Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy St George's Day

There's quite a bit of interesting folklore about St George. In Russia, apparently, women leave clothes under bushes on St George's Day. If a leaf falls on their item of clothing, they believe they will get pregnant. George is also (possibly) associated with Khizr or Khidr, the Sufi saint and inner Friend in Islam. So George is a symbol of verdant renewal.

In Orthodox Christianity, George's title is Holy Glorious Great Martyr, Victorybearer and Wonderworker George - now that's what I call a proper title.

The patron saint of England was originally Edmund Martyr, who was murdered by Vikings. They chopped off his head, which was then guarded by a wolf until some Christians came to bury him (at Bury St Edmund's).

The next patron saint of England was Edward the Confessor, who married a Norman lady and thereby paved the way for the Norman Conquest. The Normans presided over the increasing Catholicisation of the English church, which had been doing liturgy in a unique Saxon style. Obviously the Synod of Whitby had scuppered the Orthodox date of Easter and the Celtic tonsure, but there were still some differences in liturgy which may have been more similar to Orthodoxy.

George only got made patron saint of England during the reign of Edward III.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Bible: take it or leave it?

I have just been followed on Twitter by an atheist whose slogan is "The Bible... Believe ALL of it, or, Believe NONE of it!"

That is such a simplistic attitude that I nearly didn't respond, thinking it was scarcely worth it. However, I had one of those xkcd moments... so here goes.

The Bible is a book (or better, a collection of books) with different authors, all of whom seem to have had very different ideas about God, and what God wants. The earlier books of the Bible have YHWH demanding blood smeared on the horns of his altar; then the prophets bemoan the hard-heartedness of Israel and their inability to just be nice to people for a change (see Amos 5:24 for example). The theology expressed by Jesus is quite different from that of Paul, which is different again from James and Peter. (I think that's why I found it so very confusing when I tried, a very long time ago, to take it at face value.) All this is well-documented by liberal biblical criticism.

If you don't want to take liberal biblical criticism as your source, try Richard Dawkins, who says we should regard the Bible as a work of literature. Quite right - it is a work of literature, and has just as many insights into human nature as any other pre-modern work of literature.

Obviously (if you read other things I have written on this blog), I do not literally believe the cosmological accounts given in the Bible. They are metaphors, just as Pagan creation myths are metaphors. I also don't believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but I do think his mythology is a version of the stories of other Middle-Eastern dying-and-resurrecting vegetation gods, and if you read it as mythology, it is a good account of the archetypal experiences of the human psyche (the death of the ego and resurrection of the greater self, as outlined in the Hero Journey).

The method I use for interpreting the Bible is to compare it with the wisdom texts of other spiritual traditions. If you read what Jesus and other prophets said in the light of what the Buddha said, or what Lao Tsu said, it makes a lot more sense. Personally I find it easier to read the Buddha and Lao-Tsu, because I don't have to filter out the noise of conservative interpretations of Jesus' thoughts that I was brought up with. But this doesn't mean that the Bible is worthless. It means that if you're going to read it, you should read it carefully to see if its ethical guidance resonates with your own experience. And if it doesn't (as in some of the very dodgy statements in the Pentateuch), then reject it. It's not a supernaturally inspired book, it's a document of the spiritual journeys of a bunch of people, and should be read as such.

As the Buddha said,
"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
I wonder if this is what Jesus meant when he said "He who has ears to hear, let him hear". If so, I wish he had been a bit less cryptic!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Houdan Hen

The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable.

(from Sredni Vashtar by Saki)
Some Anabaptists are certainly dashing and not very respectable. Others sound quite conservative. I suspect that the Houdan hen was a Universalist or a Unitarian. I was going to suggest that she might have Humanist leanings, but then she's a chicken.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Religious civil partnerships are on!

Equality Bill Passed
I am pleased to report the successful passage of the Equality Bill through its final Commons stages on 6 April 2010, in what is known as the 'wash-up' before Parliament was dissolved yesterday for the General Election. This will mean civil partnerships can be celebrated on some religious premises as supported by the [Unitarian] denomination, the Quakers and Liberal Jews. Looking to the future the Bill provides for an order-making power to register religious premises for conducting civil partnership ceremonies in England and Wales.
Derek McAuley, Chief Officer, Unitarians
Oh that is marvellous news, I am so pleased. How wonderful. (Next goal - marriage & civil partnership available to all, whether same-sex or opposite-sex relationships.)