Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 2)

In this first clip, Professor Lloyd Geering makes the point that since the Enlightenment, everyone is a heretic as we are all free to think for ourselves – we are all free thinkers – and make our own choices accordingly. As he points out “We are encouraged to think for ourselves” [3:08], but who are the “we” he’s referring to?

The nation of Aotearoa New Zealand had its formative years at the height of the Enlightenment, and this country has always had a significant number of individuals and leaders who were Free Thinkers, atheists and agnostics, as well as those of assorted religious traditions. Our isolation from the rest of the world meant we developed an individualistic attitude to living, with a very egalitarian attitude towards authority.  Certainly there’s no doubt that Professor Geering is referring to Kiwis when he says we are encouraged to think for ourselves, but to what extent can the same be applied to other nations – especially when it comes to religion.

From this relatively remote corner of the world, I see vast regions of the globe where people seem to be discouraged from thinking for themselves – especially in the way of religion. I blink in amazement when American bloggers, while confessing their atheism anonymously online, are extremely reluctant to come out to friends, family and community about their lack of faith for fear of a backlash. Reminds me of those being reluctant to come out as gay in the 1970s and early 80s. I would like to think their fears are more imaginary than real, but the stories told are too consistent  for that. Perhaps after the dark ages being brought on by the Trump administration, America will make a more rapid swing towards liberalism.

Early on on the clip, Professor Geering describes his understanding of God – not a supernatural being, but a set of values that include truth, justice, love and compassion. On that matter, he and I agree completely.


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The Last Western Heretic (Part 1)

231px-lloyd_geering2c_2011

Lloyd Geering
By Schwede66 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Hello children. Once upon a time, long, long ago (1967 to be precise) the peaceful existence of the inhabitants of the Land of the Long White Cloud was disturbed when a professor who was the principal of a theological college declared that important Christian stories were really myths. The land was disturbed, not by the message contained in the proclamation, for a sizeable proportion of the population already held similar views. No, the disturbance was caused because of the public nature of the pronouncements, and by a member of the clergy no less!

You see, up until that time, theology was a subject that had to be avoided at all costs. No one spoke openly about what they believed, for there was sure to be someone who would disagree vehemently with those beliefs. The people of the Land of the Long White Cloud were mindful that bringing theology into the open would be a recipe for discord, as would discussing politics. So they chose to discuss other important matters such Rugby, Racing, and Beer instead.

And so children, for more than two years, debates over the Resurrection, the divinity of Jesus, the Creation, whether mankind had an immortal soul, and much, much more, could be heard in sports clubrooms, local pubs, in the work place and on radio and television, and even on picnics! Discussions could be heard everywhere across the Land of the Long White Cloud. Yes, you could even hear such discussions in churches.

The open discussion frightened some of the laity of the Church, for like narrow minded people everywhere, they wanted their beliefs to be the only beliefs allowed. So they plotted to have the professor, removed from office. After much scheming, and with the aid of just one member of the clergy, a plot was hatched and charges were laid in the General Assembly of the Church against the professor. Those charges were “doctrinal error” and “disturbing the peace and unity of the church”, which were as close to charges of heresy that they could find.

Now children, it may seem strange in this modern day, but back then, the trial was broadcast live on national radio, and up and down the Land of the long White Cloud, people stopped to listen to the progress of the trial. And as we all know, the outcome of the trial was very much an anticlimax, because the charges were dismissed as being unsubstantiated.

Slowly, the discussions returned from religion to the more worthy causes of Rugby, Racing, and Beer, and the good people went back to keeping their own beliefs to themselves, just as it always had been. The professor started publishing his ideas in books and magazines, which were read avidly by some, and ignored or burnt by others. And so peace once again returned to the Land of the Long White Cloud. But…

Some of the plotters weren’t satisfied with the decision of the General Assembly and they continued plotting and scheming to do away the the good professor, but as we all know children, they didn’t succeed. And the professor became a highly sought after public speaker, within Christian churches and other religions and within humanist and secular groups as well, and where, to this day, even though he is 98 years old, he continues to advance the causes of a non-theist, secular Christianity.

But children, even though the plotters didn’t succeed, they keep on scheming. They still want their version of the Christian story to be the only permissible version. So how do you know a plotter? Firstly, they are not very good at keeping their plans secret. They usually call themselves Fundamentalists, so that’s a dead give away. But the most telling way to recognise them is to listen to what they say. If someone tells you that their stories are true and everyone else’s are lies, then you will have found one.

The above story is not necessarily the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but it’s my story and a close enough approximation. Unlike Trump’s press secretary, I’m not going to claim that it’s “alternative facts”. First and foremost it’s a story. Second, It’s more or less how I remember the event, and after fifty years, my recollection of the event must be tainted by later memories. Thirdly, it’s my blog and I’ll darn well tell the story my way.

For Non Kiwis, the Land of the Long White Cloud is a translation of Aotearoa, the Māori name of New Zealand. The professor is Lloyd Geering, who at the time the controversy broke out was the principal of Knox Theological College and an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand – the church which tried him for heresy. He will celebrate his 99th birthday in February.

While my own beliefs had already been formed along similar lines by the time the controversy broke out, Professor Geering provided me with the resources I needed when justifying my beliefs to others. I was still a teenager at the time, so was lacking in confidence, while he was a few years older than my mother. I guess I would identify Sir Lloyd as being my most significant religious mentor.

I know many Christians (and atheists for that matter) in other parts of the world will fail to see anything Christian in his message, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand secular and liberal Christianity is well accepted, even within the mainline churches. What liberal/secular Christianity has done is push those with pre-enlightenment beliefs into the extremes of Fundamentalism and evangelicalism, which has seen some growth as a consequence. However, such groups still make up a very small section of the Christian community, and likely to always remain so.

I have found a series of Youtube videos compiled from a 2007 Television One documentary on Sir Lloyd Geering.  I plan to link to these in parts 2 to 11 of The Last Western Heretic. with my own comments where appropriate.


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Equality on the decline?

In 20o5 Aotearoa New Zealand became the first nation in the world where all top positions were held by women: the Monarch, the Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, and the Chief Justice.

There have been other firsts that at first glance give the appearance that women are more equal here than elsewhere, including being the first country to grant women the vote. The 1976 relationship act and its amendments grant equal rights to both members of a relationship irrespective of marital status or gender is another.

Just as America prides itself on its liberty and freedom, NZ has always prided itself on its egalitarianism – both between the sexes and the population as a whole. In fact, back in the 1940s a visiting academic suggested we should build a statue proclaiming our egalitarianism in the much the same manner as the Statue of Liberty proclaims freedom in America.

The myth persists in both countries. Sadly America has slid well down the freedom and liberty ladder, even though over half the population believe it is the most free nation on earth. Our claim to egalitarianism has take a huge tumble since the mid 1980s. Fewer Kiwis believe in our own myth. Approximately 75% of the population no longer believe that everyone in NZ receives a “fair go”. But that leaves a quarter of the population still believing that we are a nation of equals.

Why the sudden change in equality since the 1980s? In what was a sort of political revolution, the leftist Labour party adopted radical economic reforms much like “Thatchernomics” in the UK and “Reaganomics” in the US, only more extreme. Known here as “Rogernomics” (named after the Minister of Finance, Roger Douglas) it saw the halving of the top tax rate, the slashing of social welfare, the privatisation of much of the public sector (sold mostly to foreign investors) and a reduction in the bargaining power of workers. Tariffs and other trade protections were eliminated resulting in a massive transfer of unskilled jobs overseas.

The initial result was high levels of unemployment and the social conditions that typically accompany it. Today unemployment is more “acceptable” but we now have a class of “working poor” that struggle and frequently fail at keeping their family out of poverty. Today, about one in five children live in households where the income is below the poverty line. I believe this is totally unacceptable.

New Zealand has the unenviable reputation of now being the nation with the fastest growing disparity between rich and poor in the OECD. While we are far from reaching the level of disparity seen in the USA and some developing nations, we approaching the likes of the UK. While it’s true that displays of wealth are still frowned upon, there is a growing acceptance that poverty is a “natural” part of the social fabric. I don’t.

One outcome of the economic reforms has been an increase in the disparity of income between men and women. Prior to the reforms, and into the first few years afterwards, the difference in income between men and women had been declining and was well on the way to being eliminated. There were dreams of Aotearoa New Zealand being the first country to achieve true pay equality. This has been shattered over the last two decades as the gender pay gap has increased markedly to around 12% (based on hourly income, more so if based on actual income).

One of the measures of freedom I take seriously is socio-economic mobility. This is the ability for someone to move out of the socio-economic group of their parents. In America, the “Land of Opportunity” around half or slightly less move to a different group. By contrast, in NZ it was around 75%. This has declined and is now hovering around the 70% mark.

It has barely been a generation since the economic reforms, and as they become a permanent feature of of our society, I suspect that socio-economic mobility will decline further. That, along with the growing disparity between rich and poor is a recipe for social disharmony – perhaps on the levels we see in Britain, the USA, and elsewhere. The mind shudders.

Equally unnerving is that it brings the prospect of us growing our own Trump –  someone gaining enormous wealth through a largely unregulated economy, and at the cost of a low skilled workforce, and then gaining political influence by telling those worse affected by those very practices that he will make things right for them. Yeah, right.


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Dear America

I make no bones of the fact that I believe Trump represents the worst of American values and “The American Way”. The fact that someone such as he could be freely elected to office at a time when the world requires inclusivism and pluralism, not exclusivism and exceptionalism (and I mean in a humanist and secular sense as well as in a religious sense), makes me wonder whether collectively America has lost its marbles.

Do values such as “love and warmth and sympathy” as expressed in my father’s last poem, and so important in my whanau (wider family) count for anything any more? Trump certainly fails on all counts from what I can see.

Professor Clements is the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and Director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association. I believe his post I have linked to below speaks for most Kiwis.

Dear America and Americans There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world. We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch […]

via Dear America — Kevin’s Peace Musings


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Gaslighting

Although I had a supportive family that considered me “quirky”, “different” or “socially clumsy” and valued me as a person, the same can not be said for the rest of society, which often gave me the impression that I was wrong, broken, or backward. I am very grateful that those who are important to me have always accepted and valued me as I am. As a consequence I never found myself in a position of not liking myself. Even so, discovering I was on the autism spectrum felt like I had found the “on switch” to allowing me to be fully me. Many people on the spectrum are not as fortunate as I have been. Is it any wonder that so many people on the autism spectrum suffer from depression and other mental/emotional disorders?

Being an undiagnosed autistic has many challenges. When you compare your reactions to things with other people’s, you feel like you’re getting it wrong. When other people take things in their stride, and your brain feels like it’s expanding inside your skull to the point you can’t think, then you feel like you’re overreacting. And […]

via Gaslighting — Autism and expectations