THEODICY, RELIGION AND COMPASSION

THEODICY, RELIGION AND COMPASSION
explored from a Buddhist/Humanist Perspective IRC Conference July 20th 2019
John Baxter  2019. www.johnbaxter.org email johnbaxter119@nullgmail.org

For a long retired R.E. schoolteacher to be accepted by Dr Andrew Pinsent to present this paper at the IRC conference Compassion and Theodicy is much appreciated. I hope it will lead to a fruitful discussion.

The Role of SDA, Special Divine Action
The subject of this conference, Theodicy and Compassion appears to me to be based on the interest of Professor McGrath and Dr Pinsent in promoting a project they call SDA, Special Divine Action. In doing this they are supported it seems by Professor Harrison and Dr Sollereder and have all been influenced by the Biblical studies of Professor N.T. Wright..   So what is SDA?

As I understand it SDA is an assertion that the very order and regularity of the cosmos – which the scientist assumes and explores – points to that which is beyond it; God. However, that does not mean the whole process was set off “in the beginning” and that God stands back as it rolls on pre-determined. (Deism).  Instead SDA asserts that God is immanently present and active throughout the cosmos while at the same time nudging natural processes along in creative ways to achieve special evolutionary ends, like human consciousness. In addition on special occasions, and in order to mark some unique events, God brings about spectacular special results in order to encourage and inspire those he has chosen. Key examples of this they see in the miracles and resurrection of Jesus. Thus Dr Pinsent sees God making himself known to man by Grace, (sacraments ?) Inspiration (scriptures ?) and Providence (miracles and intervening in history?).

For Dr Pinsent this SDA view of God is crucial.  In fact he has said, “Without SDA Theology is dead.”

What of Theodicy
Theodicies have developed from the religions based on monotheism and each attempts to vindicate or provide examples of divine providence in the face of the existence of evil. SDA relates to theodicy in that it is a monotheistic and primarily Christian approach.  The problem monotheism faces in all its forms, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, is that we live in a world where unmerited suffering, horrible cruelty and unbearable pain – that is evil – is all too obvious. How then can this be reconciled with the actions of a loving, all powerful, all knowing God?

Here we remember that besides the three related monotheisms “a series of religions arose in the millennium before the common era that maintained that the superhuman order governing the world is the product of natural laws and not of divine wills.”[1] Harari lists 9. For the sake of brevity I refer to two.  The Buddha Way and, following him, Humanism.

Theodicy and the Buddha Way – A Theravada Perspective
Over 2,500 years the Buddha Way has crossed major political, linguistic, religious and cultural boundaries, without recourse to war, to become the first truly world religion.

Gotama, the “Enlightened One, the One Who Knows,” lived in India around 450 BCE and his teachings and practice was revolutionary. While not denying the existence of any Indian god or deva, he refrained from worship, offering prayers or sacrifices, consulting oracles, astrology or other fortune telling methods.  He also questioned belief in an immortal soul (atman) and disapproved of claims to perform “miracles” like levitation saying it was a distraction from investigating the real issue, the cause and cure of dukkha. This is over-simply translated as “suffering”, but better seen as alienation, dis-ease, mental and physical pain and misery.

Considering himself no god or spokesman of god, his focus was on understanding our nature and condition as human beings and how we cause misery for ourselves and others as we live in a world in which so much goes wrong.  His aim was the training of the mind, the development of insight and responsible compassionate behaviour.

He pointed out that dukkha, is inescapable. Disease, old age and death are the fate of everyone regardless of who we are or what we have and we attempt to evade them by craving false forms of happiness.

Our cravings can be acquisitive as in forms of greed and more or less subtle patterns of addictive behaviour, negative, forms of hatred, anger self-loathing and denial, and most seriously, forms of delusion, error, fantasy, blindness and prejudice. He also emphasised that we can choose and our intentional actions and thoughts, kamma, have inescapable moral consequences. [2] What is needed for true happiness is to tame craving and attain balance and a true “middle way” between greed and hatred based on seeing things as they really are so we can act compassionately, dispassionately, honestly and responsibly.

Despite Gotama’s focus on “the problem of dukkha/suffering”, theodicy has no place in his teaching for his Way has no place for God, though speculations about kamma and “rebirth” can vary between traditional and contemporary Buddhists. [3] On one point in contrast to Brahmanical religion, Gotama was very clear. The operation of kamma and its effects cannot be predicted except in the most general way. (hatred breeds hatred)  In particular it does not justify the Indian caste/varna system which he rejected.

Humanism
Many if not most people in the UK today class themselves according to the census as “having no religion”[4], unbelievers or humanists.  Harare [5] describes how Humanism has become the default position in Western cultures, how wide its influence has become and the different forms it has taken and the threats it now faces.  This I find an illuminating, and provocative piece of writing which I commend.

The organisation Humanists UK states in the words of Andrew Copson, chief executive officer: “We advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.” (note even here ceremonies and rituals are proving highly popular.)

It keeps its programme restricted to five campaigns: Against “faith” schools and unregistered schools, Pro Secularism, Human rights and equality, Legal humanist marriages, and open Religious Education.  Against Bishops in the House of Lords, and pro Assisted dying.

It has among its growing membership many prominent scientists and philosophers (Professors Jim Al Khalili, Alice Roberts and Brian Cox, and yes Richard Dawkins and several other media luminaries.) Its basic stance is “non-religious” in that most members are atheistic or agnostic and consider that this is the only life we have.  They do not, as Harare and I do, speak of Humanism as a religion, but rather as a life-stance or world -view.

It is not anti-religious, but is in favour of the sort of open, multi-faith, multi-life-stance Religious Education that I spent my teaching career practicing and which was promoted particularly by Professor Ninian Smart and now continues to be promoted by his successor at Lancaster, Professor Linda Woodhead.

Humanists see evil as being the result of human choices and the future and wellbeing of humanity as being in our hands alone and so again it has no place for a theodicy.

This means the Buddha Way and modern liberal Humanism can be quite compatible because of the centrality they both give to our humanity, the alleviation of pain and suffering and the promotion of a happy, balanced life.

Special Divine Action
The SDA approach with its interventionist or “hands on” view of God came to me as a shock as I became aware of it for it appears to have ignored so much that I thought the historical critical study of religion and the philosophy of religion and science had achieved. I was at Oxford (1963-64) and David Jenkins then lectured brilliantly on the Old Testament before he went to Durham as bishop.  Since then his successor to the seat, Professor Tom Wright, I think it is fair to say, has done all he can to obliterate his memory and assert SDA.[6]

So why am I unhappy about SDA?

  1. Without SDA Theology is Dead.” Does the “truth” of Christianity really depend on miracles seen as external, historical events needed to trigger belief? No other religion relies on them in anything like the same way. Jesus, (Mt 4v5) like the Buddha, appears to reject the spiritual or moral weight of appeals to “miracles.”.(Is “love your neighbour” more true because you think the man who said it could turn water into wine or because he demonstrated what it means in the way he lived and died?)
  2. 2. SDA also “proves” too much. It allows for a God who intervenes with acts of Grace, Inspiration and Providence all over the place from the New Testament miracles to Lourdes, Fatima,(Beloved of St John Paul) charismatic healings, visions and prophesies. How do you differentiate these from “superstition”, “magic” and non-Christian “miracles”? Are some of them perhaps “demonic”, works of “the powers of darkness”?
  3. Christianity the Only True Religion? Those who advocate SDA when speaking of Science and Religion appear to equate Religion only with Christianity and to assume a clearly “faith based” Christian viewpoint.
  4. 4. The SDA approach is siloed. In the majority of work I have seen on the subject (including work by Professor McGrath) there appears to be little or no reference to the history and experiences of other religions. This seriously undermines credibility.
  5. SDA appears to define Christianity in narrow terms as if both the Catholic and Anglican traditions are much more narrowly “orthodox” than in fact they are and have been. All “liberal” theology is denigrated or ignored.(Davd Jenkins, Leslie Houlden, Karen Armstrong, Hans Kung, Geza Vermes etc.)
  6. It appears to treat the Jewish and Christian scriptures as “divinely inspired”in a unique way (why not the Koran, the Vedas or the Pali Canon?) or with an understanding of “miracles” and the “resurrection of Jesus” as being objective observable “facts.” (As N.T. Wright does.) Is this really historically or scientifically credible or theologically necessary?
  7. The SDA approach appears to be telling those who do not accept scriptural accounts of miraculous events as failing to recognise genuine evidence about how the cosmos works.
  8. Despite the attempts of Professor Harrison (Science Without God?) to blur the distinction between “natural” and “supernatural” events, SDA appears to be no more than an attempt to re-assert SDI Supernatural Divine Interventions as something to be accepted “in the real world.”
  9. SDA also asserts there is a “conflict between science and religion.” I see only a conflict between SDA style Christianity and science. I see no conflict between the historical-critical study of religion and the sciences both “hard” and “soft” which are learning from each other constantly.
  10. Overall then The SDA Approach seems to me to be blinkered in its exclusive focus on Christianity. Its proponents under-estimate the shifts in world views that take place over time and it seems biased against the metaphorical, symbolic and psychological interpretations of religious texts, rituals and practices. Instead it assumes historical external events are needed to trigger belief and faith and it is in favour of “objective” and literal interpretations, at the cost of blurring any distinction between magic and science.

Is SDA Acceptable to Serious Scientists who do not come from a religious background?

Here I think of Professor Marcus du Sautoy (successor to Professor Dawkins) who writes:

“I reject the existence of a supernatural intelligence that intervenes in the evolution of the universe.  This is a rejection of the God people assign strange properties to – such as compassion, wisdom, love – which makes no sense when it comes to the idea that I am exploring.” [7]  The idea he is exploring is that “God” might be a good name for that which we cannot ever know.  

I also think of Professor Martin Rees who rejects the resurrection “as an historical and physical event” as his old teacher Professor Polkinghorne does, but sees himself as “an unbelieving Christian” and member of the Church of England. He thinks atheists and theists have much in common and can work together, a position I strongly commend.

With these criticisms in mind then let us turn to the monotheistic theodicies.

Theodicy from the Jews to Paul. Life After Death and End of the World
The Jewish Scriptures have many examples of attempts at theodicy in the utterances of the prophets such as Job, Isaiah and Amos. Two connected examples of theodicy cast a very long shadow. They are combined by Paul in Romans 8:18-25

 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

This “glory” as is made quite clear in his letters, refers to the “life everlasting” or “eternal life” that the Christian can expect to experience after death, or as he strongly believed, in the imminent arrival of the End of the World, the Day of Judgement, the Eschaton, the Parousia. It is then when the risen Jesus, who Paul had never met “in the flesh” but worshipped as “Son of God and Saviour of the World,” would return.

It is this Eschatology, these speculations about a Day of Judgement and how God will provide his chosen with a “resurrection body” to compensate them for suffering and death that makes up the dominant theodicy of Paul and the New Testament he was so influential in creating.

“Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” [8] So he comes to establish his Kingdom, reward his faithful followers, and punish the damned.[9]

How the Eschatological SDA Theodicy Developed

This dramatic, dark vision of a Day of Judgement was first adapted by Jews from Zoroastrianism it seems. They used it to encourage themselves in the face of national humiliation and persecution at the hands of the Greek Seleucids and then of the Roman invasion of Palestine. It was taken up by the Pharisees and Zealots (referred to in the Gospels,) then by John the Baptist, by Jesus himself and of course Paul who got it directly from the Pharisees.  How many of them took it all literally as SDA we will never know, but it seems Paul and those who followed him did.

When after Paul’s death the expected cataclysm failed to materialise the Jerusalem Temple fell and the Western Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire, the Jews seemed to have de-emphasised Apocalyptic speculation instead focusing on Talmudic study and the building up of synagogues in order to maintain their identity in the Diaspora.

[10]The Christian Life after Death Theodicy
The Christians then also played down their expectations of an imminent Apocalypse and instead focused on preparing for immortality. A theodicy developed which emphasises that all who turn to Christ and are baptised into the One True Church, regardless of their sufferings and sins in this life, can expect the reward of salvation. This would be both now and in the next life when they would join Jesus in Heaven. Finally they would also receive a “resurrection body”. Such a theodicy continues to satisfy millions today., though Marx saw it as “false consciousness.”

The Apocalyptic SDA Theodicy Resurfaces Among Christians
The earlier Apocalyptic Theodicy seen as SDA has not gone away and keeps resurfacing. This has happened at times of extreme crisis like the Black Death and the 30 Years War. It also jumped to North America with a series of “Great Awakenings” and the growth of Millenarian Sects, Adventists, Mormons and Witnesses. All saw signs of the imminent coming of the end of the world.

Now it is linked with supporting Israel as born-again Bible Believing Evangelicals await Jesus’ Second Coming to Jerusalem when the Jews will see the error of their ways and accept him as their Messiah – and Son of God.[11]  This also appears to be what N.T. Wright believes. He calls this “Life after Life After Death and speaks of Christians on death being in a suspended state with God – not as souls in heaven- until the “real” return of Jesus when they will be raised with transformed bodies to live with Christ on a real transformed, perfected earth where the satanic powers of evil have been vanquished. Here you have the ultimate SDA vision.[12]

All this was clearly the view of the American pastor Trump brought over to speak at the ceremony when the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel was announced. He did this in order to play to his Evangelical backers back home who are now seeing the godless Trump as “Harbinger of the Apocalypse.”[13]

This approach would however have been no surprise to his Israeli audience. They know that smiling and listening to this Christian theodicy of immanent SDA is the price they need pay for receiving vast quantities of American military aid.  They, however, as Jews have been faced with the enormity of the Holocaust and of wondering what possible theodicy they could have to deal with that.

Theodicy and the Holocaust
The Russian Jewish scholar Eduard Borysov has written an illuminating online paper entitled Theodicy and the Holocaust, a Critical Evaluation. In it he reviews contemporary Jewish attempts to construct a theodicy in which God’s chosen people become the victims of mass annihilation. After noting Jacob Neusner’s view “There are no implications for Jewish theology (of the Holocaust) or Jewish community life which was not present before 1933.” This is because the Jews had already for centuries been so badly persecuted that the Holocaust changed nothing when it comes to attempting a theodicy. Still, attempts to deal with a theodicy Borysov  finds divide into three groups.

  1. Attempts at a Jewish Theodicy of the Holocaust
    He notes some assert it is “because of our sins we were punished” and “Auschwitz is our just retribution.” Then there is the substitutionary theory. “The Holocaust is the ultimate in vicarious atonement.  Israel is the “suffering servant” of Isaiah  [14] and “Jews are the ultimate atonement.  Jews had to suffer for the loss of (their) faith (in God) and the secularisation that had been taking place amongst them.”

Then Borysov notes there are those who have created a “positive theodicy”in seeing the birth of the State of Israel as a justification for the “sacrifice that was offered in the crematoriums.” In fact he points out either as a religious theodicy or as a secular Zionist way of thinking, the setting up of the State of Israel for Jews and the denial of the rights of Palestinians to own or return to their land is seen as the will of God and justifiable because of the Holocaust.  In fact such thinking has become almost normative in Israel and amongst diaspora Jews.

  1. Creating A Holocaust Theodicy is Questionable

Borysov’s second group is one he places himself in for they reject “any utterance that attributes spiritual or moral “meaning” to (such a) genuine evil, or any attempt to “redeem suffering.”
He then quotes Berkovitz:  “The Holocaust is the maximization of human evil, the price mankind has to pay for human freedomThe Nazis were human beings not gods: Auschwitz reflects ignominiously on humanity. It does not touch on God’s existence or perfection.” And a final quote from Arthur Cohen: “The Holocaust is an inscrutable mystery.  Like all of God’s ways it transcends human understanding and demands faith and silence.”

  1. Any Holocaust Theodicy is Impossible
    This is Borysov’s third reaction. He quotes Richard Rubenstein whose book After Auschwitz 1966 was widely read: “The Holocaust is proof that God is dead – if there were a God, He would surely have prevented Auschwitz; if he did not, then He does not exist.”

The thread uniting God and Man, heaven and earth, has been broken.  We stand in a cold, silent, unfeeling cosmos, unaided by any powerful power beyond our own resources.  After Auschwitz, what else can a Jew say about God?”

“Human life is purposeless and void of any transcendental aim … the meaning of life can and should be construed only subjectively.  The Jews must abandon their theological illusions and create meaning for life in their own community.”

Borysov concludes: “In spite of my disagreement with the atheism of Rubenstein, I need to acknowledge that his logic and criticisms of the traditional theists are well grounded and thought-provoking.  Moreover, he does not just deconstruct theodicy for the sake of destroying it, but he provides an alternative meaning for life – that a Jew needs to identify (himself as a member) in his religious community.”

These Jewish responses are surely relevant for Christian theologians reflecting on the Holocaust.

Theodicy and belief in SDA in Islam
And what of Theodicy in Islam? Many stories, themes and personalities from both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures have been incorporated into the Koran and the Hadith. As well as promoting a vividly described Paradise and Hell for a life after death theodicy, these include the idea of an apocalyptic Day of Judgement and of (Jesus/Isa) returning to Jerusalem to establish his rule by SDA – so leading to mass conversions to Islam!

For most Muslim history however, these Last Days teachings have been peripheral.  Now with the revival of Islam initiated by Sayyid Qutb and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as they smarted under Western political, economic and cultural dominance, this apocalyptic theodicy has been revived and used to deadly effect in the al Quadea reactions against Western dominance seen first for the West in the 11-9-2001 Twin Towers attack.

Subsequently it has been taken further in the brutal “theology” and exultant violence displayed on social media by the supporters of an Islamic State “New Caliphate” who think that the establishment of an uncompromisingly brutal and fundamentalist state will trigger SDA and hasten the return of Jesus/Isa and universal conversion to Islam. The vast majority of Muslims of course see these actions as a deranged betrayal of their faith.

Compassion, Sympathy, Fellow Feeling, Love
Given the shapes these two theodicies (Life after Death and Day of Judgement) have taken, can they they related to and inform teachings on compassion across the religions?

For the Jews
Compassion in the Jewish scriptures is always linked to justice and the support of the poor. This has been seen as primarily devoted to family and other members of “the chosen people.”, but not exclusively. In addition their monotheism has lead them to recognise that all men are looked after by God in a Noachic Covenant” and that even working animals deserve rest on the Sabbath and that the “stranger” deserves to be treated justly and with compassion.  They however are in a special Covenant Relationship with God who they expect will show them some favour if they seek to observe the Torah.
Their treatment at the hands of Christendom has however been pretty dire and the Holocaust took their suffering and extermination to a whole new level.  Despite this when it comes to practical compassion the Jews remain by far the biggest givers to all forms of charity and their contributions to western culture and society have been out of all proportion to their numbers.

Syria, Palestine, Israel and the Three Related SDA Eschatologies
Despite this generosity the Jews’ very successes have provoked the ugly and persistent blight of “anti-semitism” meaning hatred of Jews for being Jews.  This, has been made worse by the setting up of the Jewish State of Israel in Palestine. Now we see the three related monotheistic theodicies of the Eschaton, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, each being used with its own version of SDA to justify violence and intolerance towards each other on a massive scale, so contributing to make the world a very dangerous place as terrible local wars drag on which could go nuclear.

Compassion for the Muslims
Compassion has been focussed on members of the Ummah, the Islamic Community which has always been open for anyone to join who accepts Allah and his Prophet.  Christians and Jews as People of the Book were tolerated with more or less respect if they paid a tax and on occasion Jews were encouraged to settle in Muslim lands, though not since the establishment of Israel on formerly Muslim ruled land. This is seen as against the will of Allah by virtually all Muslims.
For Muslims Zakat means payment to support the poor and is regarded as a primary religious duty.  For those outside the Ummah, such as Buddhists, Hindus and currently Christians, toleration can be “very limited” where Muslims form the majority.

For Christians and Humanists
Jesus taught that God is father of everyone and every hair on our heads is numbered. Love your neighbour as your self means even the heretic, the pagan, the adulteress or yes, your enemy. Similar to Gotama Jesus said, “In as much as you do this to these the least of my brothers, you do it to me.”(Mt 25.40) This, together with Paul’s baptism of pagans advertised that Christianity was and is open to all, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female in a Universal Church. This council of perfection has in practice been hard to take for Christians when it has come to slaves, women and those wishing for same sex relationships.

Humanism in the West
Bereft of the Buddhist focus on our humanity, Western Humanism has grown out of the Christian inspired view of seeing every person as being of “ultimate value”, so promoting universal brotherhood/sisterhood, human rights and interdependence, even as the Enlightenment challenged belief in God and supernatural.SDA as the traditional Christian and Jewish theodicies lost credibility.

When it comes to compassion, humanists simply see empathy and morality as natural and incline towards promoting happiness, personal fulfillment and avoiding suffering. (Utilitarianism  Bentham and Mill)  To survive humans have evolved to take care of each other and find meaning in doing so. William Beveridge, who promoted pensions, social security and the setting up of the NHS, to provide free medical care for all, saw himself as a “materialist agnostic”.

For Buddhists the moral goals are Metta – Loving kindness, Karuna – Compassion, Mudita – Altruistic Joy, Upekkha – Equanimity
Rejecting the varnas or castes of Hindu society Gotama taught that the path to “true nobility” was open to all, men and women, rich and poor, regardless of class or religious background. In his promotion of the Noble Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths and the Five Moral Precepts (evade killing, stealing, adultery, lying and drugs) he spelt out how to do this in quite easily memorised form.  Generosity and compassion for others he taught is the first step on the Path, with the practice of moral living as the second and reflective awareness or meditation as the third. This  includes compassion towards one’s own body, feelings and emotions and his key teaching is that self-centredness is the greatest cause of suffering for the individual and those around. All this is simply based upon reflecting on our humanity for he drew no clear dividing line between Buddhist and others.

What is more he saw religious tolerance as something fundamental if religious choice is to be preserved. He also set up the monastic Sangha as a symbiotic community of renunciates, totally dependent on the generosity of lay supporters. This, the first and oldest religious order provides a radically simplified life-style and a deeper training in meditation to preserve and communicate the Way. In the West this has led to a growing interest in and practice of Buddhist meditation by Western teachers, monastic and lay, which has now taken off in the Mindfulness Movement started in the US by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn and then here by Professor Mark Williams who launched the Oxford Mindfulness Centre with its links to the  university and the Warnford Hospital. Professor Williams is also an Anglican priest and Canon of Christ Church. An interesting and significant development.

Theodicy and Compassion. Are There Links?
My conclusion is that I can see no link between the SDA eschatologies of the theistic religions and their often admirable moral teaching and practice which in many ways overlaps with that of both the Buddha Way and secular Humanism and this seems to me a good thing for they have led us to a toxic place.

Religions for a Dark Future?
Gotama from the start taught respect for the environment, plant life and animals and encouraged (without demanding) vegetarianism. All forms of life are protected on Buddhist monastic lands.  He did not foresee the dire catastrophe we now face – global warming, population growth, climate change, and multiple planet and life endangering threats, all getting worse year by year.

Apocalypse Now and Special Divine Action?
Since writing my first draft of this paper several months ago the situation has deteriorated. Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough together with Pope Francis have been trying to wake us up.to the total cataclysm we are now facing. I think we and the Ian Ramsey Centre should be taking this very seriously.

So, should we now wait for the Jewish, Christian or Muslim theodicies of Divine Intervention and End of the World to come true and expect Special Divine Action to intervene with the coming of “Christ” in a literal sense? Or do we need to put SDA aside and recognise that whatever our religion, path or background we need to recognise that we stand “unaided by any power beyond our own resources,” and must act together

5,066 words.  John Baxter 10/07/2019

My basic understanding of religion is based on Geertz, Smart, Diamond and Harare.

RELIGION All religions are prescriptive belief systems which sustain and create communities. They are multi-faceted and communicate through shared stories, ceremonies, symbols, rules of behaviour, music and singing.  Using all of these and possibly more, they facilitate an apprehension that transcends the individual as to what reality is and how we should respond to it and to each other.  As products of human evolution and the way our brains work, they enable our species to share values and co-operate with each other on a scale no other species can.

 A list of some of the books I have found significant.
Alister Kee. The Way of Transcendence. Christian Faith Without Belief in God. 1971 1985, SCM press. A brilliant book that influenced me deeply.  Too radical for Oxford, he proved himself in Edinburgh. Unlike me he remained a Christian.

Harvey Cox. The Secular City. 1965. A must read at the time predicting growing secularisation as inevitable and positive. Too optimistic but ground-breaking.

Don Cupitt. The Sea of Faith. BBC 1984. Followed Kee but never acknowledged him and set off a post theistic mainly Anglican movement.  Now much diminished.

Marcus du Sautoy. What We Cannot Know. From Consciousness to the Cosmos, the cutting edge of science explained. 4th Estate 2016.  Professor of Maths and the Public Understanding of Science, Oxford. Excellent.

Jared Diamond. The World Until Yesterday. 2012. Allen lane. Part 5. The most brilliant and comprehensive exploration of the nature of Religion I have read.

Ninian Smart and Stephen Konstantine. Christian Systematic Theology in a world context. First Fortress Press. 1991. Theology with no SDA written from a World Religions perspective. Very influential for thinking about Religious Studies.

Charles Clarke and Linda Woodhead. A New Settlement: Religion and Belief in Schools. www.faithdebates.org 2014.  An excellent paper on Religious Education in Schools pointing out its importance in a religiously and culturally diverse society. Rejected by the Catholic Church and Orthodox Jews. Ignored by the Conservatives who see votes in “faith schools”. Supported by Humanists UK.

Walpola Sri Rahula. What the Buddha Taught. 1959. One World, Oxford. “By far the best introduction to Buddhism available”. Prof R.F. Gombrich. Brought me to the Buddha Way.

R.F. Gombrich. What the Buddha Thought. 2009. Equinox. Professor Gombrich shows why he thinks the Buddha “one of the most brilliant and original thinkers of all time.”

Stephen Batchelor. Confession of a Buddhist Atheist 2010 Spiegel and Grau. Partly autobiographical it tells how he arrived at a position very similar to my own.

Yuval Noah Harare. Sapiens.  A Brief History of Humankind 2011 and Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow. 2015 Vintage.  Spellbinding. Just because he has sold millions of copies don’t be a snob. Read them. Intellectual roller-coaster. Analysis and speculations about Humanism and our future in Homo Deus.

Martin Rees. On the Future. Prospects for Humanity. 2017  Decidedly scary.

David Wallace-Wells The Uninhabitable Earth. 2019. All the latest dreadful facts on Global Warming

Alister McGrath. Dawkins, God, Genes, Memes 2005 Blackwell and the Meaning of Life. 2017 Hodder.  He writes from an exclusively Christian  and I think  SDA viewpoint never accepting that most of Dawkins’ criticisms of the blind faith of believers is justified. Many Humanists and Buddhists agree with his criticism of idealism and the myth of progress.

See also Dr Taede Smedas. Groningen University, Netherlands. Why is Special Divine Action a Problem? IRC video. Quite brilliant. With impressive scholarship he questions all the assumptions made by those who promote SDA. Only heard when my paper was completed.

[1] Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens p249

[2] Gombrich, What the Buddha Thought p27

[3] Batchelor. Buddhism Without Beliefs

[4] For the first time, more than half the population say they have no religion, and the generation gap on religious affiliation is widening, according to the British Social Attitudes survey 2017.

[5] Yuval Noah Harari.  Homo Deus. Ch 7 The Humanist Revolution

[6] Baxter.  Is Wright Wrong? www.johnbaxter.org. Wright asserts divinely authenticated and inspired scriptures, “breathed out by God” p11 Wright. Why Read the Bible, and sees miracles as “a series of concrete events in actual history.” p20

[7]  Du Sautoy. What We Cannot Know p147

[8] Rev. 1:7

[9] See Daniel and Mt 25;46

[10] Mk.13

[11] Sutton. American Apocalypse

[12] N.T Wright. Heaven and Rapture Theology.  U Tube.

[13] Christina Magda, Newsweek 1-12-18

[14]  Isaiah Ch53 f.

BREXIT Some thoughts. 25-1-19

Despite the defeat of her deal by 230 votes – May seems to ignore this by continuing to discuss only her deal or no deal.  She does this to prevent her party from splitting.  The danger which gets worse daily is that this no deal “default option” may go through on the 29th of March destroying trust in our Parliamentary democracy to prevent us from a catastrophic, irrational and irreparable step as we are forced out of the EU by a very small minority of pro-Brexit at any price MPs.    So what  needs to be done to stop this happening?

Continue reading

ANVIL Wed. 19th Sept. ATHEISM the case. Dr Greg Atkins, Graham Stride

This session consisted in Greg emphasising the need for a science based approach to deciding what is true and real and concluding that all forms of supernaturalism and belief in gods ,, one god, spirits and miracles are not based on evidence.  Graham responded that as he saw it there is far more too life than what can be weighted and measured by science and that intuitively many believe as he does that behind all that is happening there is a compassionate God .  Continue reading

ANVIL April 11th Homo Deus. Presenter John Baxter, Responder Greg Atkins

Summary Notes on HOMO DEUS. A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari 2015  written by John Baxter March 2018. 5,814 words 9 pages so worth printing off.

 These notes simply seek to summarise Homo Deus as an aid to understanding the book’s challenging ideas.  It is not a review for I do not here judge what he says.   It is an aid not a substitute for reading the book and his equally challenging SAPIENS.   Continue reading

SURVIVING NAPOLEON

Yes, as some of you know for the last two years I have been working on researching and then writing up, the life story of the amazing but almost unknown soldier of Napoleon and Clockmaker of Wincanton, Alberto Bioletti. I have done this in the form of an historical novel told as if by him in the first person. My 350p work is now self-published and on Amazon. For more details see the page above on Bioletti