Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Scorpion

There once was an old Indian man who used to meditate each day be the River Ganges. One morning he saw a scorpion floating on the water. When the scorpion drifted near the old man he reached to rescue it but was stung by the scorpion. A bit later he tried again and was stung again, the bite swelling his hand painfully and giving him much pain.

Another man passing by saw what was happening and yelled at the old man, “Hey, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?” The old man calmly replied, “My friend, just it is in the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”

It is in God’s nature to save – because it is in God’s nature to love. God seeks the lost, heals the wounded, forgives the offender, and gives hope to those who are in despair. It is what God does. It matters not that we might be scorpions – that we might hurt him – God has made promises to us – and he keeps them.

That is what the story of the cross is all about. St Paul writing to Timothy says: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

Our purpose – the purpose God calls us to – is to save as well: – to change our minds about the destruction we want to bring about when we feel hurt, – to relent of the anger we have, and to work to save others as God has saved us, us who are sinners no less than those whom we are angry at.

Someone once wrote of having been on an ocean liner headed to the Middle East. Nine hundred miles out to sea a sail was sighted on the horizon. As the liner drew closer, the passengers saw that the boat – a small sloop flying a Turkish flag – had run up a distress signal and other flags asking for its position at sea. Through a faulty chronometer or immature navigation, the small vessel had become lost.

For nearly an hour, the liner circled the little boat, giving its crew correct latitude and longitude. Naturally, there was a great deal of interest in all the proceeding among the passengers of the liner. A boy of about 12 standing on the deck and watching all that was taking place remarked aloud to himself – “It’s a big ocean to be lost in.”

It is a big universe to be lost in too. And we do get lost – we get mixed up and turned around. We despair, we make mistakes, we harm each other

But while it is a big universe out there it is not a hostile one – at least not on God’s part. God’s wrath does not last forever – indeed it barely lasts but a moment for God remembers who we are, what we are made of, and whose we are, and it is in his nature – even when dealing with scorpions – to seek the lost, to save the sinner and have compassion on those seek his shelter.

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Nevertheless

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Reverend Sandy Strachan who is going to talk about his work as a healthcare chaplain. Some of you may have met him if you’ve been in hospital as a patient or visitor…”

“He’s rubbish and his jokes are terrible”

“Nevertheless… I gives me great pleasure..”

“Gives me no pleasure at all”

“He’s a patter-merchant with a line in corny stories which he’ll tell over again tonight”

“Nevertheless…..”

“Good Evening, everyone – can you all hear me?”

“Aye, but I’m willing to change chairs with someone who can’t”

“Nevertheless…….

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Will you come and follow me

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May 31, 2013 · 18:03

From a Distance

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May 31, 2013 · 17:49

Mexican Jews

Sid and Max were sitting in a Mexican restaurant.

Sid asked Max, “Are there any Jews in Mexico”?

I don’t know,” Sid replied. “Why don’t we ask the waiter?”

When the waiter came by, Max asked him, “Are there any Mexican Jews?”

“I don’t know Señor, let me ask,” the waiter replied, and he went into the kitchen.

He returned in a few minutes and said, “No, Señor. No Mexican Jews.”

“Are you sure?” Max asked.

“I will check again, Señor,” the waiter replied and went back to the kitchen.

While he was still gone, Sid said, “I cannot believe there are no Jews in Mexico. Our people are scattered everywhere.”

When the waiter returned he said, “Señor, no Mexican Jews.”

Are you really sure?” Max asked again. “I cannot believe there are no Mexican Jews.”

“Señor, I asked everyone,” the waiter replied exasperated. “We have Orange Jews, Prune Jews, Tomato Jews and Grape Jews, but no one ever heard of Mexican Jews!”

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The Meaning of Life

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May 31, 2013 · 17:29

Sociology of Religion

Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The role of belief in religion is greatly overstated, as anthropologists have long known. In 1912, Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern social science, argued that religion arose as a way for social groups to experience themselves as groups. He thought that when people experienced themselves in social groups they felt bigger than themselves, better, more alive — and that they identified that aliveness as something supernatural. Religious ideas arose to make sense of this experience of being part of something greater. Durkheim thought that belief was more like a flag than a philosophical position: You don’t go to church because you believe in God; rather, you believe in God because you go to church.

–ooOOoo–

Emile Durkheim –
The Sociology of Religion

Durkheim’s earlier concern with social regulation was in the main focused on the more external forces of control, more particularly legal regulations that can be studied, so he argued, in the law books and without regard to individuals. Later he was led to consider forces of control that were internalized in individual consciousness. Being convinced that “society has to be present within the individual,” Durkheim, following the logic of his own theory, was led to the study of religion, one of the forces that created within individuals a sense of moral obligation to adhere to society’s demands.

Durkheim had yet another motive for studying the functions of religion–namely, concern with mechanisms that might serve to shore up a threatened social order. In this respect he was in quest of what would today be described as functional equivalents for religion in a fundamentally a-religious age.

Durkheim stands in the line of succession of a number of French thinkers who pondered the problem of the loss of faith. From the days when the Jacobins had destroyed Catholicism in France and then attempted to fill the ensuing moral void by inventing a synthetic Religion of Reason, to Saint-Simon’s New Christianity and Comte’s Religion of Humanity, French secular thinkers had grappled with the modern problem of how public and private morality could be maintained without religious sanctions. They had asked, just like Ivan Karamasov: “Once God is dead, does not everything become permissible?” Durkheim would not have phrased the question in such language, but he was concerned with a similar problem. In the past, he argued, religion had been the cement of society–the means by which men had been led to turn from the everyday concerns in which they were variously enmeshed to a common devotion to sacred things. By thus wrenching men from the utilitarian preoccupations of daily life, religion had been the anti-individualistic for par excellence, inspiring communal devotion to ethical ends that transcended individual purposes. But if the reign of traditional religious orientations had now ended, what would take their place? Would the end of traditional religion be a prelude to the dissolution of all moral community into a state of universal breakdown and anomie?

Such questions intensified Durkheim’s concern with the sociology of religion, adding to the intrinsic interest he had in terms of the internal logic of his system. Basic to his theory is the stress on religious phenomena as communal rather than individual. “A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” In contrast to William James, for example, Durkheim was not concerned with the variety of religious experience of individuals but rather with the communal activity and the communal bonds to which participation in religious activities gives rise.

Durkheim argued that religious phenomena emerge in any society when a separation is made between the sphere of the profane–the realm of everyday utilitarian activities–and the sphere of the sacred–the area that pertains to the numenous, the transcendental, the extraordinary. An object is intrinsically neither sacred nor profane. It becomes the one or the other depending on whether men choose to consider the utilitarian value of the object or certain intrinsic attributes that have nothing to do with its instrumental value. The wine at mass has sacred ritual significance to the extent that it is considered by the believer to symbolize the blood of Christ; in this context it is plainly not a beverage. Sacred activities are valued by the community of believers not as means to ends, but because the religious community has bestowed their meaning on them as part of its worship. Distinctions between the spheres of the sacred and the profane are always made by groups who band together in a cult and who are united by their common symbols and objects of worship. Religion is “an eminently collective thing.” It binds men together, as the etymology of the word religion testifies.

But if religion, the great binding force, is on its deathbed, how then can the malady of modern society, its tendency to disintegrate, be upheld? Here Durkheim accomplished one of his most daring analytical leaps. Religion, he argued, is not only a social creation, but it is in fact society divinized. In a manner reminiscent of Feuerbach, Durkheim stated that the deities which men worship together are only projections of the power of society. Religion is eminently social: it occurs in a social context, and, more importantly, when men celebrate sacred things, they unwittingly celebrate the power of their society. This power so transcends their own existence that they have to give it sacred significance in order to visualize it.

If religion in its essence is a transcendental representation of the powers of society, then, Durkheim argued, the disappearance of traditional religion need not herald the dissolution of society. All that is required is for modern men now to realize directly that dependence on society which before they had recognized only through the medium of religious representations. “We must discover the rational substitutes for these religious notions that for a long time have served as the vehicle for the most essential moral ideas.” Society is the father of us all; therefore, it is to society we owe that profound debt of gratitude heretofore paid to the gods. The following passage, which in its rhetoric is rather uncharacteristic of Durkheim’s usual analytical style, reveals some of his innermost feelings:

Society is not at all the illogical or a-logical, incoherent and fantastic being which has too often been considered. Quite on the contrary, the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life, since it is the consciousness of consciousness. Being placed outside of and above individual and local contingencies, it sees things only in their permanent and essential aspects, which it crystallizes into communicable ideas. At the same time that it sees from above, it sees farther; at every moment of time it embraces all known reality; that is why it alone can furnish the minds with the moulds which are applicable to the totality of things and which make it possible to think of them.
Durkheim did not follow Saint-Simon and Comte in attempting to institute a new humanitarian cult. Yet, being eager as they were to give moral unity to a disintegrating society, he urged men to unite in a civic morality based on the recognition that we are what we are because of society. Society acts within us to elevate us–not unlike the divine spark of old was said to transform ordinary men into creatures capable of transcending the limitations of their puny egos.

Durkheim’s sociology of religion is not limited to these general considerations, which, in fact, are contained in only a few pages of his monumental work on The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. The bulk of the book is devoted to a close and careful analysis of primitive religion, more particularly of the data on primitive Australian forms of cults and beliefs. Here, as elsewhere, Durkheim is concerned with elucidating the particular functions of religion rather than with simply describing variant forms. In a well-known critique, the Durkheimian scholar Harry Alpert conveniently classified Durkheim’s four major functions of religion as disciplinary, cohesive, vitalizing, and euphoric social forces. Religious rituals prepare men for social life by imposing self-discipline and a certain measure of asceticism. Religious ceremonies bring people together and thus serve to reaffirm their common bonds and to reinforce social solidarity. Religious observance maintains and revitalizes the social heritage of the group and helps transmit its enduring values to future generations. Finally, religion has a euphoric function in that it serves to counteract feelings of frustration and loss of faith and certitude by reestablishing the believers’ sense of well-being, their sense of the essential rightness of the moral world of which they are a part. By countering the sense of loss, which, as in the case of death, may be experienced on both the individual and the collective level, religion helps to reestablish the balance of private and public confidence. On the most general plane, religion as a social institution serves to give meaning to man’s existential predicaments by tying the individual to that supra-individual sphere of transcendent values which is ultimately rooted in his society.

From Coser, 1977: 136-139.

Websites On Durkheim Work By Durkheim
The Division of Labour and the Elementary forms of Religious Life (External Link) Division of Labour
What is a Social Fact?

English: Emile Durkheim's grave. Italiano: La ...

English: Emile Durkheim’s grave. Italiano: La tomba di Emile Durkheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Patrick Stewart

Let me tell you a thing, about an amazing man named Patrick Stewart

 

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I went to Comicpalooza this weekend and I was full of nervous energy as I was standing in line to ask Sir Patrick Stewart a question at his panel. I first had to thank him for a speech he had given at amnesty international about domestic violence towards women . I had only seen it a few months ago but I was still dealing with my own personal experience with a similar issue, and I didn’t know what to call it. After seeing Patrick talk so personally about it I finally was able to correctly call it abuse, in my case sexual abuse that was going to quickly turn into physical abuse as well. I didn’t feel guilty or disgusting anymore. I finally didn’t feel responsible for the abuse that was put upon me. I was finally able to start my healing process and to put that part of my life behind me.

After thanking him I asked him “Besides acting, what are you most proud of that you have done in you life (that you are willing to share with us)?”. Sir Patrick told us about how he couldn’t protect his mother from abuse in his household growing up and so in her name works with an organization called Refuge for safe houses for women and children to escape from abusive house holds. Sir Patrick Stewart learned only last year that his father had actually been suffering from PTSD after he returned from the military and was never properly treated. In his father’s name he works with an organization called Combat Stress to help those soldiers who are suffering from PTSD.

They were about to move onto the next question when Sir Patrick looked at me and asked me “My Dear, are you okay?” I said yes, and that I was finally able to move on from that part of my life. He then passionately said that his mother had done nothing to provoke his father and that even if she had, violence was never, ever a choice a man should make. That it is in the power of men to stop violence towards women. The moderator then asked “Do you want a hug?”

Sir Patrick didn’t even hesitate, he smiled, hopped off the stage and came over to embrace me in a hug. Which he held me there for a long while. He told me “You never have to go through that again, you’re safe now.” I couldn’t stop thanking him. His embrace was so warm and genuine. It was two people, two strangers, supporting and giving love. And when we pulled away he looked strait in my eyes, like he was promising that. He told me to take care. And I will.

Sir Patrick Stewart is an absolute roll model for men. He is an amazing man and was so kind and full of heart. I want to let everyone know to please find help if you are in a violent or abusive house hold or relationship. There are organizations and people ready to help. I had countless people after the panel thanking me for sharing the story and asking him those questions. Many said they went through similar things. You are not alone.

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The Christ

C S Lewis on ‘Who Is Jesus?’
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, The MacMillan Company, 1960, pp. 40-41.)

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Russell Brand on the Murder of Lee Rigby

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The best comment on the very sad killing of a soldier, Lee Rigby, at Woolwich last week was not from any politician, nor ideologue, nor media commentator, nor was it from a religious leader, but from Russell Brand. It deserves to be publicised widely. It is the antithesis of those who preach hate, whether religious hate, or from other kinds of fundamentalists, or from racists. Here’s what Russell said, please read every wise word: The news cycle moves so quickly now that often we learn of an event through other people’s reaction to it. So it was when I arrived in Los Angeles to find my twitter feed contorted with posts of fear and confusion. I caught up with the sad malice in Woolwich and felt compelled to tweet in casual defence of the Muslim community who were being haphazardly condemned by a few people on my time line. Perhaps a bit glibly (but what isn’t glib in 140 characters) I put “That bloke is a nut. A nut who happens to be Muslim. Blaming Muslims for this is like blaming Hitler’s moustache for the Holocaust”. As an analogy it is imperfect but I was frightened by how negative and incendiary the mood felt and I rushed. I’m not proposing we sit around trying to summons up cute analogies when Lee Rigby has lost his life in horrific circumstances I simply feel that it is important that our reaction is measured. Something about the arbitrary brutality, the humdrum high-street setting, the cool rhetoric of the blood stained murderer evoke a powerful and inherently irrational response. When I first heard the word “beheading” I felt the atavistic grumble that we all feel. This is inhumane, taboo, not a result of passion but of malice, ritualistic. “If this is happening to guiltless men on our streets it could happen to me” I thought. Then I watched the mobile phone clip. In spite of his dispassionate intoning the subject is not rational, of course he’s not rational, he’s just murdered a stranger in the street, he says, because of a book. In my view that man is severely mentally ill and has found a convenient conduit for his insanity, in this case the Quran. In the case of another mentally ill and desperate man, Mark Chapman, it was A Catcher In The Rye. This was the nominated text for his rationalisation of the murder of John Lennon. I’ve read that book and I’ve read some of the Quran and nothing in either of them has compelled me to do violence. Perhaps this is because I lack the other necessary ingredients for extreme anti social behaviour; mental illness and isolation; either economic, social or both. After my Hitler tweet I got involved in a bit of back and forth with a few people who said stuff like “the murderer said himself he did it for Islam”. Although I wouldn’t dismiss what he’s saying entirely I think he forfeited the right to have his views received unthinkingly when he murdered a stranger in the street. Someone else regarding my tweet said “Hitler’s moustache didn’t invent an ideology that sanctions murder”. That is thankfully true but Islam when practiced by normal people is not an advocacy for violence. “People all over the world are killing in the name of Islam” someone added. This is the most tricky bit to understand. What I think is that all over our country, all over our planet there are huge numbers of people who feel alienated and sometimes victimised by the privileged and the powerful, whether that’s rich people, powerful corporations or occupying nations. They feel that their interests are not being represented and, in many cases, know that their friends and families are being murdered by foreign soldiers. I suppose people like that may look to their indigenous theology for validation and to sanctify their, to some degree understandable, feelings of rage. Comparable, I suppose to the way that homophobes feel a prejudicial pang in their tummies then look to the bible to see if there’s anything in there to justify it. There is, a piddling little bit in Leviticus. The main narrative thrust of The Bible though, like most spiritual texts, including the Quran is; be nice to each other because we’re all the same. When some football fans smash up shops and beat each other up that isn’t because of football or football clubs. It’s because loads of white, working class men have been culturally neglected and their powerful tribal instincts end up getting sloshed about in riotous lager carnivals. I love football, I love West Ham, I’ve never been involved in football violence because I don’t feel that it’s my only access to social power. Also I’m not that hard and I’m worried I’d get my head kicked in down the New Den. What the English Defence League and other angry, confused people are doing and advocating now, violence against mosques, Muslims, proliferation of hateful rhetoric is exactly what that poor, sick, murderous man, blood soaked on a peaceful street, was hoping for in his desperate, muddled mind. The extremists on both sides have a shared agenda; cause division, distrust, anger and violence. Both sides have the same intention. We cannot allow them to distort our perception. The establishment too is relatively happy when different groups of desperate people point the finger at each other because it prevents blame being correctly directed at them. Whenever we are looking for the solution to a problem we must identify who has power. By power I mean influence and money. The answer is not for us to move further from one another, crouched in opposing fortresses constructed from vindictive words. We need now to move closer to one another, to understand one another. If we can take anything heartening from this dreadful attack it is of course the actions of the three women, it’s always women, that boldly guarded Lee Rigby’s body as he lay needlessly murdered. These women looked beyond the fear and chaos and desperation and attuned instead to a higher code. One of virtue, integrity and strength. To truly demonstrate defiance in the face of this sad violence, we must be loving and compassionate to one another. Let’s look beyond our superficial and fleeting differences. The murderers want angry patriots to desecrate mosques and perpetuate violence. How futile their actions seem if we instead leave flowers at each other’s because of football or football clubs. It’s because loads of white, working class men have been culturally neglected and their powerful tribal instincts end up getting sloshed about in riotous lager carnivals. I love football, I love West Ham, I’ve never been involved in football violence because I don’t feel that it’s my only access to social power. Also I’m not that hard and I’m worried I’d get my head kicked in down the New Den.

What the English Defence League and other angry, confused people are doing and advocating now, violence against mosques, Muslims, proliferation of hateful rhetoric is exactly what that poor, sick, murderous man, blood soaked on a peaceful street, was hoping for in his desperate, muddled mind.

The extremists on both sides have a shared agenda; cause division, distrust, anger and violence. Both sides have the same intention. We cannot allow them to distort our perception.

The establishment too is relatively happy when different groups of desperate people point the finger at each other because it prevents blame being correctly

Quran, Mus'haf_Al_Tajweed.

Quran, Mus’haf_Al_Tajweed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

directed at them. Whenever we are looking for the solution to a problem we must identify who has power. By power I mean influence and money. The answer is not for us to move further from one another, crouched in opposing fortresses constructed from vindictive words. We need now to move closer to one another, to understand one another. If we can take anything heartening from this dreadful attack it is of course the actions of the three women, it’s always women, that boldly guarded Lee Rigby’s body as he lay needlessly murdered. These women looked beyond the fear and chaos and desperation and attuned instead to a higher code. One of virtue, integrity and strength.

To truly demonstrate defiance in the face of this sad violence, we must be loving and compassionate to one another. Let’s look beyond our superficial and fleeting differences. The murderers want angry patriots to desecrate mosques and perpetuate violence. How futile their actions seem if we instead leave flowers at each other’s places of worship. Let’s reach out in the spirit of love and humanity and connect to one another, perhaps we will then see what is really behind this conflict, this division, this hatred and make that our focus.

Russell Brand
May 25th, 2013

 

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