelites – The Exodus   and   No.12  Jesus and His Land


View below




Enquiries, comments and criticisms are invited; also requests for additional copies of scripts or permission to quote / reproduce.

The Reverend Clive H Norton,  phone 9411 8606;

7 Dulwich Road, Chatswood, NSW 2067.





[1] The New Jerusalem Bible: Standard Edition 1985; Darton, Longman & Todd.   pp.1854, 1892.

[2] Together in Song:  Australian Hymn Book II [TiS 411]; lyric by J R Peacey 1896-1971; tune Woodlands by Walter Greatorex 1877-1949

[3] With Love to the World: A daily Bible reading guide; 

Vol 13, No.1 commentary by Revd Dr Chris Budden, 17Jan2011.  (

[4] The old adage ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and ecclesiastical power corrupts diabolically’ For example:  On 11 Jan 2011, SBS TV2 showed a documentary, Secret Files of the Inquisition. One of the most evil men over the centuries must have been Pope Paul IV who on 22 Aug 1556 reversed the Church’s traditional stance of protecting the Jews.  He also extradited to Rome students and others who were found guilty by the Inquisition so that it would be the secular authorities that carried out the torture and death sentences, not the Church! (‘Rendition’ of victims was not invented by great powers in our recent history).  A Catholic who became a Lutheran was boiled alive in oil and turpentine.  The Index of forbidden books was extended to include Bibles translated into common languages of German and Latin.  The Index was not abolished till 1966!  

[5] Jim Cotter, Out of the Silence … Prayer’s Daily Round Cairns Publications 2006, p.516.




Exploration by the Revd Clive H Norton 4th  July 2010


St Basils Anglican Church, Artarmon, NSW 2064,


Readings for 6th Sunday after Pentecost:


2 Kings 5.1-14;    Psalm 30;    Galatians 1-18;

Gospel according to Luke 10.1-12,17-24.


Prayer:                               We are in the presence of the One who is making us.

We are in the presence of the One who is healing us.


We are in the presence of the One who is guiding us.1


Two beliefs about life leap out of the readings we have from the Lectionary for this 6th  Sunday after


Pentecost. The first is that, in human experience, powerless people are often the “wise ones”. The second belief is that, beyond us and all the marvellous things humans can do, there is another power, the influence of God. Let us explore together.


From 2 Kings 5.1-14 we heard the story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram (the area we know as Syria). The successful General Naaman suffered from „leprosy‟; the precise meaning of the word in the Hebrew is uncertain and applied to several skin diseases. A young Hebrew girl who had been captured and made a slave to Naaman‟s wife, spoke up. She witnessed to her belief that in Samaria, the capital of Israel the northern part of Palestine, there was a prophet of God who would cure the general. Following normal diplomatic protocol, the king of Aram sent a letter to the king of Israel, and there was a


“diplomatic incident” similar to what we hear through the media every other day !


The prophet Elisha took a risky initiative of sending a message to the king of Israel. “Let him [General Naaman] come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” When he came with his horses and chariots to Elisha‟s house, the prophet did not go out to meet him, he sent a messenger to tell him to wash himself seven times in small Jordan River. Feeling insulted, he stormed off in a rage. Naaman had to learn humility and that healing could not be bought with enormous amounts of silver & gold and ten sets of fine clothes! But again it was servants, the staff around him, who dared to speak the truth, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult would you not have done it?...”


“It sometimes takes courage to speak up when you know what needs to be done, yet you are not in a position of power. How difficult it is for powerful people to accept the advice of the powerless!” 2 Naaman however took their advice, climbed down and immersed himself in the Jordan; “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” What a story for our time.


Our media here, and in other parts of the world, have been filled with stories of political and religious leaders who, consumed by arrogance, egoism or their workaholism, have ceased to listen. None of us are immune from such attitudes. Notice that it is often the powerless who are the “wise ones”. Do read for yourself the rest of chapter 5 of the Second Book of Kings, about Naaman, Elisha and his servant Gehazi who couldn‟t bear to see all that wealth disappear!


The Psalm 30 picks up the theme of healing: “O Lord my God, I cried to you and you have made me whole”. A poet interpreting this psalm for us today sees it as speaking of two conversions: that we may be thankful for rescue and humbled by our frequent stumbling.


From the depths of despair I cried out, seared with pain and with grief. Where are you, O God?


How long must I suffer?



I slipped into the worship of money, the goods of this world ensnaring me.


GL  1007



They gathered like a turbulent cloud, blotting out the sight of your face.


Then I was greatly dismayed, feeling foolish in toppling pride,


unable to praise you from the wasteland of hell …


O God, pour mercy upon me, forgive my self-satisfied pride, disentangle the web I have woven,


patiently probe me with the scalpel of truth.


Living God, look on us with eyes of compassion;


call us with the word of forgiveness, again and again, to seventy times seven, that we may at last hear and see, and turn our stricken and wounded faces,


and know ourselves accepted and embraced, loved beyond measure and without   reserve. 3


Galatians chapter six is today‟s reading from the New Testament letters. It carries our thinking forward to what was central in the teaching of Jesus. That last chapter of Paul‟s letter to Christians living in Galatia

(modern day Turkey), starts with the words: “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. … Bear one another‟s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. …


God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right …


“It is sometimes hard to separate what is specifically Christian (Christ‟s way) from what is our culturally normal behaviour. … We believe a “transgressor” should not get away with a crime. Yet here Paul is

offering a different way for the church:   “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (v.1)     One


wonders what would happen in many instances of first offenders, if this [Paul‟s different way] were the


cultural practice … indeed it is [being used more frequently] in those cases where reconciliation between offender and victim is attempted through mediation. Paul wants the Galatians to be constructive in dealing with an offender.”


The key to being constructive is the same as in the story of Naaman and Elisha: humility and other-centredness. Let us ask, “What is the „burden‟ that the other person carries? Can we make it easier for them to deal with that „burden‟, acknowledging that we also carry „burdens‟? Is not the Spirit given for this very task?” 4


In the last paragraphs of Galatians 6, Paul took the pen, from the scribe to whom he had dictated the letter, and wrote strong words against Jews who had become Christians, but were requiring that all male non-Jews (Gentiles), wanting to join the Christian communities, must be circumcised.


Paul had been circumcised and had lived as a fully observant Jew until his vision of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus set him on a new path in life. “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything.” (Gal.6.15) The Good News is about something totally new, not requiring conformity to past ways and outward religio-cultural signs like circumcision.


This last Thursday in the Sydney Morning Herald there was a short column from Johannesburg, South Africa, about another 39 young men who died a month after undergoing the rite of passage into manhood. I quote some parts; see endnotes for full text. “Eighteen-year-olds generally undergo circumcision rites during their mid-year school holidays or at the end of the year. The procedure is performed out-doors by traditional leaders who often use non-sterile spears to remove the foreskins. … [the] high risk of infection .. can lead to amputation or even death … there are more than 120 young men in hospitals nursing wounds. 91 newly circumcised men died last year. …” 5


GL  1007



The cultural tribal customs of male circumcision and female genital mutilation continue to go on around the world and in our own country. They are forms of sexual abuse affecting far more people than the legal cases and complaints of sexual abuse that are reported daily. Millions of females and males continue to have their lives distorted by memories, conscious or buried in their unconscious, of the assaults on their bodies.


We have not really taken to heart how radical was St Paul‟s rejection of that primitive tribal cultural practice with which he had grown up. Circumcision and genital mutilation are still in many parts of the world primarily a way of defining who belongs to a religious or tribal group, and distinguishing them from those who do not belong. Circumcision and female genital mutilation are gross forms of sexual abuse imposed on infants, youths and adults by the group pressure of “the elders”. These unnecessary assaults on the bodies of males and females are part of a worldwide culture of sadomasochism. Sadists believe that inflicting pain on others is good in separating the strong from the weak; it helps to make “real” men or women, sporting heroes or leaders. Masochists believe that all they can expect or deserve from life is to suffer pain. In human history many philosophers and religious leaders have exploited the sadomasochistic tendencies of people. This process became even more pronounced during the 20th century with the terrible atrocities of the Fascists and Nazis, the Leninists, Bolshevists, Stalinists, Japanese militarists, Maoists and those who copy them in this century.


Psychological research has shown us that those who have been abused are most likely to become abusers of others. That helps to explain many of the worse situations of torture, violence, murder and suicide bombing that we observe in Palestine, the Middle East and elsewhere.


As a follower of Christ I believe we have to be a lot clearer in articulating where we depart from popular notions of multiculturalism and “respecting” other cultures, ethnic groups and religions. We need to be honest and not paper over the differences. It is our task to expose the evils perpetrated by all religions and philosophies that do not at least teach and encourage their followers to live by the ethical, moral and spiritual standards taught by Jesus and Paul: compassion, forgiveness and inclusiveness.


At the beginning of this Exploration I said that the readings for today are about two beliefs: first that powerless people are often the “wise ones”


second that beyond us and all the things humans can do, there is another power, the influence of God.


The reading from the Gospel according to St Luke was probably written down between 89 and 93, though with all attempts to date there is ongoing debate between scholars. The gospel of Luke, however, does reflect Christianity's transition out of Judaism and toward to the Gentile world. The community for which Luke's gospel was written appears to have been made up primarily of dispersed Jews, who no longer followed their traditions in a rigid pattern and, as a consequence, are beginning to attract a rising tide of converts from the Gentile world to “the Way” taught by Jesus Christ. These new Christians had little interest in the cultic practices of circumcision, Jewish kosher dietary rules and unfamiliar liturgical practices.6


In today‟s Gospel we read about the Mission of the Seventy sent out by Jesus in pairs as an advance party

to every town and place that he was going to on his way south to Jerusalem.  In Luke‟s account this comes

just after some Samaritans in Israel the northern part of the Palestine, with their centuries‟ old antipathy to

the Judeans of the south, refused to receive Jesus because he was travelling to Jerusalem.

So Jesus

chose a large number of his followers, apparently with little or no training, to go like lambs into the midst of

wolves, and begin to talk with people.   “Whatever house you enter, first say,   „Peace to this house!‟    If

anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person;  but if not, it will return to you. …

Do not move about from house to house.  

eat what is set before you;  cure the sick who are there, and


say to them, „The kingdom of God has come near to you.‟

But whenever … they do not welcome you, go

out into its streets and … wipe the dust off  [your] feet …

[Say this to them] Yet know this: the kingdom of


God has come near!   “God comes near when compassion is expressed for those to whom we are sent.7


The last paragraph of the Gospel reading tells how the 70 returned with stories of the power of God to transform lives. “Lord in your name even the demons submit to us!” and Jesus gentle correction “do not


GL  1007



rejoice … that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” WE have to remain focussed not on numbers or so-called “success”, but on the quiet work of the Spirit of God in the lives of people. Perhaps many of us are too diffident, we “would prefer the „professional‟ to do the job of mission in our time, yet God repeatedly chooses to work through ordinary people, „warts and all‟ people, to accomplish the mission to which God calls us.”8


Prayer: Spirit of truth, lead us into all truth, and give us the words to speak it, words that take shape deep in the heart and do not distort or betray. We pray this in the name of the One who lived the truth, and is the way and the life. 9 AMEN


1 adapted fom Jim Cotter’s Out of the Silence: Prayer’s Daily Round (2006)p.25

2   With  Love  to  the  World  A  daily  Bible  reading  guide,  Vol  12  No.11,commentaries  28Jun-


11July10  by  Revd  Dr  David  Manton,  retired  UCA  Minister,  Mittagong,  NSW;  28Jun


Jim  Cotter,  ibid;    his  ‘unfolding’  of  Psalm  30  pp.114-6.


With  Love  to  the  World

ibid  30Jun2010


Schoolboys' unkind  cuts  prove  fatal:   JOHANNESBURG:  South African health officials are alarmed by arise in deaths among

men who had botched traditional circumcisions, after 39 young men died a month after undergoing the rite of passage into manhood.


The health officials say more than 120 young men are in hospitals nursing wounds. An Eastern Cape health spokesman, Sizwe Kupelo, said

the practice is common in the province.



Eighteen-year-olds generally undergo circumcision rites during their mid-year school holidays or at the end of the year. The procedure is

performed outdoors by traditional leaders who often use non-sterile spears to remove, the foreskins.


The custom has drawn criticism because the circumcision is generally performed by unqualified tribal chiefs in unsanitary conditions,


there is a high risk of infection, which can lead to amputation or even death. Mr Kupelo said 91 newly circumcised rnen died last year. Five traditional surgeons have been arrested since the beginning of June. The Eastern Cape state government has prohibited the practice in


some areas where circumcision deaths have been particularly high.


A national health department chief, Precious Matsoso, said tribal circumcision was considered unacceptable. "While we accept and respect the right of people to practice their traditions, this has to be done within the context of acceptable health norms and standards so that we can prevent such deaths," Ms Matsoso said.


The practice has gained in popularity after scientists said circumcision reduces the chances of HIV because the foreskin is particularly susceptible to infection.


The World Health Organisation says mass circumcision could prevent 4 million HIV infections between 2009 and 2025. Associated Press

6   JSSpong  in  The  Origins  of  the  New  Testament  Part  XXIV:  Introducing  Luke,27  May  2010


With  Love  to  the  World

ibid  2Jul2010




With  Love  to  the  World

ibid  2Jul2010



9   Jim  Cotter    ibid  prayer  at  end  of  Psalm  12,  p.68.


Contemporary hymn by George Stuart, Toronto, NSW

sung at end of Service:



1. „Sightings of the Spirit‟ – here

3. „Sightings‟ can be simple deeds;



Some are hidden, some are clear;

comfort to the one who bleeds;



„Sightings of the Spirit‟ – there

Flowers for the one who grieves;



Some are common, some quite rare;

Tears shed when a loved-one leaves;



When a nation makes a law


Gentle hugs when people meet;



For the good of all the poor,


someone‟s helped across the street;



Spends on peace and not on war,

Hope and help to face defeat;



„Sightings‟ happen more and more

When forgiveness comes complete.


2. „Sightings of the Spirit‟ – now

4.   „Sightings‟ tell us of God‟s reign;



Some quite strange;  we know not how;

Jesus‟ words were not in vain;



„Sightings of the Spirit‟ – then

Each event and time and place



Some surprise but come again;

Is the venue to embrace



When some human care can be

All he taught in Galilee



Haven for the refugee,


Of good-will, integrity;



When fierce enemies agree


„Sightings‟ tell, with clarity,



„Sightings‟ tell of harmony.


Of God‟s reign,consistently.



Enquiries, comments and criticisms are invited; also requests for additional copies of scripts, or permission to quote or reproduce: The Reverend Clive H Norton, (Anglican priest), phone (02) 9411 8606.


7 Dulwich Road, Chatswood, NSW 2067.   Email:


GL  1007


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