Sunday, November 28, 2010

That which our mind cannot grasp - reflections on the God Delusion

I know I'm really late in blogging about Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and I'm sure there's a huge amount of stuff on them there interwebs all about it. But we've just had a very nice little discussion group about the book at church so it's on my mind. So I thought I'd give just a small thought about it.

I think the key part of the book is the first chapter when Dawkins discusses in some detail the beliefs of Albert Einstein. Einstein clearly had a kind of a naturalistic mysticism, which Richard Dawkins argues is completely different from "supernatural religion." I think that conventional religion (if such a term is meaningful at all) is not in a completely different category from "Einsteinian religion." They are both in some sense, religion. But that would mess up Dawkins' argument so he pushes against it (a book about supernatural religion vs natural religion would be, in my opinion, much more interesting).

The key quote from Einstein is this:
"To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness."

Dawkins says he agrees with this "with the reservation that 'cannot grasp' does not have to mean 'forever ungraspable'" (page 40). In other words the mystery, the "something" that Einstein talks about means simply to Dawkins "that which science has yet to discover." Dawkins believes mystery is simply the facts we have not collected yet, that which spurns science on to discover more.

But Dawkins has missed the key word in the Einstein quote: "there is a something which our mind cannot grasp." There is "something" which cannot ultimately be grasped by the scientific approach, by the rational mind. Perhaps the mind can describe it in some way. But that will not really get at it. You will not understand why it is so meaningful to people, how it can change people's lives by externally describing it. You can biochemically describe what falling in love might be, but that will not really get at it. That will not help you understand the power of the experience from the inside. The only thing that will approach that is poetry.

Mystery is not simply that which we have not yet rationally described. Mystery expresses the limitations of rational description.

There is that which the mind cannot grasp, but the heart can grasp it. And it is only in allowing the heart to grasp it (and be grasped by it) that you understand it in any meaningful way.

I spent many a sleepless night trying to grasp it with my mind, I spent years of study trying to grasp it with my mind. Ultimately you cannot. If I followed only my mind I would be an atheist. I find no argument for the existence of God convincing on any level.

I am a theist, I am a Christian, I am a Unitarian, because my heart has grasped a Love that will not let me down, will not let me go, and will not let me off the hook. I do not claim to understand it. And if you want to describe it in purely naturalistic terms, that's fine by me. But it does not change the fact that that Love has transformed my life, has saved me, and continues to do so every day, if I keep opening my heart to allow it.

And that's why I'm one of them weird religious people.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's the Good News? - from Bill Darlison

On the 24th October we were lucky enough to be joined by Bill Darlison who preached with us in the morning and gave a presentation about his book, "The Gospel and the Zodiac" in the afternoon to Bolton Theosophical Society.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Church growth: where is the hole in our bucket?

I'm crunching some numbers for my church as we approach the end of the calendar year.

We are pretty much stable in terms of numbers and I'm trying to work out what our "limiting factor" is. We're getting about 25 visitors in a year and about 2 new members. I'm trying to work out if we should be working to attract more visitors, or working to convert visitors into members. What kind of a percentage of your visitors can you expect to become members? I read somewhere 15%, which would mean we're doing kind of OK at that, and we should be working to attract more visitors. Or, can we expect to get 25 visitors a year and should be working to get say, 5 new members from that?

Monday, November 08, 2010


I'm thinking of preaching about Israel-Palestine during Advent.

My consciousness was raised about this at Greenbelt this year, but I still don't know much about it. Anyone know of any resources to inform me on this issue? What should local religious communities know about this issue? And what should they be doing?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Despair, faith and evangelism

Sometimes people ask me why I don't despair. I'm 28 and have dedicated my vocation and career to a religious community that is only 4,000 strong and in decline. Whether there will still be a Unitarian community to serve in 40 years at the end of my career is a genuine question.

In fact I talk about this all the time (at least on this blog). I'm always arguing for us to face up to the reality of this situation. I constanty want to see the statistics that accurately describe exactly what our situation is.

So why not despair? I find it difficult to answer that question. Maybe it hasn't really sunk into me. Maybe I will despair more in the future. We all have our good days and bad days.

But overall I am genuinely filled with hope and faith. Why? Well perhaps because my faith is not ultimately in the institution, but in God. I have been saved by an inner transforming power, and I know the spirit's power to change lives, and I know that spiritual communities can become instruments of that transformation. I trust that that transformation will work through many communities, through many people. All I need to do is cooperate with that spirit.

I trust that the spirit can work through the Unitarian community. Those parts that are rooted in the spirit and make a difference in people's lives will grow and produce fruit, those parts that aren't rooted in the spirit, or that no longer serve people's needs will whither and die. There may be a nostalgic sadness about what will die, but if we view institutions or practices as serving the greater mission of the spirit, then we can't despair at that death.

So I suppose I don't despair because I can feel the spirit moving (particularly) in my local religious community, Bank Street Unitarian Chapel. I feel the spirit is there and we are changing lives. As long as I discern where the spirit is blowing, and we remain open and adaptable, then I'm not going to despair. This doesn't mean everything is brilliant at my congregation. It doesn't even mean that we're growing, we're not. But I trust we're moving in the right direction. I trust we're in the process of reaching out and changing lives. I trust the future has many possibilities.

So I don't despair.