Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Faith, Science and the Authority of Scripture

Dogma is always wrong. I'm dogmatic about that.

We had a dear Christian friend for dinner on Monday and we got to talking about the role and authority of scripture.

His reasoning was (at least in part) that he trusts scripture because of who wrote it. He can look at all that Paul achieved and conclude that his words can be trusted for example. Now certainly we now think that Paul wrote less of the New Testament than previously thought. The two letters to Timothy for example, although attributed to Paul, are known to have been written by an "unknown" disciple of Paul's.

Paul was responsible, in large part, for the explosion of the early church and the spread of Christianity across much of the world. This is remarkable not least because he never met Christ, and as a Jewish teacher of the day he would have known the stories and known that Jesus died, but was still convinced enough to  dedicate his life to him. He was also an extremely authoritarian man and espoused views that even the most hardline of modern Charismatic churches won't follow. Twice in the letters we have he says that women should be silent in Church, should wear head coverings, and on slavery one of the things he taught was for slaves to obey  their masters. In his manner and approach to faith, fiery and not to be trifled with, he reminds me of the founder of my own church. A man called Noel Stanton.

So appealing to the reputation (shrouded in history) of those who wrote the scripture (the New Testament at least, much of the Old Testament we can only hypothesise about who actually transcribed the oral history it probably came from) is one form of the argument from authority.

My current thinking around authority is that the worship of authority, rather than the worship of love, is the religion that Jesus hated. The fruit of it is authoritarianism (and all sorts of other horrors). The only true authority is love. Jesus had a special, vehement and burning, anger for the religious leaders of his day. And well, I'm not so convinced that all that much has changed in this regard.

However, an appeal to authority based on action and character is slightly different to an appeal to mere delegated authority (this is right because I say so and I'm allowed to be one of the ones who says so because someone else said so).

The motivation for this kind of thinking, as foreign as it may seem to those who aren't Christian is actually fairly normal. For those with a scientific, rationalist, background or faith your thinking is probably similar. You probably don't fully or even substantially understand the science and reasoning behind evolutionary biology, but understanding and trusting the scientific method you are likely prepared to grant authority in this matter to Richard Dawkins (although less likely to grant the same authority in his gender politics) and his ilk. It's the same thinking, faith (trust) based on reasoning.

Many good and genuine people, with faith of whatever kind, don't wish to hold themselves up as the ultimate authority on anything. So they look to their experience and tribe to find those they can choose to trust.

My personal attitude is based on the understanding that metaphysics (the question of what is) must always give way to  epistomology (how can we know anyway). To hark back to Descartes second meditation and his conclusion, "Cogito ergo sum", the only possible certainty is "I Am". Beyond that the foundation for knowledge cannot be (provably so) certainty but must be uncertainty. We can build models (ideas and world views) and test them out against reality, knowing that we can never be completely right but maybe we can be less wrong. This way of thinking has a name and it is often called "the scientific method".

This means that the question of "ultimate authority" can never be answered. You can't really know, but you can hope and think and search. And that search extends into everything and everywhere, and even if you can't answer the ultimate questions definitively you can hopefully do some good and have some fun. The measure of your faith, the degree of confidence you have in your ideas, is your capacity to trust those ideas based on your experience of putting them into practise.

Understanding that uncertainty is the basis of our knowledge provides an intellectually and psychologically safe way to believe. Our conceptions of spirituality, or any other topic, are free to have life and breath within our imagination and psyche because we are willing to let go of them if they become no longer useful or to evolve them as our understanding grows.

Spirituality in particular can be to us a rich and broad set of metaphors, a higher abstraction for thinking about, discussing, and participating in,the flow and patterns of life. An abstraction we find in the mythos of culture and fiction and woven into reality around us. The collective dreamings and imaginings of all of humanity past and present.

Knowing our way back to ground we are safe to fly. Our conceptions need not be "ultimate truth" to us, but useful abstractions and ways of thinking that we can put weight on but we understand that they are only ideas and ways of thinking that inform and shape our experience. What is truly important is what is here and now right in front of us and the duty and responsibility of caring for those we love -- and that is what we hold to be most real. We are always willing to be wrong and to reevaluate our ideas in the light of new experience.

One precious thing my psychosis taught me is that the way I see the world is fallible, that my memory is fallible and my understanding is fallible. No matter how heartfelt and genuine my belief is, no matter how strong my faith, I can be wrong.

This incidentally also gives us a safe way to trust people. "Trust but verify". We can trust by default, accept by default and love by default. But we keep our eyes open, it isn't a blind faith.

"Beauty can be found in a naked paradox, for it is, in itself, and of itself, a thing which cannot be. And yet is."

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Those times psychosis nearly killed me

In as much as you are able, face your own darkness and the darkness in the world without flinching
Many years ago, what feels like several lifetimes in the past (but in fact around 1994), I was mad. Going mad wasn't easy, it took a great deal of time and determination but I finally made it. My madness lasted less time than the headlong plunge and bleak freefall into its crevices, but the recovery took around six years before I felt normal. Still there isn't a day when my mind doesn't wander back to that time and the pain of it all.

My madness was a psychosis, a delusion, it left me homeless in Cambridge for months ending only with a brief stay in Beford prison (where Pilgrim's Progress was begun and I was there at the same time as Lord Brocket, jailed for insurance fraud). I wasn't imprisoned for a criminal offence, but a civil matter, perhaps the topic of a different story. Along the way my psychosis nearly killed me several times, in a manner of amusing ways, and that is the story I tell today.

The root of my psychosis was succumbing to fear and running away from life, refusing to face the increasingly difficult situation I found myself in. Almost entirely of my own making I would add, although perhaps not fully. As with all stories the true beginning stretches back well beyond the place we call the start. My dark descent was ably assisted by copious quantities of psychedelics, consumed in a sincere search for spirituality as well as escape, which made my mind more pliable and able in the end to believe the most ridiculous of things.

The point at which we pick up this sad tale I was in my second year of a law degree at Corpus College Cambridge, having scraped through my first year with a "Desmond" (a 2:2). I was becoming increasingly paranoid and isolated and somehow believed that some acquaintances of mine, a buddhist priest and his young punk accomplices, were trying to steal my soul. Obviously the right way forward was not to avoid them or to seek help, but to continue to spend time with them despite no idea how nor the capacity to prevent what seemed to be happening. I was paralysed in what seemed like hell, my life slipping away from me, a passenger in my own mind and body. Desperate to break out of the cycle, on a winter evening of a college dinner, I decided that it might help if I jumped into the river Cam.

Not far from my halls of residence was a secluded stone bank beside the Cam. It was the site of a fantastic LSD trip I'd had with a dear friend months earlier, when he showed me this spot. We walked and talked, and admired the ducks, until dawn when we stood near this place and felt together the growing intensity of the sun rising over a hill. So I jumped in. The river Cam is cold in winter. So cold it knocks the breath sharply out of your body. I was certainly more awake than I had been, and I swam to the bank I'd jumped off to try and climb back up. The wet and high stone was impossible to climb and I could barely move. There were steps back up just round the corner from where I'd jumped, unfortunately these were against the current and the Cam was flowing fast. There was just no way I could get to them. I tried to cry out, but with no breath in my body I could barely manage a whimper and at any rate there was nobody anywhere near this dark hidden place.

At this moment I realised I was probably about to die. I was very cold and could barely move, I had no hope of rescue and no possibility of escape. And because death seemed inevitable I relaxed, after all what else could I do? The current swept me further downstream, and just beyond the stone bank the ground flattened out to mud and I scrambled out of the water cold but exhilarated. I'd just recently completed reading a magickal novel by Robert Anton Wilson in which he described how every acolyte must face death and accept it (something that only came to mind later), so I took this as a sign that I was still on the right path. Let's call this attempt on my life number one.

Months later I had left college, kicked out cleverly and ignominiously, but entirely reasonably, by the university. By this time I was living alone in a flat in Luton. I always say, probably unfairly, that the great thing about having lived in Luton is that anywhere else seems wonderful in comparison. I had reached a stage where the paranoia ("the fear") I felt whilst on drugs was with me all the time. In every human interaction I felt like more and more of my life was being torn from me and I was powerless to stop it. Because I couldn't face people I didn't "sign on" and I didn't claim housing benefit, so I lived in this flat for several months without paying rent to the man who owned it, something I still have on my conscience (and yes I have tried to contact him since).

I knew this horror was caused by fear, and if only I could conquer the fear I could be free. In particular, stemming from horrible experiences of being bullied and fearing for my life whilst at secondary school, I felt that it was a fear of violence. So the right way to be free was for me to "shoot the fear" by punching people. I really, really didn't want to do this but I felt that I had to. My life now consisted of walking the streets, all day, every day, trying to pluck up the courage to punch people. I did say I was mad. I must have walked hundreds of miles in those months. I did actually punch a few people, not many though (and indirectly this is how I ended up in prison).

One evening, yet another evening of walking the streets of Luton, I saw a man about my age at a petrol station. I walked up and asked him the time. As he looked down at his watch I sucker punched him and knocked him down. Then I walked on. Funnily enough I felt no freer than I had before, most perplexing and you'd think I might have taken this as a sign that perhaps I was a bit wrong about a few things. Moments later a car screeched round the corner and pulled up in front of me. The young man and several of his friends jumped out of the car, one of them reached into the boot of the car and pulled out a tyre iron and they approached me. First they asked why I punched their friend, to which I had no answer at all let alone a satisfactory one. Next they proceeded to beat me with the tyre iron. I fled at great speed, acquiring a large blister to go with the wounds on my head. Let's call this attempt on my life two.

Without signing on I had no money at all. I lived, if you can call it that, picking up cigarettes from the ground, occasionally pawning possessions and eating surprisingly well from out of date food thrown away by the local Iceland store. I remember one day I found about twenty packs of just-out-of-date bacon in the skip behind the store, what a treasure trove. Unfortunately I wasn't always so lucky, and probably the most ill I have ever been was brought about by food poisoning from some scavenged "dips". Naturally seeking medical attention was out of the question and I rode it out. Let's call this attempt number three.

Eventually my mind cracked, I thought I had been enlightened and I walked from Luton to Cambridge in triumph. Now I was properly mad, but at least I could talk to people and life was actually a great deal more fun than it had been. Oh, except for the being homeless part. On the first night I slept in a doorway, that was cold. I fell in with some of the other homeless and for a little while I slept in a concrete car park with them. We were woken every morning at six by a security guard and I can still feel the cold of the concrete seeping into my bones.

As I could now talk to people I thought it was entirely reasonable to claim backdated unemployment benefit for all the time I'd been unable to. I got a doctor to certify that I'd been ill, preventing me making a claim, but I was now better (pretty much the only valid grounds for a backdated claim). Every day I would go to the unemployment office to harangue them about the state of my claim. One day in particular I was waving an Aleister Crowley book at them and making my usual demands. A large security guard grabbed me by the throat and forcibly ejected me. This somehow didn't prevent my claim going through, and on the day before Christmas eve I received two giros (it was too large an amount for a single giro) for something over £900. With part of the money I bought a new pair of jeans and a pair of roller blades.

By this time I was staying in a hostel on Castle Hill. The city of Cambridge is basically entirely flat except for Castle hill which Wikipedia calls a "knoll located in the Castle ward of the city". Part way up Castle hill is a grassy mound, the old site of the Norman Cambridge Castle, where my Dad proposed to my Mum and where I proposed to Delia. I was living at the top of Castle hill. That evening I shakily made my way up the hill on my roller blades, moving hesitantly from lamppost, to hedge, to wall, anywhere I could grab onto as I advanced upwards.  Wearing a long coat and scarf I looked not entirely unlike the only true Doctor Who, Tom Baker.

The next day I felt more confident about the roller blades and I decided to use them to get down to the city centre. At first I followed the same pattern as my previous ascent, moving gradually from one perch-hold to the next. But roller-blading is quite easy really, so I stepped onto the road. Castle Hill is quite steep. So I started going quite fast. This was great fun, although the whirring and whining from the wheels were a little concerning. What became more concerning was the moment I realised that half way down Castle Hill is a large road that crosses the one I was on. The lights ahead of me were red and traffic was streaming across right in my path. A few seconds of frantic thought and I came to the only conclusion possible, I had to stop so I had to fall over. So that's what I did. I suffered little damage beyond a bloodied knee and one hole in my new jeans, but let's call this attempt on my life number four.

Thankfully my madness failed to kill me, coming to an abrupt and painful end in Bedford prison where I realised that I wasn't enlightened and in fact I'd burned everything in my life that I'd ever cared about. The rest, as is sometimes said, is now history.

I describe more of the time around my psychosis in Fragments of a Once Broken Mind and Why Should I Fear. More personal history in I was Brought Up.

"Gravity waves exist. The thunderclap of creation that resonate across infinity."

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Short Meditations III: The argument from tradition, there's a lot more light, epithets, etc...

 If you're lost with good friends then you're not really lost at all.

The Argument from Tradition

In a recent debate with an acquaintance, the father of dear friends, a good man and a vicar (the two are not mutually exclusive) he resorted to what I call "the argument from tradition" when defending the churches' interpretation of scripture. His setting out of that argument, and my response, are a neat look at this common pattern of argument.
"If you question the authority of scripture in the way it has been viewed over the generations by venerated Christians, then either you are saying they were wrong or implying that modern critics have a better spiritual knowledge than they did. When I read of the faith of people before us which they lived based on the traditional reading of scripture, and what they accomplished, I couldn't ever dare to do that."
My response: so you still think that we shouldn't remarry the divorced, that whites and coloured shouldn't marry, that women must wear had-coverings to attend church (or even whenever in public), that owning slaves is fine, that women must not teach? These are all traditional (and longstanding) interpretations of scripture. I don't find the argument from tradition overwhelmingly compelling. Our understanding of the nature of humanity and the nature of God has evolved. It just has. Sorry.

That's not even taking into account that the breadth of source material (for scripture) has greatly increased, alongside our understanding of New Testament Greek and second temple era culture. In every way we have access to more knowledge and understanding than those upon whose shoulders we stand.

My favourite example being that it's now understood that there was actually very little difference in the usage patterns of phileo and agape in New Testament Greek (and the supposed distinction isn't even present in the Aramaic that Jesus would have probably spoken):
How do bible scholars reconcile the difference between Greek and Aramaic?
Twice Paul says he does not permit women to speak in church. Is this an authoritative statement on the role of women or is it influenced by his cultural context? If the latter then we must be permitted to reinterpret scripture in the light of progress (our increased understanding) - the work of God in humanity. Progress, a word hated by so many Christians.

The Pain of Love Not Received

What a painful tragedy when friends you love won't receive your love, won't let you love them but keep you at a distance. When their own fears, or their judgement, or the judgement of others, is more important to them than love.

In the end you have to move on and be in a place where you can love, where your love is received and rejoiced in as you rejoice in the love of others. Ouch, how painful.

There's a Lot More Light

It's easy to think that the world is darker and scarier than it was. I remember the eighties, with the cold war still going and the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging in the air. Regular IRA bombings on the UK mainland and killings in Northern Ireland. Plane hijackings. War in Lebanon, the Falklands war, the Iran-Iraq war, famine in Africa. The AIDS epidemic.
What's changed is that we're much more aware, and much more quickly aware, of disaster and terror. Different fear but the same fear. But there's more light, we see more.

True Motherhood

True motherhood cuts a deep line of pure love into women, and marks them forever.

By "true motherhood" I mean "of the heart", specifically so as not to exclude adoption. It's the bond of pure love that exists between mother and child, and I see that bond with adopted children as well as biological children. I just say what I see and I don't claim andy special qualification in this area.

I also say "true" because I see cases of physical motherhood where the bond doesn't exist, and it is very painful to see. However I see so many examples of women who lay down their lives for their children and I see a real beauty in their lives because of it, I also see the cost they pay. These observations are the basis of my comment. Motherhood is something I admire deeply and am in awe of it, so many examples of costly sacrificial love which I hold to be the highest form of love. Love which costs you.

Tragedy in Manchester

Yesterday in Manchester thousands of people gathered at a concert in memory of those who died in the horrible tragedy. The theme of the concert was "One Love" and its message was that we must respond with love and not hate or fear. Thousands of people gathered together in the name of love. What a holy and sacred thing, what a precious thing.
1 John 4:18 Perfect love drives out all fear.

Epithets

The core message of Christianity, the inner secret of the cross, is that the path of love is the path of taking on the pain of others.

Tribalism gives you permission to hate. I'm a socialist and I voted green. There's a lot of hate for Theresa May. I dislike hate.

When younger I read the Carlos Castaneda books on Don Juan. My conclusion then and now: incoherent nonsense dressed up as mysticism.

The best defence is a perfect mirror. The fiercer and uglier your opponent the less they can stand to see themselves. Mind as a still lake.

The viciousness is that which does not care. Get rid of it.

Much respect to sir and madam spider. How did *anything* get quite so scary. That's really very impressive indeed.

You must become more fierce than that which binds you.

When I was homeless, for about a year more than 20 years ago, I was beaten up on the street just because people like beating up the homeless.

So much prayer is just going through the motions and wishing it would make a difference. Really wrestling and grappling with reality is hard.

I think my conclusion is that I just don't give a damn about the rules. Love and righteousness is about what's right in the circumstances right now. No rule can tell you what's right.

Hell is not for people, it never was. Hell is for bad ideas. It turns out, being a bad idea is a really bad idea! Hell is not something to be scared of, hell is good and was made by God. Hell is where the evil goes and it's how the world becomes a better place.

Black coffee, like dark chocolate, is a wonderful metaphor for life. The interesting flavours are in the bitter edge, but all are unbearable without a little sweetness.

In times of terror we get to see who loves evil, for it gives them a reason to hate.

Women made men and told them to be in charge. We've done a really, really, really shit job but it's their fault too. They literally made us. "You can never understand" is a lie, by the way. It's either men versus women and black versus white, or it's us. Our choice.

Only a heart that's been broken can help to mend a broken heart.

Not a Paradox

Tolerance need not tolerate intolerance, for if it did it would mean nothing. Tolerance is the absence of intolerance, it must not tolerate intolerance. Likewise full acceptance must not accept rejection, for acceptance is the absence of rejection. Acceptance must reject that which rejects and love must hate that which hates.This is not a paradox, it is what the words mean. A thing is not that which it is the opposite of, nor must it be persuaded otherwise.

That love is not rules is the rule of love.

Worship

Love is deep, love is wide and it covers us
Love is fierce, love is strong and it's furious
Love is sweet, love is wild and it's waking hearts to life
-- Furious, Bethel Music

Rejoice, rejoice The Christ is in you
The hope of glory in our lives
Love lives, love lives, love's breath is in you
Arise a might army, we arise!
-- a paraphrase of a 1980s' worship song by Graham Kendrick

Scriptures: Joshua 6:2, Joshua 6:7, Ezekiel 37:10, Matthew 19:26, Matthew 21:5



"Luke 19:27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

God is Doing a New Thing

In times of tragedy we see those who love evil, because it gives them a reason to hate.
A loving challenge to my Christian friends.

We all know what God is capable of. We all want many, many lives to be transformed by love. But if you say you want the new thing, is what you really want the old thing again? Are you willing to think differently. Are you willing to see things differently. Or is all that you can see the old thing?

God is at work, God is moving. There is a new thing.

God is love (1 John 4:8), this is the most beautiful truth in the bible. Wherever you see love at work, that is God at work. So the question was never "do you believe in a deity?", but "do you believe in love?". If people believe in the power of love, that love transforms and rescues, that love heals, that love is worth living for and can achieve anything, then they believe in our God. The question of what you think you believe with your mind has very little to do with it, and never did.

This is what John said when he defined who knows God (1 John 4:7); those who love know God. It's what James said when he defined religion that is acceptable to God (James 1:27) as love in action. This is the message of the parable of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the ultimate question is not what you have believed but whether you loved. Jesus even said this explicitly when he said "Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:21-23).
Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great high priest whose name is love
Who ever lives and pleads for me
-- Charitie Lees Bancroft
We're all deep and complex people, full of hidden abilities and motivations that we don't understand. This we know [1]. So the substance of faith is not to convert our minds, or the minds of other people, but for the substance of who we are to know love. All that matters is the spirit and truth, the depth, of who we really are and how we live. Not what we think we believe. It is said that the longest road is the road from the head to the heart. This isn't true, it's quite a short road, but it only goes in the other direction. You just can't jam what you think from your head to the heart, but what the heart really finds you can understand with your mind.

But what about those passages that speak of belief, and preaching the name of Jesus, and how do we reconcile "all who love know God" with Jesus saying "I am the way the truth and the life, no man comes to the father but by me"? That last part is simple. John says that anyone who loves knows the father, and Jesus says if they know the father they came by him.

As for belief, well the only belief that matters is the belief of the heart. Even Romans 10:10 says "believe with your heart and proclaim with your mouth". It's perfectly possible to believe with your mind yet stay hurt, be hard or bitter, beset by psychological difficulties and never really change. Don't you see this in Christianity all the time? We need to find a real and deep experience of love, and that really can change us. It comes not from being loved, but from loving. The more we love the more we manifest God and the more we're changed. That's good news.

And proclaiming and acting in the name of Jesus. Well it's clearly not about the word "Jesus". That wasn't even his name, he was called Yeshua! When you go in someone's name you go in their power and authority. In mysticism true name reveals true nature. So to proclaim the name of Jesus is to proclaim love, to walk in the substance of his love and power. Let's convert people to really believe in the power of love, and the only way I know to do that is to really demonstrate the power of love. Stop trying to tell people about God and show them God.

This is a message of good news, that love saves, a message of the power of love, that all who love are our brothers and sisters. But it isn't evangelicism, it's progressive Christianity. God is not hidden, God is not hard to find. God is everywhere because love is everywhere. In everyone. Made in the image of God.

So to love God is to love love. To adore love with all your heart. To live for love and to love. Isn't love beautiful, isn't love worth it. I know of nothing better and I think there's nothing that love can't do. There's something worth living for. When your heart is truly captured by the beauty of love there are a lot of things that just fall away. My faith is in love and I think it can achieve absolutely anything.

Alongside political trouble and global trauma, perhaps even because of them, I see a huge movement of people determined to love, determined to see change. That fierce determination to love, and a determination to do something about it, is love on the move. Let's be them, join with them and help them. The forces of good in this troubled world are far stronger than you can possibly imagine. Let's end the tribalism of Christianity that makes us right and everyone else wrong and let's love the love in action. All you have to do is love people.

The trouble is that we make God into a mixture of love and rules. And as much as your faith is in the rules it isn't in love. Love has fulfilled the law. The standard is perfection, this isn't some permissive doctrine, but the law is love. Not a set of rules.

A big part of the problem comes from our shallow understanding of sin. We think sin is the things we do wrong, so we feel guilty whenever we do something wrong. We continually miss the mark, and we think we're meant to feel bad about it. The message of Christianity is exactly the opposite! Sin is dealt with, it's already forgiven. Sin is our separation from God, that we're not yet able to see God clearly. The problem is not really what we do, but who we are.

This goes along with the teaching of evangelicism that we're already made perfect, and if we could just somehow realise this we would stop sinning. Based in part at least on the scripture "if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation". Except that is no-one's experience of Christianity ever. Even with a dramatic initial experience of God and change, really finding the new creation is the work of a lifetime. No-one is made perfect in one fell swoop. A better reading is "as much as a person is in Christ, they are a new creation".

So stop worrying about sin. The past is gone. Sorrow instead (as I do) over who you are, that you don't really know God, that you don't love deeply. This is repentance, and is part of a change of nature, the work of God in us.

And especially stop worrying about other peoples' sin. It's none of your business. The law of God, which is love, is for us to look to ourselves, to worry about the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3, Luke 6:31). The only way to change other people is to love them without expecting them to change, and to leave the rest up to their conscience and to God (John 16:8/13 - compare with this quote from Billy Graham “It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love.”). The greatest tragedy in Christianity is men who don't know God arguing about theology and the rules other people should be forced to live their lives by.
Woe to you teachers of the law.
Woe to you who teach law.
Woe to you who preach rules.
But this isn't how many of us were taught, and there's a cost to being different. I want to know who will pay the cost.

I explore more of what it means to say that the law is love in my article Tainted Love?.



In response to this article I've received several responses, at the time of writing this is my most viewed article of 2017. There are several common themes.

  • Aren't you trying to say that human love is God's love?
I could certainly be accused of saying that God is human! Or to put it a better way God encompasses humanity. In Jesus the completely orthodox Christian belief is that Jesus is fully divine and fully human, that his human love is fully divine love. This follows neatly onto the next topic.
  • There are several types of love. Not all love is God, only agape love. So God is love but love is not God.
So there is love that doesn't come from God and doesn't contain his nature? Perhaps John was wrong when hes said that everyone who loves knows God and is born of God? Or what about 1 John 4:7 "let us love one another for love comes from God", did he just mean "some love"? Dividing love into different types is a pre-Christian, Greek, idea. Aramaic, which is the language Jesus spoke, doesn't have this distinction and modern scholars agree that there is actually little to no difference in the use of agape and phileo in the new testament. See, for example, How do Bible Scholars Reconcile the Differences between Greek & Aramaic in John
God is pure love, perfect love, all the love. That turns out to be a lot of love. This is normally very imperfectly expressed by humanity, love mixed with all sorts of self-interest. But the perfect love at the heart of it, and the heart of us, is God. 
This fits well with the experience of Christian mystics who in complete union with God invariably exclaim with Julian of Norwich "God is everything good; its goodness is God" [2]. 
  • There is an apparent tension between John who says that all who love know God and the verses that say we must believe in the name of Jesus and proclaim the name of Jesus to be saved. We need to balance those two apparently contradictory set of scriptures and not take either of them too far. 
That's only a problem if you think those scriptures actually contradict each other. This of course is one of the problems of "typical" Evangelicism, it cannot reconcile these scriptures and they stand in opposition to each other. There's another way to see them that puts them in harmony and we can fully accept both. 
Believing in, and proclaiming, the name of Jesus. Has nothing to do with the word Jesus. If it means his name literally then we're in trouble because that wasn't his name. His name in Hebrew was Joshua, Jesus is a Latin transliteration of the Greek version of that name, Yeshua. Yeshua is still used, instead of Jesus, by Messianic Jews. 
See for example, this short article on What Does Jesus Mean
My favourite quote from that is: "When the New Testament tells us to pray in Jesus’ name, it doesn’t teach us that the name itself is special. It tells us that the person is special. When an ambassador speaks to a foreign leader, he speaks “in the name of” – with the power and authority of – the one he represents. Jesus is an ambassador, speaking to the Father on our behalf…and speaking to us on behalf of the Father."
Believing in the name of Jesus means believing in his power and his authority. To go in the name of someone means to go in their power and authority. So to think someone needs to know the word Jesus to be saved seems somewhat foolish - they need to meet the substance of who Jesus is, his power and his authority.  
With that understanding these verses are not at all contradictory. Anyone who knows love knows God because God is love, and Jesus is God - so anyone who knows love knows Jesus. It's not complicated and it makes sense of those scriptures together along with the others that I highlight in my article. If you move in the power and authority of genuine love you go in the name of Jesus, for that is who he is. 
  •  Your approach is unbalanced, we need love and righteousness.
Yes we need righteousness, but do you think righteousness comes from following the law? Righteousness is from Christ alone. The law cannot save, it can only condemn. Love fulfils the whole of the law. Following the law does not and cannot make you righteous, that isn't what righteousness is. Do you really believe that to the pure all things are pure or that all things are permitted, or do you think those scriptures actually mean "only following the law is pure", "only following the law is permitted"? That's the opposite of what they say. There are a great many scriptures on this topic. Do not put your faith in rules, put your faith in love. for more on this see my article Tainted Love?.
The major theme of the teaching of Christ is that love is not a set of rules. There's no set of rules that keep you from sin. In fact "woe to you teachers of the law"! You have to be willing to think, and thinking is not dangerous. What is right determined by the specific circumstances you're in, not from a set of rules. 
The trouble is that people suspect that if they try to work it out for themselves, they'll come to conclusions that are different from their current beliefs, or maybe that they'll just come to the wrong conclusion. Far safer to stick to the rules that everyone else follows. So the motivation is not in itself bad, but the conclusion is dire. It's not safer. It's dead. 
We don't even believe that righteousness comes from following the rules (at least we claim we don't), but from faith and through Christ. In Christ alone! So following the rules can't make you righteous either. If you want to not be under judgement then stop judging. If you don't judge then you can't be judged and you're free (1 Corinthians 2:15). Unfortunately people like the power that judging people gives them. That's their problem, not yours. 
Stop living under judgement.
Worshipping love (and in Jesus the personhood of love) and revering love as sacred and holy works! Love is truly beautiful, simply divine. Making love conditional on following a set of rules, however well-intentioned, is actually awful. Conditional love is not God's love

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people." - Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28

[1] Repeated empirical studies (see the work of Daniel Kahnemann for example) have show that we make decisions based on subconscious promptings that we're not aware of, and then the conscious mind rationalizes the decision we have already come to.
[2] Page 129 of "Julian of Norwich: Mystic and Theologian" by Grace Jantzen, also found in "Essentials of Mysticism" by Evelyn Underhill.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Aspects of the Divine

"Rest in Natural Great Peace, this exhausted mind." - Prayer by Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche
Siva the destroyer and friend of the poor, Ganesh the remover of obstacles, Loki the trickster and the madman who is not mad, the horror who has no name whom I call nightmare, Sophia who is wisdom, Venus who is unbridled passion, Dionysius who is abandoned revelry and is also called Bacchus, Delia who is beauty and is also called Artemis, Diana in whom is the moon who may also be Artemis, Anubis who shows the path to the dead, Isis the mother who is all women, the Father from whom all springs, and Michael who is war.

And Jesus who is love, who is all in all. The Godhead incarnate who was dead and yet lives and who makes all things new.

These are the metaphors, the archetypes, the aspects of the divine that I know.

Oh, and you. I know you. If you will permit to be known.

Codicil: lest it remain unsaid, beauty has married war and their love is glorious and terrible. Look not.


"Dark chocolate, like black coffee, is a wonderful metaphor for life. The interesting flavours are hidden in the bitter edge, but all are unbearable without a little sweetness."

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Do What Thou WIlt

In times of terror we see those who love evil, because it gives them a reason to hate.
We often think about the struggle between doing what is right and what is wrong, but far more often the problem is not doing the right thing but knowing what the right thing is. In my experience, more often than not I want to do the right thing but it isn't clear what that is. There are often several options, none of which seems exactly right and all of which could be wrong.

Wouldn't it be good if you could trust your desires, if you could know that you are good and that what you want to do is therefore likely to be the right thing. Then you could usually just do what you want, except  where it is clearly wrong, and most of the time you would be doing the right thing or at least have the right intentions.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". Aleister Crowley wrote this in the early 1900s. Contemporary society misunderstood him as saying "do what you want", and for this they called him the great beast. Actually he meant find your true will, and do what you really will. For your true will is to do good. Mr Crowley has a dark reputation, mostly undeserved but not entirely, but for good or for ill (and who knows) his words have had an influence on my life. He also said "Love is the law, love under will". We choose to love, and this it seems to me is a beautiful truth.

So how do you get there, how do you know what your true will is? This is pretty much the same question that most people ask for much of their lives; who really am I and what do I really want?

We spend much of our lives struggling to do what is right, and feeling that we are not very good and therefore we must fight against what we want. So we don't trust our own desires and we remain cut off from ourselves and struggle to know our own heart and mind.

So I'm afraid that the path to discovering who you are, to discovering what you really want and what your "true will" (whatever that may be) is, does largely involve doing what you want - and being prepared to take the consequences of your actions.

If you're willing to trust that you are basically good, with many flaws, and that you want to do the right thing. And if you're also prepared to accept that you can only do what you can do, that even if there is some hypothetical "right thing" if it is beyond your capability then you must simply do what you can and that's all that can be asked. If you're willing to trust that trying to love people is a process that will change you, trust that in having a genuine heart you will be changed, then do what you want. And gradually, if you really are genuine, what you want will more and more be good. As you do what you want, as you're willing to listen to what you want, then what you *really* want and who you really are becomes clearer.

Obviously apply common sense. Deny the clearly wrong impulses, but be willing to make mistakes. If you get things wrong then just deal with the consequences. You only do what you are able to do, no need to feel guilty just get on with facing what is before you right now. The past has gone and the future is not yet written. Let's have some fun and be good.

Love God and do what you want -- Augustine.


"It has been said that for many people their faith involves attempting to clamber from the evil branches to the good branches in the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Instead the call is to climb down from that tree and climb into the tree of life."

Monday, 5 June 2017

Why Should I Fear


Didn't there used to be magic 
When you were five the world was magic. And then gradually, the magic fades. But it hasn't gone, it's still there. When you were five.
When I was young I was haunted by a wild and ferocious desperation and I was so afraid. It cut me and drove everyone away. It hurt so much.

The thing is that emotions, these parts of yourself, don't really go away. Instead if you learn not to fear them you can turn them to good. My desperation is still there, a wild longing to love and to burn and to blaze. An unquenchable thirst for the river that never runs dry.

As for the pain, that remains too. And when I see it in others, because everybody hurts, I can sometimes bleed. As we bleed together we heal. Let your inner pain be the engine of your empathy.

Finally that lost lonely death that had me. That I can turn on the fear. Fear must die. Why should I fear, I've been dead.

"The best defence is a perfect mirror. The fiercer and uglier your opponent the less they can stand to see themselves. Mind as a still lake."