Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Manaakitanga – a Kiwi answer to Covid

One aspect of Pākehā (European) cultural dominance that we Kiwis have historically downplayed is the undervaluing and sometimes the suppression of Māori culture. Sometimes it has been the result of a misplaced belief that one culture is more advanced or otherwise better than another. Other times it resulted directly from a notion of entitlement – that settlers had a right to indigenous resources and if that necessitated the overriding of Māori customary law by British law, so be it.

A hundred and fifty years later, the courts are beginning to recognise that customary law has equal footing with common law, and not before time. In legislation we are seeing a start to the recognition of the Māori world view as a legitimate perspective on equal footing with the Western world view. One example of a change from the Western perspective has been the granting of personhood to forests, to rivers and their catchments, and to mountains. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few decades much more of the landscape is also granted personhood.

I accept that such a concept is alien to most people immersed in Western monoculture where personhood can only be granted to individual humans, and to a limited extent, to corporate entities. In the West, two thousand years of Christian thought has separated humanity from nature and has placed mankind, collectively and individually, above and in control of nature. It hasn’t worked out too well in my view.

Since the revival of Māori culture, from the 1970s onwards, aspects of Māori culture have started to infiltrate our once Western culture. At first, it was merely the acceptance that aspects of Māori culture were “allowed”. In other words, Pākehā “granted” Māori the “right” to express their culture publicly – a form of tokenism. But over the decades something more profound has occurred.

Not only have Pākehā accepted, and more recently welcomed aspects of Māori culture, they are also embracing it. By this I mean that not only have Pākeha recognised that Māori culture has equal standing with their own, their world view is being coloured by it. Perhaps Pākehā have been influenced more by Māori for more than a hundred and fifty years, but it’s only very recently that they have acknowledged the fact.

I return now to the topic of this post: manaakitanga. If you look up the term in the Māori Dictionary, you’ll see that it is defined as “hospitality, kindness, generosity, support – the process of showing respect, generosity and care for others“. But it’s more than that. It’s also about recognising the collective – that one’s freedom as an individual is only as strong as one’s place in the community.

The importance of the “collective” has probably been an unconscious part of the Kiwi culture for more than a hundred years. Perhaps some on the right of the political spectrum will identify this with socialism, but I believe that is only partially correct. Socialism is “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole“. Manaakitanga is more about values than about process.

Concepts such as universal suffrage and welfarism that became part of the New Zealand landscape in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and more recently, a universal no fault accident compensation and recovery system, can I believe, be at least partially attributed to manaakitanga, although Pākehā have been slow to recognise the source. Today manaakitanga is a core part of the education system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

So what has manaakitanga to do with the current pandemic? It is, I believe, the reason why this nation has been successful in keeping Covid-19 out of our communities. While being an island nation has made the shutting of borders somewhat easier than most nations, given the will, any nation could do the same. And the argument that a nation can’t shut its border due to commerce doesn’t cut it either. This nation is more dependent on international trade and the steady inflow and outflow of travellers than most. For example, as a percentage of GDP, international trade in NZ is twice that of the US.

Manaakitanga can be seen in our willingness to forgo personal freedoms for the sake of the community as a whole. When this nation went into lockdown for six weeks from late March last year, they were the most restrictive anywhere, (with the possible exception of Wuhan.) If you believe Kiwis accepted the hardships and pain the lockdown caused because we’re “subservient to our overlords” (yes, I’ve seen that description used of Fox), then you really don’t know Kiwis at all.

We made our sacrifices in the interests of the the collective – what we have called a “team of 5 million“. And it worked. Our lives are for the most part like they were before Covid appeared on the scene. The experience has reinforced the idea that an individualistic approach is not enough and that it takes a team for us all to gain true freedom.

Perhaps the relative failure of many nations in the West compared to those in the East, is due to the notion that personal individual freedom, and “rights” are paramount and above the interests of the collective. I’m not sure that such a concept has ever been held in the high regard in this nation. It’s not part of the Māori world view, and when we consider the motives of many of the early settlers, it wasn’t high on their agenda either. A “fair go”, an escape from the excesses of unregulated capitalism, egalitarianism, equity and equality in equal measure, and fair sharing, were more on their minds than personal liberty and bettering their peers.

The influence of a Māori world view has, I think, lead us to better understand what it is that we have always, if unconsciously sought, and now Pākehā too have a name for it: manaakitanga.


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Special people

On Saturday I and two of my siblings travelled the three hours to Opunake to a commemoration service for an aunt. I’m in my 70s and the two siblings are knocking on the door of 70, and attending funerals, commemorations and celebrations of lives of recently departed is becoming more frequent by the year.

This particular service was called a commemoration as the aunt died in January, but due to the restrictions on international travel imposed by Covid, it was felt more appropriate to delay the funeral until as many as possible would be able to attend. Instead of there being a presence of a body in a casket, there were her ashes in an urn on a table amidst flowers, photographs and a candle. Somewhere between 200 and 300 attended

Looking back on the services I have attended over recent years, it struck me that the only “real” Christian funeral was that of my mother. All the rest either ignored Christian theology altogether or at best may have included a token hymn that reflected an aspect of the deceased’s life more than anything specifically Christian.

Like all the others I have attended (apart from my mother’s) there has been no mention of God or gods, Jesus or an the expectation of an afterlife in heaven or hell. The only token towards a cultural Christianity was a quip by one speaker who mentioned that if her late husband was the one designated to drive her to the pearly gates in his much loved orange Vauxhall Viva, she’d probably wish to be somewhere else – anywhere else. He had a reputation for loudly expressing his view that he was the only competent driver in the world (and probably in heaven), although it was evident to everyone else that he wasn’t.

Aunty Joan was my father’s oldest sister and was just a few weeks short of her 105th birthday. She was one of twelve siblings, of whom only two remain. I was going to title this piece “Another one bites the dust” in light of that comment being made in jest by one of her remaining brothers, but I suspect some of my readers might not think too kindly about such an irreverent phrase, particularly if they have experienced a recent loss of their own.

On the drive back, my brother, who is neither a Christian nor religious made the comment that Aunty Joan was a true Christian, and the world could do with more people like her. My sister and I agreed, but I quipped that a great many fundamentalist Christians would disagree. It all comes down to what one considers “being Christian” is all about.

I live in a society that is secular but nominally “Christian”, and as best as I can recognise, the religious beliefs of Kiwis has changed little over my lifetime. What has changed is what Kiwis consider “being Christian” is. Until the 1960s, most Kiwis regardless of their religiosity would have been offended if they were described as not being Christian. Being Christian did not centre around belief but around action. One was judged by their deeds – generosity of heart and spirit, helping those in need regardless of one’s own circumstances, listening, caring, being supportive and being a warrior of whatever one perceived as social justice.

What has changed over recent decades has been that the concept of “being a Christian” no longer has that meaning. Lead by the importation of fundamentalism it’s become all about belief – having a specific sort of faith, and that “good works” count for nothing. Perhaps if one does “good works” for the purpose of salvation (whatever that is) then just maybe they do count for little. But people such as Aunty Joan never gave salvation a second thought. They give of themselves because, in good conscience, they could not ignore the needs of others.

For old schoolers such as myself, Christianity was (and I’m using the past tense deliberately) about one’s relationship to humanity (Love your neighbour as yourself). Today it seems that for some Christians, all that matters is one’s relationship with a deity and the worshipping of “His” Bible.

Sixty years ago I too would have been offended if someone had declared I wasn’t a Christian. Today, I’d be offended if they said I was. It’s not that my beliefs or values have changed significantly, it’s because the common understanding of what being a Christian has undergone a radical change under the influence of the fundamentalist evangelical movement. That’s why today, if someone asks if I’m a Christian, I always ask what they mean by being Christian. I’m unlikely to be in agreement with many who are younger than fifty.

The following is a poem by David Harkins that was presented at the service. I felt it was most appropriate.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.


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Lessons from the Disunited States — Bill Peddie’s website

This thoughtful post by a Christian and fellow Kiwi reflect, I believe, the thinking of most reasonable people, not only in Aotearoa New Zealand but throughout much of the world.

The excruciating four year unfolding circus on the US political scene makes the New Zealand political scene seem very tame in comparison. Unfortunately, for good or ill, we are bound to the leading Western powers by historical ties of trade and defence. The mixed blessing of Vietnam and Iraq should still be relatively fresh in […]

Lessons from the Disunited States by Bill Peddie — Bill Peddie’s website


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Christianity without God

On several occasions on this blog I have attempted to describe my religious beliefs. I describe myself as being religious and as being a non-theist. I describe myself as a Quaker but not a Christian. However I still find “God language” useful and meaningful to me. For myself, God is a metaphor, or perhaps more accurately an envelope that holds those ideals I value highly – fairness, compassion, social justice, kindness all rank highly. However, someone else may value obedience, adherence to rules, an eye for an eye, conformity. Whatever values one holds as being most important, that is what is contained within the envelope I choose to call God.

As an aside, I would argue that in fact even those who wish to believe in God as a supernatural being, also do exactly what I do, except they have come to believe that the envelope is the all important bit, worthy of worship itself – something beyond themselves. By doing so, they see the contents contained within as characteristics of the container. The outcome is that the contents are no longer open to question or revision.

What many of my readers may not be aware of is that Christianity today is less liberal than it was a century ago or even in my youth. Theological Liberalism remained the driving force of Christianity in Aotearoa New Zealand until the last quarter of the twentieth century. Since then, Liberal Christianity, along with it’s younger relative Progressive Christianity have faced a greater challenge from conservatism, Fundamentalism, Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism..

Those same forces have had a 50 year advantage in the USA, having gained momentum in the first quarter of the twentieth century. It is presumably why some comments from Americans regarding my attempts at explaining a non-theistic approach to God are so antagonistic, especially from avowed atheists. Most seem to be unable to conceive of God in non-theistic terms.

Complicating matters, is that here in NZ only one in three people claim a christian affiliation, whereas in the US three out of four people claim to be Christian. So the context in which my beliefs developed are radically different from that which most Americans experience. The result is that that neither the American Christian nor American atheist has much in common with the Kiwi form of liberal religion that shaped my world view.

So rather than attempt to use my own words to explain what I believe, here is part a presentation made by Sir Lloyd Geering around 9 years ago (he’s 101 now, and he was 92 at the time of the presentation).

This particular part of the presentation was an afterthought. He was asked to explain the backgound behind his book Christianity Without God. It’s essentially “off the cuff” as he hadn’t made preparation for this part. I’ve included a Youtube clip. As often happens with the Kiwi accent, Youtube’s inbuilt transcript doesn’t do a particularly good job, so for those who find our accent a little difficult, I’ve transcribed it below keeping as close as I can to his actual words.

Well, Christianity Without God came about in a funny way, you know. I don”t know if you have heard anything of the Sea of Faith movement. It is associated with Don Cupitt, the radical theologian in Britain, and now it’s a movement in New Zealand as well. At one of the conferences, I offered a little workshop called Christianity Without God. I did it with a bit of tongue in check really, because it sounds a bit absurd – how can you have Christianity without God?

However, it aroused so much interest that somebody put it on the Internet. Then somebody in America found it on the Internet and drew attention to Polebridge Publishers about it. So Bob Funk who was at the head of Polebridge Publishers and the Westar Institute said “Couldn’t you write a book about it?” and I said “I don’t really know about it. I’ll have a go”. So I wrote Christianity without God.

Now, in the course of this it was really tracing to my own thinking about God, because when I came into the church, they all talked about God. I didn’t know quite what to make of God. I knew the image of an old man in the sky was just an image, and I was content, really, to feel I knew nothing about God – that God was the supreme mystery about life. And then I gradually came (as a result of reading a good deal of theology) to refine that.

So in this book, I have tried to show that in Christianity without God, I mean Christianity without a theistic view of God. Now, theism is the term which means you think of God as personal being – of course infinite compared with us, but nevertheless, one who thinks, and plans, and performs miracles, and answers prayers. That’s theism.

Well, all I want to say is that that view of God no longer gels for me – no longer gels for a lot of people. Now it doesn’t mean to say that I’m casting the word God away. No, If I use the word God at all, I’ve got to use it in a different way from that.

Indeed, one great Roman Catholic scholar said right back in the ’60s we have to learn to speak of God in a radically new way. So Christianity without God means Christianity without that old idea of God, but it leaves God language free.

Of course we don’t have to use God language. God language is a symbolic language, and theology has much more in common with poetry than it has with science because it has to do with that highest dimension of human experience – what sometimes we call the spiritual dimension, because we haven’t got adequate words to describe it otherwise.

That’s why it links it up with poetry and the arts – the visual arts, and the dramatic arts, the storytelling arts. There where we have mediums through which which we can use in order to reach out to that which is beyond us. So if I use the word God at all, though I’m more careful now because, you see it’s ceasing to be a word that you can use without explaining what you mean by it. Otherwise people assume you’re meaning the theistic God, so in some ways it’s better not to talk about God at all. But I do I do so in the way a theologian, Gordon Kaufman (from whom I’ve learned much), suggested.

The word God has played a very important role in the Western world. Not simply because of that image which has to go, but because of what it did. It was a central point. Now to illustrate this, let me say when our pioneering forebears came to Australia and New Zealand to what they thought was a sort of virgin land (forget about the Māori and the Aboriginies), and took it over and planned how to use it.

Their surveyors had to come in, and what did the surveyor do? He went to the nearest hill and put a trig station in, and from that trig station, he measured out the land and it was given out in plots. Now the trig station was on a chosen bit – that is, it was humans who decided where the trig station was to be. But having chosen it, it then became a central point to which they referred for the land.

Now the word God has played that role in the Western world. if you don’t know a thing, you’d say “Only God knows that”. Who made the world? “Don’t know. God made the world”. That’s how we answered all the difficult questions of our children as they were growing up. Use god as a reference point. So the use of the word God as a reference point is very good.

Now, what is my reference point? I was asked this recently when they did a television documentary about me. What was my reference point and I said “Well, they are values. The things I value most,” I said, “are Love and justice and compassion and goodwill and honesty and so it goes on,” and then I said, “and those are, for me, God.

In that sense I think God language has a very important role to play but in the traditional sense of that image, as John Robinson said in 1963, “That image of God has to go”.


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The country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

I find little to distinguish the principles of secular humanism from those of most religions, and in holding that view I tend to find myself a target of the “fundamentalists” of both the religious and non-religious kind. In this regard, I’m probably typical of a relatively large section of those who call Aotearoa New Zealand home. It is important to note that I am referring to principles and not practices. The reason why will become obvious in a moment.

Way back in October 2015 I wrote a piece titled Animism is the established religion of Aotearoa New Zealand. Really? in which I was critical of an article by John Tertullian on MandM. He was of the opinion that there is only one “true” religion, and as a consequence all others must be false. When it comes to the environmental crisis we find ourselves in today, I see the reverence bestowed upon nature by Māori (and no doubt other cultures with spiritual/religious beliefs, which the West often perceive as primitive, and collectively label as animism) in which all animate and inanimate forms possess a “life force” or “essence” (called mauri in Te Reo Māori). In this country the concept of mauri is becoming a motivator for Pākeha as it has been for Māori in taking care of our planet. It is the principles, or essence of mauri that motivate us, not necessarily a specific set of beliefs about what it is.

Which brings me to the point of the post. The Islamicity Foundation owns the Islamicity Indices project, which according to their website:

The Islamicity Indices enable Muslims to focus on the indisputable source of their religion—the Qur’an—and are a continuous performance indicator of their rulers, governments and communities. The Indices also provide a simple approach to explain Islam to the non-Muslim world. With a better understanding of Islam in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities, peaceful reform and effective institutions will be more readily achieved in Muslim countries.

While I acknowledge that not every Muslim will come to the same conclusions as the Islamicity Foundation on what are the most important Quranic principles (supporters of ISIS and Al-Qaeda being glaring examples), my experience with Muslims in this country indicates that those principles are ranked highly.

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims;
I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam.”

 

Mohammad Abduh

Of particular note is the comment “The Islamicity Indices substantiate the observation that Western countries better reflect Islamic institutions than do countries that profess Islam and also provide the compass for renewal and progress in Muslim countries.”

I believe it’s important to understand that the principles underlying a belief system should not be confused with the institutions and practices of those who follow that system. While institutions, practices and dogma change with time and location, the principles or “essence” remain essentially the same. In fact I see a similar “essence” in almost every worthwhile belief system, be it spiritual, religious or secular.

So now, (with appropriate drum roll please) the country that most closely follows Qur’anic principles is…

Aotearoa New Zealand

I stumbled upon this quirky piece of information here, and then found dozens of similar articles following a quick search of the internet for verification. What I find interesting is that on many Christian sites, one statement of fact has been altered. In non-Christian articles we read:

New Zealand has no official religion and nearly half of the country’s 5 million people identify as Christian

Whereas in most Christian based articles we read:

The country of New Zealand does not have any official religion and close to 5 million of the people in the country identify themselves as Christian.

I would like to think that the more than doubling of Christian numbers in these articles was a case of human error by one writer of one article that became a source of information for all the rest. Or am I being too optimistic about the motivation of some writers?


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In the wake of Israel Folau’s homophobic comments on social media, and his possible sacking, I cannot place all the blame on his shoulders. He grew up withing a religiously conservative Pacific island community, where the views he holds is the norm. The question should be how should we respond to the dissemination such beliefs? Here is Bill Peddie’s take on the question.

IZZY’S LITTLE LIST A few days ago a congregation member of a local Pentecostal-type mega church told me that their whole congregation had recently prayed for my salvation. Their leaders had discovered that I had a liberal approach to the Bible and they were understandably concerned I might be leading others in the town down […]

via Izzy’s Little List — Bill Peddie’s website


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More lies, damned lies and statistics

From time to time I browse through older posts of bloggers that were written before I started following them. Recently I came across Exploring Reasons Why “Atheists” Have Extreme Moral Prejudice Toward Atheists by Victoria NeuroNotes. What tweaked my interest in the post was that Victoria had put one of the words Atheists inside inverted commas. I read her article and the study link to an article about a global survey on which she based her article, but I failed to understand the purpose of the inverted commas. So then I read the articles in the following study and studies links, but was still none the wiser, and somewhat confused, as the latter two links were findings on morality itself, whereas the first link is to findings on the perception of morality. Not the same thing at all.

That discovery bothered me because in my experience it’s not like Victoria to make this sort of mistake. Just as puzzling was that she doubted the accuracy of the study because it was contrary to her personal anecdotal experience.

The findings of the study didn’t match my own experience either, but for a different reason. I have not seen any evidence that either theists or atheists regard atheists as less trustworthy. Then I read the notes link and part of it fell in place. That article refers to the same study, and this sentence jumped out at me:

Only in Finland and New Zealand, two secular countries, did the experiment not yield conclusive evidence of anti-atheist prejudice, said the team.

So that explains why my experience didn’t match the conclusion of the global study. Kiwis really don’t care about the religiosity of their fellow citizens. It’s also consistent with a 2009 NZ survey that gave atheism and all major religions (with the exception of Islam) a 90% approval rating. Islam lagged well behind with an 80% approval rating. A similar survey in the US at the same time gave atheists a 64% disapproval rating. This is also consistent with the study conclusion that one’s opinion of atheists is strongly influenced by the beliefs of society in which one lives, regardless of whether one is or is not religious.

It was only after I started reading the comments that the penny finally dropped and I understood why Victoria put inverted commas around Atheist: Perhaps many of the so called atheists weren’t really atheists at all. Now where have I heard similar types of statements before? One atheist even suggested that some Christians might have deliberately lied to distort the findings. There’s even the example of one atheist accusing another atheist of not being a “True Atheist”(TM) because the latter participates in the activities of a UU church. Sigh.

There was another thread to the criticism of the survey, and that was in regards to the motives of the researchers, but this wasn’t really pursued very far.

My curiosity aroused, I decided to investigate the findings a little further. I did locate the paper involved, but wasn’t prepared to fork out precious funds to purchase the right to view it, so I had to settle for this Supplementary Information PDF document. In it, in Supplementary Table 4. Religious demographics (%), I found what I was looking for.

The number of Christians, atheists and agnostics are similar to other surveys I’ve seen for young adults in Australia, the UK and the USA (the only ones other than NZ that I have any knowledge of). The number of Christians are 41%, 20%, and 79% respectively, and the number of NZ Christians is recorded as 22%. Again consistent with other surveys.

What I find interesting is how those who are not religious self identify. At first glance, the US has more atheists than NZ (UK: 22%; Australia:15%; US: 4%; NZ: 2%), and far more agnostics (UK: 15%; Australia: 15%; US: 5%; NZ: 0). It’s when considering those who identify as having no religion that there is a clear difference between NZ and all other countries (NZ: 71%; UK: 27%;  Australia: 14%; US: 10%). Even in Finland, only 25% self identify as having no religion.

What I believe this shows is the relaxed attitude Kiwis have towards religion, and that includes those who self identify as being religious. Religion is a private matter, and it doesn’t intrude into the public domain. Neither believers nor non-believers feel threatened by the other. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where to me as an outsider, both sides seem to be in a state of siege.

As to whether some Christians lied about their beliefs to deliberately distort the findings, I very much doubt it. The supplementary document includes the questions presented to the students, and I think one would need inside information (or assistance from their God) to know the purpose of the questionnaire. That some atheists are willing to believe that Christians will deliberately lie to present their faith more favourably is so very similar to the belief some Christians have about atheists, and  supports the last sentence in the previous paragraph – that a state of siege exists. To be honest, I find this very disappointing.

In a Medical Xpress article “Reminders of secular authority reduce believers’ distrust of atheists” we are informed that a majority of Americans would disapprove of their children marrying an atheist and would not vote for an atheist president. Compare that to NZ where we’ve had an atheist or agnostic government leader in 20 of the last 21 years and no one, including Christians are in the least bit bothered by it. I find the last paragraph in that article very compelling:

“There is evidence that gods and governments can fulfill similar roles,” Gervais says. People want the world to be orderly and controlled, but it seems like the authority that keeps people in line can be religious or secular. There’s some evidence that when people feel less confident in their government, they’re more likely to seek out religion. Norenzayan and Gervais find that in countries where the government is more effective and stronger, atheists are both more common and more trusted.

I think that the contrasting perspectives of Americans and Kiwis supports this hypothesis. So, what have I learnt from this exercise?

  • The trustworthiness that members of a minority group have towards fellow members is influenced by attitudes of those outside the group
  • That makagutu’s commentThere’s no difference between an ideologue of any ism” is absolutely true.

What I would like to know is why ideologues are a dime a dozen in America, but as scarce as hens’ teeth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Any suggestions?


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As my own faith tradition reminds me, the Kingdom of God is not some “other” place that good Christians “retire” to at some time in the future. It is here and now, or at least can be if we, as a community, make an effort to bring it about. We are all capable of making this world a kinder, more caring and equitable place, not by praying or expecting others, even God, to make it so, but by getting stuck in yourself.

As Kiwis, we haven’t done too well in many respects in Aotearoa New Zealand. As Bill points out in his post shared below, childhood poverty in Aotearoa has increased from 11% in 1986 to 25% today. As many prophets have warned (and I’m not referring to those who claim Biblical authority) we are starting to see the consequences of our joint inaction.

As these to quotes remind us, don’t expect God or your deity of choice to bow to your requests through prayer. Choose wisely the prophets you listen to, and then act accordingly to make this world a better place.

There is little point in praying to be enabled to overcome some temptation, and then putting oneself in the very position in which the temptation can exert all its fascination. There is little point in praying that the sorrowing may be comforted and the lonely cheered, unless we ourselves set out to bring comfort and cheer to the sad and neglected in our own surroundings. There is little point in praying for our home and for our loved ones, and in going on being as selfish and inconsiderate as we have been. Prayer would be an evil rather than a blessing if it were only a way of getting God to do what we ourselves will not make the effort to do. God does not do things for us – he enables us to do them for ourselves.” – Elisabeth Holmgaard, 1984
The sick and those caring for them have need of our prayers. But let us not imagine … that a few sentimental good wishes from a distance are all that is needed. Whenever we intercede in prayer we must be prepared for an answer which places a practical obligation upon us. A prayer is always a commitment.” – Thomas F Green, 1952

A few years back I recall a TV interview with a man who had survived 11 lightning strikes and lived to tell the tale. The lightning victim’s explanation was that God must therefore have some special purpose for him. I am afraid my cynical reaction was to assume that if whatever that man meant by […]

via Lectionary sermon for 18 November 2018 on Mark 13: 1-8 — Bill Peddie’s website


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What is religion?

It really depends on who you ask. I recall reading somewhere that someone had collected 27 “authoritative” definitions , and among those, there wasn’t a single definition that had no mutually exclusive definition.

Simple dictionary definitions will tell you that religion includes a belief in the supernatural, and while it’s true that most religions do to some degree, not all religions do. Wikipedia takes several hundred lines of text to tell you that the experts can’t agree on a universal definition of religion, but does present a range of definitions.

It does include one definition that I thought came close to the mark:

According to the MacMillan Encyclopedia of Religions, there is an experiential aspect to religion which can be found in almost every culture:

[…] almost every known culture [has] a depth dimension in cultural experiences […] toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behavior are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience—varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.

I liked this definition because it doesn’t assume sacred tomes, deities, creeds, an afterlife or anything of a supernatural nature. For me its weakness is in the use of the phrase “historically recognizable form“. I’m not sure that all religions today would conform with a historically recognisable form of religion. And it makes no allowance for future forms that religion might take.

However, Sir Lloyd Geering has come up with a simple, short definition that, according to him, covers all religion, past, present and future. His definition is:

A total mode of the interpreting and living of life.

Sir Lloyd explains:

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.

The clip below is from a discussion with Sir Lloyd Geering at Auckland Museum’s LATE at the Museum Innovation series in 2010. It’s moderately long at 20m 13s. Sir Lloyd starts speaking at 3:14 if you’d like to skip the introduction. He discuses what is meant by “the divine”; the problem with the word “God”; what religion is; the rise of “popular atheism”; NZ secularism vs US fundamentalism; the Green movement as a type of religion; and much more: