I recently resigned from St.Andrews and St.George's Church West Edinburgh because of their perceived attitudes towards children and related matters. The following treatise is likely to remain forever incomplete:
CHILDREN OF THE SPIRIT
Thomas Hoskyns Leonard
I am writing this article in response to a fear that many of our children may still being taught about religion and spiritual matters in a too rigid and authoritative (i.e. prescriptive) manner. Many caring adults remain angry at the high-handed attempts made to 'control their minds' when they were young, and many lead highly beneficial lives without needing to defer to a god or an institutionalised religion. It seems much more important to teach children about human values, and to do so in empathetic ways e.g. by encouraging them to always consider the feelings, hopes and ambitions of other people as well as their own. If we do this, then many children will develop their own spiritualities which may well turn out be in remarkable agreement with the key, non-
fundamentalist, underlying messages of the main religions of the world. In extreme situations
where they are instead brainwashed when they are young then they may well develop a resistance
to religiously expressed ideas as they grow older.
Thinking about being friends with an 'all seeing eye' such as a god or a Messiah may help some
people to live their lives in better ways, though other people think in different ways. 'Loving thy
neighbour like thyself' is regarded by many to be just as virtuous as 'Loving thy God with all thy
might', particularly if you regard everybody to be your neighbour.
According to New Testament accounts, Jesus protects and guides his children like sheep. Some churches think that this means that they can treat their congregations like sheep. However, many people think that ministers and church elders are there to serve and encourage their flock, rather than to tell them how to think. Some ministers, including several I know, are very enlightened on this issue.
During my explanations of the way I think, I will be interrupted from time to time by children, animals, and the occasional adult, for example:
[Doubtful Duncan: I don't enjoy chewing the rag with the guy in the collar, but I like nibbling the grass which he feeds me.
Anxious Ailidh: You baa like a lamb and mew like a scaredy-cat.
Leo Bo Peep: So what? I stand up on my hind legs and roar.] [Inset]
Where am I coming from? I regard myself as a very heretical Christian who would have been burnt at the stake in previous centuries or hung from a tree. A fate even more dire may well await me!
I don't regard myself as being a liberal, and my closest friends certainly don't. A couple of them even think that I'm a fat cat. I believe myself to be addressing main stream concerns in a sensible manner which isn't either fundamentalist or liberal
MY PERSONAL STORY: PART A. Although my parents were not Church goers, my mother believed dutifully in God as a 'higher power' while also defying my father by ardently supporting the crassness of the Tory governments of the 1950s. I was christened in Emmanuel Church, Plymouth during 1948, and sent to Sunday School there between the ages of eight and eleven, before putting my foot down and refusing to go anymore as I had better things to do with my spare time, like play. While I was a goody goody at primary school, I was thoroughly naughty at Sunday school since I didn't have any respect for the way I was spoon fed (the main Bible stories were taught much better at my primary school). To atone for my sins, I had to study Religious Education for five years at grammar school, as well as listening to a hymn, a prayer, and a bible reading every single morning during Assembly. When I took my O' levels in 1964, I couldn't even remember the order of the events during the Last Supper, but I scraped a pass in Religious Education with a grade 5. Then during my final two years, another guy came into my science class each week and re-preached the gospels at us, somehow without getting across too many of Jesus's key messages. I was left with a feeling that God is a pillar of the institutionalised establishment, and very little else.
2. THE SPIRIT
Let's forget for the moment about churches, mosques, and temples, and being told to say prayers. Lots of people think that there is a spirit of human decency which bonds decent and compassionate people together. Therefore as well as feeling compassionate inside, we can, if we wish, feel part of the Children of the Spirit, the many billions of caring people in the world today. In other words, if billions of people are caring and decent to each other, then this creates a world wide network of people of the Spirit.
Many Children of the Spirit think that it doesn't matter how we enjoy ourselves, as long as we don't harm ourselves or other people in the process. Some think that very sensitive companionships between two adults can quite reasonably include physical acts of love and healing, even when what they do is frowned upon by other people. Many experts think that it is essential not to bully other people since this may cause far more harm to their victims' future lives than they might imagine. In more general terms, many decent people think that they should only treat other people in ways they would want to be treated themselves. Many compassionate people believe that violence should only be used as a last resort and in self-defence. Many caring people know that they have a dark side and actively seek ways of being nicer. They know that you get what you give out.
Some Children of the Spirit believe that they should always forgive other people their sins and bad deeds. However, others don't think that they should always do this, for example when an adult seriously harms a child or when a doctor poisons his patient or when a politician wages unnecessary war or votes in favour of starving people or driving them to suicide. More about this key issue later.
If you are not ready to forgive somebody then it would seem important not to try to take revenge on them (apart from attempting to take just recourse through the law). This can, for example, harm your own psychology. You might instead take reasonable steps to defend yourself, or simply walk away from anybody who is damaging your life.
You don't need to believe in a god to be a Child of the Spirit. For example, many people who call themselves agnostics or atheists would find most of these ideas to be acceptable. In contrast many of the more fundamentalist religious people don't. I will sometimes refer to the fundamentalists as 'modern day Pharisees'.
Everybody is able to be a Child of the Spirit if they so wish. However some people would appear, because of their wicked actions, to prefer not to be described in this way.
Maybe we should also think in terms of a life force of everything which mixes the forces of good with the forces of evil. The spirit of human decency could be regarded as contributing to this life force.
[Lucky Luke: I'm good when I'm not being wicked.
Laughing Leia: I enjoy being wicked.
Ant Thirty-Two Bits: I do my own thing. I'm a robot.]
3. THE SPIRIT AND THE LAW
We certainly need a set of rules which we can agree upon together, since people need to be protected against evil doers and perpetrators of crime, and they need to feel that they are living in a safe space.
The law of the land, which is decided by our politicians for their own reasons which do not necessarily include the common good, should apply equally to everybody, and it should be equally accessible and financially affordable to everybody. For example, élite groups of people should not be allowed to regard themselves as above the law. Ordained ministers should not be made exempt from investigation by our local police forces for grievous offences against children simply because they are 'holy people'. Churches which are corrupt and the worst of our charities should not be permitted to feel effectively exempt from prosecution for fraud. More generally, the law should not be used as a mechanism by our cynical Establishment for controlling and repressing the population at large.
Many people believe that we should try to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law, and that a bad law is there to be broken. For example, if there is a local by-law against feeding beggars in the street then many Children of the Spirit would still feed them. If there is a by-law against pitching tents in local parks, then many compassionate people would ignore it if the tent was providing much-needed accommodation for a homeless person.
[Anxious Ailidh: I'd love to play in that tent in the park.
Doubtful Duncan: But there's a tramp living in it.
Mrs. Nimby: In that case, I'll ask the police to take it away.
Daring Deirdre: But everybody deserves a home.
Mr. Bother: Not if they're out of work, they don't.]
If an obstructive official deserves to be yelled at, then some adults think that it is worth risking breaching the peace in order to do so, even when they may get punished for doing this. If there is a rule telling you not to share your school lunch, then you could well feel justified in risking detention by offering your pea soup to a friend in return for extra apple crumble for dessert. If there is a law against wives in the State of Michisota tickling their husbands' tummy buttons, then who will be there to observe the transgressions? If a modern day Pharisee puts a sign up forbidding trans-folk from using the Church loo, then please feel free to tear it down.
In 1897, the State of Indiana legislated that all schoolchildren should be taught that 'pi equals three'. That caused some strange problems when calculating the circumference of circles. Fortunately, some clever children broke the law and got it right. During the 17 th century, Galileo was threatened with torture by the Roman Catholic Church for claiming that the Earth moves around the Sun. Nowadays, you can get your hand or head chopped off in Saudi Arabia for all sorts of curious misdemeanours including challenging the status quo, and in the U.S.A. you can be imprisoned for being poor and shot for being insolent or out of touch with reality.
In general terms, it is up to you to decide how to interpret the law and how much to push your luck when following the spirit rather the letter of the law. But be ever so polite to the kindly police officers when they come after your hide. Mr. and Mrs. Plod are not always there to solve real crimes. They're there to maintain 'public order'; they're 'puppets on a string' who are there to express the policies and whims of our all-encompassing Establishment.
4. THE CREATOR
Humans possess very complicated brains, biologies, and chemistries, all of which work together in an exceedingly complicated way. For example, the birth of a child is very complicated in terms of the biology involved.
We all experience very subtle and highly imaginative dreams, sometimes as we are about to fall asleep. I sometimes wonder whether there is something inside my head which is far more intelligent than I'd previously imagined.
Overall we each seem to be as complicated as the Universe in which we live. As there are zillions of bacteria living in us, you could even think of yourself as being a Universe of your own!
Evolutionists think that we were created by natural selection. Others think that we were in some way intelligently designed.
I think that we could have evolved through some sort of intelligently designed process involving some natural selection, though I believe that how this would have actually happened is beyond current human understanding and not completely explainable by our geneticists.
All of our animals, birds, fish, flowers, and trees were also created in some way. They live with us in the natural process, in other words as parts of nature.
The movements of the tectonic plates below the Earth's crust affect the temperatures and movements of our oceans and influence our weather, as well as causing earthquakes. It's as if some grand Creator designed the geology inside Planet Earth for the purpose of helping to control our weather systems.
It seems to me to be far too incredible to assume that the billions of stars and planets in the Universe, each with their own geological system and chemical make-up, were created by random chance or a big bang out of nothingness. I personally think that big bang theory is extremely naive. Indeed, a number of scientists have recently come up with other more flexible suggestions.
Let's keep things simple for the moment, and define the Creator to be whatever intelligent force or forces created us, the Universe, and everything in it, including random chance and the evil forces which move among us.
There are a number of logical problems with this definition. For example, time may be circular, or have no beginning or end. In this case there would be no beginning of time at which things could be created out of nothingness.
An ancient philosopher, whose name slips my mind, pointed out that any Creator would need to be created by another Creator, who is created by a third Creator, and so on and so forth. So where does that get us? You may well ask!
[Doubtful Duncan: Who was God's Daddy, Father Gabriel?
Father Gabriel: Creators don't need fathers, you silly boy.
Anxious Ailidh: If God had a Daddy, then who was his Daddy's Mummy?
Daring Deirdre: His Granny, stupid!]
If we ignore these tricky problems and use our simple definition as a working proposition, then the proposition doesn't necessarily mean that the Creator is benevolent, or judgemental, or a God, or anything which communicates with ANY individual human being (including the Pope and the Queen!) in any sensitive way. For example, the Creator could be playing some very grand sort of game for reasons best known to itself. We may be the pawns in the game, or we may be here to create 'extra intelligence' which the Creator can suck into its own super-brain whenever it wants to.
Some people think that 'the Creator God controls our lives'. Like many other things in the Old Testament (like Moses believing that it is right to stone a man to death for collecting sticks on the Sabbath), I find this idea too hard to swallow.
Some old-fashioned philosophers and theologians believe in pre-destination, and that the Creator controls absolutely everything that we do and think. That would mean that you had no freedom of choice and no responsibility to try to modify your behaviour. It would be a bit like observing your life like an action movie. Now that's a crass idea!
5. NATURE WORSHIP
Many of the old pagan spiritualities, including the worship of Baal, the Middle Eastern God of Light and Fertility, addressed a common spirit between everybody and everything in the natural process, including humans, our wild life, and the flowers and trees. Some modern religions have concentrated much more on human spirituality, while giving lip service to the needs of animals and nature itself. Nature worship can also be found in pantheism, animism, and shamanism, and it has been encouraged by certain types of witches as part of the Occult. The burning of witches until the late eighteenth century can be partly seen as an attempt by Christians to stamp out the worship of nature.
Many modern day witches are to be highly respected. For example, the members of a witch's coven in Lancashire honour, revere, and give thanks to nature, and celebrate the seasons. In spring, they celebrate life and rebirth, and then in winter they celebrate decay and death to make way for new life.
[Anxious Ailidh: I'm a witch. I like stirring the pot.
Daring Deirdre: Me too. I brew potions from the leaves and herbs.
Sensible Cecilia: Is that to cure the sick animals and birds?
Daring Deirdre: No, it's to give to my Granny for afternoon tea.
Bishop Hotaway: That's enough of that, girls. Away to the ducking stool with you!]
6. IS THERE AN ALL-SEEING EYE?
Is there some entity somewhere e.g. a living creature, a god, creator, Messiah, force field, gigantic computer system, or intelligent life force, which watches and listens to each and every one of us as we live our everyday lives, though without necessarily controlling us? If there is, then some people would call it the All-Seeing Eye. Others call it the Eye of Providence.
Having faith in the existence of an all-seeing eye which is watching us from some other space is the basis of many religions around the world today, including Christianity and shamanism. This is very much a question of faith, since science is in no position to prove that an (external) all-seeing eye actually exists.
Human beings do of course observe each other. So we could all be regarded as being parts of some sort of all-seeing eye. Alternatively, the spirit of human decency, which moves between compassionate people, could be regarded as an almost-all-seeing eye, as could the life force of everything which we also discussed in section 2.
[Anxious Ailidh: There's a big eye staring at me from behind the Moon.
Doubtful Duncan: Maybe it's a fat giant who wants to see what you're eating for supper.
Daring Deirdre: Perhaps it's a spaceship from Orion. Maybe it's sneaking in to take a peek at the London Eye.]
If there is an all seeing-eye watching us from some other space, then the questions arise as to whether we can communicate with him, her, or it, e.g. 'through our mind-waves' or by prayer, and whether the eye sometimes reacts to things that we do, think, or say. It can sometimes be useful to think that it does. Such thoughts can, for example, help us to treat each other in caring and helpful ways. But, again this is all a matter of faith.
We should of course be careful not to allow spiritual communications like this to 'tell us' to do bad things. We need to reason out for ourselves what it takes to be caring and compassionate and how to avoid harming other people.
I personally believe in the existence of an all-seeing eye, though I don't know whether it comes from without (from another space) or from within (from the recesses of my own mind) and, as a Christian, I believe that Jesus, or Messiah, symbolizes the eye. But that is a matter of choice. People from different cultures find different ways of symbolizing the eye.
MY PERSONAL STORY, PART B. I was married in a dusty old church in Wolverhampton in 1969, and believed this to be creating a life time contract between God, me and my good wife. In 1972, I was appointed to be a lecturer in Statistics at the University of Warwick. In 1978, I visited Kingston, Ontario to study a large amount of data (i.e. numbers measuring pieces of information) which recorded the birth-weights, lengths of pregnancy and various other measurements, for over 2000 births. When I plotted the numbers in various ways on graph paper, it was 'as if Jesus was sending me messages' and I was able, to my utter surprise, to arrive at an unexpected conclusion which turned out to be of some medical importance.
I have since learnt that the celebrated nineteenth century nurse and statistician Florence Nightingale (the Lady with the Lamp) thought that clever ways of illustrating the data helped her to learn 'God's messages from the data'. However, I was thirty years old when I first suspected that 'divine intervention' might just be a bit more than wishful thinking.
7. IS THERE AN AFTER LIFE?
After you die, are you ever likely to be conscious of anything in the hereafter? Many people think that either all or some of us will become part of a larger spirit. Others think that we are reincarnated as animals or other people. Some people think that our conscious thoughts stop at death and it is how we are remembered that counts. Others think that the way our humanity influences our blood descendants is the main issue.
I believe that Hell (in our afterlives) was invented by religious zealots as a threat, and a way of bullying and controlling people. While you could achieve a sort of Hell during your own lifetime, I very much doubt that it exists in the hereafter. However, some people still genuinely believe that sinners are go to Hell for ever and anon.
It is possible to achieve a sort of 'Kingdom of Heaven' during your own lifetime, when you find peace with yourself as an adult. Many people believe that there is a Heaven in the hereafter, but a number of great philosophers, including the Persian poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam (who was one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages) have doubted this. Khayyam did however say
'When the last great scorer comes to write against your name, he'll ask not if you won or lost but if you played the game.'
I would like to think that my consciousness will surface again during the hereafter, if only because I might learn more about the mysteries of creation. But maybe that's wishful thinking.
A quantum theorist has recently suggested that our brains will be downloaded into another space after death, but perhaps he was being fanciful.
[Anxious Ailidh: I dreamt last night that I was talking to the Archangel Gabriel in Heaven.
Doubtful Duncan: Was he wielding a flaming sword?
Anxious Ailidh: No, he was cutting his overgrown toenails with a tiny pair of silver scissors,
Daring Deirdre: I was there too, drinking strawberry milkshake, but then I fell straight through my seat and burnt my bum.
Crafty Colin: They don't call you the Hellfire kid for nothing.]
7. HELPING OTHER PEOPLE, AND OURSELVES
8. OUR DARK SIDES
9. SHOULD WE ALWAYS BE FORGIVING? (not according to Jesus!)
10. THE SAD STATE OF THE WORLD (cannot stand aloof . Must engage in it)
12. DO YOU HAVE A FRIEND IN JESUS?
13. THE JEWISH NATION
14. BIBLICAL AND HISTORICAL DISCUSSION
15. THE SYNOPTIC GOSPELS
Manner of teaching, Queen, Pope, Josephus, the Holy Land
At end: Section by Section Bibliography,