Come to Church Papa

Dedicated to Sam, Alex, Hamish, Charlie, Lucy, Rémi and Anna


Grandchildren: top at back – Sam and Hamish, front – Alex and Charlie; bottom left – Remi and Anna; bottom right – the author and Lucy


Challenging the meaning of life is the truest expression of the state of being human 

Viktor e. frankl[1]

This small essay follows an earlier essay and is inspired by the memory of John Pfitzner. This earlier essay was entitled A Working Man’s Credo: Intimations on Immortality[2] and was published in 2013 having had an initial edit by John Pfitzner in 2011, just over one year before he died. Some of the material in that essay is included here but most is new.

In the previous essay the methodology used was from the standpoint of a physician making a clinical diagnosis, starting by weighing up the evidence presented by a history and clinical examination of the presenting patient, going on to investigations such as blood tests and X-rays, formulating a differential diagnosis, and finally arriving at a diagnosis. All evidence based.

In this essay a different approach is used, tempered very much by my age and the emergence of seven vibrant grandchildren to whom I feel I owe a responsibility as, after all, I am partially responsible for their existence.

It takes the form of questions and my attempts to answer those questions to the best of my ability.

None of us asked to be put here, at least, not unless we agree with the thoughts widely held by the Romantic poets who supported the view expressed by Wordsworth:

Not in entire forgetfulness

And not in utter nakedness

But trailing clouds of glory do we come

From God, who is our home

Heaven lies about us in our infancy![3]

One must admit, however, that as one gets older one has more questions and less answers. But, as age proceeds, one is in more of a position to realize that many of the old answers seem to have sprung a leak. Why should my grandchildren waste time rediscovering what their forbears have already spent over 80 years discovering?But then ‘How would you old people know anyway’, I hear you kids say?

Religion is always an individual, personal thing. Every person must work out his own view of religion, and if he is sincere, God will not blame him, however it turns out. Every man’s religious experience is valid for himself, for … it is not something to be argued about. But the story of an honest soul struggling with religious problems, told in a sincere manner, will always be of benefit to other people.[4]

How presumptive does one need to be to embark on an essay of this nature? Surely this should be left to the clergy and the Church to explain these things and answer one’s questions. After all the Church insists that it is the sole repository of theological wisdom and knowledge. Its priests are the ordained intermediaries between man and God!

Not so – the answers are personal and far too important to be left in the hands an institution with vested interests in its own survival.

Part of a long life should be to mull over one’s conclusions when one has time, and modify one’s answers as new information presents itself. The conclusions one reaches are very personal and are not necessarily transferable to another person’s life experiences and conclusions, which may be very different but equally valid. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile exercise and some may find a few of these thoughts worth embracing.

The three main monotheistic religions attract millions of dedicated, enthusiastic followers who sincerely believe that they have found the Holy Grail which will give them succor and comfort throughout their lives, and transport them to repose in everlasting bliss at the end of their days. They refrain from questioning any of the doctrines or dogmas presented to them as this could result in their faith being called into question. ‘Leave all the thinking to us’, they are told. Questioning is firmly discouraged. Just believe what we tell you to believe.

This soul satisfaction is not universal, however. There are many, especially in this, the 21st century, who reach the conclusion that all in the Church that they are told to believe is not evidence based. Or, they are told, if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter.

…The conviction that it is important to believe this or that, even if a free enquiry would not support the belief, is one which is common to almost all religions and which inspires all state education. The consequence is that the minds of the young are stunted and are filled with fanatical hostility both to those who have other fanaticisms and, even more virulently, to thosewho object to all fanaticisms.  A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants, would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which the world is suffering. But at present, in most countries, education aims at preventing the growth of such a habit, and men who refuse to profess belief in some system of unfounded dogmas are not considered suitable as teachers of the young.[5]

Controversial perhaps, as Bertrand Russell loved to be, but with some truth.

The author is well aware that many of the topics touched upon in this essay are worthy of themselves to be expanded into essays but for the sake of brevity are merely mentioned here.

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp [Auschwitz], that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.


Confronting? Yes, but like Fyodor Dostoevsky in his riveting passage in The Brothers Karamazov[7], Elie Wiesel asks the big questions of God in allowing the vilest maltreatment of innocent children that this world has ever known in the event known as the holocaust. For the Jewish race the holocaust was the Book of Job in real time! Is it any wonder that for many it destroyed their faith, forever.

Elie Wiesel was aged barely 15 years of age when he and his family were transported and imprisoned in the death camp, Auschwitz, in 1942, his mother and younger sister being thrown in the furnaces immediately on admission, leaving him and his father to suffer starvation and forced labour for three years. His life before that had been committed to God as he earnestly sought instruction in the Talmud and the more mystic Kabbalah in the tiny village of Sighet in Hungary near the Polish border.

How can this be? Well, however much the orthodox religions seek to deny the fact, the Master of the Universe has set the rules and these rules are that He does not interfere in man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, nor does he interfere in natural catastrophes but gives succor from within, and those who seek it will find it. This statement is evidence based and I hope the rest of this essay will continue to be evidence based.

‘The Kingdom of god is within you’ (Luke 17: 21)

‘We have come of age’ according to Dietrich Boenhoffer and this will be explained later in this essay. The Master of the Universe expects us to behave like adults, not expecting Him to wipe our bottoms, but to live our lives as if He does not exist – not anticipating rewards in heaven for any good deeds we may perform. Every question that life asks of us on a daily basis requires a decision that each one must make for him or herself and for which each one of us must take full responsibility. Throwing up our hands and resorting to prayer and expecting miracles without action on our part is not the response expected of us in facing life’s daily trials and tribulations. This is the essence of being human.

In the case of the holocaust ‘good’ people averting their eyes as they saw Jews persecuted on a daily basis, and deciding to do nothing, was no better than complete acquiescence.


[1] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Ebury Publishing, Random House Group, Great Britain, 2008.

[2] Ross Johnson, A Working Man’s Credo, McAvaney Media Pty Ltd., Available as E-book, 2013.

[3]Ode on the Intimations of Immortality, William Wordsworth.

[4] Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living, William Heinemann Ltd., London,1938, p.411.

[5] Bertrand Russell, Why I am Not a Christian, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1957, vi-vii.

[6] Wiesel, Elie, The Night Trilogy, Hill and Wang, 2008, p.52.

[7] Dostoevsky, Fyodor, as quoted in Doestoevsky in Love, Bloomsbury Continuum, London, 2021, p. 185.

Imagine that you are creating the fabric of human destiny with the aim of making humankind happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it is necessary to torture to death one tiny creature, and to found your edifice on its unavenged tears. Would you consent to be the architect under those conditions?’

1. What was your world view in your youth, Papa?

In my early youth, say ten to fourteen years of age, my world view was that presented to me by my mother in which she followed her fundamentalist beliefs as a member of the Cooneyites[8]. The world was created by God in seven days. He is paternalistic, resides in Heaven up in the sky (a throwback to the old flat earth belief in which Heaven was above and Hell beneath), and looks down on his creation, listens to their petitions to Him and responds, but only to those who belong to the Cooneyites and follow their rules and regulations faithfully. Unless one belongs to the Cooneyites one is destined to eternal damnation. He rules with Jesus alongside and will judge all those as they move into the next life – the judgement will be quite straightforward with the confessing Cooneyites going to the right and all others to the left and to that other place. Quite simple really, and all black and white.

I had a problem as one by one, first my father and then his three daughters, decided that it was not for them. That left me, ten to sixteen years younger than my siblings, to tag along with my mother to all the ‘meetings’. Twice on Sunday and a week-long ‘Convention’ under canvas once a year. How happy I was when my mother had a nervous attack on a Sunday and had to take a phenobarb and go to bed. I was then free to go to my friend’s place over the road and play tennis (not really allowed on Sundays, but then tennis or any sort of sport for that matter was not really allowed on any day!). How happy I was when I damaged my knee just before the January Convention in 1947 and couldn’t walk. How cross my mother was when she had to cancel her tent at the Strathalbyn Cooneyite convention!

There was a time, when I was about thirteen, that I became brainwashed and decided to join the Cooneyites. I planned over the succeeding year to discuss it with my sisters and father and smooth the path before taking action. Taking action meant standing up in one of the meetings, Billy Graham style, and accepting a call. Deep down, however, I knew it would never happen as the sacrifice would be too great – family friction, sacrificing my dearest loves, sport and ambition. The moment passed and when I was fourteen or so I opted out altogether. That left my mother to soldier on by herself and this she continued to do for the rest of her short life. Her three daughters accepted her position without any rancour, but her husband had a simmering irritation and the relationship plummeted.

At that stage my world view was put on hold and I threw myself into living my life from day to day, taking enjoyment when it presented itself, but maintaining the ingrained principles which had been drummed into me from childhood. Surprisingly, on reflection, I realize my career actually peaked in grade 7 at Prince Alfred College when I scooped the pool in school prizes, achieving five prestigious prizes in both the academic and sporting spheres and even music. It was all downhill after that but I hesitate to connect that fact to my gradual distancing myself from religious connections.

Footnotes to Part 1

[8] Op cit., Ross Johnson, p.xiii

2. What was your world view in adulthood, Papa?

My world view during secondary and tertiary education remained on hold. Life was full and exciting, with goals to achieve and strategies required to achieve those goals. I was fortunate that my parents supported me and were able to make it possible for me to achieve the ambitions I had, by providing food and clothing and an allowance sufficient to avoid my having to work. They made little demands beyond requiring me to pull my weight in family chores – cutting lawns and hedges and helping with dishes and so forth. No-one in my immediate family had ever had the ambition, nor indeed the opportunity, for any tertiary education. They rallied round and gave me plenty of encouragement, especially when my results were on the disappointing side, as at times they were.

I was so happy waking on a Sunday and not having to face the prospect of having to sit through two long services in the company of, let’s face it, somewhat fanatical and whacky people from the ‘other side of the track’. I remember thinking they even smelt differently! Clearly, they didn’t bathe as often as our family did, and with twelve to fifteen people confined in a small airless dining room where the ‘meetings’ were held, a young sensitive nose picked up the aroma! And none too pleasant it was!

This, of course, raises another question. I was given a college education. No-one else in my immediate family, including my siblings had been given that privilege. The Cooneyites would certainly never consider a private education. My sisters had wanted to go to a girls’ college instead of Unley High School, although that was the top public school. Why were they not given that privilege? Maybe because they were girls and my father thought it would be a waste of money, as was the thinking in those days, or maybe he was in a better financial situation when I came along ten to fifteen years after my sisters.

Did a college education make me a snob? My older sisters were snobs and thought themselves better than our neighbours and most ‘Woodvilleites’ because we lived in a big house and our father had a good job. My oldest sister, Gretta, sixteen years older than me, insisted that my friend Murray Stevens and I raised our caps to her when we came across her in the city. She was determined that her brother (and his friends) would be little gentlemen! She loathed me keeping company with one of my best friends, Murray Dawkins.

‘An uncouth family, the Dawkins!’  she proclaimed.

Admittedly they were a bit rough. The three boys rode horses and motor bikes and went shooting with ferrets which they kept in the shade house! They also taught me how to make explosives by packing gunpowder and saltpetre into discharged 12-gauge shotgun cartridges with a cordite wick. My mother was terribly impressed when we blew her washing bucket fifty metres into the air!

My mother and father were certainly not snobby, although my father (correctly) thought that most people he came in contact with were not as smart as he was. His father was a butcher in Spencer Street, Melbourne, and they lived in Brunswick, one of the less salubrious suburbs of inner Melbourne. Being the smartest of the four siblings he was sent to Queens College, Melbourne, at the age of 12. However, he was teased about coming from the ‘slums’, and spent much of his first year fighting his classmates. So, his parents were asked to take him away, and they sent him out to work at age 13 – so much for his college education!

Was I a snob? Well, I did think the Flavels, who had the Cooneyite meetings in their dining room, were ‘Irish peasants’. My father employed Mr. Flavel as our gardener for a short time but he proved to be incompetent and was given his marching orders as were a number of others who preceded and followed him. In his defence, I think he suffered from ill health at the time as he died shortly after leaving my father’s employ.

To me, it would seem inevitable that some degree of snobbery accompanies a college education. It was drummed into us at college that we were the best, our school was the best and our education was the best. We were better than anyone else and were expected to give teams from other schools a good hiding. Come to think of it most people I know have a bit of snobbishness in them!

Do I regret or despise having had a college education? No, I don’t. It gave me the opportunity to make the best of myself pitted against stiff opposition in the classroom and on the sporting field. My peers had high standards and dragged me, kicking and screaming, along with them. They expected good results and worked hard for those results. On leaving school they set their sights high and, inevitably, I did too. In a lesser environment with lower standards, I too, would have been satisfied with lesser results. My parents and siblings had no influence on my career choice nor did they in any way influence my school activities.

This essay has descended into a rambling dissertation with irrelevant digressions and the question of world view has been neglected. Nevertheless, throughout these years, I was aware of having a world view. I remained attracted to the basic teaching of Jesus the man, but not to the religious institutions which, in my view, distorted his teachings in many ways, for their own ends.

When I became engaged to be married, I returned to these questions and eventually joined the Lutheran Church, more as a means of expediency than conviction. From experiences in my childhood, I had formulated a view that parents should both be moving in the same direction when bringing up a family and so for fifty years I dutifully attended every Sunday and did not rock the boat. Never in that time did I hear a sermon that was original and stimulating, or in any way coincided with my gut beliefs. The clergy I felt, were always tightly constrained by the Church in what they were allowed to say – they had no freedom to speak the truth where they may have considered it diverged from strict doctrine. My two eldest daughters commented that I ‘did it for Mum’, and although I protested at the time their observations were probably accurate.

3. What is your world view in your dotage, Papa?

One of the bonuses of advancing years is that one has time to research and ponder many things. In addition, with these years comes the desire to ‘tell it as it is’, dispensing with duplicity and pretence, and being prepared to carry any consequences, which of course there are – often in spades, as I have discovered!

I have spent a couple of years researching the first and second centuries and reading the research and conclusions of leading Christian scholars of all denominations. I have read Jewish commentaries and even archaeological findings of this era. I have tried to be as impartial in my reading and assessment as possible. I have questioned those of my friends who were similarly placed and were prepared to have a frank discussion (amazingly few as it has transpired).

The opinions I have reached are my opinions only and are flavoured by my own life experiences and those with whom I have had contact along the way. They therefore do not necessarily apply to anyone else on life’s journey.

No threat to any public institution, it’s only my own beliefs that I’m going to overhaul. ‘Cogito ergo sum’ [I think, therefore I am].[9]

One final point. I am putting this in writing due to my exasperation at finding so few like-minded souls who share this vision, which is indeed to me quite clear. Almost none among my family and acquaintances have shown any interest or inclination to debate and discuss this fascinating topic which should form the basis for all 21st century thinking. Well, almost nobody – some of my children have given me a sympathetic and encouraging hearing and I have a sole friend who has shown great interest.

What is my world view in my dotage you ask? Well, it has completely turned upside down. It is remarkable how things absorbed from one’s mother’s milk stick so fast and so indelibly and defy all logic to be erased. Nevertheless, erased they have to be if one is to remain true to one’s self and retain one’s integrity.

And so, heaven and hell have been erased. The Christian doctrine that pictures God in man’s image sitting on a throne surrounded by the deceased faithful singing his praise in everlasting hymns and listening to prayers coming up from below (in torrents) beseeching favours has gone. He does not grant any wishes arising from his troubled creation on earth below but allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust in equal measure without favouritism. One is reminded of Seidel in Fiddler on the Roof, ‘Would it affect some vast eternal plan if I were to become a rich man?’

In fact, I hesitate to use the term God which implies, in the mind, all of those images described above.

Rather I would prefer to use alternative terms such as the Jewish ‘Master of the Universe’. It is a spirit without form (the Old Testament Jewish nation was forbidden to give God a name or even create an image in his supposed likeness). I have become a convinced panentheist even before being aware of the existence of the term. A panentheist is one who believes the eternal spirit is present in everything that has been created in the universe although this spirit is itself passive (as distinct from a pantheist who subscribes to the almighty being everything in the universe). This sentiment was expressed by Sri Aurobindo in his landmark book Life Divine, written in 1916.

… we [must] recognise not only the eternal spirit as the inhabitant of the bodily mansion, the wearer of this mutable robe, but accept Matter of which it is made, as a fit and noble material out of which He weaves constantly His garbs, builds recurrently the unending series of His mansions.[10]

As part of this belief, I have come to the conclusion that the Spirit of the Universe is in every one of his human creation, and is available for consultation if required (called conscience by some), a belief I have held for some years.

…Let us then ponder, the birth we all fete,

Its body as perfect as perfect can be.

Does it all happen at nature’s dictate?

Or p’raps there’s a breath from divine deity

The ground of its being for seventy years.[11]

Also, as part of this evolving world view I believe that it is towards this inbuilt ‘conscience’ that prayers are directed and answered. The answer is not the granting of any request but is the motivation and power to achieve an outcome by one’s own impetus. The Spirit of the Universe does not interfere in any supernatural way in the functioning of the universe. There is no transference of requests through the ether to the throne of the Almighty as is commonly believed in the orthodox Christianity.

These ideas have rather isolated me from mainstream Christian theology and made me somewhat of a ‘bush theologian’ but I am now able to look at myself in the mirror in the mornings with more certainty!

I have found agreement with that Passionist priest Robert Crotty who, when asked to comment on which religion he favoured, replied:

I see both Judaism and Christianity as religions alongside other religions of many kinds. They both have a sacred story and their own rituals. They are protected by their sacred writings. They both give rise to a religious experience that allows the devotees to have a focus on ultimacy. Thereby, those devotees are able to cope with the most profound questions and experiences of life. How do these religions of Judaism and Christianity compare to other religions? They are options.[12]

Life after death I hear you ask? It does not cause me any concern as it is something hidden from us. My wife Sadie has just been lent a book by a neurosurgeon, who should know better, Proof of Heaven,[13] describing his near-death experience and return from the ‘hereafter’. Near death experiences are not unusual and medically have the explanation of cerebral anoxia or suchlike. Nobody has ever returned, so the answer is a ‘lemon’. (Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! For, behold, the kingdom of God [heaven] is within you. Luke 17:21)

My belief is that the Master of the Universe is not the cruel vindictive ogre as presented on the Old Testament but is kind and merciful to his creation who had no choice in finding themselves on this planet.

But here we have a dichotomy. How do we equate a kind and merciful God with one who allows an event such as the holocaust to take place without intervening? The bland answers one gets from orthodox Christianity on ‘the Devil and all his works’, are unsatisfactory to say the least. Judaic writing at least faces up to the problem in the book of Job.

At least part of us will live forever, and that is the spirit that has lived with us all our lives and will return whence it came at the end of our sojourn. Again, this is personal ‘bush theology’ coming to the fore!

This leads to another conundrum which the Christian churches, unlike their Buddhist compatriots, have failed to address in their theology. Those nasty little bits in each of our personalities will need to be purged at some stage before we reach ‘nirvana’ to enable us to look ourselves in the mirror with any confidence!

The orthodox Christian churches have never shown much interest in the cosmos or evolution – surely the two most striking factors that give irrevocable evidence of the existence of a higher being. Rather the church has despised both these remarkable entities emphasizing ‘man made in God’s image’ as being the whole point of the existence of both. How arrogant this is. The conclusion I have reached is that Man is not made in God’s image. The creator of the universe has spent some thirteen billion years refining the cosmos into some sort of order and allowing homo sapiens space and the milieu to evolve in this magnificent setting hoping, I am sure, that he will appreciate what a wonderful world has been created for his enjoyment and in turn show his appreciation.

If one is a panentheist and believes that the creator of this magnificent environment has his presence in every corner of his creation (and is to be found there) then it follows that every part must be treated with respect, as we are the custodians. If His presence were to be withdrawn from the cosmos it could all disappear in a millisecond with a puff of smoke. Not likely – what is likely though is that man will, by his own hand, self-destruct, as Putin has recently come to make us realise.

Heavy stuff this and I surely hear you say, ‘Come back to reality Papa!’   

One final question must be answered. How has the Christian Church allowed itself to stray so far from the original teachings of Jesus? To answer this question, I suggest one must return to the original church or churches between AD 30 and AD 50 as there were a number of groups which formed and remained separate from each other with differing views on the nature of Jesus and his teaching. These groups included the Gnostics and many followers some of whom continued to attend the synagogues with Jewish acceptance. During this period there was no inkling of anything supernatural – Jesus was a secular moral teacher – but after about AD 50 there was a major change when one group of followers became absorbed in looking towards the supernatural and this group took control of the whole evolution of Jesus followers and the true historical Jesus faded out to be replaced by a ruling class elite who controlled doctrine, worship and discipline. The remaining groups of Jesus followers were declared heretics and gradually faded into history, although some groups did survive for several centuries.

Footnotes to Part 3

[9] Rene Descartes, 1637.

[10] Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950) was an Indian nationalist, freedom fighter, philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet. He joined the Indian movement for freedom from British rule and for a duration became one of its most important leaders, before developing his own vision of human progress and spiritual evolution. He had previously spent two years at King’s College, Cambridge.

[11] Rémi, An Anthology of Three Friends, Altmann, Pfitzner, Johnson, Openbook Howden 2014, p. 36.

[12] Robert Crotty, Three Revolutions, ATF Ltd., Hindmarsh, SA, 5007, pp 222-5.

[13] Eben Alexander, MD, Proof of Heaven, Simon and Schuster, NY, 2012.

4. Why don’t you believe in the supernatural, Papa?

I have never spoken to anyone who has been able to give me any convincing evidence of supernatural events occurring in their lives or in the lives of anyone reliable that they know. The experience of most of us is that we have never come remotely close to what we could call a miracle. Of course, life itself is ‘a miracle’ and the perfectly formed new baby is ‘a miracle’ in a certain sense, but for our purposes I am referring to something happening which has to be explained on the basis of an external source intervening.

For contemporary and generally accepted views we can do no better than look at the findings of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in the Catholic Church:

That same year, the church endorsed the belief that Veronica Hopson, apparently dying of leukaemia in 1961, was cured by praying for MacKillop’s intercession; MacKillop was beatified on 19 January 1995 by Pope John Paul II.                

…On 19 December 2009, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints issued a papal decree formally recognising a second miracle, the complete and permanent cure of Kathleen Evans of inoperable lung and secondary brain cancer in the 1990s. Her canonisation was announced on 19 February 2010 and subsequently took place on 17 October 2010. This made her the first Australian saint.[14]

Mary Mackillop’s beatification was well deserved no doubt but, in my opinion, not because of the so-called miracles. It is my firm opinion, based on a lifetime of surgical experience, and dealing widely with cancers of many organs, that spontaneous resolution of advanced cancers does occur naturally but on very rare occasions; not because of the prayers or petitions of the patient or their loved ones but because of some so-far unexplained medical phenomenon. It may well be that on very rare occasions the body’s immune system responds favourably but at a late stage to some structure in the cancer cell and is able to destroy each and every cell. More commonly one has seen patients whose body somehow enters a symbiosis with their advanced cancer and the inevitable advance towards death halts and the patient may carry on for many years with the cancer not resolving but its usual inexorable advance becoming static.[15]

One wonders at the competence of those who comprise the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Or is it to do with integrity, motives and power structure? …

David Hume makes a couple of valid points in this regard;

Those with strong religious beliefs are often prepared to give evidence that they know to be false ‘with the best intentions in the world, for the sake of promoting so holy a cause’. People are often too credulous when faced with such witnesses, whose apparent honesty and eloquence (together with the psychological effects of the marvellous) may overcome normal scepticism.The history of every culture displays a pattern of development from a wealth of supernatural events which steadily decreases over time, as the culture grows in knowledge and understanding of the world.[16]

This third point is interesting – who will be the first to declare that the emperor has no clothes on? He will be defrocked and lose his church pension!

Occasionally the pursuit of truth prevails, such as the following confession by Richard Holloway, latterly Bishop of Edinburgh:

And that Easter of my first crisis I could not put the Church’s meaning upon it. Yet I had to. I had to get into the pulpit of my little church and read the stories of how he had been killed and placed in a tomb. And how they had rolled a stone in front of the tomb. And how, three days later – although accounts vary – his disciples had come to the tomb and found it empty. And how he had appeared to them over a period of forty days. And how at the end of the forty days they had seen him ascend – literally – into the sky towards heaven. And it was my duty to tell them that this story was true. And not in a poetic sense – I was good at that – but in a factual sense. I couldn’t do it.[17]

The first time one compromises one’s integrity it is a huge wrench, but thereafter it gradually becomes easier and eventually it is no trouble at all. After all, the whole tribe is doing it, so it must be OK?

I am reminded of a conversation I overheard between the Head of the Lutheran Seminary in Adelaide and the pastor of a large congregation. The latter stated;

‘I wouldn’t be at all uncomfortable if you people at the Seminary declared Mary was not a virgin after all.’

The reply was somewhat evasive but the question demonstrated to me that truth takes second place to expediency. ‘You tell me what doctrine I have to believe and I’ll preach it!’ Disobey the party line and you’re out of a job with your wife and four children to feed!  

Footnotes to Part 4

[14]  Sourced May, 2016.

[15] Ross Johnson, A Working Man’s Credo, Self  Published, E-Book, 2013, p 86-7.

[16] David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding X: Of Miracles, Harvard Classics Vol. 37,         P.F.Collier & Sons, 1910. Online at

[17]  Richard Holloway, Leaving Alexandria, The Text Publishing Co., Melbourne, 2012, pp. 155-56.

5. How did this situation come to be? How has the Church put itself in such an impossible dilemma?

The explanation, in my opinion, requires one to return to the historical roots of the Church. Most of us who belong to the ‘Church Alumni’, that is those who have rejected the institutionalised church, still retain a basic belief of Jesus’ life and teaching, that is the historical, human Jesus before all the doctrines and layers of Church orthodoxy were wrapped around him.

In the period following Jesus’ crucifixion (AD 30-50) his followers were confused and lost. A number of factions sprang up with differing interpretations on his teachings.         

Rather than beginning with a coherent set of beliefs and clear leadership structures, the earliest Jesus movement is better understood as a diverse and loose religious movement within Second Temple Judaism. As this informal association of communities addressed new challenges, there were intense disagreements over beliefs, practices, leadership, authority, and sacred texts.

The period between the death of Jesus in 30 CE and the first of Paul’s letters around 50 CE is the least understood phase, and in some ways one of the most critical periods.

When we look outside the New Testament, we see from the non-canonical gospels, the apocryphal acts of various apostles, and the continuing controversies over doctrine, leadership and rituals, that early Christianity was highly diverse. The careful demarcation between orthodoxy and heresy is itself a marker of these divisions running deeply through the fabric of earliest Christianity. The victorious party chose to call themselves ‘orthodox’ and to dismiss their opponents as ‘gnostics’ and ‘heretics’.

Luke-Acts celebrates the ascendancy of the Pauline tradition over more conservative Jewish expressions of Christianity … Luke did his work so well that for most of the last two thousand years his account of Christian origins, written from the perspective of the second-century winners, has been mistaken for a description of what really happened.[18]

One vital clue should be included at this stage and that is the finding of the Nag Hammadi Library in Nag Hammadi, a town 370 miles south of Cairo, in 1945. A man named Muhammad Ali was looking for fertilizer for fuel and stumbled upon a clay jar containing several codices of manuscripts.

Included in this find were a complete copy of the Gospel of Thomas, plus the Secret Book of John, the Gospel of Truth, the Letters of Peter to Philip, the Treatise on the Resurrection, the Gospel of Philip, two texts on Baptism and two on the Eucharist, one called the Thunder: Perfect Mind, which raises important issues related to gender, and many others (including a version of Plato’s Republic), almost all of which were previously unknown. These fourth century texts, in Coptic, are sometimes dialogues with Jesus, or texts about Jesus. Some seem to ‘echo’ parts of New Testament texts, but others are quite different. They were originally classed as being part of the religious movement called Gnosticism, even though that term itself is never used.

As a result, this accidental archaeological find has changed the way many scholars now look at early Christianities – yes, plural! Indeed, some claim this library will turn out to be more important than the Dead Sea Scrolls (found three years later, in 1948) because ‘it offers new perspectives of Christian beginnings outside the canon’.

An often, overlooked fact in some Christian origins’ scholarship is that there was not one unified group or vision called ‘Christianity’. There were several, separate groups, often not knowing of the others’ existence. And when these different visions met, it was often a clash!  ‘Early Christians intensely debated such issues as the content and meaning of Jesus’ teachings and the nature of salvation. They had no New Testament, no Nicene or Apostles’ Creed, no established church order or chain of authority, no church buildings, and indeed no single understanding of Jesus.’[19]

However, as history is usually written by the winners, the viewpoints of the losers were largely lost since their ideas survived only in documents denouncing them.[20]        

The dominant figure that arose at this time, that is between 40 and 60 CE, was Paul. A Pharisee, well versed in Jewish law, having been taught by a leading Rabbi in Jerusalem, Gamaliel. He was intelligent, self-opinionated, and far better educated and erudite than James, Peter, and John who were the leading lights of the Jesus followers in Jerusalem at the time. More than any other person, it was Paul who shifted the focus of the emerging religion from proclaiming Jesus’ teaching to making it a religion about Jesus. Without Paul, Christianity as we know it today would never have evolved. Paul changed Jesus’ teaching of the coming of God’s kingdom of heaven here on earth to a religion centred around the death and resurrection of Jesus himself. He seemed not to be interested in what Jesus himself actually taught. He fell foul of James (‘the Just’ – Jesus’ brother), and Jesus two disciples, Peter and John, the leaders of the church in Jerusalem, who wanted to keep their religion Jewish orientated, by insisting that circumcision was necessary for conversion. Reluctantly, so it would seem, they compromised with Paul, and allowed him to continue in his mission to the gentiles in Asia Minor allowing conversion without circumcision. According to Paul, God’s promises are fulfilled to all people, both Jew and Gentile, on equal terms; it is through his death that people are reconciled with God.

Paul declared Jesus ‘was born of a woman’ and ‘descended from David according to the flesh’. Clearly the virgin birth had not entered Christian doctrine at this time. In addition, for Paul, Jesus never ‘rises from the dead’, so this doctrine was also yet to evolve.

Paul was not averse to making doctrine ‘on the fly’. This was apparent in his early letter to the Galatians in answer to their question on what happened to the Christians who had died before the apocalypse. Paul gets involved in a bizarre exercise of illogical gymnastics ending up with the dead and the living meeting the Lord ‘in the clouds’! We can see Paul desperately trying to work it out on the spot finishing with a doctrine itself ‘in the clouds’.

Fifteen, of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, are directly tied to Paul so his influence is profound. 

Without Paul, the Christian mission, which eventually overtook the entire Roman empire, would never have happened as it did. Paul established churches in key urban areas of the northern Mediterranean, especially in Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Macedonia, and Archaia (modern Greece). Within a generation or so of Paul’s death (62 CE), the vast majority of all converts were from the ranks of paganism. Had this shift from Jew to Gentile never happened, arguably the conversion of the Roman empire would never have taken place, since Christianity would have remained a form of Judaism, not a religion open to all peoples. This certainly would never have appealed to the emperor Constantine.

It is believed Paul died, together with Peter, when Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for a fire in Rome in 62 CE and had them all rounded up and killed.

There did remain during this time other followers of Jesus with different beliefs. There were Nazoreans and Gnostics. One of the largest groups were the Ebionites who opposed Paul’s teaching and followed James and the Jerusalem Church and remained Jewish. However, they were crushed by the spread of Pauline Christianity and, together with their writings, disappeared from history with the label of heretics attached to their name.

The original church in Jerusalem was virtually stamped out with the destruction of Jerusalem by Flavius Vespasian and his son Titus in 66 CE leaving the scattered congregations established by Paul as the main repositories of Christianity. By this time Christianity was almost exclusively a gentile religion. It was free from the authority of a temple that no longer existed, unburdened by a law that no longer mattered, and divorced from Judaism.

By the time the gospels came to be written in the last quarter of the first century the winners had decided on what was orthodox and what was not. Many of Jesus’ sayings were accordingly framed in the light of this ‘orthodoxy’ and rigorous editorial was, of course, unknown. Were there additions made to the Gospels by the Gospel writers in order to make their own theological point at this stage in history in the evolving christology when the ‘winners’ had established themselves? The answer is probably ‘Yes’.

One important element was added to this newly evolving christology and that was acceptance, and indeed the embracing, of the supernatural which was not apparent in the beliefs of their rivals. These rival groups accepted that Jesus was a normal human being, although an exceptional one, and that his teachings were all about how to live an acceptable life here on earth and thereby bring heaven to earth. 

Footnotes to Part 5

[18] Gregory C. Jenks, Earliest Christianities, Why Weren’t We Told, Polebridge Press, 2013, p. 23-4.

[19] Karen L. King, The Gospel of Mary Magdala, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2003.

[20] Rex A.E.Hunt, The Nag Hammidi Library, Why Weren’t we Told, Polebridge Press, Oregon, 2013, pp. 50-1.

6. What, then, did Jesus really say and do? How can we ever arrive at the truth, Papa?

In 1985 an honest attempt was made by the Jesus Seminar, comprising a distinguished group of biblical scholars, who used their collective expertise to try to determine the authenticity of more than 1500 sayings attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. The results were published in The Five Gospels. What did Jesus Really Say? (The Jesus Seminar, Harper SanFrancisco, 1993.)

Surprisingly, the Seminar could only unanimously agree on 16% of Jesus’ words, as recorded in the Bible, as being genuinely attributed to him and without modification or addition by the writers of the Gospels. However, much greater numbers agreed on other sections but not unanimously.

7. When was the Church officially accepted, Papa?

Despite the persecution of the Christian church during the first three centuries, it prospered and grew. The Pauline segment became dominant because of its attractiveness to Gentiles whilst the other segments, mainly Ebionites and Gnostics which retained Jewish connections, were overrun.

The community that continued to follow the teachings of James in the centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem referred to itself as the Ebionites, or ‘the Poor’, in honour of Jame’s focus on the poor. The Ebionites insisted on circumcision and strict adherence to the law. Well into the fourth century they viewed Jesus as just a man. They were one of the many heterodox communities who were marginalised and persecuted after the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, essentially making Pauline Christianity the orthodox religion of the Roman Empire.[21]

The future of Pauline Christianity became assured when Constantine became the sole Roman Emperor in 324 CE and, in his wisdom and for his own material gain, selected the Pauline Christian Church to be the church of the empire. The Christ cult thus received Royal patronage and became rich and powerful, a position it maintains today. Constantine appointed Eusebius to decide on which books would be included in the canon of sacred scripture and commanded 50 copies for the new churches he planned to build on Constantinople. In the event, however, this debate on the canon continued for several centuries.

Constantine quickly realised that his newly acquired church was racked with serious disagreements, and so he convened the Council of Nicaea, commanding and financing all the Christian bishops to attend and vote on the controversial topics. Some 1800 attended from all corners of the empire. They were given free travel as well as lodging and were given permission to bring two priests and three deacons so the final number was well above 1800. Constantine organised the Council along the lines of the Roman Senate and, resplendent in purple and gold, he made a ceremonial entrance at the opening of the council, like some heavenly messenger of God. He was the presider but did not cast any official vote. 

The main agenda question was to decide the relationship between God the Father, and the Son. The ‘Arian controversy’ had arisen in Alexandria when Arius maintained that the Father alone is almighty and infinite, and therefore the father’s divinity must be greater than the Son’s. The debate extended for one month and, according to legend, became so heated at one stage, that Arius was struck in the face by Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas would later be canonized!

The final outcome was the Nicene Creed: the Emperor declared that everybody who refused to endorse the Creed would be exiled. Thus Arius, Theonas, and Secundus were exiled to Illyria, in addition to being excommunicated. Arius’s works were confined to flames and any person found possessing them was to be executed. Nevertheless, the controversy did continue to spread for the remainder of the fourth century.[22]

Despite Constantine’s sympathetic interest in the Church, he was not baptised until some 11 or 12 years after the council, putting off baptism as long as he could so as to be absolved from as much sin as possible. The belief he was told was that in baptism all sin is forgiven fully and completely. Thus, he obtained a further 12 years in which he could ‘sin’ as much as he liked!

This Council of Nicaea has been set out in some detail to illustrate the origin if the Nicene Creed. This creed was formulated by human minds with all their limitations, particularly in the 4th century, and voted upon by a committee, whereby lobbying was quite in order, and severe penalties were administered if you voted on the wrong side.

How can it still be a central part of Christian liturgy? Much of what is stated in the Creed is pure supposition with no hard evidence. Much of it is not believed to be the truth by the Church Alumni and it acts as an enormous barrier to 21st century mankind.

It was always intended to be a barrier, to separate the sheep from the goats, accepting those who are in and rejecting those who are out. One does not need to be a Rhodes Scholar to move to the next conclusion.

Jesus would never have accepted the claims of the Nicene Creed and would have great difficulty understanding it. It is far removed from His teaching. 

The other baggage that inevitably became piled onto Christianity at this time, as it became an instrument of the state under Constantine, were the pagan rituals and traditions which merged with the spread of Christian theology which absorbed many of them into its own traditions rather than discard them. Such items include the burning of incense, used by early pagans to drive away evil spirits and the use of candles on an alter and the preparation and presentation of a sacrifice as part of religious worship, all of which had their roots in pagan ceremonies and celebrations.

Footnotes to Part 7

[21] Reza Aslan, Zealot, Allan & Unwin, 2013, p. 272.

[22] I fear I would have found myself on the side of Arius!

8. Well, Papa, you have rambled on a lot – but in the end do you believe there is a God? Or are you an atheist?

This is a crucial question that you put to me. There is no doubt that I am an apostate but that does not automatically make me an atheist. I am a free thinker and since the age of 70 I like to believe that all my opinions are evidence based. If the answer to a question cannot be evidence based then, as in medicine, the most likely answer should be accepted but with reservation.

Using that term ‘God’ means very different things to many different people and has personal connotations. Instead, I would refer to the Master of the Universe – a Jewish expression which sits more comfortably in the context I am employing.

The word ‘God’ traditionally conjures up visions of a benevolent being living in heaven somewhere in the upper tier of the ancient three-tiered structure of the Universe – Heaven above, earth in the middle and Hell below. He has Angels waiting on Him and He listens patiently to all the Petitions thrust at Him, granting some and declining others, weighing each soul on the scales before deciding their fate. It would seem this view is still held by the Church and the populace at large judging by the cartoons in the Press. To me this view is a carryover from the Middle Ages and a view for which there is no evidence whatsoever and never has been.

I have dismissed the views of atheists in another document[23], particularly the arguments of atheism’s most famous protagonist, Richard Dawkins. I will not repeat those arguments here.

Nevertheless, it is pertinent to include here an email exchange I had with a close and influential friend ‘of the cloth’ some years ago before he died. He wrote;

For me Christianity is not so much about whether or not one believes in God but, as the name implies, is more about one’s attitude to Christ. As a follower of Jesus, I’m interested in what he taught and what he embodied in his life. I’m interested in the kind of God he represented, a God of compassion, acceptance, inclusivity and justice for all. ‘God’ is for me, then, a word that represents these kinds of values and behaviour.

One cannot live in this universe and observe all of its intricacies and beauties without having a sense of awe that it actually works and does not fall apart. Something is keeping it all together.

My view of the Master of the Universe, after much research, reading and consideration is that this being is the ‘source of all being’ and is present in all living things including you and I (whether this includes inanimate objects I am not sure but it probably does otherwise objects would not fall at 32 feet per second squared every time). Without this presence we would not exist and the cosmos would not exist. This presence does not magically intervene in cosmic or worldly events and does not answer our petitions, so in that sense is not ’Personal’. We are however able to commune with this presence and get help and strength in our day-to-day activities. Nevertheless, there is never any miraculous intervention in our personal affairs.

Greg Sheridan is a contemporary journalist of the catholic faith (and to my humble mind too fundamentalist) who writes for The Australian. He is one with whom I do not always find myself in agreement but this article a couple of weeks ago struck a resonant chord:[24]

It strikes me as absolutely characteristic of God that he would spend 14 billion years preparing a gift for human beings.

There are countless clues of God throughout the world and within humanity itself. There is the strange phenomenon of joy, the even stranger delight of humour, the inescapable intimation of meaning in beauty and music. There is the mystery of love, along with the equal mystery of our consciousness and self-awareness. It is a lot of clues to ignore.

There is one clue I like more than any other – the clue of the inner voice. Is there a single person alive who has not said, in some difficult moment; ‘Let it be this! Don’t let it be that’.

Who are we talking to at those moments?

Most of our life is spent with our inner voice, thinking things over, weighing things up, rehearsing our triumphs, dreading our failures, contemplating the people in our lives, anticipating the future, interpreting the past. Isn’t there a sense in all this, that we are involved in a conversation?[25]

When did all this self-awareness start? It followed man’s evolution from a cave dweller leading a life of self-preservation to suddenly one of self-awareness or self-consciousness approximately one million years ago. No other creature on the planet has self-awareness. At this stage homo sapiens looked to a higher being for protection from the dangers which he encountered and so ‘Gods’ were created, initially multiple, and then narrowed to one God in the Abrahamic religions. There was no fall of Adam and Eve. There was no original sin from which we required redemption. Homo sapiens was successful because he learned to protect himself from wild animals and his fellow beings. Homo sapiens was smarter than Neanderthal man and eventually wiped him out. The residua of these instincts of self-preservation remain but are diminishing as evolution continues. Modern man is still ‘work in progress’ as he evolves from these instincts. The whole concept of Yom Kipper in the Jewish faith (God murdering the first born in Egypt!) and the doctrine of atonement in the Christian religion (and this would include baptism and the development of the eucharist) I find repugnant and destructive. The Maker of the Cosmos is not and never was a vindictive monster requiring His son to be sacrificed.

I have serious doubts about the basic Christian doctrines one is asked to believe in order to be accepted into the fold. For example, the Trinity – this arose from Constantine’s Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and was a purely political document. In a similar vein the virgin birth reflects a premodern understanding of the human birth process. The early Christians simply did not understand that the female contributed half of the genes to the newborn. They believed that all the genetic factors came from the male. They believed that the sole role of the female was to provide a nurturing womb. Then there is the additional problem of Mary’s virginity which arises when it is recorded as a fact that she bore four other sons, James (later James the ‘Just’, head of the early church in Jerusalem), Joseph, Judas and Simon, and at least two daughters (Matthew 15:55-56, Mark 6:3).

With regard to the New Testament, one’s attention is focussed on Jesus and his sayings and deeds, with serious doubts about his miraculous conception, the many miracles he supposedly performed, and his resurrection, all of which to my mind have been superimposed on his core teachings. His core teachings are his parables and aphorisms.

Maybe a brief digression about the Old and New Testaments is appropriate at this stage. My conclusions regarding both are very much influenced by the writings of Robert Crotty. His background, which I believe qualifies him to come to his conclusions, is important to set on record.      

Robert Crotty was brought up and educated in a Melbourne Catholic tribal society. In year two he was introduced to the Catechism and a rote-learned belief system that introduced him to a distant, fearful God who could see and organise everything on earth including the weather (He was sometimes asked to reorganise meteorological conditions to suit school events). Next there was a wonder-working Jesus who could heal the sick, raise the dead, change water into wine and quell storms. Death would be followed by one of the following: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory (the most likely first stop after death for the majority of people) or Limbo (for unbaptised babies).

At the end of secondary school, he accepted the world view of Catholics, was the firmest of true believers, and certainly a biblical fundamentalist.

In 1955 he farewelled his widowed mother and became a Juniorite in the Passionist religious order in Sydney. The next year he entered the Passionist Novitiate to begin formal training as a monk in Goulburn. After one year Robert was accepted into the Passionist Order professing vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

In 1963 Robert was sent to Rome to do further academic studies in theology. He arrived in the midst of the upheaval of Vatican II organised by John XXIII. After passing his examinations in Rome, Robert was free to spend eighteen months at the French Biblical and Archaeological School situated in Jerusalem where he was confronted with growing anomalies in Old Testament writings.

In 1968 the breath of fresh air ushered in by John XXIII in Vatican II was snuffed out by the next pope, Paul VI, with his publication of Humanae Vitae. As a result, a disappointed Robert Crotty resigned from the Catholic priesthood in 1972. He became Professor of Religion and Education at the University of South Australia and married in 1976.

His conclusions at the end of a long career of seeking the truth whilst working at the coal face are as follows;

There were no historical ancestors – Abraham, Isaac or Jacob or their wives.

… The Ancestor stories lead down to Egypt. The transition is cleverly described in the novella of Joseph. In Egypt the reader comes upon Moses; Moses was not an historical character. There was no Exodus out of Egypt, at least not as it is described in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was a literary creation.

…There was no United Kingdom of David and Solomon that eventually divided and broke down into two kingdoms.

…This story gave self-identity to the Hasmoneans in the second century before the Christian era as they repossessed the city of Jerusalem.

The history of this late period during the Greek occupation of Judaea becomes vitally important.

The texts of the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings were being gathered, edited and expanded in the immediate centuries prior to the Christian period to give cultural meaning and direction to the Judahites. The final form of literary Israel we now have is that imposed by the Hasmoneans.[26]

Where does this leave the ruins of the Jewish Temple and the ‘wailing  wall’? The First Temple was supposedly built by Solomon in 832 BCE.

‘The sources for the first temple are solely biblical, and no substantial archaeological remains have been verified,’ said Wendy Pullan, senior lecturer in the history and philosophy of architecture at the University of Cambridge, in the book The Struggle for Jerusalem’s Holy Places.[27] 

Before moving on from Robert Crotty his lifetime experiences and studies have led him to make further comments on the Christian Scriptures;

The first Christians inherited this story of Literary Israel. No doubt they unquestionably accepted it, just as I had instinctively accepted biblical stories in my youth. They did not know about academic history and its protocols, they had no need to know.

… Stories about Jesus developed in much the same way as had the tradition behind Literary Israel. Eventually stories of his wondrous deeds – preaching, healings, exorcisms – were linked with the story of his death which they claimed took place as an expiation for the sins of all, and the story of his return from she’ol[28] in order to appear to significant people. These stories were formed into the narratives of the gospels… 

… They were never histories; they were literary constructions meant to stimulate belief in those who read them. They may have employed historical reminiscences; they certainly employed elaborations and fictions for good purpose.[29]

Who Has Seen the Wind?

Who has seen the wind
Whence it comes, whither it goes?
Who has seen the Spirit of the Universe?
Who is not in awe of cosmic mysteries?
Man thirsts for knowledge of his maker
We know you are there – somewhere.
‘Ah’, we say, ‘We will make you in our image,
We will give you space in our three-tiered universe,
We will lead you captive into our houses of worship,
Our words we will write as your sacred scriptures.’
‘This is the word of the Lord,’ we will say,
Your nature we will enshrine in our creeds.
Your very mind will be revealed
 In our doctrines and dogmas.
‘Ah,’ we will say
‘We have captured you God,
You cannot hide,
You cannot escape,
You are ours,
And ours alone.
Now we are safe.’
Who has seen the wind?
Whence it comes, whither it goes.[30]

Footnotes to Part 8

[23] A Working Man’s Credo, Ross Johnson, McAvaney Media P/L, Adelaide, SA, 2013, p. 29-37.

[24] See also p.41.

[25] Idea of God is perfectly logical, Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian, October 28-29, 2017, p. 24.

[26] The Hasmonean dynasty was the ruling dynasty of Judea and surrounding regions during classical antiquity. Between 140 BCE and 116 BCE the dynasty ruled semi-autonomously from the Seleucids in the region of Judea under the leadership of Simon Maccabaeus. From 110 BCE the dynasty expanded into the neighbouring regions of Samaria, Galilee, Iturea and Idumea before being conquered by the Roman Republic in 63 BCE under Mark Antony and Octavian. A Roman client state was set up with Herod the Great installed as a puppet king. The Hasmonean dynasty yielded to the Herodian dynasty in 37 BCE, Herod the Great tried to bolster his legitimacy by marrying a Hasmonean princess, Mariamne.  Sourced June 2016.

[27] Wendy Pullan, The Struggle For Jerusalem’s Holy Places, Routledge, 2014.

[28] she’ol – is Hebrew for ‘the grave pit’. She’ol is not a place, but rather a period of time while people are dead and waiting to be resurrected. No consciousness, no knowledge, no pain, no joy, no hope.

[29] Crotty, Robert, Three Revolutions, ATF Ltd., Hindmarsh, SA, 2007.

[30] Ross Johnson, An Anthology of Three friends, Openbook Howden, 2015, p.4.

9. Lots of debunking here, Papa. Don’t you have anything positive to say?

Yes, sadly, your comment is true, but setting the scene truthfully (as I see it) is important, before we can move on to a positive position. 

So then, one starts with the acceptance of the persona of Jesus the human being (his Divinity was superimposed on him at a later date). One has to try to establish the ‘Jesus of history’ as a separate entity from the ‘Jesus of faith’ and decide on the relevance of the former in the ‘big picture’.

To establish the ‘Jesus of history’ one has to try to unwrap all the layers that were placed on him after he was established as the ‘Jesus of faith’. When one eventually gets to the kernel what does one discover.

Probably a purely human being but a remarkable one nevertheless with extraordinary insight and gifts of oratory that enraptured his audiences and disciples.

Let me stretch the boundaries once more, To the extent that the Buddha, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Krishna, Mohammad, Confucius, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, Hildegard of Bingen, Rosa Parks, Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Buber, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dag Hammarskjold, or any other person brings life, love, and being to another, then to that degree that person is to me the word of God incarnate. No fence can be put around the being of God. The suggestion that Jesus is of a different kind of substance and therefore different from every other human being in kind instead of degree will ultimately have to be abandoned. Then the realisation will surely begin to dawn that to perceive Jesus as different from others only in degree is to open all people to the divine potential found in the Christ-figure.[31] 

Some Jesus scholars follow up this line of reasoning by suggesting that it will mean a ‘demoting’ of Jesus (eg Robert Funk) but I certainly do not see it this way. The image of Jesus sitting alongside God as the second person of the Trinity has never appealed to me. I prefer to imagine him as the humble peasant figure who is prepared to rough it with the rest of us – one who has to have his bowels open every day like you and me!

This Jesus aligns more with the Jesus of the very earliest documents – the Q document said to have been used by Matthew and Luke in the writing of their Gospels, both written around 80-85 AD with the help of Mark which was the earliest Gospel, written around 75 AD. The Q document is thought to date around 50 AD, very early. The other early document is the Gospel of Thomas, the Coptic translation of which was found in the Nag Hammadi scrolls in Egypt in 1945. In these two very early documents dating around 50 AD Jesus is not presented as a visiting deity or the incarnation of a supernatural God nor do they present him as a miracle worker. This suggests that this supernatural suit of armour was a later attachment. They do, however, give us much more than the picture of a wise man and a teacher well enough respected that his sayings were worthy of preservation.[32] 

The next earliest documents were those of Paul, written between 50 AD and 64 AD and he had no access to any Gospels which were written later. In Paul there was no reference to a miraculous birth, no hint of the virginity of Mary and no miracle stories, nor any understanding of a physical resurrection. In Paul Jesus was designated to be the Son of God at the time of his resurrection, at which time he would assume divinity. There is in Paul no mention of an empty tomb, suggesting that the empty tomb story is not known to him.[33]

Thus, we can see an evolving pattern of theism being wrapped around Jesus with the passage of time after his death.

This strengthens my belief in the Jesus of the earliest documents and in the humanity of a Jesus without the divinity – one with which I am far more comfortable.

Charles Hedrick writes very succinctly on the humanity of Jesus;

Jesus was a Jewish man who (like Herakles, Asclepius, and others of Graeco-Roman antiquity) was elevated to divine status within decades of his death and later was deified. This was not an unusual state of affairs, since even Roman emperors were deified and had temples dedicated to their worship. If Christianity was to be in competition as a religion in Hellenic culture, Jesus had to be divinized. Early Christians were threatened by the great numbers of human beings who became divine in the Graeco-Roman world…Their claim that Jesus was the only son of God was basically a refutation of claims of divinity made on behalf of the other sons of God in the Greek and Roman worlds. Careful readers of the New Testament can actually follow the logical progress of his status from human being to deity moving backwards from the resurrection. In Paul’s view he was declared (or appointed) son of God by virtue of his resurrection from the dead (Romans 1: 3-4); in Mark a voice from the sky a voice from the sky declares Jesus son of God at his baptism ((Mark 1:11); In Matthew and Luke he is the son of God at his birth (Matt 1:20-23: Luke1: 34-35); while in John he was always son of God (John 1:1-18). In the later creeds of the church, however, Jesus human life is virtually eclipsed, swallowed up by his later divinity.[34]

Thus, the Apostles’ Creed totally ignores Jesus personal life history, jumping from: ‘born of the Virgin Mary’ to ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate’.

But then to explore further an answer to the question, as to how one can disbelieve so many basic Christian doctrines and still believe in a Creator, we have to go back to what seem to be accepted and established facts.

I believe we have to correlate the cosmos, evolution, a Master of the Universe concept, and the relevance of Jesus life, and fit all of these puzzles together to somehow establish where you and I fit in.       

On the one hand there is the cosmos, evolution and the Master of the Universe (with the nature of the latter being impersonal), and these three can be comfortably established as a working unit created by the last named – but when one tackles the problem of fitting the personal God of the Jesus of history into the equation difficulties arise. We say the God of the Jesus of history deliberately because the God of institutionalised Christianity has, to a large extent, been discredited. In my humble opinion the God of institutionalised Christianity is predominately the God of St. Paul.

To accept a ‘personal’ God has difficulties. It implies making God in our own image (anthropomorphism) and while this is the popular concept of God in mainstream Christianity (God sitting on a throne with Jesus on his right side judging the quick and the dead!) I do not go along with it, nor is it Biblical – God is a spirit.

John Shelby Spong describes God in the following terms:

God is the Source of Life who is worshipped when we live fully.

God is the Source of Love who is worshipped when we love wastefully.

God is the Ground of Being who is worshipped when we have the courage to be.

The disorder in the natural world is disturbing and so perhaps we discover a personal God when we;

… commit ourselves to a particular way of ordering our life and action. Devote ourselves to working towards a fully humane world within the ecological restraints here on planet earth, while standing in piety and awe before the profound mysteries of existence.[35]

We shall return to these problems later.

Footnotes to Part 9

[31] Spong, Rev. John Shelby, A New Christianity for a New World, Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2002   p. 145.

[32] Ibid. p. 86.

[33] Ibid, p. 90

[34] Charles Hedrick When Faith Meets Reason, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2008, pp. 15-16.

[35] Geering, Lloyd, God, Galileo and Geering, Polebridge Press, p. 163.

10. Let’s start with the cosmos, Papa…

Yes, that’s a good place to start.

One should state at the beginning that in looking at all these questions we are in no way excluding the role of a Creator. We are looking for truth, without prejudice. We are looking for the way a Creator went about doing His creating. We reject totally the position of Richard Dawkins, that evolution does away the need for a Creator. 

This leads us back to the Big Bang as evidenced by the fact that the universe is still expanding (redshift of Hubble) and background microwave radiation. The Big Bang was 13.82 billion years ago – our entire universe was seeded by a tiny singularity, an object perhaps no bigger than a basketball!

Conditions were so extreme we have only the vaguest idea of the exotic physics at the time.

With the young universe cooling fast and space expanding at close to the speed of light, first photons, then quarks and leptons condensed out of the fizzing quantum vacuum, like mist on a cold window, to form a quark-gluon plasma sea. Next, after one millionth of a second, the quarks combined into hadrons, primarily protons and neutrons, while vast amounts of matter and antimatter wiped each other out leaving only a billionth of the original material, along with vast quantities of gamma rays. Roughly one second after the birth of the universe its temperature dropped enough to crystallize whizzing neutrons from the photons. Nucleosynthesis started around this time, with protons and neutrons joining to form the nuclei of helium, deuterium and lithium. Ten minutes later matter consisted simply of three parts hydrogen to one part helium. The universe was expanding incredibly fast, and after two hours there was no longer the density of neutrons to allow any heavier nuclei to form.

When the universe was 377,000 years old it finally became cool enough for electrons to settle into orbits around atomic nuclei, and for the next 100 million years everything remained dark as the vast ionised cloud of hydrogen and helium expanded. Eventually, however, the photons were set free from the plasma, the heavens became transparent, and the infant universe was unveiled in all its newborn glory.[36]

No less a personage than Pope Francis has seen fit to add his authority to the Big Bang and evolution;

The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator, but rather, requires it. Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve.[37]

It is worth adding the following idea at this stage:

Evolutionary God would need to be immanent in the process of evolution, not as a controlling presence but as the cosmic urge to self-transcendence. This God would be the hidden wholeness, the non-coercive intelligence nudging hydrogen and helium molecules to organize into galaxies; galaxies to birth solar systems; and cells to cluster together in formations of increasing elegance, beauty, and diversity. (p 121) [38]

This essay is not primarily about the cosmos, the astounding nature of which would fill many essays. However, black holes are worthy of inclusion, just to illustrate one aspect of our amazing home in the universe.

Black holes are the most enigmatic objects in the universe. Put too much matter in one place and immense attraction eventually forces atoms to totally degenerate, crunching neighbouring nuclei together and collapsing electron shells completely. The result is a tiny, yet stupendously massive object, with gravitational fields so strong that anything nearby, including passing light, is sucked in forever. Just a teaspoon of black hole material would sink to the Earth’s core and then suck in the planet.[39]

Also worthy of inclusion is the Anthropic Principle (Law of Human Existence). This law states that however you look at it, our universe appears to be very finely tuned to maximise the chances for biological life like ours. The relevance of this (in this essay) is a ‘chicken and the egg – which came first’ quandary. Was the universe finely tuned in the anticipation of life? Or did life evolve as it did, and adapt itself to the conditions as it went along?  

If the force of gravity were 0.1% stronger than it is now then the universe would just be full of black holes; if it were 0.1% weaker then no galaxies would have formed. If the Big Bang had exploded with a tiny amount less energy than it did, then the early universe would have collapsed on itself; a little more energy and it would have expanded too fast for even stars to form. If the electromagnetic force were any weaker relative to the gravitational force then stars would collapse long before life had a chance to evolve. If the proton were slightly more massive than the neutron then hydrogen would decay, and most matter in the universe would decompose. If the strong nuclear force were any stronger then no atoms could have formed. Without its special energy level, insufficient carbon would be manufactured in stars for life to exist. If the properties of water were any different then … the list goes on.[40]

At the expense of appearing to be without discipline, one final fact will be squeezed into this segment on the cosmos. The miracle of the cosmos could itself consume many books. But this will illustrate the enormity of our home in the universe.

…However our knowledge of the Universe does have an unsurpassable limit. There are parts of the Universe we will never be able to see at all, and for the most distant things that we can see, our knowledge is stuck in the past.

The culprit here is the speed of light. Light travels at 300,000 kilometres per second. The distance light travels in a year, about 9.5 trillion kilometres, is called a light year.

The fact that light has a speed introduces a delay between when light leaves something (say, the Andromeda galaxy) and when it gets to us (2.5 million years later).

The further away something is, the longer its light has taken to reach us, meaning the snapshot we get is more and more out of date. The most distant galaxy we can see is so far away that its light took 13.4 billion years to reach us. Because of the light speed delay, it still looks to us like a baby galaxy that existed in a baby universe, only 400 million years after the Big Bang.

Looking even further out, we can see the cosmic microwave background, the afterglow of the Big Bang itself. That light has travelled 13.8 billion years to reach us – almost the entire age of the Universe.

This is the most distant light we can see, but the Universe has been expanding since the beginning. The part of the Universe it comes from is not, as you’d expect, 13.8 billion light years away, but is now more like 46 billion light years away.

This distance of about 46 billion light years is called the particle horizon, and it defines the edge of the ‘observable Universe’.

It’s not a real edge in space – we have reason to believe that the Universe must be exponentially larger than the region we can observe directly – but it is a real edge in our knowledge.

If there is, right now, a galaxy 50 billion light years from Earth, we can’t possibly see it: even starlight that left that galaxy as soon as it came into existence couldn’t possibly have crossed 50 billion light years in the time between the beginning of the Universe and today.

What’s worse, we will never see it, or anything else beyond the horizon, no matter how long we wait for the light to arrive.

Nothing can travel faster than light through space, but space itself doesn’t have that constraint, and if it’s expanding in all directions, faster than light can travel between any two galaxies, and getting faster, then the consequence is that our view of the Universe is getting smaller.[41]      

The next question to which we must seek an answer is ‘How did life begin in our universe?’

Footnotes to Part 10

[36] Matt Tweed, The Compact Cosmos, Sciencia, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy for   all. Walker and Co., New York, 2011, p. 322.

[37]  Pope Francis speaking to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, November 3, 2014.

[38]  Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity  and the Dance of the Cosmos, Copperhouse, 2007.  ‘Panentheism’ incorporates this concept, as does much Hindu thought! Ed.

[39]  op. cit., Matt Tweed, p. 334.

[40]  ibid., Matt Tweed, p. 376.

[41] Katie Mack, Cosmos, Astrophysics, June/July 2016, Cosmos Media Pty. Ltd., p. 21.

11. What about Adam and Eve, Papa?

The story of Adam and Eve served its function in giving self-identity to the Hasmoneans in the second century BCE. Pope Francis has accepted it as a creation myth – throughout the ages every civilisation has developed its own creation myths. They are incompatible with evolutionary genetics.

My own assessment of Adam and Eve is that the myth was created around a camp fire by one of the tribe’s elders when the question of ‘where did we come from’ came up. This myth was perpetuated down through the generations but was then accepted as fact by the early church. The sad result of all this is that mysogeny occurred in the church, St. Augustine made it fact, and the female of the species was thereafter blamed for Adam’s downfall and lapse into sin.

Untold numbers of our contemporaries continue to take the tale as a historically accurate account of the origins of the universe and to think of themselves as the literal descendants of the first humans in the Garden of Eden,

12. Well then, how did life on earth begin, Papa?

It is agreed by scientists that the first life forms on earth were primitive, one-celled creatures that appeared about three billion years ago (remembering the Universe is 13.82 billion years old, going back to the Big Bang). That is all there was for the next three billion years.

Living things (even ancient organisms like bacteria) are enormously complex. However, all this complexity did not leap fully-formed from the primordial soup.

1. Simple organic molecules were formed – nucleotides – composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and phosphorus atoms  –  these are the building blocks of life and must have been involved in its origin. Experiments suggest that these organic molecules could have been synthesized in the atmosphere of the early Earth and then rained down into the oceans. RNA and DNA molecules – the genetic material for all life – are just long chains of nucleotides.

2. Replicating molecules were formed and began to undergo natural selection – all living things reproduce copying their genetic material and passing it on to their offspring. Thus, the ability to copy the molecules that encode genetic information is a key step in the origin of life – without it, life could not exist. This ability first evolved in the form of an RNA self-replicator – an RNA molecule that could copy itself.

Many biologists hypothesize that this step led to an ‘RNA world’ in which RNA did many jobs, storing genetic information, copying itself, and performing basic metabolic functions. Today, these jobs are performed by many different sorts of molecules (DNA, RNA, and proteins, mostly) but in the RNA world, RNA did it all.

Self-replication opened the door for natural selection. Once a self-replicating molecule formed, some variants of these early replicators would have done a better job of copying themselves than others, producing more ‘offspring’. These super-replicators would have become more common – that is until one of them was accidently built in a way that allowed it to be a super-super-replicator – and then, that variant would take over. Through this process of continuous natural selection, small changes in replicating molecules eventually accumulated until a stable, efficient replicating system evolved.

3. Replicating molecules became enclosed within a cell membrane. The evolution of a membrane surrounding the genetic material provided two huge advantages: the products of the genetic material could be kept close by and the internal environment of this proto-cell could be different from the external environment. Cell membranes must have been so advantageous that these encased replicators out-competed ‘naked’ replicators. This breakthrough would have given rise to an organism much like a modern bacterium.

4. Some cells began to evolve modern metabolic processes and out-competed those with older forms of metabolism. Up until this point life had probably relied on RNA for most jobs (as described in Step 2 above). But everything changed when some cell or groups of cells evolved to use different types of molecules for different functions: DNA (which is more stable than RNA) became the genetic material, proteins (which are often more efficient promoters of chemical reactions than RNA) became responsible for basic metabolic reactions in the cell, and RNA was demoted to the role of messenger, carrying information from the DNA to protein-building centres in the cell. Cells incorporating these innovations would have easily out-competed ‘old-fashioned’ cells with RNA-based metabolisms, hailing the end of the RNA world.

5. Multicellularity evolved. As early as two billion years ago, some cells stopped going their separate ways after replicating and evolved specialised functions. They gave rise to Earth’s first lineage of multicellular organisms, such as the 1.2 billion year old fossilised red algae.[42]

Footnote to Part 12

[42] Sourced June, 2016.

13. Where did life originate, Papa?

This is far from certain but:

Recently scientists have narrowed in on the hypothesis that life originated near a deep sea hydrothermal vent. The chemicals found in these vents and the energy they provide could have fuelled many of the chemical reactions necessary for the evolution of life.[43]

This story of the beginnings of life on earth is confirmed by the fossil remains that have been embedded in rocks for all time. By radiometric dating methods we are able to estimate the age of these rocks and correlate this with the era on which these creatures inhabited the earth.

Footnote to Part 13

[43] Sourced June 2016.

14. How then, Papa, do we get from the first living forms to where we are today?

This is the story of a bacterium that became a worm, that became a fish, that became a reptile, which became a rodent, which became an ape, who became a human, who left Africa, and became you over a time span of about three billion years.

Evolution is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of evidence, painstaking work, and breakthrough science. The discovery of evolution is the greatest cultural, philosophical, and spiritual event of the last few hundred years. It forms the basis of a new world view which underpins our thinking about our place in the Universe. It has to be embraced by 21st century man.

It takes considerable effort to transpose oneself from a ‘three score and ten’ mode of thinking to the big picture of evolution in which we ourselves are playing a part. Identifiable changes may take thousands of years. We are on the move still – homo sapiens is still evolving. Technology is moving ahead at such a rapid rate that it hides the evolution of mankind itself which only changes over thousands of years (Neanderthal man existed 40,000 years ago).

In what way are we changing? We are getting taller (quite quickly). We are living longer and having more quality retirement time (in which to write rubbish like this!). We are living a decade longer than our grandparents (admittedly this is predominantly due to medical advances). Our brain is probably enlarging and our brain ‘computer mechanism’ is (probably) getting smarter. Where the future lies we cannot predict but the laws of evolution dictate that mutations which benefit the species and give a survival advantage are retained whilst those that do not are discarded.

This essay is not intended to focus on the details of evolution which are well dealt with in many publications. Rather we shall focus on the philosophical and theological implications.

It is, however, worth focussing on Darwin’s biggest problem in his Theory of Evolution: the eye. When evolution sceptics want to attack Darwin’s theory, they point to the human eye. How could something so complex have developed through random mutation and natural selection, even over millions of years?

In his sixth edition of On the Origin of Species (1872) Darwin states:

‘… the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, should not be considered as subversive of the theory. 

How a nerve comes to be sensitive to light, hardly concerns us more than how life itself originated; but I may remark that, as some of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot be detected, are capable of perceiving light, it does not seem impossible that certain sensitive elements in their sarcode[44] should become aggregated and develop into nerves, endowed with this special sensitivity.’ [45]

Through natural selection, different types of eyes have emerged in evolutionary history – and the human eye is not even the best one because blood vessels run across the surface of the retina instead of beneath it. It is easy for these vessels to proliferate or leak and impair vision.

If the eye were to have been made by God at the time of creation rather than developing by evolutionary principles then one has to say it was a botched design.

‘Blind alleys’ in evolution have been common occurrences. it has been estimated that during the evolutionary process early organisms made some forty unsuccessful attempts to develop a functioning eye. Primitive invertebrates were determined to see.[46]

Where did this determination come from? It is a characteristic of all living matter that every life form has an inbuilt genetic characteristic that demands that it must seek to improve itself. Is this a footprint of a Creator?

In brief, it would seem that that the evolution of the eye has traced the following path: a simple light sensitive spot on the skin of some ancestral creature gave it some tiny survival advantage, perhaps allowing it to evade a predator; random changes then created a depression in the light sensitive patch, a deepening pit that made vision a little sharper. At the same time the pit’s opening gradually narrowed, so light entered through a small aperture, like a pin-hole camera.

Every change had to confer a survival advantage no matter how slight. Eventually, the light-sensitive spot evolved into a retina, the layer of cells and pigment at the back of the eye. In time, a lens formed at the front of the eye and then other elements that make up the human eye evolved. At some stage, colour vision evolved when the photoreceptor cells developed multiple pigments. In fact, eyes corresponding to every stage in this sequence have been found in existing living species.

The first animals with anything resembling an eye lived about 550 million years ago. Scientists have estimated that 364,000 years would be required for a camera-like eye to evolve from a light sensitive patch.

…Nature selects the variations best suited to the survival of the species, and the less effective combinations do not survive. The survival of the fittest – those with the biggest teeth, strongest muscles and the most testosterone – in the human species would result in male warriors.

‘Following Darwin’s discoveries, it has become increasingly clear that human beings are late comers on this planet and that we are seamlessly connected to and given life by all the life-forms that preceded us.’[47]

The human embryo starts as a single cell and, as it divides and redivides, it reproduces the history of all our primitive ancestors; the limbs develop, the cardiovascular system develops and then the immensely complicated neurological system evolves, all of this process tracing the millions of years or more. Furthermore, the milieu that enabled life-forms to emerge may have taken fourteen billion years before that to emerge.[48]

‘The post-Darwinian world recognises that there never was a perfect man or a perfect woman who fell into sin in an act of disobedience. That account is not true either historically or metaphorically. Human beings are emerging creatures; they are works in progress.’[49]

As an example in the plant world of the way evolution works;

… If you refer to Darwin’s arguments about nectar, you can piece together the type of evolutionary arms race that takes place in plants. You might start with an orchid with a small nectar tube and a moth with a small proboscis. From the plant’s point of view, if the tube is just a bit longer than the proboscis, the insect will bump its head on the pollen packet as it squeezes in. So plants with longer tubes are likely to be pollinated more often. The insect wants to get as much nectar as it can. So moths with a proboscis slightly longer than the tube do better and produce more offspring. It ends up as a competition between the plant’s need to be pollinated and the insect’s need to feed.

Over time pollen tubes and proboscises both grow longer and longer. At some point, a limit is reached when anything longer becomes energetically or structurally impossible. In this case 30 centimetres seems to be about it.

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that nature tells us, in the most emphatic way, that she abhors perpetual self-pollination.[50]

This essay would be incomplete if mention were not made of chromosomes, genes and the part DNA plays in all this – DNA is the molecule of life and goes back to the beginnings of life on this planet (referred to earlier in this essay).

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, scientists began turning their microscopes on cell nuclei, looking for the components responsible for the evolutionary mechanism, and coining the term chromosome for the stripey pillules seen in the nucleus. Observations of cell division (mitosis), gamete production (formed by union, meiosis, of a male cell with a female cell) and fertilization showed that chromosomes behaved in an organised way and it was suggested that they might carry inherited information as strings of heredity particles. By the 1920s the black filaments inside chromosomes were revealed as chains of base/sugar/phosphate nucleotides, desoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA.

DNA is a 4-letter code for life, universal to all life on Earth, i.e. all organisms use it in the same way. The number of chromosomes varies from species to species, but all animals carry two versions of each chromosome in every cell nucleus, one from the mother and one from the father, and spaced out along every chromosome are special sections of DNA called genes. Other exclusively maternal DNA is found outside the nucleus, in mitochondria, the cellular battery packs.

The genome of a species is the entire DNA sequence found in its chromosomes. The human genome is like a cookbook as long as 1,000 bibles, with 23 chapters (chromosomes), each chapter containing several thousand recipes (genes). Each recipe is for one protein, and is written using just 20 different words (codons), made of only four letters (bases).[51]

A Rose

Why is that rose so beautifeous?

Was it thus at dawn’s creation?

As it enters as a modest bud,

Nothing fancy, nothing fluent,

But overnight its blooms ignite.

Solomon, in all his glory, could not compete

With form and structure so petite.

How can it be?

Why is it so?

We do not ponder its creation,

We take it all for granted,

‘Twas always thus, we say.

Was its parent ever plain

In trying perfection to attain?

Where from did it get its urge

From less beauteous objects to emerge?

‘My genes are patient

My progress ancient

Success will crown my path

Has this rose, with such display

Said to its DNA along the way,

‘I must proceed with great intent

My petal more exotic,

My perfume more erotic!’

And so the weary DNA mutates

And scent and petal renovates,

A million years is but a day

That former rose is now passé.

And so the bees and butterflies,

Responding to our rose’s enterprise

Take note of colour and of smells

And bring their pollen that impels

An even faster transformation

Of the rose’s reformation

The bee alights and sips the nectar,

In its role as a collector.

Can our rose sense satisfaction

For its master’s benefaction?

And so the genome of our rose

Leaps ever upward to compose.

What implanted, desperate urge

Can cause such beauty to emerge?

We humbly bow before this mystery,

We stand in awe at history

What splendour and what grace endears

Such patience that awaits a billion years

Pause and contemplate

When next you see a rose,

The miracle before your eyes,

The scent beneath your nose.

Ross Johnson [52]

What happens during evolution? Entities get more complicated. They become more knowledgeable and more creative.

… for those of us who enthusiastically embrace both the deepest intimations of the spiritual impulse and the tremendous virtues that flow from the project of science, the first order of business is to free the idea of spirit from being frozen in history and exclusively associated with the traditional, mythic, transcendent, otherworldly, anthropomorphic, dogmatic, old-man-in-the-sky-God belief system, by whatever name.[53]

Footnotes to Part 14

[44] sarcode – refers to protoplasm, the living contents of a cell.

[45] Charles Darwin, The origin of Species, 1859, p.191. Online at     , accessed 16 April, 2013.

[46] Ross Johnson, A Working man’s Credo, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2012, p. 14-15.

[47] Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos, Wood Lake Publishing, Kelowna, 2007, pp. 101-125.

[48] op. cit., Ross Johnson, pp. 15-17.

[49] Bishop John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 2001, pp. 123-    4.

[50] Tim Entwistle, Cosmos, Darwin’s Garden, June/July 2016, p. 55.

[51] Gerard Cheshire, Chromsomes, Genes and DNA, Evolution, Sciencia, Walker publishing Co., New York, 2011,   p.192-4.

[52] Ross Johnson, An Anthology of Three Friends, Openbook, Howden, St.Marys, Adelaide, 2015,  pp. 9-10.

[53] Carter Phipps, Evolutionaries, HarperCollins, New York,  2012, p. 268.

15. You’ve got a head full of steam there, Papa! How about backing off a bit and trying, in more detail, to connect a Creator to Evolution?

Good advice!   

Digesting everything said so far in regard to the cosmos and evolution we see in stark silhouette the overlying shadow of a Creator – not one in the traditional theological sense but one who is more immanent – unobtrusively pervading the Universe. One is drawn to the sentiment that the Creator is ‘the ground of all being[54]’.

The image is of a Creator who has set the recipe for His creation to have free will advancement, within the parameters set, such as those in evolution which dictate survival advantages. One is tempted to ponder on the fate of the dinosaurs supposedly associated with a huge asteroid striking the earth. This allowed the mammals to play a more dominant role. Was the Creator getting impatient? My previously stated disbelief in supernatural interference holds good. A providential event but not divine!

If this Creator has instilled parameters to follow in his creation, then must he not be immanent to see that His rules are being abided by? ‘The ground of all being’ starts to look attractive. What happens if he withdraws His Immanence? Does the system fall apart? Probably.

How immanent is he? Has he established all those constants in physics – from objects falling at 32 feet per second squared to particle physics? Probably.

Is he then in all inanimate objects as well as animate? Well, it is hard to argue against this line of reasoning. Without the presence of a ‘Creator’ in the Universe to keep it all functioning it would disappear!

Is then this Creator restricted to the Universe? My gut feeling here is that he brought space-time into existence and is not himself restricted by his creation but can move freely outside it both in time and space. No, that is not true – he is omnipresent in time and space and everywhere beyond.

Having come to this conclusion one finds, on reading, that there is ‘nothing new in the universe’, and that this line of thinking goes under the name of panentheism (as distinct from pantheism). The universal spirit is present everywhere, in everything and everyone, at all times. The version to which I subscribe would suggest that this Creator is also beyond the universe and its time/space restrictions and that he has no time/space restrictions at all. Interestingly much Hindu thought and Hasidic Judaism embraces these ideas; Buddhism, although it usually avoids the term God, does have similar ideas.

So much for these imaginative postulations. Two personages closely allied to this sort of reasoning are Alfred Whitehead and later Charles Hartshorne of Harvard University. They took this line of thinking further and named it process theology:

… attempting to understand God not as a complete and perfect being outside the universe but rather as a deity that was, in some sense, incomplete; a God who was becoming more perfected in the very process of the universe’s becoming. With this new vision of divinity, Hartshorne rejected the ancient vision of omnipotence so common to the traditional understanding of God. He put forth a God who is actually developing as the universe itself moves forward in time. In this sense, process theology would suggest that we all participate to some degree in the being and becoming of God, in the very evolution of divinity. We are part of God’s self, so to speak, and as we participate in the development of this world and this universe, so too do we, in some fundamental way, participate in God’s self-development. Paradoxically, by placing limits on God’s perfection, Hartshorne and Whitehead simultaneously expanded the depth of his or her being. They opened the door to seeing God not simply as an object of distant worship but as an intimate subject in whose on-going creative self-development we can each participate.

It was an … important breakthrough that their work represented in the effort to drag theology into the modern world. By drawing powerful connections between the evolutionary dynamics of the universe and the very being of the divine, they helped set the stage for a new evolutionary theology to emerge in our time, one whose picture of divinity was at least congruent with a scientifically revealed universe. In other words, if people in this day and age are going to believe in God, then they need a god that is believable.[55]        

This, to me, is certainly a more comfortable image of God. One never was comfortable with the image of a mighty personage sitting on a throne in front of which His subjects bowed and scraped and sang hymns in His Honour. And that is where the sheep are, let alone the goats! No, how much better was the humble brother-in-arms image of Jesus of Galilee.

Since leaving the institutionalised church I have become far more at ease, with a strong consciousness of an inner spirituality.

Which leads me to the next point which follows on from the omnipresence. It is my gut feeling that at conception or birth (when is not important[56]) that we (homo sapiens) are imbued with this spirit of the Universe which stays with us all our lives until, at death, it departs.

What evidence do we have to make such an extravagant claim? Well to begin with, why am I driven to write such an essay as this? It is an impulse which says ‘I should get to the bottom of this conundrum.’ It is an impulse present in many people but suppressed by most.

‘Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here?’

‘So, behold the Kingdom of God is within you’ (literal translation of Luke 17:21).[57]

An Elegy

Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          My spirit’s long gone to a faraway land,

And all that is left is a crumbling heap;

          Once was a life that was lived and was loved.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          That Universe Spirit that made its abode

Deep in my soul for its eighty odd years

          Has returned whence it came, the breath of my life.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          The wind it caresses the leaves on the trees,

It lifts the broad eagle aloft in the sky,

          It whips up wild billows across the rough seas.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          That spirit that now is no longer confined

Can travel the cosmos with freedom unbound;

          It’s gone from my body that kept it restrained.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          My spirit’s beyond any tempus and space;

It reaches to starts and to ends of all things,

          It looks to the past and whatever may come.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          My spirit can roam to the start of all time,

And even can travel to where it all ends;

          It looks to the past and whatever may come.


Come to my grave to remember, not weep,

          Life it commences and too soon must end.

Be grateful for love that you find on your path,

          And save not your moments but wastefully spend.[58]

We are getting to the ‘nitty-gritty’ here in this poem, but if one is to suggest that one is imbued with this spirit of the universe at birth and that it returns whence it came at death, then that part of us, at least, lives on throughout all time. Well, beyond time and space as they are temporal.

Footnotes to Part 15

[54] Paul Tillich – 1886-1965 – a Protestant theologian. [54] Carter Phipps, Evolutionaries, HarperCollins, New York,  2012, p. 268.

[54] Paul Tillich – 1886-1965 – a Protestant theologian.

[55] Carter Phipps, Evolutionaries, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2012, p. 144. 

[56] The Romantic poets, eg Wordsworth would have us believe that we came into this world, ‘… trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home. Heaven lies about us in our infancy!’ (Intimations on Immortality).

[57] An overwhelming majority of the Fellows of the Westar Institute agreed that these were probably genuine words of Jesus and not additions of the Gospel writer.

[58] Ross Johnson, An Anthology of Three Friends, Openbook Howden, 2015, p. 32.

16. Papa, you’ve gone too far this time and you’re taking leave of your senses. How about coming back to the real world?

Well, maybe you’re right. But if you think that’s crackpot you will probably think the next lot is even more crackpot!

What happens during evolution? Entities get more complicated. They become more knowledgeable and more creative, more capable of higher levels of emotion, like love. What do we mean by the word ‘God’? God is an ideal, meaning infinite levels of all of these qualities. All-knowing. Infinitely beautiful. Infinitely loving. And we notice that through evolution, entities move towards infinite levels, never really achieving them, staying finite but exploding exponentially to become more and more knowing, more and more beautiful, more and more loving, and so on – moving exponentially towards this ideal of God but never really achieving it.[59]

Never really reaching the speed of light perhaps?

Each person is important. The way we conduct our lives sets the pathway for the evolution of the next generation and so on down the line. If we set the wrong pathway then evolution is set back, who knows for how long.

Another question which we should ask ourselves is ‘Why did religious faith evolve?’ Where did the God gene come from? It must have evolved to provide some kind of adaptive advantage to our ancestors. As Kenneth Kardong, author of Beyond God[60] bluntly puts it:

‘Religion is not inserted by the hand of God, nor is it an outgrowth of the human psyche attempting to deal with the realities of existence …. Like large brains and upright posture, religion arose for the survival benefits it bestows’. Religious solidarity and the tribal instinct (safety in numbers) is generally considered to be one of the strongest social glues that we know of.

Before leaving evolution we should mention one further challenge for theology and that is:

… the orthodox theistic model that suggests the world is a fallen realm, a mere shadow of the divine – a place that we must suffer through and endure, that tests our moral mettle but is far from the bosom of God. Much of Christian theology was originally influenced by Plato and neo-Platonic thought, which held that the material world was imperfect because it exists in a state of unpredictable flux and change, antithetical to the unchanging order and perfection of God. We should not look to the untrustworthy fickleness of the world as our model for divine contemplation but upward toward the ‘fixity of the heavens’.[61]

This line of thinking clearly is at odds with the evolutionary principles which have been outlined in this essay.

Footnotes to Part 16

[59] Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near, Viking, 2006.

[60] Kenneth Kardong, Beyond God, Prometheus Books, 2010.

[61] op. cit., Carter Phipps, p. 358.

17. You haven’t yet tackled the problem of a personal God, Papa, and we think that this one will cause you to fall on your nose!

You could well be right as it is a hard question. Fitting God into the cosmos and evolution is more straight forward and, dare one say, logical.

Well, the picture we have built up so far is that of a God who is both an external being (to the cosmos), and also one who is in everything in this cosmos, and who keeps it functioning. This would include yours and my body on a molecular level. More than that, we think our psyche is imbued with His spirit. Does this make Him personal or impersonal or is He both?

Wikipedia has the following:

A personal god is a deity who can be related to as a person instead of as an impersonal force, such as the Absolute, ‘the All‘, or the ‘Ground of Being’.

In the scriptures of the Abrahamic religions, God is described as being a personal creator, speaking in the first person and showing emotion such as anger and pride, and sometimes appearing in anthropomorphic shape. In the Pentateuch, for example, God talks with and instructs his prophets and is conceived as possessing volition, emotions (such as anger, grief and happiness), intention, and other attributes characteristic of a human person. Personal relationships with God may be described in the same ways as human relationships, such as a Father, as in Christianity, or a Friend as in Sufism.

A 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center reported that, of U.S. adults, 60% view that ‘God is a person with whom people can have a relationship,’ while 25% believe that ‘God is an impersonal force.’ A 2008 survey by the National Opinion Research Center reports that 67.5% of U.S. adults believe in a personal god.

A personal God, to my mind, would suggest that He is with some people and not others. He is not in everyone. ‘The God to whom I pray, is my God, but not yours, because you have no faith and you don’t believe in Him!’

But then we have already said that the universal spirit is domicile in everyone. What part then, does this incumbent spirit play in the life of its host? Maybe it is our conscience that prods us in our decision making and acts as our moral self, spurring us on to give help to our fellow man. By and large this spirit plays a passive role much the same as in evolution. It is unobtrusive.

We have already said that the spirit never interferes on a supernatural level. There are no miracles.

So, then the answer would seem to be that, without exception, we all have a personal God to which we have access and are able, of our own free will, to use to a greater or lesser extent during the course of our lives. We are free to either encourage this presence or discourage this presence. We can accept promptings or reject them. We have free will.

This brings up the question of prayer. The old concept of a ‘theistic God’ makes no sense to 21st century homo sapiens. That is ‘a being, supernatural in power, dwelling outside the world and invading the world periodically to accomplish the divine will’. God is in each of us – everyone – without exception. Probably an accompaniment to the evolution of self-awareness as cave man evolved. Those praying to an outside deity with endless petitions are wasting their time. To me, prayer is a private and personal communication between an individual and the spirit within him and serves to remind him of his obligations to those around him. In a way the whole of life should be a prayer. This spirit is within everyone and hence everyone with whom we have contact in our daily lives has the persona of Jesus within them and should be treated accordingly.

This idea fits in with what Viktor Frankl wrote about with his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp: 

What we really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected of life, but rather what life expected of us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment.[62] 

A useful addition to this essay, and perhaps for those who have travelled thus far without abandoning the journey, is a sort of parable that I read somewhere, although the source of it has long been forgotten. It concerns an upright man who died and was transported to heaven. There he found many mansions but the place was void of inhabitants. He went from door to door, but was unable to find a single soul, until eventually he came across a person. He exclaimed;

‘This may be heaven, but where is everyone and who are you? The person replied;

‘I am Jesus and everyone you ever had contact with on earth was me.’

One should hasten to add, of course, that for Muslims Jesus would be replaced by Mohammed, for Buddhists the Buddha, for Jews the Master of the Universe, for agnostics and atheists perhaps one’s conscience and so forth. As much as each of these groups would like to believe it, God will not be held captive by anyone or any particular group or nation.

Maybe this amplifies Viktor Frankl’s quotation above.

Maybe, even, it opens other philosophical questions, such as the reality of our experiences here on earth and each of our personas, but that question is for another day?

Public prayer makes me uncomfortable. To me it intrusively assumes the right to petition the indwelling spirits of other people! There is no ether communication to a grey-haired old man inclining his ear and being bombarded with trivial or sincere requests, to which he can agree or decline. The segment earlier on Robert Crotty’s experience as a youth, with weather requests to the Almighty at school functions, exemplifies this outmoded attitude.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut the door, pray to thy father which is in secret (Matt. 6:5)[63]

What then is the answer to a personal God? The final answer is unknown. We are left with interpreting the footprints which we find on this earth. The footprints in this case are one’s personal experience – an essential in medical parlance where the clues may be indistinct and the diagnosis and treatment rests to a large part on previous experience. Should we accept personal experience in the absence of other evidence? My own gut feeling is ‘Yes’. The conclusion we reach is terribly important and upon the answer we may decide which direction our life takes.

One further thought in favour of a personal God. Am I saying that we never have personal communication with a personal God? No. I believe we do have interaction with a personal God every time we have interaction with another human being. How is this so? It is so because every human being, whoever he or she is, has the spirit of God innately within themselves, whether or not they are aware of it. This has been discussed earlier in this chapter.

Notwithstanding, even if the answer is ‘Yes’ to a personal God, it does not negate the hard conclusions reached about the deceptions promulgated by the institutionalized church in their doctrines and dogmas which are not evidence based and which defy reason and logic.

What does one of the world’s greatest minds have to say on the subject of a personal God. From his Judaic background Albert Einstein wrote;

I cannot conceive a personal God who would directly influence the actions of individuals, or would directly sit in judgement on creatures of his own creation. I cannot do this in spite of the fact that mechanistic causality has, to a certain extent, been placed in doubt by modern science.

My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality. Morality is of the highest importance – but for us, not for God.

Einstein does not explain his interesting commentary: ‘but for us, not for God’.

From time immemorial moralists have grappled with the problem of the inhumane treatment of innocent children. As mentioned earlier in this essay, Fyodor Dostoevsky agonized over this problem in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov where he is unable to reconcile his belief in a gracious God with cruelty to innocent children.

Elie Wiesel recalled that one day the Gestapo hanged a child. Even the SS were disturbed by the prospect of hanging a young boy in front of thousands of spectators. The child who, Wiesel recalled, had the face of a ‘sad-eyed angel,’ was silent, lividly pale and almost calm as he ascended the gallows. Behind Wiesel, one of the other prisoners asked: ‘Where is God? Where is He?’

It took the child half an hour to die, while the prisoners were forced to look him in the face. The same man asked again:

‘Where is God now?’

And Wiesel heard a voice within him make this answer:

‘Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on these gallows.’

A galling and gruesome saga of suffering which could be compared to a modern version of the Book of Job in Jewish scriptures.

A confronting pen picture which the author found painful to record but nevertheless necessary.

Dostoevsky had said that the death of a single child could make God unacceptable, but even he, no stranger to inhumanity, had not imagined the death of a child in such circumstances. The horror of Auschwitz is a stark challenge to many of the more conventional ideas of God. Many Jews can no longer subscribe to the biblical idea of God who manifests himself in history, and whom, they say with Wiesel, died in Auschwitz.

The idea of a personal God, is fraught with difficulty. If this God is omnipotent, he could have prevented the Holocaust. If he was unable to stop it, he is impotent and useless; if he could have stopped it and chose not to, he is a monster. Jews are not the only people who believe that the Holocaust put an end to conventional theology.

Yet it is true that even in Auschwitz some Jews continued to study the Talmud and observe the traditional festivals, not because they hoped that God would rescue them but because it made sense.

There is a story that one day in Auschwitz, a group of Jews put God on trial. They charged him with cruelty and betrayal. Like Job, they found no consolation in the usual answers to the problem of evil and suffering in the midst of this current obscenity. They could find no excuse for God, no extenuating circumstances, so they found him guilty and, presumably worthy of death. The Rabbi pronounced the verdict. Then he looked up and said the trial was over: it was time for the evening prayer!

One of the problems of Christianity is that it encourages its adherents in anthropomorphism – to picture God as a human being rather than a spirit whose presence pervades every corner of our universe, probably extending down to every atom. This spirit I believe is also domicile in every descendant of homo sapiens.

Our response to the Auschwitz story is that we give God human form and expect a human response. The human response would be to send thunderbolts aimed at every SS member in the camp – eliminate each one, justice achieved and problem fixed. Clearly the Spirit behind the Universe works in different ways. Its ways are hidden and we can only deduce its workings from the footprints left behind.

Here it would be pertinent to introduce another concept – etsi deus non daretur – as if God did not exist.[64] The idea behind this concept is explained by Richard Holloway, latterly Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh;

…Good should be done for its own sake and not because it is commanded by some version of religion’s God, especially as we know in the past religion’s God has been used for evil purposes. Better to do the right thing ‘as if God did not exist’ than to do the wrong thing in the name of God whose existence you are unsure of. It turns out that our greatest danger is not living without God. It is to mistake our own projections for God, and come up with a god in our own image, packed with our own hates and insecurities – an idol, a human construct. Better no-God, a-theos, than that false God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a towering German theologian, philosopher and a strident anti-Nazi. He cut short a tour to the USA in 1939 to return to Germany despite the urgings of his friends to remain in the USA. He was imprisoned by the Nazis for alleged plotting against Hitler and was hanged in 1945 at the age of 39 shortly before the war ended. He wrote a number of letters from prison in one of which he dealt with this theme. 

There is no longer any need for God as a working hypothesis, whether in morals, politics or science. Nor is there any need for such a God in religion or philosophy. In the name of intellectual honesty these working hypothesis should be dropped or dispensed with as far as possible.

…So our coming of age forces us to a true recognition of our situation vis a vis God. God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without him. … God is weak and powerless in the world, and that is exactly the way, the only way, in which he can be with us and help us.[65]

In this letter Bonhoeffer maintains that Christian society has to grow up. For too long it has treated God as though He were an all-powerful Solver of Problems, to be sought only when all other solutions had been tried and failed. On the contrary he is saying that God is constantly with us in our powerlessness and sufferings, not to send thunderbolts at those who misbehave. Boenhoeffer is not saying that modern society has no more need of a God-concept but he is saying that mankind must return more to the resources of the human spirit and behave in a more responsible adult way. Not, for example, expecting a magical cure from Covid 19 as one Perth-based pastor declared, ‘The blood of Jesus will protect this church against the virus’. Faulty theology.

Boenhoeffer, had he survived the Holocaust, would no doubt have enlarged on this doctrine, a doctrine which resembles, nay is the same, as one of the core beliefs of humanists.

Footnotes to Part 17

[62] Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Rider, Ebury Publishing, UK, 2004, p. 85.

[63] 58% of the Fellows of the Westar Institute felt that these words went back to Jesus, 27% considered they were words added by the Gospel writer, 15% were undecided.

[64] This phrase was first used by a Dutch lawyer and theologian Hugo Grotius in the early 17th Century in his study On the Law of War and Peace.

[65] Dietrich Boenhoffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, Collins, Fontana Books, 1970, p. 121-2.

18. Yes, that’s all very well, Papa, but our very first question was – why don’t you come to Church with us?

I don’t come to Church because I believe it misrepresents the real life and teaching of Jesus. Let me explain.[66]

The God experience is real – the divine does permeate us all, in my opinion. Jesus came closest to giving us an insight into the mind of the Creator and gave us directions for living our lives. Those that came in contact with him had an ecstatic experience which they had difficulty conveying. Their only means of conveying their experience was expressed in the imagery of the first century, miracles, miraculous healings and so forth and their explanations were limited by the available knowledge. These explanations given by antiquity are inevitably inadequate for people such as you and me born into the 20th and 21st centuries. The Church must recognize that its first century biblical explanations, its fourth and fifth century creedal explanations and its later developing system of doctrines and dogmas are human creations, not divine revelations and none of them is either true or eternally valid. The only thing that cannot be jettisoned is the experience that in some way God was met in the HUMAN Jesus and lives were transformed by resultant encounters. The ultimate heresy of Christianity lies not in its inability to explain adequately this encountered experience but in it’s claim, uttered throughout the ages, that human words and writings could define for all time something called orthodoxy – that the ultimate truth of the God experience could actually reside in theological explanations!

When the existence of the egg cell was discovered in the eighteenth century, making the female an equal co-creator of each new child, all virgin birth stories died as literal biology.

When Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo had completed their work and human beings began to understand the vastness of the universe, the story of Jesus’ cosmic ascension as the way he had returned to God became nonsensical. He would have instead gone into orbit or more probably would still be travelling as the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light!!

The work of Darwin has dispelled the theory of sin and atonement and thus the frame of reference upon which the power and claims of the Christian Church were built has disappeared. Since baptism and the Eucharist were the sacraments said to be necessary to salvation, and since the only people who could validly perform these sacraments were the church’s ordained priests, the church’s grip on salvation was complete. ‘There is no salvation outside the church’ they said.

Charles Darwin in 1859 challenged the concept of the fall and sin at the dawn of creation from which Jesus supposedly delivered us. There was no perfect creation, said Darwin. Creation is still ongoing and evolution will continue, albeit slowly but certainly, into the foreseeable aeons of time to come.

Thus, the doctrine of atonement goes the way of the doctrine of incarnation, the doctrine of the trinity, the doctrine of the validity of the sacraments and the power on which the church is based. A Christian church clinging to these doctrinal explanations in the twenty-first century is doomed to die. The death of the explanations does not mean that the experience which required the explanation in the first place is either invalid or unreal.

It does mean, however, that Christianity is not so special among the monotheistic religions of the world, Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Buddhism also has attractions that the others lack. As Robert Crotty, quoted earlier in this essay, states ‘They are options.’ They are all seeking similar objectives.

A new Reformation is required with new explanations of these experiences. Explanations that take into account such amazing creations as the cosmos and evolution.

Mankind is in the 21st century and the church has to move itself out of 16th century thinking and embrace modern methodology and proven scientific thought. If I were to have practised 19th century surgery in the 20th century I would have been very quickly run out of town.

One final point – or maybe one could say – the finishing point! Death. Death is useful. As we get older our DNA accumulates errors, and death stops these errors from being passed on to the next generation. Sex and death drive evolution. Thus, while women safely create all their ova before they are born, men’s sperm become ever more error-ridden as they age.

Maybe a suitable finish would be this great evolutionary poem by a very close friend of mine. This poem was composed about three months before his sad and premature demise at the age of 70 in 2013.

When Death Comes

When death comes,

like a tradesman turning up at the door,

apologising for not giving advance notice,

or perhaps for having kept me waiting,

I want to greet him as someone I’ve got to know over the years,

whose sometimes crude methods I haven’t always approved of,

but whose crucial role in my life I’ve come to appreciate –

without his work over eons,

higher life forms couldn’t have evolved

and I would never have been born.

I don’t want to make things hard for him;

he’ll be flat out, with bigger jobs to attend to

than disposing of me.


When death comes,

like a transcontinental train pulling in to the station –

which I’ll board without any carry-on luggage

I want to sit with my back to the engine,

watching the receding scenery,

enjoying the view before the darkness of the tunnel,

I don’t want to waste any time

speculating about possible destinations.


When death comes,

Like removalists parking their van in the street,

Come to take everything away,

I want to have already given a fond farewell to

a lifetime of acquisitions,

happy to entrust them to others,

knowing the not all will be loved and kept.

I don’t want to find, when everything else is all gone,

that my innermost cupboard is bare,

swept clean of the ability

to be astonished, to be moved, to be human.


John Pfitzner, October 2012

Footnote to Part 18

[66] The rest of this section paraphrases Bishop John Shelby Spong’s essay, ‘A Christianity for Tomorrow’, found in ‘Once and Future Faith’  Polebridge Press, 2001, pp.73-75.


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