May 10 2012

May 2012 Newsletter

Published by under Newsletters

091011.SOFimageSea of Faith – Dunedin
Exploring Spirituality, Religion and Ethics
Newsletter May 2012


 From the Chair 

What’s in a word?

For some time I have been puzzled by the word “atheist”. I see in Ian Harris’s article in the Otago Daily Times last week it pops up yet again. I wonder if others are as confused as I am or, if not, maybe someone can enlighten me. The Oxford Dictionary tells me that now the word “theist” means “a person who believes in one god who created and intervenes in the universe”. Therefore an atheist must be a person who does not believe in one god who created and intervenes in the universe. In his article Ian Harris correctly states that “many Christians are abandoning theism” but goes on to add “that does not make them atheists, for they have not rejected all concepts of God”. I understand that the word God can have a much broader meaning now than it had traditionally and that language is continually changing and adapting to the present social context.

Nevertheless the word “theism” to me, and I am sure to many others, still means a belief in a supernatural being that has influence over all creation.

Why do we try so hard to distance ourselves from the modern self-declared atheists? Are our beliefs so different from theirs? I can only assume it is because the word “atheism” has such emotional overtones. Ian Harris uses the word “non theism” that “releases God to be reconceived within a secular world view.” Atheism, non-theism, what’s the difference?

If the word “atheist” means what I take it to mean I am happy to call myself one. I would add though that like all words that begin with a negative prefix, I would want to go on to state something positive about what I did believe. And that applies to both atheism and non-theism.

We hope to have some meetings this year that will cover some of the challenges that our use of language presents. I’m sure we will find these thought provoking and helpful.


∞ Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. ∞

“Ages, Stages and Cages” 

With reference to Stages of Faith and The Future of Faith 

Juxtaposing James W. Fowler and Harvey Cox

Initially, I offered to deal with Fowler’s Stages of Faith: the Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning (1981). Two reservations soon came to my mind. First, Fowler’s theories on growth in faith, though important and influential, are not exactly easy going for a lecture, let alone an evening talk and discussion. Here for instance are the titles for the six (or seven) stages he presents:

(Pre-stage) Infancy and Undifferentiated Faith
Stage 1. Intuitive-Projective Faith
Stage 2. Mythic-Literal Faith
Stage 3. Synthetic-Conventional Faith
Stage 4. Individuative-Reflective Faith
Stage 5. Conjunctive Faith
Stage 6. Universalizing Faith

Not very “user-friendly” at all. I shall certainly introduce some alternative versions.

My second reservation was that I would not be able to resist straying into the communal levels of faith. So while Fowler’s theory is applicable to groups as well as individuals, it might be useful to lay another seminal work alongside Fowler’s for some comparison. Harvey Cox’s The Future of Faith (2009) examines faith at the institutional level of the Church, but with a very broad brush. He presents a startlingly simple analysis of the two thousand years of Christian history:

The Age of Faith
The Age of Belief
The Age of the Spirit

That much accounts for the “Ages” and “Stages” in the title of the session. I leave it to members to anticipate where the “Cages” might fit in (or is that meant to be where the ages and stages fit into cages?).

Our Last Meeting on 26th April 

Margaret Feist led us into more knowledge of  “Sustainable Dunedin City” – a response to Global Warming, Resource Depletion, Peak Oil and the need for really good stewardship of this Planet earth – Gaia (James Lovelock).

John Cox, the co-chair of the movement joined us and shared some of the successes and projects underway.

We all considered what we could do at a domestic level (and there were dozens of suggestions about being non-wasteful or frugal) but maybe the more effective way is to join a group and use the voice of the crowd to persuade politicians both local and central to take heed of the call to care for our home. After all, we all know that the earth will survive but whether it will support a human population, especially an increasing one, is a moot point.

Newsletter Editor: 
Alan Jackson
55 Evans Street
Ph: 473 6947

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