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PostPosted: Mon May 16, 2011 2:36 pm    Post subject: ( email ) a representative sketch of Dai's belief system Reply with quote

Subject: " Ideology " : my note became an essay - a representative sketch of the way that I think about Religion and Politics
Date: Mon, 16 May 2011 03:51:48 +0000

Dear X,

( I seem to be unable to sleep and in the mood to explain how my religion and my politics are related in atleast one aspect ... so a note became an essay ... actually this is a fairly representative sketch of the way that I think, would you consider forwarding this to Y and anybody else who you are intending to introduce to me to give them a glimpse of my interests ? )

I just got out of bed for two reasons, one to tell you that I have not yet forwarded that email to A and B because I want to know how you feel about me doing that ( I'd quite like to show them that email exchange ) and two because I did not comment on this :

" Yes, I think we have crossed wires... again, sadly. I believe our hearts are in the right place though, which may be an answer and reason why."

Which came back to mind as I was hanging around hoping to sleep. You seem to me to be expressing a republican sentiment there, that two people can strongly disagree but discover their shared humanity as a common bond. It pays, I think, to remember that we are not angels, not even close to the perfect understanding possessed by the god that I do not believe in.

This little formula, " the god that I do not believe in " is about expressing my FAITH in a PHENOMENON that other people have decided to BELIEVE is GOD, but since I understand all ideas to be human artifacts I see no reason to ascribe to that phenomenon that idea. I do not believe in the literal existence of god but I subscribe to the idea that in worshipping the Quaker way I am encountering a common experience that is fundamentally human and the universal basis of religion throughout history though the explanations given to it differ from culture to culture. Just as I can take an interest in politics that are not my own, the same goes for religions that are not my own, I can accept them as intriguing human artifacts.

The technical descriptions of my beliefs about how and why Quakerism works are

a ) how it involves a wordless encounter with not just others worshipping but with the whole world around us and the cosmos beyond that as a thing infused with a life that we are not separate from and that we find ourselves in worship sensing that relationship and sometimes being led to comment upon it in ministry - this idea is known as Hylozoism ( hylo = ~ 'everywhere' , zo(-e) ( ist ) = 'life' - ist )

b) why it involves our sensing that the cosmos and our world within it and ourselves within that, that we live in an ordered place, that we sense when things are not in order and thus in contrasting this order and it being disturbed by disorder, we can discern the laws that govern it, in other words we can decide our morality in a scientific way and systemise it as a religion that is constantly evolving in its understanding by developing new ideas and sharing them with others. These religious ideas about moral order that we can discern can then be taken into politics as we try to decide the ethics of how to restore order to society by creating laws that advise people how to conduct their lives successfully, which in my book of revalation requires Love, Truth, Peace and Freedom in the sense of not being ensnared by addictive things like tobacco or ideas - both of which I have been gorging on this evening.

In ancient Greece outside of each court of law there was a shrine to the Nomos, not one of the important gods in their pantheon because ordinary Greeks were a lawless bunch it seems, but if I have a god that I believe in it is the Nomos - " the Law " - and the ultimate law is " The Theory of Everything " that is the ultimate quest of Science, to be able to write the final equation that explains how the cosmos came into existence and how it works, and how on earth muons and quarks etc arranged themselves into human beings who can investigate what muons and quarks etc are. It is as if the cosmos has a desire to know itself, to discern its own order, and the only reason why we as human beings are able to do science at all is because the cosmos that we have evolved within is regularly ordered and therefore intelligable to us as part of it and so we can make it meaningful to ourselves and so make decisions about how to behave in it that are rational and therefore effective.

This is Nomosticism, and in the early 19th century views like these became the basis of a modern republicanism which is based upon the pursuit of a scientific enquiry that promised to solve the problems of the preceding neo-classical republicanism that was based upon philosophical arguments that could have no finality because they were purely reasoned upon from personal sentiments e.g. Spinosa, Rousseau, Kant. The early advocates of this form of scientifically based republicanism referred to themselves as the Ideologues and they were led by Antoine Louis Claude Destutt, the Comte de Tracy ( 1754 - 1836 ) and one of his followers was Jean Baptiste Lamarck ( 1744 - 1829 ) whose theory of evolution which was called Transformationism was either actually plaguarised or learned about without knowing its source by Charles Darwin who merely added to it the idea of natural selection as the mechanism. Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution though he gave it that name, and he got the idea for natural selection by competition from Thomas Malthus apparently.

It was de Tracy who drew upon the ideas of John Locke ( 1632 - 1704 ), introduced to him by the writings of Etienne Bonnot de Condillac ( 1715 - 1780 ), and came up with the proposal that the formation of ideas in people's heads could be scientifically studied and thus religion, philosophy, politics and any other intellectual activity could be investigated upon a scientific basis and critically discussed in order to improve our systems of belief and so direct our lives upon a rational basis and thus progressively improve our societies, and this idea of progression in turn helped to sow the seed of the theory of evolution in Lamarck's mind. De Tracy and the ideologues established the Institut de France in 1795 and in 1796 he read a paper in which he proposed that this new science of ideas would be called ' Ideology ' and in 1797 Napoleon Bonaparte became an honorary member. In 1799 the ideologues supported his coup d'etat believing that Napoleon would sweep away the forces of reaction that had followed the chaos of The Terror which itself had demonstrated the evil of a person like Robespiere lacking critical insight into the irrationality of his own belief system and thus conscientiously imposing it with violence upon others. The Ideologues looked forward to advising Napoleon upon how to plan for a new society governed scientifically and for a while he listened to them and made innovations like the metric system etc but when they started to criticise him publically he did not engage in debate with them but turned upon them as a tyrant who demanded that their philosophy should serve his political ambitions, and by 1812 he was dismissing their project as " Ideology, that sinister metaphysics " and from Napoleon's cue the term " ideology " swiftly became a contemptuous one whose sense was later picked up by Karl Marx, not a scientific man but one who pretended to be and who tried to get Charles Darwin to endorse his own ideology which ofcourse was " not an ideology at all " but an historical inevitability to be imposed by violence if neccassary if society failed to evolve in the way that his followers demanded.

Irrational and therefore ineffectual belief systems that proclaim their absolute authority can only be imposed by violence and systematic denials of the facts of their failure, as happened in the USSR. Modern republicanism is not interested in people's private belief systems, everybody's private life is their own, but argues that our social life in the community, which is governed by laws in all societies, must have a coherent collective Ideology to accomodate differing private beliefs. Since the word " ideology " is now commonly mis-used as a term of abuse, people like me tend to use terms like " Meta-ideology " to imply a public belief system that can explain and account for private belief systems in a sympathetic but critical way. Modern Republicanism is trying to construct a rational public belief system to be encapsulated in the laws of the state which all children should be educated in because republican laws are supposed to be advisory not punitive - how can we justly blame the criminality of young adults on their own volition and punish them when we have never advised them how to behave by teaching them about the laws that our society lives by in the first place ? Understanding how to behave as a member of society is the neccessary part of education and of far more relevance than " media studies " or indeed any other subject, yet - forgive me if I am wrong, I am out of touch here not having children - the only compulsory subjects in Wales are Religious Education and Welsh. Ideally, in the republic, we would be teaching children how to construct and deconstruct their own and other people's belief systems so that they could participate as citizens in a republican political system. A very pure modern republican would be citing the modern offspring of Ideology as an early scientific discipline - Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology etc - and be demanding that we constantly revise our laws in the light of new scientific discoveries. Most modern republicans are less pure and, since science is still in its infancy and unable to settle so many questions just yet, we are prepared to take into consideration all sorts of evidence that is rather less than scientific and allow the possibility that those who made the laws in the past, that are still on the statute books, may have been excercising some real knowledge about human behaviour even if they could not scientifically evidence their decisions.

Republicanism is ofcourse all about making and breaking laws. Pure Republicanism began with Socrates advocating getting rid of democracy altogether in favour of monarchs who were philosophers compelled by reason to do the right thing, and it started because he was raging away one day about the Sophists seducing the electorate into mindlessly accepting what the rich and powerful were doing, just like modern spin-doctors, and he denounced Athens' proud democracy as a sham, just as so many people do so today because in the UK we have none of the constitutional safeguards advocated by Democratic Republicans. Democratic Republicans still form parties and threaten to risk dividing society into mutually hostile camps by using voting at all levels of the political system, although we hope that they do not regard politics as merely a means to get into power to serve themselves and not the public which is more or less what Pure Democrats do, as we have just had a glimpse of in the recent expenses scandal in the Palace of Westminster. But I am, I suspect, a Republican Democrat after the ideal offered by Rousseau who advocated that there should be no voting but a collective discussion in which a community of people gradually developed a consensus of opinion by investigating a problem and discussing it at length until they had clearly understood the matter and so could decide upon the General or People's Will and hence all assent to it because they all thoroughly understood it as the best possible course of action and therefore would not need to vote upon it nor enforce conformity to it with punitive laws. Contrast this with the Democratic Republicanism as practised in most western democracies where people do not bother to vote because they know that they are being lied to by politicians who will promise almost anything to win an election and whom once elected do not consider the issues before them for any length of time or critically examine the arguments made in favour of them but simply turn up to vote when summoned and vote according to the directions given them by their leaders.

In the UK we effectively live in an elective dictatorship, it is neither a constitutional monarchy as claimed or alternatively a parliamentary democracy as counterclaimed. The UK claims that the sovereignty in our political system resides not in the monarch or in the people but in parliament, and in reality it does not even reside in the cabinet of the government because they are all appointed by the man in whom it does reside - the Prime Minister. S/he decides the business of parliament and if s/he has a majority of representatives there, usually elected on around 10% of the possible number of votes that might be cast, s/he can use a three line whip and do as s/he pleases without any effective scrutiny by running legislation through the House of Commons with a " guillotine " - what a terrible use for that noble word !!! Things are getting better, corrupt practices have been exposed and removed but - crucially - not by any regular systematic monitoring but by a single persistent campaigning journalist in the case of the recent expenses scandal. The reason why things are so bad in the UK is because Republicanism, the main source of some good remedies for these abuses, has been treated as subversive and was criminalised by the Treason Felony Act 1848 because it criticised these abuses and threatened to inspire purposeful mass opposition to any party that acquired control over profitting from them. In the British Empire the abuses were so bad the UK had to fight armed rebellions, not merely people's apathy towards their political system which now has reached such a degree that it is becoming utterly discreditted as a form of government. Republicanism's main remedy for these abuses reflects its preoccupation with making and breaking laws with reasonable cause, and that is that politicians should be subject to the same judicial scrutiny that everyone else is in the UK. This is not to hand law making powers to the judiciary but to divide the political power between the judiciary who interpret the laws, the legislature which makes them, and the executive which excercises them - and then to make them vigilent over each other.

The idea of the division of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary was supposedly observed in the United Kingdom in the first place by Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, so we might well be asking the pertinent question : if we had it once before, how come that we lost it ? They are very careless over in Westminister...

Well, I am still awake even if you have fallen asleep by now !

David B. Lawrence

Last edited by dai on Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:58 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2011 11:54 am    Post subject: email discussing relationships between religion & politi Reply with quote

another email in a similar sort of vein, including an argument against the myth of secularism, something that I might elaborate on another occasion.

Dear Secular friends ( and some religious ones ),

I know that my attachment to Quakerism puzzles most of you, perhaps this will explain to you my argument that there is no such thing as secular society, and that politics and religion are different sides of the same coin and neccessary to each other : any religion that has no political expression in criticising the ethics practised in places of government is a still-born affair, whereas any politics that has no religious expression in criticising the morality practised in places of worship is equally so still-born. The difference between religion and politics is essentially the difference between persuasion and coercion, so it is especially important that the balance between them in society is well struck. Nobody wants to live in a society where there are no forceful sanctions upon wrong-doers, but equally nobody wants to live in a society where every sanction is a forceful one. Politics has a religious aspect in that it is ideally conducted by persuasion not coercion, and religion has a political aspect in that it is ideally conducted by resisting coercion when it cannot persuade. The public interest is best served by a constant dialogue between religious morality and political ethics.

David B. Lawrence

Subject: Discernment & recent letters in The Friend
Date: Thu, 7 Jul 2011 10:51:50 +0000

Dear Ian Kirk-Smith, editor of The Friend,

( as ever, my ' letter to the editor ' grew into an essay as I worked to explain my ideas, but these two paragraphs in this colour were the original email.)

I have just spent three hours copying and pasting letters to The Friend from the past couple of months, grouping together those dealing with ' Testimonies,' ' Jesus ' and ' Non-theism ' and scribbling notes against them. It strikes me that the editor must have received a lot more than has been published and I wondered what The Friend might be doing with them. Presumeably if they are received as emails they are not so difficult to store or so expensive to distribute copies of to interested parties and they might constitute a valuable resource as a snapshot of what is going on in the Religious Society of Friends at the moment. I have wondered how representative those published are of those received. I have to confess that I do not have the time to embark upon the project of reading through such an archive if it does exist, but I do wonder if there is anybody who does have the time and inclination to make an account of what is going on at what seems to me to be a critical moment in the development of Quaker history. When we look back at previous moments such as the Beaconite controversy we can only consider the evidence of the letters published by editors whose criteria were journalistic rather than sociological, and this skews the history of Quakerism.

As to my own letter from the end of June that was not published, I think that its theme is confirmed by my scribbles this evening which reveal a constant trend in the arguments about Non-theism : both those who are pro- and those who are con- are implicitly or explicitly attacking the practice of discernment that is at the heart of Quakerism. Those against it often want to reject Non-theism by imposing a credal test to pre-empt anybody else's judgement that they credally object to in explicit terms, and those for Non-theism are often arguing that in practising discernment others are imposing a credal test and they also want to pre-empt anybody else's judgement. Discernment is the heart of Quaker practice, without it we can only make judgements upon the basis of an agreed form of words and it is thus only discernment that can deliver us from endlessly arguing over words that we have become emotionally attached to. This same problem was coming out in the letters about ' Testimonies ' and ' Jesus.' We do of course need to use words to hold any discussion about the ideas that we are thinking with, but their use is as tools to describe the ideas that we hold about the reality that we experience, not to supplant that reality with idealities that refer only to themselves and therefore can not be objectively determined.

I have long standing interest in Ideology and Meta-ideology, which properly speaking are the study of how people construct their belief systems. As it turns out, I am an atheist Quaker because I think that that is logically where Quakerism's iconoclasm leads to : I think that Simplicity ( or as I would term it Freedom in tems of non-attachment ) discourages theological speculation about the basis of Quaker worship, it is surely sufficient and less problematic to attempt to concretely describe what it is like to be caught up in a gathered meeting than to elaborate any further explanations for it. As an atheist I place my faith in this act of worship in the same way that anyone else does who then justifies it with any further explanations from their elaborated belief systems, whether Theist or Non-theist. In the past my own explanation for what is happening has been a scientificised one, which I have termed ' Nomostic Hylozoism,' but I do not ' believe ' in it because I know that it is just a speculation albeit a more rationalised one. When I listen to other people's expressions of their beliefs I do so in the same way that I listen to a piece of music or look at a picture or read a book. Other people's beliefs are not offensive to me, I take them for the human artifacts that they are and when I was a Quaker elder I felt that it was not my role to tell people what to believe but to advise them as to how to develop their beliefs. The reason for my doing this is bound up with my understanding of what religion is i.e. that if we are alone with our thoughts, and refuse to contemplate other people's understandings of what we are collectively contemplating, then whilst we will each develop what I understand to be individual private spiritualities these can tend to be poverty stricken belief systems in comparison to what can be achieved by cooperating together in an organised religion in which we can create a collective public spirituality that provides for a richer and more critical and therefore more effective understanding of the world in which we live.

We need to understand the beliefs of others about the world in order to develop our own critical understanding of it and so be able to constantly revise our own beliefs in order to improve our ability to operate successfully in the world - and mend it. The idea that atheists do not practice religion is most certainly a misconception in my case, because in my understanding of religion it is literally present at all times, in all places, in all of human experience and most probably in the experience of non humans aswell. The belief that we now live in a secularised society I find to be radically untrue : we are constantly being preached at through the media in order to persuade us to believe in things in a much more thorough way than our ancestors ever were through the pulpit. Those preaching at us do so in order to purposefully promote their own private interests and they do not enter into any critical dialogues about the public interest but rather perniciously argue that the latter consists of the sum total of all of our conflicting private interests, which I believe would be no more than zero if it were not for the fact that some can deploy more resources to promote their own interests. I deem this to be especially pernicious because we are told that what is being done to us is ' not religious ' but ' secular ' and therefore not susceptible to religious criticism. Once we can come to understand that religion is not about promoting private beliefs in gods but about publicly promoting any beliefs, it becomes immediately obvious that our supposedly heterodox and secular society is in fact extremely orthodox and religiously intolerant of non-conforming communities like Quakers because our religious practice casts a critical eye upon this society. I feel that as Quakers we should not be treating the Religious Society of Friends as a consumer option that is a private concern for consenting adults : religion is a public concern and there is no possibility of ever opting out of the consumption of religion because beliefs inform every human activity.

I feel that if Quakers could develop a better understanding of the Quaker practice of discernment, we would not only transcend our differences of belief by being able to judge what we have in common, we would also discover that what we have in common is what is grounded in the transcending reality that we not only share as Quakers but indeed share with everybody else in society. It is this reality that provides us with the ground to stand upon to practice the discernment of the self-interested and therefore ineffectual spirituality promoted by the religious practices of our society, to insist that religion is about promoting the public interest and to confront our society with our judgement upon its religious life for not doing so. Note that this is not a Theistic judgement founded upon any credal formula that demands that other people subscribe to beliefs in the supernatural, and it is definitely not a Non-theistic suspension of judgement lest we offend anybody by risking them feeling that they have to agree with us. This is not about our excercising any parental authority over society but about my challenging the Religious Society of Friends for our evading our religious responsiblity as friends to the rest of society in much the same way that, for a metaphore, surly children will neither be engaged with nor engage with others in discussions about their social interactions. This is about our becoming a community of adults who engage with the religious traditions of Quakerism as a record of truths about our society and a means to discern further truths about it. We can use the methods of Quaker worship to decide upon and offer our advices and queries to the rest of our society about their understanding of the world and how they are behaving in it, and can thus rescue the Religious Society of Friends from being merely a club for free-thinkers conducted for an hour each Sunday. By transforming private individualistic spiritualities into a public collective religion this will inevitably involve our pronouncing judgement upon and confronting the myth of secularism in our society which refuses to critically address the eternal values that have previously been summed up in religious ideas about gods.

Thus my fellow Quakers will understand that for me beliefs in gods are optional aesthetic ideas used to organise and describe those eternal values, and that whilst I am an atheist I can often enjoy other people's gods and appreciate the way in which they have been created. They really reflect an individual's personal history when passionately believed in and are thus of great interest precisely because of this, but the trouble with such gods is that they do reflect individualised such private spiritualities, and the attempt by those who believe in them to get other people to accept them has more to do with those individuals wanting to be accepted themselves in order to get their own needs met. Love requires me to accept the individual person by coming to understand their personal history and thus to appreciate their god, but Truth requires me to identify those things as peculiar to an individual's spirituality and not the revalatory basis of a collective religion that compels me to respond to their demands. The only kind of god that can serve to meet all people's individualised spiritualities is a sort of plenum-void upon which each can project their own private ideas whilst agreeing to not publicly debate what the word ' god ' means in order to maintain the illusion that they hold something in common. This in fact it destroys the whole basis of religion : it reduces the term ' god ' to a null set that is devoid of any values : one minute ' god ' justifies the demand to be loved, the next minute the same ' god ' justifies the excuse to hate. Thus ' god ' can be used for authoritarian ends, to arbitrarily justify any willful demand and it is entirely robbed of any moral authority by not being an idea that is accountable to reason. Hence I prefer not to construct any god but choose to debate only those ideas that can be concretely described and thus collectively reasoned upon, and only Quakerism offers me a religious tradition in which this debate can take place. I do not have to ' believe ' in Quaker worship because I have experienced it as a fact time and time again, and my experiences concur with those reported for centuries by theist and deist and non-theist Quakers : what I have in common with them as an atheist, who is discerned by others as sharing in their practice and thus a Quaker in their eyes, is the fact that I have placed my faith in Quaker worship, that I believe that it is beneficial for me to practice it, and also that it is beneficial for those around me that I practice it.

It has to be noted that whilst my adherence to the Religious Society of Friends has furnished me with many ideas, my practice of Quaker worship has lessened my belief in ideas in general and so arguably it is misleading to say that I am an atheist because this can be taken to imply that I am a ' believer ' in Atheism. ' Atheist ' is more properly stated to be a description that I apply to myself, a word that I use to denote ideas that I have formulated in response to the reality that I have experienced in Quaker worship, which is beyond any such words. Another word that I use for what I sense to be the object of worship is the ' Nomos ' or ' Law,' the order of the universe from which we can derive effective ideas about how to conduct ourselves in the world, and thus achieve the things that we wish to do within it peaceably by reasoned argument and not by coercive behaviour. For those who must insist that religion is about believing in gods, it can be noted that the Nomos was a very minor god in the Greek pantheon whose shrines were located at the entrance to the law courts where prayers were offered up by those seeking justice. I use it in the sense of the Law of Nature, the Ultimate Equation, the Theory of Everything sought for by scientists, and in one particular sense it is a cipher for the god of Moses who was a law-giver. The other word that I use of myself is ' Hylozoist ' which means that I believe that life infuses the whole of the cosmos, that life is not something that evolved by chance but is inherent in the very fabric of the universe. When I worship, I am consciously directing my attention away from my own life and by stilling my mind I am relying upon my resonating with the cosmos in order to divine within the silence intimations of this order within it. In worship I am attending to how far my own life is in unity with those lives which lie beyond my own, and my ministry arises from out of the spiritual experiences that I have in worship through which I discern my understanding of the world that I am living in. All that being said, I do try to heed my own advice and leave my ideas about what I am about to do there outside of the meeting room and enter into it to worship simply, as a Quaker.

Yours Sincerely,

David B. Lawrence,
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 15, 2011 2:45 am    Post subject: Dover Beach, Sea of Faith v Sea of Belief, Reply with quote

I see no reason not to tag this onto this thread aswell since it touches upon the relationship between religion and politics again, and might explain to the bewildered how I view religion as a good thing whilst being an atheist. It's also an email to somebody who used to write on repwblic.informe.com actually but now only reads it occasionally. I am particularly pleased with the " rock / beach = faith / belief " metaphore.

[ After I wrote this, I decided to knock up a Non-Realism v ( Anti-Realism v Realism ) topic thread - http://repwblic.informe.com/viewtopic.php?t=480 ]

Dear X,

you said recently that I should just start shouting at God, that I am angry with him in holding the ' nomostic ' views that I hold. A friend of mine, Y , on gradually getting to understand how I think remarked that she thought that I did believe in God after all. Well I don't, i.e. I do not believe in the gods described by any religion - except that I believe that these gods have been created by human beings for various purposes, some of which are excellent in their intentions. In contrast to my lack of belief, I have plenty of faith in the cosmos being an ordered place because it is ultimately governed by ' The Laws of Nature,' or ' The Ultimate Equation ' or, perhaps more prosaically at this point in the development of science, ' The Theory of Everything.' This is not a god in the sense that most religions have created their gods, possessed of will and personality, but rather is impartial, indifferent and without any purpose or intent except that it is in part like the god of Moses which can in a sense be wholly identified with the laws that Moses pronounced to be attributed to the god that he described as having encountered on the mountain. Whilst I do not believe in the god of Moses, or Jesus, or Muhammed, or Bahá'u'lláh ( the Bahá'ís are a rather attractive bunch though ) I decided long ago that whatever the explanations given thereafter, the origins of religion lay in the fact that human beings the whole world over report and describe the same spiritual experience which their religions then dress up in explanations peculiar to their own cultures.

The fact is that this spiritual experience that is the root of all of the world's religions, is constantly reported to be the result of sitting in a silent place, devoid of outer distractions for the senses, and inwardly emptying the mind of distracting thoughts in order to achieve a profound mental silence in which the founders of these religions discovered the ideas that led to their understandings, one of these ideas being that of ' god ' which I certainly admit is a powerful idea around which to organise and govern a system of thought. Now I have plenty of faith in this spiritual experience but I have chosen not to use the idea of ' god ' in my system of thought whilst still thinking that religion is vitally important. For our society to have abandoned organised religion and to not collectively reflect regularly upon the morality that we subscribe to, to debate it and to constantly question it is politically disastrous i.e. I think that a healthy society deliberately promotes a vigourous public debate about morality - but does not institute an established religion to prescribe a particular opinion about it. This is neccessary in order to constantly hold those who are powerful in our society to account, politicians in particular since general elections hardly suffice for this purpose.

Shouting at God out of frustration is not of much use when the people wrecking your life are politicians, but I do still occasionally address God and I ponder the reasons why an atheist should want to do so. Obviously I had no problem with the idea of God earlier in my life, but after I ripped myself apart looking for the inconsistencies within myself when I was in my early twenties I simply found the idea to be superfluous when I embarked upon reconstructing myself thereafter. But - I then reasoned that in this reconstruction of myself I needed to draw upon the collective wisdom of an intelligent and sensible world view that has been tested for centuries in some way that I approved of, and the only community that qualifies as doing that are the Quakers. In Quakerism the debate between morality and ethics is obvious and thus historically this passive religion has propelled individual people into active politics without ever forming a Quaker party. In a good sense, a community of people behaving in the way that Quakers do can give credence to the tag ' Vox Populi, Vox Dei ' because a person doesn't receive their collective endorsement for his concern without it first receiving a lot of consideration by the others through the due procedures : I've no licence from the Religious Society of Friends to go shouting at governments !

And whilst I am burning the midnight oil, I have been cooking up a new metaphore for this business of ' faith' and ' belief ' which began as ministry last Sunday ... it is not fixed in my mind as yet, but Z made a comment that made me think about how to cast it ...

Two survivors from a shipwreck are washed up on a small sandy beach having clung to a broken spar, and they drag this and themselves up onto the rock that stands above the beach and discover that this and the beach is all the land that there is that is visible on this side of the horizon. Never the less as they stand upon the rock and survey their situation they feel a sense of faith in something that has saved them, that it has a purpose for these two people who are strangers to each other. He has a knife and she has a needle and thread, there are shellfish clinging to the rock, fish in the sea, flotsam and jetsam on the beach. Staying alive is possible but difficult and uncomfortable upon the rock, which they have to retreat to when the tide covers the beach. They quickly become bored and tired of each other's company, and when they argue the only place to be away from the other is on the beach where the spar is. They soon notice that the spar has knots upon it that resemble a face, and, each spending time alone on the beach with it, this becomes the object of their conversations when alone with it. Since each are doing this and each other knows, they begin to refer to the spar in their conversations between themselves, ascribing to it opinions and appealing to what they think that the spar's opinion is when they are arguing between themselves, and celebrating its wisdom etc. As they develop a set of beliefs about the spar they decide to set it upright in the sand and they carve it to resemble a face more, and decorate it with shells etc.

But the problem for these two believers is the tide because the rock provides no place to set up the spar, so they must set it up in the thin sand and each and every tide results in the spar being toppled over by the waves, so that twice a day they have to rescue it before it is carried away. Each time they set it up again they elaborate its decoration some more and have new thoughts to discuss about it, but whilst they celebrate these beliefs again as they set it up again, each time that it is knocked down again by the tides they are thrown into disbeliefs about the thing that they made which has failed once more. When the tide comes in they retreat onto the rock, back into their original feeling of a sense of faith in something that continues to support and save them. As the tide of misfortune comes in, as our circumstances become more desperate, it is natural to discard those beliefs that do not continue to stand up beneath the onslaught of unhappiness : we are reduced to standing on the rock of faith, having lost all of our beliefs. So what is this faith like for me ? Well it is a faith in something that is literally rock-like, the concrete evidence to myself that religion is a worthwhile activity that I find in the spiritual experience that is universally described by all religions, except that they pour confusion upon it because they dress it up in ever more elaborated belief systems. For me, it is enough that this rock of faith exists, and it is not the Sea of Faith that has receded but the Sea of Beliefs, which is no bad thing.

[ For the uninitiated : this is about to Non-Realism, and the metaphore is referring to Dover Beach and The Sea of Faith - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Faith ]


[ For a discussion of this poem : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dover_Beach ]

Dover Beach - Mathew Arnold - 1851

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;--on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the {AE}gean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.


I know, I know, you are not buying this one at all are you ? ' May your god go with you ! ' as Dave Allen used to say at the end of his usual string of religious jokes ...

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2017 6:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I do not even think that this thread really does explain my belief system - but statements about it are scattered all over the place both on and off this bulletin board ... here is a proem -

Now as I understand it the common convention_Is to pray at these moments for divine intervention_By a god which I do not believe in - and [color=violet]so
I don't want His interference_As a Republican Quaker I will insist on suffering in silence_Well - except for making up poems about my own life of intervention ... [/color]

Now as I understand it the common convention_
Is to pray at these moments for divine intervention_
By a God which I do not believe in and - since I don't want His interference -_
As a Republican Quaker I must insist upon suffering in silence_
Well - except for making up poems about my voting by abstention ...

dai repwblic = Dai Saw = David B Lawrence : the author asserts his moral right - not to sue for copyright !
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