Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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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Pastafarian rights

That’s not a spelling mistake. I really do mean Pastafarian. For want of something better to do (my concentration has been off recently), I was wandering about on the internet and stumbled upon the U.S. State Department web site, and out of curiosity, looked up what that esteemed department had to say about Aotearoa New Zealand.

Most was kind of boring but some snippets did stand out. This one into their 2018 report on religious freedom in NZ made me smile:

In March an Auckland secondary school student stated that his school did not allow him to wear a spaghetti colander for his school identity photograph, contrary to his religious beliefs.  The student is a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, otherwise known as Pastafarianism, which is a legally recognized religion in the country.  The student stated that he contacted the HRC over the incident but had accepted the school’s decision for the time being.

HRC is an abbreviation for Human Rights Commission, an independent authority that reports to Parliament, not the government. So all you Flying Spaghetti Monster worshipers, if you are looking for somewhere where your religion is recognised (one school excepted) then this is possibly an ideal spot.

By the way, did you realise that in 2001, approximately 1.5% of the New Zealand population claimed their religion as Jedi? That’s the highest per capita population of Jedi in the world. It’s been falling steadily ever since. Which is a shame. I much prefer “May the force be with you” than “God bless”. It has a more dramatic ring to it, don’t you think?


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Don’t expect an easy definition of Quakerism…

Taken directly from the Quakers in Leeds Website (the emphasis in bold is mine):

Quaker thought and practice has always refused to be contained in credal formulas or systems of belief. We don’t offer neat creeds or doctrine. Instead, we try to help each other work out how we should live. All people are welcome and accepted at a Quaker meeting.

Quakers seek religious truth in inner experience and everyday life, rather than authority, ritual and ceremony.

Quakerism is not itself a religion nor is it, any longer, entirely accurate to describe it as a Christian denomination because many of our followers find no purpose in affirming or denying traditional Christian beliefs about God or Christ.

The Quakers are probably best described by their official title; we are a “Religious Society of Friends”.

I was led to this site by a post on Raking Sand, Leeds Trinity University staff and students raking over religion and philosophy titled Considerations of the insider/outsider problem in a Quaker meeting.


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Like perhaps the majority of Quakers in the liberal tradition, I am a non-theist, yet the term God has significant meaning me. Whether or not we believe that God is a deity, we share a belief in values and a philosophy of life which we can ascribe to being attributes of God. It is what we share, rather than what each of us specifically believes that unites us, not only to those within the Religious Society of Friends, nor only those who hold similar values, but with all of humanity and beyond.

In the post linked to below, Peter Turner has selected some quotations that illustrate how Liberal Quakers understand God.

I have much been influenced by Quaker thoughts and ways. Their horizontal power structures in their church organisations, their intelligent, practical good works, the sheer good will that you can feel at any meeting of the Friends – I don’t know why I didn’t become a member years ago! (Well, actually, I do; but that’s […]

via 896: QUAKER VIEWS OF GOD by PETER TURNER — zingcreed


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Gendercide: A hellish campaign by the Evil One??

This morning I came across an interesting article titled: APA issues first-ever guidelines for practice with men and boys. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs:

For the first time ever, APA is releasing guidelines to help psychologists work with men and boys.

At first blush, this may seem unnecessary. For decades, psychology focused on men (particularly white men), to the exclusion of all others. And men still dominate professionally and politically: As of 2018, 95.2 percent of chief operating officers at Fortune 500 companies were men. According to a 2017 analysis by Fortune, in 16 of the top companies, 80 percent of all high-ranking executives were male. Meanwhile, the 115th Congress, which began in 2017, was 81 percent male.

But something is amiss for men as well. Men commit 90 percent of homicides in the United States and represent 77 percent of homicide victims. They’re the demographic group most at risk of being victimized by violent crime. They are 3.5 times more likely than women to die by suicide, and their life expectancy is 4.9 years shorter than women’s. Boys are far more likely to be diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than girls, and they face harsher punishments in school—especially boys of color.

APA’s new Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men strive to recognize and address these problems in boys and men while remaining sensitive to the field’s androcentric past. Thirteen years in the making, they draw on more than 40 years of research showing that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful and that socializing boys to suppress their emotions causes damage that echoes both inwardly and outwardly.

The article is worth a read.

As one who took much longer than most to understand that one’s biological sex places a heavy “social obligation” on one to act out a specific gender role, I agree that traditional masculinity is psychologically harmful. Some of the methods of “correction” I experienced were brutal, and although I’ve disclosed one example, I’m still not ready to disclose others. As one who all my life has had to act masculine instead of simply being masculine (whatever that really is) I think I’ve been very fortunate to have come out of it relatively unscathed. Perhaps I was fortunate in that I grew up in a whānau where gender roles were not set in concrete, and boundaries of what was “appropriate behaviour” were set wide. Unfortunately the wider society was not so accommodating.

While I’m not entirely comfortable about the APA’s stance on autism, I am more in agreement on their stance on gender. If you care to read the entire guideline, it can be found in PDF format at APA GUIDELINES for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men.

I can understand that some people may disagree with the guidelines, especially if their privileged status is at stake, but some go well beyond that. In fact, according to G.C. Dilsaver, the guidelines are part of the “most demonic war in the history of the world” which he terms “gendercide“. He claims “be certain, the conductor of this hellish campaign is no other than the Evil One himself.” That tells me more than I need to know about him, but I did do a search online for more details and discovered previously unknown terms such as “Christian psychology” and “Psychomoralitics”. If you want to understand his thinking you can browse selected essays and videos of Dr G. C. Dilsaver at your leisure.

Personally I believe his views are dangerous, what do you think?


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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:


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God is not real

In her book The history of God, Karen Armstrong, a former nun writes:

When I began to research this history of the idea and experience of God in the three related monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, I expected to find that God had simply been a projection of human needs and desires. I thought that ‘he’ would mirror the fears and yearnings of society at each stage of its development. My predictions were not entirely unjustified but I have been extremely surprised by some of my findings and I wish that I had learned all this thirty years ago, when I was starting out in the religious life. It would have saved me a great deal of anxiety to hear – from eminent monotheists in all three faiths – that instead of waiting for God to descend from on high, I should deliberately create a sense of him for myself. Other Rabbis, priests and Sufis would have taken me to task for assuming that God was – in any sense – a reality ‘out there’; they would have warned me not to expect to experience him as an objective fact that could be discovered by the ordinary rational process. They would have told me that in an important sense God was a product of the creative imagination, like the poetry and music that I found so inspiring. A few highly respected monotheists would have told me quietly and firmly that God did not really exist – and yet that ‘he’ was the most important reality in the world.

Professor Sir Lloyd Geering, noted New Zealand theologian and writer, would concur with the claim that “God did not really exist – and yet that ‘he’ was the most important reality in the world“. To him, God is the embodiment of our highest ideals, and not some supernatural being. Of course, Sir Lloyd would say that most Christians aren’t monotheists at all, but Trinitarianists, but that’s for another post (perhaps).


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Why do religious issues puzzle me?

I confess. I follow a number of religious and atheist blogs – probably more than are good for me. One thing I have failed to understand is why there is so much distrust, suspicion, and in some cases, open hostility between various factions. This enmity is part of the fascination that keeps me returning to blogs that I would otherwise avoid. I am genuinely puzzled as to why the enmity is felt so strongly by some people.

Some of my failure to understand how others feel about religious issues probably rests on the fact that I am autistic, but I think I have found another compelling explanation: I’m a Kiwi.

The Legatum Institute Foundation publishes a prosperity index each year, and among all the variables that go into measuring prosperity, are two pertaining directly to freedom of religion: governmental religious restrictions and social religious restrictions. The Foundation defines these respectively as:
Governmental restrictions on religion, efforts by governments to ban particular faiths, prohibit conversions, limit preaching or give preferential treatment to one or more religious groups
  and
The degree to which there are social barriers to freedom of religion in a country, acts of religious hostility by private individuals, organizations and social groups

As a comparison, I’ve selected the 10 countries that WordPress reports as being the all time top 10 viewing countries of Another Spectrum: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, India, Kenya, Aotearoa New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States.

When it comes to religious freedom, it is apparent that NZ is head and shoulders above the other countries in this comparison. Religious restrictions, both governmental and social are measured on a scale from 0 to 1, and NZ is the only country gaining a score of 1.

Governmental Religious Restrictions

1 New Zealand (1)
0.9 – 0.99 Brazil (7), Australia (21)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (29), United Kingdom (47)
0.7 – 0.79 United States (75), Hungary (77)
0.6 – 0.69 Kenya (103)
0.5 – 0.59 France (109), India (112)

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Considering that the first amendment of the US constitution guarantees freedom of religion, America doesn’t do very well when it comes to governmental restrictions on religion, ranking at 75th. In fact, over the the previous 10 years, its best ranking was 58th in 2009, while its worst was 104th in 2010.

Social Religious Restrictions

Socially, all the countries apart from Hungary place greater restrictions on religion than does the government, and while NZ doesn’t fare too well on a world ranking (there are 28 countries that do better), it still fares better than the other nine countries:

0.9 – 0.99 New Zealand (29)
0.8 – 0.89 Canada (67)
0.7 – 0.79 Australia (80), Hungary (80),
0.6 – 0.69  Brazil (109),
0.5 – 0.59 United Kingdom (118)
0.4 – 0.49 United States (127), France (128)
0.2 – 0.29 Kenya (138), India (144)
0.1 – 0.19

(the number in parenthesis after each country is its world ranking)

Governmental versus social restrictions

What I find really interesting is that there is often little relationship between restrictions on religion imposed by governments and restrictions on religion imposed by the wider society. For example the Chinese government all but bans religious expression, and where it is permitted, it is under state control. Iran on the other hand is an Islamic theocracy. In both countries, governmental restriction on religion are severe, but when compared to the United States, there are fewer social restrictions. I was surprised to see that Iran does better the the US:

govt_social_religion-chart

This suggests to me that Americans are not as accepting or tolerant of different religious beliefs and non-beliefs as they think they are. It explains why a number of bloggers I follow are atheists, but are very reluctant to let that fact be known in their communities. It goes a long way in explaining to me why I and many other Kiwis are unable to understand why religion is such a hot topic in many parts of the world.


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Lloyd Geering: on spirits

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

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

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

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

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


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WordPress categories and tags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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