If I should die

The church is completely beautiful. The central section of the nave has rounded arches, conceivably Norman, with those thick pillars. The west and east ends of the nave have Gothic arches. Unusually, the window above the altar is of clear glass; the whole is whitewashed; so it combines light and solidity. It feels strong and supportive, a womb of protection against the World, filled with Light to lift the heart.

I was there for a concert, the City of London Chamber Orchestra playing the Britten Sinfonietta, the Lark Ascending, the Siegfried Idyll and Mozart’s twentieth symphony. I could imagine myself there each Sunday morning, part of the church community, singing the Creed and the Gloria, kneeling for the consecration, my spirit lifted and grounded at the same time. My spiritual practice now is to open myself to life and experience, so I chose an open posture and paid full attention to the Wagner, and was rewarded by being moved to tears.

“They’re all hypocrites. No-one believes that” say more than one friend. Well. Certainly not the virgin birth, and possibly not the divinity of Christ, though God spoke in Him. My Christianity is stories and images which encourage me or help me make sense of the world; a link to a spiritual reality beyond the reality I can comprehend with my conscious, occasionally rational mind, or express in words. God is. I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, living in my heart.

Not all Christians feel this way. Evangelicals have a series of verbal formulations, which fit to the words of the King James Bible, to which they consciously assent, formulations like Christ died as a sacrifice for our sins provided by God yet the Sacrifice needed against God’s Wrath, which you must Accept, in order to be Saved from Hell- conceived by some as a state of perpetual conscious torment after earthly death. Well, not all people are as sensitive as I am, or have my emotional intelligence.

The Isaiah 53:5 project seems to know the weakness of the Evangelicals. He imagines women craving appreciation: “Do you see me? Do you delight in me?” He says “most husbands” do not even hear: perhaps because of the vilely narrow concept some Evangelicals have of what is a “real man”. I don’t like the idea that “all women” feel exactly the same- my femininity, the Evangelical ideal, is certainly not the experience of all women. With his heart in the right place, I53 demands that men show their appreciation. Some men and women are naturally like this.

Violet and her atheist chums had a good laugh at this. It seemed to me a wasted opportunity: deriding the others’ view, rather than using it as a chance for understanding.

My loveliest religious experience to date was on Monday 4 May. I had a heartfelt conviction of God’s love for me and my beauty as a created animal. And I still want to be appreciated, for someone to acknowledge that I can light up a room, that my drama and dance is Beautiful- by her words or her appreciative look.

Rossetti, Joan of Arc

I love my illusions 💋

I love my illusions. They do me good. Or I would get rid of them.

There are the atheists, blogging away. Some just want to feel clever and right, but Victoria Neuronotes wants to save us poor benighted Christians from atrophied brains and self-abuse, others might want to save us from idiotic falsehood, they might all prefer us thinking better and living happier, and under it all, they want to make us more like themselves. Confident their way is best, they want us approximated to it, for our good or for the good of our victims. Or, they want to justify to themselves their way of being. These motives may co-exist.

My friend Andy went from quite a conservative Christian, knowing being queer is Wrong, to a wildly liberal one, accepting his queerness, back to being conservative again, apart from the Gay bit. He is not alone.

Finding I liked so little what I thought I ought to, and continually surprised by how much I liked what I actually did- dressing female, for example- I decided what I needed more than anything was to know myself and accept myself as I am.

I cling to my illusions, thinking they are true, because the alternative is frightening: illusions like

 everything's going to be alright. 

Perhaps, even, believing those is good for me, giving me

 courage to continue
in the face of adversity.

There are things I haven’t realised yet. Perhaps I never will. Or I accept intellectually, but can’t accept emotionally.

Wonderful bit in Doctor Who:

Missy: say something nice.
Chang: You’re going to kill me, aren’t you? Please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die
Missy: I’ve got all day! And I’m not going to kill you until you say- something nice.
Chang: It has been an absolute pleasure working with you and I truly believe that you will not be able to find it in your heart to murder me.

Missy fires, Chang vanishes. Someone said when she explained like that, he would not “say something nice”, but I thought that “You’re going to kill me” is too difficult to grasp but “say something nice” is easy so he does that. Watching it again to get the dialogue, I find it worse than I remembered: he works out she will kill him from her hints. And he still says something nice.

I want to know who I am, and groping towards this I use words. In the shower this morning I was seized with the desire to write them down- access my unconscious, whatever, I think it a good exercise. Not on the blog, obviously, even I know that is going too far, but here are some:

 Gorgeous, Right, Worthy, Gifted, Truthful, 
Intelligent, Perceptive, Creative, Loving, Able, Musical, Poetic, 
Humorous, Forceful, Valuable, Relaxed.

And some aspirations:

Spontaneous, Successful, Admired, Engaged,
having integrity…

Returning to this hours later, I remember the Sheriff at Forfar sentencing a man who had been chucked by his girlfriend, and made a nuisance of himself outside her house. He said “He cannot understand how a person as attractive as he could ever evoke this reaction, and the way the rest of us convince him that he does, is prison.” At my advanced age, though, I can happily believe something without needing everyone else to believe it too. Thank God! At Last!

Atheist Quakers III

DSC00272Fear can be Good.

I am happily theist, or at least Protean: that every hair on my head is numbered is valuable, and feels true to me. And David Boulton is bordering on anti-theist: he asserts as a matter of certainty that there is no God, that the promptings of love and truth are simply (not merely) our own evolved primate processes. He has a wonderful turn of phrase, for example “The Republic of Heaven”- that there is no God, no King, does not mean there is no Heaven, nor that we cannot be in it.

So I thought, I am glad he is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, because his extreme position makes room in our Society for others to join too. People like Mark. And there are others like Sarah, who pisses me off a bit, saying that “I was a theist when I was immature, and when you are mature like me you will be non-theist too”, but that is OK because we share these experiences.

And I thought, here am I, the Good Person. I am Eirenic, seeking ways we can come together, in our shared experience of God, or those unconscious processes, whatever it is, and where the words we use to explain our experiences, though different, do not get in the way. And Sarah, though she is polemic, speaking up for Her Side, the process is big enough to cope with our differences, and neither of us can do great DSC00273damage to the Society even though it behoves us to take care to do good.

Then I thought, I have a lot of experience of being excluded. The last picked for the Volleyball team at school, because I was useless (Oh- was that you, too?) The queer, deviant, pervert. Here am I, the Good Person, making sure everyone is included and no-one is cast out, and I am that out of my own experience of being excluded and fear of being excluded again.

My fear produces a constructive and creative and Loving result.

Of course fear can be good. I skid on the wet road, that makes me frightened, I take care not to do it again, I don’t die in a car accident; but it seemed my fear was of everything, and it was merely harmful, merely holding me back; and now that overwhelming fear, the Ache, the Scream, the Desolation, can be part of me which produces life and delight. The grit in the oyster. As long as I don’t take it too personally when someone leaves, for whatever reason.

I have my stories off pat. I was bullied at work. I was right and management was wrong, and these are the facts to demonstrate both assertions. I tell them for my own sake, of course- it was not my fault- because I need to assert that to myself, and another’s guarded assent helps me. If I have self-confidence, I can say “I have had some difficulties, and currently I am on the sick” and not anticipate “Well, you don’t look unfit for work to me” or be hurt by it if it happens.

Atheist Quakers II

Hor-Asha-Khet, Ptolemaic periodMark, camping in a field of forty tents and ten caravans of Quakers, was distressed by the Swarthmore Lecture. He is atheist, married with two sons aged around ten, has been interested in Quakers for two years but committed for six months. He is spiritual but not religious, and wanted his sons to have the community we offer. He tried the “Sunday Assembly“, but was disillusioned, as it appeared to be a huge marketing campaign with lots of people having different expectations of it- a bit like some churches.

He felt comfortable with Quakers, but in the lecture Ben Pink Dandelion said we should get back to our core beliefs. Quakers tend to be “fuzzy”, said Ben, a former Anarchist- all the anarchists could agree on was changing their names to something silly. Our Book of Discipline, Quaker Faith and Practice, is clear about who we are and what we do, but if you ask a Quaker about Quakers s/he will start “well, for me…” Mark saw this as an attack on him. His atheism is our fuzziness, and if we got back to our clarity we would exclude him.

I can state what we do in materialist terms. We set aside our egos and seek the highest Good, which (most of us) call God’s Will. We speak as moved- by “The Spirit” or by unconscious brain processes. We seek Unity and Discernment, not necessarily theist concepts. I told Mark that if he valued what we do, I wanted him in Quakers. I had thought the “fuzziness” Ben attacked was me- call myself a Quaker, but make no great advance on our Testimony, which in former ages set how we lived our lives. I loved Mark’s enthusiasm, and impressed him: he thought me thirty.

There were some polemic views. Sarah wanted Quakers to leave Churches Together, and said in the seminar on the language she used that she had used religious language when she was a child, but had matured now. She is only trying to get at her wife, a theologian, and just because you have matured out Column capital of the God Bes, Ptolemaic periodof particular language does not mean that anyone who uses it is childish. The Non-Theist network and the Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations worked together. A man told me that though we could divide ourselves by the words we used, our differing experiences cut across those divides.

Trying to do too much, I slept through Michael Wright’s talk on “Atheist prayer”, but picked up some things. He is a former Anglican priest who had what he thought was an experience of God, and never had another though he craved it. He felt bereaved of God, but still heeded the intellectual and spiritual challenge of love, and just, compassionate living. Our responsibility is to ourselves, not God. Our promptings of love and truth come from within ourselves, not beyond. He used the Anglican mnemonic ACTS- Adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication but changed it, so S was self-examination; but Thankfulness is a useful practice, whatever one believes. He recommended Gretta Vosper and the Progressive Christianity Network.

Atheists read this

Seated harlequinI do not argue for the truth of Christianity, but its value. I practise Christianity because it helps me live a good life. Good means good to me.

Truth is what is. If you shave God away with Occam’s razor because we can increasingly answer the question “How did we get here?” through scientific materialism, and claim there is no more evidence for God the Creator than for a teapot orbiting Jupiter, that is absolutely fine. Nevertheless the word “God” is useful to describe particular human experiences which have value. You might use psychology to analyse my occasional sense of Oneness with the Universe which produces awe and wonder, calm and acceptance in me. Congratulations. I will still use God-language. Christianity remains a useful way into these experiences.

The Bible has value. It is contradictory- Jesus claims to be God, but also simply man; Nehemiah calls for Jewish isolation from foreign cultural influences, as they are evil, but Jonah proclaims God’s love for the Assyrians, who had destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel. That the Grand Canyon was not formed during a few months of flood, or even that human sacrifice is revolting, does not vitiate the Bible. I might think a saying repulsive and silly, and later find value in it. This means that being open to it being valuable profits me.

Christians do silly, destructive and oppressive things, like seeking to prevent legal abortions even for rape victims because if it was really rape “a woman’s body has ways of shutting that The Blind man's mealdown”. By all means tell me this, but in moderation. Christian history is full of vileness, of wars, persecution of “heretics” and outsiders, and support for vile things such as slavery. However this does not mean that I must reject what I consider to be “true” Christianity, which would support none of these things, and which is also a thread throughout the last two thousand years.

This post is inspired by Violet Wisp, whose pictures and prose I recommend. Of course I play what she calls the Supernatural trump-card– “My God is magic and does not need to make sense”- because the world does not make sense to me, and acceptance that I do not understand particular things helps me towards greater understanding.

You do not know what I believe. God is, and God is not. If I use God the Creator as a way into understanding- I am created in the image of God, therefore I am loving, creative and powerful- this does not prevent me from using atheist materialism in a similar way- I have evolved here over 4.5 billion years, therefore I fit. Practice is more important to me than dogma: I value sitting in silence with Quakers, where people speak when Inspired, and what matters is the value of what they say, not the precise mechanism, materialistic or spiritual, of Inspiration.

You might think of my Christianity as a series of hacks, to do as well as I can at life. You might think your life-hacks are better- but I have learned mine over decades, they work for me, and it is more courteous to describe yours than to demand I reject mine.

Pictures from MMA.

The faith of an atheist

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Avenue_bij_ArlesThe problem with the term “faith communities” meaning religious groups is that it implies that secular humanitarian groups like CND or Save the Children are faithless. Faith is not limited to the religious.

And disdain for faith, an anti-theist contempt conflating it with asserting unprovable things like the Flood or creation in six days, is new too, for our language is full of faith: “In good faith”; “a leap of faith”. That faith is something between irrational wishful thinking and something I know definitely from my personal experience. I do not know that everything will be alright, but have faith in myself, my world and other human beings. Faith is different from belief, but closer to “believe in” than “believe that”. I believe when I have proof, but I have faith when I trust.

This faith is practised and tested. I imagine how people will react, from my past experience, and new reactions form part of the evidence for the future. It is separate from dogma, because it is my understanding which I develop, partly from what others tell me, partly from my experience. The humanist might even use the word “God” to mean the traditional attributes of God: because human Love can be an overwhelming force. So God moves from literalism to symbolism and metaphor: mercy pity peace and love in action, the promptings of love and truth in our hearts which can come from an evolved human impulse as a social animal, rather than a personal God who numbers every hair on my head and prompts me and others to act well. God is a symbol of those values, not a supernatural entity which moves us unworthy souls to Good.

I have faith that my constructive actions will bear fruit, and the human society I rely upon will act well. This is belief in things unseen.

This is heavily reliant on David Boulton, whom I have seen speaking at a Sea of Faith conference and a Quaker meeting. It comes from his talk at the Quaker Council for Christian and Interfaith Relations. It seems special pleading to me, an attempt to take religious concepts without religion. But Ian quoted Charles Carter on Sunday, and Sabina happened to have his book from 1971, “On having a sense of all conditions”, so I am reading that. Carter distinguished religious assumptions, things one cannot know, such that God who inspires ministry is the all-powerful creator of the universe, from what he knows from his experience, such as that God is a source of strength urging him towards the Good- which he also knows because those words resonate with the experience of others. Carter had, in world war two, experience of the power of evil.

From this he seeks sensitivity to the condition of each other human being, to reach out with consolation in their distress, and find friendship and consolation from them.