I have to confess that I’m with Lewis Carrol who thought that royals were only another topic of desultry conversation:

The time has come, the Walrus said

to talk of many things

of ships and shoes and sealing wax

and cabbages and kings ……

He puts the kings at the end of the line after the fascinating topic of cabbages.06D8AD76-06E0-406C-A0A0-78234C651CE3

The UK Media have been congratulating themselves, the nation and the newly engaged couple, Harry and Meghan, for proving how tolerant we Brits have become in that we can consider one of our royals marrying a divorced woman, of mixed heritage, who is an actress! Golly gosh, we are so modern; we hate incomers enough to vote for Brexit, yet our big hearts are open to this very special, mixed heritage newcomer. Indeed we are so sensitive we don’t even want to mention the mixed heritage bit too often, for after all, it’s not as she’s black, heavens no, coloured, yes, but in the nice shade you’d want to be after your holidays.

By mixed hertitage naturally we mean she’s got some Afro in her, unlike us who are pure…well pure something or other, Aryan maybe, or is that a Nazi word, well, let’s just call it Anglo- Saxon, pure Anglo-Saxon, that’s us. Except, that rather forgets the Picts and the Celts who were here before the A-S’s, and the Normans who came afterwards, not to mention the Vikings with their rape and pillage, plus the black slaves who have been here for four centuries at least, plus the numerous official and unofficial mixed heritage partnerships from all corners of our beneficial Empire, plus of course the fact that all human beings are descended from the original homo sapiens from Africa. Yes, that’s how “pure”we are.

Being a master race however, the possessors of an empire on which, as I was taught at primary school, the sun never set, we reckoned that some mixed heritages were acceptable and could be forgotten, while others were unaccpetable because they were inferior, meaning OK as servants but not as husbands or wives. And we didn’t actually call them people of mixed heritage, we had a large and interesting vocabulary to describe them:

coconut, coloured, coon, creole, dusky, fuzzy-wuzzy, gollywog,  half-breed, mongrel, mulatto, octoroon, quadroon, and many more.

No newspaper was celebrating Prince Harry’s engagement to a mulatto, for example; even normally racist red tops avoided that sort of language. It’s worth looking at that word as an example of our past thinking. We borrowed it from Latin America where it means a lttle mule. Indeed the simple word mule was also used to describe people of mixed heritage. The idea is that a mule is the offspring of a horse and a donkey, a freak of nature which produces a useful beast of burden. That’s how our ancestors thought, most of them, until comparatively recent times. The question is whether our attitudes have improved or merely our vocabulary.

My best guess is that many of those who are celebrating this royal engagement are the very same people who feel anxious about our native traditions being eroded by a “tidal wave” of immigrants, forgetting that as far as eroding such traditions is concerned, we Brits are in the Premiership. Where are the native traditions of Gibraltar, for example, or the Falklands? The polite language we use about race remains evidence of our inherent racism, which still wishes to categorise some of the people whom we perceive as different from ourselves, as of multiple or mixed hertitage, when in fact every single human being has multiple heritage. F13CC667-D18B-4F77-AF54-842B21A8E5EF

One of the great benefits of the human genome study is to show how much of our genetic identity is shared, not only with all other members of the species homo sapiens, but also other hominids like Neanderthals, and with the great apes, and even the fruit fly.  Take the eye as an example. Eyes developed from about 540 million years ago, in a variety of species, first of all as a simple mechanism for detecting light, then as a means of sensing food or prey. It is possible that eyes were lost and re-invented a number of times in the course of evolution. Human eyes are sophisticated but cannot see the infra red end of light spectrum which is visible to some insects. A golden eagle’s eyes can clearly see a mouse from a height of several hundred feet. An octopus’s eyes unlike ours, have no blind spot. All human eyes are the same and have the ability to see colour.

It’s ironical that an organ which reveals how much we share with many other species in the house of life, and with all our brothers and sisters, should be used to detect a difference in skin colour that is made the basis of division and enmity. Jesus said that if our eye was sound our whole body would be sound, but if it was afflicted with moral darkness, we would be blind indeed.

He taught that we all belong to the one source or father, who also exercises his care over the birds and the plants. We share living space with other  members of the family of this planet, and the greater living space we call the house of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. The most important education we can all receive is the factual evidence about our place in evolution and the moral evidence about the equality of the creatures that share the one house of life, which is God’s creation.EDD5E85A-BC02-4B00-BDF4-14EEF23AA7E4

Two  decent young people have got together; let’s celebrate that. But don’t lets give ourselves unearned points for racial equality.













In my last six blogs, I’ve tried to present some elements of what I have called OIKOS theology, that is, a way of thinking about God as a house for creatures, and about human beings as, potentially, a household of God. New readers might take a look at these blogs before reading this one. I have suggested three disciplines appropriate to dwelling in or being God’s house, all of which contain the English form of the Greek oikos( Greek for house): ecumenism, ecology and economy, a modern version of faith, hope and love.

This blog takes a critical look at the UK Government’s budget, which was unveiled this week.

It is not an ecumenical budget. Its language and philosophy ignores the major problems of the planet, but expresses the narrow interest of the UK; and not even of the whole of the UK, but mainly its financial sector and the kind of businesses which are opposed to any in rise in taxation. Its analysis fails to challenge the “little England” culture of  Brexit enthusiasts, and looks to a sunny future where Britannia rules the waves again, and all our butter comes from New Zealand. It has little to do with global warming or with the already massive problems caused by climate change, including the huge loss of habitat and the consequent movement of refugees into Europe. It expresses a sectarian ideology which defends the interest of the wealthiest in society while categorising anyone who does not want to work for inadequate wages as lazy or addicted to benefits. Can this be the language of one household of humanity or even one household of UK citizens? Only if we think of a  Victorian country house, where the family occupy most of the property and the lower orders are segregated downstairs, except when needed.

Because this budget puts no trust in anything more than markets, it rests on fantasy rather than faith, prejudice rather than fact.

It is not an ecological budget. By that word I am not just referring to its lack of attention to global warming but also to its lack of interest in the landmass of the UK as a house  for the living beings who maintain the health of our soil or the fertility of our trees or the purity of our air. Nor does it make the polluter pay: the oil companies and the automobile manufacturers are treated as honoured guests rather than as the vandals they are. The development of alternative sources of energy and the infrastructure required for their use, is left to private companies, rather than funded by government as present job creation and future prosperity.

Above all, it betrays no understanding of either natural or societal ecosystems, of how the lives of creatures and human beings intertwine with their fellows and with each other. It does not appreciate how communities of insects and human beings struggle against the different kinds of pollution that affllict them; of how bacteria at their level and poor people at theirs share their survival wisdom. It has no inkling of the courage demonstrated by a single mother with three kids, nor of her triumph if she gets to the end of a week without more debt.

Because the budget has no sound knowledge of the lives for which it legislates, it fails to be ecological and offers no real hope.

Defenders of the budget might react to the above by arguing that after all its just a budget and is only meant to deal with the economy. But in my theology economy is management of the one household and its family, with equal concern for all. Jesus’ parable of the workers in the vineyard sets out the ideal that economy means “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” All should have the dignity of contributing creatively to the common wealth, all should receive enough from it to live well.

Obviously the budget is not based on that sort of economy, but rather on a narrow neo -liberal capitalist economy which makes paramount the interests of the possessors of material wealth in any of its forms, and attends minimally or not at all to the abilities or needs of the poor. I emphasise abilities, as well as needs, since the poorer people of our society have abilities and skills which they want to use in work that gives them a fair reward. The whole disgraceful farce of Universal Benefit began with the warped perception of a politician who thought poverty was moral degeneracy rather than injustice, and it has continued in character with the supposition that the poorest people in the land can easily wait six weeks for the benefit to arrive. The budget made some tiny administrative improvements to this system but it remains an example of how welfare provision reveals the bias of the legislator.

Another, less obvious bias of the budget is the way it ignores the true wealth of society, namely the shared life of families, communities, associations and workplaces, where rich humanity is given and received. The material wealth of individuals and society has its real value in enabling these precious interactions. Christians believe in what the early church called the “economy” of God in which the generous creator gave life to all; and when it was impoverished by human evil, became poor in Jesus so that many could become rich in goodness. A good budget would plan for a just and balanced material economy as the basis of a fruitful life for all its citizens. This one does not do so, but in fact disables its poorer citizens by failing to fund adequately the public services on which they rely.

The economy of God’s house is love for all; this budget is loving to some; indifferent to many.









I’m with my family in Windermere, where we have come for a few days walking and reading, but so far walking has been almost impossible because of the weather, continuous heavy rain with gale force winds. We drove the short distance to Ambleside this morning which have us a chance to appreciate the utter inability of the County Council to provide adequate drainage for their major roads, so that we got lots of practice negociating massive puddles. Still, it’s the Lake District, not Scotland, and the differences are noticeable. The temperature is almost 10 degrees warmer than Dundee’s; the autumn with its colours has lingered longer here; there is a delicate knobbliness to the landscape which is unlike anything in Scotland; and the lakes themselves, which are similar to some Scottish lochs in position, extent, and history, contain their own special secrets like the Vendace, a fish which was considered extinct in the UK but continues to swim in Bassenthwaite Lake.D9A8AA36-431C-42D2-82D9-C351C5B66782

The landscape of the Lake District is civilised compared with that of the Scottish highlands; as its farmers insist, it has been shaped by farming over thousands of  years; as walkers insist, it has been opened up by their habitual routes, the thousands of paths which traverse its hills and dales. Whereas the narratives of climbing in the highlands emphasise wildness and even heroism, Lake District walking has its classic expression in the dry and meticulous descriptions of Wainwright.

When I walk here I now automatically readjust my focus. In Scotland my eye tends to be on a more or less distant horizon, a ridge, a shoulder, a peak. Here I focus on the path and its immediate surrounndings; on the steep bulge of a fell rising from the road; on the trees, shrubs, wild flowers, sheep. Of course all these exist also in Scotland, but because the distances covered by walks are often greater, I am accustomed to a more comprehensive view. My love for disparate landscapes is expressed in different expeditions, different perspectives, different discoveries. But it is love, a kind of biophilia directed at particular emvironments.FA0B6D4D-1431-4E6D-9B9E-7C5C25396631

I have been conscious or this love since early childhood, when the combination of holidays in the highlands and school terms in Glasgow produced in me a passion for the former and an ability to find and cherish bits of wilderness in the latter. It still draws me to find such places, a beach maybe, or a hillside, for a walk or a run, every day, because this contact nourishes me. I think the natural world can do this because I am its child. As one of the 8 species of great apes, humanity has developed from the biosphere’s continual interaction with the rocks and oceans of our planet, and their interaction with the universe, especially with the sun. My body, mind and spirit are made of the same stuffs as the stars and all other living things,  drawing on the same sources of energy and contributing my wastes as energy for others. I am part of the web of life, except that because of my intelligence and immorality I also contribute to the pollution of the planet and the extinction of countless species from that web. All other species of life on earth, on the other hand, are perfectly obedient to the natural laws generated by the web itself because their mental and phyical processes contribute to the generation of these laws. They are wholly integrated with the web of life, whereas I am able, to some extent, to free myself from it and its laws, a freedom used for example by Leonardo da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa and invent numerous clever ways of killing people.

Still, my love for the earth is genuine.

My tradition of faith has invited me to imagine the universe and its living beings as existing within the life of One who is not the universe, but has created it, loves it, and keeps it.

He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of an hazel-nut, in the palm of my hand; and it was as round as a ball. I looked thereupon with eye of my understanding, and thought: What may this be? And it was answered generally thus: It is all that is made. I marvelled how it might last, for methought it might suddenly have fallen to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasteth, and ever shall for that God loveth it. And so All-thing hath Being by the love of God. In this Little Thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loveth it, the third, that God keepeth it. (Julian of Norwich, Showings, chapter 5) 10594E22-01A3-447F-9216-F36C7004B492

According to Julian, the universe which is unimaginably huge to me, is small in the hand of the great God and has its true being through him/her. Like me, the One who is not the universe, loves it, and gives it house room within Godself. Out of love too God makes him/herself small enough to enter the universe, seeking a house, but experiencing rejection: “ Foxes have holes and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhwere to lay his head.” Still he seeks lodging in human lives, “Behold I stand at the door and knock.”

Can I say that this creator God is like me in being afflcted with biophilia, and understands the affection with which I look at the empty picnic tables on the wet wharf?







There are people who claim that they have had immediate experience of God, but it seems to me that anything human beings can experience is by definition human and worldly. So I think they are mistaken, in some cases, dangerously so. For myself, I am content to have faith in God, for faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. God is not part of my experience but rather an interpretation of it.

Moses was not given an appearance of God but the symbol of a bush burning in the desert, plus a set of instructions which were an interpretation of all his previous experience: that as a former slave and part of a slave people, he Moses could lead them to freedom. Who told him this? The one called, “I AM” who “spoke” in Moses’ mind, without being visible, without proof of identity, although he / she claimed to be the ancestral God of his people. The initiative seems to be with “God” but who decides that God is speaking? Moses.

Elijah in despair at the power of idolatry in his nation, went to the traditional mountain of God to be strengthened by a divine revelation. And he got the stage show: wind, earthquake and fire, but God was not in any of them. And after the fire, a still, small voice. Who decided that this stern and commanding voice was God? Elijah, who realised that there were  plenty people on his side and there were things he could and should do.

In both cases the human being is ready for revelation but God never becomes an item of experience, never gives proof of his presence, but meets the person as his past experience, his present decision-making, and his future destiny. Of course there have been people who had similar experience, decisions and destiny without reference to God. The content of worldly experience might be the same, the difference lies in the faith which is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith interprets the experience as a revelation of God, using an imagination which has been informed by a tradition of faith. The exhilirating, terrifying, nature of faith is that it has to take human responsibility for its own vision. When it claims that it is compelled by an experience of God which has authorised its absolute certainty, it is either mistaken or lying.

When Luther, faced with the absolute certainty of the Roman Church, said that his conscience was in chains to be the Word of God, “here I stand, I can do no other,” he was saying that he interpreted his interpretation of scripture as the voice of God. Or he should have been saying that, for as became evident over time, his absolute trust in his own interpretation of scripture became divisive and sectarian.

When I say that the “house of God” theology I’ve been outlining in the past series of blogs expresses my experience, I do not mean that I have some special experience of God which justifies this this language about God; but rather that my experience of life and my knowledge of the Christian tradition, illuminated and made meaningful by personal faith and the shared life of the Christian community, are expressed in this theology. I have spent some time on that last sentence, which remains clumsy but is essential for my argument.

From now on, I’ll refer to the theology I’ve sketched in these blogs as oikos (Greek for house) theology.

I find it meaningful first of all because it helps me to understand myself, others and human community if I imagine them as possible dwelling places of God or of the powers of the world. I do not think of the individual self as a fixed identity but rather as an embodied mind-and-spirit, part project and part memory, co-existing with with other identities in society and nature. For such identities to be closed off is death -we need physical, mental and spiritual interchange in order to live- but openness also has its dangers: we can be overwhelmed by grief, betrayed by love, infiltrated by greed or ambition, possessed by hate.

That’s why I like the metaphor of the self as a house which we may share with the spirits of our dear ones, of the transpersonal powers of society, of the groups with which we identify, and of God. When I look back I realise how much I’ve been moulded by these indwelling spirits, some of which I am glad to have evicted, once I saw what they were doing. I grew up with the prejudices of the British Empire, the self-righteousness of the middle class in Scotland, the protestant superiority to superstitious Catholics. These spirits lodged with me, influencing my attititudes to people and events until I recognised who they were and showed them the door. But these spirits are respectable compared with the vicious arrogance which at times inhabited my life, leading me into words and actions of which I am ashamed.

Jesus taught that the human “house” cannot remain void but will be occupied by evil if not goodness. This checks with my experience of myself, that only a conscious hospitality towards goodness protects a person from being invaded by evil. The moral philosophy of Simone Weil emphasises that a connection to divine goodness is what makes us human. The neo-liberal ethic which assumes that we are all decent people with the right to be prosperous in this world, denies that the self can be a house of good or evil and promotes the savage blandness which, even more than savage sectarianism, destroys life.






Regular readers of these bogs – if there are any- may by this time be wondering what relationship this “house of God”theology bears to traditional Christianity. I hope that they may have noticed my frequent biblical references, but perhaps something more definite is desirable.

I have put forward the practice of “House of God”ecumenism, ecology and economy as the virtues required of contemporary followers of Jesus, and indeed as desirable practice for all people. What is the relationship of this triad to the traditional theological virtues of faith, hope and love? My perhaps rather surprising answer is that they are precise interpretations of them for our time.

So ecumenism = faith?

oikumene = inhabited world

The biblical word faith (pistis in Greek) is used in two ways: firstly as denoting the trust that a person or community may put in God; secondly as defining the content of that relationship.

Jewish faith, originally in a tribal God, gradually discovered that true faith can only be placed in the one and only God, whose goodness is offered to all people. If Israel is the chosen people she is chosen to bring God’s blessing to all the families of the earth. This quality of faith is difficult, for such a God is uncomfortable, cannot be seen or held in the hand like an idol, cannot be relied upon to do what the community wants, may indeed turn against the community for sins that cannot be sorted by sacrifices, or may even, as in the captivity in Babylon, abandon the people to destruction. Israel’s faith in such a God, expressed by  prophets and lawgivers, is her great gift to the world. It is an ecumenical trust which can be shared by any person or community anywhere, anytime. This is the faith expressed  by Jesus. One may say that his trust is more radical because it emphasises God’s complete trustworthiness while also protesting at being abandoned by God. Perhaps we can say that the ecumenical trust of Jesus especially includes sinners and the god-forsaken.

The content of that trust is also ecumenical. God is declared to be the one creator of the universe, the giver of life, who provides for plants and birds and animals as well as all human beings. Faith in Jesus is trust in his way, and in His life, death and resurrection as God’s declaration of love for all creatures. The content of trust written in the books of the New Testament is explicit that Jesus the Son of God is the universal rescuer, that the Holy Spirit reveals to all people that they are children of God, and that God the Father has through his son broken down all racial, political and religious divisions so that his family can be one.

The content of faith must be ecumenical, for example it must leave behind customs that belong to one culture only, and it must be translated into all human languages. The truth of faith, the Gospel, must be made accessible to all, and must be re-stated and re- practised by those who receive it. We do not fully know the truth of God until we have heard from the lips of all peoples. We do not fully understand Jesus as Son of God until we hear his story from the lips of all peoples. So we won’t ever have the full truth on this earth, but only when we join the saints from all peoples in God’s kingdom. But faith whose content denies ecumenism is not Christian faith: a racist faith is not Christian; a macho faith is not Christian, a fundamentalist faith that puts the bible in the place of God, is not Christian. Of course prejudiced or dogmatic people may be Christian, but not the content of their faith. Faith in a God who creates the universe and loves all its creatures cannot be a sectarian faith: it is universal or nothing.

Hope = ecology?

oikologos = understanding of the universe as a house for life

Today there is news of the discovery by astronomers of an exo-planet within our galaxy which might be suitable for the kind of life we know on this planet. It is about 11 light years away, and its temperature varies from -50C to +20C like Scotland in a bad year. Atronomers will continue to focus on this planet, analysing the light that comes from it to see what can be deduced about its chemistry.  As i understand it the farting of billions of microbes, such as pioneered life on earth, sends a distinctive methane signal; and it pleases me to think that this is how extraterrestrial life might introduce itself to us.

Thanks to the development of physical, cosmological, biological, and ecological sciences since Darwin, we are able for the first time since we were all hunter-gatherers to see homo sapiens as part of the web of life on planet earth, rather than separate from it. It is our understanding of that web and its history which allows us to look more intelligently for life in the rest of the universe.

Ecological thinking however, is at first sight not hopeful for homo sapiens, as it has established clearly the facts of global warming caused by human destruction of forests and ocean, and our pollution of the atmosphere. Of course there are many powerful people who don’t want to admit any fact which might occasion a fall in profits, and many poor people whose struggle for mere survival is so terrible that they have no energy for anything else. But for millions of people ecological understanding is a precious addition to human wisdom which enables them to see the intricate web of life for the first time, and to appreciate the delicate balance which makes life possible. The simple revelation, for example, of the symbiosis between our lives and the biomass of bacteria in our guts, lets us see how intimately human life is bound up with non – human.

The latest ecological predictions, issued this week, point to an accelerating catastrophe which is overtaking many species on earth, brought about by loss of habitat to human industry or housing, the widespread use of toxic substances in agriculture, the gas emissions which cause global warming, and the persistent gross stupidity of human governance being given into the hands of those whose maximum attention span is until the next election.

So how can I say that ecological thinking is hopeful?

It’s hopeful because without it we and many other species are dead. It’s hopeful, if you like, because it’s the only hope of fruitful life on this earth. It is the necessary form of hope for our time.

But what about God? Aren’t we told to place our hope in God? Well, it may be the case the God can rescue our lives from the death of the earth, but the biblical witness is that he desires to rescue the earth as a house for God’s  creatures. The message God sends to Noah doesn’t sound too hopeful in the first instance – a great flood is coming- but it is the only hope for all life on the planet. House- of-God ecology gives us facts and tells us that if we can face the facts, we can live.

But doesn’t Jesus promise to rescue us from the cataclysm which will come upon the earth? Jesus promises that the Father will rescue his children and establish his rule on earth, but disclaims all knowledge of when this will happen. He does however promise that their individual lives are precious to God and that they will abide in God’s house forever. Meanwhile they should as persons and communities allow God to abide in them: one day they will dwell in God’s house, but now God will dwell with them, if they keep his commandments. The assurance Jesus gives for the future enables his disciples to live creatively in the present.

That brings us back to the present in which through his ecological prophets God commands all people to face the facts of their sins against the earth, to stop doing what is wrong and to learn to do what is right for the one household of God’s creatures. Yes, God’s creatures, for ecological hope tells us that we cannot be rescued without them. The one house of God includes all forms of life.

But how can the history of ecological evolution bring hope when its record shows at least two major extinctions of species, and we rediscover continually the dry bones of creatures which have preceded us on this planet? Certainly we should abandon any magical view that God will protect our species from extinction. God has given total freedom to his creation, right down to the behaviour of subatomic particles and God’s hope for the perfection of his creation requires its cooperation, and particularly ours. Through the free process of evolution homo sapiens  has developed the capacity to protect life on this planet, if he wants to.

The desire to protect the planet and its creatures exists in such a small minority of human beings at present that the hope of whole nations cooperating to do so seems no more than a pious wish. The importance of house-of – God ecology is that it is eschatological, pointing to something already present but not yet fully realised. The effective human desire to protect the planet would be an a emergent stage of human evolution. Ecological thought and action are forms of hope for our time.

love = economy

oikonomia = the management of God’s house (hold)

This may seem at first sight the most perverse of my re-interpretations: how can the precious emotion of love be identified with the down and dirty business of economy?

The early Christians nevertheless used this word to desribe the whole process of God’s  love: the creation of a universe; the gift of life; the choice of humanity then Israel to represent his economy on earth; the mission of Jesus as God’s son; the gift of the Holy Spirit and the call to all people to unity in the one family and household – these were described as the elements of God’s economy, which is love.

In this theology, love is no mere emotion but rather the practical wisdom by which God woos humanity to share his life in the one house. (in this is love; not that we loved God, but that God first loved us and sent his son as the reconciling sacrifice for our sins. Ist Letter of John 4) This overwhelming generosity, expressed in the whole creative enterprise of God, is the “economic” model for life in the one house of God. Church communities are not called to preach a different economy from the capitalism that dominates the world, but to be a different economy in which life is shared equally and the generosity of God is made available to all. This, rather than anything less definite is the love that moves the sun and the other stars.


In my last blog but one I suggested that the meaning of a positive concept like “House of God” might be clarified by an example of what it is against.  One of the positive aspects of God’s house is its economy ( Greek: oikonomia = household management) The early Greek – speaking churches used this word to designate God’s management of the universe from creation to final perfection. They described it as a process of complete generosity, designed for the equal good of all creatures, requesting the cooperation of all creatures, so that they might have the dignity of contributing creatively to the future of the universe. They knew that out of arrogance and greed some human beings not only refused cooperation, but actively worked against this economy. They therefore emphasised the central act of God’s generosity as the gift of Godself to the universe in his only son Jesus, through whose dangerous living of God’s generosity in the face of human evil, the divine offer of cooperation might be made more powerful. St. Paul described this rescuing action in the words, “He became poor to make many rich.” 92926414-8EAE-4F76-8773-C0C8A9DBAA72

This kind of “economy” is obviously opposed to the ethic of global capitalism by which many are made poor in order that a few may be made very rich.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there has been amongst economists and politicians an assumption that capitalism is the only game in town, and we’d better get used to living with it. Not only should we accept its rule over world production and trade, but we should give it an unopposed rule because there is simply no alternative. Given the global triumph of capitalism any attempt to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor, say by taxation, would simply result in capital interests removing their business from that country to one less demanding.

One curious contradiction in the current ideology of capitalism, is that it claims to be a global system which demands global thinking, but on the other hand, has little or no concern for a country in financial extremity like Greece lately, and will destroy its economy, and harm its people, as if it were  somehow outside the one world economy. My house-of-God economy also argues that we live in the one house, but insists that every inhabitant is of equal importance, and that what hurts one, hurts all. It also emphasises that economy is not an isolated sphere of human activity but rather the management of the one house. Economic brutality, it says, like any other brutality, has consequences in the human household, as for example, the rise of Nazism in reponse to the poverty in Germany after the first world war. Clearly the one-house economy of the Christian faith is at odds with the global capitalism which dominates the production, trade and marketing of the world today.

1. The one- house economy is against capitalism’s view of wealth, as consisting in property, power, credit, goods and services, security, inheritance. Jesus was a small trader, used to working in an economy where many services were still provided for something other than cash, for reciprocal services, for example. Credit in the form of say, having a shed built, would be given on the basis of all that was known about the person and his family and its place in the community. This pre-capitalist economy was in the process of dissolution in the face of the proto- captalism of the Roman Empire.

Jesus taught that material wealth was an idol which you served to the exclusion of God and your fellow human being. The service of wealth and its accumulation of consumer goods blinds people to the loveliness of the world (the wild flowers that outdo King Solomon) and to the richness of human character and relationship. In particular it deprives people of the wealth of shared living which offers access to the lands, possessions, goods and humanity of others as part of a communal life of generosity. It’s no accident that in the UK at Christmas time we await the latest multi-million video advert from John Lewis, which year after year celebrates some rich and touching aspect of our humanity; designed to persuade people to buy stuff!FE65636E-F9CD-4307-8B2D-5CD6D5D5C487

2.The one-house economy is against the capitalist goal of unlimited growth. Jesus knew the earth as finite and fickle. Treasure on earth is subject to natural wastage (moth and rust) and to the criminality of others (theft). The man who decides that his already successful business must grow, finds that alas, he is mortal. If a person is always looking for guarranteed and spectacular growth he will miss the importance of the small things, which like the mustard seed have the capacity for lavish growth. And the sower of seed knows that not every seed will come to fruition.

The sheer bulk, wastage and pollution of unchecked economic growth are toxic for both human happiness and for the ecosystems of the earth. The state capitalism of  China is trying to manage continuous economic growth and protection of ecosystems  at the same time, but already there are signs that these aims are not compatible.

The teaching of Jesus on the contrary equipped people to form communities ready to build a shared life, without making inordinate demands on the earth, because they found “ treasure in heaven”, that is in justice, caring, hospitality and in the gentleness that made them fit to “inherit the earth.”

3. The one-house economy is against the injustice of the capitalist system. Just today I read that a woman who runs a large string of betting shops paid herself £217 million for last year’s work. It’s the highest wage in the UK. At the same time a woman employed as a carer in an Residential Care Home for the elderly is paid just above the minimum wage at £7-50 an hour. Any sane society would pay the one to whom we entrust our dear parents much more that the person who runs a facility where idiots queue up to hand you money for nothing.

That’s only an extreme example of the grotesque and habitual injustice of a system which calls those who exploit the labour of others, “wealth creators” and labels those who fight through unions for better pay and conditions as “troublemakers.” Karl Marx analysed the injustice but also the genius of capitalism, which was in his day transforming the world and has continued go do so. The economy of God’s house views the injustice of capitalism as a crime which deserves punishment. In Jesus’ story of Dives and Lazarus, the real crime of the rich man is to make a great and impassible gulf between himself and the poor man at his gate. In the comic noir scene of his life after death, the rich man finds himself being tortured by flames and asks if Lazarus who is in heaven can bring him some water. Ah no, he’s told, there’s a great gulf between that place amd this place….. the punishment precisely fits the crime.

The gulf is a way of saying that there is not one house.

4. The one-house economy is against the capitalist ideology that what you earn or gain in wealth is your own and that taxation is theft. You would think that only very stupid people could hold this view, but such is the prestige of capitalism, many who are not otherwise stupid, do so. It should be obvious even to the smallest human intelligence that especially in an advanced capitalist nation, people can only make money because they and others are educated, because there is a maintained system of communication, because there is law and order, because there is a system of government, because essential infrastructure is maintained, because in civilised nations there is a public health service, because… past generations have contributed in wonderful and sometimes sacrifical ways to the present conditions which allow citizens to earn a livelihood.F4EFA597-6F3C-429B-ADF3-096B64F351D7

For people stultified by capitalist ideology, they are not part of this good household management which enables their lives; they are self-made winners who want to behave like pirates predating a ship, who at least had the good grace to take their spoils and bugger off, whereas these people want to stick around and argue that their piracy is nobody’s business but their own. The recent publication of the so-called Paradise Papers in the UK has shown the extent to which rich individuals and corporations will go to avoid paying perfectly reasonable taxes.

The result of this piracy is that services which are not best run for profit, like medicine, education, age-care, social work, civil and criminal justice, police, armed forces and the like are deprived of adequate funding, and in some cases, infiltrated by the same pirates who deprived them. The generous people who are at the heart of house-of-God economy are angered by such meanness and the ideology which justifies it.

I have heard tell of  Buddhist ecomomics, although I don’t know what they are; I have once been invited to share in Islamic economy by putting money in Bank which neither pays nor gains interest on loans. But I have heard little of Christian economy, except the practice of some Christian business people of greasing each other’s palms. These notes are intended to argue that it’s quite clear that the Christian tradition is anti- capitalist – indeed until the late middle ages, the church ruled that usury, that is, lending money at interest, was a mortal sin.





So this house of God, is it any more than a piece of poetry, a fancy way of talking about ordinary matters, a mystification?

Certainly it’s a way of speaking, derived from the Bible, where it refers to the theological idea that God can dwell in places and people; and that people before and after death can dwell in God. So it depends on a language already established which speaks of God as part of the experience of human beings. So language of God’s house is a metaphor based on the more fundamental metaphor of God. But do I intend it as a description of biblical language or as a description of human experience?


I have referred to the richness and variety of the biblical “house of God” language elsewhere, for example in emmock.com oikos; and emmock.com bible blog 289; which the reader can access.8B0509CC-2451-4A70-9A03-D5AC5B3FBB89

If I want to use it as a description of human experience, I should explain first of all what I mean by the person as a dwelling place of God. Jesus told a brilliant story about an evil spirit who has been expelled from his human dwelling place, but later returns to find it clean and tidy and vacant. He goes and gets his mates and they take up residence. This story pictures the human being as a house which has room for more than the self, and can therefore be tenanted by destructive powers, or by God’s nourishing spirit. No house is void for long. As Dylan sang, “it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve someone.”

This fits a modern view of the self, which sees it as an identity only defined in relation to other identities both personal and societal, and as something always being negociated between new experience and memory. But often the indwelling spirit of God is then pictured as a disembodied gloop that somehow comes to take up space within the person, or as a psychological influence which has a superhuman origen. Neither of these appeals to me as they are both magical and I don’t believe in magic.

Instead I would ask the reader to take seriously Paul’s quotation from an anonymous poet, “In God we live and move and have our being” and imagine that this space within Godself, from which God has withdrawn so that the universe can exist, is analogous to a mother’s womb, from which she is absent, alhough it is sustained by her life. If the child in the womb could be fully conscious of its existence, it would  realise that its developing self was continuously nourished and enabled by another life, in symbiosis with which it can reach perfection and be born. The faith that God’s spirit dwells in us, is our awakening to our true environment as nurturing and to ourselves as a developing perfection.

Our willingness to be a house for God is also the knowledge that God is a house for us. God’s house is a place where God’s children are born, like God’s child Jesus, whose birth happens through crucifixion and resurrection. For being born as a child of God is not some mystic spirituality but a representation of God’s life in the face of all the worldly powers; suffering is inevitable, but the child of God hopes that the life is invincible. The conflict and the suffering are signs that God’s house(hold) is a worldly fact and not a pipedream; the hope of invincible life is the conviction that the bouse is an eschatological reality, already present under the constraints of evil, but not yet the place where God wipes all tears from her children’s eyes. This fulfillment can only be apprehended by faith, which is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11)

The universe is in God, as in a womb, held and nourished by God’s life but not interfered with, not prodded in the direction God wants, but created with all the means necessary to be born as God’s child. The non-human universe will, according to St Paul, share the glorious freedom of God’s children. The story of evolution of which we know only a few isolated chapters, is the story of the birth of God’s child. In order for this development to take place God has granted utter freedom to the universe down to the smallest particle, as our science has realised. This birth is desired by God but the perfected universe is no more known in advance by God than a mother has full knowledge of the child to which she gives birth.

Eschatology 4 horsemen

The birth and its perfection are intended by God, but not as if by an engineer with a blueprint. Each new develoment of the universe is an emergent property which issues from the interdependence of all its elements, like the stages of growth of a human being. The development is always more than the sum of its parts and cannot be fully predicted in advance, but it  does not come about by magic or by supernatural guidance. When I say that the house of God is an escahatological reality, I mean that those fruitful emergent properties I see in people and communities are for me tokens of the emergence of the universe as God’s child.

In understanding what is a fruitful development I am guided by my trust in the Jesus of the Gospels as the wisest teacher and best example of fruitful living I have encountered. There is nothing religious or mystical about his teaching or life story; he dealt always creatively with the most recalcitrant powers of social and personal life without ever losing the passionate sanity which is the distiguishing mark of his character. He lived out the ethics of God’s household, refusing to depart from them even when threatened with death, a death through which there emerged the community of faith called the church or assembly of Jesus, which proclaims that he too, has emerged from evil and death, to inhabit the household of God in the world and to prepare their dwelling places in the everlasting household.

When the church looked back on his life and death in Palestine, it portrayed it as an eschatological event, as an emergent reality which would not be subsumed in the final emergence of God’s household, but only confirmed. That’s why their Gospels tell the story of Jesus as if in his actions God’s household has arrived in its fullness. Each act of kindness or healing is a transformation, each confrontation with  evil a victory, until the last confrontation, which in a wordly perspective is a defeat. The fact that even Jesus’ victorious risen body bears the scars of defeat, is a recognition that the household of God and Jesus the first child of God, are still part of a conflicted history. The reader of the Gospels has to read back the wounds of Jesus into the stories they tell.


The Bible has many ways of presenting the household of God as an eschatological reality, amongst which the Letter to Hebrews is one of the best. It defines faith with the phrase quoted above, “the substance or things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” and goes on present Abraham and his family as the great exemplars of this quality. Abraham becomes a traveller with no fixed abode, because God commands him to journey; he and Sarah are childless yet they trust in the promise that from them will come descendants, “as many as the stars in heaven for multitude or as the sand which is on the sea shore, innumerable.” They and people like them, who journey away from one dimensional life are said to be “strangers and sojourners on the earth,” and to be in search of a “city with firm foundations”. We are told that God is “not ashamed to be called their God for he has prepared for them a city.” This city or house of God is the true dwelling of people who have faith and do deeds of which “the world is not worthy.”

The author gives an eloquent account of those who trust in the eschatological promise and become the emergent reality of God’s house.

An old story tells that Sandy, a young farmer was pestered by his mother to go and hear the famous preacher Dr. Spurgeon. At last, to save himself further annoyance, he went.  On his return, she said, eagerly, “Well, Sandy, what was the theme of Dr. Spurgeon’s sermon?”

Sandy answered briefly, “He spoke about sin.”

”Indeed,” the mother noted, “But what had he to say about it?”

”Well,” said Sandy, “He was agin (against) it.”

Sometimes it may be important to define your viewpoint by saying what you’re against.

D515CF5D-A8C2-43D3-9798-645BAC9DAF4COver my last few blogs I’ve been trying to define the meaning of “God’s House” in my theology, while introducing three disciplines derived from the idea of a house (Greek: oikos): ecumenism, economy and ecology. God’s house welcomes the whole oik-umene, the inhabited world and all its people; it has its own distinctive oiko-nomy, its household management which uses the gifts amd meets the needs of all; and it promotes an oiko-logical ( the universe as God’s household of life) understanding and practice. I’ve written about how this way of thinking about God can enhance human life.

But now I want to state clearly what it’s against.

Because it is ecumenical, it is opposed to both sectarianism  and cynicism.

Our world is awash with information through the variety of available media which carry the images, messages and opinions of millions of people. It is almost impossible to distinguish fact from fiction, art from advertising, news from fake news. One response to this confusion is to magnify our own certainties, especially our group certainties, and refuse to pay attention to anyone and anything that seems to challenge them. The terrorist group Islamic State has done this with considerable success, as did neo-liberal economists, at least until the banking crisis; Christian fundamentalists continue to do it in many parts of the world. In the face of contradictory evidence and the vast rubbish tip of global opinion they assert their utter assurance that only what they believe is true. Not all sectarian groups are terrorists but few have much concern for people they regard as enemies. Clearly this strategy regards “God’s House” as exclusive rather than inclusive, consisting only of people like us. ( “I used to think, sister Agnes, that thee and me were the only saved souls in this village, but now I’m not so sure about thee”)

Even people who are aware of the dangers of sectarian thought can fall into its trap. Richard Dawkins is eloquent in praise of the scientific testing of all evidence, yet betrays a woeful igorance of the religious beliefs he often denounces. He represents a kind of scientism which insists that only its kind of thinking can be true. I deprecate the aggressive certainty that leads to denunciatory demonstrations outside abortion clinics, but also the thoughtless certainty of those who think that a “woman’s right over her own body” justifies the horrifying numbers of abortions. Both groups suffer from sectarian thinking.

Sectarian thinking includes many forms of prejudice: I don’t need to give this person the time of day, s/he’s not one of us, he’s catholic, or black, or Muslim, or gay, or old, or a woman, bitch, slut or frigid. The globalisation which means my exposure to the whole world and its people, so that my personal and local identity is questioned, can intensify my sectarianism as I retreat into the bolthole where I’m still comfortable.

D515CF5D-A8C2-43D3-9798-645BAC9DAF4CThe film Dr. Strangelove hilariously depicted the sectarian thought processes of people who brought about nuclear war. We have seen the evils of Daesh and the Lord’s Resistance Army. We know the capacity of our social media to transmit the warped certainties of any group throughout the world. Against all such sects, the image of the world as the one house of God, where people will accept their fellow beings as family, listen to their brothers and sisters while making up their own minds, respect opinions while valuing facts, use persuasion while sometimes being persuaded, desire truth while knowing it is never separate from love, has a quiet appeal.

Globalisation and its media can trigger a very different response: I can meet all the others in the world, their customs, beliefs and actions, with a suspicion which denies any serious validity to what they are, think and do- not because I’m sure I’m right, but because in a world of competing idiots and idiocies the only wise person is the one who can see through their pretensions to the futility of existence.

This cynicism has a more noble history than sectarianism. As expressed by Diogenes the Greek or Ecclesiastes the Jew it can bite into all forms of thoughtless commitment- “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” ( Ecclesisates 1). They have  a passionate  suspicion of all high-flown people and thinking, a peasant wisdom insisting that there is nothing new under the sun except perhaps the kinds of human folly invented to disguise that reality.

The pervasive cynicsm of modern globalised culture is less noble, more a retreat from all passionate engagement into a fashionable acceptance that life is probably meaningless but money makes it fun. It is an attitude that perches, dances, slouches or snoozes on the surface of life. The difference between serious and superficial cynicism was sharply characterised in a cunning passage by Jonathan Swift:

In the proportion that credulity is a more peaceful possession of the mind than curiosity, so far preferable is that wisdom which converses about the surface to that pretended philosophy which enters into the depths of things and then comes gravely back with informations and discoveries, that in the inside they are good for nothing. The two senses to which all objects first address themselves are the sight and the touch; these never examine farther than the colour, the shape, the size, and whatever other qualities dwell or are drawn by art upon the outward of bodies; and then comes reason officiously, with tools for cutting, and opening, and mangling, and piercing, offering to demonstrate that they are not of the same consistence quite through. Now I take all this to be the last degree of perverting Nature, one of whose eternal laws it is to put her best furniture forward. And therefore, in order to save the charges of all such expensive anatomy for the time to come, I do here think fit to inform the reader that in such conclusions as these reason is certainly in the right; and that in most corporeal beings which have fallen under my cognisance, the outside hath been infinitely preferable to the in, whereof I have been further convinced from some late experiments. Last week I saw a woman flayed, and you will hardly believe how much it altered her person for the worse. Yesterday I ordered the carcass of a beau to be stripped in my presence, when we were all amazed to find so many unsuspected faults under one suit of clothes. Then I laid open his brain, his heart, and his spleen, but I plainly perceived at every operation that the farther we proceeded, we found the defects increase upon us, in number and bulk; from all which I justly formed this conclusion to myself, that whatever philosopher or projector can find out an art to sodder and patch up the flaws and imperfections of Nature, will deserve much better of mankind and teach us a more useful science than that so much in present esteem, of widening and exposing them (like him who held anatomy to be the ultimate end of physic). And he whose fortunes and dispositions have placed him in a convenient station to enjoy the fruits of this noble art, he that can with Epicurus content his ideas with the films and images that fly off upon his senses from the superfices of things, such a man, truly wise, creams off Nature, leaving the sour and the dregs for philosophy and reason to lap up. This is the sublime and refined point of felicity called the possession of being well-deceived, the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves.”

Notice how Swift emphasises the cruelty of genuine cynicism to push his readers towards approving a pleasant fashionable scepticism which he then cruelly redefines as the “possession of being well-deceived, the serene peaceful state of being a fool among knaves.” Yes, that’s a bullseye hit, Jonathan! For the person who resists moral commitment lives in a world where many people are very committed to greed, injustice, lies, cruelty and violence, which may alter his/her life for the worse. You may think life is without meaning, but you want it to be comfortable. It’s a philosophy that has suited the liberal bureaucracy which has governed much of the US and Europe for 30, 40 years. Decent people, we say; fools among knaves, says Jonathan Swift.

The appeal of Donald Trump is that he rejects this fashionable scepticism, and admits the savage nature of reality. Yes, baby this is how it is! Men grab women by the pussy, most whites hate blacks, most straights are scornful of queers, most of us don’t care about our grandchildren, give us a cheap energy now no matter what it does to the climate, most of us think our country should be great and screw the rest.

To people who’ve become used to a diet of superficial blandness which denies the value of passionate commitment to any cause or truth, Trump offers the tasty option of prejudice, dollops of it, and makes it sound like true blood and guts. No wonder liberally minded people despair, seeing that the worse he speaks and acts, the more popular he becomes. People who are struggling to get an adequate life want something better than liberal niceties, and respond to something that seems to match the savagery of their own feelings. As many have noted, the Brexit campaign in the UK had Trump-like qualities and appealed to the same need.

D515CF5D-A8C2-43D3-9798-645BAC9DAF4CAs opposed to prejudice, ecumenical truth is broad; as opposed to cynicism, it is deep.

If a truth is to be understood across the oikumene, it must be capable of translation into the languages of all peoples. For this reason it cannot include elements that have meaning only in one place or time or culture. This is not a superficial broadening of the truth: even cherished local elements have to be left behind. St Paul knew how painful it would be for Jewish Christains to leave behind the Torah which had been the centre of their lives; but he demanded they let it go because it could only be a burden on the lives of gentile followers of Jesus; and because it had condemned Jesus to death. The ecumenical imperative went hand in hand with a revelation of the sectarian nature of his Jewish tradition; like all sectarian faiths it was a killer, and had to be left behind.

But if a truth is worth communicating across the inhabited world, it must also be deep in the sense of dealing with matters fundamental to humanity. Of course there may be messages about manners, customs, beliefs, world views, but an ecumenical message is about matters of life and death. Only a message of such importance can demand a hearing across cultures and natiional interests. When the Christian gospel was preached to the Saxon King Edwin, he asked his counsellor how to respond. According to Bede the counsellor replied:

The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed. 

D515CF5D-A8C2-43D3-9798-645BAC9DAF4CThe counsellor recognised an ecumenical truth because of its depth: it spoke of matters fundamental to humanity. As opposed to all cynicism the discourse of the house of God dares to address fundamental issues of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, life and death. It makes no apology for disrupting a comfortable scepticism about such matters but insists that there are real choices for persons and societies to make. Above all it refuses to confine all reality within the one dimension of socio-economic powers, but insists on a transcendent dimension of morality and truth which is just as much part of our humanity as navel fluff.











One of the more dubious pleasures of public transport is overhearing other peoples’ conversations whether these are in the vehicle or on the phone. Travellers can be divided into three groups: those who want you to hear; those who speak so loudly you can’t help hearing; and those who want to be private whom you have to overhear with great concentration.

Relationship of rich and poor

The young woman talking to the older woman in the next seat on the bus had a loud voice. I gathered that she was travelling from Edinburgh to Aberdeen with her baby, to take refuge in her parent’s house because her benefits had been reduced and even with the use of food banks she could no longer afford to pay rent. Yes, her man had left her when she told him she was pregnant. She’d been away from home for five years and wasn’t sure she would get on with her parents.

The man on the phone wanted to be heard, as he contacted his subordinates in Tokyo, Berlin, London and Los Angeles, issuing instructions with great warmth and enthusiasm. He was, he told them, on his way to visit his daughter in Ireland but would be in the States next week to finalise some business. Finally he spoke with a friend offering to share an executive facility with him at the Chelsea- Man U game at the weekend. Life was obviously good for him.

The economy, the household management, of God’s house, would prevent the existence of these extremes where one has manifestly too much and the other too little for a fruitful life. I have written that the principle, “from each according to ability; to each according to need” expresses well the provision of creative work and a living wage for all, as suggested by the image of everyone living as one family in one household of God. The life and teaching of Jesus emphasise the inclusiveness of God’s house – neither the sick nor the foreigner is excluded- as well as the practical love that family members should have for each other. Of course, the world will refuse this mutual generosity, dismissing it as unrealistic, but those whom the world excludes as unimportant are those with whom the Lord especially identifies ( “if you have not done it for them …. you have not done it for me”).

Work is important because it is an outlet for the creativity of family members as well as a way of feeding mouths. The parable of the “talents” suggests that creative development of the household and its resources rather than mere maintenance is required; while the parable of the workers in the vineyard points to the provision of a living wage for everybody. The notion of “rewards” is not excluded from this household but rather redefined: those who give up possession for the sake of the household will find themselves more than recompensed by the abundant shared life of the family.

There is no downgrading of material things – “your heavenly father knows you have need of them”- but there is an emphasis on modesty, contentment and gratitude as elements of the family lifestyle. The splendour of wildflowers is preferred to the extravagance of Solomon. The habitual anxiety imposed by competitive economies is absent from this household where the welfare of everyone is precious and the wealth provided by the Father ( that is, the wealth of the world) is seen as sufficient for the needs of all.

This economy extends its influence by generosity. A capitalist economy may provide a new business with an advance of capital; this economy provides an advance of honour, recognising that those who have lived by wrong standards may be trapped in their sense of social and self – condemnation. God’s household offers an advance of honour to those who want to turn from wrong ways. They are immediately accepted and valued. The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 is an illustration of this. There is no hatred of those who refuse to be part of the household or to live by its customs, which in turn means that its economy spends nothing on armies, weapons or spies. It steadily desires the good of its enemies, not their destruction.


Although it is an economy of modest demand it is not an economy of scarcity: the Father has made ample provision in the creation of the world. If we learn how to share fairly there will be no scarcity. We do not need to deprive others in order to provide for ourselves. No, except here we have to admit that this economy exists nowhere in its fullness, but only in conflict with other economies in the world: here and in many places it co-exists with liberal capitalism; in China with state capitalism; in Cuba with socialism; in Scandinavia with welfare capitalism; in many parts of the world, with peasant agriculture. There is no separate enclave where the house of God economy prevails. At best, it is visible in the ways by which its adherents deny the legitimacy of the worldly ecomomy in which they live and find effective strategies to soften its cruelties and challenge its injustice.

It was visible within the imperial economy of Palestine in Jesus’ time, in the life of his community of disciples, and in his smaller and larger gospel meals: his appearance as a guest at the tables of social outcasts, and his hosting of meals, like  the so-called last supper and the large gatherings of thousands. The sign of his own food economy is that he takes, blesses, breaks and shares, because that is also what he does with his own life. In that sense his food economy takes place under the signs of his suffering, death and resurrection. His opposition to the economy of the world is real and costly. This is also true of every attempt to introduce the economy of God’s household into the world. It always arouses opposition and brings suffering because it is always unpopular with the powers that be. This shows that God’s house (and its economy) is neither a fairy tale nor a pipe dream, but rather an eschatalogical reality which is present in the world now only under the sign of contradiction (the cross of Jesus) as the promise of God’s ultimate purpose in creation.

The secular ecomomy in which I grew up in Glasgow was that of the welfare state, where taxes were much higher than now, welfare provision more humane, public ownership of the major elements of the economy more extensive. It was in my view as near as a secular economy has come to the economy of God’s house. It had come about through the long labour of trades unions and other representatives of the working class; through the intellectual tradition of marxism as modified by socialist and liberal economists; through the organisation of the Labour Party; and through the sense of social cohesion fostered by the war against fascism.

The Church of Scotland was not untouched by this huge change in the life of society – its own inclusion of the working people it had long neglected dates from this time – butit had no consistent understanding of the vital connection between its gospel and the economy, and therefore no consistent support for the post-war reforms. So when Margaret Thatcher began to destroy so much of what had been achieved, the church offered only feeble opposition, not least because its theology of God’s house had no clear view of what its household management entailed. It had an opportunity to become a real church of the poor by sharing their struggles while communicating the good news of Jesus, but it failed to take it.D2B18512-D288-44F2-A30A-B9E9C5F1CCEE

I was a minister in Aberdeen at that time, and although I expressed outrage at what the government was doing to the poor, and even led the local church in practical action to relieve poverty, it is significant that what we did  was for the poor rather than with them, charity rather than justice. We were committed enough but our theology lacked the content that would have guided us more fruitfully.


The newspapers report today on the discovery of a new species of orangutan named pongo tapanuliensis after the highland region of Sumatra where it lives. There are only 800 of these creatures, which means that it it goes immediately on the list of endangered species. The discovery increases the number of great apes to 8: the chimpanzee, the bonobo, the two species of gorilla, the now three species of orangutan and ….homo sapiens. US.E34438A7-D459-4C19-923A-1CF91A8AE919

The classification of humans as a species of ape, clashes with the cultural assumptions of many civilisations, including our own, and with the religious tradition of Christianity, derived from the Bible, which draws a sharp distinction between humanity and the other creatures of God. Human beings were made in the image of God, as images of the god- kings of ancient empires were erected to represent their rule over a territory.  In the name of God they were commanded to fill the earth and have “dominion” over it. Modern critics of religion see this as a characteristic piece of human arrogance enshrined in religious tradition. They forget that the whole book of Genesis shows how God came to regard exactly this special creation as a mistake, and how he tried to rectify it. The classic arrogance of human beings is depicted as their eating of the fruit of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” This phrase in Hebrew is all inclusive, as if it said, “from A to Z”- it means the knowledge of everything.

Genesis shrewdly sees the human desire for the power of knowledge as a fundamental human flaw, which is nevertheless linked to human creativity and progress.  Far from being an being an uncritical assertion of human specialness, the Genesis tradition is a sorrowful critique of human folly. Given the latter, it’s not surprising that the true meaning of Genesis was neglected in favour of the separateness of humans from other living beings, culminating in the depiction of the podgy lump of Adam as God’s greatest creation on the Sistene Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. More wisely, the Roman Catholic poet, Alexander Pope expressed the appalling paradox of humanity in his couplet:

” Great lord of all, in endless error hurled;

the glory, jest and riddle of the world!”

However conscious it was of human evil, the classic European tradition never departed from asserting a radical discontinuity between humanity and other living things. Even its scientific tradition has tended to glorify homo sapiens as the discoverer of truth, the only inhabitatant of earth capable of venturing beyond it. In sharp distinction from that, the modern discipline of ecology sees human beings as part of the ecosystem of the planet and its biosphere, and perhaps as the only creatures capable of destroying it.DD47A287-15C2-4DF7-8574-E58D1C3698EB

Ecology is the study of the universe as a house of life, all of whose tenants are intricately linked to one another and to the planet, which in turn is intricately linked to the universe and its processes. Ignorance of these intricate connections, combined with the ability to step outside them, at least for periods of time, is what makes humanity so dangerous to everyone else in the house, who are limited by their own DNA to their own biological niches, unless impelled to change by some mutation.

Of course, mutation has constantly taken place under the pressure what Darwin called, “natural selection”; indeed, his revolutionary theory made humanity itself the result of natural selection.  The development of a great variety of post-Darwinian views of humanity makes it possible to see human beings as no more “final” in the process of evolution than the dinosaurs who dominated the earth and are gone. If human beings in their arrogant folly destroy their environment, the story of the earth will continue, as will the story of life, here or elsewhere.

There are consequences in this way of thinking for those, like me, who share its depiction of humanity as part of nature, but share also the Christian tradition of faith; the two seem incompatible. My own solution is to admit the shortcomings of Christian theology of life and to import ecological thinking into a revised theology that honours the intention of the Genesis writer while correcting his/her view of humanity as a unique creation of God. Indeed I would also want to correct the view that creation is in the past; as St Paul knew, God continues creating until all God’s children are born and set free. And God creates human beings as part of the life of the universe -which may be much more extensive than we yet know – that is, as tenants of the house of life, who must understand and respect the house rules, if they and other creatures are to flourish. The most important of these is:

never imagine that your welfare can be separated from the welfare of the whole house of life

from which we can deduce:

never imagine that you are more important than any other form of life

Another is:

you are part of the evolution of life

from we can deduce:

your body (meaning your physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual equipment)  contains wisdom learned by your species over millions of years of development- be conscious of itB460DDE2-EE6E-4991-9896-EB1766628241

I began this series of reflections by asking why my church had declined so significantly in my lifetime. One part of my answer is that it was insufficiently aware of its role as a tenant of God’s house of life,  to exemplify the house virtues of ecumenism, ecology and economy. In this blog, which focuses on ecology, I am suggesting that because of an inadequate theology of creation, which in turn led to a  inadequate understanding of human beings on earth, the church failed to express an ecological worship or announce an ecological gospel. The current sucess of  Blue Planet 2 as the UK’s most watched TV programme shows that ecological material is ideal for provoking wonder; and that persuading human beings to receive ecological wisdom as good news for them and their great grandchildren is an urgent necessity.

The church failed to see what David Attenburgh has clearly seen and transmitted in the same culture, through the same period of time. This has been due to its obsessions with forms of worship and evangelism to the exclusion of content. We thought our theological content was eternal and required no revision, forgetting that God speaks in the present and the future as well as the past, as if we had no doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We also neglected the ecological wisdom that in times of rapid change, species that fail to adapt will die.

Meanwhile, a big hello to my brothers and sisters in Christ, the tapanulas, who will need all the nelp they can get to survive in a world dominated by the most dangerous species of great ape.