Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Lloyd Geering: on spirits

[T]he ancients, knowing nothing about vaporisation, drew an absolute line between solids and liquids on the one hand and what we call gases on the other. The name they gave to what we call gas was spiritus (Latin), pneuma (Greek) or ruach and neshama (Hebrew). In each case the word could mean air, breath or wind. The ancients thought of the wind as the breath of God.

So when the Hebrews offered their account of the world’s origin, they said the powerful wind (ruach) of God fluttered over the waters. And when they told of the origin of humankind, they said that God made humans out of the dust of the earth, breathed his gentle breath (neshama) into them and they became living persons. Further, it was as obvious to ancients as it is to us that the best way of distinguishing between a living person and a corpse is to look for breath— for a living person breathes. Breath was believed to be the very essence of what constitutes a living human being, and thus the very principle of life. But for the ancients breath, air and wind were all the same. When a man dies, said Ecclesiastes, “the dust returns to the earth and the breath returns to God”. When Jesus died on the cross, according to Luke, he said, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit (pneuma)” and, “having said this he breathed his last”. Of course we are used to hearing the word ‘spirit’ in one place and ‘breath’ in the other, but in the Greek original the same word, pneuma, is used. Similarly in the King James Version (still nearer to the medieval world-view than we are) Matthew reports that “Jesus cried with a loud voice and gave up the ghost (pneuma)”.

During the transition to the modern world people continued to speak about spirit without realising that they were no longer talking about something originally conceived to be as tangible as the air we breathe. Christians continued to speak of God as spirit and referred to what they called the power of the Holy Spirit. Preachers continued to expound the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in John’s Gospel (where being born again of the spirit is described in terms of the blowing of the wind), but failed to draw attention to the fact that in this story the same word is sometimes translated ‘wind’ and sometimes ‘spirit’.

Only slowly has it dawned upon us that in talking about spirit we are talking about something far less substantial than wind or the air that we breathe. Indeed, spirit has no substance at all. It has become a purely abstract term that has no external referent. It continues in usage as a frozen metaphor from a now obsolete worldview, and its only possible meaning is a metaphorical or symbolic one. Conservative Christians continue to speak about the Holy Spirit, the power of the spirit and so on, as if it were an oozy something that operates like the wind. Without being wholly aware of the fact, they live in the medieval world for religious purposes and return to the modern world for the mundane business of daily living.

Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic


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Lloyd Geering: on the trinity

There is an apocryphal yet instructive story of a famous theologian who had just delivered a lecture on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. A student jumped to his feet to thank the professor, excitedly exclaiming that at last he felt he really understood the doctrine. His theological teacher surprised him by heaving a sigh of despair and saying: “If you understand it as clearly as that, then you have misunderstood it and I shall have to start all over again.”

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To speak today of God as three persons readily leads to a mental picture of a heavenly trio (a divine committee!), one which has even been portrayed visually in art. Such a view of God (and it is widespread in popular Christianity) deserves the condemnation which Muhammad heaped upon it. He called Christians polytheists, who had sadly regressed from the pure monotheism of Judaism which he himself felt called to reaffirm.

Lloyd Geering, February 28, 1987 issue of the New Zealand Listener

The full article from which the above quotes were taken can be read at Sir Lloyd Geering: Rethinking the trinity


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WordPress categories and tags

Fascinating! The categories and tags I attach to a post seem to make little difference to the number of views each one receives. Nor is the distribution of countries from where the views originate affected by tags. With two exceptions.

If I include New Zealand, NZ or Aotearoa, I see a large increase in the number of views from, you guessed it, Aotearoa New Zealand. That’s only to be expected, as I guess many people (myself included) will have among their search tags, the name of their country. On the rare occasions where I have used a country specific tag, I see an increase of viewers from that country.

But there’s one group of tags that, on first glance, one would not think of as being country specific, but if one thinks about it, becomes understandable considering the amount of argument and discussion it causes in one country in particular.

The United States of America is supposedly a shining example of freedom and the rest of the world pales in comparison. In fact, America is well down the list no matter what kind of freedom one measures (perhaps with the exception of the right to bear arms). It’s a myth that most Americans seem to believe is true, but whether or not it may have been true at some point in the past, it most certainly has not been true for several decades.

The categories and tags I have in mind are not directly related to freedom, except in one sense. When you listen to American’s talk about freedom it’s almost exclusively along the lines of freedom to or freedom of. Very seldom is freedom from discussed much, whereas in NZ, it’s discussed as much as the other sorts of freedoms.

There is one hot topic in America that’s bandied about both as a freedom of and as a freedom from,  and that is (if you haven’t already guessed it) religion.  Any time I include a category or tag pertaining to religion, the number of views from America (and only America) increases markedly. So much so, that it’s very tempting to add a religion themed tag just to maintain a high number of visitors.

Yep, any religion themed tag (and I include atheism here, as without religion, it’s sort of irrelevant), brings around 10 times as many views from America than posts without religion themed tags, but views from other nations remain much the same. Kind of makes you wonder what goes on in the mind of many Americans!


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Lloyd Geering: on Jesus

For me Jesus is not someone to be worshipped as the divine Son of God, for that sort of language belongs to the world of ancient mythology. What the work of the Jesus Seminar has shown me is that Jesus was not even a prophet after the Old Testament model. Rather he was a wise man, a sage, walking in the footsteps of Ecclesiastes before him. The Jesus seminar scholars have attempted to uncover what they call “the voice-prints and foot-prints” of this Jesus from before the creative imagination of his first-century followers transformed him into the divine Christ-figure. The chief of these was Paul, who had never met Jesus in the flesh. The original Jesus did not talk much about himself, and not even much about God. Rather he talked about the Kingdom of God, describing it in such parables as the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Leaven. He used this term to describe his vision of how people should live with each other in loving relationships of reciprocal goodwill.

Sir Lloyd Geering, Sermon 21st May 2017, The Community of Saint Luke

 

The above quote is an extract from a sermon presented by Lloyd Geering to the Community of Saint Luke Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand on Sunday the 21st of May 1971 titled How my thinking has changed.


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Lloyd Geering: on faith

To identify faith with the holding of a certain number of beliefs that come to us from the distant past actually makes a mockery of Christian faith and reduces it to the schoolboy’s definition: “Faith is believing things you know ain’t true”

Lloyd Geering, Reimagining God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic


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Who’s being racist?

Last year, there was a petition circulating calling for a boycott of a joint New Zealand Australian production of The New Legends Of Monkey because the petitioners claim the show is guilty of “whitewashing“. I refused to sign the petition at the time as I was unaware of the background behind it. However, if I had known the details, I still would not have signed.

The petitioner’s argument was that “media producers who replace Asian characters with white actors reinforce the idea that ‘whiteness’ is the standard and European features are the epitome of beauty, thereby convincing non-white children to loathe their own appearances and develop self-hate”. The four lead roles are played by Kiwis and Aussies.

The show is the latest in a line of fantasy TV series produced in Aotearoa New Zealand, some for NZ viewers and some for international audiences, including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, Legend of the Seeker, Dark Knight, and The Almighty Johnsons, among others.

With the exception of The Almighty Johnsons, which was set in present day New Zealand, the shows depict mythological worlds loosely based on legends that themselves are set in a specific place and time. However, the shows are simply themed on the legend and make no attempt to accurately portray a specific place and time in history.

The same can be said of The New Legends of Monkey. The story is loosely based on a Chinese legend, and while the legend was set in China (after all, the story tellers and audiences were Chinese and possibly knew little of other cultures), that setting isn’t essential for the retelling of the story. The theme of the show is not an attempt to recreate a historically accurate depiction of a particular time in Chinese history. In the words of its creators the story is set in a “magical fantasy world“.

If the the actors were made up to appear as though they belonged to a different ethnicity by changing facial features (often in exaggerated form), then I believe that would be inappropriate, especially if race (I dislike that word), culture or ethnicity was part of the plot. If the series was filmed in China, then I expect it would be natural for all the cast would be Chinese, including all the minor roles and walk on parts.

However, it was shot in New Zealand, and the the ethnic mix of the actors, both lead and minor are not that different from a typical cross section of Kiwi society. Two of the lead actors speak in a fake accent, but it’s not in a hammed-up Chinese accent, which would indeed be a case of whitewashing. It’s a North American accent to make the show more attractive to a wider Netflix audience. The rest use accents commonly found in New Zealand.

I also question whether “whitewashing” could be applied under any circumstance in relation to the show.  Josh Thomson (Pigsy) and Luciane Buchanan (Tripitaka) are Tongan Kiwis, and Chai Hansen (Monkey) is Thai-Australian, leaving Emilie Cocquerel (Sandy) as the only “white” actor. So the term is clearly inappropriate in the case of The New Legends of Monkey.

While I’m not claiming whitewashing doesn’t happen, as it certainly has in the past and still does to some extent, I really think those promoting the boycott were way off the mark with this particular show. In fact I feel like they are a “tiny bit racist“.

In Aotearoa New Zealand The New Legends of Monkey can be viewed on TVNZ On Demand and Netflix. I confess I’m a fan of this genre. Below are trailers for the six TV shows mentioned in this article.


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Dangerous Aotearoa New Zealand

While this country has no large predators, and in fact no native mammals (apart from two species of bat), we do have creatures that pose a danger, not necessarily to people, but to things we value such as motor vehicles. Yes, we actually have an animal that likes nothing better than to deliberately harm motor vehicles, and for no better reason than that it can.

First it tries to lure vehicles off the main road as seen in this video:

Then, with its mates, it systematically disassembles the vehicle as seen here: