Sea of Faith Hawke's Bay Group

We welcomes all who are willing to explore religion and spirituality without fear. Radical views and contemporary concerns are debated, traditional doctrines and practices are questioned in order to renew or reject them. Is available to people of all beliefs or of no belief who are searching for and wanting to practice a new kind of open-minded, open hearted faith. *Spirituality can be defined as a sensitivity to the things of the human spirit such as caring , justice, beauty and truth.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Attack on Religion

There have been small and big revolutions in(western) human thought right throughout history.In the sixteenth century Copernicus startled the world by removing the earth from the centre of the Universe, then Darwin showed that we humans were just another animal but of course this has not yet been accepted by everyone.Not two hundred years ago we began to realise that slavery was not right,then a hundred years ago women's rights started to become the norm and just fifty years ago we started understanding the unfairness of racial discrimination and that there was no basis for it.

Then also in the last few decades the Environment has become important.Its not acceptable to kill elephants, rhino and other endangered species like it was just seventy five years ago, nor can ivory and rhino horns be imported. In New Zealand cutting down native timber in Westland is a no no but hypocritically we still import native timbers from the islands,like Kwila for outdoor furniture and that's OK, but hopefully that will change.

Homosexuals have been able to come out into the open and around the world in many countries are having their rights legally supported.Gay Marriages have been legalised. Divorce was severely frowned upon and only whispered about in polite circles, and single parents were almost unknown. All these things are now accepted to various degrees.

Now at the beginning of the twenty first century, which may be the century of religion, one way or another, religion is under attack. Of course there were hardy souls that have attacked religion before but mostly in a philosophical way which most ordinary folk didn't understand anyway. Bertrand Russell was one. Much earlier Giordano Bruno attacked the Church and was burnt at the stake for his efforts. But now suddenly religion is fair game, it can't claim immunity from attack,or from being put under the microscope and dissected and pulled apart. Atheists have been able to come out of the closet and are no longer embarrassed by their ideas and are legally protected, no longer to be burnt at the stake by the Church, in the west at least, though not necessarily in Muslim countries. Lloyd Geering in his talk said that he was attacked for just saying what many before him had already said. Now many in turn have lost their fear of attack from the church and are talking and publishing freely,probably in protest over the fundamentalism in the US ( the fundies)Daniel Dennett discussed here has recently published a book 'Breaking the Spell,Religion as Natural Phenomenon' . It is a philosophical treatment of religion which is difficult to get into and read right through without getting bored I never managed it all and did some skipping. Now Richard Dawkins has come out swinging in his book 'The God Delusion',( another review here) one may say he lost his cool, and is under attack from the fundamentalists in the US where it seems he has just been on tour to Kansas of all places. read here and hereTwo recent books by Sam Harris "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation".continue the attack. And then on stage
Letting Go of God more gently,or as a physicist Sean Carrollhas just written.
These are perhaps the beginnings of a massive onslaught by the ungodly.Since the advent of the internet and blogging, scientists and ordinary people have been able to express their views in a way never before available to them, and in a way that anyone can read There is a very good blog by a Professor of Biology PZ Myers which will lead you to many other blogs which tie in with all that is going on, and understood in the light of what Bill Cooke said at the SOF conference in Marton. It all makes interesting and absorbing reading. There is no longer a narrow view or any view about anything that will not come under scrutiny.

I do not know if religion will eventually go the same way as the earth centred universe but maybe we are at the beginning of something enormous. We really are living in interesting times.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Lloyd Geering Workshop 2006 SOF Conference

From Supernatural Religion to Natural Religion

What does it mean to be religious? Is there a personal God;life after death, etc? In Buddhism there is no interest in an afterlife-aim to get out of the eternal problem of rebirth and attain Nirvana. Religion can be defined as one's commitment to a conscientious devotion to what matters most: to answer the question -what is the meaning of Life?

Two thousand years ago and before, religion and culture were the same. Each culture has a shared understanding of the world and its meaning,eg. a symbolic story and myth that told them how they came to be. For Maori-Papa(earth Mother) Rangi (sky father)They interpreted the forces of Nature as Gods. Before a totara tree could be cut down Tane's permission was required. Maoris show respect for their ancestors- and didn't separate religion and 'science'. It has been a huge challenge for them to come to terms with so much change (eg. the 'abandonment' of their Gods to Jesus Christianity) in the last 200 years compared with 2000 years of gradual change for European countries.

Three Great Ages of Gods

1) Primitive Ages- up to 500 BC.
2)Theological Age influenced by Budda, Confusius(500 BC) then Christ leading in to the
3)Humanistic Secular Age into which we have moved,gradually from once believing there were spiritual forces that surrounded one eg. elves, fairies, hobgoblins, angels. In the late 19th Century the idea of the devil was abandoned by many as well as the thought that God lived in the sky, this was influenced by the events of modern physics and the complex infinity of the world. We now explain Nature by concepts such as DNA, chromosomes, neurons etc. We create our own reality and meaning using language. Our old primitive, superstitious ideas of God should have gone. Life is one of change and the human race is at war with itself, eg terrorism, earth problems, population explosion, exhaustion of renewable resources like water and air pollution, destruction of the forests, and increase of deserts which cause interference with the ecological balance, depletion of the ozone layer etc. Being religious in the twenty first century is to be conscious of those issues and have a respect for the Earth and Life. In some ways we are inferior to Native people with our attitudes to Nature.

We need to discard

1)Idolising the Bible and the fundamentalist approach.
2)Idolising Jesus as Saviour of the world - see him as human
3)Priestly Hierachy- the future lies in the fellowship of people.
4)divine revelation as a source of knowledge
5)Idea of God as an objective personal being.
6)Prayer as just conversation with God
7)Exclusive claim of Christianity
8)Life after death

Funerals should be a joyful celebration of a person's life. Tolstoy believed that God is what we value-what makes us feel awe, wonder and gratitude etc.
We should marvel at his self evolving Universe,give thanks for the inheritance of culture, love and be loved and accept responsibility for the future of the planet and living things.
We need reshape our beliefs in the light of experience and make an appropriate individual response.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Richard Dawkins Stirs up More Debate

Here is an interview with Richard Dawkins after his book was published. Its a good follow up from Bill Cooke's address

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Wrestling with God

Beattie & Forbes Booksellers in association with The Sea of Faith Network, Hawkes Bay invite you to an evening withLloyd Geering to celebrate the publication of his autobiography Wrestling with God The Story of My Life

Asher Hall, Tennyson Street, Napier

Wednesday 25th October 2006, 7 p.m

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Keynote speech by Bill Cooke

Don Cupitt was the first Keynote speaker. I am sure most are familiar with his thought, but probably not with the other two speakers, Bill Cooke and David Tacey. These two are possibly from opposite ends of the spectrum with regard SOF's members thinking. The Conference ended with a question time conducted by Noel Cheer which was quite lively to say the least. David Tacey who is associate Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne had to leave before the question time ended, received a standing ovation as he left the Hall.

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'"


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

SOF 2006 Conference at Marton

Click the pictures to View

This is Marshall House where most of us stayed.It was very comfortable indeed.My room was right opposite Don Cupitt but I never saw him there at all,unfortunately.

This is the Main Building of Wellington Diocesan School for Girls (Nga Tawa), where we registered and some of the lectures were held. It was built in about 1926. The main lectures were held in the Hall.

The Chapel beautifully built of face brick, with the foundation stone being laid in 1929

Inside taken from the gallery

Bill Cooke, Senior Lecturer,School of Visual Arts, Auckland, delivering his Keynote lecture entitled 'The Fatal Flaw in Religious Liberalism and How to Avoid it'............The fatal flaw 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 inquiry ends and either submission to dogma or lapsing into mysticism begins?.........At which point does the Christian liberal say,"I have abandoned all those items of dogma,but in order to retain some semblance of meaning to the word 'Christian',I will retain a belief in this,that,or the other."

The Three Main Keynote Speakers, Don Cupitt, Bill Cooke, and David Tracey,Associate Professor at School of Communication,Arts and Critical Enquiry at La Trobe University, Melbourne. His Lecture was entitled "After Disbelief: Remythologising and Spiritual Renewal"

Noel Cheer being congratulated by Don Cupitt on receiving Life Membership. Also present Lloyd Geering and Bill Cook sitting. The first three now being Life Members.