"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Creation in Crisis; Christian Perspectives on Sustainability Part Two

I took this book to bed again last night and made significant inroads into its depths. It is so good, that today I have read much more of it and will be posting a review on Amazon soon.
Christian or not, we really do need to heed its message. After all, one argument often used by atheists against the need for religion is that there is no need of a faith or a God for them to have their own strong morals and ethics. We can, they say, be good without God.
OK, so the actions urged in this book have very strong ethical and moral support, albeit from Christian teachings. Any "good" atheist true to his own beliefs should also therefore find himself unable to ignore the reasoning in this book, founded very much on the scale of human suffering that will result from man's past actions exacerbated by the extent of any future inaction.

Sir John Houghton is currently Honorary Scientist of the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research at the UK Meteorological Office, but his experience and qualifications as an eminent scientist over 40 years are immense. He of all scientists will most certainly know what he is talking about. He is also one of those many scientists, eminent and otherwise, who contrary to a common misperception, also feel able to have a faith, a religion. He is a Christian. And his own chapter in Creation in Crisis, Sustainable Climate and the Future of Energy, makes frightening reading indeed.

This is just a small snatch of part of his message for the climate change cynics:
"...it is only during the past century that increases in human population and the development of large-scale industry have begun to have widespread and severe effects on our climate...The change we are experiencing and which is rapidly growing is ...unsustainable because its impacts are largely adverse and will negatively affect our children and subsequent generations, many human communities (especially the poor and disadvantaged) and many ecosystems, which will experience great losses of species and biodiversity."
What adverse phenomena can we expect? The most worrying aspect is the projected rise in climate change refugees, displaced by a combination of flooding of their homelands, and extreme droughts, which will be longer and more severe as we advance into this century. A cautious estimate predicts that by 2050 there will be more than 150 million refugees, human tragedy on a vast scale. Where do they all go? How does the earth cope?
And no assessment on any other scientific topic, he assures us, has been so thoroughly researched and reviewed as the results of the IPCC's assessments and related reports.
Creation in Crisis reinforces the serious of climate change, looks in detail at all the causes, points to the possible solutions, and all within a Christian perspective. The overriding message is very clear. We have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and we have to act urgently. We also have to adapt to changes already happening, and unavoidable. We need to work on improved water defences, land management, water management, crop management, all to counter soil erosion, flooding, drought and heat. And we need a global cooperation. We also need the determination of us all, as encouraged and incentivised by governments. We need to work much more on energy efficiency, on developing non fossil fuels, on carbon capture and storage, and we need to act with a sense of urgency, akin to the mobilisation for war seen in 1941 by Roosevelt's government, or the British rally seen a couple of years earlier at the onset of World War Two.
Most of all, the book in its many and varied essays, emphasises the high level commitment and behavioural adaptations needed by you and I, now. For this to happen we have to really and truly understand, in our hearts and minds, that human well-being does NOT grow with economic growth, with consumerism and with excessive material comfort. This understanding MUST be promoted by the advertising industry and by those who guide and direct the economies of the nations.
There is so much good scientific fact, straight common sense and well reasoned ideas in this book. It is the very best from the finest scientific and theological minds. I can only say if you care at all about the future of this planet, about the future of your children and grandchildren, about the whole of humanity, (and ethically that must include us all) this book must be read; not only read, but recommended to others, and acted upon by all of us even if only in some small way, to start our own Ripple of Hope.
The photos by the way are off the book cover and attributed to Shutterstock. The refugees are crossing from DR Congo to Uganda. The car speaks for itself.

Here is a photo I took in the Nun's Valley in Madeira at the time of the Chestnut Festival held every November. This weather was exceptional for the area. The locals did not appear to have seen anything quite like it before. Clearly this was a part of the exceptional weather patterns resulting from climate change as predicted by the science and described by John Laughton.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Creation in Crisis; Christian Perspectives on Sustainability

How many books have to be written on the related issues of climate change, environmental sustainability and the growth economy before people sit up, take notice, accept the facts and do something to pay back the next generation for our own profligacies?
When I go to bed I rarely manage to read more than a page or two of a book, even a really good one, before sleep overcomes me. Some will envy me this gift - I know that a few of my friends struggle to sleep for most of the night, fall asleep in the early dawn and then wake up feeling lousy.
Last night for me was an exception from my normal pattern. I was reading Creation in Crisis; Christian Perspectives on Sustainability. An impressive cast of acknowledged experts in their fields, scientists and theologians, had got together for a workshop in the summer of 2008 at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, in Cambridge, UK. The purpose of this gathering was to explore the root causes of environmental unsustainability. Why, they asked, do we continue on a fast track to ultimate and total environmental degradation. Is it ignorance? Partly perhaps. Is it denial? Quite possibly. None of us want to give up our "comfortable" lifestyles for a perceived drop in standards of living. Is there procrastination? Almost certainly. And where does ethics come into the equation?
This book was born out of the cross fertilization of ideas at that event. And it is essential reading for all who really do want to change the world for the better. It brings together many essays, and explores possible solutions and ways forward, within a context of Christian thinking.
Then I started tossing and turning and could not sleep. Because I couldn't stop thinking over this question. So many excellent books have been written on the concerns we have about these issues. But the sad truth is that most people would rather bury their heads in the sand, ostrich style, and would rather be entertained than worried into action by stark facts, when of course there is room for both in our lives.
Witness also to this is the huge following of what I would call the frivolous blogs, clearly addressing only the here and now, against those blogs that try to be more serious about our perilous futures.
In the magazine of Christian Ecology Link, John Mead wrote in 2007 in an article Letting Loose Despair:
"What we in the rich countries are doing to people in poor countries, to future generations, and to the planet, is beyond all argument morally outrageous."

Come on everybody wake up!

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Another Book - Echlin's Climate and Christ

Having finished Ancient Futures I am now dipping into another good book - Climate and Christ: A Prophetic Alternative, by the ecological theologian Edward Echlin. I have to say I have not always found Echlin's books easy to read (note to me - must go back and find out why!) but this one is OK on that score. And don't be too put off by the title. This is a book that rewards the effort in getting to the end; a book whose message is urgent but also hopeful. Although written primarily from the Christian perspective, it includes plenty of the author's own stories of his organic and green life style, and some of the history and science behind climate change. It also describes the process of evolution and proposes an integration of evolution with christian ecology. Whilst clearly inspired by Christ, this book may well be appreciated by any "of faith," all those who want to learn why they need to change their lives, and how - how to find alternative lifestyles and walk away from the "individualised, consumer, globalised, "growth" economies that are destroying the earth" - to find a better path. We owe it not only to ourselves but most importantly to our children and grandchildren.
I love the Jewish story (here told by Peninnah Schram) he relates from the Babylonian Talmud Ta'anit 23:

"Honi the Wise One was also known as Honi the Circle Maker. By drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain, sometimes even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was, indeed, a miracle maker. As wise as he was, Honi sometimes saw something that puzzled him. Then he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery.

One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?"

The man replied, "Seventy years."

Honi then asked the man, "And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?"

The man answered, "Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees."

Friday, 24 September 2010

Book Review - Ancient Futures

The other day I tuned in to BBC Radio 4, my favourite radio station and heard the tag end of a discussion on the AntiSocial Behaviour Orders, or ASBO's, that we mete out to youngsters who are determined to disrupt our UK neighbourhoods with their less than sociable behaviour. The idea being mooted was that parks for skateboarding and roller blading provided for our youth should be located adjacent to the swings and roundabouts frequented by the smaller children in our play parks. The theory was that the presence of the younger children would have the effect of "softening" the otherwise macho and "tough" youth attitudes.
Western Himalayas,LadakhThere may well be something in this. I have just finished a book by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. Ladakh is a beautiful desert land in the Western Himalayas. It has limited resources and an extreme climate. But for 1000 years or more the people there have lived a synergistic life, a life based on mutual aid and cooperation rather than competition, sharing scarce resources and being virtually totally self sufficient. Everything was recycled, there was no waste, and most importantly of all, the people have been undeniably happy. And that happiness incorporates a deep contentment, sound emotional health borne out of a sense of security and belonging to an extended family in a sound community, a strong sense of self worth, with an accompanying strong self respect.
Why did I think of Hodge's book? In Ladakh the children of all ages mix together, along with the adults old and young. From a very early age the children learn to look after those even younger than themselves, and also those of more mature years. There is total respect and compassion between those of all ages and abilities. Jobs seem to get done within the family without any obvious planning or demarcation of roles. Caring and nurturing is not seen in any way as sissy. In fact it is seen as a clear strength amongst the boys. And the older people are an active part of the family, respected for their wisdom and knowledge, up to the day they die. There is little evidence of mental or physical deterioration.
Sadly the incursion of Western tourism into the region has damaged the traditions and the happiness and health of its people. Hodge has a vast experience of these people and their ways, speaks their language, and is superbly qualified to observe and write of the breakdown of their society and values. Her thoughtful and sensitive analysis of all the issues involved is a wake up call to us all. We seriously need to examine and challenge our assumptions in the West that economic growth is the best, indeed the only, measure of success.
You can read my full review of this excellent book on Amazon.
Hodge continues her work on finding a middle way for the economy through The International Society for Ecology and Culture which exists to promote locally based alternatives to the global growth culture. It is a worthy organization to support.
We have come a long way since Hodge first wrote her book, but there is a long way still to go. Nonetheless books such as this give me hope.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Gherkin and the Monument

I took this photo in London today from the South bank of the River Thames looking over towards that wonderful new building affectionately dubbed "The Gherkin." To the right of it, totally dwarfed, is the Monument!! You can just see the gold dome, depicting a flaming urn. That is the Monument to the Great Fire of London, a 202 ft (61.57 metre) tall stone Roman Doric column, erected near to the northern end of London Bridge, from where the Great Fire of London started in 1666.

Designed by Christopher Wren, completed in 1677, I wonder if it will outlive the life of the Gherkin. I somehow think so!

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Pope's Visit - continued

One of our local catholic churches held a family fun day at the weekend as recognition of the Pope's visit. There were loads of activities for the children - and for the adults there were a few stalls, one groaning underneath the weight of a vast selection of Fairtrade goods, another displaying information on ethical and green issues that we all as Christians must engage with if we are true to our faith.
After a "bring and share" lunch, the afternoon continued with workshops and concluded with a mass. The event was deemed a success although the numbers turning up were disappointing; perhaps the publicity was not as good as it could have been. But each leaflet picked up and taken away could be the start of one more "Ripple of Hope," each Fairtrade purchase helped to relieve some poverty in a family somewhere. So the effort was not in vain.

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Pope's Visit - a Time to Reflect

So. Pope Benedict XVI has left these shores after what must have been an exhausting trip for him. I liked the idea of him having "an afternoon nap." At his advanced age that must have been essential. But how wonderful that he came, for Catholics and Anglicans alike. I have just read the comment in the Periscope Post and left my own comment there, reproduced below:

"From my perspective I see the Pope's visit as a great success - and I am thrilled with David Cameron's response, linking the teachings of a great faith with his own Big Society. Yes terrible things have happened but apology has been made unreservedly and we need to forgive and move on, or we do not heal. And a conversation has been started, as David Cameron observed. Also I do not think the rude and often downright offensive comments from angry humanists and atheists really gain much respect - or they certainly shouldn't, but I guess the publicity does help to sell their books.
And what about the cost? I see this as being part of a package that comes with being British. I am not in the slightest bit interested in sport of any kind, let alone the Olympics, but I accept that those costs also come in a British wrapper and I cannot and would not complain."

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Pope - Forgiveness and Tolerance

Amidst all the rumblings over the Pope's visit to Britain, I would like to just remind my readers of two posts I have made this month, on the 2nd and the 15th, and would simply reiterate the importance of two things in this debate: FORGIVENESS and TOLERANCE.

I pray that we can all find it in our hearts to display both!

Thursday, 16 September 2010

more flowers to love

I know the reed mace on the left here but can anyone put names to the others? Seen at Wisley RHS garden in Surrey today.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Today in our mid week Eucharist we remembered St Cyprian, who died on this day in 258.
And our Gospel reading was of the parable of the unforgiving servant, in Matthew 18: vv. 21-35. The servant had been forgiven his debts by his master, but promptly went to another man who owed him money and threatened him with violence for not paying. When the master heard from fellow servants what had happened, he was very angry with the first servant whom he had forgiven and “delivered him to the torturers (the bill collectors) until he should pay all that was due to him.” The lesson is that we should all from our hearts “forgive those who trespass against us,” and any number of times.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples because Peter asked Him how often should he forgive a brother who had sinned against him. Up to seven times? No, said Jesus, you should be always be prepared to forgive up to seventy times seven.
I wrote of forgiveness on another’s blog recently so this may be a little repetitive for some readers, but it is an important point so I make no apology!

“To err is human, to forgive divine,” wrote Alexander Pope, the renowned early eighteenth-century poet. We also have to forgive those who do wrong to us: otherwise we harbor bitterness and resentment within our own souls. Forgiveness is vital for our own spiritual wellbeing. Jonathan Sacks calls forgiveness the emotional equivalent of losing weight. It is even better for you than for the person you have forgiven! Even if our offer of forgiveness is not accepted, “yet once we reach out our hand, we cleanse ourselves of resentment. We may remain deeply wounded, but we will not use our hurt to inflict further pain on others.” These are the words of pastor Johann Christoph Arnold, who in his book The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of Healing from the Cancer of Bitterness, relates the very human stories of ordinary people scarred by crime, betrayal, abuse and war. He tells how many have learned to forgive in sometimes the most difficult of circumstances. He reminds us of Gordon Wilson, whose daughter Marie died in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, the innocent victim of a terrorist bomb; of Chris Carrier, a ten year old abducted in Miami and subjected to the most brutal attack, who many years later exchanged mutual forgiveness with his abductor, by then an old man. Harbored bitterness, Arnold explains, is destructive and self-destructive. It “has a disastrous effect on the soul. It opens the door to evil and leaves us vulnerable to thoughts of spite, hatred and even murder. It destroys our souls, and it can destroy our bodies as well.”
The Most Rev. Desmond M. Tutu, formerly Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, oversaw the post-apartheid reconciliation in his native South Africa, as leader of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He has deep practical experience of the power of forgiveness. Without it, he tells us, “there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.” He brought soldiers and paramilitaries face to face with their victims from the Northern Ireland Troubles to grant and receive forgiveness. This was a process, he felt, which would help individuals in Northern Ireland who had been living for decades with unresolved emotions.
Tutu often speaks of such unresolved emotions as festering wounds that need opening up again and cleansed before real healing can occur.
Some of us believe that the Anglo-Catholic Church has seriously lost its way in the last 100 years or so by concentrating too much on individual redemption rather than nurturing a deeper spiritual commune with the sentient world around us, understanding our place in the wider humanity, visibly living our faith more proactively. After all, Jesus said “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Until the Church truly admits to its past failings, it will not be able to move on in a truly healing mission within the world.
This ability to forgive and be forgiven is an essential part of any global healing, a fact recognized by organizations such as the Fetzer Institute, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan USA. They are devoted to the furtherance of love and forgiveness in the pursuit of global healing. The Fetzer Institute has a mission that rests on “its conviction that efforts to address the world’s critical issues must go beyond political, social and economic strategies to their psychological and spiritual roots.” And forgiveness, within or without a sound supporting faith, is one key to the healing of those psychological and spiritual roots.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Why I love flowers

Visited a garden today and saw these stunning flowers!

The cosmos in particular, below, was so unusual - the petals are formed into tubes, rather than being flat. I have never seen one like this before.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Spirit, the Me Millenium and Scientific Reductionism

Yesterday I wrote that spirituality rather than materialism is something that should infuse our lives at all times. But spirituality and the sense of spirit or soul is compromised by two modern phenomena.

First is our narcissistic obsession with personal growth and success measured in terms of material rather than spiritual wealth, and with little or no concern for the needs of society as a whole.

This is most obvious in the self-help, self- development and ‘How to Succeed’ genre of book that are so popular today, and that too often fuel what has been dubbed by many as the new egocentric ‘Me-Millennium.’

Secondly, those who would yearn for a more spiritual approach to our lives and the world’s problems also have to fight scientific reductionism. Whilst deeper scientific understanding is important, and we have made wonderful discoveries and advances in our knowledge, this does not mean that we have to lose sight of the transcendent or spiritual dimension of human life, with its own healing significance.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously warned of the dangers of losing our faith, our religion and our soul to rationalism, scientific thought and to Darwinism, when he predicted the total eclipse of all values by the 21st century. This loss, he predicted, would be the cause of the awful wars that we did indeed experience, and continue to do so.

The Dalai Lama also warns that "we are apt to overlook the limitations of science. In replacing religion as the final source of knowledge in popular estimation, science begins to look a bit like another religion itself. With this comes a similar danger on the part of some of its adherents to blind faith in its principles, and, correspondingly, to intolerance of alternate views."

Certain best selling authors spring to mind here!?

Friday, 10 September 2010

The Big Society and the Cultural Creatives

I know that I am not alone. From reading the websites, articles, and books around us, many of us clearly feel the need for a return to spiritual values in our lives, coupled with the need to heal our desperately fractured world and halt what may otherwise be our march towards spiritual bankruptcy and physical destruction. But how will this happen?
My own conviction is that no amount of law and regulation alone can be the full answer. We need to take personal responsibility for the way we live our lives.
This is behind Prime Minister David Cameron’s ideas for a Big Society for Britain, a society in which we rebuild family, rebuild community, but above all rebuild responsibility.
But I don’t think it is quite as simple as that.
We are after all human, with all our frailties, and our vulnerabilities.
Our behaviour is often flawed, we do not behave like saints all the time, even the very best of us. And sometimes, perhaps often, this may be traced back to our own wounds:

wounds we have inherited and those from our own suffering; wounds from the personal experiences that life has thrown at us;

for example, our insecurities and fears, our feelings of hopelessness and despair.
Surely such wounds are reflected in our greed and envy, in our over consumption, in violence and in our addictions to work or harmful substances.

And these wounds, left unhealed, not only affect our own mental and physical well-being.
I believe that they must also be seen within the context of the wider world fellowship of which we are such an integral part. We must understand the significance of our own healing in addressing the wider social issues and the often seemingly intractable problems of our fractured world. I would go so far as to suggest that this healing is a fundamental directional force in our own evolutionary progress as we become catalysts for our own social change.
And to find real, meaningful healing of these wounds then I believe we now have an urgent need to rediscover our spirituality and the spiritual element in all our material experiences, to reconnect with our roots and our souls.
In the latter half of the 21st century we seem to have lost sight of this essential truth. 
Materialism, observes Satish Kumar, now rules economy, politics and business. There is nothing wrong with having material or bodily needs of food, water, shelter, for example, but we need to have the wisdom to know when we have enough and to be satisfied with that. Instead, we are pressured into striving to have more and more beyond our needs. Spirituality rather than materialism is something that should infuse our lives at all times.
This is where the Cultural Creatives come into the picture. It is estimated that there are 50 million adults in the United States and about 80-90 million in Europe who have the worldview, values and lifestyle of the Cultural Creatives. Are you one of them? And what are they?
If you are a Cultural Creative you “hunger for a deep change in your life that moves you in the direction of less stress and more health, lower consumption, more spirituality, more respect for the earth and the diversity within and among the species that inhabit her…"
You are one of a growing number of people who want to see deep, integral change in the cultures that have evolved in industrialized nations.” (Paul Ray)
The term was coined by Paul Ray who with Sherry Anderson wrote a book; The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World
“to help make cultural creatives visible to each other… to find new ways to work and learn together…in service to the world, in service to this emergence of a new, integral culture.”
Are you a cultural creative? Are we doing all we can? How much time do we have?
We all need to start our own Ripples of Hope for a better world.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Mosque, The Church, and the Koran

Do follow the link on my blogroll or here to this article. I could not have expressed it as well myself. Thankyou to Apprentice2jesus.

grand mosque

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The first letter of St Paul to the Corinthians ch. 7: 25-31

"Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give counsel, as having obtained mercy of the Lord, to be faithful.

I think therefore that this is good for the present necessity, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned: nevertheless, such shall have tribulation of the flesh. But I spare you. This therefore I say, brethren; the time is short; it remaineth, that they also who have wives, be as if they had none; And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as if they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;

And they that use this world, as if they used it not: for the fashion of this world passeth away."

I had to read this at our mid week Holy Communion today and I really wondered what on earth it meant. Indeed it seems that this has puzzled scholars of the New Testament through the years, and there appears to be no one definitive answer.

One suggestion is that the Christ's coming was at that time expected to happen any day; not some time in the distant future, but now. Therefore Paul counsels everyone to avoid the distractions of entering new relationships or altering existing ones - as all must be ready for the Lord's coming.

But this is also about Paul's own views on all the principles of marriage in various circumstances.

One third of the New Testament is either written by Paul or about him, including the 13 letters that he wrote to the various churches in the region, and also the second half of The Acts of The Apostles. Apart from Jesus Himself, Paul has had more influence on 2000 years of Christian church history than any other person. And his letters make for some interesting reading. I shall return to them again in the weeks to come.

The picture of course is the view of St Paul's Cathedral across the river Thames by the Millennium Bridge.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Women of the Bible No 17 Esther

"And King Ahasuerus loved Esther above all the women, and she obtained grace and favour in sight, so that he set the royal crown upon her head, and made her queen."

Esther II v. 17

This is one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman - the other is Ruth. Curiously, along with The Song Of Solomon, it is also one of only two books in the Bible that does not directly mention God by name, although He is there by implication.

There are plenty of summaries of the book to be found on the internet. Here are links to two. It's a long story, but it's a good one.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A New Emerging Scientific Worldview of God

Since yesterday's posting I have finished Kauffman's book, Reinventing the Sacred,and this is a copy of the review I have posted on Amazon:

Kauffman trained in philosophy and medicine, and now specialises in Bio-complexity and Informatics. In this sometimes provocative but enormously fascinating book, he sets out to demonstrate the inadequacy of reductionism alone in explaining our world, and offers ideas for a future evolution steered by us for a safer and better global place to live. He aims to address the schism between faith and reason, between science and arts, between reason and other sensibilities, in a new way; it is time, he writes, to “heal the split,” for the sake of our world.

He starts by dismissing the once widely held scientific view (not now so widely believed by the physicists it seems), that everything in the universe can be reduced to natural physical laws. He looks around him and perceives many things that whilst not contravening the laws of physics, nevertheless cannot be reduced to physics in this way, including the evolution of the biosphere, our world economy, our history and indeed life itself. And he carefully and thoroughly explains why.

Through such observations he maintains that we can break what he calls the “Galilean Spell,” which we have lived with since Galileo and Newton; the idea deeply rooted in our Western worldview since those great minds, that all that happens in our universe is governed by natural laws. He shows that we need more than this to explain many phenomena. Without rejecting reductionism entirely, he carefully and fully shows why it is inadequate to explain everything, as he describes a new emerging scientific world view, proposing 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.” In physics, he says, there are only “happenings,” not “doings,” and in the natural physical laws there is no logical possibility of signs, interpretations, mistakes. Not only does he demonstrate that his concept of “ceaseless creativity” is possible, he also describes it as awesome, stunning and worthy of reverence, something we can all view as sacred. He explains why, from the evidence of the origins of life in the universe, 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. This is his reinvention of the sacred that he proposes.

Kauffman explains why he thinks his ideas based on a broader scientific world view may provide a shared religious and spiritual space for us all, within which he hopes we can heal what he describes as the four injuries of the modern world, these being 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.

Clearly this is controversial, provocative. As a Christian who believes in an Abrahamic God I obviously cannot agree with all he writes. But I do have respect for others’ beliefs, although I hope that the Creationists may be even partly persuaded by Kauffman’s reasoning that their beliefs cannot be so and that those without faith can see it is legitimate for them to experience spirituality.

I am not sure for whom this book has been written? It deserves a wide readership by the thoughtful and intelligent public but I did find much of the logic in many of his examples quite hard work to follow through, sometimes having to skim over to get to the conclusion – and I am a scientist! But I did find much of this book truly fascinating and absorbing, although I cannot do full justice to the sheer depth and breadth of Kauffman’s analyses in this short review.

I am always interested in any ideas put forward that may shed some light on how we may be able to heal this dangerously wounded world. Thus I was drawn to Kauffman’s work and in particular his vision 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. May it be so.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Healing Power of Creativity

Through Art we can see deep truths that are otherwise invisible. In great works of art we feel the deepest yearnings of our Heart and glimpse the shimmering revelations of our Spirit.
- Dana Lynne Andersen

Creativity in its many forms is an integral part of our lives. We cannot escape its impact. But our creativity can be used for good or evil. There is nothing neutral about creative force. We can use it as a source of inspiration and healing for ourselves and for those around us. Or our creativity has the power to hurt or corrupt, to disturb or destroy.

We therefore have government and industry guidelines that protect us from ourselves! We have rules and regulations that prohibit or restrict certain creative practices. But of course it is difficult if not impossible to restrict what goes on within the confines of our own homes, and the bar of acceptability seems to be continually and subtly lowered. Yesterday’s restrictions often seem to have been diluted to the extent that they become today’s standard! Does it matter?

Yes it does! Because it is our own behaviour, not government intervention, which in the end will influence our future, the future of this planet, and the future for our children. I have no doubt that creativity in all its forms can be used either to help our spiritual regeneration, or to destroy our sensitivities. With its power to hurt or heal, creativity is at the very heart of all our lives, in boardroom or kitchen, hospital or garden, at work or at leisure. And so we all have a personal choice: We can be responsible and spread healing and beauty and a sense of the soul and the spiritual throughout our lives, or we can perpetuate evil and hurt. Those who spread images of violence and ugliness to their fellow human beings are reflecting their own wounded-ness and infecting others in the process.

We therefore all need to reflect on how our own creativity may be a mirror of our own wounds and the effect this may be having on those around us. We have a profound responsibility to change our own behaviour – to heal ourselves and be creative for the forces for good rather than for evil.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Reinventing the Sacred

This week the brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking declares that "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing ... It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going." This is the publicity machine at work for his latest book, The Grand Design. And I am sure it will sell millions, simply because of who he is, and the "God Factor." In the same way Dawkins' The God Delusion similarly sold millions. But whilst Richard Dawkins' book is written in an easy and lucid style I find Hawking's books rather less easy to follow. Hands up how many of you have read "A Brief History of Time" in full? I bought it in a secondhand book shop but have yet to read it! Whereas reluctantly I have to confess that I found The God Delusion very readable. Use of the English language and matters of style aside, Hawking and Dawkins are both reductionists - all in the universe can be explained - or will be one day - by reducing all matter to the most basic particle and quantum laws of physics.

With wonderful synchronistic irony (?) it so happens that I am reading Reinventing the
Sacred, by Stuart A. Kauffman at the moment. Here is a book by possibly an equally brilliant scientist? (How does one measure brilliance?). Kauffman's thesis is that there is plenty of evidence, which he argues sometimes with clarity, at other times using logic that I find hard to follow, that we cannot reduce everything to the laws of pure physics, to reductionism, where every thing at the end of the day reduces to particles or strings or whatever the physicists say is the ultimate reductionist reality of the moment. But instead of saying per se that there is accordingly no need for a God (or god(s)), Kauffman argues that the God we need and have created in our lives is found in the ceaseless creativity that is all around us and that should command our respect and awe, as being sacred in a new understanding of the term.

I have nearly finished the book and will be posting up a full review soon. Whilst I cannot agree with Kauffman's conclusion as to the nature of God, what I find of greatest interest is the significance, as explained by Kauffman, of his views for the future of our world and how we steer our own evolution for better or worse based on his proposed reinvention of the sacred in our lives. This is an extremely profound book that deserves a wider readership than its Amazon ranking reflects.

I shall doubtless also obtain Hawking's book in due course and report on it. Has any one else beaten me to it - would love to hear views.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Ancient Wisdom with Universal Significance for Humanity

I have been away for 10 days on holiday, in that beautiful part of France known as the Dordogne, named after the river that flows through the region. We took time to explore and I will write more about our discoveries in the coming weeks. But I also found the time to read a few books and finish a few others that I could simply find no time for before we went away. One was recommended to me by a friend. Many Sided Wisdom; A New Politics of the Spirit, is by Aidan Rankin. And I found it hard to put down.

I spoke briefly of this book a month or so ago. It is based on the ancient Jain idea of Anekant, or Many-Sided Wisdom, otherwise known as Multiple Viewpoints or Non-Absolutism. In the so- called “developed” West we tend to see all things as right or wrong, black or white. We are switched into this binary thinking, which we equate with progress, which in turn requires increasing consumption, the need for expansion, and dominion over the natural world. And we are attached to too many possessions. Rankin tells us that this attachment, rather than religion per se, is the cause of many wars that are blamed on religion. We see our power over others as a strength; we lack humility, which is seen as weakness. Nowhere is there a greater need for the practice of this many-sided wisdom than in our divisive politics, and polarized religions. Our problem is that we all think we hold the only path to truth; and we are in a mess because of this. The Shinto masters say that “my truth does not need to be the same as your truth.” And this is also the Jain way. We can all be right, in different ways. We can respect the other point of view totally, and find common factors, connecting strands, between otherwise conflicting arguments. This is Anekant, or non-violence of the mind. It requires us to recondition our minds; to change the way we look at ideas. And it could transform individuals and society, and the world in which we live, offering the path to a safer better world for all humanity.

The author explains in some depth the three main principles of Jain understanding, which lead to Anekant. Firstly, Jains have a fundamental respect and sympathy with all creatures. All life is interconnected, and our intelligence confers responsibility, not entitlement. Then he writes of cosmic law, Karma and reincarnation. Thirdly, he explores and explains why he believes that Jainism is so relevant today, not only in the Western world but also in the emerging global community that is influenced largely by Western ideas.

Whilst the book is based on Jainism the author is at pains to explain that the ideas have full relevance for us all, of any religious tradition or none. The concept is relevant within the practice of all religions and across all religious divides. The Jain understanding of each individual as a unit of consciousness in no way interferes with the essence of a message that is of relevance to us all. We are all on a spiritual journey; but we are restricted by our human consciousness that is not fully evolved spiritually, although an increasing number of people are sensing a shift in consciousness towards a greater spirituality. Even then, Rankin tells us to beware the New Age movement that is often tainted by commercialism, and the Green politicians who still believe they are the only ones who are right!

The book concludes with the Jain rule of “Careful Actions, Careful Thoughts,” followed by the Jain ascetics but a good guide for living for us all. Before taking any action we need to ask ourselves what effect that action will have on us, on others, on society, on the planet and on a generation or more from now. This type of thinking is instinctive in many indigenous cultures. It also links with the Seventh Generation Principle, from the political culture of the Iroquois people, and now adopted by Native American elders and activists. “What about the seventh generation? Where are you taking them? What will they have?”

This short review cannot possibly do full justice to such a fascinating idea. Anekant, Rankin tells us, is a gift from Jainism to the world, and if allowed to do so, it has the potential to heal not only our wounded planet but also the wounds within ourselves. It is a gift we would all do well to use gratefully and with humility and understanding.

This is an excellent book. It is well researched, and written in an easy and lucid style. I recommend that it should be read by anyone with a real concern for the future of this world.

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