Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


4 Comments

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”.


2 Comments

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?

Keeping the coronavirus out of Aotearoa New Zealand is fraught with difficulties, the most significant perhaps being that it requires the cooperation of multiple agencies. I’m glad I’m not the only person who regards the setting up of a Border Security Force as a potential source of abuse and tyranny.

Whilst the current multi-agency arrangement involving Customs, Health, Police and Military has revealed many flaws from managing security to testing for COVID-19, these are being acknowledged and corrected as they come to light. This is uncharted territory, and if anyone believes that a plan of action can be brought from the drawing board to fruition in record time taking into account every possibility with every permutation already considered and planned for, then they are living in cloud cuckooland.

Would a Border Security Force result in appalling forms of abuse as can be witnessed in countries such as Australia and the United States? I would hope not, but I’d prefer that the opportunity does not arise. Better to resource the existing agencies adequately and create a management task force dedicated to coordinating the agencies and quickly respond to issues as they arise.

If there are legal barriers to setting up such a task force in any future national emergency, then sure, bring in legislation that will allow it ensuring that transparent oversight is included. But having a permanent independent force with little in the way of transparent oversight on the American or Australian model with all their reported abuses? No thanks!

With a general election coming up in less than two months, several political parties are promoting a Border Security Force, but this does not appear to be on the radar for the governing Labour party at the moment. However, they are just as subject to public pressure as other parties, so I want to put my position now in the hope that I’m just one of many voices opposing the formation of a Border Security force.

On this matter I can do no better than reblog Robert Glennie’s post on Will New Zealand Be Right?

Normally I am quite tough on matters of national security, and I am, but the concept of a New Zealand border agency fills me with dread. One does not have to look far to see in other countries why it is controversial. And the last a government agency with enormous control was created in New […]

The perils of a New Zealand Border Force — Will New Zealand Be Right?


Leave a comment

Will there be a “new normal”?

During COVID-19 lockdown much discussion was made about changes in socialising and doing business becoming a “new normal”. For example, working from home where possible, staggering work hours to reduce the density of foot traffic and crowding in office spaces.

A great many businesses have discovered that productivity increased markedly in stay at home workers, and the majority of such workers found both work and general life-style more satisfying. While city centres were much quieter, pollution was down considerably. But now that all restrictions have been lifted there is pressure from central and local authorities for businesses to return to pre-COVID conditions.

The argument is that this is necessary to restore the “vibrancy” of city centres and to help inner city cafés, bars and such recover from dire financial situations. Is this a satisfactory reason to go back to the old normal? is it worth sacrificing the health and well being of thousands of workers for the sake of a few struggling enterprises?

How about considering the interests of the many as well as the interests of a few. Some of our major telecommunications providers have all but closed down their bricks and mortar call centres, with all or most staff working from home. Apparently this is what most of the staff prefer. The telcos benefit from increased productivity, happier staff, and lower costs associated with smaller premises.

Not only does it remove the stress and wasted travel time involved in commuting to work, but it allows staff a great deal of flexibility, particularly when it come to family, but also with lifestyle in general. A win all round don’t you think?

A major insurer here has announced that it too is to downsize its head office, moving much of its operation to the suburbs and to working from home where possible. Disappointingly, the government has criticised the the company claiming that it will harm the recovery of city centre.

Other businesses have found rostering staff on a 4-day week has improved productivity, staff satisfaction and staff loyalty. Other organisations have adopted a mixture of practices such as requiring office attendance only one or two days each week, and flexible office work hours. How many people wish to return to rush hour commuting that the authorities are pushing for?

Most of my readers are aware I’m not a fan of “vibrant” when it comes to city crowds, but I really think we’re missing an opportunity to re-evaluate the wisdom of cramming so much into city centres, and making suburbs little more than dull lifeless dormitories for city workers.

Perhaps, before the advent of modern forms of telecommunications, concentrating commerce into compact areas was the most productive means of conducting business. But does that still hold true today with modern forms of telecommunications? I’m not convinced.

At the least we should take the opportunity provided to us by COVID-19 to look at life/work balance, not just individually, but as communities and societies. Perhaps we’ll end up choosing the old normal, but unless we look, we’ll miss any chance of finding a better alternative.


4 Comments

So, I’m an anti-Semite

Well, according to a recent declaration by the so called leader of the free world, I am. Trump’s recent announcement that Jewishness is a race and nationality, and that anti-antisemitism includes opposition to the political and foreign policy actions of Israel places me very firmly as being antisemitic. I am highly critical of some of the policies of Israel with regards to their treatment of Palestinians and the misappropriation of Palestinian land. That being so, then I am indeed officially guilty of antisemitism, just as much as I am anti-American and anti-Christian for opposing some political and foreign policy actions of America, anti-Islamic for opposing the philosophy and actions of Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Saudi Arabia, anti-Buddhist for opposing the Myanmar governments genocidal actions against the Rohingya, anti-Chinese for opposing the detention and “re-education” of ethnic Uighur Muslims, and anti-Australian for being critical of their inhumane treatment of the “boat people” refugees.

I also wonder what peril is placed upon Jews by such a declaration, particularly that Jewishness is a nationality. Could it be used against them at some time in the future? Such a declaration was made in Nazi Germany around seven years before I was born, and that didn’t end very well for the Jews, did it?

New Zealand’s neighbour to the west – Australia – bars citizens with dual nationality from holding some forms of public office on the grounds that such people have divided loyalties. Recently some members of the Australian Government found they were ineligible for the office they held as they unknowingly were also New Zealand nationals.

As “race” is not something you choose or can renounce, does that mean a Jew in America will always have dual nationality whether they like it or not? At sometime in the future, could it be determined that as Jewishness is a nationality, then Jews have divided loyalty and are therefore ineligible for some forms of public office or even all forms of public office? Could this not then be extended to exclude any position that is considered of national importance? It’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

As Padre Steve points out in his recent post Who is a True Jew, Christian or any other Faith? This is Not a Question Left to Secular Government, this sets a very dangerous precedent.


Leave a comment

Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?

The Rt Hon Helen Clark was the keynote speaker at this year’s Peter Fraser Lecture where she posed the question that is the title of this post: Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp? It’s not a quick read (approximately 3,500 words) but I feel it’s worth the effort. The link to the lecture is at the end of this post.

For small nations such as Aotearoa New Zealand, A working system of international multilateral agreements is necessary for survival, as it is for all smaller countries and for most of the world’s population. A handful of large nations can bully their way to wealth and “success”, and I would class Trump’s MAGA one such example, but at what cost to the rest of the world? If a powerful nation unilaterally decides to pull out of an agreement it freely entered into and then attempts to punish others for continuing to honour said agreement, the consequences for international cooperation can be profound.

Here, for example, is what Helen Clark had to say about the US withdrawal from international nuclear agreements:

The UN is also a bystander as key parts of the nuclear weapons control architecture is dismantled. The most egregious example is that of the Iran nuclear deal which was endorsed by the Security Council. The US withdrawal from the agreement was a direct challenge to the authority of the Council which all Member States are bound to uphold. The expiry of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the United States and what is now Russia is a major threat to peace and security, but one the multilateral system in its current state is not equipped to address.

The hypothesis presented by the former Prime Minister’s talk is that the multilateral system is struggling for relevance, that the world it seeks to function in is not that of 1945, and that its core institutions, like the UN Security Council, have been unable to adapt.

Her talk covers:

  • the successes the multilateral system has had
  • the pressures it is now under
  • the importance of continuing to engage constructively with it
  • examples of the development of more inclusive forms of multilateralism

I appreciate, that many Americans have little concern for what goes on outside their borders, and the US has practiced isolationism in the past, and is fast retreating into a new form of it, but for the sake of the whole world, it’s the wrong choice in my view.

While the US isn’t the only player causing a breakdown in international cooperation, it’s clearly a significant, if not the most significant, player. I know most thinking Americans already understand this, whereas Trump supporters will blame the rest of the world, so perhaps this post and Helen’s talk might be a case of preaching to the converted.

Helen Clark’s talk can be viewed in its entirety at Rt Hon Helen Clark: “Multilteralism: Time for a Revamp?”. Annual Peter Fraser Lecture, Wellington, 12 August 2019.


Leave a comment

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?


3 Comments

MLK on spiritually moribund religion

Sometimes a quote jumps out at me, and in a few words, states what I struggle to convey in several pages. This is one of them:

“It has been my conviction ever since reading Rauschenbusch that any religion which professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the social and economic conditions that scar the soul, is a spiritually moribund religion only waiting for the day to be buried.”

Martin Luther King Jr Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)


4 Comments

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


Leave a comment

Celebrating the birth of a nation

Today is Waitangi Day, where Aotearoa New Zealand celebrates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, whereby Aotearoa New Zealand became a British colony. There are in fact two versions of the Treaty of Waitangi: the Treaty, signed by Governor Hobson on behalf of the British Crown, which was written in English; and te Tiriti, which was signed by most of the Māori signatories, and was in written in Te Reo Māori (the Māori language). What the Crown intended, and what the Māori believed they were signing up to, were not the same thing, and has been a matter of dispute ever since, including bloody warfare. I stated my point of view in a 2015 blog post Treaty of Waitangi 101 which also includes a video clip of a presentation made to the Quaker Yearly Meeting in 2013.

There has been a call, both from Māori and from some sections of the Pākehā community to enshrine the treaty in law. There arises a problem: which version? I don’t think this is solvable. However, I think we are on the right track in looking at the principles or spirit of the treaty and working within that framework. Te Ara (the Encyclopedia of New Zealand) has a story on the Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi – ngā mātāpono o te tiriti that illustrates where we are at today. The Waitangi Tribunal had this to say in 1983:

The spirit of the Treaty transcends the sum total of its component written words and puts literal or narrow interpretations out of place.

In River gains personhood I wrote about how the Whanganui River and its watershed has gained personhood. This is an example of respecting the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. A similar law saw a section of the North Island change from being a national park to an entity with personhood.

There are some who find the notion that a “primitive animistic” perspective being permitted within a “civilised Western Christian” (is that Oxymoronic?) society to be totally unacceptable – mostly, but not entirely on the religious right. Some of these detractors are not Kiwi, but some unfortunately are. Personally, I find the partial absorption of each other’s culture, values and perspectives both challenging and beautiful, and long may it continue to be so

Finally I have embedded a YouTube clip of a speech from Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Yes, I’ll concede that as well as discussing the importance of Waitangi Day, she manages to include a little politics and nationalism (after all, she’s a politician), but what I like about her style, is that she challenges us to make her and her government accountable for what they say and do (or don’t do as the case may be). I like that in a politician. (length: 12m 16s)


8 Comments

American Exceptionalism?

What is it with a minority of Americans (it is a minority, right?) who genuinely believe the American constitution is as perfect and as flawless as they believe the Bible to be, and that everyone outside of its borders desire to live the “American Dream”, if not in America, then a close replica of it elsewhere.

One could be forgiven for thinking these Exceptionalists believed the constitution was conceived by God and that any criticism of it is tantamount to blasphemy and/or heresy. They believe that America is the greatest country on earth, and as a nation can do no wrong. I’ll concede that America is, for the time being, the most powerful country on earth, but as to being the greatest, I think not, and if it ever was, not for a long while.

What reminded me of all this is an opinion piece titled The True Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the article, KrisAnne Hall suggests that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg could possibly be a singular point that can cause the destruction of America. Wow! I mean, WOW!

So, you may ask, what is it that makes Justice Ginsburg such a threat to America? Apparently she doesn’t bow down and worship the constitution in a manner that the writer believes is mandatory for all Americans and especially its jurists. Ginsburg stated on Egyptian TV in 2012 that if she were to write a new constitution for Egypt she would not model it on the American one. Oh the sacrilege! Oh the profanity! She actually suggested that it would be better to be aided by all the constitutional writings that have gone on since the end of World War II!

To the Exceptionists, the constitution is perfect and nothing can surpass it, even 200 years later. One could ask if it was perfect in every way, why has it had so many amendments over the years? But seriously, do they really think that in the 200 years since it was so brilliantly drafted, that other intellectuals, academics, and politicians could not come up with something that was as good, if not better? Acknowledging that probability is not to denigrate the American constitution, but simply to acknowledge that others can be just as wise as the American founding fathers were and build on what has been learnt in the past.

The writer questions Justice Ginsburg’s knowledge of the American constitution, but I wonder if the writer should question her own knowledge. She states that nation is founded upon the principles that “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. That may or may not be true, but it’s not stated in the constitution.

The writer claims the the founding fathers wrote in  set a “sunset” for the institution of slavery as evidence that they believed all men were equal. Actually they didn’t. They set in a sunset clause for the importation of slaves. Quite a different matter altogether. The writer also reminds Ginsburg that the Declaration of Independence states “ALL” men are created equal. True, but again that’s not in the original constitution. Even as late as 1896 the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was not unconstitutional. And Jim Crow laws were not successfully challenged in the courts until the 1960s.

As well as the sunset clause allowing the slave trade to continue for the time being, the acceptance of slavery can be seen in the Enumeration Clause and the The Fugitive Slave Clause. Did the founding father want an end to the institution of slavery? Some of them certainly did, but once again it’s not explicit in the constitution.

But hey, what do I know. I live in one of less than a handful of nations that do not have a codified constitution, and what laws we do have limiting and regulating the powers of government are most certainly not set in stone, yet we enjoy greater freedoms than Americans. What I won’t find is anyone declaring a jurist unpatriotic (I don’t think Kiwis ever use that term), unfit for office, or a traitor if their opinion of our constitution didn’t agree with theirs.

Hey Exceptionalists, be you American, national, religious, or otherwise, pull your heads out of the sand and look around. You might notice the world passing you by.