Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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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!


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 4)

In this video clip Lloyd Geering reminds us that Jesus wanted his listeners to think for themselves: not to accept without question what was told to them. It seems that it was Paul who elevated Jesus from being completely human to being a divine figure – something that the early church was quick to latch on to.

For those who find a 7 minute clip too long, here’s what I believe to be the important points:

Jesus was not a divine figure. Jesus was a human person.

Jesus as the divine figure is a creation of the church.

Jesus seemed to be able to speak with authority that they were not used to and it was because of that they were led eventually to attribute to him the authority of God.

The first to regard Jesus as divine was St Paul who had never known Jesus in the flesh.

The Gentile Christianity which was promoted by Paul, was a distortion of the primitive figure of Jesus.

It was his teaching that really impressed people. For example the prodigal son and the Good Samaritan were characters that he created and he spoke to people with such freshness and power that they couldn’t help feeling he spoke to them with the authority of God.

There never was a sermon on the mount.

The parables are stories which often have an unexpected ending, which were told by Jesus to get people to think for themselves. This was a new way of teaching. In some respects [it] is the key to the modern world: that is thinking for oneself, dealing with the problems, not looking for someone else to find the solutions for you, but to find your own solution.

We should always be questioning our tradition because it’s only by questioning that tradition develops and grows and matures in one’s own lifetime or in one’s own generation.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 3)

It’s been a long time since the previous post in this series. In case you need to refresh your memory, see Part 1 and Part 2.

In the video below clip Lloyd Geering makes the point that we as Human Beings created the concept of God. I agree. One only need to look at the variety of gods that have been created by cultures over a number of millennia, to realise that the likelihood of any of them being true is extremely unlikely.

Some of Lloyd Geering’s comments from the video clip that ring true to me:

I’ve never thought of God as a personal God. Indeed in a sense the word God is really beyond all definition simply because it is a symbolic term.

…and of course that brings us to the point where today we can accept that the term God is simply a symbolic term for all that is greatest and highest in our values.

Is it conceivable that this universe has been created by a rational mind rather like ours? Does it show evidence that it has a clear purpose in being there at all? I would say no purpose for which we can actually give any answer.

What religion is for me is how does one best respond to the various chance events which happen to you in life – how do you make the best of them? And I have found the the whole Christian myth helpful in helping to give me give it shape and supply the kind of values that that one needs in order to live a meaningful life.

Whereas we used to think of God as the Creator, I think it’s better to think of God as simply the process of creativity, which is in us, and is in the universe in an all inspiring way.

The idea that there was nothing once except God, and God created the universe is really a bit puerile now.


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River gains personhood

Back in October 2015 I wrote an post regarding the lack of respect fundamentalist Christians have towards Māori culture, and their confusing of cultural beliefs and practices with a direct assault on their “true” religion. What they failed to understand is that what Māori regard as Tapu (not ordinary, often translated as “sacred”)  remains the same regardless of their religion or non-religion. And they forget that the majority of Māori are Christian whereas the Majority of Pākehā are not. Even so, within Māori culture, concepts such as tapu, mana and mauri are an integral part of their world view.

While preparing this post I stumbled upon this conversation regarding the same incident. Lydia’s (the OP) assertion was that Māori had no rights to claim a mountain as sacred, or if they did, and it was legally recognised, then that’s proof of the establishment of a religion and therefore unconstitutional.

Ignoring for the moment that no law passed by the Parliament can ever be declared unconstitutional in Aotearoa New Zealand, most of the comments support Lydia using one of three arguments:

  1. Christianity is the only true religion and therefore has every right to trample over any other belief system.
  2. Places can be sacred, but only if they’re man-made and not in publicly accessible places.
  3. Recognising the values and practices of a minority is tantamount to the establishment of a religion.

Argument 1 is utter nonsense and I don’t consider it warrants further discussion. Arguments 2 and 3 I will take together as it seems many people, Christian and atheist alike, perceive alternative world views as being based in religion instead of being just a different way of perceiving the world around us.

The problem with many people in modern “Western” societies, particularly Anglophones, is that they see their culture, not just as one of many cultures, but as THE standard to which all other cultures will, when they fully mature, become carbon copies of. Just like many people think they don’t have an accent, only people from other regions do, many think the same way about culture. Other people have culture, but they themselves don’t because they do “what comes naturally”. How wrong they are.

Every aspect of our lives is coloured by the culture in which we are immersed. This includes, customs, practices, beliefs and values. If we live in a region which is mono-cultural, or predominantly so, then we are likely to see other cultural practices and beliefs as something added to, or taken away from, the “natural” state of being human. And if those practices and beliefs were to be removed, then we may think that those formerly holding those practices and beliefs would behave and think very much like us. And of course we’d be wrong.

The founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand is the Treaty of Waitangi which has largely been honoured by the crown more in its breach than by following its principles. English legislation and common law, as well as the English constitutional conventions became the laws of New Zealand in 1840 and Māori customary law was for all practical purposes erased, even though the Treaty gives it equal status with English law.

Over the last 3 or 4 decades, Pakeha in general have slowly come to the realisation that they have a world view that is different from, rather than superior to, the world view of Māori. I believe we are made richer by valuing alternative world views and even recognising and embracing such views legally.

Perhaps much of the “modern” concept of ownership is derived from the Abrahamic religions where God granted mankind dominion over all of nature. The result is that resources can become the exclusive property of individuals, communities, and (more recently) corporations, to be exploited for the benefit of the owners and with little regard to how it might affect other parts of nature, including other people.

In traditional Maori culture mankind is part of nature, not apart or above it. All things have a life force and rivers, mountains and forests are viewed as living entities, and are treated and respected as such. Just as one person cannot be owned, living entities cannot be owned. Communities can have guardianship or stewardship over a living entity but not dominionship or ownership of it.

These two differing world views have been at the heart of conflict between Māori and Pakeha for almost two hundred years and until recently no resolution that meets both views has been found. In the case of the Whanganui River, there have been ongoing court battles for more than 130 years.

This 2009 thesis discuses in depth why a resolution has been so difficult and then proposes giving rivers personhood as a possible solution. The author, James Morris suggests that a model based on a proposal by an American law professor, Christopher Stone could be adapted to New Zealand’s situation. Morris suggests that the benefits would be:

  1. because many Māori seek resolution of who owns rivers, affording a river its own legal personality would neutralise these arguments: the river would be its own entity and thus could not be owned
  2. as the river would be its own entity, Māori would have equal authority and control in decision-making with government authorities thus Māori tikanga (culture: including kaitiakitanga  and rangatiratanga aspirations) would have increased recognition.
  3. a river being its own entity under the law would better align the legal framework with the Māori worldview as Māori tikanga (culture) regards rivers as tupuna (ancestors). Tupuna cannot be thought of in fragments as is the case in New Zealand law (for example, the flowing water, the river bed and the river bank). Tupuna must be viewed holistically.
  4. a river having its own legal standing would benefit the health of the river as compensation would have to be applied for the benefit of the river as opposed to remedying a third party’s economic loss.

This model has been adapted here in Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2014 legislation was passed that made what was the Te Urewera National Park into a legal entity in and of itself with all the rights of a person. The purpose was to  protect Te Urewera for its intrinsic worth, its distinctive natural and cultural values, the integrity of those values, and for its national importance.

In March this year the Whanganui River became a legal entity with all the rights of a person. The legislation established a new legal framework for the Whanganui River, known in Maori as Te Awa Tupua, recognising the river as an indivisible and living whole from the mountains to the sea. Te Awa Tupua now has its own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person. The  legislation recognises the deep spiritual connection between the Whanganui Iwi (tribe) and the river through their traditions, customs and practise.

I predict that it won’t be too long before Taranaki (the mountain under discussion in the links in the first two paragraphs of this post) will also gain personhood. I’m sure this new way (for Pakeha) of looking at the world will be confirmation by fundamentalist Christians that indeed the official religion of New Zealand is animism. However, most Kiwis, Paheha and Māori see this as a “meeting of the minds” and perhaps creating a new culture out of two older ones. This opinion piece expresses what most Kiwis feel about the forging of new ideas such as personhood of natural entities.

Is the concept of personhood for natural resources a viable option in other parts of the world, to preserve those resources and to respect and protect indigenous cultures? Or is this a case of New Zealand loosing the plot as suggested in this What’s Wrong With The World article.