Report of meeting, 30/5/2007

We met on 30 May at David Lambourn's house.

Present were John Challenor, John Howard, David Lambourn and Stephen Williams. John Challenor had brought some copies of Sofia with a request to leave them where they might attract new interest; a couple of us took them with ideas to do this but we were a little unsure what this said about the current state of the Network.

As planned, our topic was ''Living Deliberately'' which we had taken as an elaboration of Cupitt's idea of commitment to everyday life. If we reject a reductionist view in which human motivation is seen as mechanistic, populist or market-driven; and if we can no longer rely on religion to articulate the significance of human life, then we need to find other formulations for purposeful living. Our economic wellbeing is tied up with the idea of companies whose primary responsibility is to return a profit to their shareholders rather than to deliver a benefit to wider society (although these are not always in conflict – some overly innovative, profit-seeking directors have ruined their businesses while some steadier companies, alert to their customers and employees, will often do well for the bottom line). The sense of an integrated human personality can be lost among all these categories: share-holders, managers, consumers and workers.

David introduced 'The Meaning of Life', the recent book by Terry Eagleton in which he draws an analogy between life and jazz. Jazz musicians respond to each others' creativity to produce something that is both individual and collective, and which in turn communicates and is appreciated by a wider audience. That undogmatic, open approach could in principle still relate to religion, which is what in a different context, Martin Rees was arguing at Hay this week. He suggested that scientists had a common interest with many religious people in opposing superstition and should not go out of their way to antagonise or insult potential allies.

With some justification, however, Richard Dawkins had countered this with the reality that while there are sensible and rational people within the churches, they are not in practice prepared to take on the superstition in their midst and instead provide a sanctuary for it to flourish. The SoF network is predicated on the notion that whatever we think about it, religion is sufficiently important to justify the time and resources we devote to discussing it, but if the implication of what Dawkins was saying is correct, then there can be no future for religion unless it is prepared to risk disunity.

Similarly, it is only by risking the end of religion, that we can really work out what living deliberately might mean, in more concrete terms than albeit attractive and stimulating analogies such as the jazz band. Bonhoeffer had been developing these ideas with his conception of religionless Christianity but he was coming at them with the language and discipline of a Christian theological tradition (as was John Robinson twenty years later). Sixty years on, this doesn't seem to work, or does so less obviously, and any form of Christianity, religionless or otherwise, looks inadequate.

To the question of what would arise in the absence of religion, there is obviously no answer: we'll find out when it happens. It might clear the decks for totalitarian and inhumane relationships but it might also be the basis for liberal and responsible society.

At present, the persistence of religion is a barrier to living deliberately and it could be argued that we should be working for its demise. Emotionally, that is a hard bullet to bite and it is not surprising that SoF, for instance, wants to go on talking productively about something that can be retrieved and reformulated as part of the jazz.

David acknowledged that within this discussion at least he was the least ready to abandon religion completely. He agreed to take this further at our next meeting with a contribution with the title The Temptation to go Back . As previously agreed this will be on Wednesday 11 July at 1930 at David Lambourn's house (call 0121 242 3953). We did not finalise a following meeting but it will probably be on either the 22 or 29 August (both Wednesdays).

Stephen Williams.