Keynote speech by Bill Cooke
I hope I have not left so much out that the message is lost.
Bill Cooke from the University of Auckland presented his paper'The Fatal Flaw in Religious Liberalism and how to avoid it', didn't really mince his words and ended his talk with the words "Many of you must be wondering if he sees so many flaws , fatal or otherwise in the Sea of Faith view of the world, why did he join in the first place?" He said the obvious reason is that the Sea of Faith does not exclude him.
He found the Conference theme "after religion what?' with the subtitle of the link between religion and sacred, problematical because there will never be a time after religion, and because it is theoretically possible to conceive of a time after religion where many things may be held a sacred.
He considered the word religion best reserved for the monotheist systems of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, while Hindus and Buddhists are just as likely to describe their tradition as a way of life or as a philosophy. A religion is a practice which involves a relationship with a supernatural presence, usually understood as a personal God.
Bill Cooke discussed the possibility that "supernatural notions have been so successful because they provide us with an adaptive advantage and that we are rewarded for thinking anthropomorphically. Religion will continue to persist because it is driven by evolutionary successful models, most particularly our hard wired tendency to anthromophise our world".
He thought it reasonable to "interpret the condition Lloyd Geering identified as 'Spiritual Schizophrenia' by which he meant the attempt to inhabit the geocentric pre Copernican world of the Bible and the heliocentric, post-Copernican world as unveiled by science at the same time. Science has rendered untenable the human-centred universe the Bible was framed in. Anthropomorphism allied with supernaturalism produces a heady, and disastrous mix of delusional anthropomorphism".
Discussing Atheisism he asked if there will never be a time after religion,.....but surely there is nothing more futile than to be an atheist?, atheism states most clearly what happens instead of religion, and atheism seems well equipped to overcome the problems of spiritual schizophrenia. On anthropocentric conceit, Bertrand Russell emphasised the unimaginable littleness of humanity in the scheme of things,.........the transience of human life and achievement. "Nothing we do will last,nor is it meant to...only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the souls habitiaion henceforth be safely built".
Atheism on its own is not enough,... but the fatal flaw of religious liberalism consists in the undetermined cut-off point for open ended study when a religious liberal has to draw a line in the sand and say "I can go no further" ...Where is the cut off point where rational enquiry ends and either submission to dogma of lapsing into mysticism begins?......The question must be asked at which point does the religious liberal say "I have abandoned all those items of dogma, but in order to retains some semblance of meaning to the word 'Christian' I will retain a belief in this, that of the other,....This gives an arbitrary feel to religious liberalism. So how to deal with passages like Deuteronomy12:32? What ever now I am commanding you, you must keep and observe, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away. If we take this passage literally, we should put witches, disobedient sons, homosexuals, and those who worship other gods to death. It would mean we could keep virgin girls as slaves for our own use, and butcher those whose beliefs differ from ours, and then can one say Jesus is beyond those barbarities as he insisted he has come to uphold every jot and tittle of the Law.
He discussed how various thinkers viewed God but quoted Richard Holloway who made it clear that 'the use of God in moral debate is so problematical as to be almost worthless'
But people need a fabric of meaning in their lives... People need a structure, a purpose and a code of some sort but he is completely unconvinced that we need a hollowed-out shell of religion as a vehicle for meaning.
Is there in fact not something more honest and respectful in simply rejecting the whole Christian message and starting afresh?
So where from there? Bertrand Russell spoke of a need for zest for life. Kurtz wrote"if we are to be happy,is two fold: first in discovering how to make work interesting,: second in learning how to develop some interest in work.. It is not enough to be good without being active in the world, neither is it enough to be active without being wise or wise without being avctive. We need to be good, wise and active.
George Santanyana spoke of Christianity as partly poetry and partly delusion. While Catholicism kept both in full measure, Protestantism had killed poetry while keeping the delusion.. Our biggest delusion is that we matter in the Universe and the Universe owes us a living. This he calls anthropocentric conceit. We should not be set against the poetry... The wings of music, poetry and literature are the means by which we retain a love of life in the full knowledge of our complete cosmic irrelevance.
The anchor of science keeps us connected closely to the ground from which we came and to which we will return. No other anchor is sufficient for the purpose, but this does not mean believing in science as one used to believe in God. It means recognising science as a vehicle which has given us the surest knowledge of how the world actually works rather than how we would like it to work.
He finished with this plea..."that we look to overcoming the fatal flaw in liberal religion by abandoning the discredited nostrums of the past: God and faith, and learn to express ourselves in ways better suited to Copernican and Darwinian reality. And while this involves a comprehensive rejection of the anthropocentricism latent in monotheism, it in no way involves turning away from the richness of Asian traditions, which I have argued best not lumped in the one-size -fits all category of 'religion'"