This is a shortened version of my first sermon, preached April 2012, and published in part in The Unitarian in December 2012
Are we really as diverse as we claim? Are there actually tenets that we don’t tolerate? Can our congregations really hold any belief and be respected?
As with other liberals, I quickly became aware of a party line. The edges were as hard to see as puppet strings in a darkly lit theatre, but like hairbreadth security wires, once broke, set off loud alarms.
Post orthodox epiphanies lead to a group pleased to push boundaries, but in one direction. I remember thinking during a 1990s talk by Dave Tomlinson, author of The Post Evangelical, that Jesus called us to be little children, not snotty teenagers.
In spiritual terms, this can mean distancing oneself from the traditional creeds in the belief that only this will give us credibility with our secular peers. Magic and mystery belong to superstition and to the unenlightened, cranky, dangerous and outdated; only intelligent, palatable scientific beliefs can integrate into the world and be taken seriously.
However, I have a challenge for you: [gentle loving smiley]
I could choose many examples of miracles or the supernatural. I hereby focus on one.
In my first degree, my dissertation was on the science of creationism and the theological problems with evolution. It will surprise you to learn that despite a 20 year twisting evolution of faith, that I still do not believe in evolution.
My problem with it is that it is taught as a fact and stated as vociferously as much as creationism is. For a society - and a community – that is keen for freedom of thought and speech it has always struck me as bizarre that evolution is assumed without question. People who love to debate and analyse and show healthy cynicism for what the newspaper and pulpits say accept evolution without a murmur.
In my studies and beyond, I discovered that evolution is based on a huge amount of extrapolation... and that the brand of evolution now called Darwinism is not what Charles himself advanced. I also found out that there is a growing dissent about this theory – and not merely from scientists from the far Christian right.
In 2003, professor Joao Magueijo published Faster Than The Speed Of Light. Like others independent of him, Joao says that evolution is flawed because the dating system wrongly assumes that the speed of light has been constant. He asserts it is not constant; thus the dating methods show inaccurate results and the world is likely to be much younger than the multiple millions of years that scientists glibly talk about. And that therefore evolution as we understand it cannot have taken place. Perhaps it did, but in a way we haven’t yet thought of – Neale Donald Walsch suggests that evolution took place in ‘one holy instant’.
It is untrue to say that evidence simply and unquestioningly points to evolution being right. There are theological problems with accepting evolution.
But more than that, evolution has become a God shrinking shoe horn ideology where it’s more about fitting in with science of the day.
What saddened me is how much hatred there is on both sides of the debate.
I’d like to introduce the terms 'paradigm shift' and 'canon of knowledge'. 'Canon of knowledge' is what is acceptable in the dominant circles of the time. Being aware of the canon and its creation has helped me make a healthy distance between what persuades me and feeling I have to bow to whatever is expected of me to gain acceptance and kudos. In science it is linked to a notion that Thomas Kuhn calls ‘Paradigm Shifts’. He’s noted that in the history of science that ideas move, often with a painful upheaval whilst there’s general acceptance of the new idea. I think we are soon due another and the plates are grinding.
I want to feel that I can stand before my community and friends and say that I choose to see the world in this way, even though many of you may disagree – and remain accepted and respected.
I try to take the logline of a recent film Agora about Alexandrian philosopher, Hypatia: “Whatever unites us, not divides us.” It is that focus on common ground, not on violently disagreeing, that allows diversity.
This about the right to be accepted as traditional as well as liberal, to believe in God as Creator and the miracles she does, to believe in Jesus as the risen Lord – and still to belong... or that we cannot call ourselves diverse and tolerant. Ultimately, I think that James Alison is incisive when he says that God is not in our division, not in our need for right and wrong, either/or, and invites us to join her to find unity at a higher level.
Focus on what unites, not divides.