Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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An upside to the overturning of Roe v Wade

For America and Americans there isn’t any, but for us in Aotearoa there is an upside. Especially when it comes to women’s health. The reality is that in America, and especially in the conservative south, many professionals working in women’s health live in fear – fear of being shot, fear of their work places being bombed, fear that their families might become targets for anti-abortion extremists. Who would choose to live like that? If enquiries from American health professionals to New zealand recruitment services are anything to go by, many have chosen to seek safer pastures.

For many decades, Aotearoa, like many smaller nations have have been the happy hunting ground where large American and European health organisations poach health professionals by offering eye watering salaries way beyond our capacity to pay. We simply don’t have those resources. As a consequence this country is critically short of medical staff in practically every field. And covid has only made thing worse with staff often working beyond the point of exhaustion. But perhaps the tables are about to be turned.

While I have the deepest sympathy for American women who have had their bodily autonomy stolen, I’m grateful that as a consequence of Roe vs Wade, many qualified and experienced health professionals are looking for alternative places where they can practice what they have been trained to do without fear of imprisonment and without fear for their safety, the safety of their families, safety in their place of work and safety for their patients. Many are seeking to make a new, safer and more balanced life for themselves and their families here in Aotearoa. We benefit by a reduction in our critical shortage of health professionals. Everyone wins (except for America and its women).

The YouTube video below is from Sunday, a weekly documentary series shown on TVNZ’s ONE channel. This episode describes the plight of American women seeking abortions in the south of America and also the plight of their health professionals. I can’t imagine living like that. I suspect this outside perspective of what America has become will be unsettling to many of its citizens, but I also suspect that those who should see it will be the last to even consider watching a foreign documentary. That’s what religious and political intolerance does.


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Where/who/what is God?

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.


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MTG’s trans genocide plan — transponderings

The USA is fast becoming fundamentalist Christian right nation, and that includes laws passed at local, state and federal level. My limited understanding of the US constitution is that it prevents the establishment of religion, but doesn’t prevent the passing of laws that support and/or enforce values of one specific religious viewpoint over other viewpoints. And that specific religious viewpoint is without doubt that of the fundamentalist Christian nationalist right. That is no more evident that the proposed “Protect Children’s Innocence Act” introduced by none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, that does exactly the opposite of it’s title suggests and will cause considerable harm to the minority that this bill is directed against.

The opening section of MTG’s despicable bill On Saturday, I published a blog post containing the text of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s bill for a ‘Protect Children’s Innocence Act’, whose chief stated purpose is ‘ 2,802 more words

MTG’s trans genocide plan — transponderings


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Religion and superstition

Are they the same thing? Many of my regular readers will will be unequivocal about their answer – it will be Yes!

I’m not persuaded. And my reason for holding such a position is that it depends on what one means by religion and superstition. Obviously these two terms will have slightly (or significantly) different meanings depending on the society and culture in which one resides. I live in Aotearoa, and there is absolutely no doubt that what these two words mean here is very different from what they mean in the Bible Belt of the USA. I’ll leave it to others to define these terms for other parts of the globe, but whenever I refer to religion or superstition, I can do no better than to yield to the view of this country’s most celebrated theologian – Sir Lloyd Geering.

Sir Lloyd defines religion as:

A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.

He goes on to explain:

Everybody who takes life seriously, in my view, is taking the first steps in religion. And this definition of religion, fortunately, covers all the types of religions we’ve had or will have in the future, because it recognises that religion is a human product. Religion is what we humans have evolved in our culture to enable us to make meaning of life, and to live together in the most harmonious way.

He defines superstition as:

a belief or practice for which there is no longer any rational basis, because it has survived from the cultural context where it could be deemed reasonable

Sir Lloyd suggests that the creation myths (yes, myths – there’s two versions in Genesis) were an attempt at explaining how the world came into being and humanity’s relationship to it, and given their understanding of the world around them at the time and information available to them, it was reasonable to hold such a belief. If you like, the two myths represent two theories of creation.

But to continue to believe the creation myths as being true given our current understanding of the universe, is to believe in superstition. Similar arguments can be made about a physical resurrection of Jesus, the existence of heaven and hell, the Immaculate Conception, the miracles described in Old an New Testaments, gender roles, human rights, to name just a few.

To insist that to be a Christian, one must believe such superstitions, as some Christians and some atheists do, is to fail to understand the true nature of religion.


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Why I am a Quaker: reason #5

Democratic decision-making.

By this I don’t mean one person, one vote – that can result in tyranny by the majority. What I mean is the type of decision-making where all voices can be heard, where we seek unity about the wisest course of action.

To be effective, the process requires that everyone come ready to participate fully by sharing their experiences and knowledge, by listening respectfully to the experiences and knowledge brought by others, and by remaining open to new insights and ideas. When everyone present is able to recognize the same truth, the meeting has reached unity.

The practices used to reach unity have been refined over a period of almost 400 years, and is now being taken up by other groups where a genuine desire for unity is sought. It can be a slow and lengthy path on the way to reaching unity, but it’s a process in which there are no losers (or winners, for that matter).


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Why I am a Quaker: Reason #3

Progressive revelation: What I believe to be true today may not necessarily be true in the future. Perhaps more importantly, it allows me to recognise, appreciate and understand that beliefs I held in the past were not so much “wrong” but they were tentative, based on the experiences and knowledge available to me at that time. As I gain new experiences, knowledge and insights, my perception of Truth, right and wrong, changes.


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The 2018 Humanist of the Year

I stumbled upon a website while researching a possible article about the relationship between the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Humanist societies. For just a few moment I thought that American Humanists had gone absolutely plain stark bonkers. Who in their right mind would ever consider that the former POTUS would be remotely eligible for consideration let alone actually be awarded Humanist of the year?

Then I noticed the byline under the “American Humanism” title: Harnessing the power of Christian ethics to help heal the world. The penny dropped. And at the bottom of the page there is a link titled Discover our core values. I’ll let you discover those on your own. Finally I noticed the articles and links in the right hand side column. Sigh, another example of generalisations used to tar an entire group by the actions of a subgroup taken out of context. This seems to be the weapon of choice by some theists and atheists alike.

Why was I initially confused? The name of the website: americanhumanism.org. The site I was after is americanhumanist.org.