Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

Where/who/what is God?

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When God is no longer a person up there in the sky, where is God? When God is no longer personified in ways which can be controlled and manipulated by the powerful, who is God? When we stop creating images of God which are mere projections of ourselves, what is God?

Rev. Dawn Hutchings, pastordawn Sunday 5 December 2021

The above paragraph is from the sermon NATIVITY – a parable born in the darkness of trauma given by Pastor Dawn. She is one of several Christian pastors/preachers I follow on WordPress. Pastor Dawn Identifies herself as a 21st Century Progressive Christian Pastor. I suspect most of the others would also identify in a similar vein, even if they haven’t identified specifically as such.

The sermon itself, places into perspective the minds of the gospel writers in light of the genocide being committed against the Jews by the Roman empire that started in the latter part of the first century AD, and continued for another fifty or so years. I agree with Pastor Dawn, that without understanding the circumstances of the writers, it’s not possible to understand their intent, nor the meaning of what they wrote.

Even though the Gospels were written nearly 2000 years ago, our modern understanding of the effects of social upheaval, and how people responded to tyranny and genocide at the end of the first century means that we should be able interpret their contents in a nonliteral way, which I suspect was the intent of the writers, and perhaps implicitly understood by the first generation Christians who were predominantly Jews facing extreme persecution by the Roman Empire – as Pastor Dawn describes it “the first Holocaust”.

Given the conditions of the time, why any thinking person today should believe that the Gospels must be read as factual history is beyond me. And while I can understand that fundamentalist indoctrination might be reason why some Christians conflate universal truths told in the form of storytelling, parables, metaphors and symbolism with historical facts, I struggle to understand why so many non Christians also hold a similar view – that the gospels are meant to be understood literally so are therefore a pack of lies. Neither perspective is accurate and both do an injustice to the works of art contained within the Bible.

Pastor Dawn offers a plausible explanation as to how early Christians came to deify Jesus. Although she doesn’t mention it in the sermon, Roman emperors of the day were deified and surprise, surprise, myths were created claiming some to be the offspring of a union between a mortal and a god. At least one of them had a star hovering in the sky to announce the birth. Under the circumstances, attaching a similar story to the birth of Jesus seems an obvious way of describing the significance of Jesus and his teachings to his early followers. The symbolism would have been very obvious to those of the day.

I’m a firm believer in what Quakers describe as “continuing revelation“. This can be understood in many ways, (old Quaker saying: Ask four Quakers, get five answers) but my take on it is that with new knowledge comes new understandings (of the world around us and of us as individuals and communities). While I vehemently disagree with Richard Dawkins’ view of religion, I can thank him for naming (but not originating) an evolutionary model to explain what Quakers have intuitively known for generations: that ideas, values, concepts of morality, or art, be they religious or otherwise do not stand still. They change over time.

Dawkins coined the term meme to describe the mechanism by which ideas and concepts are inherited from generation to generation, and in a way similar to how genes combine and mutate and subsequently succeed or die out, so do memes. An example might be the concept of slavery as it evolved in the West and culminated in the horrors associated with slavery in America. In its heyday, most people in southern USA considered slavery to be part of the natural order of the world. Today, remnants of that concept remain in the form of racism, it’s a meme that has mutated by not (yet) died out completely.

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Christian history should be aware how much Christianity has changed (evolved) over the centuries. Let’s face it, Jesus was a Jew, in both ethnicity and religion. His desire was reform, to place an emphasis on ethics and social justice rather than rigid ceremony and law. It was not to create a new religion. I have no doubt that he would find Reform Judaism closer to his goals than most (perhaps all) forms of Christianity.

Meanwhile Christianity evolved into a multiplicity of forms – some developing characteristics that expanded on the ideals of the first followers of Jesus and some that developed traits that Jesus strongly opposed. I see that as an inevitable and natural outcome of the evolutionary process. Just as organisms evolve, so do religions. If they don’t evolve to adapt to their environment then they either become restricted to a niche environment to which they are suited or they die out.

Evolution also applies to our concept(s) of God(s). One characteristic that most fundamentalist Christians and many atheists have in common, is that they have an almost identical notion of how God is defined. Both seem to be unable to grasp the fact the Christian God has been under constant evolutionary change from the moment Christianity became a movement – even before it moved from being a heresy of judaism to a movement followed by Gentiles.

Some Christian fundamentalist movements will insist that God hasn’t evolved. He (it’s always ‘He‘) has always been the same, only no one fully understood the scriptures until the founder/leader of that particular movement/sect discovered their “True” meaning. In extreme cases theirs is the only “Truth”, and any who believe otherwise are heretics, deservedly destined to whatever fate their God has reserved for non-believers.

Atheists can find no evidence to support the existence of any god as an entity, and I have no issue with that. In fact, I concur. But then some atheists make the assumption that every form of religion must, of necessity, include a conviction that at least one deity or supernatural entity lies at its heart, even if that means shoehorning their concept of a non-existing deity into faith traditions that have evolved different notions of what God is (or is not).

I belong to a 350 year old faith tradition commonly referred to as the Quakers, and to a particular branch that in the 20th and 21st centuries is often described as liberal Quakerism, although in many ways it is the most traditional branch when it comes to practising our faith. In the short history of Quakerism, there is ample evidence of Dawkins’ memes in action. What is now viewed as the liberal branch were the conservatives in the eighteenth century, holding true to the tradition that everyone has direct access to the divine without the need for any intermediaries such as clergy or scripture, whereas the progressives/liberals of the day embraced the new evangelism and biblical authority that was sweeping through Christianity at that time and adopted articles of faith, creeds, clergy, and much else that is found within the evangelical movement.

In evolutionary terms evangelical Quakerism has been the most successful branch within the Quaker movement with about 85% of Quakers worldwide belonging to one of the evangelical branches, whereas the then conservative, and now very liberal branch account for around 12% of all Quakers, and confined to Britain and former British settler colonies (such as Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, and Canada), Western Europe, and some parts of the USA.

My reason for the (extremely) truncated description of Quaker branches is that on many occasions in the blogosphere, I have been “corrected” for making claims about Quaker beliefs and practices that are true for Aotearoa, but incorrect when referring to Quakerism in many other parts of the world. In fact I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by one atheist blogger that I have no right to call myself a Quaker as I don’t profess to be a Christian. Whenever I refer to Quaker beliefs and practices, my only point of reference is the religious community I am connected to (Quakers Aotearoa, Te Hāhi Tūhauwiri). Please keep this in mind whenever I refer to Quaker beliefs and practices. I accept that Quakers in many parts of the world have different beliefs and practices, but I am less familiar with those.

So, back to the question of where/who/what is God. For atheists and Christian Fundamentalists, the Answer is simple. For the former, there is no such thing, end of story. For the latter there is no doubt of “His” existence, and they can (and do frequently) quote passage after passage from the Bible to support their claim. For the rest of us it’s not so simple. God has evolved and continues to evolve.

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

25 thoughts on “Where/who/what is God?

  1. Your final sentence presumes there is some sort of entity called God, and no matter how hard one tries to divorce oneself from anthropomorphizing the concept it will always feature in any discussion) debate about God ( sic).
    I have always wondered why the Gehenna humans still believe they need any deity.
    As your post suggests the religions founded upon such spurious claims have done way more harm than good and still do.
    Religion, no matter the shape or form it takes is a blight on humanity.
    It really is time it was shown the door and ushered out the room once and for all.

    • Your final sentence presumes there is some sort of entity called God“. No it doesn’t. God is a concept, not an entity. And it’s not necessary to anthropomorphise the concept. It’s been more than 70 years since I thought of God in that way. I can understand why belief in deities or supernatural entities or forces came about, and I can be reasonably confident that if you lived in a highly religious or superstitious society 2-3 thousand years ago you too would have held some of those religious/superstitious beliefs. However, such beliefs can no longer be supported as their “use by date” is well and truly gone.

      Your use of “Gehenna humans” had me stumped for a while but thanks to Dr Google I think I understand what you mean by the term. But I’m still confused. Surely a belief in a “kingdom” and a place that is its opposite implies that someone or something determines who goes to which place. If one believes in such places, then it seems to me that a deity is an “obvious” choice for that someone or something. So I’m not quite sure the purpose of that comment.

      As your post suggests the religions founded upon such spurious claims have done way more harm than good and still do.” I made no such suggestion. I think you’re (wishfully) reading something into my words that I did not say. I was referring to an outdated way of thinking – I made no reference to whether such thinking was good, harmful or indifferent, and certainly did not imply that such belief causes more harm than good (although that, on the evidence available to me, is the conclusion I have reached, but I didn’t mention it because it was not relevant to the reason I wrote the article). However I would argue that greed and the profit motive that is encompassed in our modern form of capitalism is causing just as much harm and possibly more than religion, as does the “othering” of those who are different, whether that difference be wealth, ethnicity, race, culture, or as has been my personal experience, neurological. The Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment provides a good example of how “othering” works You can see it in action in this Oprah Winfrey Show: https://youtu.be/ebPoSMULI5U

      Religion, no matter the shape or form it takes is a blight on humanity.” Last time you commented on a post I wrote on religion, you made the comment that religions “Baffle them with bullshit”, and when I asked if you could help me see how how my religion baffles me with bullshit, you declined with “Probably not”. Hopefully you’ll do better this time. I do practice religion in a particular shape and form, so in what way is my religion a blight on humanity?

      It really is time it was shown the door and ushered out the room once and for all.” So what do you suggest I should substitute for my particular form of religion that I would find just as fulfilling?

      • so in what way is my religion a blight on humanity?

        All religion is a blight on humanity.
        It is divisive, encourages belief in superstition, and in this day and age completely unnecessary.

        So what do you suggest I should substitute for my particular form of religion that I would find just as fulfilling?

        Naturally if you want this consideration it should be afforded every other religion.
        Do you not consider some religions are harmful?
        And who is the arbiter of a good religion and a bad one?

        • You’re avoiding the question. I asked you how my religion is a blight on humanity. So tell me how it is divisive, encourages belief in superstition.

          I accept that for people such as yourself, religion is unnecessary, but for others it is an essential part of their being. What you are doing is taking the position that your perspective is the only “correct” one. I find that disappointing.

          There’s no such thing as a “good religion” or a “harmful religion”, certainly not in absolute terms. I judge behaviour as being harmful if it is exploitative or reduces autonomy. by extension, I can then make a judgement on the ethics/morality/beliefs that lead to such behaviour. It matters little to me whether that behaviour is caused by religious beliefs, laissez-faire capitalism, authoritarian communism, cultural practices, hierarchical structures, social attitudes, the pathologising of natural variations in human the human species or by any other human endeavour for that matter.

          • Your religion falls into the category of All religion.
            Its roots are in Christianity.
            Surely further explanation is not necessary?
            I know you are not so pedantic.
            Essential only in as much as they have been indoctrinated,literally or through cultural affiliation.

            • Do you seriously believe that I would willingly be involved with a movement that in your words is a blight on humanity. Why would I want to be part of a community that is is divisive and encourages belief in superstition? So yes, further explanation is necessary.

              Your religion falls into the category of All religion.” That’s about as helpful as saying that because I have blue eyes, I fall into the category of all blue eyed people. It does not inform you of what type of person I am (unless you are a product of something like the Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Experiment). In other words, it’s not helpful at all.

              Its roots are in Christianity” So I assume, by logical extension that an adjunct to the American Humanist Association – The Humanist Society which has its roots in Quakerism – is also a blight on humanity. Or did the act of dropping “Of Friends” from its original name of “The Humanist Society Of Friends somehow miraculously sever its old roots and graft on new ones?

              I know you are not so pedantic” How do you know that? Others have stated that I’m excessively concerned with minor details or rules (a trait often ascribed to autistics), which if I’m not mistaken, is what pedantic means. So someone has got me wrong. But to suggest that being pedantic is to not be satisfied with an explanation that religions are a blight on humanity because, well, because they are religions is stretching the definition of pedantic just a little too far don’t you think?

              Rather than repeat the generalisation that religions are bad because they are religions, why not give some examples? If you’re unable to think of some specific examples that would apply to my religion, let me help you out: In what way is the faith tradition I follow divisive? And keeping in mind that the Quaker community includes atheists, agnostics, non-theists, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, animists, pantheists, panentheists, humanists, free thinkers, as well as Christians and less well known traditions, it would be helpful if you could provide an example or two of superstitious beliefs that the tradition encourages us to hold. I’m not asking you to itemise every factor that makes it divisive or encourages a belief in superstition, just one or two of each that you are convinced are of particular significance. Is that too much to ask?

            • Do you seriously believe that I would willingly be involved with a movement that in your words is a blight on humanity.

              Do you seriously consider that religious indoctrination is incapable of making you think in this manner?

              Then perhaps you are pedantic after all?
              I would recommend you do a thorough study of the history of your religion ( and the other two Abrahamic faiths if you are up to it).
              This way you can educate yourself on the history and learn just how revolting Christianity truly is.

              Maybe afterwards you will appreciate why I use the word blight.

              I’m not asking you to itemise every factor that makes it divisive or encourages a belief in superstition, just one or two of each that you are convinced are of particular significance. Is that too much to ask?

              In fact it is too much to ask.
              As an example: One can explain the science of evolution until the cows come home but indoctrinated YECs will simply ignore the evidence and offer some inane religious response about their god.

              Anyone who posts about the benefits of religion, no matter how vague, is at some level indoctrinated.
              I will not do your homework for you. Barry.

            • I would recommend you do a thorough study of the history of your religion ( and the other two Abrahamic faiths if you are up to it).“. I assume by your use of “your religion” in combination with “the other two Abrahamic faiths” you believe my religion is either Christianity, Islam or Judaism, probably Christian. Perhaps you might like to explain how you reached that conclusion.

              For the record, and as I have stated on many, many occasions, I am not a Christian (nor a Jew nor a Muslim for that matter). I am a non-theist and I’m a Quaker in the un-programmed tradition.

              I am not unfamiliar with religions and their history. I grew up in the presence of the nominal form of Christianity that existed in Aotearoa in the 1950s and 1960s. My father was either an atheist or an agnostic, and he was vehemently opposed to organised religion. I was also exposed to the rich heritage of Māori mythology and spirituality that existed in the community where I spent my formative years. My wife grew up immersed in the traditions of Shintoism and Buddhism that were an integral part of her upbringing in her native Japan. Each of those traditions, Christianity, Animism, Shintoism, Buddhism and Quakerism are products of the human mind and just like every other field of human endeavour are neither intrinsically good nor bad. It’s what we do with them that makes them good or bad. I appreciate you hold a very different perspective.

              Do you seriously consider that religious indoctrination is incapable of making you think in this manner?” Could I not ask a similar question of you in that your hatred of religion is the result of indoctrination? But in answer to your question, of course not. Why do you think I have been asking the very questions I have? Unlike some traditions I’m encouraged to question and to seek new sources of insight no matter where it comes from (including secular sources and other faith traditions). I’m not blind to the fact it’s possible that I’m indoctrinated. Show me a YEC who’s willing to acknowledge that. But if I am, the source of that indoctrination escapes me.

              Here’s the problem from my perspective: Unlike the YECs I don’t have a source of authority to fall back on. I can’t say “because God”, or “because the Bible” or because anything for that matter. There are no sacred texts that I can quote from or treat as authoritative. We have no ministers/preachers/clergy from whom we can hear sermons, or lessons. We have no pomp, ceremony, hymns or prayers that might lead us to hold a specific belief. There is no “truth” that remains constant.

              In fact it is too much to ask.
              As an example: One can explain the science of evolution until the cows come home but indoctrinated YECs will simply ignore the evidence and offer some inane religious response about their god.
              Then you fail to understand what I asked. I’m not asking you to provide evidence to support your claim that all religions are divisive and encourage belief in superstitions. You make that claim, yet not only do you refuse to substantiate the claim, you refuse to give any examples of how that divisiveness and encouragement of superstition might play out in my religion. I’m not asking you to do my homework for me. All I’m asking is for you to tell me what you believe are examples of how my religion is divisive and encourages a belief in superstition. I’m not a mind reader. Neither do I have a deity that can mind read on my behalf.

              I’m not so naive as to believe that my religion is a shining light to humanity. In America, internal divisiveness resulted in multiple schisms (a phenomenon that occurred nowhere else). It’s simply a tiny community (around a thousand in Aotearoa and less than 400 thousand worldwide) made up of people with shared values and diverse beliefs, buffeted by the vagaries of the human condition. There is nothing within that community that intrinsically makes it special or above question, and yet I get the impression from you that I believe my religion is in some way “divinely inspired” and therefore above reproach.. I do not hold such a belief. My religion, just like all other religions, is a product of the collective minds of those who practise it. No more, no less. Given this “insight” of how I perceive my religion, do you still consider it too much to ask to provide an example or two of how it might be divisive and encourage superstitious belief?

  2. Impressive piece of writing Barry. Rather afraid to weigh in. So many theists and atheists hold the opinion that their view point is the only correct one. We could all benefit with some effort to stop and listen (assuming the message isn’t hateful). In the book Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler structures a religion around the main tenet that “God is Change”. I’d suggest that an ever changing understanding of God fits in well with her assertion.

  3. Ark.As your post suggests the religions founded upon such spurious claims have done way more harm than good and still do.

    Barry. ” I made no such suggestion.”
    In actual fact you did ….”Given the conditions of the time, why any thinking person today should believe that the Gospels must be read as factual history is beyond me.”

    Although your words were not my words you did suggest religions are founded on spurious claims.

    Evidence shows that religion has most definitely caused more ham than good.

    • Typo
      ….or more harm even.

      • Given that several major religions have an aversion to the consumption of pig products, I think we can safely state that religion has cause less ham rather than more ham 🙂

    • Once again you are projecting your perspective into my words. I was referring specifically to how fundamentalists have chosen to use (or abuse) the Bible. I was not referring to religions in general. That’s wishful thinking on your part. (I could make a sarcastic comment at this point about the tendency of neurotypical folk to “read between the lines” when there’s actually nothing there, but I will resist the urge.)

      By way of an illustration: Up until the 1970s the DSM defined homosexuality as a mental disorder, and as a “sexual orientation disturbance” until the 1980s. “Conversion therapies” were considered legitimate “treatment” by the medical profession for several more decades. And in the 21st century, autism is still viewed by the medical profession (with a few exceptions) as a disorder that can be treated using the very same “conversion therapies” that have been used for homosexuality. The medical profession has caused considerable harm to homosexuals in the past and continue do to so today in the case of autistic people.

      Now consider this statement “why any thinking person today should believe that the DSM’s pathologising of autism should be read as a medically sound evaluation is beyond me“. To be consistent, you would need to say that I implied that medicine is founded on spurious claims. I do not. The fact that some medical practices/beliefs in the past and even today do cause more harm than good does not mean that medicine as a whole causes more harm than good. The fact that my autism is still viewed as a disorder by the medical profession and it can be “treated”, in spite of evidence to the contrary, will not prevent me from seeking medical attention when I do actually get ill. I view religion in much the same light. Does that make my position any more clear?

      As your claim that religion (not specific aspects of religion) causes more harm than good, I ask you once again to tell me how my religion does this.

      • Your question was answered above.
        It is an offshoot of Christianity.
        That surely is answer enough?

        • No it’s not. Please refer to my response to your “answer” above. To summarise: stating that my religion is bad because it is a religion is the type of non-argument that religious apologists use when claiming that atheists are bad/evil/dishonest/[insert negative adjective of choice] because they are atheists, as if somehow that claim is self evident. It’s not.

          • Definition of religion

            1 : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. 2a(1) : the service and worship of God or the supernatural. (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. 2b : the state of a religious a nun in her 20th year of religion.

            Religion Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster

            You call it a religion then you deal with the meaning.

            • Sigh, that is but one definition of religion. And what on earth does definition 2b mean? There has been many a PhD that has gone into considerable detail analysing the nature of religion, often times coming to a mutually exclusive conclusion with another PhD paper. I have described my understanding of religion elsewhere.

              Seriously Ark, you come to my blog, make disparaging comments about the nature of my religion, refuse to divulge how my religion manifests those characteristics, and when I ask for an example, you have the audacity to insist the discovery of those characteristics is my responsibility. Then you top it off by suggesting that I might not be able make such a discovery because of religious indoctrination. It’s the kind of “conversation” any religious apologist would be proud of.

            • You had a lengthy back and forth with Ashley – the link you provided – and kudos to her for hanging in and putting up with the obfuscation and hand waving for so long.
              Let me try to be as succinct as poss.
              Quakerism in an offshoot of Christianity.
              Christianity was founded in lies, myth, and steeped in blood.
              You wish to speak in metaphor.
              Fine. Do whatever you like.
              However, such an approach is basically saying :”I have zero evidence for any of my religious or spiritual beliefs and cannot even express,or explain what these are. But I will stand by them because I believe in “God”( sic) whatever this may be and reject any assertion I am in any way aligned with Christianity.”
              If this is not dishonest then it is disingenious.

            • That “conversation” occurred 6 years ago when I was just discovering how being autistic differs from being neurotypical, instead of just knowing that I was different – something I had been only too well aware of for the previous 65 years, but unable to understand why. One of the significant differences is how I process language, and the post in question was a plea to readers to take into consideration the difficulties autistic people have in communicating with non-autistic people – an issue that seldom arises in communication between autistic people.

              My first reply to Ashley was an attempt to bring the conversation back to the topic at hand, unsuccessfully as it transpired, by attempting to illustrate how<.em> I process language. But for Ashley the nature of Quakerism appeared to be more important than the struggle that I and many autistic people face when trying to cope with a society that is the very often the antithesis of what we need to survive, let alone thrive. The mentioning of a previous discussion with Ashley was there to illustrate how I can be very aware of there being little or no common ground on which to build communication even though I make every effort to bridge the gap. Meanwhile the other party concludes I am entirely at fault, am dishonest, devious, intentionally vague or obtuse, or a plethora of other negative responses. It was mentioned to illustrate how/em> I struggle, and the truth or otherwise of our respective positions was irrelevant.

              I now want to directly respond to your comment and in particular “If this is not dishonest then it is disingenious[sic].” I perceive this (correct me if I’m wrong) as being related to two separate issues, but I suspect you see as being in closely aligned – the first being unsubstantiated religious beliefs, and the second being my alignment with Christianity.

              I am at a loss when it comes to unsubstantiated religious beliefs, and I hope I have made very clear that the supernatural realm exists only in the minds of those who believe in its existence. I don’t. What more can I say? My understanding of religion is very much in alignment with how Quakers often describe their own: one being based on experience, values and practice. Beliefs are the realm of the individual and matter only insomuch as they affect values and practice. What beliefs Quakers share,are in the realm of “right practice”, not “right belief”. They are “true” only in the sense that they are shared by the Quaker community. If you like, they are our truths, not universal truths. My understanding of religion is shared in my blog post What is religion? – specifically Sir Lloyd Geering’s A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.

              In light of that definition, let me state some of my beliefs that are commonly shared by Quakers.
              A belief in non-violence. Explanation: “If fighting is inconsistent with an ideal society, then fighting will not bring the ideal society. A spiritual result is produced by spiritual means and a material result by material means. If war is evil, as almost everyone admits, then it cannot be the right way to produce a good result. – Howard Brinton.

              It means a constant search for non-violent means of conflict resolution, a continuing search for peace and social justice and social change using non-violent techniques.

              Answering that of God in everyone. Explanation: This is a corruption of a statement by George Fox, framed in the religious language of 17th century England. As an autistic person and as a Quaker, I’m only too well aware that language is an imperfect medium for the conveying of ideas. The meaning is unambiguous to Quakers and if it was being framed today might be expressed as “We must learn to deal with one another by affirming and nurturing the best we find in each other“. Personally I prefer the corrupted George Fox version.

              Simplicity. Explanation: A focus on what is essential, without distraction by the transitory or the trivial; respect for creation and a concern for the environment and the right use of the world’s resources; communicating plainly and honestly.

              Equality. Explanation: I believe in the absolute equality of everyone regardless of gender or gender expression, ethnicity, religion, age, ability or disability, social ranking, sexual orientation or neurology. It means that I have a responsibility to not only practise it on a day to day basis, but I must take some personal responsibility to reduce inequality within out society.

              Before you say that non-religious people hold these values too, let me say that non-religious can and do hold such values. The only real difference in the manner in which those values are held. And by manner I do not mean better or worse, I mean different as in the way autistics and non-autistcs experience, interpret and respond to the world around them differently. (I need to be careful with that analogy as the majority of non-autistic people still view autism as a “blight on humanity”, hence all the current concern/panic about a non-existent autism epidemic.) My response to makagutu below this thread touches on this.

              Language does not come easy to me, and it’s only in the last decade that I have been able use it to express abstract concepts at all, and I still struggle to do so, although I think I have improved somewhat since 2016. You congratulate Ashley for “hanging in and putting up with the obfuscation and hand waving” writing off my attempts at genuine dialogue as being dishonest. It’s something that still happens on an almost daily basis when using spoken language to communicate whether it be with a doctor, a shop assistant, the neighbour, or an officer of the law (yes I have been detained on more than one occasion for “behaving in a suspicious manner”), but I had thought you were a little more nuanced than that. I still find it easier to explain a five page long boolean equation than to explain the values that make up the core of who I am. After all, the only possible outcome for any boolean equation is either True or False. (There is another possible outcome of indeterminate, but let’s not go there.)

              What I found uncomfortable with Ashley’s conversation was the unwillingness to even consider what I had written in the body of that blog post as having any significance. As far as Ashley was concerned it was irrelevant, yet for me and most autistic people it is an everyday reality. And it would seem that you too in respect to Dawkins’ meme<.em> concept, the heart of this post, are ignoring its very principle – that ideas/concepts/beliefs evolve and change over time. Which brings me to the issue of Christian affiliation.

              I’m not sure exactly what you mean by Christian affiliation. I’m not sure whether you believe that I personally hold one or more specifically Christian beliefs, (which was my first interpretation), Quakerism is a branch of Christianity so Quaker beliefs equal Christian beliefs which equals a blight on humanity (which was my second interpretation), or perhaps Quakers and Christians have similar practices and hierarchies and social values. I’ll try to combine all of these interpretations.

              Quakerism in an offshoot of Christianity. Christianity was founded in lies, myth, and steeped in blood. No one is denying that Quaker rose from 17th century Christianity, and the first Quakers were Christian even if heretical, nontrinitarian and insisting that personal conviction (one’s conscience after vigorously testing it) had authority over the Bible, and over church and civil jurisdictions. This is where Dawkins’ meme comes into play.

              Your “Quakerism = Christianity” is somewhat like saying “tree = human”. Humans and trees do have a common ancestor way back in our primordial past. Humans and trees share the exact same four nucleotides in their respective DNA and we even have about 1% of our genes in common with plants. So the question comes down to what do Christianity and Quakerism have in common today apart from both being forms of religion. Let’s start with beliefs commonly held as being essential to Christian belief and consider if they are essential to Quaker belief. With apologies to those Christians who don’t subscribe to one or more of the beliefs listed here:
              * Belief in the existence of a deity: No
              * God is three persons in one (a Trinity): No
              * God defines morality/prescribes what is and is not sinful: No
              * The Bible is the Word of God: No
              * The Bible is a sacred text: No
              * The Bible sets rules for our behaviour: No
              * The Bible is wholly true: No
              * The Bible is without error and/or contradiction: No
              * The Bible is historically accurate: No
              * Jesus is/was divine (God in human form): No
              * Jesus really existed: No
              * Jesus was born of a virgin: No
              * Jesus’ death was payment for our sins (substitutionary Atonement). Absolutely not. This goes against Quaker principles completely
              * The Resurrection of Jesus actually happened: No
              * Jesus ascended to heaven in bodily form: No
              * Heaven exists: No
              * Hell exists: Hell no!
              * Belief an afterlife: No. At best it’s mere speculation and wasteful to dwell over it
              * Belief in Jesus is essential for salvation: No. See afterlife above
              * Salvation is by faith alone. No. See afterlife above
              * The Fall of Man is/was real or the nature of humankind is fallensinful: No. Just the opposite in fact. Humankind is essentially good

              In practice
              * Prayer is an essential part of religious practice: No
              * Worshipping God is an essential pat of religious practice: No
              * Sunday is a holy/sacred day set aside by God: No. All days are equally sacred
              * Religious services are lead by a minister/priest/preacher and include sermons, lessons, prayer and singing. There may also be pomp, ceremony and rituals such as communion: Quakers sit in a circle in silence
              * A religious calendar celebrating/commemorating important religious events: No. See Sunday above
              * Sex outside marriage is a sin: No. Any relationship, so long as the parties are agreeable and it’s not exploitative is none of anyone else’s business
              * Marriage is between one man and one woman: No. See sex outside marriage above
              * Homosexuality is a sin: No. How one expresses sexuality is no-one else’s business
              * Gender is defined by one’s genitals: No. How one expresses gender is no one else’s business
              * Ambivalent attitude to war: No. War and the preparation for war are opposed. We have an obligation to do what we can to remove the causes that lead to war.
              * A hierarchical structure in religious bodies: Absolutely no hierarchy. Everyone is equal
              * Decisions are made by those in authority or by a majority: No. Decisions are made only when everyone is in agreement. It can slow down decision making sometimes for years, but it means, there’s no winners or losers.
              * Theology is an important part of religion: No. Theology can lead to speculation and argument
              * Statements of belief: No. Belief is a personal matter. It cannot be prescribed. Additionally statements of belief tend to freeze belief to a fixed period of time, making it difficult or impossible to change in the light of new knowledge. This contradicts the Quaker concept of “continuing revelation”
              * Creeds: No. See statements of belief above
              * Correct belief is important. No. There’s no such thing. Belief is personal. However belief is important insomuch that it affects one’s actions, deeds, and words and the consequences that may result.

              You wish to speak in metaphor” I do not. In fact most metaphors fly above my head unless they are explained to me. (Yes I am aware I just used a metaphor. It was explained to me many decades ago.) But sometimes concepts are better described in other than literal language. Here I’m thinking of analogies, metaphors, parables, poetry, and other forms of expression such as art, music etc.

              Perhaps as an alternative to describing “God” as a metaphor, would be to say that the word has been re-purposed to fit a post-theistic religious perspective. A secular example of re-purposing might be sunrise and sunset, which from a flat earth perspective is what happens at the beginning and end of the day. We now know that the sun doesn’t rise or set, but instead the earth rotates. We have re-purposed words that name flat earth events to name the events of the sun coming into view and going out of view as the earth rotates on its axis.

              Finally there is the question of whether or not Quakerism is, of itself, actually a religion at all given that it has no systems of belief. This question comes up quite often inside and outside Quaker circles. Certainly the majority of Quakers in Aotearoa find no purpose in affirming or denying Christian beliefs about God, Jesus or the Bible. However if one uses Sir Lloyd Geering’s definition of religion, which does not demand systems of belief to qualify, then we come full circle and those who are Quakers are indeed practising religion.

              As to whether Quakerism is a religion at all or whether it’s just that people who practice Quakerism are religious (according to Geering’s definition of religion), I’ll leave open for now. In its formative years those who practised Quakerism were undoubtedly Christians, albeit heretical Christians, but I’m not convinced that is true today. You will need to provide some very strong evidence to persuade me otherwise, and even stronger if you wish to demonstrate that I too am a Christian.

  4. this is quite interesting.
    i was recently reading a book that for some reason, to its credit, has expanded my thinking on this matter, while some things remain unchanged. For example, the god of philosophy who is unchanging, timeless and perfect doesn’t exist. But a god who evolves as we evolve reminds me of the god described in god’s debri. We are all assembling god. That makes god that is a work in progress.

    • Religiosity or spirituality in some form seems to be an essential part of the psyche of a majority of the human population. While I don’t think this has changed recently in terms of evolution, the form of that religiosity/spirituality is under constant change, I accept that many people have no need of religion, and I have no quibble with that. But to extend that to others would be like me extending my attitude to “social small talk” to everyone. I, like many autistics, find small talk that lubricates social interaction for most of society to be meaningless and uncomfortable and at times bordering on painful. The fact that autistics see it that way does not mean that I think neurotypical people should not engage in it. I acknowledge that for them they will not flourish without it, although for me it creates stress when others expect me to participate in it. The same is true of religion/spirituality.

  5. Yes, I think we project on God whereas bible writers insist that he alone is the objective. ‘In the beginning Man’ isn’t working- God IS ‘where/who/what.’ Now, near the end of my life, I start with him. He’s my objective.

  6. I really like this concept of an evolving God – also the way you tie atheists an fundamentalist Christians together. They do seem to belong together, so content to argue and argue over the same things. In his 2014 book ‘The Future of God’ Deepack Chopra does a lot of similar and interesting thinking along these lines. I suspect you could produce a book on this and/or the Quakers yourself Barry.

    • The concept of an evolving God has been around in various forms for centuries. It came into prominence in Aotearoa in the 1960s when Sir Lloyd Geering became a public figure in the wake of some of sermons that conservative and fundamentalist Christians didn’t like, accusing him of heresy.

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