Modernity is an Oxymoron
In a world that must navigate the complexities of climate change and truly sustainable consumption, it is becoming increasingly clear that we must harmonise our cultural values with the greater vision of a truly regenerative society. My soul, a wanderer and a witness, has sojourned through the silent boreal forests of Sweden (I lived in Södermanland County for three years), the tranquil mountainous elegance of central Switzerland (also three years), and vivid industrial landmarks of Great Britain (childhood in Wales). I never wished or set out to be a "career nomad", much like Bilbo Baggins content in his home under The Hill, I never really wanted to leave the rolling hills of North Wales. I liked my cups of tea and spent my school holidays helping out on the family farm or on a friend's farm. But my journey in Physics and first job ploughed an unexpected journey and I often feel like Frodo wanting to return to the shire. Until that time comes, I feel that my journey through life to date could offer a journeyman's perspective on our need to cultivate a truly regenerative economy - which is something that is certainly "worth fighting for".
I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there's some good in this world, Mr.Frodo, and it's worth fighting for. - Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of The Rings)
This is especially resonant for myself, as a father of three (the third only two weeks old at the time of this writing), the need for generating a more sustainable, equitable and regenerative society is something I am particularly passionate about.
As described in "Soil and Soul", the premise of a regenerative transition begins with land reform, which is a complex matter within this confluence of "landed power" and the historical nucleation of societal wealth to the few. It is indeed a complex challenge, but something we must overcome as a regenerative society. In the cacophony of chatter that accompanies any great shift in age or industrial revolution, the literary giants like Tolkien and Chesterton, have much inspiration to offer us.
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G. K. Chesterton
Drawing upon inspiration from the contrasting imagery akin to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, I embark on a journey through the alluring Elven halls of Switzerland's wealth, the robust Viking ethos of Sweden's industrial virility, and the Dwarven industrialist cunningness of modern Britain. Today, we navigate a world of contradictions. On one hand, we have made astronomical advances, reaching into the very depths of space. On the other, we grapple with earthly challenges of poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. It’s a paradox that calls for deep reflection and concerted action. This essay aims to explore the need for a collective revaluation of our tenets, highlighting the importance of fostering strong communities, ethical stewardship, and a collective love for the Earth we call home. Each voice, including those grounded in spiritual, philosophical, and scientific perspectives, is essential to shape a world where human and planetary well-being are at the core. The challenges we face are as multifaceted as the solutions they require.
Amidst the alluring landscapes that echo the elegance of Elven splendour and Viking virility, lies a tale not of enchantments, but of the divine "triad of old" revived in new attire; Mars (power), Mammon (affluence), and Aphrodite (pleasure), garbed in the garments of the modern epoch, lead the silent procession of the unseen forces that steer the post-Enlightenment vessel of modernity. Today’s culture, liberal and bold, claims a victory over the celestial; a freedom from the “divine tyranny” of old. That "ancient otherness" in the heavens has been carved out from the mainstream narrative of educational institutions, workplace coffee rooms and, in many cases, the home dinner table. Sadly, mystery and moral conscience is seemingly becoming the new fairytale within the progressive tenement halls of today. And yet, in this dance of emancipation, new masters have risen; not in heavens yonder, but in the human heart. It is a dance of power, affluence, and pleasure, echoing the hymns of Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite, a triad of gods from an age we claimed was behind us, and yet they linger, elusive and yet ever-present. A recent paper, published in Nature, serves as a poignant reminder of this creative tension. The paper unveils the unfolding challenges of escalating urban water crises, where elites' unsustainable consumption amplifies the discord, calling for an urgent, conscientious revaluation of our water usage and social equity.
"A billionaire emits a million times more greenhouse gases than the average person" - Report - Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people, Oxfam
As we dwell on the complex dance of modernity, echoing both the allure and consequences of our consumptive patterns, we also turn our gaze towards individuals who embody the essence of today, navigating the boundaries between societal liberty and ethical introspection. In today's liberated society, notable figures exemplify the blend of freedom and individual allure characteristic of our times. We find ourselves in an era that celebrates personal liberty, a period that invites pause and reflection.
Russell Brand’s public persona, for instance, mirrors a narrative akin to Gore Vidal's ideologies, a theme well-explored by thinkers like Christopher Hitchens. The Freudian freedom Vidal endorsed, which Brand seemingly reflects, opens a conversation about the dynamics of modern societal norms and ethical considerations. Wearing my “curious scientist” hat, I seek to understand this paradox and derive some inferences.
“Gore Vidal, for instance, once languidly told me that one should never miss a chance either to have sex or to appear on television. My efforts to live up to this maxim have mainly resulted in my passing many unglamorous hours on off-peak cable TV..." (Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir)
Yet, in this conversation, voices like Tom Wright and G.K. Chesterton provide a contrasting harmony. Their engagement with deeper, spiritual narratives offers an alternative perspective. It's not about the austere dominion of a celestial being, as often critiqued, but an unfolding narrative of divine love and redemption. Wright and Chesterton highlight a dimension where love, sacrifice, and community are central themes, offering a counter-narrative to the individualistic and material-centric ethos prevalent today. It’s a reminder that amidst the celebration of personal freedoms, there lies an opportunity for introspection and revaluation of the values we hold dear.
In this nuanced dialogue, we’re invited to consider how our prevailing culture and values are cultivating resilience to flourish in the future. It beckons a collective reflection on our trajectory, an exploration of how we might harmonize personal liberties with ethical stewardship and communal well-being. We need a rethink, and before the whims of opinion flood our mind, we need to reflect on how, if at all, the culture of today is preparing our children (and their children) to cultivate collective resiliency to flourish, despite a changing climate, persistence of inequality and resource constraints (I would heartily recommend this book, Volt Rush: The Winners and Losers in the Race to Go Green).
Yet, it’s essential to appreciate the multifaceted tapestry of human existence, where theological ideologies and earthly inclinations intertwine. We unfortunately gravitate towards simplistic deductions like a moth to a light. In the quest for spiritual and ethical enlightenment, the realm of public discourse is often a battlefield of divergent perspectives, with the “Dawkinian” view carving its niche in contemporary political thought.
When convictions that are central to the group’s identity become part of its shared cultural narrative, it is more likely for the members of the group to be intellectually arrogant about them, simply because any threat to them threatens the group identity. It is perceived as a threat to ‘who we are’. (Michael .P. Lynch 2021)
This recent study is a beckoning to far greater humility in our pursuit of truth and willingness to seek unity. As we ponder the challenges of widespread societal inequalities and a changing climate, we are also summoned to grapple with today's ideologies that echo the inherent complexities of the human heart. This is a complex issue and I offer no quick-fix solution, but merely a reflection upon our need to unify and 'love your neighbour as yourself'.
“When Jesus commands us to love our neighbors, he does not only mean our human neighbors; he means all the animals and birds, insects and plants, amongst whom we live.” - Van de Weyer, ed., Letters of Pelagius, 72.
This love could enact the greatest catalyst to remedy these societal challenges and bring about ecological regeneration. Compassion is a powerful force that drives our efforts for justice. It's the kindness we show each other and feel inside that keeps us going in our search for fair access to the world's resources. Pelagius once questioned "if the moon and stars were meant to serve the rich more than the poor". In other words, the beauty and resources of our world are meant for everyone, not just a select few. But first, we must learn to recognise the commonalities of our earthly and spiritual heritage, which transcend constructs such as national borders and cultural differences. Equally, we should also be prepared to question societal tenets that do not resonate with lovingly stewarding the dignity of humanity and sanctity of creation.
“We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help." - Jean Vanier (Author of "Becoming Human")
Thinking outside the box...
Reality is not what it seems...
In the heated intersection of societal norms and personal inclinations, Desmond Morris’s metaphor for a human as an agreeable “naked ape” resonates, epitomizing the dynamic tension between unrestrained desires and the ethical boundaries that established social boundaries. Thanks to Freud’s Eros there is now no shortage of books to encourage such "primal instincts", much like counselling a wombat to choose his breakfast whilst mating on one leg but also denouncing him for his ancestral propensity for social protest via "bum biting" - modern wombats apparently prefer to deny their steel-clad buttocks. This denial is often reflected in our lack of retrospection and deep critical-thought over the past few decades, it is in our faculties but we have not used it. Equally, the narrative of modernity is highly paradoxical and rather audacious. It is no wonder that recent studies demonstrate how young people feel lost in the ocean of uncertainty and instability, where waves of economic hardship, social disconnection, and associated mental health challenges (something I tragically witnessed in my own extended family), relentlessly crash over them. Even loneliness and isolation is spoken of in monetary terms, as if its the only frequency that can diffract through the glass towers of Canary Wharf and penetrate the walls of 10 Downing Street.
In response to this, we should ask ourselves, what meaningful narratives are we creating to help address such widescale societal issues? In the midst of a storm where societal norms and unrestrained desires clash, leading to the pervasive unease and disconnection experienced especially by young adults; worshipping the post-Enlightenment motif of "whatever the universe happens to be going to do next" (coined as "mellontolatry" by C. S. Lewis) or the insular rendition of evolution. Much like how a bee soon perishes in the absence of his relatives and a hive, we too need a much grandeur understanding of our interdependence and relational union.
We anticipate a biological paradigm shift analogous to the leap between classical mechanics and quantum mechanics: just as we replaced localized individual particles and discrete electron orbitals with wavefunctions and electron clouds, we may one day replace biological individuals with a “fuzz-ier,” networked picture of life. Such a view might still permit the existence of individual units but would stress the relationality among them in a process-based ontology. - Wong, M. L. et al. On the roles of function and selection in evolving systems. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 120, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2310223120 (2023).
I believe our current mainstream tenets are starkly inadequate and reveal our collective inability to address the multifaceted crisis of well-being. It calls for a comprehensive and deeper response, one that touches the core of our beliefs. For example, our impassioned debate on the complex nuances of evolution or "The Big Bang" is often incomplete and limited; it's reminiscent of two "Flatlanders" (Edwin Abbott) passionately arguing over whether Cartesian or Polar Coordinates best represents their form, but overlooking the mysterious intersecting "bubbles" hinting at a greater dimensional reality.
We aren't mere spectators in this unfolding drama but active participants, each of us unwittingly called to something that transcends the reductionist's "naked ape" delicately balancing between societal altruism, ethics, a sentient acknowledgement of "otherness" and respecting the spectrum of faith.
Gödel's theorems invites us to confront the narrow circle of understanding encapsulating the human existence; the "naked ape" metaphor is dwarfed in the face of profound complexities of our quantum-reality and our paltry portion of knowledge. As we navigate this expansive terrain, "the triad" of Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite emerges, not as enlightened companions but akin to a restricting noose, subtly strangling our search for truth and regeneration; urging us to stretch beyond the seductive yet limiting confines of power, wealth, and pleasure. It is not a manifesto of condemnation or validation but a reflective journey from the clamour of self-serving tenets to a harmonious crescendo of ethical, societal, and environmental reawakening.
This Triad of Desires Distort the Edifice of Scientific Inquiry
The Enlightenment era, characterized by an intense focus on personal liberation and material wealth, has inadvertently woven an ethos that finds itself at odds with the formation of a society rooted in holistic and regenerative economic paradigms. As depicted in Harari’s "Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind," we, the descendants of once insignificant entities, have been both blessed and cursed by cognitive evolution. Humanity's acquired ability to amass wealth and manipulate the environment, while a testament to our cognitive ascent, also entraps us in a dance of hedonistic indulgence and individual desires, reminiscent of the elusive spectres of ancient times. In the shadow of the Enlightenment’s illustrious march, and echoing Harari's narrative, the world's elite, including figures like Elon Musk, are caught in a curious paradox. With eyes gazing towards the stars, they’re willing to spend millions on a cosmic salmon run with the latest nets (SpaceX), yet, as Hans Rosling clearly elucidates in "Factfulness," the earthly spectres of poverty and inequality linger and grow. The cognitive ascent that has propelled us into the stars has yet to be fully harnessed to uplift those who remain bound by the gravitational pull of socioeconomic constraints. It's a juxtaposition of a world where the frontiers of space are within reach, but the boundaries of earthly disparities remain unbridged, prompting a reconsideration of our "enlightened journey". The Elven elite of this world, exemplified at events like COP26, seem swayed by the allure of greater profits, often overlooking the pressing “triadic issues” anchored in our earthly existence. The mantle of change, therefore, falls upon ‘the hobbits of this world’ — those rooted in humility and grounded perspectives, who hold the power to bring about transformative change amidst the complex terrains of social and environmental challenges.
“Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.” G. K. Chesterton
Kate Raworth’s "Doughnut Economics" unearths the complex narrative of an economy enshrined in unsustainable growth and stark inequalities, a byproduct of the Enlightenment’s legacy. The modern world, critiqued in Charbonnier and Brown’s "Affluence and Freedom," reveals an environment where self-indulgence prevails, setting society on a perilous path where communal bonds and environmental sanctity are often the unseen casualties. In such an age, the works of Mikovits and Heckenlively in "Plague of Corruption" unveil the unsavoury underbelly of the scientific realm, where the pursuit of financial incentives, conflicts of interest, and the desire for fame and recognition, overshadows the integrity and sanctity of unbiased inquiry. Similarly, in "Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe" by Roger Penrose (I'm a great admirer of his written works), the author discusses the influence of fashion, faith, and fantasy in the field of physics, a topic close to my heart. He argues that certain theories in physics have gained popularity not necessarily due to their scientific merit, but because they align with prevailing trends and beliefs within the scientific community. Penrose suggests that this can lead to a distortion of scientific inquiry, as researchers may be more inclined to pursue fashionable theories rather than rigorously testing and evaluating different hypotheses.
Both "Plague of Corruption" and Penrose's work highlight the potential pitfalls of personal interests, biases, and the desire for recognition in scientific research. They reveal how these factors can compromise the integrity and objectivity of scientific inquiry, leading to a distortion of knowledge and hindering the advancement of understanding. The paralysis that scientists and people have felt over climate change is a poignant example of this triadic bias in action. Within the context of fostering a regenerative societal culture, these insights emphasize the importance of championing science-driven innovation, which is underscored by unbiased inquiry. This is especially true for a future regenerative economy, whereby innovation must be conduced through the bi-focal aperture of societal and ecological well-being. It is crucial to recognize and address the potential influence of personal interests, financial incentives, and prevailing trends in scientific research. By upholding rigorous scientific standards, encouraging transparency, and fostering a culture of intellectual honesty, we can ensure that scientific knowledge and understanding are driven by a genuine pursuit of truth rather than personal gain or adherence to fashionable theories. This commitment to scientific integrity is essential for addressing the complex challenges of our time, including climate change, resource depletion, and social inequality.
The heralded age that promised liberation from the clutches of theocratic dogmas has unfurled a paradoxical tapestry. Under the gaze of Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite, the sanctity of familial and societal bonds has been eclipsed by the enthralling luminance of self-serving individualism and hedonism. A journey initiated to emancipate the soul has inadvertently scripted a narrative of estrangement. The familial hearth and communal spirit, once bastions of human connection, now languish in the chilling shadow of self-interest, a precipitous decline embodied and echoed in societies globally. Chesterton and Wright, sentinels of tradition, invite a soul-searching inquiry – does the opulence of self-liberty justify the silent, yet inexorable erosion of our societal edifice? Herein, a symphony of ecstasy and agony is played, heralding the entry into a compelling narrative of the United Kingdom’s modern existence - a narrative that exemplifies the tussle between the recent might of populism and individualism contrasting with the silent, yet persistent, historical echoes of theocratic inclinations.
Navigating Great Britain out of "Triadic Shadows"
I choose Great Britain (UK) as a brief case study, to better clarify this triadic undercurrent within modernity, as its my country of birth and its welfare remains very dear to my heart. The UK also exemplifies this intricate interplay of theological, societal, and ethical dynamics. Amid the opulence of a liberated age devoted to self-established creeds and material prosperity, the alarming echoes of rising authoritarian tendencies and secularisation blend seamlessly into the prevailing narrative of self-serving tenets and fractured familial bonds (something I sadly experienced as a child).
It’s hard to imagine now the way things were in the 1950s, when I was a child. There was more or less no pornography. The great majority of married couples stayed married. When I was at school, I knew precisely one boy who came from a broken home. No doubt a great deal of what was seen as illicit sexual activity went on below the radar, but a broadly Judeo-Christian moral stance was assumed in society—which meant, importantly for the story I’m telling, that most people felt at least some pressure to resist impulses that, left to themselves, would move in a very different direction. But when Freud became popular, filtering down into mainstream culture through novels and plays, people began to speak of the erotic impulse, often called “the life force,” just as they might before have spoken of a divine command. One should not resist.
- Tom Wright, Surprised by Scripture
Amidst the grandeur of post-Enlightenment accomplishments, the UK, much like a ship unmoored, finds itself tossed amidst these triadic undercurrents, echoing the complex dialectic of individualistic doctrines and hedonistic pursuits that have birthed an era of international conflicts, domestic inequalities and fractured families.
The Western world, particularly London, prides itself on being a financial capital despite being shaken by major financial scandals and banking crises. The worship of money, or Mammon, remains undeterred. Efforts are concentrated on shoring up the system rather than addressing gross inequities, countries crippled by unpayable debt, and the rising tide of poverty in affluent Western societies.
Similarly, Western culture often turns to power and force, exemplified by Mars, the god of war, as solutions to the world’s problems. The immediate response often involves military force, a mindset ingrained by tales of success from the two World Wars, positioning English-speaking cultures as the world’s policemen. Initiatives like Desmond Tutu’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa are admired but not replicated, indicating a persistent reliance on force rather than reconciliation and understanding.
- Tom Wright, Surprised by Scripture
I should also note that the rise of recent conflicts should invoke deep-reflection by all national leaders (not just the UK), these tragic global developments permeate the bounds of all nations.
In the gentle, compassionate tones of shared understanding, we observe British institutions, paralleling nations such as South Africa, navigating a time of profound change. Ethical and civic foundations, once steadfast, are now shifting in response to the powerful dance of wealth and influence. Recent developments in taxation policies, new policies on freedom of speech and reverting environmental commitments reflect this evolving landscape. Like dislodged plastic bottles of truth in the ocean of politics, this is only a snapshot. In the post-Enlightenment act of personal liberation and guided by the triadic-undercurrents within capitalism, this emancipation has also eroded the constitutional fruits that helped us cultivate a fairer and more equitable world.
"Human rights aren’t objectively true...They derive from profoundly Christian theological presumptions. They are quite as culturally contingent as a belief in Christ’s resurrection."
“If secular humanism derives not from reason or from science, but from the distinctive course of Christianity’s evolution—a course that, in the opinion of growing numbers in Europe and America, has left God dead—then how are its values anything more than the shadow of a corpse? What are the foundations of its morality, if not a myth?”
“Christianity gave women a dignity that no previous sexual dispensation had offered”
- Tom Holland (Award-winning Historian, Author of Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World)
This discordant symphony of a nation and society in turmoil does not merely resonate in isolation but intertwines with the grander opus of an epoch where familial and societal bindings are subjected to an unprecedented erosion. Much like the evil that plagued of forest of Mirkwood, the fruits of this dark triad has also eroded that respect for our fellow neighbour and garden of nature, as symbolised by the recent felling of the iconic tree of Sycamore Gap. We are more connected than ever through social media, but the relational bindings with substance, which can truly quench our true thirst for belonging, remains aloof.
There is an innate need in our hearts to identify with a group, both for protection and for security, to discover and affirm our identity, and to use the group to prove our worthiness and goodness, indeed, even to prove that we are better than others. It is my belief that it is not religion or culture at the root of human conflict but the way in which groups use religion or culture to dominate one another. Let me hasten to add that if it were not religion or culture that people used as a stick with which to beat others, they would just use something else.
A group is the manifestation of this need to belong. A group can, however, close in on itself, believing that it is superior to others. But my vision is that belonging should be at the heart of a fundamental discovery: that we all belong to a common humanity, the human race. We may be rooted in a specific family and culture but we come to this earth to open up to others, to serve them and receive the gifts they bring to us, as well as to all of humanity.
- Jean Vanier, Becoming Human
As the imperial edifices of self-aggrandizement cast their long shadows, and the lush gardens of material prosperity bloom, the silent, echoing voids of relational and spiritual despondency grow ever more profound. Chesterton’s incisive reflections in "Utopia of Usurers" portrays the grim chronicles of societal decay, not as disparate melodies but as integral notes within a haunting symphony that sings of an era teetering upon the precipice of splendour and decadence. Each note, each echo of societal decay and authoritarian inclinations, summons us to a profound reckoning. As we stand amidst the dichotomy of gleaming individual achievements from elitist private-schools (which eventually secure a role at the country's helm) and the shadowed silhouettes of fractured concrete school walls, a pressing inquiry emerges: shall the dissonant hymns of Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite persist, or will a new anthem of communal harmony, loving all the children within society, loving those who feel marginalised (based on identity, ethnicity...), familial unity, and societal altruism rise to herald the dawn of a civilisation reborn and regenerated? Ironically, our source of inspiration resides in the very narrative that secularism is seeking to displace. We would indeed do well to mirror Christ's boundless compassion, thereby transmuting each of these societal threads into woven communities where people feel truly loved and a sense of "belonging". One of the best examples of this is a remarkable tale from the book of Acts in the Bible.
The sign of the kingdom of God that began in Jesus—a place at the table for outcasts and outsiders—continues in the era of the Acts of the Apostles. The poor are accepted, and the sick. Samaritans are accepted, and Gentiles, including Africans, and here, even the “sexually other,” those considered “defective” who will never have a place in traditional religion or in the traditional culture based on the “traditional family.” The old “other-excluding” sanctions—against the uncircumcised, against the “defective”—even though they were claimed to be in effect “throughout their generations”—have been buried in baptism, left behind as part of the old order that is passing away. As Philip and the Ethiopian disciple climb the stream bank, they represent a new humanity emerging from the water, dripping wet and full of joy, marked by a new and radical reconciliation in the kingdom of God. - McLaren, B. D. A new kind of Christianity: ten questions that are transforming the faith. (HarperOne, 2010).
In the act of lowering the Ethiopian Eunuch (a castrated male) into the waters of baptism, Philip is, in essence, elevating him into the family of spiritual community (which stands in stark contrast to his biological inability to procreate), forever altering the tragically persistent narrative of who belongs and who does not. In the face of change, fear and security can often wrestle with the internal dominion of love and humility, which echos Newell's sentiments.
Too often in the past our approach to truth has been to assume that we have it and others do not. Consequently, we have thought that our role is to tell people what to believe. We are being invited instead into a new humility, to serve the holy wisdom that is already stirring in the hearts of people everywhere, the growing awareness of earth’s interrelatedness and sacredness. - John Philip Newell
As noted in earlier essays, our knowledge is radially bound, and we need to engage with the deeper things in life to enact the sacredness of all human lives, whether young or old. Developing a deeper sense of appreciation for the children in our communities, regardless of their inherited equity, could bring about far greater educational equality. Moreover, shaped by the prevailing triadic winds of Capitalism, our often archaic attitudes to educating our future generations are increasingly brought into scientific question.
"A society’s attitudes to innate intelligence are closely correlated with its levels of inequality."
"In the more unequal affluent countries, such as Britain and the United States, it has become a little more common in recent years for the elite to suggest amongst themselves that children born to working-class or black parents simply have less natural ability than those born to higher-class or white parents."
"In England the idea that different children have different limits has for so long been part of the social landscape that, despite the best efforts and advice, it still underlies key thinking. Yet we all become more able through learning. We learn collectively. And it is through learning together that we will eventually come to understand that if performing at a uniform level in tests of a particular kind of logic were an important trait for humans to possess, we would almost all possess it, just as we almost all have binocular vision and an opposable thumb. There is so much more that is vital to being human, to working together, than being good at bizarre tests and manipulating numbers. There are no important genetic differences in ability for elitists to use to justify their elitism. We are all human. No one is super-human. We work and live better together, rather than divided by caste, class, or classroom. We are all ‘still learning to think’.
- Prof. Danny Dorling, The return to elitism in education
It is a quest not for a return to institutionalized theocratic subjugation but for a decentralized regenerative society where human flourishing transcends and ousts the silent yet insidious reign of Mammon, Mars, and Aphrodite. Much like how attitudes shifted about the Celtic languages of Britain, such as “Welsh Not” (my mother tongue), our societal tenets beckon review. In the quest for a decentralized, regenerative society, we must oust the silent osmosis of this dangerous triad, aiming for a world where human flourishing is redeemed and societies are marked as inclusive loving communities.
Ousting this Triad of Desires from Institutional Religion
As mentioned previously, each voice, including those grounded in spiritual, philosophical, and scientific perspectives, is essential to shape a world where human and planetary well-being thrives. But the underlying presumption here is that such perspectives can be relied upon. The recent revelation of widespread sexual abuse within the Swiss Catholic church has intensified my internal conflict, where the spiritual sanctuary I seek in the concept of God is overshadowed by the tragic betrayals of trust perpetrated by those ordained to be Earthly shepherds of the divine. Each unveiled atrocity erodes the bastions of faith, rendering the path to the divine, a treacherous navigation through the debris of institutional failure and human depravity. This is very tragic indeed and serves to testify that without care and discernment, all humans can be enticed by these “triad” of desires.
"Before Constantine, Christians could have said, “Inspired by the cross of Christ, we heal, forgive, serve, welcome, transform, resist tyranny, and demonstrate love.” But after Constantine, their mission and ethos were profoundly altered: “Inspired by the cross of the Empire, we conquer, kill, dominate, crush, rule, exploit, gain power, and impose law and order to retain our power. (And we make a handsome profit while doing so wherever possible.)”
"What the empire wanted to do, the church generally blessed. Church leaders may occasionally have complained a bit, but in general, they offered the empire either compliant support or ready forgiveness. This cozy relationship with empire continued long after the Roman Empire had fully collapsed. The church supported the empire’s many reincarnations in French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, British, Russian, German, and American imperial ventures. Each empire could count on the mainstream Christian church to bless its successes, pardon its failures, and pacify and unify its masses." - McLaren, B. D. Do I stay Christian? A guide for the doubters, the disappointed and the disillusioned. (Hodder & Stoughton, 2022).
From the valleys of such failures, I can only seek solace in the accumulation of my own limited experiences, which I admit, should act as no guide to anyone reading this. We are, after all, are an accumulation of our experiences, which introduces some element of bias. However, what is illuminated from the failures of religion, ironically, is the inherent paradox of the human condition which tragically serves to momentarily detract attention away from the "one true Mystery", a path to the divine.
Catholicism became for me, and I think as it has for many, a crucible and thus a unified field. Which is why it is very hard to be a “former” Catholic, once you really get its incarnational and inherently mystical worldview. I here use Einstein's term “unified field” to describe that single world of elementary forces, principles, and particles that he assumed held together the entire universe of space-time . Einstein said that he spent his life looking for this unified field.
Although its vision is often time bound and its vocabulary very “in house” (if you don't use our words, and our definitions of those words, many Catholics hardly know how to talk to you), I still find that Big Picture Catholicism is often precisely that—very “catholic” and all embracing—with room for head, heart, body, soul, and history. For all its failures, it is no surprise that the Catholic worldview (note that I am not saying the “Roman” worldview) continues to produce Teilhard de Chardins, Mother Teresas, Thomas Mertons, Edith Steins, Cesar Chavezes, Cory Aquinos, Mary Robinsons, Rowan Williamses Desmond Tutus, and Dorothy Days. I like to call it “incarnational mysticism.” Once you get it, there is no going backward, because nothing is any better.
The pedestrian and everyday church has remained a cauldron of transformation for me by holding me inside both the dark and the light side of almost everything, and by teaching me non-dualistic thinking to survive. It has also shown me that neither I nor the churches themselves really live much of the real Gospel—at least enough to actually change our present lifestyles! It is just too big a message. Refusing to split and deny reality keeps me in regular touch with my own shadow self, and much more patient with the rather evident shadow of the church. I see the exact same patterns in every other group, so my home base is as good a place to learn shadow boxing as anywhere else, and often better than most. Intellectual rigor, a social conscience (at least on paper), and a mystical vision are there for the taking. Catholicism is the “one true church” only when it points beyond itself to the “one true Mystery,” and offers itself as the training ground for both human liberation and divine union. Many other religious groups do the same, however, and sometimes much better.
- Rohr, R. Falling upward: a spirituality for the two halves of life. (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
It seems that the church, will always embody diversity, much like the multiplicity of reality, provided its followers remain true to the cause. Having been raised in a Welsh farming community, I am naturally drawn to the serene, egalitarian nature of Celtic Christianity, as eloquently described in John O'Donohue's "Anam Cara" and Newell's "Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul". The inherent purity and community-centric ethos of Celtic spirituality, as demonstrated in the life of St David (Dewi Sant in Welsh), shines as a stark contrast to the institutional renditions of Christianity today. Amidst the shadows of my disillusionment, the enlightened, nature-imbued spirituality explored by Ó hAnnracháin and Armstrong in "Christianities in the Early Modern Celtic World" emerges as a beckoning light. As Newell recently noted, I do believe Christianity as we know it needs to undergo a dendritic rebirth, whereby it becomes not only Christ-centric, but also triad-free and community-centric. There are seedlings of this community vision already manifesting in British society, such as the incredible and faithful work of the food bank at a local church that I frequented several years ago (whilst spending 12 months in the UK). But beyond this, I have no idea what this rebirth may look like, but maybe someone reading this might do. In the meantime, I am diligently working through and reflecting on the masterpiece, "Community and Growth" by Jean Vanier.
“The cry for love and communion and for recognition that rises from the hearts of people in need reveals the fountain of love in us and our capacity to give life. At the same time, it can reveal our hardness of heart and are fears. Their cry is so demanding, and we are frequently seduced by wealth, power and the values of our societies. We want to climb the ladder of human promotion; we want to be recognized for our efficiency, power and virtue. The cry of the poor is threatening to the rich person within us.
We are sometimes prepared to give money and a little time, but we are frightened to give our hearts, to enter into a personal relationship of love and communion with them. For if we do so, we shall have to die to all our selfishness and to all the hardness of our heart.” ― Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
“If we are to grow in love, the prisons of our egoism must be unlocked. This implies suffering, constant effort and repeated choices.”
― Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
The silent inner dominion of wealth, power, and pleasure, though masked in the sophisticated attire of modern enlightenment, exercises an unspoken and contorted sovereignty over humanity. This theme is eloquently navigated in Tom Holland’s "Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind," where the author adeptly unravels the intricate interplay between Christianity and the formation of Western ethos. Here, the Church, though a vessel of spiritual sanctity, finds itself ensnared in the same paradox that grips the secular world. Christianity, too, wrestles with the seduction of power, affluence and pleasure, the silent, imperious reign of the same triad it seeks to transcend. Yet, amidst these confrontations, Holland unveils a narrative of redemption. A story not confined to condemnation but interwoven with profound recognitions. Christianity, despite its immersion in the complexities of human vices, has been an ark of human rights, an advocate for the inherent dignity endowed in every soul, echoing the symphony of a Creator’s unyielding love amidst the tumultuous symphony of human contradictions. The first true shepherds of Christianity were a humble collective of ordinary folk (fishermen, tent maker etc.), which is a far cry from the institutional scaffolding we have created over the last half-century.
The dance of power, affluence, and pleasure, orchestrated by the haunting hymns of Mars, Mammon, and Aphrodite, also finds its echo in the book "Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold" (by C. S. Lewis) and its exploration of the protagonist's complex relationship with the divine and human realms. The narrative also critiques modernity's materialism and individualism, urging an acknowledgment of its flaws and a holistic view of humanity that considers both physical and spiritual aspects. This excellent novel (one of my favourites) underscores the importance of empathy and compassion, advocating for love and self-sacrifice as essential in addressing societal problems and enhancing communal well-being.
Within this landscape, I cannot offer much clarity and would rather point to thinkers and authors who can offer far greater wisdom within this discourse. But as an inherently flawed and limited parent myself, the journey of raising my children has cast an illuminating perspective on the relationship between the church and humanity.
Reality, creation , nature itself, what I call the “the First Body of Christ,” has no choice in the matter of necessary suffering. It lives the message without saying yes or no to it. It holds and resolves all the foundational forces, all the elementary principles and particles within itself—willingly it seems. This is the universe in its wholeness, the “great nest of being,” including even the powerless, invisible, and weak parts that have so little freedom or possibility . “The Second Body of Christ,” the formal church, always has the freedom to say yes or no. That very freedom allows it to say no much of the time, especially to any talk of dying, stumbling, admitting mistakes, or falling. We see this rather clearly in the recent financial and sexual scandals of the church.
Yet God seems ready and willing to wait for, and to empower , free will and a free “yes.” Love only happens in the realm of freedom. Yet I know that I avoid this daily dying too. The church has been for me a broad education and experience in passion, death, and resurrection by forcing me to go deep in one place. It, and the Franciscans, still offer me an accountability community for what I say I believe, which I find is necessary if I am to live with any long-term integrity. The Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa said the same. Over many years now, the practical church has given me the tools and the patience that allow me to try to fill what Parker Palmer calls “the tragic gap,” as almost nothing else does. Both the church's practice and its Platonic pronouncements create tragic gaps for any person with an operative head and a beating heart. But remember, even a little bit of God is well worth loving, and even a little bit of truth and love goes a long way. The church has given me much more than a little bit. Like all limited parents, it has been a “good enough” church, and thus has taught me how to see that goodness everywhere, even in other limit situations, as Karl Jaspers called them. But in the end, “Only God is good,” as Jesus said to the rich young man.
So the church is both my greatest intellectual and moral problem and my most consoling home...
Law and tradition seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity, and to make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. When you watch ten-year olds intensely defend the rules of their games, you see what a deep need this is early in life. It structures children's universe and gives them foundational meaning and safety. We cannot flourish early in life inside a totally open field. Children need a good degree of order, predictability, and coherence to grow up well, as Maria Montessori, Rudolf Steiner, and many others have taught. Chaos and chaotic parents will rightly make children cry, withdraw, and rage—both inside and outside.
- Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
Having recently started the Hobbit with my two eldest children, one thing became clear to me. It's clear to me that secularism is akin to the piercing light that petrifies the cave-troll into stone, akin to rendering the materialist's "naked ape" into its unbridled primal form; while faith, luminous and guiding like Gandalf the White, rebirths the soul to the elven havens of transcendent grace, where the mundane meets the mystical in harmonious embrace. In this space of grassroots Christianity, mystery and humble faith, there are some faithful thinkers that I gravitate towards. John O'Donohue was known for his works that melded Celtic Christianity, mysticism, sanctity of nature (e.g. Noahic covenant) and resided in this holistic ground of biblical eschatology, much like Tom Wright.
Christian care for God’s creation is essential, as one day God will renew the entire created order, setting his image-bearing creatures over it to reflect God’s glory and bring saving justice, as stated in Romans 8. If we are already in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit, we cannot wait for God to bring this renewal in the end; we must be God’s agents, bringing signs of that renewal now...To deny a Christian commitment to ecological work and righting the world now is to deny the goodness of creation and the power of God in resurrection and the Spirit, and quite possibly both. - Tom Wright, Surprised by Scripture
Indeed, it is hard to overstate how important interpretation is when it comes to scripture; the presence of a presupposition, can manifest the difference between agency and complacency.
"We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28 (Good News Translation)
"Gwyddom fod Duw, ym mhob peth, yn gweithio er daioni gyda'r rhai sy'n ei garu, y rhai sydd wedi eu galw yn ôl ei fwriad." - Rhufeiniaid 8:28 (The Welsh Bible)
Tom Wright in his recent book on Romans, emphasizes how we have mis-interpreted Romans 8:28, whereby the often missing "with" (e.g. NIV translation, ESV etc.) has removed a foundational foothold in our call to agency as godly stewards, in bringing about "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done". These translations noted above are the exceptions, but possibly, it could be a matter of linguistics since words between languages do not always directly correlate.
In his works, such as "Anam Ċara" (meaning "soul friend" in Irish), O'Donohue explored themes of friendship, love, and the natural world as sources of spiritual insight, celebrating a more direct, personal experience of the divine that he felt was often less practiced within institutional religious practices.
"The anam cara (meaning "soul friend" in Gaelic) is God's gift. Friendship is the nature of God. The Christian concept of God as Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. This perspective discloses the beautiful fulfillment of our immortal longing in the words of Jesus, who said, Behold, I call you friends. Jesus, as the son of God, is the first Other in the universe; he is the prism of all difference. He is the secret anam cara of every individual. In friendship with him, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity. In the embrace of this eternal friendship, we dare to be free. There is a beautiful Trinitarian motif running through Celtic spirituality..." - Anam Cara: A Book Of Celtic Wisdom, John O'Donohue
Grassroots Christianity, or "the Way" (Acts 19:23), invites believers into a personal and direct experience with the divine, away from the inherent "triadic susceptibilities" of man-made institutions. Ironically, the church was always meant to be God-made and not man-made; bound more by spirit and love rather than mortar and hierarchy. In fact, Paul had a great deal to say about this in his letters to the people of Corinth:
"When we are unlocked from our conventional paradigms regarding the biblical narrative, the Bible, God, Jesus, and the gospel, the formation of Christlike people of love naturally becomes the grand unifying preoccupation and mission of our churches. Churches, simply put, come to be communities that form Christlike people who embody and communicate, in word and deed, the good news of the kingdom of God (or we could say the shalom, harmony, dance, sacred ecosystem, love economy, benevolent society, beloved community, or pre-emptive peace movement of God). And they do this not within an isolated or withdrawn religious subculture, not simply to create an idealized spiritual country club for their own benefit, but rather in the world as it is and for the world as it could be, as agents of transformation. Churches seek to save us from the hell of becoming and staying the worst we can be and to save us for what St. Irenaeus of Lyons called “the glory of God—to be humanity fully alive.”...
To become like Christ, we need to have the Spirit of Christ within us, among us, before us, beside us, as the old Celtic prayer says. We need to be Spirit-saturated people...
Perhaps evoking the primal story of Adam and Eve, who in a quest for knowledge sinned against God, Paul links knowledge with conceit and destruction. Far better, he says, to be “known by God” as a person of love. Later, when he comes to the issue of spiritual gifts, he picks up the same language again, with some sharp irony: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know...” (12:1–2). And then he identifies wisdom and knowledge not as attainments, but as gifts of the Spirit (1:7–8), given not for personal or sectarian advantage, but for the “common good.” This Spirit forms everyone into one body (12:12–13) composed of many diverse parts (12:14), each of which both belongs to the others (12: 15–20) and needs the others (12:21–24). God’s goal is that there should be robust diversity without division, where each has equal concern for the others (12:25–26). In this way, Paul says, this community is not only the ecclesia of God (1:2) and the temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16; 6:19), but also the body or embodiment of Christ (12:27). And then, as if to celebrate the power of this insight, he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (12:31)...
Follow the way of love. (13:8–14:1)" - McLaren, B. D. A new kind of Christianity: ten questions that are transforming the faith. (HarperOne, 2010).
That love for our neighbour, our fellow pilgrims on earth, is the only blossoming spring sun to bring about truly transformational change in our digital forest of modernity. It's a Christ-centric journey where faith is deeply participatory, the soul is comforted, is rooted in loving communities and wisely stewards the natural world. A faith that can truly transform the heart and foster reconciliation with those who may have become dismayed by Christianity in recent times.
All we can give back and all God wants from any of us is to humbly and proudly return the product that we have been given—which is ourselves! If I am to believe the saints and mystics, this finished product is more valuable to God than it seemingly is to us. Whatever this Mystery is, we are definitely in on the deal! True religion is always a deep intuition that we are already participating in something very good, in spite of our best efforts to deny it or avoid it. In fact, the best of modern theology is revealing a strong “turn toward participation,” as opposed to religion as mere observation, affirmation, moralism, or group belonging. There is nothing to join, only something to recognize, suffer, and enjoy as a participant. You are already in the eternal flow that Christians would call the divine life of the Trinity. - Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
"Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith." - Paul Tillich, Eminent 20th-century Theologian (Author of "Dynamics of Faith")
Learning & Adapting the Regenerative Farming Practices of the Past
In the resonant words of James Rebanks, as depicted in "The Shepherd's Life: A Tale of the Lake District," there exists a timeless wisdom rooted in the traditional practices of farming. These practices, honed over several centuries, weave a narrative of profound respect for nature, a harmonious balance with the ecosystem, and a deep connection to community. Likewise, Richard Perkins (from Ridgedale Farm in Sweden) also advocates this sentiment through practical permaculture, illuminating pathways to integrate regenerative agricultural practices in our contemporary and semi-urban settings. In this confluence of old and new, a model of communal allotments emerges as a guidepost (the "Schrebergarten" movement, which is prevalent in my current abode of Switzerland), which poises as a nuclei for both congregation and education. This community-empowerment trend is also echoed in other areas of the world, such as the forthcoming Land Reform Bill in Scotland.
"Scottish Government policy, given expression in the forthcoming Land Reform Bill, articulates a clear intention to diversify ownership and landed power going forward, including an emphasis on greater community empowerment and local democratic accountability. You may wish to reflect on this as you develop your thinking on ownership and governance structures." - Report: Natural Capital, the Private Finance Investment Pilot and Scotland’s Land Reform
Drawing inspiration from Rebanks’s intimate portrayal of an agriculture that honors nature and Perkins’s pragmatic approaches to modern regenerative farming, communal allotments and thriving crofting-communities can become crucibles where these timeless principles are resurrected. They are spaces where the community, akin to the tightly-knit society of the Lake District, gathers to sow, nurture, and harvest not just crops, but relationships, skills, and knowledge.
Under the illuminating lens of Kate Raworth’s “Doughnut Economics,” these communal spaces transform into living embodiments of an economic model where the needs of all are met within the ecological ceilings of our planet. They become sites of convergence where the harmony of traditional agricultural wisdom, the innovation of regenerative practices, and the inclusive embrace of Doughnut Economics converge. In these fertile grounds, every seed planted, every hand extended in fellowship, and every story shared, nourishes the roots of a society that is not just sustainable, but vibrantly regenerative. Every allotment, teeming with life, stands testament to a future where humanity and nature advance, intertwined in a dance of mutual flourishing.
Regenerative Renaissance (cont. in Part 2...)
Innovation without wise leadership is like a ship with a grand sail but no rudder, gallantly departing harbour with the applause of the crowd, only to be promptly introduced to every rock in the sea. It is clear from this brief narrative that the attainment of wisdom is antithetical with this triad of desires, which have partly infiltrated the echelons of society, governance and cultural tenets. Our journey, momentarily halted, is accentuated by the principles elucidated in Kate Raworth's "Doughnut Economics." This paradigm shifts our gaze from the intoxicating yet perilous allure of Mammon (such as GDP growth), urging us towards a holistic ethos where environmental sanctity and social well-being command the ultimate value. In this narrative, the economy emerges not as an isolated entity, but an intricate tapestry woven within the broader landscapes of societal structures and natural ecosystems. We're invited to transcend the immediate, the tangible, embracing a pathway where the goal is collective flourishing within the planet's ecological bounds.
Please stay tuned for Part 2.
Thanks for reading this far, your comments and reflections are very welcome. Apologies that all these images were made with Midjourney, the arrival of a new baby has made time even more precious.
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