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Chaos Is Your Friend

a sermon for Fredericton

Text: Genesis 1:1-3 At the Beginning. . . the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, . . . while a wind swept over the face of the waters.

The address: I have been told that the formless void {NRSV} or without form, and void {KJV} is a rendering of the Hebrew tovu va vohu which like a lot of Hebrew is subject to puns and word play. Since I don't do Hebrew, I start at a later date when the Greek philosophers were trying to determine how the Earth was formed and by which means. Most agree that the formless void was a description of Chaos. The theists insist that the chaos was nothing and that God turned it into the order than created our world. the latin phrase: creatio ex nihlo, creation from nothing became the mantra of the church fathers.

I want to suggest that the waste is the debris of the big bang and the earth evolved from that stuff. We did not need a God to order our universe, name it and take all the credit for it.

When we think of the world we live in it sure seem chaotic. My point is that as far as I am concerned there are those who want to insist that there is an inherent order in the universe which opines that someone or something caused this order to exist. This includes those who are enamoured with things like string theory and a unified mega theory of order, even chaos theory which says more about their God than the nature of things. why do we need a God to impose order on chaos?

I advocate a starting point, considering the chaos around us: that we create our own order so we can get through the night. This point of view suggests that all are crazy. The sane are found is prison or mental facilities. We gather with others who are the same kind of crazy we are. This exhibits our need for religion. which means to bind, to have this coping mechanism suggests that we accept a measure of chaos to invade our security.

One example is our home office. When we go home and look at the piles of paper strewn all over our desk, or what passes for our desk, the state of disorder there in our study space is natural and and does not imply that we are morally deficient because of the disorder in this part of our life. We will only clear up this uncomfortable situation when we consider chaos as a friend. Wading into disorder is a way out of the bog.

For many this is a brave new world, not as nearly as comfortable as the one we are offered by the theists where there is an orderly universe, gifted to us by God and his(sic) grace. All that is needed is to perceive the beauty of that order and bask in its security. I now refer you to the conversation I had with Leo Dione about reason and fact versus comfort and joy.

My experiences of life do not reflect an environment of order and comfort. Specifically my recent bouts with heart bypass surgery and cancer removal. What kind of universe or God would let bad things happen to a good person like me? I have found that my world view and confidence based on reason and fact and medical professionals competence has given me the strength to survive.

When I was a victim of urban violence in the 1980's it was the community of the Unitarian Church Bridge Group and their immediate and appropriate aid that saved me then and it is the same kind of care and feeding by my support groups; family, friends and co-religionists who have brought me through. In preparation for this address I have been reading John Rawls, late of Harvard University, who in his Christian days wrote about community as the best expression of the love of God. He later became an Atheist.

In my reading I also read a wonderful new book by Benjamin Lazier called God Interrupted - where he talked about three twentieth century Jewish Atheists. The one I was most familiar with Gershom Scholem who wrote the best work extant on Jewish Mysticism. Scholem at the end of his life had examined the two answers to all thing religious: Mysticism and Pantheism - rejected both and found Panentheism as his preferred stance. This sermon is not to praise Process Thought but to admit it is a natural and reasonable option for those who reject the God of mystery and the God of nature.

in reference to the options of Scholem. Mysticism in the Jewish sense expressed itself in kabalistic form; the Muslim form was called Sufi; and all three [to include Orthodox Christianity] run into Gnosticism.

I was struck that Lazier's three jewish thinkers, as well as Dr. Rawls had opted for the Atheist stance. Many of us Humanists have adopted the same stance. There is a line from Reformed Christianity to Unitarianism to Humanism to Atheism. It is not the only liberal religious choice and many of us are some where along a continium from Orthodox through Heterodox to a non-theist place. When I was minister here I was moving from Unitarianism to Humanism, now I strongly identify with the Atheists.

A couple of years ago when Robin Cook was killed when he fell off a Scottish mountain trail. Robin Cook had been Tony Blairs Foreign Secretary and had quit Cabinet over Cook's opposition to going into Iraq.

Well, they had a memorial service for him at St Giles Cathedral on the mount in Edinburgh. They asked the retired Primate of the Episcopal Church of Scotland to preside. Bishop Richard Holloway who presents himself as an Atheist said the following words [or some like them]:

Welcome to the Memorial Service for Robin Cook, you may wonder why an Episcopal Bishop is conducting the service in this the High Kirk of Presbyterianism, especially since Robin was an Atheist? But he was a Presbyterian Atheist.

How to the point was his Grace, Atheism is an honourable option.

Atheists, and especially Humanist Atheists require a fine sense of the nature of our Universe [when seen as Chaos] Religion is supposed to get us through the night without having to deal with ghosts or boogie men. The pacifiers of orthodoxy are the children's religion stated by Saint Paul in his letter. While we may have thought as a child we now put away childish things. This statement is not an exercise of attacking the orthodox with their own switch, but an attempt to call us to a life lived in an environment of Chaos, ordered by our own wits, and saved by community.

as an aside, the Romans [and to some degree the Greeks] accused the early Christians of being atheists because their god was a god that had died. The counter to this was to adopt the same milestones that Roman Emperors ascended into heaven. The claim that Jesus was God was originated as parallel to this pagan progress.

All religions are tribal. We now choose [Heretic means to choose]We choose our religious tribe, with all its failings and shortcomings and inability to save us from ourselves.

The humour of this work is to suggest that maybe Chaos can save us if we do not fear it and we treat it as a friend. Yes, Dr. Dione preferred a little comfort and joy - don't we all? But cannot our Advent realization be that three things last forever: Faith, Hope, and Chaos - but the greatest of these is Chaos.

prepared for The Unitarian Fellowship of Fredericton, New Brunswick December 2010
Rev. William Main
19411 56 Ave West #319
Lynnwood, Washington 98036