Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Godless Morality

I have been reading Richard Holloway. He was Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but he resigned that position in 2000. He now calls himself an "after-religionist".  A friend of mine is quite a fan of his and I was to have coffee with him, so I "Googled" Richard Holloway and found lectures, interviews and talks he had done.  I am now reading and enjoying a book of his. After a 1998 Lambeth Conference where the issue of gay priests/marriage etc. was debated, he wrote a book entitled "Godless Morality". I have not read the book but have listened to him talking about it. He had been shocked and shaken by the hatred generated in the Church debates and decided that various people trumping arguments by saying, "God says..." and giving their interpretation of the scriptures was problematic. He proposed that we can discuss morality in a human way without using "God".  This book caused shock waves in his Church and the reaction was such that he decided to resign. He is an entertaining and thought provoking speaker, thinker and writer. 
As I sat in Church a couple of Sundays ago listening to, in my arrogant opinion, a poorly presented and prepared sermon, the preacher quoted a text that got me thinking about Richard Holloway's position. It was Mark 2: 27. There is a debate and criticism of Jesus because he and his disciples had not kept some rules about what is permissible on the sabbath. ("God says!") The conclusion of Jesus' answer goes like this, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath." As I sat in Church reflecting on that, distracted from the sermon, I thought, "That is essentially what Richard Holloway is saying!"  He is saying in a sense "If it expresses mercy (compassion) and is something good for humans it is OK and 'of God', whatever the religious rules and institutions say." We are freed from hide bound, and sometimes time bound religious "rights and wrongs" to do our own thinking, guided by compassion - that which is good for humankind, for fulfillment and fulness of life. In the same debate reported in Matthew's Gospel part of Jesus' answer is "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". It confirmed to me that the spirit of Holloway's thinking is in line with the spirit of Jesus' teaching. Both are religious rebels in their time. 
The Dave Andrews quote that I have on my blog page is relevant...

"The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God's heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe.
It means developing our capacity to sense intuitively what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and diminish the pain."

A good sermon.. good people who "own" their Church.
Yesterday the visiting preacher at our little local Church was a retired pacific island minister, for whom English was not his first language. He read his sermon, but it was well thought out and delivered with passion. He talked about "the priesthood of all believers" as being central to the reformation of the Church. Us being servants of one another in our Churches and communities. I have been critical of the preachers visiting us, but yesterday I enjoyed his presentation and passion. After Church they have a cup of tea and most often some home baking. The person appointed for that day works shift work so couldn't attend, but she had forgotten to arrange a stand in. There was no milk and nothing to eat. Within a flash three older women, without consulting, had dashed home, procured milk and raided their baking and biscuits and with much laughter and good humour, we were generously catered for. I thought that was great, not that it would have hurt us to go without. It showed their sense of responsibility toward each other. There is a good "feel" of down to earth friendship amongst the small group. They are small in number, mostly elderly but they are "alive". I keep thinking, Jesus changed history with just twelve people.

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