An interesting element of the bus slogan is the word “probably,” which would seem to be more suited to an Agnostic Bus Campaign than to an atheist one. Mr. Dawkins, for one, argued that the word should not be there at all.
But the element of doubt was necessary to meet British advertising guidelines, said Tim Bleakley, managing director for sales and marketing at CBS Outdoor in London, which handles advertising for the bus system.
For religious people, advertisements saying there is no God “would have been misleading,” Mr. Bleakley said.
It would be misleading, eh? Thus the metaphysical authority of advertisers. You have to take your hat off to this one. If one wished to cite a better example of insidiousness, pusillanimity, timidity and absurdity, you would be hard pressed. There is something delicious about the thought of a functionary in an advertising agency doing ontology by arbitrating on the question of which fictional characters need a grey area of uncertainty around discussion of their existence – Little Red Riding Hood? Rumpelstiltskin? Santa? Betty Boop? Saint Veronica (who allegedly started out as sweat on a cloth and became a person)? Aphrodite? Wotan? Batman?
(Note: If you’re wondering how this weekend’s retreat went, I’m working on a report – this post is kind of a warm-up. In the meantime, read Rik’s reflections on it.)
Is naturalist or humanist spirituality an oxymoron?
Tom Flynn seems to think so. And since he happens to be the new director of the Council for Secular Humanism, his opinion is of some moment.
In the latest edition of the Council’s “Secular Humanism Online News”, responding to an article on secularism in The American Spectator, he writes:
[Christopher] Orlet seems to find sincere, full-bore irreligiosity – the absence of any sense of a supra-natural aspect to life – almost incomprehensible, something there’s barely even a label for. Actually there are a couple of perfectly good labels for people who abstain from religion and spirituality. I’ve used one already: “scientific naturalist.” For another, I look no farther than my business card: “secular humanist.”
The way I read this passage, it seems he is equating “full-bore irreligiosity” with “[abstention] from religion and spirituality,” thereby suggesting spirituality is necessarily religious, or at least supernaturalistic.
I disagree with the first quest. It seems quixotic to say the least, and I’m not sure the word “religion” is worth reclaiming even if it were possible – it has negative connotations even for many religious people. But I agree with the second.
Because “spirituality” seems like a truly useful collective term for one’s emotional, social, ethical, and even cognitive functioning as subjectively experienced. At the retreat on nontheism among Quakers this weekend, the most common description of spirituality was “connection” – feeling connected to other people and to the natural environment, along with being attentive to the present moment. I see nothing objectively mysterious or supernatural about any of these things, as mysterious as they might feel subjectively.
And yet – one should use the word sparingly.
To quote James Riemermann again, writing on a different but related subject, “the word feels so terribly imprecise, and I can almost always find better ways to express myself.” If you’re about to say “spiritual” but you really just mean “ethical” or “emotional,” why not be specific?
If you read Kody’s post I linked to the other day, you may recall a letter to the new clerk of FUM from the superintendents of five Orthodox Quaker yearly meetings, which alarmed him so much that he’s been losing sleep.
Kelly Kellum, Presiding Clerk
Friends United Meeting
800 Quaker Lane
High Point, NC 27262
Dear Kelly Kellum,
The General Superintendents of Indiana, Iowa, North Carolina, Western and Wilmington Yearly Meetings, in prayerful consultation, feel led to write to you expressing our deep concern for the mission and future of Friends United Meeting. While you are relatively new to leadership in this organization we are sure that you are well aware of the organization’s often contentious history and the current undercurrents that erode unity and undercut important ministry.
In short, we believe that the current composition and structure of FUM is not working. We share a strong conviction that we can and must do better. Our dually-affiliated yearly meetings suffer from painful conflict connected to their relationship with FUM; conflict that eats up valuable time and energy. The five yearly meetings that we represent likewise often face painful division among our own meetings concerning our relationship with FUM and share the frustration of being yoked together with Friends who do not share a common sense of identity or a common vision for ministry. We observe that the FUM staff struggles to lead an organization divided by competing theologies and priorities. The most tragic result of this is that the work of FUM around the world suffers.
We have a vision of General Board meetings that could be times of deep prayer and celebration. Instead they often feel like times of outward filibusters and underlying tensions. We observe that deep differences in crucial matters such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the atonement, the authority of scripture, and issues related to the FUM personnel policy continue to deeply divide us, with no real unity looming on the horizon.
Again, our concern is not only that we can do better, but that we must do better. We ask the FUM General Board Executive Committee immediately assume the task of searching for options that would address these concerns and that specific strategies be presented at our next meeting of the FUM General Board in February 2009.
Doug Shoemaker – Indiana YM
Ron Bryan – Iowa Yearly Meeting
John Porter – North Carolina YM
Marlene Pedigo – Western YM
Steve Pedigo – Western YM
Marvin Hall – Wilmington YM
As Kody says, it is “unsettlingly ambiguous,” in that it doesn’t propose any specific solutions. But I find Johan’s analysis pretty convincing. His entire post and comments are well worth reading (as are all of his posts about FUM), but in short he seems to be saying that this could become a reprise of the realignment debate early 90s, when the FUM general secretary (of all people) proposed that FUM dissolve and its constituent meetings join either Evangelical Friends International or the liberal Friends General Conference. In his words, that suggestion failed
more because of faulty process than merit; this time, a perhaps similar vision is being pursued with directness and transparency, and with openness to other alternatives that could overcome FUM’s real problems.
He lists a number of alternatives in a comment, the most hopeful of which (#4) is basically that people remember that there are more important things Quakers should be doing than griping about FUM. The liberal yearly meetings, for example, could IMHO try to root out homophobia from our own communities before criticizing other ones.
I do think the letter makes an important point that liberal Friends routinely seem innocent of, and which I’ve pointed out repeatedly: that the differences between Orthodox and liberal FUM meetings go beyond the heterosexism of “the personnel policy.” Most FUM meetings have a much stricter take on scripture than liberal meetings do, which is a primary cause of both the personnel policy we talk so much about, as well as other differences we are only dimly aware of but which are very important to them – the divinity of Jesus, for example, as the letter says.
Any honest dialogue about the future of FUM has to recognize this – as a further reason to part ways, or as a further challenge to overcome in order to remain together.
I logged into Google Reader for the first time in months, finding a sleek new interface, containing a new Anne Archet entry, containing a new word: ut.
Et puisque les murs sont aussi minces que du carton d’emballage, on peut tout entendre, des premiers soupirs au contre-ut orgasmique — fuck, on entend presque tes sous-vêtements tomber sur le sol.
Apparently it was the original name for C in solfège (you know, do-re-mi-fa-sol), taken by Guido d’Arezzo from the first syllable of Ut queant laxis, a chant for John the Baptist. In the 18th century people decided it was hard to sing and switched to do, but in French ut is still used for phrases like “contre-ut,” which I’m pretty sure means “high C”.
Here’s a recording of that chant (gets a little weird after the first round):
Shortly before my hiatus I began a post about the excellent blog Father Jake Stops the World, which had, well, stopped. I guess being the Episcopal Markos Moulitsas wears on one’s spirits. In his own words, “a constant exposure to some of the toxic rhetoric found on the net has had a negative impact on my spiritual health.”
(Nothing against Markos by the way – I love him, but I wouldn’t want him as my priest. If I had a priest.)
Nontheist Friends events, including my and Robin Alpern’s interest group “Theist and Nontheist Friends in Conversation,” are going very well — attendance is significantly up from last year, they tell me, and the energy is very clear.
In addition to our previously scheduled events, this afternoon there’s one billed as “The Great Theist-Nontheist Conversational Smackdown of 2008″ between Chuck Fager and David Boulton, which I will try to record and post here. (Apparently it was a last-minute idea of Chuck’s.)
I imagine it will have a positive effect on balance, and be mostly accurate, but I’m expecting it to be at least a little unfair. In a Larry King appearance last year he praised Michael Moore, and the trailer highlights the unremarkable fact that it’s being produced by the same studio as Fahrenheit 9/11 (unremarkable because Lionsgate has done 60+ other films since then).
The Arab world has been shocked by Obama’s speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee yesterday. What shocked them (and surprised me) is apparently the ending claim from this key paragraph: (continue reading…)