Oct 18 2011

October 2011 Newsletter

Published by under Newsletters



October 2011




Professor Alan Musgrave discussed the question:

Are we free to choose what we believe?

He wrote:
Can we decide or choose what to believe? Many people talk as if we can. But this is problematic. We can decide how to go about acquiring beliefs, but not what beliefs to acquire. Yet people often blame other people for having chosen the ‘wrong’ beliefs. Down the ages, belief discrimination has caused more human misery than racial discrimination – and they are equally stupid.


Stop Press

The reason this Newsletter is a little later than usual is that I (the Editor), along with over a hundred others – half a dozen of them also from Dunedin – have been in Christchurch over this last weekend at our annual Sea of Faith Conference. The theme was” “Pulling us back from the brink: Economics? Science? Religion?”



Jeanette Fitzsimons opened the conference on Friday afternoon, speaking on: “Humanity at theBrink; It’s a Question of Values”. She started by saying:

“We are in a late model, powerful motor vehicle, travelling at 100 km an hour. It’s an exciting ride – we are loving the sense of power, speed, and adventure, and the comfort of the luxury vehicle. We are racing a number of other, similar vehicles, all trying to go faster to get there first. There are other people, without motor vehicles, sitting in the dust we have created, some with begging bowls. They are not really on our radar.

“About a km ahead – a distance we will cover in about 40 seconds – is a cliff. It’s the edge of an abyss so deep we don’t know what is at the bottom or whether we could survive the fall, but we suspect not. For the last hour we’ve been having a huge argument about whether to change down from fifth gear to fourth. They driver has been saying that we can’t afford to slip behind and lose the race. Some of the passengers have been saying a race over a cliff is not a sensible strategy, but no-one is really listening.

“It is too late to turnaround – you would crash trying to do a tight U-turn at that speed. No –one is suggesting slamming on the brakes as that would be uncomfortable and certainly put us out of the race. In the time it has taken me to say this much, we are over the cliff.
“Well, you can only take analogies so far, and this one is starting to creak a little, but you get my drift, that there is certainly urgency here. We are in the grip of six interacting crises, all of our own making, which are propelling us, as a species, towards the brink. …. “


In the final address on Sunday [yesterday] morning, Dr Val Webb, from Australia, looked at how religion can or cannot pull us back from the brink. She, too, began with a parable:

“Once upon a time, the gods gave a stream to the people, telling them that, if they drank, they would find peace and happiness. The people drank, en gathered to share their experiences. They told the next village, and others came to drink. The community grew. Some were appointed to build steps down to the stream, help with foot traffic and roster people’s time at the stream.

“One man took charge (for the good of the whole, of course) and gathered a group around him to study why people felt good after drinking, how the water came to be there, and what was he best way to drink. Only the chosen could be in this discussion – and no women, for some reason. The group soon argued about true meanings and formed different camps.

“The dominant group pooh-poohed all other stories and began to regulate who was eligible to drink, according to correct belief and purity of heart and body. They also declared that they could drink on behalf of those not eligible. Trouble brewed between strict letter-of-the-lawyers and pragmatic compassionates, the former regularly blocking the steps against the latter, often with violence. Of course, claims from passing travellers of similar streams in other places were dismissed as false or inferior.

“After a long time, the old people began to talk, out of earshot of the leaders, about when the gods first gave them the stream. Some even looked into the dusty file in the archives recording the event. They discovered, to their surprise, that in the beginning, everyone could drink freely and equally by divine order and that the rules and explanations constructed over time were not in the file. They challenged the leaders – to no avail or with limited concessions granted.

“Some simply trudged further upstream where the banks were not patrolled, and knelt to drink together, passing cups of water to the too young or too old. Downstream, their relatives continued to take turns on the steps and obey the rules.

“Thus ends the parable. Which part of this parable is religion? ….

(The whole of these, and the other address will very soon be on the national Sea of Faith website: www.sof.org.nz

Chair: Marjorie Spittle – Phone 481 1418 – Email: Marjorie
Newsletter Editor: Donald Feist – Phone 476-3268 – Email: Don
or: 16 Pioneer Crescent, Helensburgh, Dunedin 9010

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