It was the American rocker Larry Norman who, in 1972, asked the question that many others had been afraid to voice.

It was the American rocker Larry Norman who, in 1972, asked the question that many others had been afraid to voice.

On what was perhaps the most influential album of his career “Only Visiting this Planet” he posed the question of a thousand flowerchildren who were finding their way in to the new Jesus movement: “Why should the Devil have all the good music?”

As far as many of his contemporaries were concerned, Norman may as well have been the Devil. His long hair and rock and roll stylings meant that they had his number, and it looked remarkably like 666.

To be even handed, it was at least a time when some rock musicians deliberately played up their diabolical stylings. Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had deliberately appropriated an occult sensibility, using Satanism to sell records. If he did in fact sell his soul to the Devil, then perhaps his current feud with his neighbour the ‘Angels’ singer Robbie Williams is Page’s own private hell.

But while we were all more credulous in the years surrounding the summer of love, surely in these enlightened times we pay less attention to talk of Satan and his demons. While on the one hand, the Devil is perhaps the most clearly mythological figures in the Christian tradition, still a surprisingly large number of people cling resolutely to a belief in a single identifiable entity – whose name happens to be Satan.

There are probably a host of reasons for this, but don’t discount the influence of Baudelaire’s famous line: “the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist…” or as later repurposed for the film ‘The Usual Suspects’: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled, is convincing the world that he does not exist.”

A fear that the very thing the malign agent we call the Devil wants is that we don’t believe in him, prevents our disbelief, adiabolically clever ruse – or is it just another example of the Devil’s famous pride? Always his downfall.

The thing is, of course, that the Devil of popular imagination is a long way from the Satan, or rather Satans of Biblical accounts. The Old Testament (Hebrew) Satan is an agent of Yahweh. A prosecuting counsel, an angelic being with the job of giving people like poor beleaguered Job a hard time. But as traditions began to synthesise Satan turned into a different character all together.

The Lenten fast comes from the story of Jesus in the wilderness, where after forty days without food he is tempted by none other than the old adversary. But of course Jesus’ temptations are the same that we all face, the temptation to abuse resources, power, and relationships – as well as the temptation to get out of the wilderness to somewhere with more food and less temptation. In other words, they are about what it means to be human.

I’m choosing to spend the forty days of Lent reflecting on the Devil, and you can join me if you like. Subscribe to my free daily meditations any time, but do it before Wednesday 6th of March if you want to get the full ‘Sympathy for the Devil?’ series.


“After the Flood”  by Erin Wathen - a lament for the Church

“After the Flood”  by Erin Wathen - a lament for the Church

this crumbling ark of a thing that we’ve half-worshipped and over-mortgaged

After the Flood by Erin Wathen - published on Patheos

this rusty relic

when it has finally good and washed away

on the waves of its children leaving

its last hope of resurrection spent on

an overhead projector and a damned outside consultant

with a damned good vision plan …

we will remember the big churchy words

wrapped around the marching orders.

we will remember the days when we loved being right

more than we loved loving.

this crumbling ark of a thing

that we’ve half-worshipped and over-mortgaged

finally goes down.

there is no hating God for this one.

no blaming that sad divine for the

wreck of our own creation.

maybe it was bound to end this way.

after the fire, the storm, the wandering.

after the flood,

the astounding rainbow of a promise

a love so vast and colorful that

we could never possibly keep up our end of the bargain.

Making God Necessary?” - a post-Theism view

Making God Necessary?” - a post-Theism view

A Response to Deepak Chopra by John Bennison on February 17, 2019 |

I. Prefatory Context for this Commentary

“Making God Necessary” is the chosen title to one of the chapters in a newly released book, “how I found GOD in everyone and everything,” contributed by Deepak Chopra.

Deepak Chopra is a 73-yr old Indian-born American author, public speaker, alternative medicine advocate, and a prominent guru-type in the New Age movement. Through his books and videos, he has become one of the best-known and wealthiest figures in alternative medicine. (Check out the website!)

With regards to spirituality and religion, Chopra has likened the universe to a “reality sandwich” which has three layers: the “material” world, a “quantum” zone of matter and energy, and a “virtual” zone outside of time and space, which is the domain of God, and from which God can direct the other layers. (Wikipedia) Wow.

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A Zen Priest Reflects on the Origin of Religion

A Zen Priest Reflects on the Origin of Religion

The Origin of Religion - A Sermon Delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fullerton 10th February, 2019 James Ishmael Ford

A couple of years ago I was in Connecticut to co-lead a Zen retreat. As the retreat ended one of my co-leaders, Mary Gates, who is both a fully authorized Zen teacher and an Episcopal priest excused herself. Mary explained she had to say mass for the small congregation she served as vicar. Being me, I asked if I could tag along.

The service was held in a tiny stone chapel in West Cornwall. The town is a Norman Rockwell image of old New England. It even has a covered bridge. The chapel, well, built in New England or picked up and moved from some bucolic English countryside, it was picture perfect. There were eighteen of us in that little chapel, and we pretty much filled it.

The service itself was Prayer Book Rite II with all that means for those familiar with the history of Episcopalian religious services. For me as a progressive it’s filled with awkward masculine by preference language and as a Buddhist with a full-on dualistic God out there and you and me, down here theology. Not my cup of tea. And.

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What Can We Do Now That There Is No God?  - 2019 is the centennial of Iris Murdoch’s birth

What Can We Do Now That There Is No God?  - 2019 is the centennial of Iris Murdoch’s birth

Vance Morgan writing for "Freelance Christianity" observes that writing in the decades after the Second World War, Murdoch assumes that human beings are required to grapple with a difficult world lacking the tools provided by traditional Christianity

Several weeks into the new year, I am for the first time getting to teach three of my favorite courses in the same semester. One of these courses involves an in-depth investigation of the work of three of the most important writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, all of them women. One of these women is Iris Murdoch. When constructing the syllabus last summer, it did not even occur to me that 2019 is a particularly appropriate year to be introducing a dozen very bright students to Murdoch’s philosophical and literary work. 2019 is the centennial of Iris’s birth, with various celebrations planned in the U.K. and beyond to honor the work and life of this extraordinary woman. Last Friday was the 20th anniversary of her death in 1999 after several years of advancing Alzheimer’s disease.

Iris came into my life a number of years ago when I discovered that Simone Weil—a thinker so influential on my intellectual and spiritual development that my wife Jeanne calls her my “mistress”—was similarly influential for Iris Murdoch (Simone is another of the thinkers on the syllabus in my current course). In her last completed work, Murdoch asks a question that is arguably the central issue explored in both her fiction and her philosophical work—What can we do now that there is no God?

Writing in the decades after the Second World War, Murdoch assumes that human beings are required to grapple with a difficult world lacking the tools provided by traditional Christianity (or any other traditional religious framework). Yet she is by no means a happy atheist along the lines of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris or Daniel Dennett. Murdoch believes that traditional conceptions of the divine, along with the various frameworks that have traditionally surrounded those conceptions, are meaningless, yet points out that while it is easy to say that there is no God, it is not so easy to believe it and to draw the consequences.

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Maya Angelou On Being Christian

Maya Angelou On Being Christian

Two bite-sized pieces of wisdom from the late, great literary genius, Maya Angelou. Like gems, these are ideas you can put in your pocket, and take them out whenever you need them

Gem #1: Angelou didn’t call herself a Christian – not exactly. In an interview on the occasion of being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she put it this way: “I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian.’ I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it, which means that I try to be as kind and fair and generous and respectful and courteous to every human being.”

Gem #2: In another interview, Angelou said that while she was taught to believe in God, she became courageous when she made that belief her own. “I dared to do anything that was a good thing. I dared to do things distant from what seemed to be in my future. When I was asked to do something good, I often say yes, I’ll try, yes, I’ll do my best. And part of that is believing, if God loves me, if God made everything from leaves to seals and oak trees, then what is it I can’t do?”

So in Angelou’s honour, let’s keep these gems close and remember that being Christian is always a work in progress – and that God’s creative love makes all things possible!

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on a Church which has failed to address clericalism

on a Church which has failed to address clericalism

The late 60’s was a time of great hope for reform. Nothing we then thought would be quite the same again.

In the 1960’s bishops gathered to consider the great issues affecting the church. I was a student at Salamanca in the late 60’s at a time of great hope for reform. Nothing we then thought would be quite the same again. For a young student it was extraordinarily exciting. It was a good time to be alive. The illustration for this blog is the front cover of a slim volume showing a priest reading a book, published by Propaganda Popular Catolica, entitled “15 days to understand the Council” – it was a time of humour alongside the hopes.

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The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith - book by Robert M. Ellis

The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith - book by Robert M. Ellis

The Christian Middle Way - The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith Robert M. Ellis Publication Date: July 2018 The Buddha’s Middle Way applied to the Christian tradition. Ellis argues for a meaningful and positive interpretation of Christianity, without the absolute beliefs that many assume to be essential to it. Faith as an embodied, provisional confidence is distinguished from dogmatic belief, in a comprehensive re-interpretation of key aspects of Christian tradition.


well-researched and deeply thoughtful. Sofia Magazine

Challenging, dense… insightful… should make the reader think. Church Times

I’ve read and much admired The Christian Middle Way by Robert M. Ellis. I think he has understood the fundamental point of Christian practice. Jay Parini, author of ‘The Human Face of God’

Robert M. Ellis’ new book, The Christian Middle Way, has given me a path to walk on as I move through these new shadowlands in this segment of my journey. In this book, Ellis draws heavily both on the Middle Way philosophy developed by the Buddha and also the function of archetypes as articulated by Carl G. Jung.

Applying Middle Way principles including provisionality and avoiding the absolutizing tendency of metaphysical claims (whether religious or anti-religious) Ellis proposes a path toward integration that may helpfully include the archetypes of God and Jesus incarnate, crucified, and risen, as well as much of the symbolism and meaning of the Christian tradition on one’s journey. Lutheran Pastor (‘One Person’ Blog)

Robert M. Ellis is the founder of the Middle Way Society and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory Migglism, the more detailed Middle Way Philosophy series and the forthcoming Buddha’s Middle Way (Equinox, 2019). He has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Cambridge B.A. in Theology and Oriental Studies. The son of a Baptist minister but formerly also an ordained Buddhist, he seeks a sympathetic but critical path through both traditions.

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More questions from candid friends

More questions from candid friends

Dairmaid MacCulloch tells of a 'wise old Dominican friar' who informed him that God is not the answer. Rather, God is the question. The presumption is that the friar was Herbert McCabe. Another philosopher engaging with that suggestion is William Irvin writing in The New York Times.

God Is a Question, Not an Answer


The Stone is a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless.

Near end of Albert Camus’s existentialist novel “The Stranger,” Meursault, the protagonist, is visited by a priest who offers him comfort in the face of his impending execution. Meursault, who has not cared about anything up to this point, wants none of it. He is an atheist in a foxhole. He certainly has not been a strident atheist, but he claims to have no time for the priest and his talk of God. For him, God is not the answer.

Some 70 years later, Kamel Daoud, in his 2013 novel “The Meursault Investigation,” picks up the thread of Camus’s story. In one scene late in that novel, an imam hounds Harun, the brother of the unnamed Arab who was killed in “The Stranger.” In response, Harun gives a litany of his own impieties, culminating in the declaration that “God is a question, not an answer.” Harun’s declaration resonates with me as a teacher and student of philosophy. The question is permanent; answers are temporary. I live in the question.

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“God is love.”.....These three words are our marching orders as Christians.

A few weeks ago, I flew up to Portland from Los Angeles and found myself sitting next to a woman, about 45 years old, who was on her way to her first face-to-face date with a man she met online. She needed to talk because she was nervous about the impending encounter. I asked her questions and offered encouragement, for which she seemed very grateful. She was a fundamentalist Christian who had never married. “My biggest test of faith was when I was in the Peace Corps in Nepal and fell in love with a wonderful man who was a Hindu. We were getting close to a commitment but I did not want to be “unequally yoked” to an non-Christian. I was afraid of God so I backed away from him. It was so hard,” she confessed. I just listened, but felt so sad for her. Her fear-based religion shattered the love of her life. And that fear even now dragged behind her like a useless anchor.

“God is love.” The Bible tells us so. Taking this short line from the first letter of John seriously results in a long list of significant consequences. These three words are our marching orders as Christians. They sum up the meaning and purpose of human existence. They open a window into a more compassionate, mindful, and progressive form of the Christian faith.

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The Bible - thought from PCN USA

The Bible - thought from PCN USA

We take the Bible seriously, we just don’t take it literally

“We take the Bible seriously, we just don’t take it literally.” A library of stories, poems, histories, gospels, letters, prophecies and devotional writings, the Bible records the struggle of our Judeo-Christian ancestors to understand their world, their God, and the challenges and joys of being a human being. Those challenges and joys are pretty much the same today, and so the Bible has much to teach us. The cultural particulars from two thousand years ago are, on the other hand, not the same today, unless we choose to revert to them.

Gays in the priesthood: Pope Francis’ muddled thinking

Gays in the priesthood: Pope Francis’ muddled thinking

Would someone like Fr Henri Nouwen now be disinclined to enter the seminary? asks Michael W. Higgins in this week's Tablet

Pope Francis set out to usher in a new era of openness, but some of his recent remarks suggest he isn’t going far enough – his thinking still seems fettered to the old ways

Papa Bergoglio continues to surprise. But the “Pope of Surprises” might want to grant a few less interviews; they expose him in ways that heighten his vulnerability – in this his critics rejoice – and inspire his admirers: such uncalculated openness is rare in high clerical circles after all. But when the result is befuddlement, no one wins.

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God is the question

God is the question

What does it mean to accept that God is not the answer to anything, but remains the unanswerable question?

I re-watched Diarmaid MacCulloch’s brilliant tv series on the history of Christianity and liked his description of himself as a “candid friend” of Christianity. That is a label so many of us could wear. As the programme ended he observed that God is not the answer but is the question and I came across a couple of articles of the same mind. the first by Mark Vernon, in The Guardian ten years ago I reproduce below:

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He has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones

He has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones

The NCR questions whether the U.S. bishops, have the will to confront the now undeniable corruption in their culture.

The harsh reality couldn’t be avoided. The secretive, all-male, allegedly celibate clergy culture, where bishops can enjoy privileges once reserved for royalty and the extremely wealthy, was coming apart. There is no place left to hide.

The National Catholic Reporter of the USA says, in an editorial following on the sex abuse scandal, that after all of the denial, lying, cover-ups, excuses, promises to change, apologies for “mistakes made,” and looking for blame and causes in every imaginable corner of the church, the harsh reality can’t be avoided. The secretive, all-male, allegedly celibate clergy culture, where bishops can enjoy privileges once reserved for royalty and the extremely wealthy, was coming apart, the NCR believes and says there is no place left to hide.

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Whale Rider - a parallel Christmas story?

Whale Rider - a parallel Christmas story?

an ancient Maori cultural myth, the story of a long-awaited great leader who is coming to bring new life to a dying tribe

The film “Whale Rider” (directed by Niki Caro, New Zealand, 2002) just released on DVD opens with an unusual birthing scene and invites a parallel with the Christmas story. The gentle voice of a young girl narrates an ancient Maori cultural myth, the story of a long-awaited great leader who is coming to bring new life to a dying tribe.

This anticipated leader traces his lineage to the ancestor “Paikea,” a revered hero whom tribal lore describes as having arrived from the legendary island Hawaiiki, miraculously, on the back of a whale.

“But now we were waiting for the firstborn of the new generation, for the descendant of the whale rider,” she discloses, “for the boy who would be chief.”

Leaving a faith community when we know we can no longer stay.

Leaving a faith community when we know we can no longer stay.

Melinda Henneberger. former columnist with USA Today grapples with the deep sadness of leaving a faith community when we know we can no longer stay.

Melinda Henneberger writing in the National Catholic register, is an opinion writer for The Kansas City Star and previously worked as a columnist for USA Today. Talking of her own faith journey she grapples with the deep sadness of leaving the faith community you were born into. Melinda is a cradle Catholic but many of us know the difficulties that accompany that decision when we know we can no longer stay.

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That was then

That was then

Does Francis still hold to this declaration from 2007?

Reading an extract from a Jesuit magazine I was interested in the following paragraph:

The Latin American bishops in 2007 led by then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio deplored “a Catholic faith reduced… to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices… to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing.” They wrote, “Being Christian is… the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

Why Faithful Christians Do Not Believe

Why Faithful Christians Do Not Believe

Robert M Ellis author of recently published ‘The Christian Middle Way: The case against Christian belief but for Christian faith’ (Christian Alternative, July 2018), outlining why absolute belief is a problem .

Robert M Ellis has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Cambridge BA in Oriental Studies and Theology writes in PCN (USA):

Despite a Christian family background, I have never managed to be a Christian in the way defined by most churches. I am not a ‘believer’, and could recite no creed without a sense of hypocrisy and conflict. But after many years of engagement with other traditions – Buddhist, philosophical and psychological – it has become increasingly clear to me that ‘belief’ is not what Christianity is most importantly about. It is quite possible to drink deeply of what Christianity has to offer, indeed to be ‘Christian’ in all the ways that matter – morally, spiritually and intellectually – without ‘believing’ such absolute propositions as that God exists, or that Jesus is the Son of God, or that Jesus saves believers from sin. Indeed, I will go further. Such beliefs have no positive practical effects on the lives of Christians, beyond being shortcuts to group conformity which may also have many negative effects.

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