Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MINDFULNESS, THE MILITARY AND POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER



A recently published article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology may have broad implications for veterans suffering with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The researchers demonstrated that engagement in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) showed significant improvements after 6 months in reducing soldiers’ symptoms of PTSD, depression, behavioural activation (the ability to engage in activities to achieve a goal in spite of aversive symptoms), and self-acceptance

Read more here.


Resource: Kearney D J, McDermott K, Malte C, Martinez M, & Simpson T L (2012). Association of participation in a mindfulness program with measures of PTSD, depression and quality of life in a veteran sample. Journal of Clinical Psychology vol 68, issue 1, 101-116, Jan 2012. Article first published online: 28 Nov 2011 DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20853


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Thursday, March 22, 2012

CONCERNING THE SPIRITUAL: MINDS MADDENED BY PROTESTANTISM


It was H P Blavatsky, cofounder of the Theosophical Society (TS), who wrote of ‘the maddening effect of Protestantism [especially Calvinism].’ Theosophy, at least in its more 'modern' form, emerged in the late 1800s as an alternative spirituality---and as an antidote to the maddening effect of Protestantism.

Such a totally negative word---'Protestantism.' It doesn't even make it clear just what they were 'protesting' about or against, although history tells us that---and much of the story is not a happy one. Devoid of ritual and colour, devoid of intellectual depth, devoid of emotion (except emotion of the more hysterical and almost pathologically clinical kind), and inherently separatist, divisive, and backward-looking for the most part, and totally obsessed with sin and the fear and wrath of God, Protestantism---especially in its more evangelical forms---was found lacking and monumentally uninspiring to many intellectuals of the day. It remains the same today---at least for me as well as for many others.

For many years now, I have been a proud member of the TS. I am in full agreement with its three objects [see above], even though I reject many of the so-called ‘teachings’ of Theosophy (with a capital ‘T’). That doesn’t matter. Beliefs don’t matter. What you do with your life matters. (In addition to being a member of the TS, I have also had a long association with the Liberal Catholic Church (LCC)---a church very much open to theosophical ideas---and was even in holy orders in that church for a brief period. In the end, I decided to remain solely a Unitarian minister, but I continue to have great respect for the LCC. For those who may be interested, here is a published article of mine entitled 'Progressive Christianity from Liberal Catholic and Unitarian Perspectives.')

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, in the 1920s and 30s, was known in Theosophical circles as ‘The Occult Centre for the Southern Hemisphere’---a veritable hothouse of spiritual and intellectual inquiry, exploration and productivity. Indeed it was, with much of the attention focused on the writings, pronouncements and activities of leading Theosophist and Liberal Catholic bishop Charles Webster Leadbeater [pictured below left, and also above left with the then international president of the TS, Dr Annie Besant] who was resident in Sydney from 1914 to 1929 and who otherwise retained a significance ‘presence’ there until his death in Perth in 1934. (From 1922 onwards Leadbeater, when in Sydney, resided at 'The Manor' in Mosman, which was said by Theosophists to be a great ‘occult forcing-house.’)

The Sydney of today, in which I live, is a lot more multicultural than it was in the 1920s and 30s---which is a good thing---but the life of the city is nowhere near as bohemian, cosmopolitan and 'colourful' as it once was. We may have people here from every part of the globe but the ‘international’ flavor has in many ways gone---as well as much of the intellectual and spiritual life that once flourished. For the most part, Sydney is just like most large cities in North America---architecturally uninteresting (not so the Sydney Opera House and a few other prominent buildings),  and entirely mercantile and even mean. That reminds me of the occasion when Charlie (later Sir Charles) Chaplin returned briefly to Los Angeles in 1972 after some 20 years in exile outside the United States. Chaplin was looking around for the places he used to know in the city. A dismayed Chaplin remarked, ‘It's all banks, banks, banks!’ I digress, but hopefully you get the point.

Now, Dr Jenny McFarlane, who is a freelance curator and writer based in Canberra, has recently put together a wonderful book---which I heartily recommend---entitled Concerning the Spiritual: The influence of the Theosophical Society on Australian Artists 1890-1934, which has been published by Australian Scholarly Publishing. The book contains a series of fascinating case studies of some fairly well-known artists, including Jane Price, Clarice Beckett, Ethel Carrick Fox and Grace Cossington Smith, who had a special relationship with the TS and its ‘radical visuality.’ McFarlane beautifully documents an era, not that long ago, in which there was (in her words) an 'embedded and productive relationship between the Theosophical Society and Australian art.'
The book challenges assumptions about early Australian Modernism and offers a convincing, if controversial, basis for reinterpretation. McFarlane writes, ‘The Australian experience itself is reconceptualised as an integral part of a larger, distributed conversation with like-minded artists, intellectuals and activities across the globe. Australian Modernism is recast as an informed primary player in a movement which challenged Western reason and looked to the ‘East’ to revitalize its focus.’ Fascinating. No longer is Australian Modernism seen as entirely derivative and secondary to what was otherwise happening in Europe and North America. No, Australia was a leading player in its own right---with a distinctively unique contribution to the world of art. Further, the Modernism which emerges from McFarlane's fascinating account is (in her words) 'essentially feminist, spiritual and cross-cultural.' It is an account which has been waiting a long time to be told. Sadly, most Australian art historians have chosen---yes, chosen---to ignore this important part of Australian cultural, artistic and spiritual history.
Back to the book. There have been a couple of good books written on Theosophy in Australia but this is the very first book on the influence of the TS on Australian art. As such, the book fills a void and is a most important contribution to Australian cultural, artistic and spiritual history. McFarlane writes very well. She is a brilliant wordsmith and her writing has colour and flair. She also knows her subject-matter---very, very well. For those interested in Australian art, the book is a must. Ditto those interested in Theosophy, the Ancient Wisdom, esoteric Christianity and alternative spirituality.

I found one particular chapter especially interesting---'Science versus Spirit,' which deals with colour-music theories pertaining to the scientific and spiritual dimensions of colour. It seems that Sydney was at the forefront of research, discovery and discussion in this field of knowledge and speculative inquiry during the first quarter of the 20th century. Here's another nice thing about the book---McFarlane refers to a number of eminent Australian writers, such as Kylie Tennant, who made reference---sometimes oblique, other times not so oblique---to Theosophy, the Liberal Catholic Church and persons such as Bishop Leadbeater in their novels and other writings. (I hope that someday someone will write a book on the influence of Theosophy and the TS on Australian writers. Maybe I will.)
The book contains about 30 beautifully reproduced colour photographs (mainly of works of art) as well as many black-and-white and sepia photographs as well---a truly priceless and unique collection which alone is worth the price of the book. It's a gem!


Concerning the Spiritual: The influence of the Theosophical
Society on Australian artists 1890–1934, by Jenny McFarlane
 Imprint: Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd   ISBN: 9781921875151
Format: PB   Release date: February 2012   RRP A$49.95


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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

JASON RUSSELL’S MELTDOWN: IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE


Jason Russell stripped naked and ran through the streets of San Diego.
Video footage of his ‘meltdown’ leaked onto the net. Picture: TMZ.


Footage of Kony 2012 filmmaker Jason Russell's recent public---as well as pubic--- 'meltdown' in San Diego has gone viral---just like Russell’s Kony 2012 video itself---and has been entertaining the world for the past few days.
                                                                                          
According to Russell’s family, exhaustion, dehydration, malnutrition, criticism of his recently released documentary, and stress are all to blame for Russell's aberrant behaviour, where he stormed around his San Diego neighbourhood, banging on the cement and cars, gesticulating sexually, cursing incoherently, screaming at the devil and clapping his hands. His family insists he was clean and sober at the time of the incident---and he probably was.

Jason Russell describes himself as a radical, rebel soul and dream evangelist. He seems a really nice guy to me---clothed or unclothed---and I think he has done a helluva lot of good from a humanitarian point of view. I wish him well in his recovery. If nothing else, this sad episode reveals the not-so-pleasant reality of mental illness in one of its albeit more bizarre manifestations.

Look, despite the stigma that society wrongly attaches to these things, mental health issues can happen to anyone and are by no means an indictment of a person’s character. What happened to Russell can happen to you or me. We all have a breaking point. We all can ‘snap’ and 'break'---in a moment. And then we may do or say things which we would never do or say ordinarily.

Psychological or emotional 'meltdowns'---a most imprecise term---may be due to a buildup of stress, especially psychosocial and emotional stress. They can occur even in anticipation of a stressful time or situation. In many cases, there are outbursts of bad language, anger and generalized ‘acting out’ behaviour. Memory tends to go offline and it becomes hard or even impossible to concentrate. For some, a meltdown can feel like they’re having an out-of-body experience. There may even be feelings resembling derealization.

Being able to identify the 'triggers' to a meltdown, and learning how to avoid and otherwise manage triggers as well as how to remove oneself from a stressful situation, are all very important. In that regard, here’s something really helpful you can do with respect to triggers, especially at a time when everything seems to be piling up on you at once, and you feel really stressed out---breathe. Deeply. Instead of exploding and venting your anger and frustration, take a moment to consider what is physically happening---in your body and mind. For example, you may be breathing fast, your stomach may feel tense, and you may even be clenching your fists. There will probably be tightness in the jaw and neck, and there may well be a buzzing, whirling feeling in your head---even a pounding, throbbing sensation. This could mean you’re on the verge of an emotional meltdown. This is the important thing to do: step back from whatever is happening---and simply observe, that is, be choicelessly aware. Then take three long, deep, slow breaths to diffuse the physical and emotional tension that has built up. This gives you time---and time is what you need more than anything else---to think rationally about how best to cope with the situation.

Studies on neurocognitive processes indicate that mindfulness meditation increases awareness and the creation of alternatives to mindless, automatic behaviour, thus reducing the stress response by guiding conscious thought away from uncontrollable past or future scenarios and towards a non-attached acceptance of present circumstances, rather than battling unwanted thoughts. Because the brain has less opportunity to scenario build and apply internalized interpretations to forecast social responses, actual or perceived threats have a reduced ability to trigger feelings of anxiety, fear and lack of control.

There is a lot we can do to help ourselves. Of course, there are times when professional help is required. I have spent many years working with mental health workers, and I respect them immensely. I have also known the reality of mental illness in my own life and in the lives of others close to me. There is always help available---if you want to be helped and are prepared to go through what is sometimes referred to as the 'agony of change.' Having said that, much of the so-called 'agony' is due to our resistance to change as opposed to the change itself. The latter can happen very quickly, even instantaneously at times. In other cases---most cases---it takes time.


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org



Sunday, March 18, 2012

YOU SHALL CEASE TO BE NEVER!


There is really only one ‘message,’ one ‘truth’ to be known and lived, and this is it:

Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never;
Never was time it was not; End and Beginning are dreams!
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever.

I am a minister to people of all faiths---and none. Each year I conduct a number of funerals, and I almost always include in my oration or invocations the above lines taken from Sir Edwin Arnold’s [pictured above] beautiful ‘translation’---or rather poetic version---of the Bhagavad-Gita (dubbed ‘The Song Celestial’).

Now, you may have read much from the world of philosophy and religion, and you may be quite confused as to what is, and is not, 'true.' You may have been told that this person, or that person, is the only way to ‘God’ or ‘Truth.’ You may have been told that only your church was the 'one, true church,' and that all other churches---and religions---were man-made. You may have been told that you must believe in this or that particular person, or this or that set of dogmas, or that you must follow a certain path, or lead a certain kind of 'moral' life, in order to be ‘saved,’ to be ‘enlightened,’ or to know ‘truth.’ Forget it. The people and institutions that expound that sort of 'message' are a menace to society and world peace---and they are seriously deluded, and sometimes very dangerous indeed. I kid you not.

There is no need to believe anything. If you want to know truth---which is what is---my advice is forget all about beliefs, for they put a barrier---a wall---between you and truth. You see, you are always in direct contact with truth, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing from one moment to the next---even if you are not consciously aware of that fact. You are a manifestation of truth, for truth is life, and that is what you are. You are life---an inpost and outpost of life---and you can never be less than life. So, there is nothing to ‘find.’ There is no ‘self’ that you need to know or get in contact with. Some people spend 20 or 30 (or even more) years trying to get to know their ‘self.’ They keep trying to ‘expand’ their consciousness. Ha! There is nothing to ‘expand.’ All you get is 'mathematics,' in the form of multiplication and division---that is, more and more little ‘selves,’ more and more mental images of ‘self.’ I have news for all of these people. They are wasting their time, because what they are hoping to find and know is and always has been---an illusion.

And forget about 'following' some other person. As the Indian spiritual philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti would say, ‘when you follow somebody, you have destroyed your own thoughts, you have lost your own independence, you have lost your freedom.’ Yes, and that is one of the very worst things you can do with your life---following others, even someone you have been told is 'God.' If you persist in doing that, what do you ‘discover,’ assuming you discover anything meaningful at all? Someone else’s version of ‘truth'---that's what---which is not truth at all, because it is 'filtered' down to you through someone else's words and thoughts. In any event, as Krishnamurti would also say, 'The teachers, the gurus, the mahatmas, the philosophers, have all led us astray.' Ditto the so-called saviours and messiahs. And just because I quote Krishnamurti does not mean I am 'following' him. There is no such need. What he says is demonstrably true---it is a self-evident fact. Look around you, and you will see it for yourself.

You may ask, 'Ellis-Jones, how can you say all these things?' I say to you, how could it be otherwise? When it comes to what is truth anything else is ‘unspeakable.’ Truth is---what is. Truth is---life. You are life---an individualized part of life’s self-expression, life’s ‘aliveness.’ You cannot be less---nor more or other---than that, and you can never be separated from life. Never! Not even for a moment! This is not a truth which can be known by the use of so-called conceptual or analytical thought. No, this truth---Truth itself---can only be known in the livingness of life, and as life, itself … in the moment … and from one moment to the next. That is, in the Eternal Now, which is (to use, yes, a figure of speech, a metaphor) ‘God,’ ‘Life,’ or ‘Truth.’

I have said all of this before, but I will continue to say it for so long as there is life in me because not all people have heard it or got the ‘message.’ The truth is, there really is no ‘message.’ There is no ‘path.’ There is nowhere to ‘go.’ There is nothing to ‘believe.’ There is no one to ‘follow.’ And there is nothing to 'transcend'---except, perhaps, your own limited thinking. There is, however, a truth to be known---and lived---and it is this: you shall cease to be never. Yes, you will die, and you will vanish from view---at least, the ‘form’ of the person that you are---but the real ‘part’ of you, the essence of you, which is life itself, will never cease to be because it was never ‘born,’ and it was never ‘created.’ The spirit of life will never cease to be. It changes not, even though all forms and things are in a constant state of change and degradation. The spirit of life forever takes form, is forever being incarnated, is forever being crucified, and is forever being resurrected into newness of life. That is the true meaning of those Christian teachings---but please don't believe that. Know it, for there is nothing to believe.

Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit [of life] for ever.’ That is the one way of being. That is the way things really are.


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Thursday, March 15, 2012

TEACHING CHILDREN TO BE MINDFUL


The thought of asking a classroom full of second-graders to sit still, breathe deeply and be aware of their feelings may sound like a near impossible feat---I find it's hard enough to get so-called 'adults' to do that---but at Miami Country Day School children are doing just that. Great stuff!





IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org





Thursday, March 8, 2012

YOU’RE AN ATHEIST? THAT’S GOOD!


'Operationally, God is beginning to resemble not a ruler but
the last fading smile of a Cheshire cat.' - Sir Julian Huxley.

I notice that more and more people are calling themselves atheists these days---unashamedly. Not that there should be any shame about the matter. Not at all. Yes, atheism is fine with me. You see, in most cases, these people have simply rejected silly, outmoded ideas or concepts of God which weren’t God in any event. After all, the word is never the thing, as Krishnamurti kept telling us. The good thing about giving up belief in God is that there is then a real chance you may find the real God---which is the very livingness, oneness and self-givingness of life itself.

A Columbia University student once went to see Dr Harry Emerson Fosdick (pictured left), who was then the minister of Riverside Church in New York City. Fosdick was perhaps the greatest Christian thinker of his day---and the leading Modernist in Protestant Christianity. The student was very agitated. Before he had time to sit down he announced to Fosdick that he didn’t believe in God. ‘So, you’re an atheist,’ said Fosdick. ‘Please describe for me the God you don’t believe in.’ The student did a good job of picturing a fairly traditional Judeo-Christian God as a venerable but vindictive bookkeeper who was forever taking notes of everyone’s good and bad deeds. When the student had finished Fosdick said to him, ‘Well, if that is the God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in that God either. So, we are both atheists. Nevertheless, we still have the universe on our hands. What do you make of it---its formation, its meaning?’

Fosdick will always be one of my ‘gurus,’ although I hate that word. Fosdick once wrote this:

The way parents lie to their children in matters of religion is to me a constant and shocking astonishment. Here is a mother who tells me that in answer to her four-year-old’s question as to where God is she has said, ‘In heaven’; and in reply to the further inquiry as to where heaven is she has said, ‘In the sky.’ This mother has now waked up to the fact that these heedless answers were downright falsehoods. She did not believe what she said. And she did not, apparently, comprehend that teaching the child an idea of God set in such an incredible framework of imagination was the surest way to have that child say some day that she did not believe in God.

Dr Fosdick went on to say, ‘The New Testament says that God is love; that where love is, God is also, dwelling in those who are lovers of their fellows; that God is spirit, surrounding and interpenetrating us so that God lives in us and we in God.’ Now that is a more sensible---and entirely Biblical---concept of God.

I recall that Dr Fosdick also wrote, 'Better believe in no God than to believe in a cruel God, a tribal God, a sectarian God. Belief in God is one of the most dangerous beliefs a person can cherish. ... Some of the people who do not believe in God at all are more merciful, truth-loving, and just than are some who do.' Once, at the Sydney Town Hall, before the start of an important debate between Dr William Lane Craig and Dr Peter Slezak on the topic of the existence of God I read out those immortal words of Fosdick, having been asked by the debate organisers, St Barnabas Anglican Church, Broadway, to say a few words. (I had been involved in the selection of the atheist---Peter Slezak---to debate Craig.) The video tape of the debate produced by the church did not contain the words of Fosdick. They were edited out by the then assistant minister of the church. I was disgusted---and I still get angry about it when I recall what happened. I was soon to learn that debating---and even interacting with---so-called (and self-servingly called) 'Bible-believing Christians' can be a very unpleasant---and totally unChrist-like---experience. I will have more to say about that below.

Now, back to the topic. Recently I communicated by email with a lawyer whose daughter has Down syndrome. The lawyer mentioned he was an atheist, and it was clear he had some fairly strong things to say about religion. I suspect---although I can’t be sure---that ‘part’ of this man’s atheism is an emotional reaction to having a child with Down syndrome. I also suspect---although again I can’t be sure---that this man’s parents, or the church or Sunday school he may have attended as a child, or perhaps a 'church school' (which are very good at churning out atheists---not their intention, of course), told him ‘downright falsehoods’---Fosdick’s words---about the nature of God.

detest religious fundamentalists because they do terrible things to religion. They destroy it by imposing upon it a rigid ideology, that is, an artificial construct which was never part of the original teachings of the religion or its founder. They turn many people into atheists.

As for the ‘new atheists’---people such as Richard Dawkins (pictured right), Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens---I have some problems with them as well, at least when it comes to some of their more extreme and polemic and, yes, ill-informed, attacks on conventional religion and the existence of God. I don't know whether these people turn many others into atheists. I suspect they largely 'preach' to the already 'converted' non-believers. I wouldn't want to give them much more credit than that---certainly they don't deserve any.

Now, it’s not that I am against atheists or atheism. Not at all. By traditional definitions of God, I am an atheist, and I am proud of what I achieved when I was president of both the Humanist Society of New South Wales and the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. I am proud that I debated---in no ordinary or amateurish way---several prominent Sydney Anglican clerics (including a couple of bishops), exposing what I saw---and still see---as the weaknesses in their Christian apologetics, not to mention the corrupt version of Christianity which they present. I also found a couple of these clerics hopelessly duplicitous and disingenuous. They thought it was quite OK to lie for the sake of Jesus (cf 1 Cor 9:19-23). For example, I would meet with my opponent before the debate, and we would 'agree'---at least I thought we had reached an agreement---on how to debate the particular topic (eg the existence of God or the physical resurrection of Jesus) and on definitions (eg 'God'). However, during the debate I would often find my 'Christian' opponent turning their back on what we had agreed upon previously. They were certainly 'as shrewd as snakes' but in no way 'as gentle as doves' (cf Mt 10:16).

The truth is I dislike Sydney Anglicanism immensely. I see it as a horrible perversion of Christianity. The ultra-evangelical Sydney diocese---'Anglo-Baptists' some call them---is something of a laughing-stock in the worldwide Anglican communion---and rightly so. Sadly, the Sydney Anglican diocese is the only one in Australia which is growing. That is, or should be, a real concern to all who value religious, political and intellectual freedom, freethought, liberal religion and the separation of church and state. Now, for many years I was active as a Freemason---a movement known for its religious naturalism and religious indifferentism---and once in the particular lodge to which I belonged I was discussing---over dinner---the subject of Sydney Anglicanism with another lodge member who was a devout high-church Anglican layman from a rural diocese. I said to the other Mason, 'You know, we're not suposed to be discussing religion in the lodge,' to which he replied, 'We're not. We're discussing Sydney Anglicanism.' I like that.

I mentioned above that, technically speaking, I am an atheist. Yes, that's true enough, but at times I have also referred to myself as being a panentheist, which I see as the noblest and most mature concept of God described in the New Testament. The essence of panentheism is this---God is in all things, and all things are in God, but not all things are God. Also, whilst all that is can be said in a fundamental sense to be God, that is not all that there is of God. God is still much bigger than the sum total of all that has its being in God, for God is Be-ing (or, if you like, Be-ness) itself. Now, you may not know this, but the Bible does not present just one concept or idea of God. In many ways, there is an evolving concept of God. We have the vengeful, tribal God of the ancient Hebrews---the God that does not really exist except in certain people's troubled minds---then there are images of an almost pantheistic God in, for example, the Psalms, then there's the near absence or 'eclipse' of God in books such as Ecclesiastes, and in the New Testament we get various more mature concepts of God---as Love, the Spirit of Life, and so on. Be all that as it may let it be known and widely celebrated that atheism (which refers to the absence---and not necessarily the denial---of theistic belief) is not, in itself, a bad thing and---at the risk ,of sounding patronising (which is not my intention)---it can even be a very good thing. Yes, positive atheism is, or at least can be, an inspiring, sensible and courageous philosophy and life stance. However, the ‘new atheists’ are dangerous people. They are fundamentalists, and they are militant.

First, the ‘new atheists’ are fundamentalists because:
• they are utterly convinced of the ‘fundamentals’ of their position and their arguments---which is the very essence of the wicked and scary ideology known as fundamentalism!
• their assertions all too often are a facile attack on a form or religious belief that we all hate and which, in any event, is a perversion and corruption of true religious belief

• they are all too often childishly unaware and ignorant of the true nature of world affairs, the latter ordinarily being much more complex than that espoused in their simple-minded two-dimensional worldview

• they demonise whole peoples, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians

• they are rigid, inflexible, dogmatic and----yes---narrow-minded in their thinking, for just as the Christian fundamentalist divides the world into the 'saved' (or 'churched') and the 'unsaved' (or 'unchurched'), so the fundamentalist atheist divides people up into the 'rational' and the 'irrational,' the 'enlightened' and the 'unenlightened' (the latter being those who believe in God as well as such things as fairies, elves and angels---they are always included as well, for the sake of ridicule), thus embracing a belief-system that is as puerile, intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists (whether Christian, JewishIslamic or otherwise)

• their approach is to ridicule, belittle and---as already mentioned---demonise

• they see only one truth – their version of 'rationalistic truth' – with all other values, worldviews and belief-systems being dismissed as mere 'fantasy' and 'superstition'

• just like Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists they impose upon sacred scripture an artificial construct, and a rigid ideology, that shows a complete ignorance of the Bible, the Qur’an and other sacred texts, and they cannot distinguish between religious myth and factual narrative

• like Christian fundamentalists, in particular, they are out to convert others to their point of view and posess an evangelical and obsessive zeal to proselytise

• they are simplistic, often naïve, and anti-intellectual, rejecting intellectual investigations into the true nature of religion, the various world religions, and the various reasons (social, cultural and otherwise) why people hold and maintain religious beliefs and views.

 


Secondly, the New Atheists are militant because:
• they are driven by a hatred and hostility toward any kind of religion ... without distinction

• they rightly attack a repugnant version of religion but use it to condemn all religion

• they blame God, or all religious people, for the sins of irrational religion and religious zealots

• they blame a ‘straw God’ for all the ills and evils in the world – for example, Dawkins self-servingly 'defines' the ‘God’ in which he disbelieves as follows: ‘He not only created the universe; he is a personal God dwelling in it, or perhaps outside it (whatever that might mean), possessing the unpleasantly human qualities to which I have alluded’ [emphasis added] – now, only a fool would believe in such a god!

• they generalise ad nauseam about religion, but they are, in fact, evangelists for their own peculiar form of secular religion, with a few of them even advocating the use of extreme violence (including murder) against certain religious extremists who they regard as being the enemies of civilization – these so-called enemies of civilization ‘should be beaten and killed and defeated, and I don’t make any apology for it’ (Christopher Hitchens).


The ‘new atheists’ are, as already mentioned, dangerous people. At times, they are totally irrational in their attacks upon religion and religious people. They tend to overstate their case. They often misunderstand the nature of religious faith. They are woefully ignorant of religion and theology, and they are fanatics---something which is always a worry. Some of them have even advocated the use of violence, even extreme violence, against other human beings.

The really sad thing about these so-called ‘new atheists’ is that there is absolutely nothing ‘new’ about either them or their 'teachings' at all. For the most part, their books just rehash dry, tired old British rationalism of the 19th century---which itself was based on outmoded thinking and thought forms even way back then. My good friend, John Zerilli, who is a philosopher, lawyer and writer---and, I am very proud to say, a former law student of mine (and one of the very best I had the pleasure to teach)---has written in his insightful book The Economic Imperative, ‘[Richard] Dawkins is epistemologically trapped somewhere between Pisa and Paris, somewhere between 1600 and 1650 AD.’

Exactly. This man Dawkins knows next to nothing about religion, theology and related topics. If ever there was a solid argument against having a state Church one need only look at Great Britain. The Church of England, in Britain, is almost dead---which may well turn out to be a damn good thing. Some 70 or more years ago, one Dr Henry Wilson, then the Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford, declared that Christianity in England was crumbling, and was then only a minority religion. Wilson wrote that Christianity was ‘hanging by a thread in this country.’ That was 70 or more years ago. Well, since then someone ‘jerked the thread,’ so to speak, such that the Church of England is today little more than rubble in the not-so-great Great Britain. What has that got to do with Dawkins, Hitchens and the like, you may well ask? Well, everything. Only a church which promulgated utter nonsense---with the blessing of the State---could have produced a theological waste land and an intellectual vacuum which provided such a fertile breeding ground for the spawning of a militant and highly toxic form of atheism.


So, who or what is God? Well, Fosdick pointed to the New Testament descriptions of God as both Love (cf 1 Jn 4:8) and Spirit (cf Jn 4:24), the latter referring to the very livingness of life itself, that is, the ground of being. I endorse those ideas. I also love the New Testament description of a God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Now, that is a very ‘big’ God indeed, but this is also true---in each one of us God lives and moves and has its being. That's why Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is within us (cf Lk 17:21). Great stuff. However, no matter how we conceive of God, the reality of God will always be so much bigger. Ultimately, God is Mystery---and not just a mystery.

Look around you, and what do you see? Living things living out their livingness. And it seems self-evident to me that the life which lives out its livingness in and as you is the very same life which lives out its livingness in and as me. I take that to be self-evident and axiomatic. Others may not do so, but that is their choice. For me, all life is interconnected and interdependent, although I reject strict monism and the so-called Gaia hypothesis. And another thing we see all around us---life constantly gives of itself, to itself, in order to perpetuate itself. Is that self-givingness of life nothing other than love in action?

There you have it. Life, Truth and Love---God, if you wish. Of course, there is so much sin, sickness, suffering and evil in the world---so much that it seems like there is no God at all. However, those who have a sensible understanding of God know that God is a verb---not a noun. God is something we do. The presence of so much sin, sickness, suffering and evil in the world is a constant everyday reminder to all of us, not that there is no God, but rather just how much 'God-ing' remains to be done---by you, me, and the rest of us. Yes, in the words of Fosdick quoted near the start of this post, 'we still have the universe on our hands' so let's all get on with the monumental task of being God to each other---and to our broken world.

Are you an atheist? If so, I am not trying to turn you into something else, let alone an orthodox heist---heaven forbid! We must reject all this nonsense that you have to believe in a conventional God in order to be a ‘moral’ and ‘decent’ (whatever that might mean) human being. That’s crap, but it’s the sort of crap regularly promulgated by the Christian churches which has helped produce the current lot of ‘new atheists’ and their many followers. It’s all rather sad---indeed, quite pathetic. However, until the mainstream Christian churches discover the real God of the Bible---the one I have referred to above---we will see more and more people identifying as atheists. That may not be a bad thing. At least in time we may see the death of mainstream Christianity (along with the other two major monotheistic religions), which would not, in my submission, be a bad thing, for out of the combined ashes there might arise, Phoenix-like, a new understanding of the All-in-all and of what it means to have one’s being in God. We can only hope---and pray.




Sunday, March 4, 2012

SLAVES OF THE ‘I’---EVEN UNTO DEATH


I have written much---perhaps too much---on the unreality on the ‘self,’ but I couldn’t resist sharing this saying, attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha, which I read only recently:

Ye are slaves of the I, that toil in the service of self from morn to night, that live in constant fear of birth, old age, sickness, death, receive the good tidings that your cruel master exists not.

‘Slaves of the I, that toil in the service of self.’ When I think of the legal profession---of which I have been an erstwhile member for almost 35 years---I see so many practitioners who ‘toil in the service of self’ while self-righteously affirming they are doing it for the sake and benefit of their clients. They write aggressive letters to the lawyers for the other party which basically say no more than, ‘My dick's bigger than yours.’

These lawyers suffer so greatly from being in slavery to themselves and their own sense of self-importance. No wonder lawyers are statistically more unhappy than any other people. So many lawyers I have encountered in my working life as a lawyer and legal academic are oblivious to the fact that their clients are generally aware of the childish 'dick' game of one-upmanship constantly being played out before their very eyes---and at such great expense to the clients themselves and the general public, I might add. It’s total ego stuff, through and through, and the same thing can be said for most other businesses, trades and professions---not to mention what goes on in the home and in all day-to-day personal relationships. We are all very good at being disingenuous.


It has been said that when we leave this world we can take with us only what is ours ‘by right of consciousness.’ I am not at all sure that we can take even that ‘with’ us when we go---but I do know that what is ours by right of consciousness will remain for quite a long time as a memory and in the memories of those who remain and who remember, for better or for worse, what we were really like in our lifetime.

Most people have given up conventional religion, and I can readily understand why that is the case. All too sadly, however, the new religion of most people---at least in Western societies---is consumerism, and there is a helluva lot of ‘dick stuff’ associated with that religion! It’s all dick stuff 'from morn to night' with ‘constant fear’ that the so-called good times will come to an abrupt end at any moment, what with the credit cards all maxed out and so forth. And I am not being self-righteous here, for I stand 'guilty as charged' as well.

I read somewhere once that Leonardo da Vinci scribbled in the corner of one of his drawings that he had agonized over for some considerable time, ‘Leonardo, Why toilest thou thus?’ He saw the ultimate futility of all our endeavours. I know. I get the same feeling as I churn out these blogs each week---and I am certainly no Leonardo da Vinci! Far from it.

We all need to slow down and ponder this truth---the ‘cruel master’ for whom we toil in vain does not exist.

‘Why toilest thou thus?’



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