Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

Autumn Newsletter 2017

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

 

Ken Fletcher

What is Quantum Theory telling us and are there any philosophical and/or theological implications?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

 

Ted Nettle

Ted will discuss Waleed Aly’s book

“People like us”

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

 

Ross Barry

What is Evil and does it exist

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

 

Guy Mallam

“What we can really ‘know’ “

 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017 (School Hols)

Sue Emeleus

Interfaith and Spiritual direction.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

 

Ken Fletcher   

An opportunity to reflect how your understanding of

God has changed during your life.

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

   Secretary’s report.       

Dear Members and Friends,

We have had some interesting and uplifting discussions this year and the coming topics should promote a lot more worthwhile sessions.

We extend our gratitude to all those who have led meetings and for the preparation time necessary. We thank Ros for her session on the spirituality of Leonard Cohen and Tom for his report from the variety speakers at the Common Dreams 4 conference in Brisbane.

 

Also we thank all those who have contributed to the newsletter. As we still send hard copies to numerous members we like to keep the newsletter to 8-10 pages. Some articles have been abbreviated; in these cases, we have attached the full articles to this email and after the newsletter on the CPRT web site. http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

 

We have a lot of equipment which we are no longer using in our current activities. If anyone knows where some of our collection could be of use then please talk to Eric.

Kind regards, Ken   (Ken Fletcher CPRT Secretary)

 

Leonard Cohen. September 21, 1934-November 7th, 2016.

Ros Tinker’s introduction to her session on the spirituality of Leonard Cohen

 

Born in Quebec, Canada, Cohen was a singer, musician, songwriter (14 albums), poet (13 poetry books), novelist (2 books) and painter with multiple awards in these areas and made Companion of the Order of Canada, the nation’s highest civilian honour. Cohen’s work mostly explored themes such as political and social justice, relationships, sexuality, war, isolation and religion or should we more rightly say “spirituality”. Incidentally, there are some who believe that Leonard Cohen, not Bob Dylan, should have won the Nobel prize for literature in December, 2016.

Cohen was born into a middle class Jewish family. His mother was the daughter of a Rabbi and the family observed orthodox Judaism. Cohen retained links with Judaism all his life and was buried with a Jewish rite. In his concert in Israel, in 2009, he spoke Jewish prayers and blessings to the audience in Hebrew.

In his early life Cohen was interested in a variety of world views which he later described as “from the Communist Party to the Republican Party. From Scientology to delusions of me as High Priest rebuilding the Temple” (Jeff Burger, 2014. Chicago Review Press)

Even so, Cohen for much of the 1990’s, spent time at the Mt. Baldy Zen Centre in California and in 1996 was ordained as a Rinzai Zen Buddhist monk and took the Dharma name Jikan meaning Silent One. Stories are told of his close relationship with Zen Master Roshi and how they were “late night sake drinking buddies” and how Cohen was given special dispensation to get up even earlier than the other monks so that he could smoke cigarettes and brew coffee before meditation. It is said that Cohen’s involvement in Zen helped him with the depression he suffered from, what he called “a kind of mental violence which stops you functioning properly”.

Cohen’s songs have lots of Biblical imagery and snapshots of the life and death of Jesus are also mentioned in several of his songs. “I’m very fond of Jesus Christ. He may be the most beautiful guy who walked the face of the earth. Any guy who says ‘Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the meek’ has got to be a figure of unparalleled generosity and insight……..I’m not trying to alter the Jewish view of Jesus Christ. But to me, in spite of what I know about the history of legal Christianity, the figure of the man has touched me” (Leonard Cohen: In his Own Words. Paperback July 7, 1998)  The best known song he wrote is ‘Hallelujah’. It was written in 1984, became the theme for the film Shrek in 2001and has been recorded and rearranged by numerous singer/ musicians, one of the best known and liked being by KD Lang.

Even though Cohen was obviously attracted to ‘religious ideologies’ it would be extremely difficult to pin him down to any specific religion. He was the ultimate syncretist. He seemed to like taking bits and pieces from many religious traditions and to weave them into his writings because they moved him and his deep need to make sense of the complexities of life. He was a ‘spiritual’ man and his music evoked a ‘spiritual’ response from his fans. He didn’t pretend to have the answers but he did inspire the individual to seek out their own answers to the transcendant and in the end to be able to “stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”.

 

 

HALLELUJAH!                               Written by Eric Stevenson 

It was the choir singing the chorus at a wedding ceremony in 1997 that I first put contemporary meaning into Leonard Cohn’s favourite song.  Because I was taught the meaning of the word Hallelujah at Bible College, I understood that it was a kind of glorified “hooray”.  But the choir members didn’t have a clue about the etymology; they (and the wedding guests) just enjoyed the melody. But if Leonard understood its literal meaning, what was he hooraying about?

 

To try and find out, I go to the lyrics of the first two popular verses which are most likely his. They make reference to a blend of his Jewish acquaintance with the stories in the Scriptures. ...The shepherd boy harpist playing for the depressive King Saul, David’s affair with Bathsheba, and Delilah’s seduction of Samson.  The genius in the words is that although Leonard gets these familiar Old Testament bible stories confused, the song still carries a powerful message.

 

In verse one, some commentators think he begins by addressing God.  No, I think he is addressing the King Saul inside of all of us.  David the shepherd boy played “cunningly“(I Samuel, 16, 16) and it pleased “the baffled Lord, (King Saul) composing Hallelujah”.  Our baffled King Saul’s in this generation, to whom Leonard sings with healing power, are many and varied. Our King Saul’s, like the real one, can be given to bouts of deep depression. Despite having attained positions of self-sufficiency and comfort and independence and comparative affluence, they no longer find personal fulfilment in life. Saul, the king of Israel had acceded to a throne, and achieved a kingdom but lost his sense of achievement. The Spirit of the Lord had departed from him and an evil spirit troubled him (v 14-15). So Leonard’s music assumes a spiritual role, driving out our demons and teaching us to sing Hallelujah in praise of the life-energy which motivates us and which is responsible for the bad as well as the good.  In 1985 at the time of composing Hallelujah he said that it was his desire to affirm his faith in life.  And he does so without the trappings of doctrine and dogma, as he said, “not in some formal religious way, but with enthusiasm, with emotion”.

 

 And he is not alone. Many others in the classical and pop music scene have been using music to lift their spirits and ours.  Franz Schubert in his Ode to Music sings, “Noble art, how often in dark hours, when the savage ring of life tightens round me, have you kindled warm love in my heart, have transported me to a better world. Often a sigh has escaped from your harp, a sweet sacred harmony of yours, has opened up the heavens to better times for me. O blessed art, (Music) I thank you for that!” Note Schubert’s reference no doubt to our Bible story.

 

In verse two Leonard is now talking firstly to another King inside of us, the new King David.  He moves from responding to our endogenous moods to coping with our failures and our disasters.... our secret sins, even our evil thoughts, our suppressed guilt, and our haunting sense of imperfection.  He starts with a full confrontation of our natural sexual desires and criminally selfish passions. The original King David used and abused his power in order to satisfy his lust for the woman bathing on the roof. He got her husband killed by putting him in the front line of battle!  How could he with integrity continue to reign in shame as the divinely chosen leader of God’s people?  And even harder, how could he cope with his self-condemnation or face public ridicule for being such an idiot, seduced not by an innocent naked body but by the greedy desires and lascivious thoughts of his own mind?                   Secondly, in verse two Leonard addresses the Samson inside of us.  He is referring to the Samson of his Jewish scriptures who made the mistake of rushing into a foolish relationship.  He is like the immature teenager whom we learned about in the news last week, who shared her private life on the internet with her murderer. Our Samson’s lack the wisdom to share their confidences appropriately. This Samson shared his private life with a deceitful and manipulative Delilah. She betrayed his deepest secret, exhausted the source of his energy and robbed him of his dignity.  “She tied you to her kitchen chair, she broke your throne and cut your hair.”

Thus in one brilliant literary stroke, Leonard plunges us from reigning on our thrones to being tied to a kitchen chair by our own stupidity and naiveté!  In his commentary he says that we humans are “irresistibly attracted to each other, and irresistibly lonely for each other”.  And to this we could add, “Irresistibly in search of sharing our inner self with another understanding and accepting human being.”  But as both victims and beneficiaries of such a wondrous set of emotions and desires, we have no alternative but to learn to cope with them.  In teaching us to do so and to, (as Leonard has written) “embrace it all”, his lyrics take us from our highs to the pits. And from those humiliating places he inspires us to rise up and sing, “Hallelujah!”

  

Well I heard there was a sacred chord

 That David played and it pleased the Lord;

 But you don’t really care for music do you?

 Well it goes like this: for the fourth, the fifth,

 The minor fall and the major lift,

 The baffled king composing Hallelujah!

 

Your faith was strong but you needed proof,

You saw her bathing on the roof,

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you.

She tied you to her kitchen chair,

She broke your throne and cut your hair;

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah!

 

Leonard Cohn’s legacy for me.                                                                                                                  Leonard Cohn’s spirituality inspires our appreciation of every vocalist and every musician who like him has helped to lift our depression, calm our spirit, enthuse our endeavours, strengthen our resolve and affirm us with joy and a sense of fulfilment.  We salute the lyricists, and composers to whose artistry we have been privileged to listen, and gifted to appreciate.  As we persevere with life, with all its ups and downs and all our strengths and weaknesses, may we continue to sing Leonard’s Hallelujah, again and again and again. ”Hallelujah!”            Eric.

 

Lyrics- Cohen wrote many drafts of this song before his original recording of it. Not only do the lyrics vary in different versions by Cohen himself, but other artists have varied the words too. Cohen was content with that, saying that “many different Hallelujahs exist.”

 

 

Inspiring Earth Ethics- Linking Value and Action     from Noel Preston

Advanced notice about a conference being held at Griffith University on November 23-24, 2017. I am sure you can see its significance and uniqueness.  The style of the conference will be participatory, not top heavy with academic experts, but providing an opportunity for those interested in eco-spirituality from whatever background to share. Financially we are running the conference on a low budget but that hopefully also makes it more accessible.

For more information or to join our email list contact Julia Grieves:-  Australian Earth Laws Association (AELA) : -  julia@earthlaws.org.au

 

“Progressive Spirituality: New Directions.”

Tom Plaizier’s reflections from the Common Dreams 4 Conference:

 

The Speakers included a Muslim (Sufi) woman, a Jewish woman, a Unitarian and speakers from England, Canada and New Zealand and of course Australia.

Most of the participants were over 55. It was difficult to bring all their ideas together to get one clear picture.

Pamela Eisenbaum, a Jewish New Testament lecturer at a Christian college, reminded us that the OT originally only consisted of consonants without punctuation marks. Scholars later had to guess what the missing vowels would have been. Of course there were differences of opinion.

Here is my version in English of the talks about spirituality at the conference.

GDSNWHR which led to the conclusion GODISNOWHERE while others believe

that God is now here.

Michael Morwood, saw Christology as a language of disconnection and said that Paul needs to be de-canonised as he turned Jesus into Christ. He also spoke of the problem of middle management in religion.

 

Let me share 4 word pictures or stories that left a strong impression on me.

Firstly: - An account of a Christian attempting to persuade a man from jumping off a bridge but after much questioning found the man to be from the opposing branch of his own church said: Die heretic scum and pushed him off the bridge.

For me this was a powerful story highlighting the stupidity of our differences and intolerance in religion.

David Felton, the founder of Living the Questions program, told us how his progressive Church had been severely attacked last year by 8 traditional local Churches. For him a progressive movement welcomes all people, respects other religions, works for justice, seeks to confront racism and prejudice in all of its forms and works to heal the world. But it can also be costly!

 

Secondly: - The second story described the progressive religious movement as a flood which covers the land. Unlike the fixed directions of rivers and canals, a flood moves in different and unexpected directions and fills various holes in the landscape. Some of the water evaporates and in some areas it produces new growth. Many new ideas appear and some disappear. It highlights an unpredictable future.  Just as water finds new ways so honest searching and questioning will lead to new and unexpected insights and possibilities. However, the progressive (or rather progressing) groups must remain open and avoid exclusivity.

 

Thirdly: - traditional religion portrays man’s outcome to the discretion of the operator on a heavenly elevator in a 3 tiered universe. It depends on the theological training and beliefs of the individual operator to decide whether he pressed the heaven or hell button.

Several speakers emphasised that we live in a much more complex universe:

The nearest star to our sun is Proxima Centauri at 4.4. Lightyears away (travelling at 56,000 km an hour it would take 81,000 years to get there)

There are over 200 billion stars in our galaxy and last month the Hubble telescope revealed that there are over 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. There are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth.

At the other end of the scale there are more molecules in 10-20 drops of water than there are stars in the universe.

So in this staggering universe where is God?

Note that Michael Angelo in his painting has a gap between God’s and man’s fingers indicating that God and humans are totally disconnected.

 

 

Fourthly: - there is the Mobius strip. With ourselves and our neighbours (fellow human beings) on one side and nature on the other. They are indistinguishable, they merge. We are part of the universe. Spirituality, whatever it means, can only be found by taking ourselves, our neighbours, fellow human beings, and nature seriously.

 

I learnt that progressing spirituality can be costly and risky. It demands honesty and living with uncertainty as we connect with and care for other human beings and nature. We have to be careful that it does not develop into another institution or religion with fixed beliefs.

I now have very few religious beliefs but my faith is stronger.

 

After attending many conferences and workshops and reading many articles and books I am convinced that the only meaningful way for us to talk about God and spirituality is silence qualified by stories.

 

To listen to most of the speakers on the web or download many of the talks. Google:  Common Dreams Brisbane 2016 proceedings - www.commondreams.org.au/index.php/brisbane-info

Editor’s note: Tom’s full article is attached to this newsletter email.

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

IT’S NATURAL! A ‘FORGOTTEN ALTERNATIVE' FOR PROGRESSIVE SPIRITUALITY                 -by Rex Hunt

Editor’s note. For the newsletter, Rex’s paper has been abbreviated considerably including many of the references and credits.  The full version is attached to this email and published on our web site.

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.[i]  And centuries before all that when you take into consideration indigenous peoples nature-centric song lines or Dreaming stories, that celebrate the sacred earth as the Kunapipi, ‘earth mother’. At the C D 4 Conference[ii] in Brisbane, September 2016 there were several presentations and workshops which, I have grouped together under the heading ‘Religious Naturalism’:  

(i) Noel Preston’s presented a DVD- ‘Journey of the Universe’, honouring the work of Thomas Berry,

(ii) Jana Norman’s presentation on the Ecozoic Era—highlighting a radical shift in consciousness from early human devastation to human learning to honour the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.

(iii) Diana Butler Bass when she unpacked 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, anti-authoritarianism and exceptionalism, to the promises of pluralism, generosity, and the creative imagination.

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. Naturalist views, grounded in science, provide a framework for understanding what seems real.

These include a central story, the epic of evolution, which 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.

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.

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 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.

The human story and the universe story are the same story. We are not encapsulated, separated, isolated beings. Whatever we are, the universe is.

There is no reason why a ritual/liturgical link cannot be forged between naturalism and such feelings of wonder and awe. 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. Allow yourself to be shaped by this creativity. The religious rituals of the future will celebrate the wonder of the universe and the mystery of life.

 

The Centre for Progressive Christianity in the USA ( progressivechristianity.org ) has just placed on their website 5 interlinked thematic indexes of Bill Wallace’s material.  They give access to the text, score and sound file of each of the 198 hymns, songs and chants on their website along with Bill’s 35 children’s songs in the collection “Sing Young, Sing Joyfully”.

The collections on the American website are 

1) Boundless Life hymns

2) Celebrating Mystery (general worship resources including hymns).

3) Festive Worship (resources including hymns for Christian festivals)

4) Seasoned Celebration worship resources including hymns for the seasons of nature)

5) The Sing Young, Sing Joyfully collection of inclusive children’s songs

 The worship resources include over 950 of Bill’s original sayings together with collects, poems, reflections and calls for action.

 In addition Bill’s “Sacred Energy/ Mass of the Universe” is now featured on the Web in three separate entries of either the text and melody line, or the score or the power point presentation. 

To access these resources Google <progressivechristianity.org> followed by Index to all of William L. Wallace’s, the name of the collection e.g. “Festive Worship Resources"

Whether you are a Late Liberal or a Post Liberal there is bound to be some material among these resources which will fit your theological perspective

If you have any comments on any of this material please contact Bill at <pathways@slingshot.co.nz>.  RAEH

 

 

 

REFORMATION COMMEMORATION . LETTER TO EDITOR: From John Bunyan

The 500th anniversary Reformation commemoration I hope will not be one-sided.  We can rejoice in true reforms but we should not forget the tragic consequences of the divisions – in England destruction of much beauty and the loss of monastic social services and much genuine spirituality, and far worse, mutual persecution and terrible religious wars there and in Europe. I think of Sir Thomas More helping to hunt down Tyndale and of the Marian Martyrs, but also of Margaret Clitheroe judicially crushed to death (horrifying Queen Elizabeth herself), of the burning of Servetus welcomed by Calvin and other leading Reformers, of simple Unitarian Bible Christians whom Cranmer, Coverdale and Ridley in court sentenced to death by burning, of young Quaker Mary Dyer hanged in Boston by the Puritans, of Edward Wightman, a Baptist burnt to death for heresy in England as late as 1612. (Thomas Aikenhead was executed for blasphemy in 1697 !)   And worst of all, I think of Luther’s appalling verbal attacks upon the Jews that sowed more seeds of dreadful anti-Judaism, bearing evil fruit under the Nazis who happily quoted him. Archdeacon T.C.Hammond wrote of this long ago but Thomas Kaufmann’s recent scholarly, balanced, meticulous study, Luther’s Jews : The Journey into Anti-Semitism leaves Luther condemned.  This commemoration should not be without honest regret and shame – and some reconciliation, I hope, between Christians but also between Christians and our Lord’s own people who have suffered so terribly at Christian hands before and during and since the Reformations.

 (The Revd Dr) John Bunyan    (PO Box N109, Campbelltown North, 2560 ; 

 

 

Where are you going?

Editor’s note: -   This is an abbreviated version of a paper written by John Court on the Eastwood UC web site http://www.euc.org.au/   and shared at our meeting led by Tom Plaizier reporting his reflections from the Common Dreams 4 conference.  The full unabridged paper is attached to this email and one our web site.

We live in a vastly different world today compared to the world of ancient Rome where the first Christian martyrs in the arena had little doubt where they were going:  “Directly to be with Jesus!”

Australia is a tolerant, Western democracy where science and technology have transformed life beyond the wildest imagining of those first Christians.  Most of us can anticipate long, healthy and comfortable lives.  So where is the appeal of ‘a kingdom of God’ offering much the same? We face apathy, rather than persecution.  Sure, there are still those experiencing disadvantage, poverty and misery among us, but for most of us, our busy comfortable lives tend to push questions of faith and ultimate meaning into the background until we near life’s end.  And a scientific-materialist world view has seriously undermined much conventional Christian thinking.  Occasional kitsch manger scenes in this season of frenzied consumerism, is as close as most Australians will get to meeting Jesus.  Christianity is no longer the dominant belief system of our society.  Where indeed are we going?

The Brisbane Common Dreams Conference theme was: ‘Progressive Spirituality – New Directions’, looking at the future of Christian faith. So what engaged the speakers and those attending in this ‘progressive’ Christian talk-fest?

Australian theologian and author Dr Val Webb stepped up first. Trained initially as a scientist and raised in a strict church environment, Val pursued a full professional career in England and America.  But troubled by what it means to be a Christian in today’s world, she went on to study theology at a US Lutheran seminary and to write many books as a non-ordained theologian.

Val questioned the value of the label ‘progressive’ - it carries too many negative associations to properly describe those so labelled.  She urged all Christians, not only clergy, to engage with the many different religious ideas now abroad, and not just those they agree with.  She urged taking religion beyond the church wall; she urged individual Christians to think and explore for themselves without fear of censure and she urged being disruptive rather than conformist in the practice of our religion.

 

The lead key-note speaker was the Dr Diana Butler-Bass.  She is an American historian of Christianity and independent commentator on current religious trends. Her latest offering, Grounded: Finding God in the World- a Spiritual Revolution, was the essence of her message. The picture she drew was of moving a world engrossed in verticality (e.g. “make America great again”) to one engaged with horizontality (e.g. “hug your neighbour or a tree”).   She likened religions constrained by their historical origins, to tall buildings.  This corresponds to the ancient three-decker view of the world: God in heaven above, the earth below where we live and hell deep underground. She passionately argues that horizontal engagement comes from extending our empathy beyond ourselves, our church and our religion, to our community, our world and the whole non-human realm. Finding a sense of being “grounded” in a wider creation, is for her the beginning of a truly progressive spirituality.

Prof Pamela Eisenbaum from Denver gave a fascinating insight into the nature of Scripture and its significance for us.  Scripture existed as a loose concept of God’s Word for thousands of years before it became a printed book effectively accessible to all.  Initially is was only oral for most of the faithful, as it was heard from the mouths of priests and prophets. Then it became laboriously written by hand, and subject to great variations in transmission, for the tiny number who could read.  Then with printing it became more of a fixed entity, steadily available to many as literacy became wide-spread.  Great certainty now attached to the text and it was often bound in black leather.  Finally, it has become digital, and strangely more variable and malleable in its new abundance.  Her message was clear:  what we mean by “the Bible says” has varied enormously through the ages of our religion.

Rev. Fred Plummer, a leader in the progressive Christian movement in the USA and a long-time consultant on church growth, challenged us at the outset with his opinion that “the millennials are not coming back” (to church).  The Conference organisers arranged a special session for millennials (i.e. those born after 1980, about 10% of the total attendance.

I went to the Conference with a nagging question:  “Is ‘progressive’ Christianity the way of the future?”  While I am personally more comfortable with a progressive/liberal rather than a traditional/ conservative approach, I came away unsure of the answer.  I am convinced God is going to shake up the church radically in the near future.  I sense a ‘progressive’ approach will be part of that shake up, but only part.  I also sense we all are going to need to hold on to our seats and buckle up for a rough ride!

There were many other fine presenters, from Australia and overseas.  The audio versions can now be accessed through the Common Dreams website (follow the prompts), with video versions coming:  http://www.commondreams.org.au/            John Court   (December 2016)

 

 All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

 

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                                                                            

 


 


  1.  

 

© 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: pej.cmi@columban.org.au Phone: 02 93528021 Website: www.columban.org.au 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. 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, 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”. https://religiousnaturalism.org/what-is-religious-naturalism/ (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’.



Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)


Freedom to Explore


Summer Newsletter 2017


CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS 2017


Dates

Leader

Topic

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

 

Peter Correy

Introduction to the amazing Florence Nightingale.   Not only a nursing and social reformer, an advisor to governments and a respected statistician, but also a prolific and challenging writer about religion, especially Christianity.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Ross Barry


How Societies choose to fail or survive?


 


See the Discussion Schedule for the rest of the year at the end of this Newsletter.


 


We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.


Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.


Visitors welcome!


 


Dear Members and Friends,

2017 is upon us already and we have our first meeting on Tuesday 7 Feb with Peter Correy revealing the story of Florence Nightingale followed by Ross Barry on 14th Feb looking at how societies work.

We will be seeking further leaders for future meetings.

Eric has asked that he be relieved from leading discussions and most of his administrative work as he is having difficulty meeting deadlines. At this stage I will work more closely with Eric to gain his input and suggestions which should mean everything will continue as it has in the past. We ask for as much support and suggestions from our members as is able.

Thank you to our members and friends who have contributed to the newsletter. We like to encourage a healthy discussion even though we all may not agree.

Kind regards,

Ken   (Ken Fletcher) CPRT Secretary


 


NEWS OF DON CUPITT

We learn from the Christmas 2016 issue of SOFIA Magazine that Don Cupitt of Sea of Faith fame is planning new progressive programmes and that he has been approached by the BBC for more on his life and work. We are sorry to hear that he has become immobilised by arthritis, and that he is suffering from macular degeneration in both eyes.                                                    Ed.  


Correspondence with our member Rita.


Dear friends at CRPT,


A short letter to let you know that I will not be attending the discussion groups for the time being. This is due to a combination of distance to travel and also it was not quite the group that I was looking for. I remember Eric saying that, if someone realised what he/she was looking for, then there would be no reason to attend the group. Attending the group helped reawaken my realisation of the need for the company of searching people and has spurred me to rejoin the School of Practical Philosophy of which I was a member for 23 years.


I am very grateful for your delightful and informative company and the impetus it provided to make some important decisions as far as the spiritual life is concerned.


With best wishes,


 Rita Boyce


Dear Rita,


Thanks for your email bringing us up to date with your position and attendance at CPRT.


We have really appreciated your input and perspective as we often lack the feminine input at our discussions. We have been impressed with the effort required for you to travel so far for our meetings especially with a sick husband.


You are welcome to join us at any time and we will keep you on our email list so you can be up to date with our activities. I have attached the discussion program so far for 2017.


We are aware that our discussions lack a variety of ideas at times and have been trying to encourage some of our ladies to lead the discussions.


We wish you and your husband all the best for 2017.


Kind regards,


Ken & Eric.   CPRT Sydney.


 


Dear Ken and Eric, Thank you for keeping me on your mailing list. I would like this very much and could occasionally get down to Sydney. Regards, Rita


 


John Neilson has sent us a reminder of a new web course by Ken Wilber.

Ken Wilbur: -  http://integrallife.teachable.com/p/full-spectrum-mindfulness/?product_id=36577&coupon_code=FSMAFF1&preview=logged_out

 

Although I’ve had the email which links to this for a while, I don’t think I’ve mentioned it to you before. If I were a lot younger I would consider it as I believe Ken Wilber to be an outstanding teacher. Some of the background information may be of interest to you guys. Kind regards, John Neilson


A Legacy Worth Pursuing: Jack Spong and The Rest of Us


 


In September last year, our beloved author and progressive mentor, Jack Spong suffered a stroke. David Felten, who is co-author of Living the Questions wrote to him while on his way to the Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane. We quote from David’s letter which was published on  johnshelbyspong.com on Dec. 1st, 2016.The letter, presented under the above heading, contains a series of beautiful tributes with which we totally agree, and also best wishes to Jack which we heartily endorse. Ed.


 


When he learned of Jack’s stroke in September, David was en route to the fourth Common Dreams Conference in Brisbane. He said that at the Conference he couldn’t have found himself in a more supportive and equally concerned crowd anywhere in the world. “Few people know as well as you the peculiar feeling of being both reviled and beloved around the world,” he wrote to Jack, “But it seems to me that nowhere are you more respected than in Progressive Christian circles Down Under.”


 


The letter to Jack goes on to reflect“with fondness” on the inaugural Common Dreams event in Sydney back in 2007. “Although it wasn’t your first trip to Australia, CD1 was a seminal event I feel fortunate to have attended. As you’ll recall, when news broke that this “rogue heretic” (that would be you) was once again descending on Australia, the Archdiocese of the Sydney Anglican Church sent out a press release banning you from setting foot on any Anglican property while in their city. This was, of course, the best publicity the organizing committee of Common Dreams could have ever hoped for. I recall the delight (tinged with sadness) you expressed in having your infamy splashed across the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald. While providing further proof to the non-religious that the church (or at least the Sydney Anglican Church) was hopelessly irrelevant in its obsession with the past, your notoriety resulted in interviews and other media exposure that drew a crowd exponentially larger than expected. I remember your presentations being both inspiring and encouraging to a crowd that was yearning for new directions. Looking back, your trademark tenacity in the face of controversy seems to have been one of the catalysts for what continues to grow as a broad and evolving network of Progressive Christians in Australia/New Zealand.”


 


“And so it goes – all across the globe – a legacy of certainties called into question, death-dealing dogmas called out, exclusive and privileged institutions put on notice. You are at one and the same time one of orthodoxy’s worst nightmares and a cup of cool water to the beloved community of “church alumni/ae” – and all of this with a focus, a grace, and a humility that confounds your critics.”


 


David writes to Jack about the daunting challenge for many Progressives, both clergy and laity, to stay in the institution and not be broken by it. “In you (Jack),” he says, “we’ve seen what it takes and are inspired to rise to the challenge. No matter how controversial, it is crucial for those of us who are clergy to follow your lead in translating the often esoteric theological musings of academia into language that is both understandable and relevant to thoughtful lay people. We need to muster the courage to be outspoken social critics, ecclesiastical whistle-blowers, and prophetic voices calling discrimination and injustice what it is, even in the face of a persistent status quo. All the while being able to express a genuinely pastoral ethos in the advocacy of the most radical of ideas. Sheesh. I don’t think you realize how high you’ve set the bar for us.”


 


“Over and over again, you’ve reminded us that Jesus’ call is for us to be whole and real, not religious; loving, not moral and righteous; inclusive, not hating everybody that disagrees with us and claiming superiority over them. You’ve proclaimed it wherever there are ears to hear: the mark of Jesus’ disciples is to be loving. A call to life. A call to love. A call to be all that we can be.”


 


David concludes by expressing his gratitude “and maybe a little aggravation!” at Jack’s having pointed out SO many places that need to be pushed to keep things moving forward. “It is downright daunting”, he continues,But perhaps one of the things I’m most grateful for is your expectation of not just me, but of all of us, clergy and laity alike. It’s a kind of unspoken summons where, in so many different circumstances, you have demonstrated the importance of standing up and speaking out — not just as “professional” public theologians, but as informed lay people in particular.”


 


“I’ve seen it at work. It happens around kitchen tables and in coffee shops, on long drives and quiet walks where conversations turn to the things that really matter in life – and often those “things” are weighed down by the burden of long obsolete religious ideas and assumptions. Through your books, lectures, and columns, you provide the vocabulary and give permission to ordinary people to struggle, doubt, and even reject the dogma of their birth. You’ve opened new spiritual vistas for them. You’ve shown the power of simply sitting with and encouraging the hurting and the fearful without burdening them with platitudes or the weight of long-irrelevant theologies. And taking all of it together and holding it up to the light, one of your greatest gifts becomes clear: the ability to stir even those who consider themselves the “least of these” into action.”


 


“Let’s be honest, People cannot not have an opinion about Jack Spong. Whether you’re stirring people up to totally re-evaluate everything they’d ever thought they knew or steeling a Fundamentalists’ resolve to maintain the status quo, your life and teachings demand a response.


And THAT’S what I’m going for. That’s a legacy worth pursuing. And insofar as I’m able to achieve even the tiniest sliver of that goal, I can say without hesitation that it is all your fault.”…“Working with Jeff to develop Living the Questions has had a lot of unexpected benefits, not the least of which has been your friendship and mentorship.”


 


“I will always be grateful for your wisdom, your support, and your encouragement. I look forward to connecting with you and Christine in person sometime soon.


In the meantime, best wishes to you in your continued recovery. We who seek to live, love, and be all that we can be offer our love and gratitude!


 


With love,


 


David”


 


Gretta Vospers Reply       It's another hearing ....


The Toronto Conference sub-Executive reconvened to continue its deliberations regarding the recommendations coming out of the Ministry Personnel Review Committee. You will remember that those recommendations were based on the finding that I am unsuitable for ministry in The United Church of Canada
The sub-Executive Committee has decided that it supports the recommendations of the Review Committee and has asked the
General Secretary, Nora Sanders  to initiate a formal hearing. Sanders created the process that has been used by Toronto Conference to review my effectiveness. Her reasoning was that one could not be effective if one was not suitable and one could not be suitable if one could not answer the ceremonial questions of ordination affirmatively. Her ruling effectively mooted the much touted claim that the United Church is not a creedal church. Through the ruling, Sanders provided the United Church with something it had, to its credit, long avoided: a line in the sand that clarifies who's in and who's out. 
It is not known how long it will take to convene a formal hearing panel. The General Council has only recently taken on the responsibility of formal hearings as a way to remove the potential conflict that would be borne by a conference that had already reviewed a minister's effectiveness. It is also not known if the members of the formal hearing committee will be members of the General Council, that is, commissioners from across the county, or if it will be composed in some other way. I'll keep you posted. 
In the meantime, I invite you to hold
West Hill in your heart. There is much grief and sorrow yet to be processed. Should you wish to connect with them directly to express your support, please do so. You can send a message through Annie, our office Administrator
All my best,
Gretta.


SEA of FAITH in AUSTRALIA  (SoFiA).

The SoFiA Network promotes the open exploration of religion, spirituality and meaning.

'Sea of Faith' is not a church, but a network of people who are seeking a radical reappraisal of past religious traditions in order to meet today's spiritual challenges.  The Network affirms the continuing importance of religious thought and practice even though it acknowledges that religion, like art and poetry, is a purely human creation.

 SoFiA Network Website - www.sof-in-australia.org  

Don Cupitt - www.doncupitt.com

Lloyd Geering - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_Geering

SoFiA Victoria email - sofmelb@yahoo.com.au 

 
SoFiA Network Website - Members and non-members:  You are encouraged to comment on the Articles and Blogs, as well as to participate in the on-going discussions in the Blog Archives.

 

LECTURES - Thursdays, 7.30pm.  Gold coin donation appreciated.

Lectures are followed by questions, discussion and refreshments.   All viewpoints are welcome.


 


Hal Taussig's 'Common Dreams on the Road' tour of Australia & New Zealand this year


Hal Taussig's has blocked out all of October & November 2017 to be in Australia & New Zealand


 The following draft itinerary is being reviewed
Oct 5th till Oct 11 in Brisbane; Oct 11 to 18th in Sydney;  Oct 18 to 25th in Perth; Oct 25  to Nov1st in Melbourne; Nov 1 till Nov 9th Wellington NZ
You will see that this provides for approximately one week in each centre which, for the first time, will allow everyone to schedule weekend events as well as events on other days.
Hal’s teaching ranged widely through the New Testament and recent new documents discovered from the Christ communities of the first and second centuries.  
Perhaps the freshest of his work is the very powerful work we are doing at Westar on a rewriting of the history of early Christianity.  This is usually best done in a series of two or three lectures, but can be done with one.
I love preaching.  I often preach--and have for a long time--on some of the newly discovered texts from outside the canon.  But I also love to preach from an assigned lectionary text.


Hal has also reminded me that he also, like Lloyd Geering, had a brush with a heresy trial when charges were brought against him & another colleague by the United Methodist Church in the early 1990s because of a couple of books they had co-authored. The charges were eventually dismissed six years later!

Was there a Jesus  ?  An article sent by John Nielson


We thank John again for sending us another interesting article that raises the long discussed question as to whether Jesus actually existed. Our group have discussed that we can see two Jesus’, the man and also Jesus the Christ that history and the Church Fathers built him up to be.


The sources normally discussed fall into three main categories: (1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian. But when people ask whether it is possible to prove that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, as John P. Meier pointed out decades ago, “The implication is that the Biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers. What they really want to know is: Is there extra-Biblical evidence … for Jesus’ existence?”


Therefore, this article will cover classical and Jewish writings almost exclusively.3


Lawrence Mykytiuk’s feature article, “Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible”,  from the January/February 2015 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review can be read on the web at:-


http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/did-jesus-exist/?mqsc=E3862893&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHDWeek


This could be a topic for one of our discussion meetings?


 


CPRT Discussion Programme for 2017


Dates

Leader

Topic

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

 

Peter Correy

Introduction to the amazing Florence Nightingale.   Not only a nursing and social reformer, an advisor to governments and a respected statistician, but also a prolific and challenging writer about religion, especially Christianity.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Ross Barry


How Societies choose to fail or survive?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Ted Nettle

To be advised

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Ros Tinker

“The Spirituality of Leonard Cohen”

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Tom & Bev Plaizier

Tom and Bev bring us a report of the September Common Dream Seminar that was held in Brisbane.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017 (School Hols)

Anthony Martin

To be advised

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

 

 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

 

 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Sue Emeleus

Interfaith and Spiritual direction.


Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              


 


All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112


Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org


Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au


Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116


Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam                                                                                                          


 


 


We have decided to have no membership fees for 2017.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112


 


 




Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

September 2016- SPRING- Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

October 2016

 

4/10/16

Ros Tinker

“The role of Religion in the History of Humankind”.  A brief look at this amazingly insightful, perspective giving chapter from Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens”. Recommended as required reading for progressives.

18/10/16

Gerald Christmas

 "Evolutionary Christianity".  Gerald looks at the influence of the Eco-Evolutionary, Eco-Evidential or Eco Environmental forces on Christianity, Religion, Spirituality and Theology". 

 

See the Discussion Schedule for the rest of the year at the end of this Newsletter.

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

 Secretaries Report

Dear CPRT members and friends,

This newsletter contains a summary, prepared by Eric, of the conclusions by the Uniting Church of Canada regarding Gretta Vosper. It was a very lengthy document so we have added Eric’s full summary on our web site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org and include this web site http://bit.ly/2c8qprJ which has more detail.

We wish Gretta well as she establishes a new life after these past disappointments.

 

Ted Nettle, our Common Dreams representative, has passed on $1000 from CPRT to support Common Dreams work and future seminars.

There is also a note from Rex Hunt about speakers at future conferences.

Our thanks to Sue Emeleus for submitting the article called “Learning How to Listen into Life,” included in this newsletter.

Our last meeting for the year will be on Tuesday 6th December. More details to follow but CPRT will organise the food

We re-commence again in 2017 on Tuesday 7th February, 2017 when Peter Correy will present the story of Florence Nightingale.

Kind regards,

Ken Fletcher (CPRT Secretary)

  Gretta Vosper “On Trial” in the Uniting Church of Canada

Comments on the Report of the Conference Interview Committee of its review of the ministry of the Rev. Gretta Vosper

Our friend and fellow progressive, Gretta Vosper, has been considered to be not suitable to continue as a minister of the United Church of Canada.  This has followed complaints about her beliefs received by the Toronto Conference in 2015 which referred the matter to the Conference Interview Committee for determination. Rex Hunt has sent us a copy of the Committee’s full report of the interview with Gretta which took place in June last. The following disturbing details of Gretta’s “trial” (our word) have been taken from the report itself.

 

Because so much of the accusation focuses on Gretta’s so called atheism, it is important to note that she only labelled herself at one stage as an atheist as a protest in support of those who had been unjustly persecuted.   Her refusal to use the God word was not because of disbelief in “a power beyond us”, but because of the meaning given to it by the interventionist believers who were conducting her trial.

 

While CPRT members retain the right to express their belief in God in a variety of ways we wish to raise the more important question as to whether the words which were used to accuse and condemn Gretta Vosper (as well as the trial itself) constitute a self-indictment of the institution and not of one of its ministers. By dismissing her, has the United Church of Canada condemned itself as an organisation which is past its use by date and which has done despite to one of its most valuable leaders?

  

The Report states that Gretta told the Committee that she did not believe in a Trinitarian God. Instead, by ‘god/God’ she meant what is created between people in relationships, but does not exist separate from us, and the construct is not divine. She said that she does not use the word ‘God’ because its use is a barrier to some people. She does not believe that Jesus was divine. He is not the Son of God. Jesus is not her Saviour. She said that she no longer calls herself a Christian. She does not believe that there is a Holy Spirit. She does not believe that there is a God who calls anyone to ministry. She does not administer sacraments. She does not consider scripture to be the primary source, but merely one source of information amongst many. She is no longer in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of The United Church of Canada. Instead, Ms. Vosper said that her theology has evolved beyond the doctrine of the United Church.

.

The report describes the person whom the church has rejected as minister: “Ms. Vosper was called to West Hill United Church in 1997, continues to serve as their sole minister, and is a member of Toronto Southeast Presbytery. She graduated from Queen’s Theological College in 1990 and was ordained by Bay of Quinte Conference in 1993. Ms. Vosper is the author of two books: With or without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe2 and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean......  Ms. Vosper is the founder and Chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, an organization that provides resources and support to those exploring the boundaries of Christian thought both within and outside of their congregations. Ms. Vosper has been active in her Presbytery and has served as Chair.”

 

Gretta initially appealed the negative Ruling to the Judicial Committee. On March 17, 2016, however the Judicial Committee Executive decided that the Appeal did not meet the grounds for an Appeal as set out in The Manual 2013 and therefore would not hear the appeal. Toronto Conference Sub-Executive decided to reinstate its review of Rev. Vosper’s ministry8 and on May 3, 2016 the Executive Secretary sent a notice to her setting out the process for the interview to be held on June 16, 2016. The notice set out the questions that she would be asked to affirm and advised that she might be asked questions of candidates for ministry at their final interviews for ordination, commissioning or admission.. Gretta was invited to send a written response that would be read by the members of the Conference Interview Committee before the interview. “Ms. Vosper’s submissions (176 pages) were received on June 17th and distributed to the members of the Conference Interview Committee the same day.” On June 16th West Hill sent written submissions that were distributed to the Conference Interview Committee the same day. On June 27th, West Hill also sent a petition in favour of Gretta Vosper and asked that it be permitted to address the Conference Interview Committee. That request was denied.

 

The Interview

(In reporting about the interview, the Conference Interview Committee has used the edited responses Gretta posted on her website. If there was no response posted to a question asked, the Committee has relied on its notes.)

Ordination vows     

Ms. Vosper advised the Conference Interview Committee that at her ordination by Bay Of Quinte Conference, she was asked the traditional questions regarding belief in God, prayer ministry, etc. In outlining these questions, she told the Committee that they were asked of her in 1993 and that she had answered “I do; I will”.

 We note that this evidence is consistent with her admission that her theology had “evolved beyond” the old doctrines. Ed.

 

The Committee proceeded to examine Gretta’s theological position and the Report records her answers regarding the following issues:

i. What is your understanding of God?

Ms. Vosper chose to answer this question using the words from the Basis of Union, section 11.3: God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ms. Vosper said that she does not believe in a Trinitarian God, composed of three persons equal in essence, a being who presides over earth from another realm, a supernatural one, from which it has the power to intervene in the natural world – capriciously or by design – by responding to our prayerful requests, or altering our minds and so, too, our actions, or intervening in the natural world with or without provocation or invitation in order to alter weather patterns, health, the accumulation or loss of wealth, the circumstances of birth including geography – a predictor of health and access to food and water – gender, sexuality, mental capacity, or beauty – all predictors of the power status and ease with which individuals will live their lives, then, no, she does not believe in that at all. Ms. Vosper told the Committee that neither does she believe in a god of no substance who exists beyond the universe yet contains it, interpenetrating it in some incomprehensible way for some incomprehensible purpose.

 

Ms. Vosper sees no evidence of such gods. And so she said that there is no reason to remain aligned with a doctrine that does not fit the contemporary and ever-evolving scientific understandings of the universe or ethical perspectives on human dignity and rights. She also said that there is no reason why we should eschew the scholarship of the countless theologians who have argued for centuries, that the doctrine of the Trinity is unworthy of our intellectual consideration, let alone our allegiance. Ms. Vosper said that there is no reason to require of anyone who comes to us for service of any kind, including participation in the creation of vibrant, meaningful communities, acknowledgment of or belief in Trinitarian or any other form of ecclesial language and the subsequent study and support they will require to move beyond traditionally held interpretations of that language with which they most likely arrive at our doors. She said that the only faithomable [sic] reason that the Church might consider holding to the doctrine of the Trinity and commencing an ongoing program of investigation of clergy that requires assent to that doctrine in order for their ministry to be considered effective is the maintenance of the United Church’s membership in the World Council of Churches. Ms. Vosper said that the work of ministry with individuals and communities of transformation is more integral to the work of the Church than membership in an organization.

 

Ms. Vosper said that even if she were given incontrovertible proof that a god does or gods do exist, the evidence of the cruel and capricious realities of disparity, tragedy, illness, and anguish in the world, and the truth that our world and our experience of it is wrapped not only in beauty but also in excruciating pain, would prevent her from worshipping it or pledging her allegiance to it, no matter the cost.

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that what she does believe has come to her through a heritage that is rich in church and in the United Church into which she was born and raised. She said: “It is rooted in my family that, like many families, transmitted positive values to its children. These same positive values have also been projected by humanity, alongside other, more dangerous values, to become the attributes of the transcendent, divine, supernatural beings that we have called gods. During times when social cohesion was crucial to the survival of small tribal communities, fear of those deities provided a powerful antidote to individual expression or actions that might threaten the community’s well-being – murder, theft, adultery, abortion, homosexual behaviours. These became offences against gods and came with god-sized punishments. Twinning social laws with supernatural beings may have been an evolutionary twist that provided for our survival.” Ms. Vosper said that it does not follow, however, that supernatural beings provided the moral codes or values by which we choose to live. She said that while the values instilled in her as a child were values reinforced by her church school and Christian upbringing, they are not values exclusive to that upbringing. And she said that there are no moral codes that have been formed by the mind of god. Rather she told the Committee, there is a morality that we have created and that transcends our personal circumstances. It is a morality that we have the responsibility to review and revise as we each see necessary for our wholeness and, she hopes, social cohesion, which is so integral to our well-being, our future as a species, and our impact on the future of all on the planet. It is in these non-doctrinal things that Ms. Vosper said that she has faith.

 

Ms. Vosper said that she believes in love and that for her, love is the most sacred value. When she calls something sacred, she said that she means that it is so crucial to our humanness, to our humanity, that we cannot risk its denigration, degradation, or destruction. To live without that sacred thing – in this case love – would mean we had repudiated our evolved and critically negotiated humanity.

 

Ms. Vosper said that what she understands about love is not a simplistic, self-serving love. Instead, she means a costly, challenging, transformative love that pulls us beyond the people we think we were, the people we may have been content to remain, in order that our humanity be more complex. She told the Committee that love refuses to count its cost, seeking; rather, to disperse that cost into community, pulling us toward one another as it does so and beyond the divisions that otherwise might leave us in isolation.

 

Ms. Vosper said that there are religious texts and biblical stories that can be interpreted in the light of that kind of love, some of which may even seem to tell of the most complete embodiment of it that has ever walked the earth. These are questions of interpretation. She told the Committee that biblical examples are not integral to the understanding or the living out of love and that anyone, regardless of creed or ideology or even ignorant of such things, may still live in accordance with a costly love. Ms. Vosper said that she believes that the greater portion of humanity chooses to do so.

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that our Christian forbearers were seekers after truth. She referenced Dean William Sparrow, who is said to have ended every lecture with the words: “Seek the truth, cost what it will, come whence it may, lead where it might.” She mused that Dean Sparrow was challenging his students for a life in the ministry that would not be compromised by the quitting of intellectual integrity. She suggested that he was coaching them to hold to what they were learning and to go out into ministry without forgetting to continue to learn. Ms. Vosper said that the quest for truth is never over, and so it remains at the top of the list of those things in which she believes. Ms. Vosper said that she believes in truth and believes that it is important to seek truth, no matter where it comes from, no matter what we may lose in the process, no matter where we end up. She told the Committee: “It is my commitment to truth – both seeking it and sharing it – that has brought us here today.”

 

There are some who have argued courage is the greater virtue because it is required to live out any of the others, but Ms. Vosper said that she believes love badgers 13 courage into being, and when love fails to do so, she believes that truth picks up the rant. She said: “Love and truth can exist without courage but almost as soon as one or the other emerges, courage is a must. Courage is a must if we are to do anything to protect those we love or to strive toward truth, no matter its cost or destination. Love without truth or truth without love can both deny wholeness.”

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that courage without either breeds indifference or savage violence. She said: “Violence bred by love and justice, is tempered by the very root of its action, which can only ever be to restore rights or to secure safety. It is in the interweaving of these three virtues that positive change happens, in our hearts, in our relationships, in our communities and in the world.”

It is these virtues – love, truth, and courage – that provide for all the rest upon which Ms. Vosper said that her ministry is built.

Ms. Vosper said: “All of these virtues can be found explicitly or implicitly in stories from the Bible, but they do not originate there. To suggest that they did would be inconsistent with contemporary scholarship and dishonour the human story, both of which predated and ran parallel with its writing. To present them as having been created by a god and given to us is to refuse humanity credit for its most noble accomplishment. It also removes our right and inherent responsibility, as their creator and agent, to bring to the fore or limit certain of them as the needs of the human community evolve.”

She told the Committee that hope, as the promise of something we cannot assure, is deeply rooted in our Christian heritage. Ms. Vosper said that she does not speak of hope; she chooses to create, to accompany, to name, to comfort, to acknowledge, to embrace, to lament, to encourage, to convict, to trust again. She said that she cannot bring about a peaceful death with only hope. She said that she cannot mitigate the effects of corporatism, or global climate change with only hope; she cannot redress our tragic history with Indigenous peoples with only hope; and she cannot address poverty, violence, xenophobia, arrogance, or illness with only hope. Ms. Vosper said that only if she has a hammer in her hand, only if action congruent with our responsibilities as human beings to alleviate suffering or redress abuse is in the offering or underway, will she offer the word ‘hope’. She said that she will not offer hope to mollify or comfort when to do so does not alleviate pain or suffering, does not create right relationship, does not forestall death, but only pretends all these things might be achieved and so anesthetizes us to their reality with an illusion that comforts we who extend it more than those to whom we dispense it. Ms. Vosper told the Committee that she does not offer an empty hope and would not wish one offered to her.

 

The Interview Team asked whether hope, faith and justice were God. Ms. Vosper answered that she has stopped using the word ‘God’ because it is a barrier to participation in the Church. Instead, she speaks of who God is for her. Ms. Vosper explained that they do not sing sacred music at West Hill and she doesn’t use the word ‘God’ there.

When questioned, Ms. Vosper said that for her ‘God’ is what is created between us. Although we cannot measure or describe it, Ms. Vosper said that it is the power in relationships that is pure and strong, but she does not call this ‘God’.

Ms. Vosper was asked whether God was anything more than a construct between two people. She answered: “No, I don’t believe so.” She acknowledged that the construct has a power beyond us, but it does not exist separate from us. It is dependent upon us.

The Interview Team then asked if she believed in a metaphorical God. Ms. Vosper responded that she does not use the word ‘God’ because using archaic words is a barrier. Traditionally, the word ‘God’ is of a supernatural being. Ms. Vosper said that she no longer uses the word ‘God’ because she doesn’t believe in such a being. She would not use metaphors for God in worship.

 

ii. Who is Jesus Christ for you?

Ms. Vosper said that Jesus is a historical figure with healing skills who lived some time at the beginning of the Common Era. She said that the record of his life is spotty; he was an itinerant Middle Eastern preacher who managed to engage a group of people who were looking for the same things. Ms. Vosper said that she does not see Jesus as divine. She told the Committee that Jesus was not the Son of God and that Jesus is not her Saviour.

Ms. Vosper was asked whether she called herself a Christian. She answered that ten or twelve years ago she wrote two articles that were published side by side. One set out all the pluses of Christianity. The other set out all the negatives. Today, Ms. Vosper never calls herself a Christian.........”

 

The  Report of the interview goes on to address at length, ten more issues including Gretta’s belief and practice regarding the Holy Spirit, Call to the Ministry, Baptism, Dealing with People of differing Beliefs, personal Mystical Experience, Conduct of Worship, Prayer, the Trinity, etc., etc. Her responses to these and many other aspects of her work are available on the CPRT website.    

But the interview did not finish there; the Report goes on to deal with a multiplicity of procedural issues arising from recommendations made in Gretta’s responses.

There is no doubt that the Committee had faithfully and thoroughly observed due diligence in dealing with her case.  Their faithfulness to these regulations has in our opinion however, resulted in the crucifixion of a courageous servant of their church and follower of Jesus of Nazareth who, like Him has dared to demonstrate that it is more important what you do than what you believe. Consequently the enquiry began to get off the rails in the very beginning when the Toronto Conference issued the Conference Interview Committee with a mandate to determine Gretta’s suitability purely on the grounds of her breach of her theological ordination vows.  The mandate specifically excluded any evaluation of her standards of practice regarding administration, community outreach, social justice, continuing education, leadership, pastoral care or self care.  And the problem was exacerbated by the fact that the procedures of the institution were and still are regarded as inflexible in a rapidly changing world. In conclusion, Gretta urged the Committee to find that the way forward in the future is not by using an aberrant disciplinary process, but rather through collaborative effort to improve the United Church of Canada.

Learning How to Listen into Life.

I have just begun my second of the four years of the Residential Program in Spiritual Direction which has the title Listen into Life. Each year we attend four intensive training weekends, and as I walked up the path to the room where the pre-dinner drinks were in full swing last Friday, I felt a wave of excitement that surprised me. Spiritual Direction is not something we heard about in the Anglican Church in Sydney, but in recent years I began to hear whispers from Eremos members who were doing the course or had completed it. When an Eremos friend doing the training came to speak about it to a meeting of the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, I knew I’d like to have a spiritual director. Who better than the one who introduced me to the course, so I began to see her for spiritual direction. I brought experiences I had had, and, reflecting on them with her, tried to discern the presence of God, and whether that experience of mine might be deepened. Usually a person in spiritual direction would see her director every five or six weeks. The spiritual director accompanies the directee on her journey, and through their conversation, enables the directee to deepen her experience, however it might be expressed.

 

If I was enjoying the process, perhaps I could do the training! I found the program in google, downloaded an application form, and submitted it at the end of 2012. The course coordinator advised that all vacancies for 2013 had been filled, and that I could apply to begin in 2014. I did that, and felt it to be no coincidence that the keynote speaker for the first intensive weekend I attended was Sarah Bachelard in whose little book about experiencing God I had recently read, “…the true God is not an idea we have but a reality we encounter, or perhaps even better, a reality who encounters us”.[1] I think I was tired of the ideas, and longing for the encounters.

 

The first year of training unfolded and deepened my understanding of spiritual direction. Although it might sometimes be acceptable to discuss psychological, relational and even theological difficuIties in the context of spiritual direction, the spiritual director does not provide the services expected from a psychotherapist, a counsellor or a theologian. Concrete experiences are related by the directee, and the spiritual director, by deep listening and questioning, assists the directee to discern the presence or actions or voice of the Spirit in those experiences.  It is the Spirit who directs, such direction being sensed inwardly by the directee. Indeed, in my counsellor and later CPE training for chaplaincy, I did not learn the same depth of listening which enables the directee  to experience the Spirit’s direction for herself. I also think that the process of spiritual direction is gentler than the process learnt in CPE training for chaplaincy.

 

Three or four times in each intensive weekend there is a ‘quads’ session. Someone is the directee and he/she brings a real experience, even if it is not as deeply personal as might be shared with just the spiritual director. One student is the spiritual director, another is an observer, and one of the staff team is the supervisor. (Numbers at each weekend are about 30 students and 10 staff.)The twenty minute session of spiritual direction is then discussed in depth, and I would find it hard to communicate how powerful these sessions are. They take place between keynote sessions on the weekend’s topic which equips us to understand the background of almost anyone who might come for spiritual direction. Last year the main teaching of the weekends included Spiritual Direction and the Contemplative Stance, Spiritual Direction and the Enneagram (two weekends), and Creativity in Spiritual Direction. While I have had some teaching in each of these, I found myself each time looking forward to returning for the next weekend. In between, we send our responses to the weekend to our mentor, as well as reviews of books we have read. Running through the four years are History of Christian Spirituality notes which also must be read and responded to. The Sunday morning eucharist each time is based on the history unit for the preceding weeks. Students also lead in evening prayers and Saturday morning prayers based on the main topic for the weekend.

If all that sounds intensive, it is. I thought I would do the first year and then decide if I wanted to continue towards becoming a spiritual director. Although I still don’t know the answer to that, I do know that I want to continue this most imaginative, and deeply transforming program. We began this year with input on Ignatian Spirituality, and that will be continued later in the year. Next weekend will focus on Focusing:A Way to growth.

 

In recent years I have participated in groups which meet for sharing of ideas about God, or non theism, and I am also involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network. The Spiritual Direction Training does not pre-suppose any particular faith basis for directees. Last weekend the keynote speaker told us about discussions she has had with atheists who found their conversations helpful. There is also some research into Interfaith Spiritual direction where a person of one faith could use their training to assist in spiritual direction with a person of a different faith. I mentioned this to my Women’s Interfaith Network group and they all thought it would indeed be possible.

 

Perhaps the best thing for me in all of this is meeting the people who are on the course. Mealtimes and drinkies and coffee times are all used to full advantage, and I’ve made some very strong friendships with many of the participants, both students and staff. This course is run by Barnabas Ministries, based in Canberra, but the weekends are conducted at the Josephite Centre at Kincumber on the Central Coast. Not only are there beautiful grounds, surrounded by water, but there is a labyrinth made in the Chartres pattern. Everything there is conducive to the training in becoming a spiritual companion for those who wish to be accompanied on their life journey. The title of the course is indeed very apt.

 

Sue Emeleus, March 2015.

 

Rex Hunt advises of an upcoming event.

G’day folks,

Dick Carter and I have been talking with biblical scholar Hal Taussig and we have booked him to do a tour (Oz and NZ) next October 2017.

We saw this note on FB from Westar. Sounds like it could be a great follow up to CD4. RAEH

 “Westar Fellows Celene Lillie and Hal Taussig are collaborating on a new initiative that fosters spiritual renewal in the church and other diverse settings by drawing upon non-traditional texts from early Christianity such as those found at Nag Hammadi. You can learn more at the link below, and here are a few words from Lillie, who has been named the new director:

"We hope the Tanho Center will be a place for people to come together and think about what these texts might mean in a variety of arenas from education to the arts; to use these texts for study and exploration; and how they might lead to renewed spirituality and commitment to the broader world."

https://tanhocenter.wildapricot.org/Directors-Welcome #‎christianity #‎religion#‎renewal

 

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016/7.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              

                                                                                               

 

CPRT Discussion Programme for 2016.

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

October 2016

 

4/10/16

Ros Tinker

“The role of Religion in the History of Humankind”.  A brief look at this amazingly insightful, perspective giving chapter from Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens”. Recommended as required reading for progressives.

18/10/16

Gerald Christmas

 "Evolutionary Christianity".  Gerald looks at the influence of the Eco-Evolutionary, Eco-Evidential or Eco Environmental forces on Christianity, Religion, Spirituality and Theology". 

November 2016

 

1/11/16

Val Worswick

Ethics with or without God

15/11/16

Ted & Guy

A follow up discussion of the theology raised by Birch and Bohme.

December 2016

 

6/12/16

End of Year celebration and meal. Details to be advised.

20/12/16

No meeting

 



[1] Sarah Bachelard, “Experiencing God in a Time of Crisis”, Convivium Press, Florida, 2012

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

May Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

May 2016

3/5/16

Guy

“The Cosmic Game” by Stanislav Grof

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Grof

17/5/16

Ken

“The future of progressive Christianity”

June 2016

 

7/06/16

 

Rita

“The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, the author of “The Power of Now.”

https://www.eckharttolle.com/books/newearth/

 

21/06/16

 

Albert Morris

Albert presents his book “Conform or Reform”.

The need for a fourth Reformation.

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

Special Newsletter.

 

Our discussions have been continuing very well with presentations from members outlining their thoughts about Spirituality and God. Last meeting we looked at the interesting but confusing topic of “Chaos Theory”.

 

In this Newsletter are items

·        Two more essays by Ros and Ken on “What Spirituality means”.

·        An update regarding Greta Vosper’s battle with the United Church of Canada over her beliefs about God. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/atheist-pastor-canada-gretta-vosper-united-church-canada?CMP=share_btn_link

·        A brief summary of “Chaos Theory” and the new horizons it opens.

·        Seven essays about the meaning of “GOD” from our members and friends.

 

We are seeking topics and ideas for future discussions – please bring your ideas along to the next meeting.

Kind regards,

Ken (CPRT Secretary)

SAVING JESUS FROM THE CHURCH

Revd Robin Meyers PhD

COMMON DREAMS

Has the Church lost the message of Jesus?

ON THE ROAD 2016

What does it mean to be a beloved community of radical inclusion?

Friday 20 May, 7.30 pm – 9 pm:

Saving Jesus from the Church – inaugural Annual Pitt Street Lecture in Progressive Christianity ($20/10)

Saturday 21 May, 10.00 - 4.00 pm: Seminar and workshop. Two presentations by Robin Meyers, followed by responses and discussion. ($60/30)

Sunday 22 May, 10 am: Dr Meyers preaching at Pitt Street.

Robin Meyers is a best-selling author and a highly regarded speaker. He is the senior minister at the Mayflower Congregational (United Church of Christ) in Oklahoma, Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University and a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.

Registration: http://bit.ly/RobinMeyers Volunteers needed to assist. Please speak to Warren Talbot.

 

RECENT TRENDS IN PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

Progressive Religion has taken CPRT (Sydney) into interesting territory in the last twelve months.  We have tended to leave behind our initial concern to question traditional Christian teaching, to be less concerned with re-inventing Christian belief and practice, and more interested in the spiritual potential of non-theistic areas of knowledge. Our discussion topics have included reference to Science and Cosmology,  Quantum Physics, Neuro Psychology, and Chaos Theory.

In our Freedom to Explore we are not alone. Our progressive friends across the Tasman are holding their May Conference in the art-deco city of Napier this year. The list of activities includes a “Drama and Playing Together” workshop on how theatre and performance can build a community of trust AND “An Art-Deco walk through Napier” reflecting on its sights. The subjects of keynote addresses are also interesting.  One speaker’s address is titled, “How I became a Heretic with the Help of Jesus”.  Others include, “Art as a Radical Change Agent” and “Spiritual Defiance – Building a Beloved Community of Resistance”.            Ed. 

 

A short attempt to define my personal definition of Spirituality.

To me Spirituality relates to the cultivation of those higher potentialities of the human being such as patience, tolerance, kindness, peacefulness, empathy, service to others. It is about becoming freer of the ego and becoming more fully a person with regard to the “sacredness” of all human beings and in this sense might be said to move beyond humanism. Spiritual people have a connection with one another because of their common humanity regardless of race, culture, colour, gender, sexuality, status or occupation and so on. To be “spiritual” is to see beyond mere outward appearances, to look within all others to the inner life of the spirit within us all. Some refer to that inner life as “the divine spark”, the higher self, the aspirational self and when we connect with others in a reciprocal way on that level we connect in a “spiritual” sense.

It has been said that Spirituality is beyond all religions yet contains all religion, beyond all science and yet contains all science, beyond all philosophy yet contains all philosophy. I like several versions of the meaning of the word Namaste’. “I honour the place in you in which the entire universe dwells, I honour the place in you which is of love, light, of truth and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.” At this point it needs to be said that things “spiritual” are not in the domain of the 5 senses or that can be tested or approached by empirical means.

Lastly, I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with whoever said, “Religion divides, Spirituality unites”.                                              Ros Tinker.

 

 

Spirituality                                            Ken Fletcher

Spirituality for me involves a sense of being connected both to my inner self and to the whole universe.

This experience brings a variety of senses to play such as peace, purpose, mindfulness, fulfilment, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony, self-examination, contemplation and the awareness of the size of the universe from its most distant reaches to the intricate nature of the smallest entities

Spirituality can be a blissful state, a sense of awe/wonderment that seems to go beyond the senses. It is part of the process of the mind coming to grips with itself and nature in all its dimensions, building intellectual understanding and knowledge, attaining an insights of the meaning of life and feeling the depth of our relationship to the world as a whole including the exhilaration of feeling connected with other people, the connectivity of the moment, especially with special people.

Although spirituality is often talked about with religious connections it is a common human experience that anyone can have at any time irrespective of their religion or beliefs.  There are aspects of life and human experience which go beyond a purely materialist view of the world without necessarily accepting belief in a supernatural reality or divine being.

After listening to others express their experiences, it appears each person has their own individual experience of spirituality.  Personality, education, training and the influence of others all contribute to the uniqueness of every individual’s spirituality. Some believe mystical spirits and gods are involved, while others use deprivation and diminishment, others use meditation.

Various studies have reported a positive correlation between spirituality and mental well-being in both healthy people and those encountering a range of physical illnesses or psychological disorders.

Spiritual individuals tend to be optimistic, have a wide array of positive health outcomes, including stronger morale, happiness and life satisfaction. They report greater social support and experience higher intrinsic meaning in life giving them strength and inner peace.

I find spirituality changes as we grow older, mature and absorb the experiences life brings. When I was young I followed the teachings of family and peers but this changed with maturity in line with the emergence of modern spirituality which is centred on the deepest values and meanings by which people live. It embraces the idea of an ultimate idealism. Spirituality involves the intellect, mindfulness, ambition, altruism, love, pleasure of achievement, devotion, thoughtfulness, overcoming negative emotions of guilt, fear, inadequateness and stimulates insight and tolerance of the practices and beliefs of others.  

CPRT DISCUSSION ON THE GOD WORD

Our decision to open this subject for discussion drew a large number of submissions which have contributed to a fuller understanding of a popular issue.  Its popularity was obvious in the release of Lloyd’s recent version of, “God’s History in Thought World” which we published as our leading article in the last Newsletter.  We are reminded that it is also a contemporary worldwide progressively religious issue because of news last month that the United Church of Canada has refused the right of appeal to our friend, Greta, (Pastor of West hill United Church in Toronto) who has been condemned for her atheistic comments.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/atheist-pastor-canada-gretta-vosper-united-church-canada?CMP=share_btn_link

Six Discussion Group Members shared their definitions on April 5 and four more absent members sent their comments with their apologies.  John B wrote, “I think of God as a Presence, not of course as a person.  He says that the Sistine Chapel depiction of God resembling Zeus does not help.

John C’s article will explain why he refuses to define the God Word while reserving the right to use it!  John N. wrote that his God was the “One Energy of the Universe”, and quotes Bonheoffer,” That which is within us but beyond us”.  Ken wrote that  the various God images stem from mankind’s various  attempts to explain what is behind nature which itself is the evolved product of the primordial energy which “drives” the evolving universe but which is not necessarily humanly intelligent or conscious. Ted’s concept, which clearly rejected the idea of God as “an oversized white male”, will be seen to be close to Ken’s.

 The significance of the discussion was that it allowed for a great variety of our respective understandings, ranging from Rita’s transformative “defining moments” in life,  to Eric’s ”neo-atheism” .  All submissions will be published as they come to hand.   Your written contribution would be most welcome.       Editor  

What can we make of “Chaos Theory”?     

 Discussion presentation by Ken.

Through the tools of calculus and computers scientists have been able to look at the phenomenon when nature behaves chaotically, now called “Chaos Theory”.

The graphical “Butterfly affect” is the signature of chaos. It only afflicts systems that are both deterministic and non-periodic; when small changes in the initial conditions produce extreme results as the exponential growth of these small differences overwhelm even the most meticulous calculations.

There are “Strange attractors” within the “Butterfly affect” revealing it is a marvellously subtle state poised between order and randomness, with both aspects intermingled.

There is an amazing kind of order inherent in chaos.

Chaos takes the focus off the laws of nature and shifts it to their consequences.

Chaos emphasises holism (grounded in rigorous science and mathematics) not reductionism.

Chaos is interdisciplinary over many specialities from fluid mechanics, to the weather, to electromagnetism, to cardiac arrhythmias and many other things.

Chaos is the science of how things change – and everything changes.

Newton’s notion of determinism is crucial because one of the defining features of a chaotic system is that it obeys deterministic laws.

Newton’s laws don’t forbid chaos; they require it.

 

The “logistic map” made by tracing the progress of a system going chaotic has no scientific content, no laws of nature built into it. It seems like pure numerology. This breaks the rules of how you do science. It seems the universe is made of number.

 

In Quantum theory there is no way to measure position and velocity simultaneously with unlimited precision. This is a scenario which destroys our whole concept of state space.

Chaos is foundered on determinism whereas quantum theory speaks only of probabilities.

Chaos is mathematically forbidden in quantum mechanics.

The real shocker about quantum chaos is that it links atoms to prime numbers thus connecting the bedrock of reality to the most ethereal realm of human thought.

Quantum systems have discreet energy levels, corresponding to waves vibrating at certain frequencies, called the zeros of the Rienamm zeta function which look uncanningly like those for a quantum chaotic system.

 

This area of research is still in its infancy. Chaos theorists were amongst the earliest scientists to focus on non-linear systems in which the whole is more (or less) than the sum of the parts – still the basis of many of the major unsolved problems of science today.

 

It is hard to get our minds around what is happening within a chaotic system as it challenges many of our current theories especially as it covers the whole spectrum from the Newtonian to quantum levels. At times the chaotic system is changing between these seemingly incompatible states.

It indicates there are balances within nature so when the equilibrium is disturbed the mechanisms are in place to restore nature back to a balanced state.

THE GOD WORD MARCH 2016          Eric Stevenson, 05/04/16

In reviewing the path which my dealings with a supreme divine entity have taken me, I have never experienced a personal encounter with Him or Her.  In the early stages of the journey I addressed that entity in both ritual and informal prayer but have never sensed a response or regarded a subsequent happening as a positive answer.  In those early days, this did not prevent me from invoking His blessing, or of singing His praises or of assuming His omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience.  I interpreted the statement that God is Love as if He loved me, and I regarded the sacred Judeo-Christian scriptures as direct communications from Him through the prophets who unlike myself obviously claimed to have the capacity to receive such revelations. I also regarded the statements attributed to Jesus of Nazareth by the gospel writers as authoritative messages from God’s representative.

This unquestioning approach to my spiritual experience adequately defined the God word for me, and provided me with an adequate basis on which to build a meaningful life. i.e.  until in young adulthood I began to question my former beliefs.  Descriptions of “divine interventions” seemed to be more the activities of good human beings, or good luck.  Many fortuitous circumstances attributed by my religious friends to Him or Her seemed to be unfair. Some divine utterances as recorded in the Bible were clearly unjust, racist, or unscientific. I nursed these doubts despite the fact that I was functioning as a Christian missionary and later as a minister of religion until in retirement I found greater freedom to explore and the words to express my new beliefs.

Although many of my progressive friends regard the God word as necessary for describing our “ground of being”, I prefer not to give it such significance.  For me, most of the assumptions mentioned in my first paragraph no longer apply to it. Since developing my progressive religious thinking I have been instead trying to live with integrity as a sacred doubter cum spiritual explorer – learning to live in ignorance of  matters that are beyond my comprehension, but never ceasing to be awe struck by the wonders of existence which must obviously have an underlying explanation.  Call that underlying explanation what you will, but I do not feel constrained to worship it or talk to it as I have done in earlier years. Most important to me is my decision to value and respect all of life of which I am a part and to engage in my relationships with people and with all of nature in a just, honest, compassionate and loving way.  Once again I do not feel the need to personalise or deify this value system, the origin of which is also a mystery to me.

As a consequence of these beliefs, I am thrown on to my own resources, mental abilities and creative imagination together with those same gifts in my friends in order to live a meaningful existence. For us, the responsibility for living that meaningful life cannot be avoided by putting faith in an imaginary deity.  It is ours alone and will remain so unless or until we can experience and communicate with an alternative superior reality.

GOD    by Ted Nettle

 

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.           [Carl Sagan]

Our discussions over the last few meetings have made it clear to us all that “reality”, what ever that is, is far greater than we humans, even thoughtful ones like us, can comprehend. 

 

The danger however is that we will, as we so often in the past have, fall into the naming fallacy and think that because we have given “it” a name, be it “God” or “spirituality” or “the ground of our being”, we know what we are talking about.  We don’t. 

 

Religions claim to tell us what reality is.  They have done this for millennia by creating gods to explain current mysteries in nature or to influence human affairs. 

 

Science in contrast has engaged in a rigorous process of inquiry that has done a great job of helping us to better understand the nature of our world.  In the process, without meaning to, it has demolished many of the claims about reality that religions formerly made.

 

Unlike religions which claim certainty, science is based on uncertainty and probability.  All scientific theories are only accepted and used until further evidence proves them wrong.  It is sad that some religious groups use this basic uncertainty to claim the existence of their gods in these seeming gaps.

 

While some philosophers would argue that reality is within our heads, I think there is a reality out there and that each of us has our own representations of it in our heads.  These internal representations bear a relationship to the external reality but differ depending on our cultural and emotional backgrounds.

 

The reality of which we are a part and which is both beyond us and beyond our present understanding contains many exciting mysteries, many great joys and many terrible sorrows. It seems to work in particular ways and not in other ways so that we can hypothesize test and theorise about the “Laws of Nature”.  Our current understanding of these laws has enabled us to build the complex technological world in which we live.  

 

Does it help to introduce the name “god” into this discussion?  No, I don't think so.

 

To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.[Carl Sagan]

CPRT  DISCUSSIONS  -  MY  CONCEPT  OF  GOD        From Ross Barrie

5th  April  2016

My concept of God is the complementary concepts summarized as “I am” in “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  In human terms, God is both concurrently:

·         a “person” (a noun), but more than a person - the “I” in “I am”, and

·         a “process” (a verb), the “am” in “I am”.

 

I contend that the complementary “noun” side of God, the “I”, is outside of space, time and the universe, whereas the complementary “process” side of God, the “am”, is not only active within space, time and the universe, but is (the process of) space, time and the universe.

 

The closest technical terminology that I can come to for this “process” side of God is panentheism where panentheism is:

·         pan = everything - everything has its existence in God – God is us, in us, as us, as every life breath

·         We are a sponge saturated with God, we could not live without God, we are in God:

o   Similar to the Biblical concept of God in Acts 17:28  “In him we live and move and have our being”).

 

A more complete definition of panentheism is:

1.      Process theology and philosophy view God either as one and the same with the universe as a whole, or as the creative process of the universe

2.      This is a step beyond pantheism that suggests that God is to be found in every entity in the universe

3.      God is to be found in the whole, or in the process of emergence of all entities and events

4.      It suggests that God is not outside the universe, but effectively is one and the same with it

5.      God is the eternal, ever-creating essence of a cosmos without beginning or end

6.      Panentheism allows for the idea of God as the "person" who is the universe as a whole, compassionately "feeling" all the pain and joy and possibility in the cosmos

7.      It also allows for the idea of God as the impersonal, essential quality of creativity intrinsic to all events and entities in the cosmos

8.      A related idea is "naturalistic theism", seeing God and nature as one.

 

I do not accept dot point 4 above, as I see the complementary “noun” side of God, the “I”, as greater than, as outside, the universe (or universes/multiverses).  God as “I” is greater, extending further than just the universe – the universe, and all that is evolving within it, is just like a thought in God’s mind.

 

But the complementary “process” side of God, the “am”, is within the universe and is the process of the universe, i.e. the universe is an integral part of the complementary “process” side of God, never separated from God.  God as this process is not prohibited from having intention, nor compassion, nor “feeling”.  So I partly agree with dot point 6 above except that I would say that God as “person”, the complementary noun side of God, is outside of the universe as the “I” in “I am”.

Some reflections on the “God” word.. John Court, 5 April 2016

I am very uncomfortable with any attempt to define “God”, either linguistically or actually.  It would be an arrogant undertaking, at least for me to make.  But it seems it is an unavoidable human instinct, even at CPRT.

This reflection of mine therefore springs from my ‘world view’ (Weltanshauung): 

I am a member of the Christian tribe.

I glimpse the Divine through the leader of my tribe, Jesus of Nazareth, one of my ‘windows’ into Divinity.

I also glimpse the Divine:

·         Through people of the Abrahamic religions;

·         Through the Christian and Hebrew writings and their manifold interpretations; and

·         Through secular knowledge and expression, including:

o   science and philosophy;

o   history and social science;

o   literature and poetry; and

o   music and art.

I acknowledge that others glimpse the Divine from other tribes and in other ways and that many do not glimpse the Divine at all.  I seek to live in love and peace with them on this tiny planetary speck in this vast universe, which contains perhaps septillion other planets.

 

A further reflection:

I found an article by the Australian theologian Geoff Thompson, entitled “Jesus, God and Atheism” (2012, Uniting Church Studies, Vol 18, No 2, pp 15-27), to be an interesting ‘cleaning cloth’ to use in glimpsing through my heavily grimed and smudged ‘window’.  He looks at three recent assessments of Jesus in his quest for Christian engagement with the (Western) world of the 21st century:

·         Peter Jensen’s ‘conventional’ Lord Jesus Christ (Boyer lectures, 2005);

·         Marcus Borg’s ‘seminar’ Jesus (The heart of Christianity, 2007); and

·         John Carroll’s ‘existential’ Jesus (The Existential Jesus, 2007).

He considers Jensen’s mainstream-Christian perspective to have little appeal beyond already committed Christian people and to rob Jesus’s transformative power of any element of surprise and challenge.  

Borg’s “historical Jesus” is too thoroughly domesticated for him.  This perspective merely creates a veranda where theological modernists, who exit the door of organised religion, can comfortably stand, holding to their Christian heritage while fully conforming to a modernist world view - a position Thompson judges to have little attraction to those who have never been inside the building of organised religion.

Thompson looks favourably on Carroll’s agnostic perspective that Jesus is destabilising and troubling to everyone he encounters.  He is not the meek and mild Jesus of Sunday-school theology, but one who challenges our modern world at its foundations and destabilises our theology.   And I might add, Jesus seems to me to be uncomfortable, prickly and politically incorrect.  For example, he is indignant with a close friend in her deepest grief (Jn 1133 REB), he calls a desperate foreign woman a dog (Mk 727) and he is cruel to animals (Lk 833).

Thompson effectively thanks the ‘new atheists’ for their frontal attacks on Christian faith.  He concludes:

“It seems to me the challenge for Christians – as followers of the crucified Lord – is not to seek to conquer atheism, but, through conversation with it, to fine-tune [their] own impulses towards atheism and so witness more clearly to [their] unattractive Lord.”

As I said, an interesting cleaning cloth, which clears one or two of the smear marks on my ‘window’, although I still only “see through a glass darkly”, to slightly misuse the AV translation.

In conclusion, I refuse to define ‘God’ or even the “God” word, while reserving my right to use it.

 

God                                         Thoughts from Ken Fletcher. 5/4/2016

·        Are we trying to talk about and discuss an entity (God) that does not exist?

·        If God does not exist are we only left with the evolution of a gigantic energy system?

·        Can we imagine such an energy system having the dimensions, structure, balances and where with all to allow the development of mankind and intelligence.

·        If God does exist, is God only within our universe or both in and outside it?

·        After all this time, why are we still looking for answers?

·        Has anything new been revealed?

·        Is God just a myth, an image or imaginary concept in our minds?

·        How much does belief in God(s) grow from our childhood training?

·        Why are there so many different definitions and understandings of God?

·        Why has human understanding of God changed as man has evolved socially and philosophically?

·        Is Devine inspiration nothing more than the human conscious and unconscious solving problems?

·        If God speaks to individuals, how do they know which of their thoughts is from God?

·        Can mankind rise above the fear of judgement by a god to be motivated to act for the benefit of others?

·       Does motivation based on the fear of judgement by God reflect how God thinks or only a human solution e.g. Roman authority? 

·        In Christianity, why did God create us as a sinner yet asks us to repent from something we may have had no control over?

·        Why does God allow so much pain and suffering of innocent and helpless people?

·        How do we define sin?

·        Are sins only actions that would hurt others and ourselves?

 

Even though we have no definite proof either way of God’s existence I have been trying to understand and explain God all my life.

I am coming more and more to the conclusion that mankind has just been trying to explain the workings behind nature and our mental capacities.

The idea of gods and spiritual entities controlling events has been with mankind for many thousands of years. Attributing human qualities to imagined “king/god” entities that control everything has been a model that humans constructed so they could relate to and make sense of their world.

A good example is found in the Dream-time stories of our Australian Aboriginals.

 

I no longer think we are talking about a separate entity or a spirit world.  The Christian image of God as a just and omnipotent Being, supported by angels or spirits is an enigma without any real substance.  It is also contradicted by the injustices and hurt innocent people suffer for no other reason than that, by chance, they were in the wrong place when something disastrous happened.

How can we make sense of that if there is a loving entity in control?

That there are so many different concepts of god indicates it has been a guessing game; we all live in the same world, observe the same things and experience the same life cycle. I have concluded that the variety of ideas reflects individual conclusions trying to explain nature with concepts of a God who does not exist.

 

When I believed in God, I found I had developed an image of what my mind concluded God was; and how that God would think and behave based on my own experiences and lessons. This image had become a real person in my minds, as real as a family member or close friend.

By constructing this image in our minds we are humanising God based on ourselves and/or our belief of what God should be?

The danger with this is that some personalities actually think they are God or God’s chosen agent.

 

Listing nature as proof of the existence of God is not relevant if God does not exist.

If God does exist it is most probable God would work through nature which raises the philosophical question of suffering. How is God influencing nature when earthquakes and disasters occur when the forces working within nature are ready to break?

Taking God out of the equation is a better explanation of what is happening. It removes a lot of unnecessary explanations and removes a reason to pass responsibility away from ourselves.

Basing belief in God on emotional feelings is very questionable.

 

At this point in my life, if I had to give a yes/no answer to the question “Is there a God”; I would say based on the evidence and experiences of my own life that the answer is “No”.

I am defining God as some form of separate entity that can influence nature; and define “nature” as the whole universe including everything before and after the “Big Bang”.

For me it makes more sense that the raw energy from which our whole universe and existence is said to have developed has the potential to become, through the various evolutionary processes, everything in existence (including human intelligence, emotions, talent and thinking).

This energy is also the driving force but it need not have intelligence of itself, only the potential for things to evolve. For me this scenario better reflects reality.

 

Humans have a responsibility to nature (including our own human race), to respect it and live for its preservation.

The basic Christian message of love and compassion encourages our compatibility with nature and its survival.

 

Although we question a lot of the traditional teachings about God and Jesus, Christianity still stands as one of  the most successful and significant influence on mankind. Jesus’s message of humility, love and concern for others is the building blocks of its strength. This message has withstood the tests of time despite all the unloving things that have been done in Christianity’s name.

Maybe it is time for Christianity to accommodate a variety of God images and acknowledge it is the processes of nature that are the determining factor we have to live with. Christianity has evolved as one of the best moral and social formats for safe and stable societies to exist.

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              

                                                                                                

 

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

March Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

March 2016

15/3/16

Ross

Part 2

Ross presents “The essential Bohm”  see: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

An American scientist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind. His ideas on an alternative reality and NeuroTheology.

April 2016

 

5/4/16

 

Ted

(timekeeper)

“GOD”. Each person has up to 5 minutes to present what their thoughts are about GOD.

 

19/4/16

Ken

What is Chaos Theory? Does it have implications for our spiritual journey and our world view?

 

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

 

God’s history in 'thought world'

CPRT has appreciated the writings of Sir Lloyd Geering, a New Zealand theologian, for many years now. He has been a speaker at our conferences and we have used his books and DVD’s in our discussion groups. This article appeared in a New Zealand newspaper in which he adds his voice to the debate about the reality/non-reality of God.

Ian Harris serves your readers well by drawing their attention to what is happening at the leading edge of changing religious thought.

It is surprising, therefore, that he has been taken to task by Murray Rae (ODT, 19.2.16) for suggesting that all talk of God should be taken "out of the world of the human sciences and into the world of human thought''.

Even more astonishing is Prof Rae's appeal to the traditional understanding of God "as the Creator of all things'', without acknowledging that this idea is not a scientific one but one found only in the very world of human thought referred to by Mr Harris.

However much it may continue to be expounded by professors of theology in the great universities, as Prof Rae claims, the fact remains that whatever explanatory value the idea may have had in the pre-scientific past has simply vanished with the advent of the scientific discovery of the evolutionary process that now explains the universe.

On the one hand, cosmic evolution made it unnecessary to postulate a Creator God, while, on the other, biological evolution explains how thinking apes slowly became human by creating language and then constructing the human thought-world.

This so shapes us humans today from the time we learn to speak that we are hardly aware of its reality.

As I have explained much more fully in my book From the Big Bang to God, whereas our forebears saw themselves living in two worlds, material and spiritual, we have been forced, from the time of Immanuel Kant onwards, to distinguish between the physical world and our perception of it (our thought world).

The physical world is now known to be a universe of almost infinite dimensions that has been expanding for more than 13 billion years.

But only during the past two million years has the human species slowly constructed our thought world.

At first it existed in a great diversity of forms and only recently has it been achieving a more unified, global form.

The idea of God originated in the primitive human thought worlds as a generic term that refers to the class of spiritual beings (the gods) postulated by the ancients to explain natural phenomena.

As recently as 2500 years ago the plurality of gods began to be replaced by monotheism, the idea that there is only one God and it is He who created and continues to control the physical world.

Even this was not a fixed and unchangeable idea (as commonly assumed) but has a long and complex history, well documented by Karen Armstrong in her book, A History of God.

Contrary to Prof Rae's judgement that any idea created by the human mind must of necessity "be frail'', human history shows that ideas do have power, as the rise and fall of past ideologies clearly demonstrates.

The idea of God was so powerful that it eventually gave rise to the three great monotheistic cultures - Jewish, Christian and Islamic.

Only during the 20th century did it begin to lose its power to convince, prompting the theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer to declare that humanity has now "come of age'' and in its adulthood must learn to "get along without God''.

But instead of gloating over the so-called "death of God'' (as outspoken atheists are inclined to do, Richard Dawkins iconoclastically referring to God as a delusion), we should rather learn to appreciate the creative role played by the humanly conceived idea of God.

By enabling our Christian (and Muslim) forebears to see the world as a unity that operates in a rational way, monotheism provided the seedbed for the rise of empirical science, as the philosopher Alfred Whitehead pointed out.

The early scientists, being monotheists, sought to understand "the ways of God'' and, in doing so, gradually uncovered the laws of nature.

Now having given birth to the scientific age, the role of God as the Creator could be judged complete, yet, as Mr Harris contends in his article, the idea of God may continue to serve us as an important symbol, pointing to what unites us with one another, with our fellow creatures and with the earth itself.

Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman agrees, observing how the God-symbol has long served as "our ultimate point of reference''.

But all God-talk says more about us and the way we live than it does about the physical world; this is why the Biblical characters so often speak of "my God'', "your God'' and "our God''.

Kaufman wrote in 1993: "To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one's life and action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world within the ecological restraints here on planet Earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence.''

 

 

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

September 2016- SPRING- Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

October 2016

 

4/10/16

Ros Tinker

“The role of Religion in the History of Humankind”. A brief look at this amazingly insightful, perspective giving chapter from Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens”. Recommended as required reading for progressives.

18/10/16

Gerald Christmas

 "Evolutionary Christianity".  Gerald looks at the influence of the Eco-Evolutionary, Eco-Evidential or Eco Environmental forces on Christianity, Religion, Spirituality and Theology". 

 

See the Discussion Schedule for the rest of the year at the end of this Newsletter.

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road. On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

Secretaries Report

Dear CPRT members and friends,

This newsletter contains a summary, prepared by Eric, of the conclusions by the Uniting Church of Canada regarding Gretta Vosper. It was a very lengthy document so we have added Eric’s full summary on our web site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org andinclude this web site http://bit.ly/2c8qprJ which has more detail.

We wish Gretta well as she establishes a new life after these past disappointments.

 

Ted Nettle, our Common Dreams representative, has passed on $1000 from CPRT to support Common Dreams work and future seminars.

There is also a note from Rex Hunt about speakers at future conferences.

Our thanks to Sue Emeleus for submitting the article called “Learning How to Listen into Life,” included in this newsletter.

Our last meeting for the year will be on Tuesday 6th December. More details to follow but CPRT will organise the food

We re-commence again in 2017 on Tuesday 7th February, 2017 when Peter Correy will present the story of Florence Nightingale.

Kind regards,

Ken Fletcher (CPRT Secretary)

 Gretta Vosper “On Trial” in the Uniting Church of Canada

Comments on the Report of the Conference Interview Committee of its review of the ministry of the Rev. Gretta Vosper

Our friend and fellow progressive, Gretta Vosper, has been considered to be not suitable to continue as a minister of the United Church of Canada. This has followed complaints about her beliefs received by the Toronto Conference in 2015 which referred the matter to the Conference Interview Committee for determination. Rex Hunt has sent us a copy of the Committee’s full report of the interview with Gretta which took place in June last. The following disturbing details of Gretta’s “trial” (our word) have been taken from the report itself.

 

Because so much of the accusation focuses on Gretta’s so called atheism, it is important to note that she only labelled herself at one stage as an atheist as a protest in support of those who had been unjustly persecuted.   Her refusal to use the God word was not because of disbelief in “a power beyond us”, but because of the meaning given to it by the interventionist believers who were conducting her trial.

 

While CPRT members retain the right to express their belief in God in a variety of ways we wish to raise the more important question as to whether the words which were used to accuse and condemn Gretta Vosper (as well as the trial itself) constitute a self-indictment of the institution and not of one of its ministers. By dismissing her, has the United Church of Canada condemned itself as an organisation which is past its use by date and which has done despite to one of its most valuable leaders?

  

The Report states that Gretta told the Committee that she did not believe in a Trinitarian God. Instead, by ‘god/God’ she meant what is created between people in relationships, but does not exist separate from us, and the construct is not divine. She said that she does not use the word ‘God’ because its use is a barrier to some people. She does not believe that Jesus was divine. He is not the Son of God. Jesus is not her Saviour. She said that she no longer calls herself a Christian. She does not believe that there is a Holy Spirit. She does not believe that there is a God who calls anyone to ministry. She does not administer sacraments. She does not consider scripture to be the primary source, but merely one source of information amongst many. She is no longer in essential agreement with the statement of doctrine of The United Church of Canada. Instead, Ms. Vosper said that her theology has evolved beyond the doctrine of the United Church.

.

The report describes the person whom the church has rejected as minister: “Ms. Vosper was called to West Hill United Church in 1997, continues to serve as their sole minister, and is a member of Toronto Southeast Presbytery. She graduated from Queen’s Theological College in 1990 and was ordained by Bay of Quinte Conference in 1993. Ms. Vosper is the author of two books: With or without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important than What We Believe2 and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean...... Ms. Vosper is the founder and Chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, an organization that provides resources and support to those exploring the boundaries of Christian thought both within and outside of their congregations. Ms. Vosper has been active in her Presbytery and has served as Chair.”

 

Gretta initially appealed the negative Ruling to the Judicial Committee. On March 17, 2016, however the Judicial Committee Executive decided that the Appeal did not meet the grounds for an Appeal as set out in The Manual 2013 and therefore would not hear the appeal. Toronto Conference Sub-Executive decided to reinstate its review of Rev. Vosper’s ministry8 and on May 3, 2016 the Executive Secretary sent a notice to her setting out the process for the interview to be held on June 16, 2016. The notice set out the questions that she would be asked to affirm and advised that she might be asked questions of candidates for ministry at their final interviews for ordination, commissioning or admission.. Gretta was invited to send a written response that would be read by the members of the Conference Interview Committee before the interview. “Ms. Vosper’s submissions (176 pages) were received on June 17th and distributed to the members of the Conference Interview Committee the same day.” On June 16th West Hill sent written submissions that were distributed to the Conference Interview Committee the same day. On June 27th, West Hill also sent a petition in favour of Gretta Vosper and asked that it be permitted to address the Conference Interview Committee. That request was denied.

 

The Interview

(In reporting about the interview, the Conference Interview Committee has used the edited responses Gretta posted on her website. If there was no response posted to a question asked, the Committee has relied on its notes.)

Ordination vows    

Ms. Vosper advised the Conference Interview Committee that at her ordination by Bay Of Quinte Conference, she was asked the traditional questions regarding belief in God, prayer ministry, etc. In outlining these questions, she told the Committee that they were asked of her in 1993 and that she had answered “I do; I will”.

We note that this evidence is consistent with her admission that her theology had “evolved beyond” the old doctrines. Ed.

 

The Committee proceeded to examine Gretta’s theological position and the Report records her answers regarding the following issues:

i. What is your understanding of God?

Ms. Vosper chose to answer this question using the words from the Basis of Union, section 11.3: God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Ms. Vosper said that she does not believe in a Trinitarian God, composed of three persons equal in essence, a being who presides over earth from another realm, a supernatural one, from which it has the power to intervene in the natural world – capriciously or by design – by responding to our prayerful requests, or altering our minds and so, too, our actions, or intervening in the natural world with or without provocation or invitation in order to alter weather patterns, health, the accumulation or loss of wealth, the circumstances of birth including geography – a predictor of health and access to food and water – gender, sexuality, mental capacity, or beauty – all predictors of the power status and ease with which individuals will live their lives, then, no, she does not believe in that at all. Ms. Vosper told the Committee that neither does she believe in a god of no substance who exists beyond the universe yet contains it, interpenetrating it in some incomprehensible way for some incomprehensible purpose.

 

Ms. Vosper sees no evidence of such gods. And so she said that there is no reason to remain aligned with a doctrine that does not fit the contemporary and ever-evolving scientific understandings of the universe or ethical perspectives on human dignity and rights. She also said that there is no reason why we should eschew the scholarship of the countless theologians who have argued for centuries, that the doctrine of the Trinity is unworthy of our intellectual consideration, let alone our allegiance. Ms. Vosper said that there is no reason to require of anyone who comes to us for service of any kind, including participation in the creation of vibrant, meaningful communities, acknowledgment of or belief in Trinitarian or any other form of ecclesial language and the subsequent study and support they will require to move beyond traditionally held interpretations of that language with which they most likely arrive at our doors. She said that the only faithomable [sic] reason that the Church might consider holding to the doctrine of the Trinity and commencing an ongoing program of investigation of clergy that requires assent to that doctrine in order for their ministry to be considered effective is the maintenance of the United Church’s membership in the World Council of Churches. Ms. Vosper said that the work of ministry with individuals and communities of transformation is more integral to the work of the Church than membership in an organization.

 

Ms. Vosper said that even if she were given incontrovertible proof that a god does or gods do exist, the evidence of the cruel and capricious realities of disparity, tragedy, illness, and anguish in the world, and the truth that our world and our experience of it is wrapped not only in beauty but also in excruciating pain, would prevent her from worshipping it or pledging her allegiance to it, no matter the cost.

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that what she does believe has come to her through a heritage that is rich in church and in the United Church into which she was born and raised. She said: “It is rooted in my family that, like many families, transmitted positive values to its children. These same positive values have also been projected by humanity, alongside other, more dangerous values, to become the attributes of the transcendent, divine, supernatural beings that we have called gods. During times when social cohesion was crucial to the survival of small tribal communities, fear of those deities provided a powerful antidote to individual expression or actions that might threaten the community’s well-being – murder, theft, adultery, abortion, homosexual behaviours. These became offences against gods and came with god-sized punishments. Twinning social laws with supernatural beings may have been an evolutionary twist that provided for our survival.” Ms. Vosper said that it does not follow, however, that supernatural beings provided the moral codes or values by which we choose to live. She said that while the values instilled in her as a child were values reinforced by her church school and Christian upbringing, they are not values exclusive to that upbringing. And she said that there are no moral codes that have been formed by the mind of god. Rather she told the Committee, there is a morality that we have created and that transcends our personal circumstances. It is a morality that we have the responsibility to review and revise as we each see necessary for our wholeness and, she hopes, social cohesion, which is so integral to our well-being, our future as a species, and our impact on the future of all on the planet. It is in these non-doctrinal things that Ms. Vosper said that she has faith.

 

Ms. Vosper said that she believes in love and that for her, love is the most sacred value. When she calls something sacred, she said that she means that it is so crucial to our humanness, to our humanity, that we cannot risk its denigration, degradation, or destruction. To live without that sacred thing – in this case love – would mean we had repudiated our evolved and critically negotiated humanity.

 

Ms. Vosper said that what she understands about love is not a simplistic, self-serving love. Instead, she means a costly, challenging, transformative love that pulls us beyond the people we think we were, the people we may have been content to remain, in order that our humanity be more complex. She told the Committee that love refuses to count its cost, seeking; rather, to disperse that cost into community, pulling us toward one another as it does so and beyond the divisions that otherwise might leave us in isolation.

 

Ms. Vosper said that there are religious texts and biblical stories that can be interpreted in the light of that kind of love, some of which may even seem to tell of the most complete embodiment of it that has ever walked the earth. These are questions of interpretation. She told the Committee that biblical examples are not integral to the understanding or the living out of love and that anyone, regardless of creed or ideology or even ignorant of such things, may still live in accordance with a costly love. Ms. Vosper said that she believes that the greater portion of humanity chooses to do so.

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that our Christian forbearers were seekers after truth. She referenced Dean William Sparrow, who is said to have ended every lecture with the words: “Seek the truth, cost what it will, come whence it may, lead where it might.” She mused that Dean Sparrow was challenging his students for a life in the ministry that would not be compromised by the quitting of intellectual integrity. She suggested that he was coaching them to hold to what they were learning and to go out into ministry without forgetting to continue to learn. Ms. Vosper said that the quest for truth is never over, and so it remains at the top of the list of those things in which she believes. Ms. Vosper said that she believes in truth and believes that it is important to seek truth, no matter where it comes from, no matter what we may lose in the process, no matter where we end up. She told the Committee: “It is my commitment to truth – both seeking it and sharing it – that has brought us here today.”

 

There are some who have argued courage is the greater virtue because it is required to live out any of the others, but Ms. Vosper said that she believes love badgers 13 courage into being, and when love fails to do so, she believes that truth picks up the rant. She said: “Love and truth can exist without courage but almost as soon as one or the other emerges, courage is a must. Courage is a must if we are to do anything to protect those we love or to strive toward truth, no matter its cost or destination. Love without truth or truth without love can both deny wholeness.”

Ms. Vosper told the Committee that courage without either breeds indifference or savage violence. She said: “Violence bred by love and justice, is tempered by the very root of its action, which can only ever be to restore rights or to secure safety. It is in the interweaving of these three virtues that positive change happens, in our hearts, in our relationships, in our communities and in the world.”

It is these virtues – love, truth, and courage – that provide for all the rest upon which Ms. Vosper said that her ministry is built.

Ms. Vosper said: “All of these virtues can be found explicitly or implicitly in stories from the Bible, but they do not originate there. To suggest that they did would be inconsistent with contemporary scholarship and dishonour the human story, both of which predated and ran parallel with its writing. To present them as having been created by a god and given to us is to refuse humanity credit for its most noble accomplishment. It also removes our right and inherent responsibility, as their creator and agent, to bring to the fore or limit certain of them as the needs of the human community evolve.”

She told the Committee that hope, as the promise of something we cannot assure, is deeply rooted in our Christian heritage. Ms. Vosper said that she does not speak of hope; she chooses to create, to accompany, to name, to comfort, to acknowledge, to embrace, to lament, to encourage, to convict, to trust again. She said that she cannot bring about a peaceful death with only hope. She said that she cannot mitigate the effects of corporatism, or global climate change with only hope; she cannot redress our tragic history with Indigenous peoples with only hope; and she cannot address poverty, violence, xenophobia, arrogance, or illness with only hope. Ms. Vosper said that only if she has a hammer in her hand, only if action congruent with our responsibilities as human beings to alleviate suffering or redress abuse is in the offering or underway, will she offer the word ‘hope’. She said that she will not offer hope to mollify or comfort when to do so does not alleviate pain or suffering, does not create right relationship, does not forestall death, but only pretends all these things might be achieved and so anesthetizes us to their reality with an illusion that comforts we who extend it more than those to whom we dispense it. Ms. Vosper told the Committee that she does not offer an empty hope and would not wish one offered to her.

 

The Interview Team asked whether hope, faith and justice were God. Ms. Vosper answered that she has stopped using the word ‘God’ because it is a barrier to participation in the Church. Instead, she speaks of who God is for her. Ms. Vosper explained that they do not sing sacred music at West Hill and she doesn’t use the word ‘God’ there.

When questioned, Ms. Vosper said that for her ‘God’ is what is created between us. Although we cannot measure or describe it, Ms. Vosper said that it is the power in relationships that is pure and strong, but she does not call this ‘God’.

Ms. Vosper was asked whether God was anything more than a construct between two people. She answered: “No, I don’t believe so.” She acknowledged that the construct has a power beyond us, but it does not exist separate from us. It is dependent upon us.

The Interview Team then asked if she believed in a metaphorical God. Ms. Vosper responded that she does not use the word ‘God’ because using archaic words is a barrier. Traditionally, the word ‘God’ is of a supernatural being. Ms. Vosper said that she no longer uses the word ‘God’ because she doesn’t believe in such a being. She would not use metaphors for God in worship.

 

ii. Who is Jesus Christ for you?

Ms. Vosper said that Jesus is a historical figure with healing skills who lived some time at the beginning of the Common Era. She said that the record of his life is spotty; he was an itinerant Middle Eastern preacher who managed to engage a group of people who were looking for the same things. Ms. Vosper said that she does not see Jesus as divine. She told the Committee that Jesus was not the Son of God and that Jesus is not her Saviour.

Ms. Vosper was asked whether she called herself a Christian. She answered that ten or twelve years ago she wrote two articles that were published side by side. One set out all the pluses of Christianity. The other set out all the negatives. Today, Ms. Vosper never calls herself a Christian.........”

 

The Report of the interview goes on to address at length, ten more issues including Gretta’s belief and practice regarding the Holy Spirit, Call to the Ministry, Baptism, Dealing with People of differing Beliefs, personal Mystical Experience, Conduct of Worship, Prayer, the Trinity, etc., etc. Her responses to these and many other aspects of her work are available on the CPRT website.  

But the interview did not finish there; the Report goes on to deal with a multiplicity of procedural issues arising from recommendations made in Gretta’s responses.

There is no doubt that the Committee had faithfully and thoroughly observed due diligence in dealing with her case. Their faithfulness to these regulations has in our opinion however, resulted in the crucifixion of a courageous servant of their church and follower of Jesus of Nazareth who, like Him has dared to demonstrate that it is more important what you do than what you believe. Consequently the enquiry began to get off the rails in the very beginning when the Toronto Conference issued the Conference Interview Committee with a mandate to determine Gretta’s suitability purely on the grounds of her breach of her theological ordination vows. The mandate specifically excluded any evaluation of her standards of practice regarding administration, community outreach, social justice, continuing education, leadership, pastoral care or self care. And the problem was exacerbated by the fact that the procedures of the institution were and still are regarded as inflexible in a rapidly changing world. In conclusion, Gretta urged the Committee to find that the way forward in the future is not by using an aberrant disciplinary process, but rather through collaborative effort to improve the United Church of Canada.

Learning How to Listen into Life.

I have just begun my second of the four years of the Residential Program in Spiritual Direction which has the title Listen into Life. Each year we attend four intensive training weekends, and as I walked up the path to the room where the pre-dinner drinks were in full swing last Friday, I felt a wave of excitement that surprised me. Spiritual Direction is not something we heard about in the Anglican Church in Sydney, but in recent years I began to hear whispers from Eremos members who were doing the course or had completed it. When an Eremos friend doing the training came to speak about it to a meeting of the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought, I knew I’d like to have a spiritual director. Who better than the one who introduced me to the course, so I began to see her for spiritual direction. I brought experiences I had had, and, reflecting on them with her, tried to discern the presence of God, and whether that experience of mine might be deepened. Usually a person in spiritual direction would see her director every five or six weeks. The spiritual director accompanies the directee on her journey, and through their conversation, enables the directee to deepen her experience, however it might be expressed.

 

If I was enjoying the process, perhaps I could do the training! I found the program in google, downloaded an application form, and submitted it at the end of 2012. The course coordinator advised that all vacancies for 2013 had been filled, and that I could apply to begin in 2014. I did that, and felt it to be no coincidence that the keynote speaker for the first intensive weekend I attended was Sarah Bachelard in whose little book about experiencing God I had recently read, “…the true God is not an idea we have but a reality we encounter, or perhaps even better, a reality who encounters us”.[1] I think I was tired of the ideas, and longing for the encounters.

 

The first year of training unfolded and deepened my understanding of spiritual direction. Although it might sometimes be acceptable to discuss psychological, relational and even theological difficuIties in the context of spiritual direction, the spiritual director does not provide the services expected from a psychotherapist, a counsellor or a theologian. Concrete experiences are related by the directee, and the spiritual director, by deep listening and questioning, assists the directee to discern the presence or actions or voice of the Spirit in those experiences. It is the Spirit who directs, such direction being sensed inwardly by the directee. Indeed, in my counsellor and later CPE training for chaplaincy, I did not learn the same depth of listening which enables the directee to experience the Spirit’s direction for herself. I also think that the process of spiritual direction is gentler than the process learnt in CPE training for chaplaincy.

 

Three or four times in each intensive weekend there is a ‘quads’ session. Someone is the directee and he/she brings a real experience, even if it is not as deeply personal as might be shared with just the spiritual director. One student is the spiritual director, another is an observer, and one of the staff team is the supervisor. (Numbers at each weekend are about 30 students and 10 staff.)The twenty minute session of spiritual direction is then discussed in depth, and I would find it hard to communicate how powerful these sessions are. They take place between keynote sessions on the weekend’s topic which equips us to understand the background of almost anyone who might come for spiritual direction. Last year the main teaching of the weekends included Spiritual Direction and the Contemplative Stance, Spiritual Direction and the Enneagram (two weekends), and Creativity in Spiritual Direction. While I have had some teaching in each of these, I found myself each time looking forward to returning for the next weekend. In between, we send our responses to the weekend to our mentor, as well as reviews of books we have read. Running through the four years are History of Christian Spirituality notes which also must be read and responded to. The Sunday morning eucharist each time is based on the history unit for the preceding weeks. Students also lead in evening prayers and Saturday morning prayers based on the main topic for the weekend.

If all that sounds intensive, it is. I thought I would do the first year and then decide if I wanted to continue towards becoming a spiritual director. Although I still don’t know the answer to that, I do know that I want to continue this most imaginative, and deeply transforming program. We began this year with input on Ignatian Spirituality, and that will be continued later in the year. Next weekend will focus on Focusing:A Way to growth.

 

In recent years I have participated in groups which meet for sharing of ideas about God, or non theism, and I am also involved with the Women’s Interfaith Network. The Spiritual Direction Training does not pre-suppose any particular faith basis for directees. Last weekend the keynote speaker told us about discussions she has had with atheists who found their conversations helpful. There is also some research into Interfaith Spiritual direction where a person of one faith could use their training to assist in spiritual direction with a person of a different faith. I mentioned this to my Women’s Interfaith Network group and they all thought it would indeed be possible.

 

Perhaps the best thing for me in all of this is meeting the people who are on the course. Mealtimes and drinkies and coffee times are all used to full advantage, and I’ve made some very strong friendships with many of the participants, both students and staff. This course is run by Barnabas Ministries, based in Canberra, but the weekends are conducted at the Josephite Centre at Kincumber on the Central Coast. Not only are there beautiful grounds, surrounded by water, but there is a labyrinth made in the Chartres pattern. Everything there is conducive to the training in becoming a spiritual companion for those who wish to be accompanied on their life journey. The title of the course is indeed very apt.

 

Sue Emeleus, March 2015.

 

Rex Hunt advises of an upcoming event.

G’day folks,

Dick Carter and I have been talking with biblical scholar Hal Taussig and we have booked him to do a tour (Oz and NZ) next October 2017.

We saw this note on FB from Westar. Sounds like it could be a great follow up to CD4. RAEH

 “Westar Fellows Celene Lillie and Hal Taussig are collaborating on a new initiative that fosters spiritual renewal in the church and other diverse settings by drawing upon non-traditional texts from early Christianity such as those found at Nag Hammadi. You can learn more at the link below, and here are a few words from Lillie, who has been named the new director:

"We hope the Tanho Center will be a place for people to come together and think about what these texts might mean in a variety of arenas from education to the arts; to use these texts for study and exploration; and how they might lead to renewed spirituality and commitment to the broader world."

https://tanhocenter.wildapricot.org/Directors-Welcome #‎christianity #‎religion#‎renewal

 

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016/7.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email: cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

All Mail:     22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW 2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.   Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam  

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                             

                                                                                              

 

CPRT Discussion Programme for 2016.

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

October 2016

 

4/10/16

Ros Tinker

“The role of Religion in the History of Humankind”. A brief look at this amazingly insightful, perspective giving chapter from Yuval Harari’s book “Sapiens”. Recommended as required reading for progressives.

18/10/16

Gerald Christmas

 "Evolutionary Christianity".  Gerald looks at the influence of the Eco-Evolutionary, Eco-Evidential or Eco Environmental forces on Christianity, Religion, Spirituality and Theology". 

November 2016

 

1/11/16

Val Worswick

Ethics without God

15/11/16

Ted & Guy

A follow up discussion of the theology raised by Birch and Bohme.

December 2016

 

6/12/16

End of Year celebration and meal. Details to be advised.

20/12/16

No meeting

 

 

[1] Sarah Bachelard, “Experiencing God in a Time of Crisis”, Convivium Press, Florida, 2012

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

May Newsletter 2016

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

Special Newsletter.

 

Our discussions have been continuing very well with presentations from members outlining their thoughts about Spirituality and God. Last meeting we looked at the interesting but confusing topic of “Chaos Theory”.

 

In this Newsletter are items

 

We are seeking topics and ideas for future discussions – please bring your ideas along to the next meeting.

Kind regards,

Ken (CPRT Secretary)

SAVING JESUS FROM THE CHURCH

Revd Robin Meyers PhD

COMMON DREAMS

Has the Church lost the message of Jesus?

ON THE ROAD 2016

What does it mean to be a beloved community of radical inclusion?

Friday 20 May, 7.30 pm – 9 pm:

Saving Jesus from the Church – inaugural Annual Pitt Street Lecture in Progressive Christianity ($20/10)

Saturday 21 May, 10.00 - 4.00 pm: Seminar and workshop. Two presentations by Robin Meyers, followed by responses and discussion. ($60/30)

Sunday 22 May, 10 am: Dr Meyers preaching at Pitt Street.

Robin Meyers is a best-selling author and a highly regarded speaker. He is the senior minister at the Mayflower Congregational (United Church of Christ) in Oklahoma, Professor of Social Justice at Oklahoma City University and a Fellow of the Jesus Seminar.

Registration: http://bit.ly/RobinMeyers Volunteers needed to assist. Please speak to Warren Talbot.

 

RECENT TRENDS IN PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

Progressive Religion has taken CPRT (Sydney) into interesting territory in the last twelve months.  We have tended to leave behind our initial concern to question traditional Christian teaching, to be less concerned with re-inventing Christian belief and practice, and more interested in the spiritual potential of non-theistic areas of knowledge. Our discussion topics have included reference to Science and Cosmology,  Quantum Physics, Neuro Psychology, and Chaos Theory.

In our Freedom to Explore we are not alone. Our progressive friends across the Tasman are holding their May Conference in the art-deco city of Napier this year. The list of activities includes a “Drama and Playing Together” workshop on how theatre and performance can build a community of trust AND “An Art-Deco walk through Napier” reflecting on its sights. The subjects of keynote addresses are also interesting.  One speaker’s address is titled, “How I became a Heretic with the Help of Jesus”.  Others include, “Art as a Radical Change Agent” and “Spiritual Defiance – Building a Beloved Community of Resistance”.            Ed. 

 

A short attempt to define my personal definition of Spirituality.

To me Spirituality relates to the cultivation of those higher potentialities of the human being such as patience, tolerance, kindness, peacefulness, empathy, service to others. It is about becoming freer of the ego and becoming more fully a person with regard to the “sacredness” of all human beings and in this sense might be said to move beyond humanism. Spiritual people have a connection with one another because of their common humanity regardless of race, culture, colour, gender, sexuality, status or occupation and so on. To be “spiritual” is to see beyond mere outward appearances, to look within all others to the inner life of the spirit within us all. Some refer to that inner life as “the divine spark”, the higher self, the aspirational self and when we connect with others in a reciprocal way on that level we connect in a “spiritual” sense.

It has been said that Spirituality is beyond all religions yet contains all religion, beyond all science and yet contains all science, beyond all philosophy yet contains all philosophy. I like several versions of the meaning of the word Namaste’. “I honour the place in you in which the entire universe dwells, I honour the place in you which is of love, light, of truth and of peace. When you are in that place in you and I am in that place in me, we are one.” At this point it needs to be said that things “spiritual” are not in the domain of the 5 senses or that can be tested or approached by empirical means.

Lastly, I want to say that I wholeheartedly agree with whoever said, “Religion divides, Spirituality unites”.                                              Ros Tinker.

 

 

Spirituality                                            Ken Fletcher

Spirituality for me involves a sense of being connected both to my inner self and to the whole universe.

This experience brings a variety of senses to play such as peace, purpose, mindfulness, fulfilment, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, responsibility, harmony, self-examination, contemplation and the awareness of the size of the universe from its most distant reaches to the intricate nature of the smallest entities

Spirituality can be a blissful state, a sense of awe/wonderment that seems to go beyond the senses. It is part of the process of the mind coming to grips with itself and nature in all its dimensions, building intellectual understanding and knowledge, attaining an insights of the meaning of life and feeling the depth of our relationship to the world as a whole including the exhilaration of feeling connected with other people, the connectivity of the moment, especially with special people.

Although spirituality is often talked about with religious connections it is a common human experience that anyone can have at any time irrespective of their religion or beliefs.  There are aspects of life and human experience which go beyond a purely materialist view of the world without necessarily accepting belief in a supernatural reality or divine being.

After listening to others express their experiences, it appears each person has their own individual experience of spirituality.  Personality, education, training and the influence of others all contribute to the uniqueness of every individual’s spirituality. Some believe mystical spirits and gods are involved, while others use deprivation and diminishment, others use meditation.

Various studies have reported a positive correlation between spirituality and mental well-being in both healthy people and those encountering a range of physical illnesses or psychological disorders.

Spiritual individuals tend to be optimistic, have a wide array of positive health outcomes, including stronger morale, happiness and life satisfaction. They report greater social support and experience higher intrinsic meaning in life giving them strength and inner peace.

I find spirituality changes as we grow older, mature and absorb the experiences life brings. When I was young I followed the teachings of family and peers but this changed with maturity in line with the emergence of modern spirituality which is centred on the deepest values and meanings by which people live. It embraces the idea of an ultimate idealism. Spirituality involves the intellect, mindfulness, ambition, altruism, love,pleasure of achievement, devotion, thoughtfulness, overcoming negative emotions of guilt, fear, inadequateness and stimulates insight and tolerance of the practices and beliefs of others.  

CPRT DISCUSSION ON THE GOD WORD

Our decision to open this subject for discussion drew a large number of submissions which have contributed to a fuller understanding of a popular issue.  Its popularity was obvious in the release of Lloyd’s recent version of, “God’s History in Thought World” which we published as our leading article in the last Newsletter.  We are reminded that it is also a contemporary worldwide progressively religious issue because of news last month that the United Church of Canada has refused the right of appeal to our friend, Greta, (Pastor of West hill United Church in Toronto) who has been condemned for her atheistic comments.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/atheist-pastor-canada-gretta-vosper-united-church-canada?CMP=share_btn_link

Six Discussion Group Members shared their definitions on April 5 and four more absent members sent their comments with their apologies.  John B wrote, “I think of God as a Presence, not of course as a person.  He says that the Sistine Chapel depiction of God resembling Zeus does not help.

John C’s article will explain why he refuses to define the God Word while reserving the right to use it!  John N. wrote that his God was the “One Energy of the Universe”, and quotes Bonheoffer,” That which is within us but beyond us”.  Ken wrote that  the various God images stem from mankind’s various  attempts to explain what is behind nature which itself is the evolved product of the primordial energy which “drives” the evolving universe but which is not necessarily humanly intelligent or conscious. Ted’s concept, which clearly rejected the idea of God as “an oversized white male”, will be seen to be close to Ken’s.

 The significance of the discussion was that it allowed for a great variety of our respective understandings, ranging from Rita’s transformative “defining moments” in life,  to Eric’s ”neo-atheism” .  All submissions will be published as they come to hand.   Your written contribution would be most welcome.       Editor  

What can we make of “Chaos Theory”?     

 Discussion presentation by Ken.

Through the tools of calculus and computers scientists have been able to look at the phenomenon when nature behaves chaotically, now called “Chaos Theory”.

The graphical “Butterfly affect” is the signature of chaos. It only afflicts systems that are both deterministic and non-periodic; when small changes in the initial conditions produce extreme results as the exponential growth of these small differences overwhelm even the most meticulous calculations.

There are “Strange attractors” within the “Butterfly affect” revealing it is a marvellously subtle state poised between order and randomness, with both aspects intermingled.

There is an amazing kind of order inherent in chaos.

Chaos takes the focus off the laws of nature and shifts it to their consequences.

Chaos emphasises holism (grounded in rigorous science and mathematics) not reductionism.

Chaos is interdisciplinary over many specialities from fluid mechanics, to the weather, to electromagnetism, to cardiac arrhythmias and many other things.

Chaos is the science of how things change – and everything changes.

Newton’s notion of determinism is crucial because one of the defining features of a chaotic system is that it obeys deterministic laws.

Newton’s laws don’t forbid chaos; they require it.

 

The “logistic map” made by tracing the progress of a system going chaotic has no scientific content, no laws of nature built into it. It seems like pure numerology. This breaks the rules of how you do science. It seems the universe is made of number.

 

In Quantum theory there is no way to measure position and velocity simultaneously with unlimited precision. This is a scenario which destroys our whole concept of state space.

Chaos is foundered on determinism whereas quantum theory speaks only of probabilities.

Chaos is mathematically forbidden in quantum mechanics.

The real shocker about quantum chaos is that it links atoms to prime numbers thus connecting the bedrock of reality to the most ethereal realm of human thought.

Quantum systems have discreet energy levels, corresponding to waves vibrating at certain frequencies, called the zeros of the Rienamm zeta function which look uncanningly like those for a quantum chaotic system.

 

This area of research is still in its infancy. Chaos theorists were amongst the earliest scientists to focus on non-linear systems in which the whole is more (or less) than the sum of the parts – still the basis of many of the major unsolved problems of science today.

 

It is hard to get our minds around what is happening within a chaotic system as it challenges many of our current theories especially as it covers the whole spectrum from the Newtonian to quantum levels. At times the chaotic system is changing between these seemingly incompatible states.

It indicates there are balances within nature so when the equilibrium is disturbed the mechanisms are in place to restore nature back to a balanced state.

THE GOD WORD MARCH 2016          Eric Stevenson, 05/04/16

In reviewing the path which my dealings with a supreme divine entity have taken me, I have never experienced a personal encounter with Him or Her.  In the early stages of the journey I addressed that entity in both ritual and informal prayer but have never sensed a response or regarded a subsequent happening as a positive answer.  In those early days, this did not prevent me from invoking His blessing, or of singing His praises or of assuming His omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience.  I interpreted the statement that God is Love as if He loved me, and I regarded the sacred Judeo-Christian scriptures as direct communications from Him through the prophets who unlike myself obviously claimed to have the capacity to receive such revelations. I also regarded the statements attributed to Jesus of Nazareth by the gospel writers as authoritative messages from God’s representative.

This unquestioning approach to my spiritual experience adequately defined the God word for me, and provided me with an adequate basis on which to build a meaningful life. i.e.  until in young adulthood I began to question my former beliefs.  Descriptions of “divine interventions” seemed to be more the activities of good human beings, or good luck.  Many fortuitous circumstances attributed by my religious friends to Him or Her seemed to be unfair. Some divine utterances as recorded in the Bible were clearly unjust, racist, or unscientific. I nursed these doubts despite the fact that I was functioning as a Christian missionary and later as a minister of religion until in retirement I found greater freedom to explore and the words to express my new beliefs.

Although many of my progressive friends regard the God word as necessary for describing our “ground of being”, I prefer not to give it such significance.  For me, most of the assumptions mentioned in my first paragraph no longer apply to it. Since developing my progressive religious thinking I have been instead trying to live with integrity as a sacred doubter cum spiritual explorer – learning to live in ignorance of  matters that are beyond my comprehension, but never ceasing to be awe struck by the wonders of existence which must obviously have an underlying explanation.  Call that underlying explanation what you will, but I do not feel constrained to worship it or talk to it as I have done in earlier years. Most important to me is my decision to value and respect all of life of which I am a part and to engage in my relationships with people and with all of nature in a just, honest, compassionate and loving way.  Once again I do not feel the need to personalise or deify this value system, the origin of which is also a mystery to me.

As a consequence of these beliefs, I am thrown on to my own resources, mental abilities and creative imagination together with those same gifts in my friends in order to live a meaningful existence. For us, the responsibility for living that meaningful life cannot be avoided by putting faith in an imaginary deity.  It is ours alone and will remain so unless or until we can experience and communicate with an alternative superior reality.

GOD    by Ted Nettle

 

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying ... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.           [Carl Sagan]

Our discussions over the last few meetings have made it clear to us all that “reality”, what ever that is, is far greater than we humans, even thoughtful ones like us, can comprehend. 

 

The danger however is that we will, as we so often in the past have, fall into the naming fallacy and think that because we have given “it” a name, be it “God” or “spirituality” or “the ground of our being”, we know what we are talking about.  We don’t. 

 

Religions claim to tell us what reality is.  They have done this for millennia by creating gods to explain current mysteries in nature or to influence human affairs. 

 

Science in contrast has engaged in a rigorous process of inquiry that has done a great job of helping us to better understand the nature of our world.  In the process, without meaning to, it has demolished many of the claims about reality that religions formerly made.

 

Unlike religions which claim certainty, science is based on uncertainty and probability.  All scientific theories are only accepted and used until further evidence proves them wrong.  It is sad that some religious groups use this basic uncertainty to claim the existence of their gods in these seeming gaps.

 

While some philosophers would argue that reality is within our heads, I think there is a reality out there and that each of us has our own representations of it in our heads.  These internal representations bear a relationship to the external reality but differ depending on our cultural and emotional backgrounds.

 

The reality of which we are a part and which is both beyond us and beyond our present understanding contains many exciting mysteries, many great joys and many terrible sorrows. It seems to work in particular ways and not in other ways so that we can hypothesize test and theorise about the “Laws of Nature”.  Our current understanding of these laws has enabled us to build the complex technological world in which we live.  

 

Does it help to introduce the name “god” into this discussion?  No, I don't think so.

 

To be certain of the existence of God and to be certain of the nonexistence of God seem to me to be the confident extremes in a subject so riddled with doubt and uncertainty as to inspire very little confidence indeed.[Carl Sagan]

CPRT  DISCUSSIONS  -  MY  CONCEPT  OF  GOD        From Ross Barrie

5th  April  2016

My concept of God is the complementary concepts summarized as “I am” in “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14).  In human terms, God is both concurrently:

  • a “person” (a noun), but more than a person - the “I” in “I am”, and
  • a “process” (a verb), the “am” in “I am”.

 

I contend that the complementary “noun” side of God, the “I”, is outside of space, time and the universe, whereas the complementary “process” side of God, the “am”, is not only active within space, time and the universe, but is (the process of) space, time and the universe.

 

The closest technical terminology that I can come to for this “process” side of God is panentheism where panentheism is:

  • pan = everything - everything has its existence in God – God is us, in us, as us, as every life breath
  • We are a sponge saturated with God, we could not live without God, we are in God:

o   Similar to the Biblical concept of God in Acts 17:28  “In him we live and move and have our being”).

 

A more complete definition of panentheism is:

  1. Process theology and philosophy view God either as one and the same with the universe as a whole, or as the creative process of the universe
  2. This is a step beyond pantheism that suggests that God is to be found in every entity in the universe
  3. God is to be found in the whole, or in the process of emergence of all entities and events
  4. It suggests that God is not outside the universe, but effectively is one and the same with it
  5. God is the eternal, ever-creating essence of a cosmos without beginning or end
  6. Panentheism allows for the idea of God as the "person" who is the universe as a whole, compassionately "feeling" all the pain and joy and possibility in the cosmos
  7. It also allows for the idea of God as the impersonal, essential quality of creativity intrinsic to all events and entities in the cosmos
  8. A related idea is "naturalistic theism", seeing God and nature as one.

 

I do not accept dot point 4 above, as I see the complementary “noun” side of God, the “I”, as greater than, as outside, the universe (or universes/multiverses).  God as “I” is greater, extending further than just the universe – the universe, and all that is evolving within it, is just like a thought in God’s mind.

 

But the complementary “process” side of God, the “am”, is within the universe and is the process of the universe, i.e. the universe is an integral part of the complementary “process” side of God, never separated from God.  God as this process is not prohibited from having intention, nor compassion, nor “feeling”.  So I partly agree with dot point 6 above except that I would say that God as “person”, the complementary noun side of God, is outside of the universe as the “I” in “I am”.

Some reflections on the “God” word.. John Court, 5 April 2016

I am very uncomfortable with any attempt to define “God”, either linguistically or actually.  It would be an arrogant undertaking, at least for me to make.  But it seems it is an unavoidable human instinct, even at CPRT.

This reflection of mine therefore springs from my ‘world view’ (Weltanshauung): 

I am a member of the Christian tribe.

I glimpse the Divine through the leader of my tribe, Jesus of Nazareth, one of my ‘windows’ into Divinity.

I also glimpse the Divine:

  • Through people of the Abrahamic religions;
  • Through the Christian and Hebrew writings and their manifold interpretations; and
  • Through secular knowledge and expression, including:

o   science and philosophy;

o   history and social science;

o   literature and poetry; and

o   music and art.

I acknowledge that others glimpse the Divine from other tribes and in other ways and that many do not glimpse the Divine at all.  I seek to live in love and peace with them on this tiny planetary speck in this vast universe, which contains perhaps septillion other planets.

 

A further reflection:

I found an article by the Australian theologian Geoff Thompson, entitled “Jesus, God and Atheism” (2012, Uniting Church Studies, Vol 18, No 2, pp 15-27), to be an interesting ‘cleaning cloth’ to use in glimpsing through my heavily grimed and smudged ‘window’.  He looks at three recent assessments of Jesus in his quest for Christian engagement with the (Western) world of the 21st century:

  • Peter Jensen’s ‘conventional’ Lord Jesus Christ (Boyer lectures, 2005);
  • Marcus Borg’s ‘seminar’ Jesus (The heart of Christianity, 2007); and
  • John Carroll’s ‘existential’ Jesus (The Existential Jesus, 2007).

He considers Jensen’s mainstream-Christian perspective to have little appeal beyond already committed Christian people and to rob Jesus’s transformative power of any element of surprise and challenge.  

Borg’s “historical Jesus” is too thoroughly domesticated for him.  This perspective merely creates a veranda where theological modernists, who exit the door of organised religion, can comfortably stand, holding to their Christian heritage while fully conforming to a modernist world view - a position Thompson judges to have little attraction to those who have never been inside the building of organised religion.

Thompson looks favourably on Carroll’s agnostic perspective that Jesus is destabilising and troubling to everyone he encounters.  He is not the meek and mild Jesus of Sunday-school theology, but one who challenges our modern world at its foundations and destabilises our theology.   And I might add, Jesus seems to me to be uncomfortable, prickly and politically incorrect.  For example, he is indignant with a close friend in her deepest grief (Jn 1133 REB), he calls a desperate foreign woman a dog (Mk 727) and he is cruel to animals (Lk 833).

Thompson effectively thanks the ‘new atheists’ for their frontal attacks on Christian faith.  He concludes:

“It seems to me the challenge for Christians – as followers of the crucified Lord – is not to seek to conquer atheism, but, through conversation with it, to fine-tune [their] own impulses towards atheism and so witness more clearly to [their] unattractive Lord.”

As I said, an interesting cleaning cloth, which clears one or two of the smear marks on my ‘window’, although I still only “see through a glass darkly”, to slightly misuse the AV translation.

In conclusion, I refuse to define ‘God’ or even the “God” word, while reserving my right to use it.

 

God                                         Thoughts from Ken Fletcher. 5/4/2016

  • Are we trying to talk about and discuss an entity (God) that does not exist?
  • If God does not exist are we only left with the evolution of a gigantic energy system?
  • Can we imagine such an energy system having the dimensions, structure, balances and where with all to allow the development of mankind and intelligence.
  • If God does exist, is God only within our universe or both in and outside it?
  • After all this time, why are we still looking for answers?
  • Has anything new been revealed?
  • Is God just a myth, an image or imaginary concept in our minds?
  • How much does belief in God(s) grow from our childhood training?
  • Why are there so many different definitions and understandings of God?
  • Why has human understanding of God changed as man has evolved socially and philosophically?
  • Is Devine inspiration nothing more than the human conscious and unconscious solving problems?
  • If God speaks to individuals, how do they know which of their thoughts is from God?
  • Can mankind rise above the fear of judgement by a god to be motivated to act for the benefit of others?
  • Does motivation based on the fear of judgement by God reflect how God thinks or only a human solution e.g. Roman authority? 
  • In Christianity, why did God create us as a sinner yet asks us to repent from something we may have had no control over?
  • Why does God allow so much pain and suffering of innocent and helpless people?
  • How do we define sin?
  • Are sins only actions that would hurt others and ourselves?

 

Even though we have no definite proof either way of God’s existence I have been trying to understand and explain God all my life.

I am coming more and more to the conclusion that mankind has just been trying to explain the workings behind nature and our mental capacities.

The idea of gods and spiritual entities controlling events has been with mankind for many thousands of years. Attributing human qualities to imagined “king/god” entities that control everything has been a model that humans constructed so they could relate to and make sense of their world.

A good example is found in the Dream-time stories of our Australian Aboriginals.

 

I no longer think we are talking about a separate entity or a spirit world.  The Christian image of God as a just and omnipotent Being, supported by angels or spirits is an enigma without any real substance.  It is also contradicted by the injustices and hurt innocent people suffer for no other reason than that, by chance, they were in the wrong place when something disastrous happened.

How can we make sense of that if there is a loving entity in control?

That there are so many different concepts of god indicates it has been a guessing game; we all live in the same world, observe the same things and experience the same life cycle. I have concluded that the variety of ideas reflects individual conclusions trying to explain nature with concepts of a God who does not exist.

 

When I believed in God, I found I had developed an image of what my mind concluded God was; and how that God would think and behave based on my own experiences and lessons. This image had become a real person in my minds, as real as a family member or close friend.

By constructing this image in our minds we are humanising God based on ourselves and/or our belief of what God should be?

The danger with this is that some personalities actually think they are God or God’s chosen agent.

 

Listing nature as proof of the existence of God is not relevant if God does not exist.

If God does exist it is most probable God would work through nature which raises the philosophical question of suffering. How is God influencing nature when earthquakes and disasters occur when the forces working within nature are ready to break?

Taking God out of the equation is a better explanation of what is happening. It removes a lot of unnecessary explanations and removes a reason to pass responsibility away from ourselves.

Basing belief in God on emotional feelings is very questionable.

 

At this point in my life, if I had to give a yes/no answer to the question “Is there a God”; I would say based on the evidence and experiences of my own life that the answer is “No”.

I am defining God as some form of separate entity that can influence nature; and define “nature” as the whole universe including everything before and after the “Big Bang”.

For me it makes more sense that the raw energy from which our whole universe and existence is said to have developed has the potential to become, through the various evolutionary processes, everything in existence (including human intelligence, emotions, talent and thinking).

This energy is also the driving force but it need not have intelligence of itself, only the potential for things to evolve. For me this scenario better reflects reality.

 

Humans have a responsibility to nature (including our own human race), to respect it and live for its preservation.

The basic Christian message of love and compassion encourages our compatibility with nature and its survival.

 

Although we question a lot of the traditional teachings about God and Jesus, Christianity still stands as one of  the most successful and significant influence on mankind. Jesus’s message of humility, love and concern for others is the building blocks of its strength. This message has withstood the tests of time despite all the unloving things that have been done in Christianity’s name.

Maybe it is time for Christianity to accommodate a variety of God images and acknowledge it is the processes of nature that are the determining factor we have to live with. Christianity has evolved as one of the best moral and social formats for safe and stable societies to exist.

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              

                                                                                                

 

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

March Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

March 2016

15/3/16

Ross

Part 2

Ross presents “The essential Bohm”  see: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

An American scientist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind. His ideas on an alternative reality and NeuroTheology.

April 2016

 

5/4/16

 

Ted

(timekeeper)

“GOD”. Each person has up to 5 minutes to present what their thoughts are about GOD.

 

19/4/16

Ken

What is Chaos Theory? Does it have implications for our spiritual journey and our world view?

 

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

 

God’s history in 'thought world'

CPRT has appreciated the writings of Sir Lloyd Geering, a New Zealand theologian, for many years now. He has been a speaker at our conferences and we have used his books and DVD’s in our discussion groups. This article appeared in a New Zealand newspaper in which he adds his voice to the debate about the reality/non-reality of God.

Ian Harris serves your readers well by drawing their attention to what is happening at the leading edge of changing religious thought.

It is surprising, therefore, that he has been taken to task by Murray Rae (ODT, 19.2.16) for suggesting that all talk of God should be taken "out of the world of the human sciences and into the world of human thought''.

Even more astonishing is Prof Rae's appeal to the traditional understanding of God "as the Creator of all things'', without acknowledging that this idea is not a scientific one but one found only in the very world of human thought referred to by Mr Harris.

However much it may continue to be expounded by professors of theology in the great universities, as Prof Rae claims, the fact remains that whatever explanatory value the idea may have had in the pre-scientific past has simply vanished with the advent of the scientific discovery of the evolutionary process that now explains the universe.

On the one hand, cosmic evolution made it unnecessary to postulate a Creator God, while, on the other, biological evolution explains how thinking apes slowly became human by creating language and then constructing the human thought-world.

This so shapes us humans today from the time we learn to speak that we are hardly aware of its reality.

As I have explained much more fully in my book From the Big Bang to God, whereas our forebears saw themselves living in two worlds, material and spiritual, we have been forced, from the time of Immanuel Kant onwards, to distinguish between the physical world and our perception of it (our thought world).

The physical world is now known to be a universe of almost infinite dimensions that has been expanding for more than 13 billion years.

But only during the past two million years has the human species slowly constructed our thought world.

At first it existed in a great diversity of forms and only recently has it been achieving a more unified, global form.

The idea of God originated in the primitive human thought worlds as a generic term that refers to the class of spiritual beings (the gods) postulated by the ancients to explain natural phenomena.

As recently as 2500 years ago the plurality of gods began to be replaced by monotheism, the idea that there is only one God and it is He who created and continues to control the physical world.

Even this was not a fixed and unchangeable idea (as commonly assumed) but has a long and complex history, well documented by Karen Armstrong in her book, A History of God.

Contrary to Prof Rae's judgement that any idea created by the human mind must of necessity "be frail'', human history shows that ideas do have power, as the rise and fall of past ideologies clearly demonstrates.

The idea of God was so powerful that it eventually gave rise to the three great monotheistic cultures - Jewish, Christian and Islamic.

Only during the 20th century did it begin to lose its power to convince, prompting the theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer to declare that humanity has now "come of age'' and in its adulthood must learn to "get along without God''.

But instead of gloating over the so-called "death of God'' (as outspoken atheists are inclined to do, Richard Dawkins iconoclastically referring to God as a delusion), we should rather learn to appreciate the creative role played by the humanly conceived idea of God.

By enabling our Christian (and Muslim) forebears to see the world as a unity that operates in a rational way, monotheism provided the seedbed for the rise of empirical science, as the philosopher Alfred Whitehead pointed out.

The early scientists, being monotheists, sought to understand "the ways of God'' and, in doing so, gradually uncovered the laws of nature.

Now having given birth to the scientific age, the role of God as the Creator could be judged complete, yet, as Mr Harris contends in his article, the idea of God may continue to serve us as an important symbol, pointing to what unites us with one another, with our fellow creatures and with the earth itself.

Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman agrees, observing how the God-symbol has long served as "our ultimate point of reference''.

But all God-talk says more about us and the way we live than it does about the physical world; this is why the Biblical characters so often speak of "my God'', "your God'' and "our God''.

Kaufman wrote in 1993: "To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one's life and action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world within the ecological restraints here on planet Earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence.''

 

 

“FOUR SCORE DEODATUS”

By John Bunyan

Our corresponding member, John has celebrated his eightieth birthday by publishing his autobiographical anthology of prose and verse.  It consists of 102 hymns, songs and poems grouped according to various themes.  Page 111 is about his “rather unorthodox and heretical thoughts” concerning the Bible and about Jesus of Nazareth.

 As a retired Anglican priest in the Diocese of Sydney, and a sympathiser of Unitarianism, John’s progressive thinking will be of interest to many of our members.  He is offering the book for approximately $17 and it can be “purchased” by making a gift to your chosen charity.  Contact bunyanj@tpg.com.au

March 2016 Secretary’s report.       

Dear Members and Friends,

We have included later in this newsletter three presentations from our 1st March discussion group on Spirituality. The next newsletter will have more essays on Spirituality and some papers on what God means from some of our members.

 

Ted Nettle has taken over from Eric as CPRT’s representative to Common Dreams Inc which organises progressive seminars around Australia. CPRT has been a strong supporter of and contributor to Common Dreams over many years. Ted will be able to keep the aims of CPRT and the members we represent in the forefront of CD’s planning.

 

Thank you to our members and friends who have contributed to the newsletter. We like to encourage a healthy discussion and information format. Contact Eric if you have a subject you would like discussed or if you have written a summary of a book you have read that you would like to share in the newsletter.

 

Kind regards,

Ken   (Ken Fletcher)

 

“MADE ON EARTH”

By Lorraine Parkinson

Rex informs us that Lorraine’s recent publication, “Made on Earth” is available postage free from Spectrum Publications.  It is all about how the gospel writers created the Christ. Cost $35.00.

www.spectrumpublications.com.au

This is the first of three essays from our discussion group where members were asked to make a 5 minute presentation on what Spirituality means to them.

Spirituality                         by Ted Nettle

Spirit” comes from the Latin word to breathe.” What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter … or anything outside the realm of science.    (Carl Sagan.)

We often talk of body mind and spirit.  We think we know and understand body.  We experience mind but do we understand it?  Mind may appear to be non-material, but it is important to note that we have no experience of mind without body. 

What then is spirit?  Is spirit different to mind?  Is spirit separate from and the parent of both mind and body as Chopra suggests or was Feuerbach right that matter is the parent of spirit.  Does that make spirit nothing other than matter as Sagan suggests?

You’ve probably heard comments describing a particularly lively horse as being “spirited”.  What does this mean?  Is there something in the horse that transcends the realm of the senses?  Or is it that “spirit” is a quality we all have because we are alive?

I am happy to accept the enigmas, the uncertainties of life.  Yes we will seek, through our use of science, to understand them, but I see no valid reason for assuming that the word “spirit” represents “a transcendent reality … beyond the external realm of the senses.” 

Spirituality then is normal every day experience.  That a sunset; a piece of music a poem or a relationship “moves” me is perfectly normal, although I don't fully understand it, but I believe that it could be explained more fully in scientific terms.  Such an explanation would satisfy me intellectually, but not change or diminish the quality of my “spiritual” experience. 

Interestingly unlike many so called “religious” or “spiritual” statements, every  scientific explanation will forever remain open to question.  Open to further exploration, modification, new understanding and wonderment - how “spiritual” is that!

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.   (Carl Sagan.)

Bonhoeffer

Prophet and Martyr

By John  Queripel

We congratulate our progressive friend, John Quiripel, on the publication of this book which was released in January this year.   It is available for $15.00 (Web Price $12.00)

The publicity blurb tells us that John is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, author, and community activist and that  he has worked in the prison system, the university sector, as a teacher, and is the recipient of a number of awards for his community involvement.” He is a writer, singer-songwriter, a poet, an artist, and enjoys riding a Malibu. He has long held an interest in Dietrich Bonheoffer.” 

Noel Preston, another esteemed member of our progressive network has commended the book to us. He writes, ““Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life and work has been appropriated by a diverse range of theologians and Christian social activists. John Queripel's contribution to that long list is especially creative, not simply because it is conveyed through drama but because one senses a powerful authenticity in the script which arises from the convergence between Bonhoeffer's story and the history of the playwright himself, grounded as both are in contextualism and orthopraxis."
--Noel Preston, adjunct Professor in Applied Ethics, Griffith University (Australia)

 

And to the list of credits we add Stephen Moore’s review. “"Playwright John Queripel pushes all acquainted with Bonhoeffer's discipleship to starkly confront the ethical dilemmas arising from his remarkably enduring ministry. This work has been John's consuming passion for many years: its publication alerts us all to what Bonhoeffer continues to say, and worthily joins the ever-expanding corpus of enlightened studies that enriches theology today."
--Stephen Moore, founding convenor, Australian Bonhoeffer Conference

 In the final days of World War II, early one frosty morning, a young German pastor was taken from his cell by his Nazi captors and led to his place of execution. Coming from one of Berlin's leading families, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's already brilliant academic and church career was thus brutally terminated.

 

Bonhoeffer found himself in such a strange place for a theologian, being one of the very few in the German Church who stood resolutely opposed to the Nazis to the point where he, as a one-time pacifist, became deeply involved in the conspiratorial plot to kill Hitler and bring down the regime.

 

This course of action saw him enter the murky sphere of secrecy and duplicity as a member of the conspiracy, while two-timing the Nazis as a member of military intelligence. Using that official role, Bonhoeffer was able to travel and communicate with his international ecumenical contacts as part of the conspiracy's attempt to strike a deal with the Allies to end the war. From a dark period, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, brave and resolute, stands as a bright and shining light.  

SPIRITUALITY MARCH 2016

There is apparently a universal propensity in human beings to at least search for if not categorically state that for each of them they have found an aspect of human existence which  is beyond the reach of their five senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. This aspect is linked with a desire to find an answer to life’s mysteries, to obtain an explanation for its joys and sorrows, and to discover a satisfactory way of coping particularly with its sorrows.  I define this “search” and “find” activity as a “spiritual” one.  Reference to this activity and its consequences for individuals and communities I therefore understand as a reference to “spirituality”.

I regard the practice of a person’s religious faith as one type of spirituality. 

(Unfortunately it is often confused with the institutionalisation of their particular religious belief system. I do not see the structuring of a religious institution as spiritual.  It lies very much within the realm of the human senses where power, and influence and the imposition of literalism and dogmatism come into play, but have little to do with a personal search to find meaning in life.)

Individual and faith communities however are not in my view the only manifestations of the spiritual phenomenon.   There is a distinct difference between faith and belief.  People of faith have chosen their particular spiritual path, and placed their confidence in the existence of their imagined spiritual entity.  I leave room for many others of non-faith who nevertheless may have adopted a way of believing and behaving which satisfies my definition.

I regard Non-faith Spirituality as applying to those persons like myself who in their search for meaning in human existence, do not feel the need to imagine the existence of a supernatural source of assistance in which to place their trust.  Admittedly, such persons may rely heavily upon their cognitive ability, the accuracy of their perceptions and sensitivities, the use of the scientific methodology, etc.  They also possess a kind of faith in the non-existence of the supernatural.  Having stated their unbelief, what then constitutes their positive belief system?

Having decided on a journey which questions or lays aside many of one’s old religious practices and having gone beyond the traditional boundaries of institutional religion, one’s spiritual position appears initially to be somewhat vacuous.  So Spirituality for me has included learning to live within that vacuum. But it has not been non-spiritual. The new obligation to take responsibility for my own spiritual beliefs and actions plus the new freedom to explore are (to use my old traditionally Christian language) my “salvation”. And mixed with this sense of liberation is my embracing of love for oneself and others, plus  respect for the whole of nature of which I am a part  This I try to do as fully as possible with all my ability and available energy in conjunction with my search.

 The more recent stage in my spiritual journey has focussed on”what is real?”, and “to what extent I can trust my senses and conscious abilities to answer the questions”.  Post-modern discoveries and postulations indicate that there are many more dimensions which pertain to what I perceive which are yet to be experienced and/or taken into consideration.  While I am discovering those dimensions and finding out how to make use of them, I am learning to live as I have said, as fully as I can using whatever knowledge I can gain and whatever abilities I can command to continue my search.

Eric Stevenson

CPRT  DISCUSSION  ON  “SPIRITUALITY”

1st  March  2016

Spirituality can be defined in many ways.  Although spirituality is often associated with religion, personal spirituality can also be developed through music, art or a connection with nature.  Some people also find spirituality and the experience of inner peace through acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism.  Spirituality can be the way to develop personal values as you find meaning and purpose, hope and comfort, and inner peace in your life.

 

For me, spirituality is defined through “relationships” and can best be understood through four concepts which are interrelated, i.e. they do not stand alone, they are not just connected, but they must be integrated:

  1. Firstly, a belief that there is a ‘power’ or a ‘process’ operating in the universe that is greater than the cosmos, universe or myself
  2. Secondly, a conviction (more than just a sense) within myself of being connected to, or part of, this power or process
  3. Thirdly, through this power or process, a sense of interconnectedness or integration with all living creatures, and with all matter
  4. Fourthly, an energy to live a life in the knowledge of the three dot points above.

 

Ross Barrie

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

CPRT Discussion Programme for 2014.

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

March 2016

1/3/16

Ted (time keeper

Spirituality. Each person has the opportunity, in 5 minutes to present what Spirituality/Mindfulness means to them.

15/3/16

Ross

Part 2

Ross presents “The essential Bohm”  see: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

An American scientist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind. His ideas on an alternative reality and NeuroTheology.

April 2016

5/4/16

Ted

(timekeeper)

“GOD”. Each person has up to 5 minutes to present what their thoughts are about GOD.

19/4/16

Ken

What is Chaos Theory? Does it have implications for our spiritual journey and our world view?

May 2016

3/5/16

Guy

“The Cosmic Game” by Stanislav Grof

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Grof

17/5/16

Albert Morris

Albert presents his book “Conform or Reform”.

The need for a fourth Reformation.

June 2016

7/06/16

Rita

“The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, the author of “The Power of Now.”

https://www.eckharttolle.com/books/newearth/

 

 

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              

                                                                                               


Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

March Newsletter 2016

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

March 2016

15/3/16

Ross

Part 2

Ross presents “The essential Bohm”  see: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

An American scientist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind. His ideas on an alternative reality and NeuroTheology.

April 2016

 

5/4/16

 

Ted

(timekeeper)

“GOD”. Each person has up to 5 minutes to present what their thoughts are about GOD.

 

19/4/16

Ken

What is Chaos Theory? Does it have implications for our spiritual journey and our world view?

 

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

 

God’s history in 'thought world'

CPRT has appreciated the writings of Sir Lloyd Geering, a New Zealand theologian, for many years now. He has been a speaker at our conferences and we have used his books and DVD’s in our discussion groups. This article appeared in a New Zealand newspaper in which he adds his voice to the debate about the reality/non-reality of God.

Ian Harris serves your readers well by drawing their attention to what is happening at the leading edge of changing religious thought.

It is surprising, therefore, that he has been taken to task by Murray Rae (ODT, 19.2.16) for suggesting that all talk of God should be taken "out of the world of the human sciences and into the world of human thought''.

Even more astonishing is Prof Rae's appeal to the traditional understanding of God "as the Creator of all things'', without acknowledging that this idea is not a scientific one but one found only in the very world of human thought referred to by Mr Harris.

However much it may continue to be expounded by professors of theology in the great universities, as Prof Rae claims, the fact remains that whatever explanatory value the idea may have had in the pre-scientific past has simply vanished with the advent of the scientific discovery of the evolutionary process that now explains the universe.

On the one hand, cosmic evolution made it unnecessary to postulate a Creator God, while, on the other, biological evolution explains how thinking apes slowly became human by creating language and then constructing the human thought-world.

This so shapes us humans today from the time we learn to speak that we are hardly aware of its reality.

As I have explained much more fully in my book From the Big Bang to God, whereas our forebears saw themselves living in two worlds, material and spiritual, we have been forced, from the time of Immanuel Kant onwards, to distinguish between the physical world and our perception of it (our thought world).

The physical world is now known to be a universe of almost infinite dimensions that has been expanding for more than 13 billion years.

But only during the past two million years has the human species slowly constructed our thought world.

At first it existed in a great diversity of forms and only recently has it been achieving a more unified, global form.

The idea of God originated in the primitive human thought worlds as a generic term that refers to the class of spiritual beings (the gods) postulated by the ancients to explain natural phenomena.

As recently as 2500 years ago the plurality of gods began to be replaced by monotheism, the idea that there is only one God and it is He who created and continues to control the physical world.

Even this was not a fixed and unchangeable idea (as commonly assumed) but has a long and complex history, well documented by Karen Armstrong in her book, A History of God.

Contrary to Prof Rae's judgement that any idea created by the human mind must of necessity "be frail'', human history shows that ideas do have power, as the rise and fall of past ideologies clearly demonstrates.

The idea of God was so powerful that it eventually gave rise to the three great monotheistic cultures - Jewish, Christian and Islamic.

Only during the 20th century did it begin to lose its power to convince, prompting the theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer to declare that humanity has now "come of age'' and in its adulthood must learn to "get along without God''.

But instead of gloating over the so-called "death of God'' (as outspoken atheists are inclined to do, Richard Dawkins iconoclastically referring to God as a delusion), we should rather learn to appreciate the creative role played by the humanly conceived idea of God.

By enabling our Christian (and Muslim) forebears to see the world as a unity that operates in a rational way, monotheism provided the seedbed for the rise of empirical science, as the philosopher Alfred Whitehead pointed out.

The early scientists, being monotheists, sought to understand "the ways of God'' and, in doing so, gradually uncovered the laws of nature.

Now having given birth to the scientific age, the role of God as the Creator could be judged complete, yet, as Mr Harris contends in his article, the idea of God may continue to serve us as an important symbol, pointing to what unites us with one another, with our fellow creatures and with the earth itself.

Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman agrees, observing how the God-symbol has long served as "our ultimate point of reference''.

But all God-talk says more about us and the way we live than it does about the physical world; this is why the Biblical characters so often speak of "my God'', "your God'' and "our God''.

Kaufman wrote in 1993: "To believe in God is to commit oneself to a particular way of ordering one's life and action. It is to devote oneself to working towards a fully humane world within the ecological restraints here on planet Earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence.''

 

 

“FOUR SCORE DEODATUS”

By John Bunyan

Our corresponding member, John has celebrated his eightieth birthday by publishing his autobiographical anthology of prose and verse.  It consists of 102 hymns, songs and poems grouped according to various themes.  Page 111 is about his “rather unorthodox and heretical thoughts” concerning the Bible and about Jesus of Nazareth.

 As a retired Anglican priest in the Diocese of Sydney, and a sympathiser of Unitarianism, John’s progressive thinking will be of interest to many of our members.  He is offering the book for approximately $17 and it can be “purchased” by making a gift to your chosen charity.  Contact bunyanj@tpg.com.au

March 2016 Secretary’s report.       

Dear Members and Friends,

We have included later in this newsletter three presentations from our 1st March discussion group on Spirituality. The next newsletter will have more essays on Spirituality and some papers on what God means from some of our members.

 

Ted Nettle has taken over from Eric as CPRT’s representative to Common Dreams Inc which organises progressive seminars around Australia. CPRT has been a strong supporter of and contributor to Common Dreams over many years. Ted will be able to keep the aims of CPRT and the members we represent in the forefront of CD’s planning.

 

Thank you to our members and friends who have contributed to the newsletter. We like to encourage a healthy discussion and information format. Contact Eric if you have a subject you would like discussed or if you have written a summary of a book you have read that you would like to share in the newsletter.

 

Kind regards,

Ken   (Ken Fletcher)

 

“MADE ON EARTH”

By Lorraine Parkinson

Rex informs us that Lorraine’s recent publication, “Made on Earth” is available postage free from Spectrum Publications.  It is all about how the gospel writers created the Christ. Cost $35.00.

www.spectrumpublications.com.au

This is the first of three essays from our discussion group where members were asked to make a 5 minute presentation on what Spirituality means to them.

Spirituality                         by Ted Nettle

Spirit” comes from the Latin word to breathe.” What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word spiritual” that we are talking of anything other than matter … or anything outside the realm of science.    (Carl Sagan.)

We often talk of body mind and spirit.  We think we know and understand body.  We experience mind but do we understand it?  Mind may appear to be non-material, but it is important to note that we have no experience of mind without body. 

What then is spirit?  Is spirit different to mind?  Is spirit separate from and the parent of both mind and body as Chopra suggests or was Feuerbach right that matter is the parent of spirit.  Does that make spirit nothing other than matter as Sagan suggests?

You’ve probably heard comments describing a particularly lively horse as being “spirited”.  What does this mean?  Is there something in the horse that transcends the realm of the senses?  Or is it that “spirit” is a quality we all have because we are alive?

I am happy to accept the enigmas, the uncertainties of life.  Yes we will seek, through our use of science, to understand them, but I see no valid reason for assuming that the word “spirit” represents “a transcendent reality … beyond the external realm of the senses.” 

Spirituality then is normal every day experience.  That a sunset; a piece of music a poem or a relationship “moves” me is perfectly normal, although I don't fully understand it, but I believe that it could be explained more fully in scientific terms.  Such an explanation would satisfy me intellectually, but not change or diminish the quality of my “spiritual” experience. 

Interestingly unlike many so called “religious” or “spiritual” statements, every  scientific explanation will forever remain open to question.  Open to further exploration, modification, new understanding and wonderment - how “spiritual” is that!

Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.   (Carl Sagan.)

Bonhoeffer

Prophet and Martyr

By John  Queripel

We congratulate our progressive friend, John Quiripel, on the publication of this book which was released in January this year.   It is available for $15.00 (Web Price $12.00)

The publicity blurb tells us that John is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, author, and community activist and that  he has worked in the prison system, the university sector, as a teacher, and is the recipient of a number of awards for his community involvement.” He is a writer, singer-songwriter, a poet, an artist, and enjoys riding a Malibu. He has long held an interest in Dietrich Bonheoffer.” 

Noel Preston, another esteemed member of our progressive network has commended the book to us. He writes, ““Dietrich Bonhoeffer's life and work has been appropriated by a diverse range of theologians and Christian social activists. John Queripel's contribution to that long list is especially creative, not simply because it is conveyed through drama but because one senses a powerful authenticity in the script which arises from the convergence between Bonhoeffer's story and the history of the playwright himself, grounded as both are in contextualism and orthopraxis."
--Noel Preston, adjunct Professor in Applied Ethics, Griffith University (Australia)

 

And to the list of credits we add Stephen Moore’s review. “"Playwright John Queripel pushes all acquainted with Bonhoeffer's discipleship to starkly confront the ethical dilemmas arising from his remarkably enduring ministry. This work has been John's consuming passion for many years: its publication alerts us all to what Bonhoeffer continues to say, and worthily joins the ever-expanding corpus of enlightened studies that enriches theology today."
--Stephen Moore, founding convenor, Australian Bonhoeffer Conference

 In the final days of World War II, early one frosty morning, a young German pastor was taken from his cell by his Nazi captors and led to his place of execution. Coming from one of Berlin's leading families, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's already brilliant academic and church career was thus brutally terminated.

 

Bonhoeffer found himself in such a strange place for a theologian, being one of the very few in the German Church who stood resolutely opposed to the Nazis to the point where he, as a one-time pacifist, became deeply involved in the conspiratorial plot to kill Hitler and bring down the regime.

 

This course of action saw him enter the murky sphere of secrecy and duplicity as a member of the conspiracy, while two-timing the Nazis as a member of military intelligence. Using that official role, Bonhoeffer was able to travel and communicate with his international ecumenical contacts as part of the conspiracy's attempt to strike a deal with the Allies to end the war. From a dark period, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, brave and resolute, stands as a bright and shining light.  

SPIRITUALITY MARCH 2016

There is apparently a universal propensity in human beings to at least search for if not categorically state that for each of them they have found an aspect of human existence which  is beyond the reach of their five senses of touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. This aspect is linked with a desire to find an answer to life’s mysteries, to obtain an explanation for its joys and sorrows, and to discover a satisfactory way of coping particularly with its sorrows.  I define this “search” and “find” activity as a “spiritual” one.  Reference to this activity and its consequences for individuals and communities I therefore understand as a reference to “spirituality”.

I regard the practice of a person’s religious faith as one type of spirituality. 

(Unfortunately it is often confused with the institutionalisation of their particular religious belief system. I do not see the structuring of a religious institution as spiritual.  It lies very much within the realm of the human senses where power, and influence and the imposition of literalism and dogmatism come into play, but have little to do with a personal search to find meaning in life.)

Individual and faith communities however are not in my view the only manifestations of the spiritual phenomenon.   There is a distinct difference between faith and belief.  People of faith have chosen their particular spiritual path, and placed their confidence in the existence of their imagined spiritual entity.  I leave room for many others of non-faith who nevertheless may have adopted a way of believing and behaving which satisfies my definition.

I regard Non-faith Spirituality as applying to those persons like myself who in their search for meaning in human existence, do not feel the need to imagine the existence of a supernatural source of assistance in which to place their trust.  Admittedly, such persons may rely heavily upon their cognitive ability, the accuracy of their perceptions and sensitivities, the use of the scientific methodology, etc.  They also possess a kind of faith in the non-existence of the supernatural.  Having stated their unbelief, what then constitutes their positive belief system?

Having decided on a journey which questions or lays aside many of one’s old religious practices and having gone beyond the traditional boundaries of institutional religion, one’s spiritual position appears initially to be somewhat vacuous.  So Spirituality for me has included learning to live within that vacuum. But it has not been non-spiritual. The new obligation to take responsibility for my own spiritual beliefs and actions plus the new freedom to explore are (to use my old traditionally Christian language) my “salvation”. And mixed with this sense of liberation is my embracing of love for oneself and others, plus  respect for the whole of nature of which I am a part  This I try to do as fully as possible with all my ability and available energy in conjunction with my search.

 The more recent stage in my spiritual journey has focussed on”what is real?”, and “to what extent I can trust my senses and conscious abilities to answer the questions”.  Post-modern discoveries and postulations indicate that there are many more dimensions which pertain to what I perceive which are yet to be experienced and/or taken into consideration.  While I am discovering those dimensions and finding out how to make use of them, I am learning to live as I have said, as fully as I can using whatever knowledge I can gain and whatever abilities I can command to continue my search.

Eric Stevenson

CPRT  DISCUSSION  ON  “SPIRITUALITY”

1st  March  2016

Spirituality can be defined in many ways.  Although spirituality is often associated with religion, personal spirituality can also be developed through music, art or a connection with nature.  Some people also find spirituality and the experience of inner peace through acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism.  Spirituality can be the way to develop personal values as you find meaning and purpose, hope and comfort, and inner peace in your life.

 

For me, spirituality is defined through “relationships” and can best be understood through four concepts which are interrelated, i.e. they do not stand alone, they are not just connected, but they must be integrated:

  1. Firstly, a belief that there is a ‘power’ or a ‘process’ operating in the universe that is greater than the cosmos, universe or myself
  2. Secondly, a conviction (more than just a sense) within myself of being connected to, or part of, this power or process
  3. Thirdly, through this power or process, a sense of interconnectedness or integration with all living creatures, and with all matter
  4. Fourthly, an energy to live a life in the knowledge of the three dot points above.

 

Ross Barrie

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

CPRT Discussion Programme for 2014.

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

March 2016

1/3/16

Ted (time keeper

Spirituality. Each person has the opportunity, in 5 minutes to present what Spirituality/Mindfulness means to them.

15/3/16

Ross

Part 2

Ross presents “The essential Bohm”  see: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bohm

An American scientist who contributed innovative and unorthodox ideas to quantum theory, neuropsychology and the philosophy of mind. His ideas on an alternative reality and NeuroTheology.

April 2016

5/4/16

Ted

(timekeeper)

“GOD”. Each person has up to 5 minutes to present what their thoughts are about GOD.

19/4/16

Ken

What is Chaos Theory? Does it have implications for our spiritual journey and our world view?

May 2016

3/5/16

Guy

“The Cosmic Game” by Stanislav Grof

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanislav_Grof

17/5/16

Albert Morris

Albert presents his book “Conform or Reform”.

The need for a fourth Reformation.

June 2016

7/06/16

Rita

“The New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle, the author of “The Power of Now.”

https://www.eckharttolle.com/books/newearth/

 

 

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.                                                              

                                                                                               

Recent Newsletters 

 Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

Summer Newsletter 2015-6

Coming CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

November 2015

17/11/15

Guy

“Theology and War”. Guy looks at Chapter 8 in Val Webb’s new book “Testing Tradition & Liberating Theology”, to look at some of the Ethical issues of war.

December

2015

1/12/15

Eric

End of Year celebration at Eric’s Place.

“What Does the Future Hold”

CPRT will provide ALL the food and drinks.

 

15/12/15

 

No Meeting till February 2016.

 

Visitors welcome!

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 for 1:15 pm in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway.

 Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road. 

On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

 

Summer 2015-6 Secretary’s report.

Dear Members and Friends,

As we draw to the end of another year it is opportune to reflect on what CPRT is doing.

Our discussions have concentrated on our understanding of God, some of the moral issues that we face individually and on a worldwide basis, the history of Christianity and mindfulness/spirituality.

 Members regularly express their appreciation that CPRT offers an opportunity to discuss ideas in a sympathetic environment and they can hear other perspectives.

As a group we have recognised that with our ageing leadership and membership, it is more difficult for members to devote their time to CPRT. We have reduced the number of meetings to the first and third Tuesday of each month and have decided to continue with this into 2016.

Rob has kindly offered to prepare a list of suitable topics from which the group can decide which they will discuss. Additional ideas would be most welcome.

We look forward to a rewarding year in 2016.

Kind regards, Ken   (Ken Fletcher)

 

THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES - CPRT NEWSLETTERS 2005 TO 2015

In reviewing the first ten years of our Newsletter it is to be noted that CPRT has calmly and respectfully repeated the above theme, many times over during that period.  It is unfortunate that in Australia’s multi racial community the trend has been away from progressive religion in general to specifically Christian progressive reporting.  So laying aside the native cultural background of the majority of our CPRT members who are disillusioned protestants and catholics, Eric repeats his support for the many religious progressives who as reported in the pages of this our journal have spoken out from the perspective of their own faith cultures.  In keeping with our aims and objectives, CPRT Sydney is firmly committed to providing a safe place for those who wish to explore life’s meaning beyond the boundaries of traditional belief. We therefore willingly give a significant space in this Newsletter to the courageous and scholarly efforts of the progressive colleagues mentioned in Eric’s article together with all of those from other religious  and non-religious backgrounds who wish to journey with us in providing a safe place for their views to be expressed.   Editor

 

THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!                Eric Stevenson

In our November, 2013 Newsletter I raised the ethical dilemma confronting our CPRT organisation. If we remain committed to a world community of differing believers, how can we with integrity find a way to continue to live and work together with some of them when we are sincerely convinced that their emperor as well as ours has no clothes? In trying to cope with the dilemma, I said that we needed to take into consideration (1) Guided by Hans Christian Andersen’s story,  the need for the innocence of a child observer who has no ulterior motive or political agenda, (2) the moral obligation associated with our accepted role in a community of believers and non-believers, and  (3) what the sceptic Michael Shermer called “rationality”*.

 Stephen Batchelor, a leading proponent of progressive Buddhism added two more. (4) Our response must be “practical” and (5) “therapeutic”**. Keeping these five criteria in mind, let us look again at our publication over the last ten years of some of our progressive associates’ views of their particular ethnic emperors.

THE HINDU EMPEROR.

 In the November, 2013 issue we quoted Indian author and philosopher, Dr. Meera Nanda who claimed that the polite acceptance of Eastern religions by the West was an example of “benign patronage and condescension”.  She said that such an attitude denies the adherents of eastern religions, “the capacity and the need for a reasoned modification of inherited cosmologies in the light of better evidence made available by the methods of modern science.” She disputes the nationalistic Indian claim to modernity based on the Vedic “science” of Hindu Holy Books. She says, “It is a phoney face on age old superstitions”.  ( e.g. vastu shastra – buildings constructed in alignment with a cosmic “life-force”.) Shades of Hans Christian Andersen!!!

THE CHRISTIAN EMPEROR.

 Dr. Nanda equally blasts the claims of Western thought (post modern relativism...intelligent design, astrology, homeopathy, and other pseudo-scientific enthusiasms...evangelical preachers – immanent rapture ‘into Eternal Bliss if only one will be born again’.   She is highly critical of sections of three major institutional world religions.  Christian Dominionism, Hindu Nationalism and Islamic Jihadism who “march hand in hand with the same backward facing piper.” For the purpose of this article we exclude the massive contribution of the Global Progressive -Christian Revolution of which we are enthusiastically a part.

THE ISLAMIC EMPEROR.

 Further to Dr. Nanda’s brief jabbing remark above, we reported a more practical response in the January/February 2014 Newsletter by Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Islamic Studies, Oxford.  Professor Ramadan guardedly opened the way for a non-literal, less chauvinistic interpretation of the Qur’an by Moslem women. He did so by making excuses for the old male dominated committee (the Ulama) who adopted a prejudicial teaching method to explain the so called “revelation evolution” of his revered spiritual leader.   He concluded his interview on the ABC Religion and Ethics programme by suggesting that Moslem women could be trained in the art of what  I think Christian theologians call Biblical Criticism and what boils down to their becoming involved in the re-interpretation of the Moslem Bible!! Maybe Moslem women could become equal members with the male Mullahs on a post-modern Ulama? (Mmmm, maybe not!!!) But as I quipped in 2014, how could that happen without progressive Moslems facing the issue that the current status given to the sayings in the Qur’an is that they are not any more inspired than that the Bible is the inspired Word of God!! Our October, 2012 issue featured a supportive statement by Turkish Deputy Mufti, Ms Kadriye Avei Erdemli.  In a Parliament of World Religions article in September 2012 she is reported as saying,”All we are doing is taking Islam back before it was corrupted and misinterpreted , when women and men were treated equally.” (see also issues August 2010 and June 2011regarding the present complex Islamic response to Evolution and the Rohema Conference in Indonesia  respectively.)  Salman Hameed, Director of the Centre for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies, Hamshire College US, reported that Muslim countries are still “negotiating modernity”. He found that most Malaysian doctors in Malaysia still reject the theory of evolution – especially human evolution.  At Rohema, one speaker stated clearly that to-day’s traditional Moslem beliefs were adequate for the seventh century, but that we had no other choice than to re-interpret Islam’s religious teaching so that people could be responsive to present day challenges.(Newsletter July, 2012)       

THE BUDDHIST EMPEROR.

 In our December 2013 issue I reported the claim of Stephen Bachelor who was interviewed by Rachael Kohn on The Spirit of Things.  He rejected re-incarnation and karma as Indian accretions to Tibetan Buddhism.  See his book, “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist”**. Because of his commitment to a “therapeutic” approach to progressive religion (see (5) above), he obviously did not mean his comment to be an attempt to reform Tibetan Buddhism but intended it as a healing one for fellow progressive Buddhist doubters.

THE JEWISH EMPEROR.

Is the Torah  a myth? In our October, 2012 issue we referred to the recent visit to Australia of Israeli historian and social activist, Professor Ilan Pappe, University of Exeter.  Pappe, Israeli author of “The Forgotten Palestinians”, relinquished his position at Haifa University in 2008, and has been condemned by the Israeli government for accusing successive Israeli governmental administrations of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.  Whatever side you are on, you must as a progressive agree with his final word that -The Israeli government is linking “the foundational mythology of archival material” to its justification for its questionable activities. I think Pappe is saying the Jewish Emperor has assumed that the ancient texts were historical and that Jehovah did actually approve of David cutting off Goliath’s head!!!  In our August 2012 issue we published a ray of hope on this vital issue.  At least there are some young Jews who are prepared to think outside the square!  Rabbinical student, Adina Allen from southern California writes of her association with a group of progressive Jewish students whom we would cordially welcome as members of CPRT.  Adina writes, “...none of us is alone on this path of exploration...it is by asking the unanswerable questions, and by articulating that which we don’t know that we can move beyond the paediatric version of religion that no longer fits us, and come to inhabit a less clear, perhaps scarier, but ultimately more true and fulfilling sense of religion as adults.”  Adina’s full report first appeared in the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue 2010-11.  Another of our progressive references was in the Newsletter of July 2012 when we expressed support for Abigail Ababanel, Israeli editor of the publication, “Beyond Tribal Loyalties”.  She has realised that in biblical times the land of Canaan was already inhabited by other races.  This compelled her to conclude that the Children of Israel were morally wrong in claiming it as their territory. Furthermore they were guilty of what we would call crimes against humanity, having obtained illegal possession of the “promised land” using terrorism and ethnic cleansing as a means of conquering the original inhabitants.  She renounced her Israeli citizenship in protest against the current Israeli government for caving in to the above rationale in its abuse of Palestinian rights.

*Chet Raymo, “When God is Gone Everything is Holy’, Sorin Books, 200

** S. Batchelor, “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist”, Spiegal & Grau (Paperback)

WHERE TO FROM HERE?

It is clear from the examples quoted above that in order to be a truly progressive religious collective, CPRT will have difficulty in joining or of being accepted into an ecumenical partnership. By joining a mutual admiration society for the beliefs of members of other faiths we would have to sacrifice the goal of innocent and rational criticism of some of the sacred cows of their various belief systems. .  Nor can we adopt a hotch-potch of the “best” beliefs in a number of different religions.  To do so would involve us abandoning our freedom to explore life’s meaning beyond the boundaries of formal religion. Nor can we refrain from making value judgements about some of the negative consequences of belief (traditional or otherwise).  To do so would be to forfeit some of our moral obligations.  Working harmoniously with traditional religion also presents a problem in that our comments are often seen as heretical, offensive, and (more particularly) hurtful to pious and sincere devotees of institutionalised religion. Our goal is definitely not to destroy the basis of a healthy faith for even the most rabid of fundamentalists.  Never the less we must retain our ability primarily to critique the faith or non-faith of all of our members.  As soon as any of our members have reached a conclusion that the belief system they have discovered can be set in concrete, they have automatically disqualified themselves from the kind of progressive movement I have been talking about. We are committed to a fellowship of heretics – a kind of group of religious scientists with a sunset clause for those who have no further need to research and hypothesise regarding the ever receding horizon of progressive religious thinking. For those of us who are left, and the number is growing in other religious cultures across the world, the future may be difficult, for some lonely, for others even dangerous.  This being so perhaps there is still a need for a safe place like CPRT for new waves of spiritual explorers, regardless of who their emperor has been?

Eric Stevenson

 

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2016.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

                                                    

SEA of FAITH in AUSTRALIA  (SoFiA).  (An independent affiliate of CPRT)
The SoFiA Network promotes the open exploration of religion, spirituality and meaning.

'Sea of Faith' is not a church, but a network of people who are seeking a radical reappraisal of past religious traditions in order to meet today's spiritual challenges.  The Network affirms the continuing importance of religious thought and practice even though it acknowledges that religion, like art and poetry, is a purely human creation.

 SoFiA Network Website - www.sof-in-australia.org  

Don Cupitt - www.doncupitt.com

Lloyd Geering - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_Geering

SoFiA Victoria email - sofmelb@yahoo.com.au 

  LECTURES - Thursdays, 7.30pm.  Gold coin donation appreciated.

Lectures are followed by questions, discussion and refreshments. All viewpoints are welcome.

VENUE: Carlton Library Meeting Room, 667 Rathdowne Street (corner Newry Street), North Carlton.  Melways Map: 2B J2.

15 October 2015 Dr. Nicholas Coleman  (School of Spiritual Studies) "Platonic Zen: An experimental way to find God."

19 November 2015 Annette Lowe  (Carl Jung Society) "The Origins of Religion."

17 December 2015 Dr. Joanna Kujawa  (Author, "Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus") "Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic Gospels."

18 February 2016 Carl Turney "Love: Saint Valentine and his Day."

17 March 2016 Ron Suter  (New Life Books & Archaeology) "China's First God."

21 April 2016 Jonathan Rutherford  (Co-Author, "Beloved Father, Beloved Son")

"Early Christianity: From Heavenly Saviour Cult to Roman State Religion."

19 May 2016 Andrew Rooke  (Theosophical Society, Pasadena)

"Hermetic Philosophy: A Journey into the Macro and Micro Cosmos."

16 June 2016 Alex McCullie  (Tutor, Centre for Adult Education) "Seeking Truth."

21 July 2016 Paul Murchison  (Author, "Who is this God?") "Christ, Calvin and Eternal Torture."

18 August 2016 Willy Vloedmans  (Spiritualist) "Meta-Physics and Spiritual Consciousness."

15 September 2016 John Gunson  (Author, "God, Ethics and the Secular Society")

"Learning to Live Without God."

 

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

 

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors. With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.        

 

Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

Spring Newsletter 2015

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Month

Dates

Leader

Topic

September

1/9/15

Eric

An opportunity to discuss ethical challenges raised in our session on Lloyd Geering’s chapter on “Ethics”.

15/9/15

Rob Bagnall

Chapter 14 of Lloyd Geering’s book “Re-Imagining God” titled “Spirituality for an Ecological Age”

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway. Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.

Visitors welcome!

 

Spring 2015 Secretary’s report.       

Dear Members and Friends,

We trust you have enjoyed the beautiful winter days we have had this year.

CPRT continues to provide a forum for discussion where we can express our ideas and challenge many of the beliefs traditional religion still holds to.

We have looked at some of the new interpretations of Jesus and his life that scholars are proposing concluding that it is his message that is the important thing to look at. Ted Nettle took us through Stephen Prothero’s ideas in his book “God is not One”. Guy shared his recollections of his recent Greg Jenks tour of Israel and Jordan. Eric led us as we looked at Lloyd Geering’s Chapter on Ethics.

 

For September Eric continues leading a discussion on the conflict in Ethics and Rob looks at the last chapter of Lloyd’s book Reimagining God” on Spirituality.

We still have some copies Lloyd Geering’s book Reimagining God”- The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic for sale at $20.00. Let us know if you need a copy.

Ring Eric on Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116 for a copy.

 

At the start of each discussion meeting we plan to decide the topics for the future program.

Please bring your ideas to the meetings. We have been emailing information about our next discussion to members who are attending the discussions.

 

Kind regards,

Ken   (Ken Fletcher)

 

Greta Vosper, Minister & Atheist

Greta wrote to us earlier this year after her second session in church with Kile Jones, the founder of Interview an Atheist at Church Day. She is the minister of West Hill Uniting Church in Canada. As a consequence of the first session in 2013, Greta had come out as an atheist. The news of her declaration went viral in both the media and the institutional church

.

About the first interview with Kyle she writes, “In 2013, as we prepared for our first INTERVIEW AN ATHEIST AT CHURCH DAY, the denial of human rights and the perpetration of violent acts against those who identified as not having religious beliefs were on the rise. Four Bangladeshi bloggers had been arrested and were being threatened with execution. Internationally renowned Turkish pianist, Fazil Say, had been sentenced to ten months imprisonment for declaring his atheism. In solidarity with these persecuted atheists, and in the tradition of the Christian witness to stand with those whose rights are denied or abused, on that day, I publicly named myself an atheist. Sadly, events around the world continue to underscore how dangerous it is in many countries to identify as someone who does not believe; they continue to affirm my decision, the recent violent and public murder of atheist blogger, Amanta Das, but one horrific example.

“Although I had been open about not believing in a theistic, interventionist God since 2001, the word, with all its complications, has added to the challenges we have faced as a community. It has had a significant impact on the way I and West Hill have been portrayed in the media, with assumptions often being made about the church that are incorrect. It has affected how I am received by my colleagues and in the wider church world. More importantly, however, I expect it has affected the way participation in the church is perceived by those who are not familiar with West Hill but are exposed to media comments about us. While some West Hill people may be delighted and share the news with anyone who will listen, others may have had difficulty with family or friends who are astonished to hear that they go to a church where an atheist is the minister. This may negatively affect how people feel about being part of West Hill or about having me as their minister.

“One of the characteristics of my congregation, West Hill, that many value is its openness to exploration, to examination, and to reflecting seriously on what it says, does, and projects. That openness has led it to many changes over its history because it has considered nothing to be off limits. If understandings change, we feel it is important to change what we say we believe, the choices we make, or the way we express ourselves. We’ve done that work together for almost two decades. During that time, we have been challenged to integrity on a number of different issues with respect to exactly those things: our beliefs, our choices, and the way we express ourselves. For some in the church, it has felt like an exhilarating journey. For others, it may have been more like a series of unexpected surprises; sometimes good, sometimes bad, but never quite what was expected.

My friend and colleague, Jerry DeWitt’s very public journey has taken him from evangelical ministry to atheism. In the midst of more losses as a result of that journey than I will ever experience, he crafted this incredibly astute clarification for those of us who struggle to express what it is we believe and why we believe it. I share it in the hope that you and I, whatever the differences in our beliefs, might have an ongoing conversation sparked by his wisdom.

Skepticism is my nature.
Free thought is my methodology
Agnosticism is my conclusion.
Atheism is my opinion.
Humanitarianism is my motivation.

Jerry DeWitt

As I often write inside one of my books as I’m signing it, “Let’s keep the conversation vibrant!” 

Thanks for helping me do just that.

GRETTE VOSPER

* Please note that in the first interview in 2013, I refer to myself as a positive atheist. NOT TRUE! I’m actually a weak, negative atheist and simply used the wrong word.  Being a weak, negative atheist means that I see no evidence for a god. Positive, strong atheists argue that there is no god and I can’t actually argue that. How could I possibly know?

Do You Know of a Vacancy for a Progressive Minister?

Our friend John has written a private letter to members of the Progressive Network.  In solidarity with his present situation and with his knowledge we have included a copy of that letter in this CPRT Bulletin.(see below) It is vaguely reminiscent of the report by Greta Vosper, which is also included in this edition. Ed.

 

 Dear Progressive Friends,

A few of you will know me from the progressive network. I am a Uniting Church in Australia minister without a placement at the moment. My last placement was concluded due to both the increasing conservatism of the church and also contrary to the church's own regulations (the National Assembly of the church found in my favour but is powerless to put right the wrong). Suffice to say my reputation has unfairly taken a hit. This is where I turn to progressive friends and ask for help.

Can anyone point me in the right direction? I am open to a placement both in my homeland, Australia, but also overseas.

Thanking you,

John Queripel

 

New Spong Video

Our friend Jim Norman in the Spong-in Oz chat group has drawn our attention to the latest Spong resource material. 

 

He writes,”Another great Spong video on the Progressive Christianity site; he is the REAL evangelist.”

http://progressivechristianity.org/resources/bishop-john-shelby-spong-why-atonement-theology-will-kill-christianity/                                                                                                                                     

 

 
Jim 

 

Greta Asks, “What Is God Trying to Say?”

Trick Question! -There is a way to find out

If we were to collect all the things that God was purported to have said in a single day, we'd have to believe that the deity had lost it. The interpretations of signs and scripture, the claims made to support this or that, the people he loves or hates, the places he spares from natural disasters and those he doesn't ... well, they are so contradictory it would be impossible to consider the deity anything but crazy. 

We have all kinds of tools to discern what religious texts, claims, creeds, and promises may have really meant. The knowledge of ancient languages might be important to some in pursuit of that meaning. Literary devices in the texts point to different understandings. There are historical elements that might benefit from the examination of different sources. But the end result is still an interpretation, lo, these many, many generations later. 

The question then becomes, if we use our tools of discernment to the best of our abilities and still argue over what was meant by those "original texts" (in quotes because so often there are no original texts), how can we possibly hear what any god is trying to say now. Indeed, in the relative silence of a god, any god, is there not the presumption of absence, or willful neglect, or, at the very least, a sad indifference?

There is really only one way to figure out what God is trying to say. Except, of course, it really only challenges us to ask ourselves why, on earth, we'd try to do that.                         
Greta Vosper

New Kiwi Progressive Spirituality Website

Our friends across the Tasman in the Community of St Luke, Remuera have welcomed us all to their Progressive Spirituality in New Zealand website Ed.

Excerpts:

The Future of Religion, Jesus, & Christianity – Lecture & Symposium by Dr David Galston

Friday 28 & Saturday 29 August 2015, Toorak, Victoria – info and link here Related Posts Writers for Justice and Peace: A Gathering for interested Writers Napier Cathedral 23 May 2015 This is an invitation for published writers of liturgy, poetry, theology, …

Was Jesus hungry, not hospitable?

  Excerpt: “Hospitality” is one of the key values of contemporary progressive Christianity, especially as mainline, mainly-white churches seek to welcome and include people of colour, members of the LGBT community, as well as people of different socio-economic background. 

Add us to your address book Our mailing address is:

Progressive Spirituality NZ

130 Remuera Road

Remuera

Auckland, Auckland 1050

New Zealand

 

We have decided to have no membership fees for 2015.

Donations are gratefully received to help us to defray costs, bring special speakers to Sydney, finance Regional Gatherings and contribute to the organisation of national Common Dreams events.

For direct EFT or B-Pay banking: -

Account Name: - THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT

BSB: - 082 155     A/c No: - 83 243 0417

Cheques payable to: THE CENTRE FOR PROGRESSIVE RELIGIOUS THOUGHT For membership enquiries please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or Ken Fletcher on (02) 9876 4147 or email:  cprteric@yahoo.com.au

 Send Membership fees to: Ken Fletcher, c/- 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, NSW, 2112

 

All Mail:      22 Badajoz Rd, RYDE   NSW  2112

Web Site http://www.cprtfreedomtoexplore.org

Email:         cprteric@yahoo.com.au

Coordinator:   Eric Stevenson   Tel: 02-98885361.    Mobile: 0405-758116

Sec/Treasurer: Ken Fletcher. Tel: 02-9876 4147. Executive Sec. Guy Mallam   

 

SOME RECENT PUBLICATIONS BY AUSTRALIAN

AND NEW ZEALAND AUTHORS

 

Thanks to our friend, Rex Hunt we publish the first in an alphabetical list of progressive resource books for your reading. Ed

 

Barraclough, Ray     Why? The Challenge of Giving Explanations for Tragic Experiences in                                Life (Burleigh: Zeus Publications, 2010)

Birch, L. Charles       Science and Soul (Sydney: University of NSW Press, 2008)

Bodycomb, John       Aware             and Attentive: 'Worship' in evolving Christianity                                                     (Richmond: Spectrum Publications, 2012)

                                    No Fixed Address: Faith as Journey (Richmond: Spectrum, 2010)

Bouma, Gary D.        Being Faithful in Diversity (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2011)

                                    Australian Soul: Religion & Spirituality in the 21st Century (NY:                           Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Geering, Lloyd G.    Reimaging God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic (Salem:                                          Polebridge Press, 2014)

                                    From the Big Bang to God (Wellington: Steele Roberts/Oregon:                                    Polebridge, 2013)

                                    Such is Life! A Close Encounter with Ecclesiastes (Steele                                                    Roberts/Polebridge, 2010)

                                    Coming Back to Earth. From gods, to God, to Gaia (Oregon:                                               Polebridge, 2009)

                                    Wrestling with God. The Story of my Life (Wellington: Bridget                                         Williams Books, 2006)

                                    Christianity Without God (Santa Rosa: Polebridge, 2002)

Habel, Norman         Discerning Wisdom in God’s Creation. Following the Way of                                               Ancient Scientists (Northcote: Morning Star Publishing, 2015)

                                    Rainbow of Mysteries: Meeting the Sacred in Nature (Kelowna:                                         CopperHouse, 2012).

                                    The Birth, Curse and the Greening of Earth: An Ecological Reading of                                Genesis 1-11 (Sheffield: Phoenix, 2011)

                                    An Inconvenient Text: Is a ‘Green Reading’ of the Bible Possible?                                        (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2011)

                                    (ed.) The Season of Creation. A Preaching Commentary. (MN:                                           Fortress Press, 2011)

                                    (with Peter Trudinger) Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics                                               (MN: Fortress, 2008)

Halsey, Robert          Voices from the Void (Singapore: Trafford Publishing, 2012)

Harris, Jill                  The Ephesus Liturgies. Volume 1. (Eastbourne: Makaro Press,

 

                                    2015

 

Please Note: - The views expressed in our Newsletters are not necessarily the views of CPRT, its members and contributors.

With the aim of providing the opportunity of learning what other people are saying we include articles covering a wide range of topics so everyone can make their own mind up about them.       

SEA of FAITH in AUSTRALIA  (SoFiA).
The SoFiA Network promotes the open exploration of religion, spirituality and meaning.

'Sea of Faith' is not a church, but a network of people who are seeking a radical reappraisal of past religious traditions in order to meet today's spiritual challenges.  The Network affirms the continuing importance of religious thought and practice even though it acknowledges that religion, like art and poetry, is a purely human creation.

 SoFiA Network Website - www.sof-in-australia.org  

Don Cupitt - www.doncupitt.com

Lloyd Geering - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lloyd_Geering

SoFiA Victoria email - sofmelb@yahoo.com.au 

 SoFiA Network Website - Members and non-members:  You are encouraged to comment on the Articles and Blogs, as well as to participate in the on-going discussions in the Blog Archives.

 LECTURES - Thursdays, 7.30pm.  Gold coin donation appreciated.

Lectures are followed by questions, discussion and refreshments. 

All viewpoints are welcome.

VENUE: Carlton Library Meeting Room, 667 Rathdowne Street (corner Newry Street), North Carlton.  Melways Map: 2B J2.

17 September 2015                     Dr. William Firth-Smith

"Asian Christianity with particular relevance to South Asia."

15 October 2015           `              Dr. Nicholas Coleman  (School of Spiritual Studies)

"Platonic Zen: An experimental way to find God."

19 November 2015                      Annette Lowe  (Carl Jung Society)

"The Origins of Religion."

17 December 2015                      Dr. Joanna Kujawa  (Author, "Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus")  "Mary Magdalene and the Gnostic Gospels."

18 February 2016                        Carl Turney                   "Love: Saint Valentine and his Day."

17 March 2016              Ron Suter (New Life Books & Archaeology)  "China's First God."

21 April 2016 Jonathan Rutherford  (Co-Author, "Beloved Father, Beloved Son")

"A Critical Look at the Ethics of Jesus."

19 May 2016   Andrew Rooke  (Theosophical Society, Pasadena)

"Hermetic Philosophy: A Journey into the Macro and Micro Cosmos."

 

Please retain this Lecture List for future reference.

Please, please, forward the Lecture List to those who may be interested. 

 Centre for Progressive Religious Thought (CPRT Sydney)

Freedom to Explore

Winter Newsletter 2015

CPRT DISCUSSION TOPICS

Discussion for 2nd and 16th June 2015  “Re-Imagining Jesus.

We have just been following Lloyd Geerings book on Re-Imagining God and now will discuss the tropic of Re-Imagining Jesus.

 

MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME: Modern scholarship indicates that there is nothing we can know for sure about the historical Jesus, except that he lived and died. This discussion will give each member of the group an opportunity to state how and why they understand him to be like they think he really was!

On June 2nd we will start by looking at some DVD’s by Bart Erhman on the “Historical Jesus”, after which members express how and why their concepts of Jesus formed.  We will note how modern scholars are imagining Jesus e.g. Dom Crossin, Marcus Borg, Greg Jenks, Barbara Thiering and others.

We will ask a few members to prepare a short summary of an author or scholar who has impressed them for the next meeting.

On June 16th   We can discuss these different opinions and see what picture of Jesus each of us is comfortable with.

           Details of meetings                       Visitors welcome!

 

We meet and share a meal on the first and third Tuesday at 12.30 in the Basement, 22 Badajoz Road, Ryde, entrance via right hand side pathway.

Directions: - Take the 506 bus from Circular Quay to Macquarie Centre and East Ryde and alight at the first stop in Badajoz Road.  On Tuesdays only it is possible to take the same bus route in the opposite direction from Macquarie Place Railway Station to the second last stop in Badajoz Road.

Please contact Eric Stevenson on (02) 9888 5361 or 0405 758 116 for more details.



Lloyd Geering’s latest book Re-imagining God” for sale at $ 20.00

New stocks have arrived of  Lloyd Geering’s latest book Re-imagining God”- The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic.

We have sourced 5 more of these books from New Zealand costing us about $31 each but will sell them to members at $20.00 each to help with the cost.

Let Eric know if you need a copy.

 

'The Practice of Mindfulness in the Observance of Progressive Religion'

By The Rev. Dr Ian Ellis-Jones

Based on an Address Delivered at the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought [CPRT] Sydney,
in Ryde, New South Wales, on 3 February 2015

 

Q. What exactly is mindfulness?

 

A. Mindfulness is the watchful, receptive, deliberate, and purposeful presence of bare and unadorned attention to, and choiceless awareness of, the content of the action (both internal and external) of the present moment ... from one moment to the next.

 

Q. What do you mean by ‘bare and unadorned attention’?

 

A. It means just enough attention to observe, to see, but no more than that---that is, to attend just to the bare facts of a perception as presented either through the five physical senses or through the mind, but without labelling, judging, analysing, interpreting, approving, condemning and so forth, all of which is reactionary conditioning from the past which only serves to keep us bound to the past and not present to what is.

 

Q. What is ‘choiceless awareness’?

 

A. Awareness is ‘choiceless’ when there is no preference, and no prejudice---that is, no judgment or selectiveness---as respects the content of one’s awareness. Ordinarily, we tend to be aware of some things but not others. The result? Judgment, attachment, and aversion. And we end up never seeing things-as-they-really-are in all their fullness, objectivity, and independence.

 

Q. Is mindfulness a religion?

 

A. Absolutely not. Religion ordinarily involves a system of beliefs or statement of doctrine concerning so-called ‘ultimate reality’, an associated moral or ethical code of conduct, participation in prescribed forms of ritual, observances and other acts of devotion, and both ‘faith’ and ’worship’. Mindfulness does not involve or require any faith at all---certainly no faith in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle---nor does mindfulness involve any worship or impose any system of beliefs or statement of doctrine, nor any code of conduct, nor any prescribed forms of ritual or religious observances.

 

Q. Is mindfulness Buddhist?

 

A. Mindfulness meditation can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation known as vipassanā meditation, which is used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism (a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are a number of different schools). Vipassanā meditation is also known as insight[ful], sensory or thought watching meditation. However, mindfulness meditation is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation, and is only one of several different forms of Buddhist meditation. Also, Buddhists do not claim to ‘own’ or have a monopoly on mindfulness meditation. In short, any person can practise mindfulness, as well as mindfulness meditation, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.

 

Q. What place does mindfulness have in the observance of progressive religion?

 

A. Many religious progressives have found great value in the regular practice of mindfulness. These people have come to see mindfulness as a meditative practice that is ‘spiritual’ (i.e. non-physical and transrational) in nature. Religious progressives generally reject traditional theism and so-called supernaturalism. Their spirituality is generally naturalistic in orientation. Also, religious progressives tend to see religion and spirituality as operating primarily if not exclusively in the psychological sphere or domain. Mindfulness is grounded in the here-and-now. It is a psychological tool---a means of mental cultivation, if you like---and has been proven to be good for the body, mind and spirit.  Mindfulness is not a religion or even a philosophy but rather a way of being, a way of life, a journey in self-discovery, and an education. Mindfulness, being devoid of all notions of religiosity, is entirely experiential and, unlike most if not all religions, it is empirically based.

 

 

Report on The Discussion led by Ted Nettle covering Lloyd Geering’s book, “Re-Imagining God” in which he covers recent Theologians and  John Robinson:  “Honest to God”.

Ted has listed the Theologians of the last three centuries.

 

THEOLOGIANS

 

1750

 

 

 

1800

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1900

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2000

 

40

50

60

70

80

90

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

0

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

0

10

Hume   1711 - 1776

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scheiermacher  1768 - 1834

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hegel   1770 - 1831

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feuerbach  1804 - 1872

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strauss   1808 - 1874

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darwin   1809 - 1882

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marx   1818 - 1883

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rudolph Otto   (1869 - 1937)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Buber   (1879 - 1965)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jung   1875 - 1961