Friday, May 31

A few ideas on the Future of the Christian Religion


The purpose of this paper is to provide a talking point on scientific discoveries and major developments with a view to ascertaining a few ideas on the Future of the Christian Religion.
For the current trend in westernised countries away from religion has prompted some to ask the question what then is its future.      
One aspect for survival that springs to mind is the ongoing search for meaning as basic as our thirst. But the question then is, can religion provide a satisfactory answer or framework for this?
My paper suggests it can, but only on the proviso, of a more open minded theology based on guiding principles. That does not mean analytical philosophy or theology is defunct, for such an approach assumes an ongoing updated perspective, as new discoveries and thinking warrants democratically considered changes.
That should have been the case from inception.
So, what is envisaged is a move to flexibility under the guiding hand of the Ecumenical Movement which has already been instituted in the 20th century.  But the first step is to provide a measure of freedom and diversity indicative of the early communities which I aim to cover in this paper. My approach must be highly subjective, but I have sketched out a brief history of who I think are the more significant thinkers and events over the past 500 years, to come up with a few key ideas that I think are relevant to a future for religion.   

Giordano Bruno 1548–1600)
Bruno’s religious thinking was influenced by Polish astronomer Nicolai Copernicus (1473-1543) in his book “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies” that proposed that the Sun, not the Earth, was the centre of the Solar System. Such a model is called a heliocentric system, recognized the modern order of the planets.
But his ideas were deemed heretical, since at that time it was believed the earth was the fixed central point of importance in the universe.
The Copernican view was declared heretical because it refuted a strict biblical interpretation of Creation: "God fixed the Earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”
Bruno also disagreed with the Aristotelian axioms of natural philosophy and concluded the universe was one of a timeless and absolute principle, with GOD as the sole being in existence. This led him to embrace a more open minded world view of religion to make room for the ancient wisdom streams. This more open minded approach was at odds with the accepted orthodoxy of the authorities at the time.  He became a priest in 1572 and obtained his theology doctorate in 1575. But he was forced to flee the convent in 1576 because his views were labelled heretical.  
He took refuge amongst a number of European nations, eking out a living as a lecturer and in a variety of odd trades before eventually he was forced to stand trial for his heretical propositions.
In 1600, Pope Clement VIII and the congregation ordered his works be prohibited and found him guilty of heresy with an accompanying hideous description. Appeals from his monastery were ignored and with a metal bit rammed into his mouth he was stripped, tied to a stake and, accompanied by the chants of the Confraternity, burned alive. 
Galileo, 1562-1642, however, managed to avoid going to the "rack" or the "stake" or possibly both, by renouncing his views. Even so at that time in Italy the tide was beginning to turn for such heterodox thinkers. They were spurred on by the spirit of defiance that accompanied the execution of Bruno in his heroic defiance of ecclesiastical authority. Bruno became likened to Socrates and even Christ and a monument was erected in his honour.
But it took 360 years before the Roman Catholic Church saw fit, after a 13 year investigation in 1992, to apologise for it’s condemnation of Galileo in 1633.
The original condemnation forced the astronomer and physicist to recant his discoveries, under house arrest for eight years before his death in 1642.
The Vatican's formal acknowledgement of an error, moreover, is far too much of a rarity. Not only is there a need to acknowledge past errors but also to be aware of the division and strife involved in retaining unmovable beliefs that has bedevilled religion, and led to the use of brutal force in ensuring they are upheld.     
The great co-incidence is Isaac Newton was born the same year that Galileo dies in 1642, soon after the English civil wars had begun.
Immanuel Kant.
The ideas of Newton influenced the works of Immanuel Kant who was possibly the most significant philosopher of the 18th century. Sir Isaac Newton was the first of the great Scientists to show the laws of science are indeed universal laws that effect everything. He was possibly the greatest scientist of all time.
But what is not as well known is he shared his scientific passion equally with his theological research all of his life. His vast repository of non-scientific theological works is now available online via the University of Oxford under the name the Newton Project. His research extended back to the Church Fathers prior to the debates at the Council of Nicea.
Newton contended the vast majority of attendees were of the view the Son was ‘homoousion’ with the Father. Newton knew that the term was not found in the Bible, and consequently rejected the orthodoxy where homoousion as ‘consubstantial’, rendered Jesus Christ not just equal to God, but of the same substance as God.
“So that Newton saw Jesus Christ was the intelligent, homogenous incarnate logos whose obedience and crucifixion had prompted God to elevate his status in such a way that he was entitled to be worshipped as the Messiah.”- Newton Project. 
Newton rejected the idea of Jesus Christ as the son of GOD and the trinity and instead opted for ‘The Christ’ as the realisation of the Messiah. His theological conclusion was Christ provided the exemplar for Christians without the need to be as in the same substance as GOD or a Holy Spirit. That is not to say he did not acknowledge the power of the Holy Spirit. Rather, Christ’s messiahship was realised in his exemplary life and that ‘The Christ’ ensured that ongoing mystical union.
Kant’s work comprised 3 versions of his Critique of Pure Reason aimed at providing a rational framework of religion for ordinary folk. He argued that whilst the mind and its view of the world and how we might relate to GOD is illusory, we can, through introspection obtain fulfilment under the guiding hand of a moral necessity. For instance in his second critique he argues this case from the perspective of a moral necessity as in ‘two things fill the mind with admiration and are constant: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me’. 
Kant sought to explain the importance of his moral perspective in that it gave meaning to life that took precedence over simply following a series of simple beliefs. In that sense Kant claimed  salvific power lies in the expression of a moral imperative.
Kant leaves us with a legacy that God is in us “the inner vital spirit” in a form of rational freedom. Kant also makes a controversial claim that the concept of God is not essential to religion in his final work.
In summarising Kant’s views the takeaway is Christian Communities are to be assemblies of those intent on practising good will, as in a moral commitment. That is rather than a mere pseudo-service of worship, or shows of piety.
His idea seems to me to suggest we are already spiritual human beings that can opt for or otherwise give expression to his so called moral imperative. This would represent a departure from Cristian Doctrines.  
Kant appears to be saying there is no need to be saved from anything, but rather offers the prospect (via free will to rationally accept or reject the moral imperative) of meaning via the unity of the inner vital spirit. During the previous 17th century we have the Reformation and the doctrine of the justification of faith, yet Kant however does not see any relevance.
I will talk about the theology of this doctrine further under Kierkegaard.                 
Soren Kierkegaard
Although Kierkegaard’s philosophy and theology was not linked directly to any new scientific discoveries his synthesis attempted to resolve the longstanding tension in Christianity. That is the unresolved tension in the Christian religion between Pauline theology attempting to marry Greek rationalistic thinking and the essential Jewish tradition of irony and myth. Christianity may well have remained essentially Jewish if it was not for the prodigious work of St Paul, both as an evangeliser and in his letters that make up 50% of the NT and form the bulk of theology.      
Kierkegaard proposed a synthesis for existence; the infinite and the finite, temporal and eternal, freedom and necessity. Reference Page 13 - Sickness unto Death. 
How this all tied together was in his unconditional commitment to GOD as in his so called leap of faith outlined in his other work Fear and Trembling. 
Whilst there are weaknesses in his ideas of the self expressed in the factors being outlined in his synthesis nevertheless his lasting legacy remains. According to professor Hubert Dreyfus Kierkegaard was the first philosopher to effectively untie unresolved tension in the Christian religion between Pauline theology that attempted to marry Greek rationalistic thinking and the essential Jewish tradition of the synoptic gospels. Kierkegaard wants us to reject the authoritarian idea of St Paul in his exhortations, which he claims are essentially Paul’s ideas and instead revert to the simple message in the gospels.  
Summing up, the contribution of Kierkegaard remains that many can find meaning today in the idea of an unconditional commitment to GOD, or a worthy cause, and that this underwrites meaning to one’s life. His idea of the self resonates today in existential psychology.
Kierkegaard’s rejection of Pauline authority removes the need for being “born again’ and those controversial passages in Romans that formed the backbone to the doctrine of the justification by faith.  That is quite apart from the fact some scholars increasingly think this may be a misinterpretation. For Pauline theology has had such a profound effect on Christianity and far reaching implications for its practices and the contingencies outlined for salvation. 
The contingent nature of his theology is threefold; that grace, as a consequence of Christ crucified, became an atonement for sins, to be ‘born again in the spirit, but also contingent on good works. Paul also contends that faith without good works is dead. Therefore from my perspective his contingencies appear to be circuitous arguments.  
Rather, where I do find some resonance is in his mystical “In Christ” union frequently mentioned in his letters. Paul used the term in Christ so many times in his letters without really defining it one is left with the idea thinking that its very idea is to encapsulate a new found freedom in thinking. 
Darwin’s theory of natural selection
There were many more dramatic developments in the 19th century, but undoubtedly the most important in terms of understanding the place of humankind in the Universe, was Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which, for the first time offered scientific explanation of evolution. Darwin’s first edition of On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, with themes of probability, chance, power, selection, adaptation and teleology.
No doubt Darwin’s father had some influence on him as he was a Doctor and free thinker and belonged to the Unitarian church.  
Enrolled in medicine to follow on in his fathers and grandfathers footsteps he decided instead for degree in Divinity and graduated in 1831.
But Darwin was more interested in the natural sciences in botany and minerology and took a great deal of interest in natural philosophy. Much of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection remains in place today although parts are hotly debated.  However, his theory is generally accepted within modern theology except for fundamentalist sectors who loosely describe themselves as “Creationists” relying on literal interpretation of the Old Testament.
In modernity there has been a shift away from the belief that God was merely the architect of the system to one in which GOD can be seen to be in all things as creation continues. Modern Science is also indicating a hitherto not fully understood in-built ability for simple life systems to continue to evolve more quickly than had previously been understood under evolution. Hence many believe we can view the world as an ongoing creation adapting and evolving into complex systems to suit the ever-changing environment within which it operates.
The ironic point is as a species we have adapted so successfully that we now live in the age of the humans (Anthropocene) at the expense of our environment and in effect we impose a diminution on habitat and the animal kingdom unprecedented in our history. Add to that anthropologists have unearthed evidence that because of prior climatic change we came very close to extinction as a species. Hence the environment, climate change and our responsibility pose one of greatest moral issues for modernity. This aspect has been taken up as a moral issue by Pope Francis.   
The 20th century
At the beginning of the 20th century historians identified an air of optimism; the enlightenment had ushered in new ways of thinking and material progress was evident, whilst the extent of conflicts compared to previous centuries had diminished. But what was to come was so ugly surely any aliens ( let us imagine they exist ) taking a look at us from outer space would have made an abrupt U turn in fright lest they might catch the deadly virus that seems to have afflicted this planet to stage war on itself, with attendant unprecedented levels of destruction.
But, just prior to the 20th century Frederick Nietzsche’s philosophy encapsulated the idea in his will to power – to warn of the risks of a world descending into nihilism. His concern was of corrupted values, predicated on the basis of a slave-like meekness that negated the higher more noble aspirations befitting humanity. To shock his intended audience to become aware of his perceived threat he coined the phrase ‘GOD is DEAD’. 
His eternal occurrence idea entails the love of fate which means we stoically embrace life regardless of circumstances. The interpretation of his idea is that we cannot change life as it eternally recurs as a struggle, but it is within our power to respond in a noble way to aspire to the highest values. So in that sense we live life to the fullest, in the stoic nature of how we approach our existence with vigour and passion.
So in summary because of his style Nietzsche remains one of the least well understood philosophers, whose passion was to help us better understand ourselves given our inherent will to power. But this aim remains thwarted by his swashbuckling style which was  designed to shock his audiences into thinking more deeply about living a more ethical meaningful passionate life
 To reiterate his idea was to be whom you are and to be aware of others that all come under that same will that can be harnessed towards higher ideals but not to be subservient in a meek, slave- like mentality. There will always be differences in social standings and outcomes which should be celebrated and not despised or envied. For one is to eschew that nullifying sameness that risks chaos and war. This then was his critique of Christianity, for GOD is dead because you have killed him. 
 Nietzsche did not live long enough to see his worst fears confirmed, as it was not long to wait before the outbreak of hostilities of World War 1.
 The terms of the surrender by Germany inflicted upon her by the allies turned out to be so draconian, that starvation and poverty was one of the drivers that led to the Nazi party and the unspeakable horrors that accompanied that rise in nationalistic fever and the Second World War.
 The legacy for the future is to be mindful of the will to power for any centralist regime that may seek to enslave its followers in an orthodoxy of sameness that can lead to corruption at the highest level. Recent history informs us of how easily this has been possible, with cover ups, to protect the power of the church over very long periods of time.     
 Post War Period  
So it is not surprising that the post war period brought with it the existential movement that suggested we need to find our own meaning in life. Later post-modernism also suggested both epistemology (the idea in analytical philosophy we can understand the nature of things) and meta- physics (that which is outside of Physics ) should not principally be relied upon as there are any number of narratives that can be applied to different aspects of existence. 
The reaction to all of this by religion was muted although there were some very good initiatives for Catholics arising out of the Vatican Council which gave more focus to involvement in the world and recognised the status of the laity. But many would argue the aim was never fully realised and that centralist power was retained.
But in relation to post-modernisation much of the liturgy and theology has remained impervious to revision. One could envisage a vision where aspects of the tortured theology I referenced previously could be abandoned without comprising the principle of Christian belief and the ubiquitous nature of a Holy Spirit that by its very mysterious nature defies interpretation. It is somewhat ironic that the tension between the more mystical aspects of Christianity and rationalism that holds its doctrines as unchangeable defies the very idea of St Paul’s freedom of the spirit. Paul used the term in Christ so many times in his letters without really defining it one is left with the idea that its very idea is to encapsulate a new found freedom in thinking. 
However it would be remiss of me if I was to conclude at this point without commenting on a few more notable advancements in thinking, inclusive of Einstein’s continuing enormous legacy.    
Carl Jung
Carl Jung earlier on supported Freud but later they had a falling out so that in 1913 he adopted a different psychoanalytic theory.
However both maintained the importance of the unconscious in relation to personality.
Jung thought the human mind has a predisposition to evolutionary conditioning expressed in the 4 principal unconscious personality archetypes.
He undertook research work into ancient myths, legends and developed a keen interest in Eastern religion and particularly Himalayan Buddhism.  
Jung’s contribution to analytical psychology and anxiety disorders remains very relevant today, just as he continues to be a cultural icon for the present generations of psychology students.  In his religious thinking Jung makes the distinction between the outward physical worlds that can explained by the laws of science and the inward common world of the psyche expressed in myths. Religion then to Jung was about how to bring harmony between the two. He was regarded as a pioneer and exceptional thinker in multi-faith religious psychology.
"Let there be Light”

In 1905 Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity was published. The foundation stone was the constancy of the speed of light and that nothing exceeds the speed of light. By the time he developed his theory, there was experimental evidence that the measured speed of light is always the same, irrespective of how the person doing the measuring is moving. The equations contain a constant, c, identified as the speed of light.

He went on to develop the special theory of relativity, which was terrifying for many at the time. Was everything relative? Were there no absolute moral standards? Although Einstein was able to show that space and time are relative it was in their union that the concept of space-time emerged which was deemed to be understood as an absolute.
Einstein’s religious Philosophy initially favoured Kantian ideas but later he became a passionate devotee of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza might be regarded as a quasi-pantheist (the idea that GOD is in everything) except he did not believe in GOD in a theistic sense. Rather he formed the view of GOD as a unifying substance, immune from the desires of good and evil that bedevil humanity. Thus GOD was reflected in the will of nature as a substance inherent in all of its laws. Similarly the universe is determinant according to its mechanical or mathematical system.
But under his quantum theory Einstein began to feel uneasy given the uncertainty principle that contradicted Spinoza’s determinant theory. The result was he invented a cosmological constant to negate such an outcome. This goes on to prove how strong religious views can be to override new discoveries and thinking. In fact the quantum conclusions Einstein posited turned out to be correct just as his cosmological constant theory is now widely discredited.   
The beginning of the quantum revolution (study of sub atomic particles called protons and electrons) meant light could be seen behaving either as a wave or as a stream of particles (Duality Paradox). Much of this latter science discovery work following on from Einstein’s earlier discoveries seems so strange it often seems absurd to our minds. We have no hope in satisfactorily understanding the behavior of tiny particles such as electrons and protons inside or outside of atoms. All we can hope to do is to find equations –circumstances, where behaviour is sometimes more like a wave, sometimes more like a particle. Heisenberg made a contribution to quantum physics when he introduced his famous uncertainty principle. However, the bizarre notion of quantum mechanics postulate where two photons were entangled, any successful measurement of either will force the other distant photon (however far away- even were it to be on the other side of the universe) into a corresponding same spin cycle,  rather than to resort to expected probabilities.

These relatively new discoveries have relevance to the social sciences. Although quantum mechanics and the duality paradox  only operate at the sub atomic level they tell us something about the nature of uncertainty in the universe and our tenuous grasp on reality. Ultimately although we have free will to determine our immediate actions, the uncertainty principle is likely to lead to a degree of uncertainty for individuals and groups within a society that has hitherto not been understood. The idea we can control our destiny and end result carries within it the idea that the poor are to blame for their plight. This seems at odds to what we know happens in the scientific world. More likely such groups were less effective in adapting to the complex changes that occur in society at an ever-increasing rate.
The underlying theme from those thinkers studied is a move away from the certainty of theology, mostly attributed to St Paul,  to a less emphatic more mystical union.  My opening suggestion was to move towards an ecumenical movement with a set of guiding principles which reflect the conclusions of the religious sages that I have talked about in this paper. Just what are those guiding principles is beyond the scope of this Paper, but what comes to mind is a belief in GOD, in the exemplary life of Jesus and in the ubiquitous ongoing mystical Holy Spirit. How that is explained resides in the parables, analogies and mythical symbolism of the biblical texts. 
For  I see no reason why both Catholic, Protestant and related faiths could not make room for more diversity, to plot a future pathway with less emphasis on absolutes as enshrined dogma, which is the present state of affairs.
My conclusion is that such divisive past issues become increasingly unimportant over time given a more informed laity, and improved biblical research. In the end religion, if it is to survive, must provide relevant meaning to human beings. We are, in our makeup, prone to different charisma’s, so that some will remain wedded to Pauline theology while others find resonance elsewhere as Kierkegaard did.
Hence the road blocks continue to the entranced power of the institutions and the growth in fundamentalism, both of which seek comfort in being grounded in absolutes. I have great faith in the human spirit, to eventually adopt a more tolerant stance in religion which can play a role in supporting a more meaningful life. That is an essential ingredient to religion’s survival. 
So providing the churches can continue to move in the direction of more laity input for ritual, governing principles and in the election of key personnel such as Bishops, I see a future.    
For what I think one can learn from the past 500 years is we have a moral responsibility in faith for our actions.  What we do as a consequence of that provides the meaning for our life which takes precedence over simple beliefs.  
One recent example is the need for an “ecological conversion,” as was aptly put by Pope Francis, and other religious leaders. The Pope went on to say that there will be a need for practical answers and actions. “There is a real danger that we will leave future generations only rubble, deserts and refuse,” Francis has said. “We cannot afford to waste time,” he said.
Climate change is a galvanizing force in terms of ecumenism, but Francis insists the “challenges are not lacking.” On one hand, the politics of climate change risk bringing global initiatives to a stall, and, on the other, there is some doubt around the practical commitment of religious organisations on this issue.
John Grebin’s book –Science a history –1543-2001.
Knox, Dilwyn, "Giordano Bruno", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = .
The Newton Project- Oxford University. 
What Nietzsche Really Said – Robert C Salmon and Kathleen Higgins
All Things Shining _ Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
Hubert Dreyfus on Kierkegaard
Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature – Richard Rorty
Sickness unto Death and Fear and Trembling –Soren Kierkegaard 
The Quest for a Moral Compass – Kenan Malik.     

Saturday, May 4

Porepunka - near Bright

We have just returned from a holiday at Porepunka, just a short distance from Bright, which is a 3.5 hours’ drive from Melbourne via the Freeway. Our cabin abutted the Ovens River which is depicted below and not far away is Mt Buffalo. Other scenes are from the surrounding country. The images don't do the scenery justice. Click to enlarge for a much better appreciation.     
 Below is a picture of yours truly and later on the right in blue is my wife Anne. We enjoyed the trip and company amongst friends immensely. Driving up I was struck with the sudden change in scenery which prompted this poem. 

On the road to Bright   

Brown paddocks and scrubby land beside the road, 
The blue sky yields patches of grey, but still no hope of rain 
A parched land whose streams end in empty water holes 
Once filled with life, but now still, except for a lonely wind. 

Llke sentries, the grey gums stand defiant, 
Reservoirs of life, what memories stored in gnarled trunks,  
of droughts and times of plenty, when new life abounds
Now a test of fortitude, to stand in timeless stoic pride. 

But now we see a gentler hue, of patches of green, 
Like a mirage in the desert, an oasis of hope, 
As if by chance, a new land appears.  
From brown to green, from scrub to forest thickets.  
Now cattle graze, on green woodland glades, 
content and sleek, by fast running  streams, 
What  grace is this, a tiny slice of providence -

velvet green and autumn gold.