My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Friday, 30 March 2012

Healing the Split 2

The other day I looked at the ideas of Stuart Kauffman, American theoretical biologist and bio-complexity expert, calling for a new scientific worldview of God in his book Reinventing the Sacred.
The Polish Philosopher Henryk Skolimowski seeks different answers to the increasingly urgent call for a new worldview, for a revival of spirituality and transcendence, in another inspiring book Let there be Light.
Skolimowski’s philosophy is of cosmic creativity and evolution and light that unite us all as the source of all life. To understand the cosmos and its evolution and the part we play we must understand the nature of light, and its evolutionary role along the path to enlightenment. Skolimowski thinks of traditional religions and science as both having filters. In religion these prevent us experiencing the full spiritual transcendence needed for this world. Science also has its filters, becoming totally reductionist, and its rationality has become limiting and crippling. It has used Darwinian evolution as a hatchet against religion, but has never tried to understand religion and finds it hard to accept that there can be any theories of evolution beyond Darwin. And physics, he argues, makes preposterously arrogant assumptions about the laws of life. And he sees profanity in modern science and technology. He calls this 'mistletoe technology,' which he says is strangling the whole tree of life.
We are in the midst of a gigantic struggle between the old mechanistic consciousness and a new spiritually inclined consciousness, and the latter needs to assert itself. We have come to the point where we must choose madness or sanctity, and we have only been saved so far from madness by the great and beautiful art and music and literature, sacred and otherwise that is available to us. But much of our art is now ugly; perpetuating the ugliness we have created around us. And ugliness is carcinogenic. Without beauty we wither. Artists therefore have a responsibility in this. 'We can and must re-articulate human nature,' Skolimowski writes, 'away from the ugly and destructive; and towards beautiful, transcendent and noble.' Furthermore, 'the violence done to beauty has been violence done to our souls and lives…the loss of spirituality is one of the consequences.'
We need wisdom and an essential task before us is to nurture the seed of the spirit and the divine. Skolimowski therefore includes meditational practices of mind and body and light, to nurture our spiritual being. It is clear there is much wrong with our present social contract, and the need to design a new one is urgent. But this needs a leap of transcendence, which must be spiritual. Religions, he says, need a renewal at source. And unless we rise to that challenge to change ourselves, politicians and political scientists will continue in their old ways and the world will not heal. Because they will not change by themselves, conditioned as they are by the past and possessed by the 'collective un-wisdom of our time…The institutions only reflect who you are, including your indolence and lack of responsibility.'
This sets an important challenge for us all.

Friday, 23 March 2012

How to Heal the Split - New Philosophies for a New World

How do we heal the split, heal the schisms, between faith and reason, between science and arts, between reason and other sensibilities?
Philosophers will always want to challenge the status quo with new and sometimes exciting ideas, and creative thinking is going to be at its most astute and best when we seem under threat from forces that stretch our understanding, that are beyond our comfort zones.
And if the threat is serious, that is when humanity is steered most towards co-operative behavior and away from competition.
I hope that sooner rather than later enough people on this earth will truly take on board the enormity of the task ahead of us, that a sufficient critical mass will be achieved, to make a real difference to the way we live; so that all humanity, 7 billion now and rising, will have access to adequate food, water, healthcare, education, and justice for all. Could that happy state of affairs be in sight, with the help of the enormous strength of the world’s religions and with the genuine spirituality that they nurture, that could connect all people? Remember the awesome scale of religion across the world, which no amount of atheist campaigning is going to dent.
Let’s start with Stuart Kauffman, American theoretical biologist and bio-complexity expert, calling for a new scientific worldview of God in Reinventing the Sacred.
He proposes that we are all members of a natural universe of 'ceaseless creativity, in which life, agency, meaning, value, consciousness and the full richness of human action have emerged.' He describes this concept as awesome, stunning and worthy of reverence, something we can all view as sacred. He believes, from the evidence of the origins of life in the universe, that we do not need a creator God. (But what about the origin of the universe itself?) Instead he calls for one global view of a common God as being the natural creativity itself in the universe. Kauffman’s vision is that by harnessing our personal and collective responsibilities we have the wisdom, ability and knowledge to develop a new global ethics, and steer our evolution forwards through his proposed 'reinvention' of the sacred.
Kauffman describes four injuries of the modern world; the artificial division between the sciences and humanities, the need for more value and meaning in our lives, the need for spirituality for all, atheists, humanists, agnostics as well as those of faith, and finally the need for a global ethic. He believes that his ideas, based as they are on a broader scientific world-view than current conventional science, may provide a shared religious and spiritual space for us all, within which he hopes we can heal those injuries.
Kaufman offers ideas for a future evolution steered by us for a safer and better global place to live, aiming to address the schisms set out above. It is time, he writes, to 'heal the split,' for the sake of our world. He is absolutely right. But he can also be controversial and provocative, and as a Christian who believes in an Abrahamic Creator God I cannot agree with all he writes But it’s a jolly good idea nonetheless! And I have a respect for his beliefs and ideas.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Where the Blazes does Dawkins' love of the universe come from?

Have found a lovely clip on You Tube - Archbishop Rowan Williams was asked: If you could ask Dawkins one question what would it be?

The response:
In one of his books, Dawkins describes, as he is so good at doing,  the excitement of seeing the complexity and loveliness and interaction of the universe. "Richard, you're not just describing the wonders of the universe, you're in love with it.
Where the blazes does that come from?"

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Whose Grand Design is it?

Stephen Hawking at the beginning of his latest runaway bestseller The Grand Design begins by asking the big questions:-
How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Does the universe need a creator?
These traditionally have been questions for philosophy, he writes, but in the next breath he totally dismisses that philosophy. Philosophy is dead, he claims! "It has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly in physics. As a result scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge." But as John Lennox points out in his wonderful little book God and Stephen Hawking, recently mentioned elsewhere on this blog, "Hawking …has not even kept up with philosophy sufficiently to realize that he himself is engaging in it throughout his book." As Lennox points out, Hawking has thus made a philosophical statement himself. Here is a metaphysical statement about science; it is, as Lennox points out, "a classic example of logical incoherence."

I wonder if Hawking has read Lennox yet and will reply to him?
But here we go again; book after book after book making claims as to whether or not God exists. We simply don't have time on our side to argue the point, fascinating as this is intellectually. The New Atheists are getting more strident in their claims as they feel their position increasingly threatened. And for what purpose? Religions are here to stay whether we like it or not. We should be using our energy to work out how we can get religions to work together for peaceful causes, not arguing to abolish them, as if that were at all possible.

We have just lost a great philosopher of religion; again see my earlier blog this week. The Reverend Professor John Hick, who died in February, did much to formulate a pluralistic approach to religions, provocative indeed, but nonetheless a powerful antidote to the religious fundamentalists of all persuasion.

In a recent dialogue between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Dawkins in Oxford, when Williams raised the question of consciousness, Dawkins said yes, here is a deeply mysterious problem for science to solve in future - neuro and computer science will solve this, he claims, given time. Meanwhile if we are honest we must remain agnostic, he says, and not jump to a God for the answer.

In response to this I refer to Nobel Laureate Sir Peter Medawar, cited by Lennox in his own book mentioned above, the quote taken from Medawar's 1979 book "Advice to a Young Scientist":

"There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare - particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for - that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking…" Has Richard Dawkins read Medawar? It seems not.

This hour- long debate between Williams and Dawkins is well worth listening to. In it Dawkins admits to being agnostic rather than atheist. A 'U Turn' perhaps Mr Dawkins? He also admits "Well I'm not a philosopher and that will be obvious…" That's simply not good enough Mr Dawkins in a debate where philosophy is so important and where conventional science as we know it today does not really look as if it is going to provide all the answers.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Why many religions can claim one God

I believe there is great potential for finding common ground between all spiritualities, all religions, all people, in the quest for something beyond definition, perhaps what we mean by the Holy Spirit, or the Transcendent, a true spiritual oneness of humanity, a global spiritual interdependence available to everyone, whether or not we believe in God the Creator of all things visible and invisible.
Will this help us address our religious intolerances and divides? I think it could. If we can truly promote a global spiritual awakening this gives us great hope for human flourishing. How do we do this?
Yesterday I wrote of Lennox and Hawking and whether God exists.
Again by happy perchance, on the same day as I bought The God Issue of The New Scientist I picked up a copy of The Times. Now this was a Friday, and I only ever buy a paper on Saturday - mainly for the radio and TV listings for the week ahead!
But here in the Friday Times for March 16th 2012 was the obituary for The Rev Professor John Hick.
This February, with the death of John Hick at the age of 90, we lost one of our greatest and most influential philosophers of religion. His pluralist approach proved provocative, particularly amongst Christian fundamentalists in the States, where over the years he held several teaching posts. He believed in an ultimate ineffable Real, (his generic term for Transcendent Reality) whose universal presence could be felt in a variety of ways, making sense of the variety of forms of religion that have developed around the world. He held that Truth claims about God are really Truth claims about perceptions of God, affected by specific cultures and histories, leading to the claims made by different religions, none of which can therefore claim to know the Absolute Truth. This hits at the heart of the exclusivity of Christianity.
But I think I agree with Hick's point.
It seems to be such a blindingly obvious idea, but isn’t it just possible that when we have our spiritual experiences we are all tapping into the same spirit, higher level of consciousness, transcendence, whatever we may choose to call it? Why then can we not use this spirituality as the common thread that binds and unites all religions? Because, after all, this indefinable global consciousness, soul, spirit, empathy is presumably of the same character whether we are Christian, Muslim, Jains, atheists, agnostics, black, white, Scottish or Zulu or whatever our faith, color or culture?
John Hick clearly thought as much.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Religions wither under rational scrutiny?

How can people be so certain? 
We simply do not know what we do not know.

The latest edition of New Scientist looked interesting. So I picked up a copy. The God Issue, it loudly proclaimed on its cover. Sounded promising. But right there in the Editorial came the totally biased statement: "Religious claims still wither under rational scrutiny and deserve no special place in public life. (Here) is a call for those who aspire to a secular society…(to make more)… effort to understand what they are dealing with…(that)…religion is deeply etched in human nature and cannot be dismissed as a product of ignorance, indoctrination or stupidity. Until secularists recognise that, they are fighting a losing battle."
Here we go again - a totally biased diatribe against religion, even going so far as trying to provide the secularist with ammunition for more effective attack! At least the editor goes a stage further than Richard Dawkins, whose favourite line of attack seems to be the "ignorance, indoctrination or stupidity" angle.
By happy circumstance I was reading at the same time a wonderful little book I had picked up the day before at Burrswood * by mathematician, philosopher and proud to be Christian John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design is it Anyway? This is a simply brilliant response to Hawking's latest contribution to the New Atheist debate The Grand Design, and frankly by using latest science and philosophy it shoots Hawking's ideas down relentlessly and extremely convincingly. Slim, inexpensive and totally accessible to the layman, this is Lennox at his best and I thoroughly recommend it.

*A Christian hospital and place of healing - where the photos were taken.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

"Everything now depends on man…Immense power of destruction is given into his hands, and the question is whether he can resist the will to use it, and can temper his will with the spirit of love and wisdom. He will hardly be able to do so on his own resources. He needs the help of an ‘advocate’ in heaven."

The Collected Works of C G Jung, vol. 11 1969, p. 459

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The need to foster wisdom above knowledge

In Plato’s Phaedrus, the 'father of letters' Thoth comes to tell the Egyptian King Thutmose about his new invention, the art of writing. This will help the Egyptians remember things, and will make them wise, he said. But Thutmose was not impressed. 'This will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls,' he said, 'because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing.'

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Religions share a common spirituality?

Does spirituality have its roots in religion? Or is religion a subsection of a vaster overarching spirituality? Some claim the human phenomenon of spirituality to be more basic, to have preceded religion. But religion itself is very old. How are they linked? It seems like a chicken and egg situation. But it does seem probable that religion developed to meet man’s earliest spiritual need. This makes sense if we think of religion as being there first and foremost to nourish spiritual growth. (And I use the male term deliberately; since it was relatively recently in humanity’s history that woman was generally deemed to be capable of spiritual experience. Indeed even now her religious and spiritual needs and expressions are marginalized in some cultures). Thus spirituality may be seen as the more general term, including religion, and being a core aspect of religion. Although this does not deny that there are 'spiritual but not religious' individuals or that extrinsically religious people may not be especially 'spiritual.'
So we see that the relationship between religion and spirituality is far from cut and dried and to some extent it is controversial. Spirituality is a rapidly developing subject for academic study in many universities and there is a vast growth in literature, and conferences to explore the issues and to encourage dialogue about spirituality with different faiths. (One useful resource here is the international Journal for the Study of Spirituality, first published in 2011.)
I have thought a great deal about this and am persuaded that true spirituality and religion are so closely associated that they cannot be truly separated. Whatever we think we mean by both phenomena, it is probably unhelpful to separate them too sharply, at least at this stage in our level of understanding. Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin, in some kind of symbiosis? Someone has said that spirituality is 'the way we hold the what of our faith' and that spiritual care is best coming from within religious tradition and cannot be generic. Indeed, generic spirituality has been dubbed a kind of 'spiritual Esperanto' in an essay called Dumbing Down the Spirit, by the pastoral theologian Stephen Pattison. Pattison warns that the ability of the religious traditions to contribute to the current search for spirituality is being weakened by this more generalized spiritual quest. This is good enough reason for the religions to change, and fast!
How do we address our spiritual crisis and recover our souls? Ursula King writes that the solution is to be found in our rich heritage of the world’s spiritualities. If we link spirituality in any way with religion, (and how can we not?) then this quest also has to be extended to our rich heritage of the world’s religions. They can help, they must help, and they are helping in this journey of rediscovery!! Therefore don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, the religion with the dogma! We need religions! This is unlikely to please those who proudly proclaim that they are spiritual but not religious. I believe there is an urgent need for religions to redefine their role, to embrace the spiritual more obviously and more openly: for religion to return more fully to its spiritual roots.
I also believe there is great potential for finding common ground between all spiritualities, all religions, all people, in the quest for something beyond definition, perhaps what we mean by the Holy Spirit, or the Transcendent, a true spiritual oneness of humanity, a global spiritual interdependence available to everyone, whether or not we believe in God the Creator of all things visible and invisible.
Will this help us address our religious intolerances and divides? I think it could do. If we can truly promote a global spiritual awakening this gives us greater hope for human flourishing. How do we do this?