Wednesday, 10 November 2010


I have just watched the film Agora, starring Rachel Weisz, a very powerful and moving film. The story is about the last 'pagan' philosopher-teacher Hyptia, a mathematician and astronomer, who lived in Alexandia at the end of the 4th Century AD. She is killed by a Christian mob, who have already destroyed centuries of ancient learning by despoiling the library of Alexandria. But her 'crime' is that she teaches people to question what they believe and know. Therefore she is confronted by the fanatical bishop Cyrill. The same man who much later became a saint and Doctor of the Catholic Church. Hyptia is presented in the film not so much as a pagan, as much as an early scientist and rationalist.
The film portrays (in an imaginative reconstruction of course) that Cyril uses the words of St Paul in the Epistle to Timothy that required a woman to be silent, and submissive and to not teach, in order to stir up the people and government against her. This part of the film disturbed me, because the command that a woman be 'silent' was inveighed years ago against my own father, a church elder, who wanted women to simply be able to pray openly within the Church. A minor version of St Cyril and Christian fanatics drove my father from his Christian fellowship.
Christian leaders have always abused power, for as many who have been gracious, others have been fanatical. This does not mean the core teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are wrong, or even that he was not the Messiah or 'Son' of God must be denied. But the film brought home the need to always questions even what is allegedly revealed or from God. Without reason, or more accurately, without questioning, we fall prey to all manner of ideological or religious fanaticism. Nothing should be beyond questioning or debate or criticism. Free speech is essential and faith must always be subject to review and reconsideration.
For many years I have been 'searching' for religious answers. I felt a failure because i never came to any solid conclusions, except about what I didn't believe in. Now I realise that if I question until my dying breath, this is far better than simply believing or even knowing (because 'knowing' is really just the state of believing that I know). Questioning means examining the evidence and always being open to new possibilities and argument. No belief, no practice should be beyond questioning. This is the only way we can live freely and peacefully.
The Christian Church, like most organised religion, has always been rotten at the core. And the greatest irony, that the words of its founder but loving enemies, mercy and justice have frequently been ignored or twisted or qualified by Christians themselves. Most Christians in the past and today, do Christianity as a source of comfort, social significance, for some purpose or meaning...but not it seems to simply love God and love one's neighbour. Somehow loving God is made into a reason to destroy one's neighbour, or even fellow Christian. Defending God or God's honour, is the cause of the worst evils that religion can perpetrate.

Another thought had struck me recently just before viewing this film: if, as my intuition wants to tell me (but I cannot ever rest on this) there is some supreme source, necessary being, and first cause for our existence, some divinity, we do not understand or know it's nature. And why should we? I realise that conceptualising the divine, in a theology, to create a set of eternally correct and static religous rules or dogmas - is as certain a form of idolatory as to create a 'graven image'. All theology then, all dogma in so far as these beliefs are not just considered manmade, provisional and open to question and doubt, is idolatory.

I would sincerely wish to repent of any notion that somehow I could fit within an organised religious institution. The universe is my temple, my life is my altar, my desire for beauty, peace, justice and well being in the world starting with my family is my proper worship. All authority must be tested by reason including claims of divine revelation and knowledge.

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