Sunday, 12 February 2017

A New Renaissance Must Come

Dear Reader,

I am lucky enough to be close to and have access to our magnificent Library of Birmingham - the largest public library in Europe - and undertake research for whatever takes my fancy on a local note ... Aston Villa FC or Birmingham local history.

For some weeks now I have been trawling through the daily evening newspapers of this place for the 1930s period, and what strikes me in particular is that the local daily of that time has so much in it to read that is interesting. Today's local popular papers usually contain bite-size chunks for the reader to consume, and no major articles for the intellect to engage in other than advice about dieting and money-making. They say there are other newspapers that are produced for that purpose, and I suppose it's just an indication of how times have changed. But today we say we are more educated. I wonder if that is really true?

In the 1930s, local papers even talked in depth about real politics and also philosophy and philosophers, and also about local history as though it mattered that Birmingham had a past that we should be proud about.

On the same kind of issue, I listen to (and read!) what the statesmen of the world are now talking of and I am struck by the banality of the dialogue. What is their basis - their philosophy; is it just about how to deal with migration and how to economically grow? I wonder.

Well, I also have the good fortune to possess a book about Dr. Albert Schweitzer, entitled "A Treasury of Albert Schweitzer". It is a treasure, I assure you, as the great doctor reveals his inner thoughts and the history of his life; a man that started out studying theology and philosophy and yet at the age of 29 decided to study medicine and then practice charitable medical service in the depths of Africa. He and Winston Churchill were contemporaries and died at roughly the same time and at a similar age, but it is Schweitzer that resonates with me as the greatest. That may be slightly unfair as Churchill had his own fate to live, and he lived it his way, but Schweitzer comes over to me as the complete human being. And amongst his talents were his ability as an organist combined with real knowledge on how to actually build an organ using classical principles!

Schweitzer's notes convey just what he thought we should be addressing in the West. Please read this example entitled "The Goal Of True Thought":
Whereas the thoughtless modern world walks aimlessly about in ideals of knowledge, skills, and power, the goal of true and profound thought is the spiritual and ethical perfection of man. This requires a new ethical civilization that seeks peace and renounces war. Only the kind of thinking dominated by reverence for life can bring lasting peace to our world. All lesser efforts for peace must forever remain unsuccessful.
A new renaissance must come, and it must be much greater than the one that lifted the world out of the Middle Ages. This new renaissance must help mankind to advance from the pathetic sense of reality in which he lives, toward the spirit of reverence for life. Only through it can mankind be saved from destruction, from its senseless and cruel wars. It alone can bring about peace in the world.
Would that the world's leaders read and think on these words.

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Truth Is Beyond Logic!

Dear Reader,

A debate ensued on another blog the other day, which started with the statement:
There is no truth other than your own life as I see it, living to a moral code that defines 'what you reap, you sow' seems to me the only way to live your life.
I supported the writer on that (the view is supported also in science, as one of Newton's laws) but I also said that the method does mean you have to put some effort in, otherwise you still become the sheep!

Subsequently, the debate developed into something of a slinging match against Islam, highlighting websites that show the superiority of Christianity over Islam, quoting from various verses of the books of the two religions (the Bible and the Qur'an).

But Christians tend to overlook the shortcomings and evils in their own (man-made) religion that have blatantly surfaced over the last 1,500 years, and such articles stem from a fundamentalist standpoint. But one participant on the blog made the point: "Fundamentalism comes from a misunderstanding in my opinion and is part of the outer makeup of any religious thought not the main point."

The intentions and origins of Christianity were quite different to that which emerged out of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. It was that Council that decided to shut out the Gospel of Thomas, which up until then was as much relied on as the Gospel of John. Little did they know that the Gospel of Thomas would reappear at Nag Hammadi!

I firmly believe that of all Christian churches, the Unitarian and the Quaker movements are the nearest to the real teachings of Jesus in their approach. The Quakers are contemplatives and generally have a peaceful approach and (traditionally) have been socially highly constructive (e.g. (in the UK) Cadbury, Rowntree and Sturge) when other branches of the church shied away from responsibility on that issue.

The way of the Unitarian movement is based on the understandings of Origen and also Arius, who rather opposed Constantine and what he established as formal (catholic) Christianity.

In other words, each of us really should follow the dictum "seek and thou shalt find". Nothing is to be assumed as being provided on a plate: self-questioning and work is called for.

In fact, let us ask the question “what is the meaning of the word ‘Islam’?

The meaning is supposed to be “submission to God”, so a Muslim (a similar root origin) is “one who submits to God”.

The test question then is, “What is true the nature of God?”. If we were to hold the examples of Da’esh (so-called ISIL) as representing the true faith then we would have a picture of a rather horrible God, almost akin to the one often portrayed in the Old Testamant. But their Prophet Muhammed does not show signs of such a view, as the likes of Bernard Shaw, Carlyle and Irving attested.

Yes, if we were to examine the nature of the great teachers Krishna, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammed you find anything but their belief in a horrible God, and, instead, ways towards peace and wisdom.

The answer then becomes obvious to my mind … seek out the original teaching to determine what is meant. And, as another participant in the debate wrote: "To use logic only as a means to judge is fraught with potential misunderstandings. ... Logic is a great tool for getting an understanding of the layout of the land as it were, and very necessary, but it cannot be complete on its own as you also need a key that is beyond intellectual logic to anything that is not just linear".

One has to delve into the practices of groups such as the Vedantists, Essenes and the Sufis before glimmers of the truth can be seen, and taking precautions on what we sow in our lives.

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

There's Only One True Way...

Dear Reader,

Yes, you can begin to feel the rumbles of discontent now that Trump endeavours to bring his policies to reality. And the sheer inconsistency and lack of integrity when our Prime Minister - knowing that her counterpart's views are favourable towards Britain - tells Trump that torture is not advisable, yet then meets Mr. Erdogan and says little about the same matter so that trade deals can be sown.

So are the seeds of world corruption allowed to germinate and flower. No-one seems any longer to have the heart to put in place a world structure to free people from tyranny as the ballot box is always at the back of the minds of political leaders.

But rather than look to others to do the job for us, let's look within our own selves to make the change. I speak of idealism once again, but what is the realistic alternative?

Paul Brunton, in A Search in Secret India (1934), wrote:
He who has once seen his real Self will never again hate
another. There is no sin greater than hatred, no sorrow worse
than the legacy of lands splashed with blood which it inevitably
bestows, no result more certain than that it will recoil on those
who send it forth. Though none can hope to pass beyond their
sight, the gods themselves stand unseen as silent witnesses of
man’s lawful handiwork. A moaning world lies in woe all around
them, yet sublime peace is close at hand for all; weary men, tried
by sorrow and torn by doubts, stumble and grope their way
through the darkened streets of life, yet a great light beats down
upon the paving stones before them. Hate will pass from the
world only when man learns to see the faces of his fellows, not
merely by the ordinary light of day, but by the transfiguring
light of their divine possibilities; when he can regard them with
the reverence they deserve as the faces of beings in whose hearts
dwells an element akin to that Power which men name God.
So be it.

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Who Or What Is the "God" that Trump talks of?

Dear Reader,

In his inauguration speech a couple of days ago, Trump made reference to God on several occasions.
The bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. ...
There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God. ...
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless America.
For me what could be said to be disconcerting is how Trump's view of 'God' is of that old man on a cloud who dispenses judgment, and how he just happens to be there to do what is right for America. It reminds me a little of how all the big European powers went into battle in World War One believing that 'God' was on their side.

Now I have tremendous respect for the founding fathers of America and the principles they enunciated, and the work and perspective carried on by the likes of Adams and Lincoln, but the Trump interpretation of what constitutes God-liness strikes me as being out of kilter with true teachings and which he asks of the American people to believe in.

Trump's message, in general, has all through been about re-gaining America's physical and material strength, and to do achieve those things he sees a resurrection of the industrial age and also a pursuance of the rape of the earth's resources through fracking, oil and gas extraction. The Paris Climate Change agreement is to be thrown out of the window. Renewable energy - presumably - is to take a back seat.

"God" gave man dominion over the Earth, and to use its resources wisely. (Has Trump read that in the Bible?):
Numbers 35:33: You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.
Genesis 1:26-30: Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Therefore how is that Biblical message consistent with Trump's stated policies? And is the USA to be "protected by God" by following Trump's policies?

Forty or fifty years ago there began a tide of thought in the West that looked as though it was going to carry the Earth towards sustainability and, generally, green policies. Somewhere it has gone all wrong; people seem to have stopped right thinking and - via populism - let in the agents of the dark forces that have been waiting their chance.

What are we to do about this now? Do we simply go on protest marches or do we re-work and practise what we were intended to do - by God!

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

A Memo To Donald Trump

Dear Reader,

As we move towards the 70th anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi's assassination, let's think a little of the issues he wanted to address, which were not (in their nature) specific to India.

Mahatma Gandhi fought a long - but peaceful - 'war' against injustices that he himself experienced. It was Gandhiji who observed there are seven social sins that create blockages to establishing real justice:

  • Politics without principle
  • Wealth without work
  • Commerce without morality
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Education without character
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice

Surely Ghandiji struck recognisable chords? In the UK, what was the fight of the 19th c. fledgling Labour Party and radical Liberals (and the Fabian Society) but to remove gross injustices in this country? As our lives have become easier have we forgotten all that? Does Donald Trump think these are relevant issues?!
We should - if we are to call ourselves a civilization - also carry the fight to all those in need of support and succour, wherever they may be....until we realise that a decent world can't be built on a hierarchy of neo-liberal exploitation, and that we can't have everything unless someone else has nothing... Deborah Orr - lead article in The Independent, 16 Aug, 2005
Yes, we may help a little in trying to transform our political system and by cutting 'Third World' debt. Every little helps. But to 'see the light' and cause major transformation does require individual effort, perhaps aided by some personal experience (such as loss of a loved one). In a world where time is rapidly running out, the hungry, the dying, the oppressed - they are all crying out for love and understanding. Do we really hear? Do we modify our own way of living in sympathy and empathy with the donwtrodden? All peoples are our brothers and sisters, let's not forget.

Thank you for reading this.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What Would 'Abe' Think Of Today's State Of Affairs?

Dear Reader,

The tail-end of what is said to be Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address made not long after the American Civil War, was as follows:
... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
What stirring words and words of hope that people then had to cling onto, but how, in the space of 150 years, that idealism was replaced by dominance from the top. And frequently cynical dominance at that.

It would appear that consciously or unconsciously there has been a decision made by the people that at least part of Lincoln's 'promise' is to be fulfilled. That reasoning - in Brexit and the election of Trump - appears to have been the intention by the surge of populism that has prevailed, but a great worry must be that perhaps the vote will not guarantee a political leadership that really means to honour the will of the people.

Further, and most importantly, the current lacking of one part of Lincoln's promise - that the people's will should prevail "under God" - means that populism for populism's sake is threatening to be the name of the game, and not what Lincoln appears to have intended, which is a system of governance under the framework of spiritual justice. There is a difference, for in today's world we are transfixed by gain and materialism and not by spiritual ideals. Any governmental system motivated by what is best for one's pocket and personal comfort is not the best government, and my fear is that we shall be in more of a mess than we were before as governments try to work out how to try to interpret what is the people's will.

The Victorian period - both in the UK and the USA - was replete with people of great virtue to safeguard the interests of the people. From Birmingham came Joseph Chamberlain, whose fine local government schemes had been driven by fiery and honest members of the non-established church, and the UK also had the ideals to admire in William Gladstone. The U.S. had the likes of Abraham Lincoln. But where are their equivalents today?

Our governments - and their electors - are in great need of people with wisdom to lead the populist mood, not self-interested businessmen and class-based interests to determine the route needed.

Just how to find those leaders is a very moot point. Perhaps we will have to endure disaster after disaster for such people to emerge from the chaos.

Thank you for reading this.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Time Waits For No Man, they say

Dear Reader,

"Time marches on" is the common epithet, and even though we are entering a New Year, time is still time, and no New Year celebration changes that! Time is a continuous process, but we like to break it up into manageable chunks, don't we?

But a New Year does give us chance to reflect and think about where we are at and what we might hope for in the New Year. For my part, I can only hope that my life becomes even more simple, and I will try to make it so. In fact, I see simplicity being a major basis for happiness: when we are cluttered with too much - especially when it's not needed - discontent seems to become a bed-fellow. Many of us tend to seek for more to escape the feeling of discontent but we invariably fail miserably to get what we really want - which is peace of mind.

In all sincerity, reflecting on all that's been going on since the start of the Millennium (and before) I feel that we have been manipulated - or massaged - into believing that wars are inevitable, that dictators need to be removed and that economic growth is the panacea for the future of the world. But these policies have clearly not worked. So I ask these serious questions: "Who really benefits from these policies?" and "Do we have a choice?"

Well, the benefits (if any) are surely not felt by around 98% of the world's 6 billion population, and the wars we have entered and are still fighting have caused huge suffering and have left ugly legacies, not benefits. Meanwhile, despite deprivation of many in the non-developed world - and increasingly in the developed world also - we are witness to gross anomalies in how public funds are spent - particularly in the CERN collider project. If you do not know what I am alluding to I invite you to do some research on the subject - it's quite incredible to find how so much has been done and spent under our very noses that we would reject, I am sure, if we were to vote on it. We have preferred instead to concentrate our attention on issues like Brexit and Trump versus Clinton. And sport and the latest fashions.

On the question of whether we have a choice, the big stand we can make is just not to go with what we're told to go with. Perhaps instead we should use more common sense and realise that the World can only take so much, including economic growth, which has surely reached its limit.

The World wants and needs peace, does it not? Well, I feel that we seem to be getting further away from peace, not getting closer to it. We surely need to change the tide by reversing the process. We can do this by saying "no more!" and personally acting upon that determination for the sake of a better, peaceful and sustainable, future. There is a better way and it is achieved by a notion of the common good: independence of thought is needed, yes, but that should not mean the break up within nations and of nations, which is currently the popular theme. Instead, perhaps the common man should unite one with another around the World in Common Purpose and True Spirit of no harm, as demonstrated by Gandhi, the 70th anniversary of whose death we are to remember and contemplate on in one year's time. 

I wish you well and, sincerely, a very Happy New Year.