Category Archives: Opinion

Opinion: Sacred and Secular Events in OZ

The conduct of the Queen’s memorial service in Australia’s Parliament sets a very good example for future sacred secular events.

There were references to the Queen’s faith in God being at the core of her life of service, but there was no mention of specifically Christian ideas.

The speeches were about values and ethics and beliefs but were based on the things she’d done and the way she’d lived out her commitment to serve.

The songs were about values that are important in a democracy… caring, helping, serving.

The memorial was inclusive. People of all colours and creeds met in a unity of purpose.

The ceremony of the Wattle wreaths was an original and fitting expression of Australian gratitude for the Queen’s reign. Perhaps it will begin a tradition.

In a country with people from so many different parts of the world, so many different beliefs, we need to devise ceremonies and deeply meaningful rituals that exclude no-one.

Bev Floyd

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Opinion: Why theologians may be wrong

Theology uses words to frame an understanding of religion… studying ancient texts (like the bible) and ideas formulated by religious practitioners. By this method it seeks to bridge the gap between religion and the secular world.

Science and increasing knowledge has destroyed many traditional beliefs. The question becomes ‘Is there anything about “religion” still worth defending?’ and if there is, will it be possible to frame words to achieve this?

Many modern theologians emphasise the role of ‘ethics’ as if that is all we can rely upon in the ‘religion’ corner.

I think there is something else. It is ‘experience’… not an immediate personal experience of a divine presence but what Jung would call the ‘Collective unconscious’ perhaps even a ‘genetic inheritance’ from ancient times. Within each of us there is an impetus to grow, to understand ourselves and the world, to bring the conscious and the unconscious parts of ourselves into alignment.

Evolution is continuing. Why aren’t theologians taking more notice of this? Thinking and analysis and scientific study isn’t the only way to understanding. EXPERIENCE is also a formidable and reliable method of understanding ourselves and the world.

None of these methods of understanding the world and ourselves needs to stand alone. Clearly, they are complementary. Just the same, at present we see them not always aligned or fully called upon.

Theology based simply on thinking or analysis can go terribly wrong.

Science which doesn’t factor in the fully lived range of human experience, cannot explain everything.

Even experience alone, can be difficult to comprehend… it is slow, often confusing and takes considerable effort to understand… but it is a significant human factor that must not be overlooked. ‘Experience is the raw material… the source of revelation.

The word ‘experience and the word ‘experiment’ come from the same Latin root ‘experiri = to try’

Theologians and thinkers EXPLORE.

Scientists EXPERIMENT.

Ordinary folk EXPERIENCE.

The wisest people do all three.

2 Philipians 12-13

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose. 

Computer operating systems have a back door into the program to enable changes and improvements. Could we not imagine that a Creator would have a way to communicate with the hidden inner life of human beings.

Bev Floyd (August, 2022)

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Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery established a spiritual, political, and legal justification for colonization and seizure of land not inhabited by Christians. Foundational elements of the Doctrine of Discovery can be found in a series of papal bulls, or decrees, beginning in the 1100s, which included sanctions, enforcements, authorizations, expulsions, admonishments, excommunications, denunciations, and expressions of territorial sovereignty for Christian monarchs supported by the Catholic Church. Two papal bulls, in particular, stand out: (1) Pope Nicholas V issued “Romanus Pontifex” in 1455, granting the Portuguese a monopoly of trade with Africa and authorizing the enslavement of local people; (2) Pope Alexander VI issued the Papal Bull “Inter Caetera” in 1493 to justify Christian European explorers’ claims on land and waterways they allegedly discovered, and promote Christian domination and superiority, and has been applied in Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.

From a stamp engraved on copper by Th. de Bry, 1590: “Discovery of America, 12 May, 1492, Christopher Columbus erects the cross and baptizes the Isle of Guanahani by the Christian Name of St. Salvador.”

Following an inquiry by a subscriber to the UCFORUM we have, with the generous help of Rev Dr John Squires, found this information about the UCA response:

At the 2015 Assembly in Perth

15.22.03.  Doctrine of Discovery

  1. a) repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples; and
  2. b) affirm the World Council of Churches “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery Impact on Indigenous Peoples”, and encourage its consideration in the Church and, in particular, in theological colleges. (Agreement)

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

And see also

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

And see Uncle Ray Minniecon’s paper

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/events/PNMC2017/Doctrine-of-Discovery-Pastor-Ray-Minniecon.pdf

Rev Dr John Squires, Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing Canberra Region Presbytery, Uniting Church in Australia
johns@nswact.uca.org.au      https://canberra.uca.org.au/  
blogs on ‘An Informed Faith’ at https://johntsquires.com/
Acknowledging the people of the Ngunnawal, Ngambri, Ngarigo, Yuin, and Gundungurra peoples, custodians from time immemorial of the lands on which the people of the Presbytery worship, serve, and witness.

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Film Review: Elvis

From Everald Compton

Enjoyed a relaxing and interesting evening at the local cinema.

It was a movie filmed recently on the Gold Coast of Australia that powerfully depicts the spectacular life and sudden death of Elvis Presley.

45 years have passed since Elvis died, so he may not be on the radar of many younger Australians, but back in my more youthful days, he was a legend.

Neither his singing nor his acting ever impressed me at that time in my life, but he captured the hearts and minds of my generation in a hugely impressive fashion. Almost unbelievably, 500 million recordings of his music were sold and his movies were big box office attractions.

His style of singing was ultra physical, hurling and shaking his body in every direction and this caused far too many women to descend into a state of hysterical fantasy. Church leaders in America tried to have him banned from performing because he was ‘sexually provoking’. What particularly upset them was that, at every one of his performances, many women, both young and old, took off their panties and thew them on to the stage, right at the feet of Elvis.

Elvis had become a God and this upset Church leaders even more.

But we all have Gods because we have a very human need to worship heroes or believe in causes.

It is usually a singer, actor, sports champion, charismatic community leader or politician, or a football club or many similar obsessions. Gods can also be alcohol, gambling or sex.

In my life, my role model is Jesus of Nazareth.

There are other people whose lives have greatly inspired me too, such as Martin Luther King, St. Francis of Assisi, Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. In the sporting world, I am a huge fan of Roger Federer and I never miss plays or movies in which Judi Dench or Maggie Smith are acting.

What is sadly lacking in my life is a political leader to inspire me,

Just look at our current world leaders.

Putin (murderer) Biden (weak) Boris (irresponsible dill) Xi (utterly without personality), and until recently, Morrison (Australia’s worst ever Prime Minister).

But, I live in hope. This is an asset none of us must ever lose.

Nevertheless, back to Elvis. At the conclusion of the movie, I really did feel sorry for him.

His professional career was dominated by a retired Colonel who signed him up as a highly promising unknown with a contract that earned him half of whatever Elvis earned, plus endless expenses paid solely from Elvis share. This meant that Presley was constantly in a sparse financial situation.

It all got too much for him. He had to perform superbly every day or his fans would be stricken and, to keep going, he took huge number of pills daily, all washed down by lots of Coca Cola, a deadly combination. At the same time, his marriage broke up and his relationship with the Colonel became vitriolic.

Eventually, he just collapsed and died. Many say that his stage performance at Las Vegas the night before he died was his greatest.

Tom Hanks acts the fat old Colonel. Does it superbly. In the end, you hate his guts. This is not a trivial matter for any of us. We all tend to find people in our lives whom we hate and this, too often, sadly fuels our lives as much as our heroes do.

May, I make this trivial comment of personal fantasy in closing.

In my public life, I have made more than 10,000 public speeches in 26 nations in many settings that have occurred in my public life which has so far lasted for 70 of my 90 years, They were mostly about campaigns I have been organising or public issues in which I have been involved or sermons at Churches or talks at service clubs and conventions.

While, I was often able to stir up enthusiasm in the crowds of listeners, I did not ever cause women to rush forward and throw their panties on the stage. Elvis left me struggling far behind in the skills of human motivation. My life really has been a terrible failure in comparison.

However, I am absolutely certain that the world needs an Elvis from time to time.

Cheers, Everald

Books by Everald:

THE MAN ON THE TWENTY DOLLAR NOTES

DINNER WITH THE FOUNDING FATHERS

A BEAUTIFUL SUNSET

You can buy them online, in print or kindle, at Booktopia, Dymocks, Amazon, Book Depository etc

or from his website:   EVERALD@LARGE – Everald Compton

and click on BOOKS

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More on Who or What is God?

Who or What is God?

I do not know. Nobody knows. There is no certainty in religion: faith and doubt must go hand-in-hand. Faith derives mainly from the innate human search for meaning, and although our life experiences are so different, inevitably we ask, “What’s it all about, Alfie?” Fortunately, in human life there is the puzzling little additive called intuition, which occasionally pricks us to think that there may be more than just the material world. It alerts us to the Mystery in which we exist.

Concerning the nature of God, anthropomorphism does not worry me because in the Mystery there is humanness. We are in the Mystery. We can do no more than try to apprehend it in human terms, but as Martin Buber argued, any type of I-It relationship with God should be avoided. In the Mystery the dialogue is I-You.

Abstract ideas about God such as panentheism sound reasonable, even scientific like physics, but they do not mean much. Religion is largely a human construct, and I think it is better to approach the Mystery from the human side.

As the psalmist wondered, what are we as human beings? We are not angelic beings. Our lives are limited in time and space, and our understanding is limited. As Christians we believe that the key to understanding our situation is Jesus. He emerged out of the environment of 1st-century Judaism, and using the tools at hand he constructed a religious edifice based on the assumption that at the heart of the Mystery there is something positive. Call it Love, goodness, holiness or whatever. As Christians we joyfully enter the wonderful edifice that Jesus created.

The main ‘tool’ that Jesus used in constructing Christianity was given to him by the prophet Isaiah, and that was the idea of the Suffering Servant. Jesus took on this role believing that the Kingdom of God would result. What is truly mind-blowing is that it did. The establishment of the Kingdom of God confirmed Jesus’s belief and Isaiah’s prophecy.

Although we do not know the exact nature of God or whatever is at the heart of the Mystery we can be confident that it is something good. As Christians we are in the Kingdom of God: we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus”, and we try to obey the commandment to love God and neighbour.

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Opinion: Hell in the here and now

Voting for hell.

If in the last election you voted for the Liberals, the Nationals, One Nation or the UAP you voted for hell.

Some progressives think that hell does not exist. However, if you work with and for the most marginalized people in our society you know that it does. Hell is the rubbish dump, just beyond our fine city walls, where we dump the poor, those on government unemployment benefits, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, people with low incomes or insecure work; the list goes on and on.

Yet we are one of the richest countries in the world. We don’t need to have people dumps. There is enough for everyone to gather round the table and to be fed with abundance.

But that would mean the rich would have to pay their fair share of tax. “Communism” cries the Liberal voter, the National voter, One Nation and UAP. No, it is called progressive taxation and is one of the bases of a functioning democracy.

It would also mean an end to cronyism, corruption and undue influence in high places. No wonder the Liberals and Nationals opposed an effective Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Last week we elected a new Federal Government. If they deliver on their promises, the people dump will be smaller, but the pressure on Government will be tremendous. The rich and unscrupulous are powerful in this country and they control much of the media. They will hound this government, and if they cannot find weaknesses, they will invent them. We need to actively encourage this new Government and keep reminding them that we want no one left behind.

Now that the election is over, we cannot just sit back and hope change will come. We need continually to work with the most marginalized to ensure that their voices are heard. The reign of love in which no one is excluded does not depend on Christ arriving on a cloud, but on us each doing our little bit.

Len Baglow

Facilitator, Against the Wind, A new advocacy organization that you are welcome to join.

Details at  https://woden-valley.uca.org.au/groups-and-activities/against-the-wind/

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A Progressive Take on Resurrection: “Which Resurrection?”

Rev Dr Cliff Hospital

[This was the subject of a seminar presentation to the Merthyr Road, New Farm Explorers Group recently]

It will be clear that in sending out an introduction asking the question, “Which Resurrection?” and then adding this long list of possibilities, I began with something of a red herring.  For the point of my list was, first, to make clear that what Christians usually mean when we talk of the resurrection is the idea that Jesus rose from or transcended death; and, extrapolated from this, that because he rose we too shall be raised at the last day.  But, second, what those who came up with this apparently simple picture understood by it is not clear, for it reflects a composite of disparate strands of tradition available to us in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, the Quran, etc.

It is helpful, I think, to look at how these various elements I mentioned fit together.   And a good starting point is to see that they all are a product of thinking, in the form of stories, but also more abstract and systematic ideas, about certain aspects of the human condition—and behind that speculation are profound existential questions.  The questions are rarely there in the texts.  Indeed it is helpful to note that in the earliest stages of our evolution as human beings, it is likely that the questions were not articulated verbally at all, but felt emotionally; for example, as grief, the grief a product of love and expressed in the shedding of tears and in the performing of actions that we call burial.

My mentor at Harvard, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, in 1962 considered what he regarded as evidence of the earliest expressions of religion or faith, a skeleton buried near the biblical Mt Carmel dating from perhaps a hundred to two hundred thousand years BCE.  He makes the point that some scholars have seen this as indicating a belief in immortality.  But he does not find this cogent: “Immortality is a somewhat sophisticated doctrine, a rather late endeavour to express in the form of ideas (human) attitudes to life, death, and the human spirit….I think it would be safer to take this early burial as indicating at the very dawn of human existence, humans, in the presence of the death of their comrade, felt—or, saw: or shall we say, experienced—something more profound  than the animal world for a hundred million years earlier had ever experienced.”

The only example in the Hebrew Bible of this kind of division between the good and the bad is in Daniel 12: 2: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness like the stars for ever and ever.”  This is clearly similar to the Zoroastrian picture, but in the book of Daniel, instead of happening immediately following death, it happens at a culminating point of history as the previous verse makes clear: “At that time, Michael, the great prince, the protector of your people shall arise.  There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence. But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book.”

However, to complicate the scenario a bit, it should be noted that in later Zoroastrian texts there is evidence of a further development rather like that of Daniel. As the scholar Mary Boyce describes it: “…the last days will be marked by increasing wretchedness and cosmic calamities.  Then, it is generally believed, the World Saviour, the Saoshyant, will come in glory.   There will be a great battle between …good people and bad, ending in victory for the good.  The bodies of those who have died earlier will be resurrected and united with their souls, and the Last Judgment will take place through a fiery ordeal. Metals in the mountains will melt to form a burning torrent, which will destroy the wicked. …The saved will be given ambrosia to eat, and their bodies will become as immortal as their souls.  The kingdom of Ahura Mazda will come on an earth made perfect again, and the blessed will rejoice everlastingly in his presence.” (Hinnells, 244)

It is almost certain that this later Zoroastrian development precedes that of Daniel; and in general Biblical scholars have surmised that these ideas were taken over by the Jews, directly or indirectly, from the Persians, who were Zoroastrians.

There is, however, another strand of Hebrew thinking that feeds into the general picture of the Hebrew Bible and subsequently the New Testament.  If there is this Zoroastrian development of the division, a punishing of evil and a rewarding of good individuals, the Biblical writers tackle the issue of good and evil deeds in another way.  The great prophets whose proclamations are recorded there interpret the devastating invasions by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE and the Babylonians in the 6th century, as God’s judgment upon the people for their unfaithfulness to their covenant with God.  In this scenario, God made the people of Israel his chosen ones, but being favoured in this way involves a responsibility to be a light to the nations, in keeping the specific laws of the Torah, or more generally, in lives of justice and righteousness, caring for the poor–orphans and widows—and welcoming strangers.  But the warnings of God’s judgment before the Babylonian invasion and the exile in Babylon, are followed by a promise to those in exile of a glorious return to the land.   In Ezekiel 37, there is an account of a vision by the prophet of the people in exile as a valley full of dry bones, which then are brought to life–bone to bone, sinew to sinew, clothed in skin, and then finally “breath came into them and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.”  But this vision of a “resurrection” of the people is just one of a set of visions of the return of the people to the land, the rebirth as a second Exodus, Jerusalem and the temple restored, a new Eden.  (e.g, Isaiah 35, 40; Ezekiel 47)

However, although there was a return of the people to the land, the glorious promise was not fulfilled.  Indeed, in subsequent centuries the land of Israel was overrun by the Greeks and then the Romans.  But the hope does not die, and eventually it is focussed in the idea of the Messiah,God’s anointed one, a great King, who will come and rule over God’s kingdom.

What is clear in this strand of tradition initiated by the great prophets is that the vision of human fulfilment is not of individual survival for the good in a paradisal heaven, but in the ultimate destiny of the people collectively, a remnant restored to God in a new covenant.

But by the time of Daniel—probably written around the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Greek ruler, Antiochus IV in the second century BCE–and then in various other books, written later than those included in the Hebrew Bible, but before the time of Jesus–the vision of hope given by the prophets is combined with details that originated from the later Zoroastrians–in particular, that things will get worse, calamities will abound, but eventually there will be the final triumph of good, God’s kingdom will be established, and the good will be raised from death and go to be with God in heaven.

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Opinion: It’s a miracle!! Voicing a pious religious political claim.

A PROGRESSIVE CHRISTIAN VOICE AUSTRALIA

[Ray Barraclough  – a member of the APCVA Management Committee.]

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Voicing a pious religious political claim.

Politicians voicing religious terminology are likely to receive a mixed response. While acknowledging that there is little searching scrutiny by politicians or journalists of religious claims, such claims are not holy writ.

In focus in this article is the Prime Minister’s use of the term ‘miracle’ to supposedly describe God’s sovereign intervention in an Australian election result.

And recently attention has focussed on the Prime Minister’s response to a question raised by a mother’s concern in regard to NDIS funding cuts affecting her family’s care of her four-year-old son who has autism. The initial reported words of the Prime Minister’s response to her question were:

“Jenny and I have been blessed; we have two children who haven’t had to go through that…And so for parents, with children who are disabled, I can only try and understand your aspirations for those children…”

Admittedly, the Prime Minister’s second sentence expressed his concern for the parents of disabled children. But the Prime Minister’s first sentence contained within it mixed theologies.

To unpack that last observation a little, in traditional Christian theology the counterpoint of a blessing is a curse.

Also, underneath the utterance is the implication that to have non-disabled children is a special gift from God, “a blessing”. It can suggest also a shadow side – a blessing withheld from parents not in that category.

What religious terminology then is appropriate for those parents who have a disabled child? Was God responsible for that as well? One could take it further and ask, is every miscarriage then a botched God job?

Anthony Albanese attempted to cover some of the theologically vacuous space by saying that “every child is a blessing”. But the underbelly of the pious claim remained.

Then there is the claim (repeated without any theological scrutiny by the media) that the 2019 federal election result was a “miracle” instituted presumably by the Prime Minister’s God. There is a history to this kind of claim stemming from the Christian scriptures. Without going into detail, a Christian scriptural passage, namely Romans 13:2, seems to buttress this claim by asserting that “[the governing] authorities have been instituted by God”.

Usually it is the victor (or their religious supporters) who claim such a victory as a “miracle”. An anecdote from history. A conservative and devout colleague of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (with this biblical passage in view) sought unsuccessfully to persuade Bonhoeffer that God had raised up Hitler to rule Germany.

Reliable news reports from America indicate that some 80% of white male evangelical voters helped elect Donald Trump as President of the United States. Does that show that the evangelical God has a preference for Trump’s rule? Is that to be regarded as another election miracle?

If the 2019 narrow victory in the federal election was a “miracle”, then statistically the huge margin won by the Labor West Australian government in 2021 was “a greater miracle”. That terminology could be applied too, for Annastacia Palaszczuk’s come far-from-behind win in the 2015 Queensland election.

But the Prime Minister,  given his political theology, seems to have been strangely silent in making what would appear to be reasonable claims for the miraculous for these two election results.

Does God decide who wins in elections in say Australia, Russia or China? Those are legitimate questions raised by the claim that the 2019 election result was “a miracle”.

Such a claim may go down well in fundamentalist Christian circles but mature theology, and a knowledge of electoral history, leads to valid scepticism. And if the forthcoming election leads to a change of government, what pious religious terminology can be used to describe that result?

Ray Barraclough. 

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Opinion: Make hope, inspire hope, become hope.

From Glynn Cardy

Minister of Religion at The Community of Saint Luke
This week, hoping for the best but expecting less, I await the church leaders’ published statement on the meaning of Easter.
Their task is not an easy one mind you. They are trying to explain the meaning of a death and life so wrapped up by the nuances of past controversies, and so overlaid with religious language, that its articulation is meaningless to most.
Each year I suspect these leaders draw lots, and one drafter drafts, and then others attach their imprimatur.
And each year, pretty much, we are told that God (who is invariably male) sent his son, Jesus, to die on a cross and rise again, in order that our sins are forgiven and we can live eternally.
Which I suppose is good news if you want to live eternally. Which I don’t. And is good news if you are feeling unforgiven and need this male risen sort of God to forgive you. Which I don’t. It’s been a long time since words of sinning and saving made much sense to me.
But my main problem with packaging Easter in this language is that it doesn’t seem to take seriously our experiences of darkness and light, of suffering and joy, of probable endings and improbable beginnings.
If one of the drafters one year just told a story about some of that probable and improbable stuff, without any in-house religious language, we might hear the message that Easter as a metaphor of hope that breaks free of the constraints that religion tries to keep it in.
They might not be PG rated but there are lots of stories about darkness and despair. The pain of an ongoing bad Friday hangs over so many people’s lives. There is loss, worry, physical and mental pain. There is violence. There is betrayal. There is fear that drains the soul. There is not having enough, not seeing any way to get more, and feeling hope sink further with each new bill, demand, or child’s cry.
Religious leaders know about some of this. Ministers, if they make themselves accessible (as most do), are among the few who you can call on at any time, with any need, for no fee or obligation. Ministers aren’t there to primarily serve their church members. They are there for the estranged.
Mind you to be called on ministers have to be known and trusted. Trusted to listen, and not to judge. Trusted with an other’s pain. Which is no small thing.
The problem with these stories of hardship, loss, and pain, is that they don’t often have happy endings. Well, not ones easy to see anyway. Dead people don’t come back to life. Wounded people might heal, but scars and limps remain. Fractures in families and communities can last generations, even after any warring stops. Occasionally the prodigals come home, the parents do forgive, the other siblings are understanding, and with all their pain and history they try to make it work. Occasionally.
Hope can be a fickle thing. One day blossoming, the next wilting. One day a kind word spoken, the next silence. One day a neighbour cares, the next gloom returns. The hard truth is if we expect a saviour to knock on our door, we are often disappointed.
But hope can also be something that we make and create. Against the odds. If we risk it. We can be the one who smiles when we feel like we have nothing to smile about. We can be the one who shares when we feel we have so little to share. We can be the one who notices the wind in the trees, the children playing, and give thanks for life, even though our own feels mangled, muddy, and often a sad mess.
And for those of us whose lives are only occasionally a mess, for whom light is more common than dark, the recipe for hope is similar. Bring what you can. Share what you can. Smile when you can. Listen and not judge, often and often and often. Build neighbourliness. Look out for the estranged. Make hope, inspire hope, become hope.
And together, in spite of all that has gone before, without ignoring the pain and hardship, we can connect with each other as family, neighbours, community, and together we can become that hope which Christians call Easter.
(Photo: Simon Bentley. The church is St Michael’s Leafield, where I once ministered).
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Opinion: The Cosmos and our connection to it.

The Cosmos and our connection to it.

George Stuart

Huge numbers confront us when contemplating the mystery of the Cosmos.   Huge numbers!!!   A billion is a thousand million.   A trillion is a million million.

One of the numbers we need to try to understand relates to light.  A Light Year is a measure of distance.  It may not sound that, but that is what it is.    It is the distance light can travel in 1 year. Light does travel. It travels at about 300,000 klm /sec.  So, to calculate the distance of a Light Year, we need to find out the number of seconds in a year; about 31,000,000 seconds, and then to multiply that by 300,000; the speed of light.  So, the distance of 1 Light Year is approximately 9.5 trillion kilometres, or 9,500,000,000,000 klms.

In the Cosmos, there are approximately 2,000,000,000,000 galaxies in the universe – that’s 2 trillion.  Scientific estimates vary quite a bit.  Andromeda is the name given to the closest galaxy to the galaxy Earth is in, – the Milky Way.  However, it is more than 2.5 million Light Years away.   That is more than 20,000,000,000,000,000,000 klms!  Andromeda is bigger than the Milky Way.  In billions of years or so into the future, it will collide with our galaxy, the two will probably become a single galaxy, and all the structures of both will be changed, destroyed or modified.

The Cosmos contains countless stars. Our Sun is just one star, among astronomers’ estimate of about 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way.  Our whole cosmos contains approximately 200 billion trillion stars in the Cosmos. Or, to put it another way, 200 sextillion. That’s 200,000,000,000,000,000,000,000!  Quite a few!  Estimates vary, but this is science.  No one has made a count yet!

Have I lost you?   I have lost myself!   I just cannot understand or even begin to comprehend the meaning of such numbers and such distances.  They are just too gigantic!

Cosmologists and astronomers now believe that most stars have one or more planets that revolve in orbits around them.   Millions, if not billions, of these revolve around their ‘parent’ star in orbits that are in the ‘goldilocks zone’; the zone where it is not too hot nor too cold for some form of life, as we perceive it to be, to exist.   Surely there is life elsewhere in the Cosmos!

The ancient Hebrew, biblical concepts of creation.

The diagram below is from the Teachers’ Commentary, edited by Hugh Martin M.A., on page 406.

It is very important to read the biblical references accompanying the diagram.  They point to the physical features about the ‘Heavens and the Earth’, that were thought to exist at the time the Bible was written.   For us in the 21st Century, they are quaint ideas and without any semblance of valid foundation. We might learn some theological truths from the Bible creation stories, but we learn nothing at all that is helpful regarding its physical reality. It is absurd to think we can!

As you can see from the above diagram, this is not a diagram of the Cosmos.  It is totally different to that which is held today, but this is what the writers of the Genesis myths were writing about.   They had no idea at all about the cosmos as we understand it today.   You will not find the words ‘universe’ or ‘cosmos’ in the Bible.  The concepts we have today were totally beyond their comprehension and imagination.   We should not criticise these ideas too much, because the writers had no scientific information that is readily available to us today.   Biblical ideas belong to the human imaginations of more than 2½ thousand years ago.

If we seek verses from the Bible to use when speaking of the physical nature of the Cosmos, we will find none of any value.    We can find verses which point to very important theological ideas, but for the actual structure of the Cosmos itself, NO!  Nothing.

One of the theological ideas that comes to us from the 1st creation story in Genesis chapter 2, is that of humans, animals and birds being made from the dust of the Earth; Genesis 2:7, 18 and 3:19, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return’.  Theologically, this could remind us that we should practise humility and not think of ourselves ‘more highly than they ought to think’, Romans 12:3.  We are dust; dust of the Earth!

However, our modern knowledge suggests that we are ‘star dust’, not dust of the Earth.

Our/my connection with the Cosmos.

Humanity has always sought to discern how and when we, as humans, came to be.   We have been told numerous stories and myths about how we all started.   Many of these stories point to truths about humanity but none have given us solid information about this issue. As followers of Jesus, we are familiar with the Hebrew myths in the Bible, in Genesis. They point to theological insights but give us no solid information about the physical structure of the Cosmos.

We need a new origin story.  And now we have it and it has scientific validation.

A smattering of the science about the Cosmos.

This is not theological or poetical.  It purports to say what the situation actually was.

In the beginning, there was a tiny ball of matter of nearly infinite energy and density.  It underwent a sudden violent expansion; we call the Big Bang. This Big Bang happened about 13.7 billion years. After this sudden burst, the expansion continued at an astonishingly high rate, doubling in size every 10-34 seconds, creating space as it rapidly inflated. One of the results of the Big Bang was coming into being of stars, galaxies, as well as much of the stuff of the Cosmos, we can observe today. We know that Hydrogen, came to be with the Big Bang.  We also know that Oxygen, Carbon, and Nitrogen came to be with the burning of stars, a short time after the Big Bang – about 300 million years.

A smattering of chemistry, with comments about our physical human body.

 There are over 100 different elements.  Each element has been given a chemical symbol, e.g. Oxygen-O, Hydrogen-H, Carbon-C, Nitrogen-N, Chlorine-Cl, Sodium-Na, Iron-Fe, Calcium-Ca, and so on, for all the more than 100 different elements.  Using these symbols makes it very easy to tell us a lot about a compound.  Compounds are the results of ‘bonding’ of different elements.  For instance, water is formed by the bonding of Hydrogen and Oxygen – H2O.   The symbols denote what elements are present and the little number denotes how many atoms of each element are present.  For water, there are 2 atoms of Hydrogen to every 1 atom of Oxygen.  Another example is table salt. Another example is table salt. It is formed by the bonding of Sodium and Chlorine, NaCl – arranged in a crystal lattice with equal numbers of each atom.

Most importantly for us, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon, and Nitrogen atoms make up 96% of our human body, 65% Oxygen, 18% Carbon, 10% Hydrogen and 3% Nitrogen.  They don’t occur by themselves but occur as bonded with each other or bonded with other elements to form compounds, some of which are very complex.

Water, H2O – is the most abundant compound in our bodies.  Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. According to H.H. Mitchell, in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.  Water is made up of Hydrogen and Oxygen, H2O.

The Hydrogen atoms in you and me came into being with the Big Bang, and the Carbon, Nitrogen, and Oxygen atoms in us, were produced by stars burning.   These atoms, 96% of us, existed at the time of the Big Bang and just after, when stars began to burn.   We have billions upon billions of these atoms in us, and they all are many billions of years old.  Being naturally indestructible, they have had an extremely long and complex journey, getting into us, but that is the result of the processes of evolution, over billions of years.   What we are made of, is as old as the Big Bang.  We may not look it, but that’s the truth! That’s where we originally came from.  We are star dust.  We are part of the Cosmos, always have been and always will be.

However helpful the teaching of Genesis might be, we have needed a new origin story.

Now we have it!   Actually, we have had it for some time!

It is very appropriate to use our 21st Century knowledge and say we are not really dust of the Earth, as Genesis tells us.  We are ‘star dust’. As such, we are physically part of the Cosmos.   We are all part, a very privileged part.  Let us be thankful and celebrate this, our origin.

And when I die?   The Cosmos will reclaim all the indestructible atoms of Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon, and Nitrogen atoms in me, that it has loaned to me for my 3 score years and 20, to use them in some other way for a different important purpose.  This is evolution.  I continue to belong.

To all this, I confidently add my belief, that the same unknowable life-force-energy mystery that was active in the Big Bang and exploding stars, etc, is now active in my life, as it is in all life around me.    This has been the case for always.  We are all part of this wonderful Cosmos, always have been and always will be.   This unknowable life-force-energy mystery, which I am comfortable calling ‘God’, has been, is, and always will be the active creative force in this changing, expanding and evolving wonderful Cosmos.  And in ME!!!

I was there at the beginning, and I will be there at the end.

oOo