The ‘Phantom of the Opera’, Human Darkness and Christianity

 

I went to see ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ for the first time as little while ago. Clearly, the power of the show lies in the fact that the story draws on the Greek myths, and so the themes that are dealt with are those that resonate with our experience, simply because we are human. What I am interested in is the solutions, which the myths themselves offer to life’s issues raised by the myth.

 

Take the story of the Phantom himself. Here is a person who has been disfigured from birth and is, by looking at his mask ‘half a man’. He has been ridiculed, and so has become bitter. But at the same time, he is very talented, musically. He teaches the ‘heroine’ Christine, how tossing beautifully by introducing her to ‘the music of the night’. (This is an allusion to the ‘dark side’ of human nature).

 

But not only does the Phantom want to introduce others to the music of the night, he wants some recognition of the place of ‘the dark side’ in normal life, lived in the ‘light’. And when this is refused, he resorts to force and violence to get his way. (“Little pig, little pig, let me in..or I’ll huff and I’ll puff and blow your house in!) In the end, the phantom’s dark side takes him over completely for a while, till Christine draws from him a modicum of compassion with a kiss. He lets the ‘couple of light’ go from his power, but this small amount of compassion is too little, too late in the piece, so he himself must ‘slip away’: he must be removed from the scene.

 

It seems to me, that the ‘children of light’ make the first mistake in this story. The phantom asks for some recognition, some ‘tribute’, but they refuse to pay. Right at the beginning, the ‘dark side’ of our natures is rejected outright.

 

This is unrealistic. The myth on which this story is based is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Here, and in ‘The Phantom’, Eurydice feels the attraction of the ‘underworld’ represented by Orpheus. Every girl knows this attraction; otherwise we would not remember the story of ‘Bonny and Clyde’, nor the story of Thelma and Louise. It is the same for young men. There is a saying that ‘Every young man must pluck three hairs from the beard of the devil.’

 

So we know the power of the dark side of our natures, and we know that we cannot be ‘good’ all of the time.

 

But what are we to do about it? The story of Orpheus and Eurydice tells us that she gives Orpheus his due. She spends some time (actually half!) in the underworld with him, which represents the season of winter, but then spends the other six months in the summer: in the light.

 

This solution to the problem of ‘the dark side’ is the very one which the ‘children of light’ in The Phantom do not have at their disposal.

 

It represents a limited acknowledgement of ‘the dark side’. It is interesting that just as Eurydice spends a limited amount of time in the underworld, so with young men, the elders in cultures where this works well, supervise the ‘plucking of three hairs from the beard of the devil’, so that the risk taking of young men does not lead to death or permanent damage. It is limited.

 

We also know this pattern at sporting events, and other places where there is a crowd. Being part of a crowd gives us a chance to ‘go on holiday’ from our ‘proper’ self, in order to vent our dark side on the umpires or players whom we don’t like!

 

The tragic result, which happens when the dark side of life is not given a limited acknowledgement, is that of the phantom. His redemption is not possible, even though signs of it are drawn from him by Christine’s kiss.

 

But now comes the hard part. Does being Christian have anything to say, or to add to our means of coping with our own darkness?

 

Some of the truth is that Christianity has too often Christianity has sided with its complete repression. There is just so much about ‘being children of the light’ in the Bible that it seems as though we have no way of giving our ‘dark side’ its due, and ‘cutting loose’ from tile to time. Is there a way of allowing any legitimate expression of our own ‘dark side’ within Christian faith so that we are not forced into complete repression and hence the violence of ‘the Phantom’?

 

The most powerful image that comes to me is Jesus’ embrace of sinners. It is this willingness to embrace us, which allows us to touch and become aware of our own darkness. Knowing that I am held, and that He will not let go of me, gives me permission to allow all that I am to be acknowledged, no matter how dark it may be. The limit on this embrace is perhaps that we do not act out the ‘darkness’, while at the same time, giving it due recognition. This is the most powerful way of being saved which I know. The psalms too, and some hymns give us the opportunity to touch and yes, even express our darkest thoughts and feelings without acting on them. That was the Phantom’s failure: he could only ‘act out’ the darkness, to his own and others’ harm.

 

But I think that Christians could do better in also allowing ‘cut loose’ time for Christianity. Carnival is one such time, when the ‘meaty’, ‘fleshy’ aspects of humanity are given limited rein, before the fast of Lent. We could make more of that.

Posted in Psalms, Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Globalisation: Alienation and Accountability and the “Whispering School of Acting”

I became aware of this phenomenon at the beginning of Tom Cruise’s movie about the bomb plot to kill Adolf Hitler. There he was as general von Staufenberg in Africa, speaking to his commanders, and amid the background noise, I could not hear a word he as saying! Recently in shows like “House of Cards” and other locally made shows, and British TV too, everyone is whispering! (I assure you, I am not going deaf!). So where does this come from? It is like there is a global trend in all of the acting schools, and among directors that everyone speaks in whispers, instead of normal voices. Have they all been to the ‘whispering school of acting?’

But then, I began to think. All of a sudden, every time I buy something on line, or ring a call centre, there comes an e.mail, or a text, or something after the on line purchase saying “Will you answer our feedback questionnaire?’ I’m sure this must be automatically generated, but I’m wondering how did this all of a sudden become a thing to do? What do they do with the information? How come they don’t send me the results of their questionnaire?

It’s the same with local councils and church central offices. Have you noticed? All of a sudden, perhaps in the early 2000s, all of the diocesan offices became ‘securitised’. You cant get in there without some one pressing a button o let you into the security door, and then again into the offices of the bishops (with the archbishop all the way down the back, in the most difficult to access spot). Was there a bomb scare that prompted this? Did the insurance companies demand it? Did all of the general managers get together at a conference and decide ‘yes’ this is what we are going to do? No one told me, or explained it. It just happened.

In the first instance, then, I am aware of global movements that are happening by some one’s planning, but not involving me!

This is at one level pretty dangerous.

Recently, while we have been making fun of Donald Trump’s tweets, and the chaos in the White House, he has been emasculating the Environment Protection Agency in the name of ‘de-regulation’ but in reality, helping business to keep on polluting. He has been hiring climate change sceptics to run the very same agency!*

Most of us are pretty naïve I think when it comes to the influence of global movements behind the ‘front end’ of government policy. But more and more I am being made aware of the ‘principalities and powers’ and ‘spiritual wickedness in high places’.

Think about the Murray Darling Basin. There is just so much invested taking water out of this system (especially for Agribusiness and cotton growing) that there is little concern for the environment, and the people of South Australia.

It is these secret ‘powers’ that I think that Christians have to become more aware of in order to be genuine followers of Jesus.

When in John’s Gospel, Jesus calls his disciples ‘Friends’ he does so on the basis that he has told them everything that he has heard from the Father. The salves do not need to know what the master is doing, they are the recipients of orders from the master. But the friends are let in on everything. Thinking about this relationship, I wonder whether we are slaves of the Global powers, or friends.

The other thing that I am talking about accountability. I find myself on the receiving end of global, or at least Australia wide changes that no one has consulted me about.

This is the opposite of living in a small town like Alexandra or Kilmore. Everyone knows everyone else (more or less). Everyone has to be accountable to one another because making one another accountable is easy: just go around there and speak to them. The hardware store has to give refunds all of the time because they know who I am. But I go to our local hardware store because I know the names of all of the staff and call them by name, and they me.

When someone says that they are going to ring me back, and they don’t, then I can easily go around there and ask them why.

Again, knowing one another, and being known and recognised is one of the characteristics of the community life that we learn about by being members of the Church, and as one of Jesus’ sheep, whom he calls out by name. Being accountable to one another, knowing our hurts and fears is a characteristic of Church life that represents a genuine alternative to the alienation of other forms of living together. In this context, I think it is a shame that the Church leaders in some places have gone the way of more remoteness and less accountability.

It is true that the world is ever more globalised. But Christians need ways of being aware of the global ‘behind the scenes’ trends, while at the same time, offering a genuine alternative form of community life where we are called by name.

* Here is the link to this article. <http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-real-trump-agenda-helping-big-business&gt;

Posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

About Guns in the US and New Age Thinking: A Sensible Christian Approach

Last week in ‘The Age’ I read the best article that I have read so far on Gun culture in America. It was by Aubrey Perry. Toward the end he says. ‘A gun doesn’t make you talk out your issues. It doesn’t ask you hard questions, doesn’t make you take a long, hard look at yourself, and probably costs less than years of therapy. It compensates for what some people may feel they’re lacking: personal power.”

 

‘How True’ I thought. I was reminded about all those people who voted for Donald Trump who did so because they have felt an increasing sense of loss of personal power.

 

This to me is one of the most important aspects to life: to be able to say ;’Yes, there are some things that I can make happen.’

 

But it also occurs to me that the ‘American Dream’ tells people that they have unlimited personal power. “Anyone can become President of the United States” is a mantra that US citizens often tell themselves. At a personal level they say “If you work hard, you, an individual can achieve whatever you want’

 

These two mantas operate at the extremes of the polarity. No one can have total personal power, but no one is totally dis-empowered either. That is why we have negotiation, sharing and compromise. I wonder if there is a relationship between the gun culture of the US in which guns replace the need for negotiation and the extreme form of the American Dream which promises that ‘You can do anything’.

 

I saw another version of this one sided view of life which was posted by a Facebook Friend of mine. The person whom they were quoting was a ’New Age’ teacher, Teal Swan, who teaches the ‘law of attraction’ . Teal Swan says “ The primary law governing this universe is the Law of Attraction….it is the state whereby things that are of a like frequency are drawn together like a magnet. She says that people with low self esteem vibrate a frequency that ‘attracts people, places, and events which encourage low self esteem. Another New Age teacher Jordan Pearce says ‘Everything is purposeful and happens for a reason. Whatever happens to a person is ‘their fault’ so that the source of a vibration that ‘attracts rape’ is the rape victim themselves.

 

Now it is true that attackers will look for people who are no confident, and that walking purposefully and expressing confidence’ is one way to avoid being attacked. But it is also true that much of the time this does not happen. As my Facebook Friend, Brett says on his post “There are also independent beings making their own choices that we have no control over and who are responsible for their own actions.’

So Christians have some concrete things to say about this.

First of all the basic law of the universe is that God loves us, and gave himself to us in Jesus. God’s main concern is not with the righteous but with the unrighteous. The aim of the game is not to try to ‘be’ anything, but to bring ourselves into the sphere of God’s love for us, and let that love be poured into our hearts.

 

The next thing is that Christians say that ‘Yes, the universe does have a purpose’. But, that does not mean that as babies who do not know better think ‘that we make up our purposes, and are the cause of everything that happens.’ Christians say that there are other powers in the world which are not loving, and that these powers (like being distracted in a car) may mean that some of us just die on the roads. Not because we cause it, but because we are part of a world system that is not yet brought under the gentle rule of God’s love.

 

But we do believe that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God.’ This ‘working together for good may not be evident, and may transcend our own lifetimes, as the martyrs knew. But it does meal that ‘whether we live we live to the Lord, and whether we die we die to the Lord, so then, whether we live or whether we die we are the Lord’s.” So that we cannot ever be prised away from God’s love for us. I find this much more ‘Good News’ than the ‘Law of Attraction’ which sounds like a very difficult yoke to bear and a heavy burden.

The third thing is this. The Christian view of the universe is encapsulated in the image of God as Trinity.

 

This image contains within it both the exercise of power (ability, capability) in love, but also mutual submission and accountability in love. This is how the universe negotiates its way between the needs of the one and the needs of the many.

 

Another model that we have which is dawn from this image is the metaphor of the Church as the ‘Body of Christ’. We all have potentialities as we participate in the life of God, which we exercise in love. But one capacity is not the same or as much as another. Love may men the curtailing of my freedom to ‘be me’ for the sake of another. The whole image takes my ‘self assertion’ out of the equation, and replaces it with ‘my participation in the life of God, and what that looks like in daily life.

 

Christian thinking is much more sensible I find than either the New Age ‘you make everything happen’ style of thinking, or the ‘guns replace my sense of powerlessness’ combined with ‘You can be president’ style of thinking. Its time we started to put this into the public space as a sensible alternative.

Posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How TV Shows Learn From Church About Ritual

The other week I was at home watching Anh Do’s ‘Brush With Fame’, as he spoke with, and painted the portrait of Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson is as TV star, but he has had huge amounts of tragedy in his own life, and is no also a campaigner against cancer. As I watched the show, I was drawn into Samuel’s story, but the moment of the revealing of the portrait was so startling. It was beautiful. It captured all that had gone before in he story, and re-presented the character of Samuel so well. I was, as my friend David often says ‘awash’ .

 

I started to think about what is going on in this show, that draws out my own tears.

 

Here is how the show goes.

 

First there is the introduction. First, Anh introduces the whole concept of the show. There is a brief biographical sketch of the person whose portrait is to be drawn. They get a chance to say what they anticipate about the show, and what they might be feeling about having their portrait painted.

 

The pair then meet, and the process of the portrait paining then begins. As Anh paints the portrait, the story of the sitter, in this case, Samuel Johnson gradually comes out. There are moments of tears, and anger and courage which show how this person is ‘real’ and very human.

 

After the sitting session, Anh need a little while to finish the picture by himself. This gives the sitter a chance to reflect upon the experience: the get a chance to say ‘how it was for them’ and to express their hopes for how the portrait will turn out: that it will express something of their true selves. After revealing something of ourselves, it is a big thing to have how others see us reflected back in a portrait.

 

I started to think about how this show is put together.

 

The first thing to notice is that the show is a ritual. This word often has negative connotations because people say “Oh, I get bored with ‘the same thing every time’ and so introducing new themes, o new structures becomes the order of the day.

 

But this show, like a story that the kids want read time after time, is a ritual. It keeps the same structure. This structure is one that is shared by Anh, the sitter, and the people sharing in the show each week by watching it in the TV.

 

This ‘sameness’ allows everyone to relax. We know basically what is going to happen, so no surprises there. This allows for the content of the show to be filled with the story of the sitter. This allows for a deeper sharing than might otherwise have been possible, because no one is worried about what is coming next, and how they are going to respond.

 

This is important to say, because this is exactly what happen in Church every Sunday. The structure of the Eucharist does no change. What does change is how we fill it with what we bring. This is, like Anh’s show the content of our own stories, the ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ that are ‘met’ as we gather to do the ritual of the Eucharist. What will ‘happen’ for us in Church, will depend upon how much we are able to ‘bring our lives into the circle’ during the Eucharist.

 

Now a Sunday morning has one limitation: we are not just ‘one person communing with another’. This opportunity needs to happen during the week. In my picture of how things work, the communal gathering on a Sunday, needs to be complemented by a more personal gathering during the week, where the kind of story telling, that happens on Anh’s show, can also happen for us.

 

More than the fact that the show is a ritual like our Sunday Eucharist, the ritual of Anh’s show take us on a journey. We move from one place to another. And this movement has a definite structure, too, which helps us to get there. Here it is. First comes he preparation. We have Anh’s introduction to the whole aim of the show, then we have a more specific introduction to this week’s sitter.

Then comes the main body of the show, the act of talking and painting. After that comes a space for reflection, followed by the big ‘reveal’ of the portrait, and again, more time for reflection.

 

Not surprisingly, this structure, that takes us on the journey from ‘unknowing’ to ‘communion’ with the sitter and Anh, and then the ‘reveal’ followed by more reflection is exactly the same structure that we have in the Eucharist.(twice: once for the ministry of the Word, and once for the Sacrament)

We begin with a preparatory phase (a greeting and sentence and prayers). We have the ‘doing of the deed’ followed by a ‘reveal’ (sermon, prayer of Thanksgiving) followed by a period of reflection (intercession, post Communion music and payers). Like Anh’s ‘Brush With Fame’ show who we are is ‘revealed’ to us. We see ourselves reflected in the preaching (if it is any good) and in the ‘reveal’ of the Bread and Wine, transformed into Christ (Humanity before God). TV has learned a lot from Church.

Posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Mystical Experience:Making French Onion Soup

The other day, my wife came home and said “ I went to a café for lunch. We had French Onion Soup, but it was terrible. No where near like the one we had in Paris.”

 

Now the French Onion soup that we had in Paris was something else. We were on the way by train from Brussels where the airport had been bombed, to our home in Switzerland. We had stopped half way between stations in Paris for lunch. There was a lovely restaurant, with tables on the footpath, and beautiful soup, with cheese and bread, and a glass of white wine.

 

So when my wife commented on the soup, I said “I might make some!’ I got out our wedding present of Julia Childs’ “Mastering French Cooking”, and look at the recipe. It was long! It took about an hour of simmering and stirring the onions before adding the wine and stock. But then came the stock! Making beef stock for the stew was going to take five hours! I went to the butcher, bought some meat, collected the other vegetables for the bouquet garnet, and filled the pot with water. Simmering for 4 hours. Then came the slicing of the onions, cooking in butter, and then caramelizing them.

 

But the result was amazing. I was transported back to Paris on that March day.

But here’s the thing. I was ‘in the zone!’ Something mystical grabbed me as I read the Julia Childs book, and experienced myself, transported to in the French countryside where the making of this soup is a normal part of ordinary life.

 

I had experienced something like this some years before, when I discovered that making a curry is not just about ‘getting some meat and adding curry powder’, but that there is an infinite variety of kinds of curry powder, made up of lots of different spice combinations. What fun it was, making curry with mortar and pestle, and the right choice of spices.

 

Now my friend Nigel, a Francophile, had told me about this ‘ethos’ of French cooking: from the storing of duck in goose fat, to the making of different sauces. But at that time I had not ‘got it’, but more to the point I had not been ‘got’ by it!

 

But now, starting with the making of the French Onion Soup, I have been got! To think that people can open a packet of dried, French onion Soup and then just add water. No!!!

 

So what has ‘got me?’ First the simplicity. French onion soup I made from the simplest of ingredients, that anyone will have, just hanging around. Bones, carrots, herbs, parsley, leeks, onions, cheese, bread.

 

These ingredients are sort of ‘just there’. It’s not as if I had to go to get anything special, except the bones for the beef stock, and even then we used ‘dog bones’!

 

But the taste! What a sublime taste can come from such simplicity. I love it.

 

Then the next ingredient is time! It is not a very concentrated time, but a long time. The soup (apart from about a half an hour’s time with the onions) can be made while attending to the rest of the house: cleaning, chatting, going into the garden to get flowers. The making of the soup happens around a day’s activities. The luxury of such time is like the luxury of a five day cricket match!

 

This experience reminded me of ‘Babette’s Feast’. It felt religious, because I was in a place where everything seemed to fit together.

 

This experience reminded me of when a Eucharist that really ‘clicks’: the memory of the past, and how great the soup was, the being really caught up in the making of the soup, over the course of a day, the connection with s bigger world called ‘French Cooking’ that was opened up to me, in the concrete action of actually cooking something French and the simplicity of the ingredients! All of these elements also go into connecting me with God, in Christ. I am reminded of what has been, and how other Eucharists have been occasions of love, or celebration or forgiveness.

 

I am reminded of the time it takes to enter into the world that is disclosed by the Eucharist (especially over Holy Week and Easter). How I am called not to worry about how long it is taking, but to ask myself ‘where am I up to with God, now?’

 

I am reminded of the simplicity of the elements that go to make up a Eucharist. Just bread and wine and reading and prayer: mix, together with attention, for a delicious meal!

 

And last, the complexity and beauty of the taste that results, when shared with loved ones.

 

I’m hooked. How this connection between being Christian and making French Onion Soup will work its way out, but it has certainly worked its way in!!

 

Posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How I Also Am Prone To Using Clichés

Recently I found out that I am as much subject to using clichés as anyone else.

 

Listen to this. I was speaking to my sister who was telling me about her recent experiences in their gospel reflection group. They were reading the resurrection appearance stories, just after Easter, and they began to wonder about who these ‘men in whiter’ might be.

 

Well, as soon as I heard the phrase ‘men in white’, I immediately went, in thought, to the commentaries. There they say “Any reference to people in white is a reference to either angels or baptism candidates’. That was going to be my ‘stock answer.’

 

But wisely, I did not say anything till she had finished speaking.

 

Then my sister said “So we were thinking about what function these ‘men in white’ had in the story. They acted like guides to the bewildered disciples. They helped them to understand the meaning of the events that they were witnessing”. So then we got to thinking about ‘Well, who are the ‘men in white’ for us? This led to some productive thinking, and the identification of people and things tat guide us.”

 

Well I was surprised and appreciated this insight that my sister had shared a great deal.

 

So listening to this story put me in mind of the way in which I ‘run to a cliché in order to simply ‘have something’ that stops me from thinking about a thing with fresh eyes, or for a second time.

 

I am reminded of the book that I have used called ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’.

 

The thesis of the book is that up to about twelve years of age, we really look at the world, and within the limitations of our age, draw what we see. Gradually we build up an internal ‘library’ of what things look like.

 

This means that when someone says ‘draw a house’ we draw a box with windows and a door with a chimney. But we don’t draw any given actual house. But at twelve, we want our drawings to look more like the real thing, so we keep trying.

 

The problem is that the ‘library’ of possibilities that we have is so rich and dominant, that it is impossible not to drag one out for what ever we want to draw. Not being ale to circumvent the library, we give up.

 

So the book suggests that we need ways of making things look strange again, so that we can really look at them. We had to turn things upside down, or draw them without looking at the paper.

 

This actually works, and reminds me of an other practice that I have done called ‘Zen Seeing’.

 

So this is what happened to me when I was listening to my sister. They had come up with a new way of seeing this story. I was still in my ‘library function’.

 

I am also reminded of another book called ‘Power in the Helping Professions.’ Here the author says that in the helping professions, we also have our ways of defending ourselves against some unpleasant, and sometimes ugly truth about ourselves. He says hat we are so good at rationalising that we need relationships that do not respect our ‘position’(like those with children) to unsettle us, so that our defences against a new way of looking at things can be lowered.

 

So again, the idea that growth or refreshment comes through a breaking of the clichés is reflected not only in art, but in the field of being a ‘helper’ too.

 

Think of all the Robyn Williams films (‘Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams) that tell the story of people who were able to bring new life to staid institutions because they were prepared to look at things in a different way.

 

I am also thinking about how a person’s faith grows up. In the beginning we get images o Go from the bible stories which express the Fathering of God, and the wonder of being alive and so on. But then these images do not satisfy us as we get past the teenage years.

 

They need re-working, they need us to look at them again in order to understand them as adults. It is in this way that images an d stories about God can speak to us again, just as my sister found.

 

The sad thing is that many both in he church and outside of it, do not do this work. Consequently many leave the church at the spot where a re-looking is what is needed.

 

The same is true of us in the church. Following Jesus means a regular attempt to open ourselves up to new ways of looking at the Scriptures, to thinking about the whole library of images that we have been given.

 

To do that, we also need to b e in regular contact with people who will do this with us.

 

Maybe this is what St. Paul meant when he (could have) said “The cliché brings death, but the Spirit (who is a winnowing fire) brings life.

Posted in Living Before the Face of God, Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Cliché: “I can be moral without being Christian”

I can’t stop thinking about clichés!

 

Here is another one. Philip Adams uses it a lot, but he is not the only one. This cliché is ‘It is possible to live a moral life, or to have a good ‘morality’ without being religious at all.

 

This repost is in response mostly to Christians who say “Look. What is ‘moral’ derives from some kind of code outside of humanity. Without something ‘other’ (like God) then kit is not possible to have a really moral life. Christians say “Well if you claim to be ‘moral’ where does ‘morality’ come from?

 

Well, one place morality comes from is ‘our group.’ This means that what is ‘right and wrong’ depends upon the collective, but unconsciously held, sense of what is good and what is bad. This works ok, so long as ‘our group’ does not mix much with ‘their group’ that will have another sense of right and wrong.

 

In a globalised world, this is getting harder and harder.

 

Just yesterday, we saw the case of a former Imam who presided over the marriage of a 14 yr. old girl to a 35 yr. old man. For ‘our group’ this is immoral, and illegal, so he was convicted. But for their group, it was ok, presumably. The problem comes when we ask the question ‘well whose group is gong to win in the competition for what ids right and wrong?”

 

Most of he time we never get there. In the small family groups in which we live, maybe of about 50 people, morality is imposed by the group on is members, without much questioning about where it comes from, or why it is that way. Mostly ewe get along fine, living this unconscious morality.

This is even so for Christians.

 

One can step back from he idea of ‘our group’ and ‘their group’ and say ‘But there are universal human values that everyone should adhere to. After all, we have the ‘universal declaration of human rights.’ Even this will not work, because there is no ‘universal agreement’ or at least world wide agreement about what these human rights ought to be.

 

In one case it comes down to ‘might is right’ and that ‘history is written by the winners’. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, and until the outcome of the conflict is known, who will be declared ‘immoral’ is up for grabs.

 

The other way of approaching morality is to ask the question ‘Well, what does it mean to be a human being?’ Often this question is also not within the realms of becoming conscious, so we are back with ‘might makes right’. The person who has the power to force another person to behave in a certain way, imposes their morality on those who don’t.

 

This applies to the morality of how we treat refugees, of whom we let out on bail, and whom we lock up and for how long.

 

The best thing I heard about ‘non religious’ morality came from an atheist, Douglas Murray, who was speaking on the ‘Late Night live’ programme, with Philip Adams, and was I think a challenge to him. Douglas Murray said something like “Our values do not just hang in the air. They have a history. And in Europe, our values have been shaped by Christianity. I accept them, but I don’t accept the God who is supposed to be behind them.”So Douglas Murray is acknowledging the historicity of his value system. He has a sense of where they came from.

 

Which gets me to the idea of a process whereby we might proceed with one another.

 

For my money, the morality of a thing depends upon the story that one tells ones self about that thing. Morality is based in narrative.

 

Christians cannot prove the existence of God, but we do have a group of stories (including the story of our God) that tell us what things mean. As we seek to work out what is right and wrong, we can refer to our stories, and ask ‘Well how is this story important to us now, and what can we do about it so that our lives are found within the world described by that story?’

 

Then we can ask the same of other people “Can you tell us the story of how it came to be that you are as you are? This at least, though not the end of the matter, at least gives us a way into the meaning of life for those who do not share our story.

Posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments