Mar 02 2010

Meeting Suggestions

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This page is a list of suggestions on topics and on formats for our future meetings. Please feel free to add a comment, if you come to the group.


Suggestions for the content of our meetings.

a) Charter of Compassion

Karen Armstrong has made a plea for compassion as a stance common to all religions. We could view her Charter of Compassion address and then each person could share what they understand compassion to mean.

b) Blue Gold

Blue Gold is a DVD that uncovers truths about our water management that the world needs to understand and act upon. Water is in the news in Canterbury too, with moves to replace ECan.

c) Impressions of Spain and Sweden

Brian has offered to share with us his impressions of the religious and cultural situation in these two countries, which he will be visiting. (October date).

d) The Spirituality Revolution

David Tacey was a lecturer in the English department at La Trobe University. Students complained that the literature they studied expressed a spirituality but the academics ignored it. This led him to offer university courses in the spirituality of literature.  He has written up his experiences in a book with the above title. We could listen to excerpts from the Geering Lecture series he gave in Wellington in 2006.

e) Richard Dawkins on Evolution

Those of us who attended Dawkins’ lecture in Christchurch could report on it. In the U.S., only 14 percent of adults thought that evolution was “definitely true,” while about a third firmly rejected the idea. The percentage of U.S. adults who are uncertain about evolution has risen from 7 percent to 21 percent in the past 20 years. Why are religious people so suspicious of evolution, and what would a religious faith look like that fully accepted an evolutionary approach to life (including religion)?

f) Looking at the Bible Again for the First Time

We all have impressions of the bible, many going back to sunday school days. How about setting all that aside and trying to look at the bible as if we had never seen it before?  The “Old Testament” generally gets a bad press these days, and that very name obscures the fact that there is nothing old in the sense of superseded about it for Jews.  A slide presentation, based on the best of modern scholarship, which gives a bird’s eye view of that library of books that is better called the Hebrew scriptures or Tanakh (the nearest equivalent name in Jewish tradition for what, for them, is not one item but three:  the Torah (law), Nebiim (prophets), and Ketubim (writings). (Midwinter date, so that the room is dark)

g) Abide With Me: Comfort for the Grieving or Empty Sentimentality?

The hymn “Abide with Me”  is still a standby at funerals. It’s one hymn that most people know and can sing, at least a little bit.  Some time ago, the Dunedin Sea of Faith group had a meeting that discussed this hymn.  Click here for David Kitchingman’s interesting discussion.  Would the group be interested in exploring this significant bit of Anglo-saxon religious folk tradition and debating its value?

h) Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in Melbourne in 2009.  This must have been a major event, but I hardly heard anything about it, except that Bill Wallace was going there to lead a liturgy with a cosmic spirituality theme.  Would it be worth learning about this event?

i) What is Meditation?

Many years ago, the Beatles became fans of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his transcendental meditation. But what is meditation? How do different types of meditation differ? What does brain science say about the value of meditation?

j) All Heretics’ Day?

The Unitarian Universalists came up with this idea, which I think is brilliant. Parallel to All Saints’ Day, why not an All Heretics’ Day, an opportunity to celebrate religious figures who were ostracised and rejected by established religion?  I’d quite like us to look at Marcion, the great gnostic, who rejected the whole Old Testament, and taught that Jesus’ God of love could not possibly be the Creator God, responsible for this world with all its evil and suffering. You might prefer some more modern anti-religious or anti-Christian thinker (Nietzsche?Dawkins? Freud?).  Alternatively, we could look at Jennifer Michael Hecht’s accounts of some great doubters (we dealt with her book on doubt at an earlier meeting, but one meeting hardly scratches the surface of what she has to say). Our nearest

k) Compassion and crisis : Our human dilemma

An advance look at the theme for this year’s annual conference.

l) Karen Armstrong

We could do some more work on Karen Armstrong’s writings; she has been a spectacularly successful author of books on religion. She argues that religious faith and religious activity still are, as they always have been, essential to being fully human. You can dip into her latest book, “The Case for God”, at

m) The Greatest Show on Earth

We could work through Dawkins’ latest book, putting the case for evolution, chapter by chapter. A proper understanding of evolution is fundamental to being a modern person.

n) Pathways in Postmodern Spirituality

Where does religion go from here, when traditional doctrines no longer convince? What pathways in spirituality are there, down which questioning people might travel. Would you like to try on being an atheistic humanist, or a Jungian, who interprets religious symbolism as applying exclusively to the psyche or the self. How about being a deep green, believing that the bacteria are way more important to the planet than us hominids? Others feel that Buddhism offers a non-dogmatic practice that helps overcome violence and suffering. Or what about cosmic spirituality, the human potential movement (psychotherapy in the tradition of people such as Carl Rogers or Fritz Perls), or mysticism? Last but not least, what about progressive Christianity? There is no shortage of options claiming our attention and allegiance.  Let’s pick some and discuss their pros and cons. (This might be rather a lot for one evening; it could even be the theme for a whole year!)

o) Who is Eugen Drewermann

As most of you know, Laurie is an enthusiast for the writings of Eugen Drewermann.  He could outline the basic themes of Drewermann’s work, and introduce some brief excerpts for discussion.

p)  Talk by Professor Doug Sellman

My suggestion is to ask Doug Sellman to speak to us. He has been at the last two SoF conferences at least, the last as a speaker on the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs in our society. I imagine he could speak on a wide variety of topics, but his diary may be too full.

q) Prof Peter Brown

We could revisit the work of Peter Brown ( “Yet in this dark time there is a prospect, an opportunity that we must grasp, to conceive of a new economics grounded in contemporary science.   This perspective offers a conception of our place on earth and in the cosmos which grounds and informs an ethic of respect and deference.   We can then offer a new economics grounded in both science and ethics which defines a moral economy for spaceship earth.”

r) MidWinter Christmas/Matariki Celebration

Candles, wine and food, and some kind of ceremony or ritual to mark the winter solstice. Light emerging from darkness, new beginnings, the birth of a child who brings a new future.

s) My Story

We take turns to tell our life story. What are the key events and people who shaped me? How did I come to my current attitude to religion or spirituality? Members of the group would be invited (not pressured!) to tell their story. One person’s story might take between half an evening and a whole evening.

t) A History of Christianity

The BBC recently produced a DVD on this topic. “In this fascinating series Professor MacCulloch explains how Christianity first spread east, extending into Syria, Central Asia, India and the Far East. He explores the extraordinary and unpredictable rise of the largest single body of Christian devotion in the world, the Roman Catholic Church, and reveals how confession was invented by monks in a remote island off the coast of Ireland. As the series progresses it charts Eastern Orthodox Christianity’s fight for survival after its glory days in the eastern Roman Empire and looks at the Reformation and the rise of Protestantism as well as the evangelical revival and the American-led rise of Pentecostalism.”

u) Technology and the Future

What undreamt-of possibilities will technology open up for us? We could discuss this topic, stimulated by Ray Kurzweil’s book: “Spiritual Machines.” check him out on www.

Meeting Format

Placeholder for ideas about the format of our twice-monthly meetings.

A) Book Reviews

We have often had an evening where three or four of us give a brief report on a book that we have been reading.

B) Opening Reflection

We could open most meetings with a brief reflection. This could be a poem, a thought-provoking quotation, a meditation, a work of art, a religious symbol or….  The aim is to provide something experiential and personal, to counter (what some feel is) a tendency to empty rationality in the Sea of Faith.

C) One Big Day

I dream of an annual event, the publicity for which consumes most of our annual budget. We invite two or three publicly known speakers to address a theme of general interest. In this way, we contribute to public debate and publicise the Sea of Faith.

D) Outside Speaker vs Do it ourselves

Would you generally prefer meetings where we invite someone who is not part of our group to talk to us or are you quite happy for us to produce our own inputs?

E)  Presentation vs Discussion

Would you generally prefer to listen to someone presenting, or do you prefer a lively discussion, where group members each informally contribute?

F) Meeting Series on a Book

We choose a book (or article that can be accessed from the web), and set aside 3-5 meetings to discuss it. We would need to read 10-20 pages before each meeting, in order to be able to meaningfully contribute. Possible books: Geering: God and the New Physics, A Geering Reader, Karen Armstrong: The Case for God.  Advantage: we get to focus better on a theme. Problem: will we find something that (nearly) all of us are interested in?

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