Poetically contemplating Venus . . . or some further thoughts on a non-theistic, naturalistic religion

This Sunday I do not have to give an address as Jackie Metcalfe (a member of the congregation and committee) is to take the service - thanks Jackie. You can read what she said here. This break in the unrelenting need to write a weekly address gives me the opportunity to write and post this brief blog which picks up on some themes I explored back in in 2008 whilst on sabbatical in Avignon - namely, what might a liberal Christian church do after liberalism, Christianity and church that is meaningfully connected (consistent) with its procession through the ages but which is, at the same, time not trapped by an imagined requirement to maintain an identity with its past?
    Here I’m just going to put down a very few notes before lunch as much as a reminder to myself as to anyone else.
    I'm inclined to agree with James C. Edwards that, luckily, we “still have available to us, practices that can contain, concentrate and transmit the sacramental energies - energies for limitation in the face of hubris and for transformation in the face of complacency - that used to be bound up in the stories of the gods.” (Preface p. ix) To this end I have taken, and will continue to take, advice and ideas about how to proceed in this project from the most famous modern bête-noirs of theistic religion Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger. To their number I must now add the names of Paul Wienpahl and James C. Edwards.
    But, as much as I admire them, what none of the above did (in their published writings at least) was to try to put their thoughts into a shape that would lead directly to the development of some sort of practice within an extant religious community. To be fair, or course, they never claimed to be doing anything other than simply laying down some of the absolutely essential groundwork required for anyone minded (stupid or stubborn enough) to attempt such a project in *these* times and for those of *us* who find the thinking of these philosophers akin to what we might call (after Edwards) “inevitable knowledge”; knowledge that seems to us as inevitable as a belief in an interventionist and omni-omni-God might have once been. Well, one thing I do know is that I am stupid and stubborn - that much is not in doubt. What is in doubt is whether I have the intellectual and spiritual wherewithal and the right kind of gentle, persistent strength to see such a project through, if not to completion, then at least to a secure beginning. I can't answer that here  . . .
    Anyway, with this now for us “inevitable” world-view (and I quite understand there are other ways of being than that which is inevitable for the “us” to which I belong and to which you may also belong) I continue to look around for practical examples that might help us (and me personally as a struggling contemporary minister of religion) at least to begin to imagine what a modern non-theistic, secular, naturalist religion might look like on the ground.
    The practical examples that, to my mind, “fit” best of all seem to me to be those offered up by the Stoics and the Epicureans and my own preference remains with the latter. Naturally, therefore, I am much taken by Lucretius' glorious poem “De Rerum Natura” (On the Nature of Things). Incidentally, I'm not alone in this kind of thinking within wider Unitarian thought - witness Jefferson.
    But, of course, one can't “make” such a religion just like that. It has to grow out of a group of people (in a cultural context) who begin to experience together an “inevitable knowledge” that drives them to build such a naturalistic, non-theistic religious community. If the project is to succeed it has to have an internal (inevitable) drive that is as compelling as those which helped created the great theistic-religions.
    So - I put out into the blogosphere once again these nascent thoughts and wait to see if anything comes back. In the meantime (because I realise that there might be no responses forthcoming) I'll go back to Epicurus and Lucretius and a meditation on the natural world (poetically framed after Lucretius' proem as Venus) to keep me sane.
    Those who know me personally and regular readers of this blog might wonder here about my commitment to Jesus and the liberal Christian tradition - especially in its Unitarian form. Well, don't forget Jefferson's example above, but also please remember it is a tradition that has always tried to be “open to new light and truth” and that basic stance has always led it to critique “traditional” or “orthodox” Christianity. One well trodden path through the Judaeo-Christian tradition is via Spinoza (as you know a much cited model of mine) and that has allowed to develop a thoroughly naturalistic articulation of divinity as God-or-Nature (Deus-sive-Natura). As I have mntioned a number of time in the pulpit and in this blog I can no longer follow Jesus with regard to God - what was “inevitable knowledge” for him is not for me. But that doesn't negate the value of his actions as a human being or everything he had to say. Here a reminder of Wittgenstein's is in order (in Culture and Value):

"If anyone should think he has solved the problem of life & feels like telling himself everything is quite easy now, he need only tell himself, in order to see that he is wrong, that there must have been a time when this "solution" had not been discovered; but it must have been possible to live then too and the solution which has now been discovered appears in relation to how things were then like an accident" (CV 6c). 


    Jesus' solutions were his and mine are mine; Jesus was where he was and I am where I am and many things which struck him as inevitable do not strike me so. Who I am owes an immeasurable debt to Jesus and the Christian tradition - and that I am not about to forget or deny - it's just that my conclusions (what actually seems to me “inevitable knowledge” about the world) don't match up to anything one could call meaningfully theistic/supernatural. But also please remember - what I'm trying to articulate in my thinking and writings not precisely some some new "old-style" metaphysics but a practical (and theraputic) way of dwelling poetically on the earth with what is for us (me) now the "inevitable knowledge" of the radically contingent, non-supernaturalist nature of the world.

    Perhaps anti-climactically I'll stop here as it is lunch-time and I need to print up tomorrow's orders of service, sort out the hymns and music etc. etc.. - in the absence of some coherent close I'll simply paste below a few links to some earlier posts I made made during my sabbatical when the pressure of preaching in church was not upon me and I could, like today, express a few off-piste Epicurean thoughts . . .

Deus-sive-Natura - Personality but not a Person

On not going to church on a Sunday . . .

Garden Congregationalism

"If you quarrel with all your sense-perceptions you will have nothing to refer to in judging even those sense-perceptions which you claim are false."

Some more thoughts on Garden Academies

Garden Academies

PS. The picture of me at the top of this blog gazing up at Venus was taken  yesterday at Anglesey Abbey
just outside Cambridge when Susanna and I went to see the snowdrops. A beautiful day and a wonderful visit.
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