A Study of Religion

Some years ago at a difficult time, I wrote these words.
The first part is compiled directly from the Oxford English Dictionary, beginning with the word ‘religion’, finding its definition, and repeating that in turn with each keyword I found in the definition.
The second part is a short verse inspired by this, and the third, an introspection leading from it.
I present it as it may (or may not) help those who feel that faith comes easy to some, and that others do not share the same struggles.

I

Religion is the human recognition of,
and response to,
a living being,
higher than man,
possessing superhuman capability and powers;

Having a rightful claim and title
to possess and control the universe
and all creatures in it,
including mankind.

Having an absolute claim, in right and title,
to the reverence,
respect,
adoration,
and devotion of mankind;

Having power over nature and human fortunes,
known by mankind as GOD,
the Supreme Being,
inviolable,
morally and spiritually perfect.
whole, holy.

To this Supremacy,
this Divinity,
there is no other higher power or prior cause.

The universe proceeds from GOD alone,
GOD is its great creator and its king;
created from GOD’s own self by GOD’s own will,
sustained by GOD’s supreme and sole command,
copied from no model,
from no ‘other’ substance drawn,
placed in no ‘space outside’, apart from GOD.

II

Grown within the Earth-womb,
mankind, the child of GOD,
beloved yet poorly loving, lives by grace
herein is love: not that we love GOD
but that GOD loved us first,
we that give him pain
(for we do love, but hurt the one we love,
denying Him in blank and close-walled fear).

True religion
is this recognition
and its due response.

III

I am a Christian.
I believe in GOD the Father Almighty,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord.
and in the Holy Spirit,
Three in One.

I have never seen a miracle,
I have never heard the voice of GOD,
I have never seen an angel,
a vision,
or a ghost,
except at such a time
and in such a need
that I suspect it was hallucination
or a dream.

I have never seen the certain hand of GOD
intervening in His universe.
I have not seen one certain answered prayer,
I have seen many seeming prayers in faith Unanswered.
I have seen Christians go sad to their grave
and wondered why.

My only answer is that of Peter,
‘Lord, to whom shall we go?
Yours are the words of eternal life.’
The unexamined life is not worth living ,
Socrates
wherever Truth may lead us we must go.
To fail to do so is self deceit
and death.

If truth leads to death
we lose only what we never had.
If truth leads to life
we have gained the whole universe
and our souls.

I am not one who has seen and believed,
but one who has not seen, and yet believes.

Heaven and Earth may fade and flee,
First born light in gloom decline,
But while GOD and I shall be,
I am his, and he is mine!1’
                                         J. M. Muller

Homo Sapiens Sapiens

Man, Wisely Wise –

    The right words, 
but not necessarily in the right gender.

The title comes with blessing and a curse,
somewhere along our way we learned
that we know that we know.

Knowledge for knowledge’s sake sets us apart;
it is in our species name:
Homo Sapiens Sapiens.
Homo Sapiens Sapiens has desire and power.
This world is where we live and breathe and are.

We have moved beyond merely sentient,
simply sensing the world,
to being sapient, knowing our place in it.
We have moved beyond merely sapient,
knowing our place,
to sapient sapient.
We have tasted the bitter-sweet fruit.
We know that we know.

Man did not mean male,
it was a species,
in which the male was husbandman,
from hus-bound-Man,
tied to humus, to soil,
our house and home.

Of course it became husband,
but an earlier term was wer-Man
‘male-Man’

The female was wif-Man, which became wife,
then, probably via wi’-Man, became wo-man,
woman.

And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’

…out of Man, not …out of man;
the gender word man was yet unformed

wo-Man meant female-Man
wer-Man meant male-Man.
The human gender term wer survives,
in the human male part of were-wolf.

‘male’ in male and female are unrelated

Female comes from Latin femella,
female-Man.
Male comes from Old French masle
from Latin masculus or malus, male-Man.
Man is the species word,
human regardless of gender,
as were he and she, which were once accents of the same word,
simply meaning a person.
Man is derived from Old English mann,
or earlier Proto-Indo-European mon or man.
Human comes from humus (soil).

Possibly the h at the beginning of human and he
caused a shift of use towards he 
for a person,
leaving she with no role.
so it came to be used for a woman.

If so, then for a time, he meant a person of either sex
while she was only used for women.
Gradually he was applied to men only,
she to women only.

Female stands alone,
It is not fe- prefixing male.
Its origin is in Latin,
coming from femina, or femella,
a female human.
Its use for other species came later.

Male comes from Old French masle
from Latin masculus, or malus,
a male human.

So male in each word is coincidence,
a 14th century spelling confusion,
of similar sounds with similar sense.

But -man in woman and in man
does share the same root:
the word for our species,
Man, any human person.
In Old English the word for male was wǣp or wer
which, with the species suffix mann,
became wǣp-mann, werman.

Werman shortened to man in or before the 13th century
We still use wǣp- or wer as man in were-wolf.
but the word served also as gender neutral
until the last century.
Old English for woman, female-Man,
was wīf-mann or wif.
Wif became wife
wīf-mann became wi’man, woman.
So, unlike female and male,
man and woman have the same root,
Man,
human regardless of gender.

The Words We Use

This is something of a ramble through my etymology hobby.

Eternal is from ancient Greek, aeon-ternus, meaning age-lasting. We often use eternal as meaning no more than this, going on for ages, or as long as the universe lasts, but things have changed.

The discovery of the Big Bang in which the cosmos came into being at a finite time in the past, brings the need for a much wider definition as it implies the existence of something other than space-time for which we have no words. This is nothing new; a wider definition has been necessary for some millenia since the earliest descriptions of a being outside, other than time and space, but also from the invention of an obscure, ancient, grammatical concept.

The past, the present and the future walked into a bar. It was tense.

But the aorist tense needs no companions – wherever it is, it is always tense. When God says, ‘I AM.’ it is a single, defining statement. The original is in the aorist tense, implies ‘I was, I am, I have always been and always will be.’ Or if you prefer, ‘I ETERNALLY AM’

This is far more than simply lasting forever; it is something other. It is more than time or space. It may give birth to time and space, but, Oh! Man! it is something else.

The Aorist does not walk into a bar, its spirit is suspended eternally in the optics.

So here is the problem. In an earlier post I wrote about something and nothing and came to the conclusion that we have no true word for nothing because nothing cannot exist. We see this in vacuum physics where it has been found that there is no such thing as the popular idea of a vacuum. Instead the more vacuous the space the more it teems with virtual particles or eddies popping in and out of existence, reacting and responding to each other. The word virtual, unlike its use in ‘virtual reality’ stems from vir, an Old Latin word for potency or Man.

To avoid confusion ‘Man’ above has  a capital letter to identify it as a species word rather than gender. The male of the species Man is homo-man in which homo is Old Latin for humus or earth , not the Old Greek for self.

World comes from the Anglo-Saxon wer-alt meaning the age of a man. we still use wer today to mean man in werewolf (man-wolf).

There is no word for this full meaning of eternal. Eternal simply means ‘lifelong’, but we seek for more, even if life is taken as the life of the universe it takes no account of that Other, the Allos, outwith space-time.

Universe is from unusversus ‘one turned’. It is tempting to think of this in terms of the universe seen as the turning stars, but it means turned into one in the sense, all there is, seen as one. And can we become one with that other One?

Cosmos comes from the Old Greek word for order. The reason I have not posted anything for so long is that for my wife and I the past year has been anything but cosmic. We have had a tough year. My posts will probably be monthly for a while.

 

The Eternal Possesses Time

As in the poem ‘All the Time in the World
the nature of an eternal ‘Other’
that pervades space and time,
cannot be defined in spacetime words,
though they are all we have.

Something other than time and dimension,
pervading space and time
but independent of them,
needs words outside our range.

So how can we talk or think about it?

We do not use language as much as we think.
Multilingual people are sometimes asked,
‘What language do you think in?’

Their answer is often delayed;
rolling language thoughts around,
they usually give an answer
set in the terms of the question.

But many thoughts do not use language
though we may not notice it:
sunlight through leaves, the flight of birds,
fatigue, frustration, longing,
the body language of a friend,
and expressions on a face,
do not need words.

When we communicate with others
our words have personal qualities,
‘qualia’, arising from our past life.
A mountain, a falling leaf, a knife,
each have qualities which differ
from one person to another.
No two people have the same past,
the same experience of any thing.
Your words, my words, have different qualia,
different emotional tones.
You hear my words,
spoken out of my past
and interpret them out of yours.

I heard of an itinerent priest
who preached in town and village churches
when local vicars were away.
It could be several churches on one day.
He joked about breaking the speed limit.
Those listening –  drivers, non-drivers,
who had known or not known past accidents –
would have different thoughts about speeding cars,
different qualia,
different reactions.

But we can understand in some degree
the qualia of those different groups
by extension of our own.
Our own qualia can be enlarged
by poetry, story, music,
by the emotions of others,
or our ideas of what they might be.

Physics, mathematics or words of spacetime
cannot define or describe the Other,
but emotions give a feel for it.
Physics, mathematics and words
do this when they stir emotions.
Some find beauty in a formula that others find in music.

That feeling of beauty,
rather than formula,
rather than musical notes,
is close,
perhaps as close as we can come,
to the language of the eternal.

The word eternal, ae-ternus,
simply means lasting an age,
an infinite extension of time,
but emotions tell us it is more than this,
something more than the word,
more than mere length of time.

The Eternal possesses time.

 

Why is there Something rather than Nothing?

This is for those who like trying to imagine travelling to infinity and beyond! It is a sort of sequel to ‘Eddies in the Stream‘.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Something is something we can understand –
things are all round us, but why are they there?
Why is there sunshine and birds in the air?
nothing is no-thing, and this seems absurd,
nothing is something for which there’s no word.
Nothing is absence, and that is something;
no song for no singer that no-one can sing.
What are those things that just cannot be?
Just between you and just between me,
nothing is something, and that cannot be.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Is there a Maker that calls us to be?
an infinite-finite source of all being?
or multiverses to infinity?
Religion nor Science have answered the question,
‘Why is there something where nothing could be?’

Nothing is no-thing, and that is a problem,
it describes both a void and things that are not.
I search for a word that speaks not of things,
that does not suggest an absence of what?
for a void is a something, and an absence is too,
and nothing is something that just will not do.
I search for a word and zilch is no answer;
I search for a word and get diddly-squat.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why is there something where nothing could be?

There is no word for nothing
that does not mention things,
or speak about the void
the absence of them brings,
then nothing must be something
and so we talk in rings.

So surely it is possible,
and some may well say probable,
that something so intangible
can simply not exist.
Then nothing is a no-thing,
an impossible-to-go thing,
so surely there is something
rising from this mist.

Space and time and energy
are something we can feel:
eddies whirled in spacetime,
an expanding, whirling reel;
a dark, flowing energy
with eddies of its own,
spinning, ever spinning,
in this turning cosmic wheel

And those we see and know
as fundamental particles,
atoms, light and molecules,
flying to and fro,
may be eddies within eddies,
that draw the flow around them;
eddies in those eddies.
that make this cosmos grow.

Eddies bend the space-time flow around them.
Spacetime tells the eddies how to move.
Something more than nothing is no problem;
but something we can wonder at and love.

I have a sort of feeling that your mind like mine is reeling.

Scientists often say the language of the universe is mathematics, so is number an essential thing? an irreducible something, the reason for ‘something rather than nothing’? Perhaps, perhaps not.

We cannot explain numbers to children without words; sometimes lots of words. As children learn numbers in words, so students learn mathematics – plus, minus, times, divide, integrals, calculus, matrices, in many, many words. The most complex mathematical concepts, cosmic infinities, sub-atomic minutiae, could probably not be said in the words of a mathematician’s lifetime. A neighbour in Sue’s Birthday Bunnies called numbers the collapsed waveforms of words, a shorthand for the infinite words that might define this universe.

They take out all the hassle.

But in the beginning was the word.

There is another word for which we have no word. See you in two weeks.

Marius’ Mules

‘Lent’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon word,
lencten meaning springtime,
lengthening days.

As winter stores run short,
the last tightening of the belt
before the earth sprouts again
and birds return,
we look to seed-time.

Buried seed rises, life resumes,
seed-time leads to regrowth,
as regrowth leads to harvest,
and God who gives the seasons,
turns seed-time celebrations
to the greater one of Easter.

We mark this time of self-denial,
the desert of temptation
and the journey to the cross,
with Jesus’ words:
If any would be my follower,
let him deny himself,
take up his cross and follow me.

Then they heard Him differently,
not as we do now, but then.
Now we sometimes change the words
to include men and women,
but His listeners thought of men.

They saw lines of Roman soldiers
with crosses on on their backs,
their nickname, ‘Marius’ Mules’
from the general who led them
and made them wear cross-shaped packs
weighing over sixty pounds.

The pack was called a sarcina,
a military marching backpack,
but in their slang it was furca,
the word for two pronged forks,
for crucifixion crosses and punishment yokes;
furcifer was slang for jailbird,
gallows material.
All a man needed was tied, or hanged,
on his furca,
his cross.

There is more.

Soldiers can’t be individuals,
self-seekers or go-getters,
but a troop with a leader;
holding together as one.
Legionaire, centurion,
cook, quartemaster,
introvert, extrovert
or barrack-room lawyer;
soldiers are part of a company,
one esprit-de-corps,
watching each other’s backs,
carrying their full packs,
denying personal wants
for the sake of the legion,
following the one in charge.

We know our King was crucified,
His hearers, then, just heard the call:

If any would be my follower,
let them deny themselves,
take up their cross and follow me.

What was Jesus saying to that first century crowd? Many were waiting for a Messiah, a warrior in Joshua’s mould, who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel and David’s throne. Here was a stirring speaker with Joshua’s Aramaic name, speaking in soldierly language, calling for followers. Was He speaking to them?

We read His words knowing He was crucified, and interpret them differently, but so would his first-century listeners just two or three years later. It is as though He was not talking to that crowd, not then, not there, but to that crowd as it would be when His work was done.

John (ch.6:15) described how, having heard Him speak, with their high expectations they tried to force Him to be their king. Instead they gained the Servant King who so loved the world that He came as His own Son so they might have eternal life.

We often only understand God’s words and actions after they are fulfilled.

Sue’s Birthday Bunnies

Dedicated to my friends Dick & Sue.

For her birthday little Sue
was given by her Daddy two
little bunnies in a hutch.
She said, ‘I love them! Oh so much!’
She loved them, and they loved Sue,
And they loved each other too.

Bunnies did what bunnies do,
so what a great surprise had Sue
when she peeped inside their door:
her two bunnies now were four.

‘Daddy come! Oh Daddy quick!
(Daddy by the way was Dick)
One and one have just made four!’
Daddy came and Daddy saw
that the present he’d supplied
had gone forth and multiplied.

‘Oh no!’ he said, ‘I gave you two.
Pretty soon we’ll have a zoo!
There first were two, and now two more,
It’s two and two that becomes four.’

Later talking to his neighbour
Dick said, ‘How I had to labour!
‘Sue may be bright and pretty quick,
but no good at arithmetic!’

The neighbour said,
‘Now don’t you fuss,
although I only drive a bus
I study speed and things like that
when in my driver’s seat I’m sat.
A speed of just two miles an hour
If doubled needs a bit more power.
But, and this is hard to scan,
I’ll try and do it if I can,
two miles an hour plus two again,
Is not four m.p.h.’

‘Explain!’

‘The actual sum, as I have found,
Is two miles per hour, plus two miles more
less two divided by the speed of light in miles per hour.
This argument you can’t resist.
I am a Quantum Physicist
not a poet.’

‘I thought you drove a bus!’

Dick’s other neighbour, on his way,
Stopped to pass the time of day.
‘Math and physics show us we
really need philosophy.
One and two and three and four
mean nothing if not joined to more.
They are shorthand, abstract terms,
to count the stars and sticks, and worms.’

‘And bunnies!’ spoke up little Sue.
We really must give her her due.
She knows that numbers are a tool
not bound to any other rule
than Einstein’s relativity
and Heisenberg’s uncertainty.
Schrodinger’s unhappy cat
would surely say, ‘Amen.’ to that.