March 2011


 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.

From William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

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The middle region of the sky, where spirit lives, is radiant with the music of light;

There, where the pure white music blossoms, God lives, in delight.

Kabir (15c)

And what are we to make of this news item? Does it reflect our experience?

 

A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.

The study found a steady rise in those claiming no religious affiliation.

The team’s mathematical model attempts to account for the interplay between the number of religious respondents and the social motives behind being one.

The result, reported at the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, US, indicates that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Nonlinear dynamics is invoked to explain a wide range of physical phenomena in which a number of factors play a part.

One of the team, Daniel Abrams of Northwestern University, put forth a similar model in 2003 to put a numerical basis behind the decline of lesser-spoken world languages.

At its heart is the competition between speakers of different languages, and the “utility” of speaking one instead of another.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona.

“It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility.

“For example in languages, there can be greater utility or status in speaking Spanish instead of [the dying language] Quechuan in Peru, and similarly there’s some kind of status or utility in being a member of a religion or not.” 

Dr Wiener continued: “In a large number of modern secular democracies, there’s been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%.”

The team then applied their nonlinear dynamics model, adjusting parameters for the relative social and utilitarian merits of membership of the “non-religious” category.

They found that those parameters were similar across all the countries studied, suggesting that similar behaviour drives the mathematics in all of them.

And in all the countries, the indications were that religion was headed toward extinction.

However, Dr Wiener told the conference that the team was working to update the model with a “network structure” more representative of the one at work in the world.

“Obviously we don’t really believe this is the network structure of a modern society, where each person is influenced equally by all the other people in society,” he said.

“It’s interesting that a fairly simple model captures the data, and if those simple ideas are correct, it suggests where this might be going.

“Obviously much more complicated things are going on with any one individual, but maybe a lot of that averages out.”

 

To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem.
To meditate means to observe.
Your smile proves it.
It proves that you are being gentle with yourself,
that the sun of awareness is shining in you,
that you have control of your situation.
You are yourself,
and you have acquired some peace.

Thich Nhat Hahn, To Meditate

As someone who has always admired and liked Sarah Brown – for the dignity she showed through the death of a child and her self-respect whilst her husband was under attack from just about everybody on an almost daily basis – I was looking forward to reading this book.

The title was fascinating. What was this tome going to tell me? Scandalous gossip? Cloak-and-dagger political revelations? Sadly, neither.

What it did give me was an insight into a role that few of us would relish. A role where if you put one foot wrong you are likely to be castigated for life; a role where if you express your own opinion, especially as a woman – think Cherie Blair – you’ll be pilloried. You have to be the constant adoring wife with no views of your own, well at least in front of the camera. And, it’s a role hardly anybody will thank you for doing.

This is not a political blockbuster, nor is it the girly book some people were expecting, but is probably halfway between the two.

There were some light hearted moments, some loving family moments, and you get to find out that politicians talk about the same things “ordinary” people do and are fascinated by the same people many of us are – Nelson Mandela, to name but one.

What I think it lacks is what she really thinks of those people who conspired against her husband. What she really thinks of the media for their hounding of him. I get the impression that she wants to say much more than she has. It’s sad that she didn’t, because it leaves you with the feeling that something is missing from the book.

An interseting read from a good woman with insight, courage and morals.

From the Preface by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Humility indeed happens when we’re not looking. And that means that we have to learn where to look if we want to grow into the truth. We must look into the purpose, the mission, of God and allow ourselves to be taken up into the terror and exhilaration of this mystery so that we forget to protect ourselves. This is the heart of that childlikeness which Stephen identifies with real Christian maturity. But the opportunity for this does not come only in the context of prayer and praise; it develops in moments when I find I have become a stranger to myself, moments when I have lost my bearings and can’t see the way forward – the moments when I have to learn something new in order to live. Wisdom, Stephen writes, ‘demands that we take the risk of being overwhelmed’. And this vulnerable willingness to become a stranger and lose our bearings is the key to entry into the world of Jesus Christ: we find ourselves guests of Christ, strangers welcomed into a home, and so learn to exercise hospitality ourselves. In all this too, we come to understand ourselves i more fully as bodily beings, constantly tempted to fantasize our­selves out of the material world and to create boundaries between soul and flesh: humility is, of course, incarnation, recognizing I that it is precisely as changing and decaying physical agents that we engage with the real world, not the imagined one that we can manipulate for our satisfaction.

From the book:

Leadership so fascinates us today because it combines two contemporary compulsions: power and celebrity. What an intox­icating combination! No wonder there are countless shelves of books and endless programmes which offer to help us become better leaders, more powerful in our influence over others. Alongside them, and in equal volume, sit the products to help us become either more successful or happier, or perhaps both. All this stuff engages the contemporary imagination and captures its ambition. Meanwhile, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth are very reluctant to be seen to be thinking that humility is, after all, a very good thing, a central virtue. I say this not with blame but with sympathy. It really is difficult to get our heads round humility and to allow it to sink into our hearts and bones. However, the reality is that there is no alternative. Leadership, success, wealth and happiness are not the right words, the right virtues, for the people of God, the community who seek the kingdom which Jesus prefigured, inaugurated and announced.

Page 6-7

Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility

Stephen Cherry

This is why the ability to be “at leisure” is one of the basic powers of the human soul. Like the gift of contemplative self-immersion in Being, and the ability to uplift one’s spirits in festivity, the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work. Only in such authentic leisure can the “door into freedom” be opened out of the confinement of that “hidden anxiety,” which a certain perceptive observer has seen as the distinctive character of the working world, for which “employment and unemployment are the two poles of an existence with no escape.”

In leisure – not only there, but certainly there, if anywhere – the truly human is rescued and preserved precisely because the area of the “just human” is left behind over and over again – and this is not brought about through the application of extreme efforts but rather as with a kind of “moving away” (and this “moving” is of course more difficult than the extreme, active effort; it is “more difficult” because it is less at one’s own disposal; the condition of utmost exertion is more easily to be realized than the condition of relaxation and detachment, even though the latter is effortless: this is the paradox that reigns over the attainment of leisure, which is at once a human and super-human condition). As Aristotle said of it: “man cannot live this way insofar as he is man, but only insofar as something divine dwells in him.

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Josef Pieper

Page 35-36

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