Spirit of Life

Am I safe? Yes- until I am not.
Am I good? Yes- until I am not.
I am powerful, until I am powerless.

I am not sure I fully agree with Paul, but what he says makes some psychological sense. What does he mean? I do the very thing I hate. I agree that the law is good. I will what is right, but I cannot do it. When I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. Who will rescue me from this body of death?

What is the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus [that] has set [me] free from the law of sin and death? What is that law of sin? It seems to me, wrestling with the passage in Meeting, that the law of sin is an external standard of Right- not just the 630 commandments of the Torah, but every external standard, every set of rules for conduct no matter how well-intentioned, every attempt to keep safe by telling others what to do. Every standard imposed from outside, even if I accept it and think it is a good standard and want to live by it.

The spirit of life in Christ has set me free. If I walk according to the spirit of life within me, I will do Good- for I am Love as God is Love. Any other Rule is impossible to obey. And yet we feel unsafe, and we feel threatened by the Others, so Christianity since Paul is filled with these sets of rules. A trans man I met had been subjected to “Heavy Shepherding”, where his church did not believe in his ability to make correct decisions for himself, so his pastor had to vet each one. That comes from Hell not Heaven. I am not safe, and no-one is safe from me. Or, I am safe and good, until I am not. Yet we are children of God, brothers and sisters, so we will act in love.

One ministered on decluttering- not just stuff, but relationships, ideas and memories. Why keep a memory and worry at it like poking a bruise? I said to her after, because it still has something to teach me. My mother’s lack of understanding had so wounded me from the age of nine to 44, when I accepted it. I recounted the memory. She had experience as a teacher, of parents driving their children to achievements they never realised. That’s close enough. I had accepted my mother’s lack of understanding, but today I accepted my powerlessness and inability to communicate my own feeling, which was a lack of confidence. I wanted to be confident.

I am powerful until I am not. Sometimes I am not as powerful as I would have wished. IT FEELS LIKE DEATH! IT SCARES ME! But it isn’t death, not really. I am still alive, even well-situated and happy. If only I could recognise that.

In the afternoon, in the Quaker business meeting, we considered whether we should become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation or remain Unincorporated when we register as a charity. This is fairly dry and technical. What makes it beautiful is the way we deal with it, in discussion before and in the moment of the Meeting. I am open to persuasion, and I am not going just to give in. So I talk to the former managing director of a company with factories in several countries, and feel somewhat abashed, the queer benefit claimant. He could seek to dominate, and I would defy him; instead, we respond in Loving equality.

Christian Science

I thoughtChristian Science was about Christianity for scientists, then I heard it was much nuttier than that. It has to get over beliefs like this- Has it? Can it?

The Founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote, The rich in spirit help the poor in one grand brotherhood, all having the same Principle, or Father; and blessed is that man who seeth his brother’s need and supplieth it, seeking his own in another’s good. She wrote Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures in 1875 that sickness is an illusion that can be cured by faith alone. Such can be deduced from certain Bible verses, such as “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” and “God created humankind in his image”. If we are perfect, in the image of God, we cannot be sick. People tried to convince themselves that they were not sick.

I hear the anger this belief still engenders sixty years after my friend ceased to believe it, aged 12. Her father had migraines, and tried to believe they were not there. Her parents read Eddy’s book, understanding the Bible through it.

How is it Science? Because God is understood to be unchanging Love—the infinite Principle that is constant, universal, inclusive, eternal, the only true power and source of all good. It explains the spiritual laws of Love that enabled Jesus to heal sickness and sin. This divine Science also answers our fundamental questions about evil, reality, and eternal life. And as the word science implies, it is reliable, consistent, and provable, bringing healing to individuals and humanity through a deeper understanding of God. It isn’t, in other words: the term sounded good. Mary Baker Eddy turned wholeheartedly to God when she experienced a critical injury in 1866. As she read accounts of Jesus’ swift, powerful healings, a new sense of God, Spirit, as the only reality flooded her thought and healed her. Impelled to understand the Principle behind this experience, she continued to search for and find in the Bible the underlying laws of God that would form the basis of her teaching and practice of Christian Science. One coincidence or delusion for one charismatic, persuasive woman, and people throw out real medicine. Children have died and parents been convicted of neglect because of it.

It would be so lovely, if only it were true.

Our true nature is spiritual, Eddy decided. No. We are animals, physical creatures. If I am tired I need to sleep. They still teach that if we accept and believe Jesus’ promises, follow his teachings and understand his spiritual laws (as explained by Ms Eddy) we will be healed- so if we are ill, it is our fault.

Hard Brexit

Soft Brexit makes no sense. Only Remaining or hard Brexit are the options.

Soft Brexit, keeping the rules of the Single Market and relinquishing the vote, with some concessions on immigration, would address the concerns of a lot of Leave voters, but Immigration is not the issue. It is the cape in the hands of the bullfighter, distracting us from our real problem, the hard Right.

The Single Market is not a matter of common tariffs but common law. It is our agreement to common standards of product safety, for the good of consumers, as well as common employment rights in the Social Chapter. Outside the Single Market our goods for export to the EU would be subject to “a blizzard of red tape”, as they would all need certified that they complied with EU law for the good of EU citizens. So trade negotiations now are a matter of harmonising not tariffs, but rules.

Britain outside the EU shrinks that trading bloc by more than 12%. It makes it less attractive to export to the Single Market, and less possible for the EU to enforce such rules. It is an attempt by the hard Right to destroy the rules, to increase profits for business at the expense of all of us. Mrs May will not publicise the British negotiating position and negotiating priorities only partly to avoid giving away too much to the other side- for her priorities would be unpalatable to any democratic politician without a great deal more lying and misinformation than there is now. So stories of straight bananas and hate-mongering against immigrants will get worse. TTIP may be foiled, but Brexit could make it unnecessary.

Leave voters from working class districts. You feel left behind, that politics is not for your benefit? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

This is why Labour must work to prevent Brexit, and why Tories cannot be trusted to take any action against lying and hate-mongering by politicians or the press. This is why the Foreign Secretary calls for hard Brexit. We are in danger. I use apocalyptic imagery in the featured picture, because this is what apocalyptic in the Bible is about: overwhelming threat and change in this world justifying talk of the world being born anew.

The fatal flaw in the Referendum, which renders unsustainable the cries that “The Will of the People must be respected” and so there must be some form of Brexit, is that there is no clarity what the will of the people is. Is it hard Brexit? Soft Brexit? An end to immigration? A wish to snub David Cameron? Only the Remain vote is clear. Remainers are the majority! The lies vitiate the Leave vote’s validity, since voters might have thought the NHS would really get more money, and voted for that. The arguments are quite clear that MPs should educate themselves as to the interests of the country, and not be bound by an ignorant vote; see AC Grayling.

My thought has been clarified by Nick Clegg.

True love waits

No-one wants abortions to happen. To reduce the numbers, there are three main paths- legal restrictions, better religious education, and better sex education. I want to speak up for the second.

Better religious education, and more people following in the footsteps of Christ, will reduce abortions. The two great commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. This means respect and care for all, including those who need abortions. It also means care for those who are at risk of needing abortions: social groups which may be found through sociological research. They are our sisters; every hair on their head is numbered. Rescuing them from abortion does not mean enforcing rules on them, but making it as far as possible unnecessary. We enforce rules on subjects. Sisters deserve better.

Constantine used Christianity as the ideology of his empire. It became a system of moral control of the populace: the State could kill the body, and convince the person soul and body would be destroyed in Hell. Before that, Jesus told us how to navigate a strange, unpredictable world, in which the rich, living in luxury and self-indulgence, kept back the wages of the labourers by fraud; a millennial time, when there were wars and rumours of wars, and tales of a Messiah and the coming of God; people trying to live as best they could by following the rules they thought were God’s rules, and a watchful Empire taking over, ready to enforce its will by extreme violence. About forty years after he died, the Empire destroyed the Temple.

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world be saved through him. Jesus did not tell the rich young ruler to rule in a more moral fashion, but to give up all stake in that society and become an itinerant. Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

So it is not the Christian’s job to enforce rules on others. We recognise that is the State’s job, and every person should be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. We obey because of conscience, not just fear. Jesus sent out the seventy, expecting them to be welcomed and fed, and so we should behave like those hospitable Jews. We should bear one another up with a tender hand.

We should also not judge, but remember our own frailty and need. We each need the support of the community, so should not deny that support to others. So when someone needs an abortion, we should support that; but work so that fewer abortions are needed. Self-respect and respect of others promotes sex in a loving relationship, rather than abusive or exploitative sex.

The Christian who only intervenes to say No- who takes no interest in a woman until she needs an abortion, and then denies her what she needs- behaves in the opposite way to Christ and drives people from Christ.

Dirk van Baburen, Christ washing disciples feet

Abominations

Here is a list of things called “Abominable” in some translations of the Bible. The oddest is Luke 16:15, “what is prized by human beings”-surely not everything? God sees things profoundly differently from human values?- but most are a bit yuck, or revolting, or dishonourable.

There are ways round these rules. I heard last week that the word translated “a woman’s garment” in Deuteronomy 22:5 is a particular outer garment of the time, a bit like banning the earasaid. I have never worn an earasaid, and though I would try one if I had the opportunity I would not seek one out.

A man in a woman’s garment is “abominable”. A Jew told me the Hebrew meant something closer to taboo, and again that is something revolting. In Flowers on Channel 4, two characters at first seen as father and daughter, though later they say this was a pretence, are seen having sex. I was revolted. That is a taboo, and I don’t know if my revulsion is cultural or from my species. Ancient Egyptian kings habitually married their sisters, and Tutankhamun may have suffered genetic conditions of inbreeding.

Men in women’s loos is also a taboo. I go in, because I am accepted as an honorary woman, mostly. My friend said trenchantly that if there was a long queue in the Ladies’ she would go in the Gents’. Why not, it is only a cubicle. If you break the taboo, you become unpredictable, a threat, even if you do not do anything else objectionable. You do not think like the rest of us.

A taboo can be cultural, part of the glue that holds a community together. It has value only for that community. Yet for some people transsexuality and even homosexuality remain taboo.

Dishonesty is “abominable”. That weakens the ties of any community. We need to be able to trust each other.

I don’t think God directly dictated the words of the Masoretic text (the current Hebrew Bible) as God is said to have dictated the Koran. People wrote it. We can judge for ourselves what is sinful. I wish to improve my way of being in the world. Starting to present male again is not remotely my priority for this. I have no hope of living entirely according to any moral code. But I don’t want to explain away troubling Biblical text. It is there. It may mean one thing or another. I don’t need a specific view of it, so that my way of being somehow becomes safe or acceptable. My way of being is safe and acceptable enough.

I asked the woman who so interpreted Deuteronomy when it was written. She said in its current form probably about 600 BC, just before the Exile, though perhaps parts came from oral tradition. But if that question indicates how liberal the speaker is, I don’t know how to calibrate it.

Goya, courtyard with lunatics

Culture, myth, reality

We only understand anything through language. We distinguish one thing from another through the words we use: Structuralism says that language is a system, one thing, and words relate to each other rather than to discrete things out there. Post-structuralism says I am born into a world of language, which defines what I might do or think. Orwell imagined Newspeak preventing anyone ever thinking an unorthodox thought: perhaps English does, too. Deconstructionism asserts that meanings are not fixed, but must always be ideological constructs, which attempt to make that which is the product of a particular culture or thought system seem natural, inevitable and objectively true. To destroy slavery, including slavery to concepts of masculinity, we need new language.

Back to that later, perhaps. Language comes before reality in the Bible: In the beginning was the Word; the Earth was a formless void until God speaks, and calls our world into existence. Yet in Christianity, God made revealed Truth. Human beings simply have to tune into revelation of this ready made divine order of things, and fit themselves into it. 

Yet I believe in continuing revelation, human beings working things out, seeing things anew.

I have just been watching a television drama, Thirteen, in which a girl was kidnapped and imprisoned for thirteen years before she escaped. I don’t believe her post-traumatic responses, necessarily, it is a drama of events more than ideas, and one for the quotidian rather than extreme- couples split and reform, people choose between spouses and lovers; so as well as the threat of the Murderer- will he kill the ten year old he has kidnapped now?- I am offered a vision of what it means to be in a couple.

I have a choice of many such stories, in fifty-year soap operas or novellas, millions of versions, from four millennia of civilisation. They are hot, with strong threat and emotion, or cool and contemplative. There are great Myths, and English-speaking peoples are shaped by the King James Bible and Shakespeare. We have no sure way of relating the Jewish teacher, Y’shua, to the Jesus of the Gospels, but we have those stories, of being born of a virgin, changing water into wine, dying and rising again.

There are continual new interpretations of these stories. Humans use them for our own purposes. They do not trap us into one understanding but free us for greater understanding as we continually explore. Stories enable us to share glimpses of truth, as well as the clear detailed descriptions of truth in scientific papers; and to feel our way into empathy as well as thinking into understanding.

Different languages give different understandings of the world, divide it up in different ways.

I am not saying any philosopher considering language has a lesser view than this, but for me, language is a good enough tool to explore my world, and the cage is porous enough for humanity to stretch it: it is not a cage, but scaffolding, for us to create greater understanding. The stories can free us.

I started on this because I have been reading Derek Guiton who apparently fears that David Boulton will drive belief in God out of the Religious Society of Friends. Possibly no-one reading this has my precise interests, yet I hope you get something from it. Here I have looked at Boulton’s explanation of stories in The Trouble with God and found it compatible with belief in God as well as useful in understanding my world.

Bronzino, fresco from the chapel of the old palace in Florence, 2

The Adoration of the Bronze Snake

Human life: anger, terror, misery, perplexity, delusion. Here’s The Adoration of the Bronze Snake, by Bronzino, a fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake

Look at the twisting bodies, and at the faces- horror and confusion everywhere:

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 6

relieved by death (perhaps it is merely stupor)

Bronzino, the adoration of the bronze snake, detail 2

Sometimes not even by that. Continue reading

The Geologic Column

The Geologic column demonstrates the age of the Earth is at least hundreds of millions of years old, and by the intricate order of fossils demonstrates evolution. It is the atheist’s friend, refuting fundamentalist evangelicalism. So it is disturbing that six of my first nine Google results for “geologic column” are Creationist. First of those is “Ten Misconceptions about the Geologic Column” by Steven A Austin, PhD.

Creationists drafted the GC, he shouts! Well, before nuclear fusion was understood, Lord Kelvin calculated the age of the Sun as only thirty million years. Science can be wrong. He noted the “Denudation of the Weald” had taken 300m years, and wondered at the difference. That denudation remains controversial.

Adam Sedgwick, whom Austin names, was the son of an Anglican vicar, born 1785. He took holy orders. Yet he opened his lectures to women, and campaigned to allow non-Anglicans to enter Cambridge University. This progressive is a strange hero for a creationist. He described and named the Cambrian era based on physical characteristics of rocks unique to Wales, after research involving Charles Darwin as a field assistant. He believed in evolution- “We all admit development as a fact of history”- yet not natural selection, believing that there is a moral and metaphysical part of nature as well as a physical. He thought God was involved, but that did not make him deny the age of the Earth, or the progress of fossils over millions of years. He changed his mind about the Biblical Flood when certain deposits were shown to have been made by glaciers, not floods.

I don’t know whether anyone believes Austin’s “misconception No.3”, The strata systems of the geologic column are worldwide in their occurrence. Where would all that rock come from? It is a wonder that 0.4% of the Earth has all ten sedimentary systems. Elsewhere, earthquakes have folded rock from under the surface over later rock, so that the strata may be upside down or vertical; the upper rock may erode, over hundreds of millions of years.

This means there are doubts, as with the Weald. Particular rocks may be dated in different ways: radiometric, or by the position of fossils. Austin calls this “special pleading”- yet while the date of any particular rock formation might be disputed, the general idea that rocks form in strata over millions of years, and may be dated radiometrically or by fossils is clear.

I would have said “indisputable”. Someone with no regard for truth, or for the integrity of the scientific community, clearly may dispute them. Austin has accumulated knowledge: the Cambrian System on an intercontinental scale is typically composed of quartzose sandstone, overlain by glauconitic sandstone with dark-brown shale, overlain by impure, light-brown limestones.

Some of his dissembling is only thinly disguised by the use of specialist words. Some fossils appear to be distinctive of certain systems [but] (most fossil taxa range through a few to several systems), he says. A taxon is a classification: Chordata, having a spinal cord, is a taxon of animals since the Cambrian.

Ken Ham’s picture may give some part of the motive.

l morality based on Bible

Beside the lie that only bad people, who if they were ever worshippers were never true Christians, would be gay, have an abortion or need a divorce, the lie that the geologic column is consistent with literal belief in Genesis 1 is tiny. Jesus warned against such people. The illusion may be comforting until the hapless believer is “bad”, suffers terror of being discovered, then is cast out.

Christianity not belief, but poetry

Belief has always been at the heart of Christianity. The problem with belief is that it can be false. It is necessary to have the correct belief, or you will go to hell, and lead others there too: that is the idealistic justification for burning heretics, to save their souls. We use the word “creed” as a metonymy for religion because the creed- including such things as “born of the Virgin Mary”- is so important. The Church of England is defined by the 39 Articles, additional essential belief; and the Church of Scotland by the Westminster Confession. Now Fundamentalists believe in the “inerrancy of Scripture,” which creates innumerable impossible things requiring Belief.

This makes Christianity impossibly fragile. If Noah could not have taken four million different species of beetle into the Ark, then Christianity cannot be true. Still, creationists attempt to argue that the World is less than ten thousand years old.

It also makes Christianity pernicious. If a child is brought up to believe in Adam as a historical figure, such that they refuse any evidence to the contrary, they make it difficult to function well in the world: any university degree should confront them with evidence refuting it.

If people were inspired to write about the nature of the world, I doubt anyone before 1800 could have comprehended that the local galaxies are moving at a thousand kilometres per second towards the Great Attractor. I had not heard of the Great Attractor before idly googling to get a link for this paragraph. I see the first article is from 1998 and may have been superseded- don’t take this as gospel: I was only looking for some figures to bamboozle.

Instead, we have stories. Gordon wrote on facebook this morning, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20).
This is not dogma, or doctrine, or theology, or magical or ‘supernatural’. It is a poetic expression of the realisation of the experience of coming together in community to share our lives with one another
. I agree. It does not matter whether Jesus said these words, and it is not necessary to imagine the Presence in the Midst literally. What matters is the experience of being together with this intention.

For me, Christianity in the 21st century has to get rid of belief entirely. The beliefs are so often impossible or ridiculous. Though when Hosea realised I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings he realised a better way for people to be together. Job suffered, purely because the world is like that; it does not mean he was bad; he is impossibly small, within the workings of the World; he realised this, stood up, and by his own efforts regained what he had lost. It is a story, and a worthwhile one.

the-serpent-satan-temps-eve

Madness and serfdom

Render unto Caesar-

Jeremy Bentham proposed The Panopticon, a prison of open cells around a central watch-tower. The prisoners could not see each other, but the guards in the tower might be looking in on them at any time. So they always had to conform, or they might be caught and punished further.

In the hospital, someone on suicide watch was followed all the time. The follower did not speak, or restrain the patient except by the locks on the outside door; but she could not escape watching, in case she could create something to self-harm from the things about her.

Now, the British state wants to read all our emails, subjecting them to increasingly sophisticated analysis software to spot anyone non-conforming, and my demonstrating against Trident- £100,000,000,000 to threaten the whole world with death, while children starve, and die of preventable disease, and are uneducated. My opposition to it is clearly insane, when the British Public want it, and it would be irresponsible and a vote loser for the Opposition actually to oppose it.

Caesar thinks everything is Caesar’s, yet some people can escape, a little. If you can make money, and support yourself, or better still if you can inherit it and your portfolio grows without your effort, then you can be allowed eccentricities.

Increasingly, not the rest of us. The welfare state must be whittled away to nothing. No-one is so sick or disabled that they should get benefits as unfit for work. We are forced into conformity, and watched in case we step out of line.

I am insane, for nothing I want makes sense, nothing is rational, I can make sensible arguments for none of it except I want it. “The heart has reasons which Reason cannot know.”

And to Goddess-

we are created in the image of God, loving, creative, powerful, beautiful, unique- none of us conforms, not really, none of us is sane, no-one fits the boxes and the square holes and Procrustes’ bed. All of us have that of God, which stubbornly refuses to fit. No-one has the full picture. Some want a nice, controllable God in a few mostly horrible verses of the Bible- “Slaves obey your masters”, that kind of thing, a God who is a greater bully than they are, a God for Caesar. I cannot give Caesar anything. I tried, I really did, and then I could not any longer, because God called me and being God’s was all I could bear

so I must rely on Goddess

VR The Coquette 2