Report of Meeting, 10 January 2008

We met on 10 January at David Lambourn's house. Present were David Belcher (welcome), Paul Graham, John Howard, David Lambourn and Stephen Williams: with apologies from Michael Bennett and John Challenor. David Belcher is in contact with some SoF-sympathisers in the West Midlands and is exploring the possibility of a day-time group but will want to stay involved with us.

As agreed, we discussed the reprinted talks from last year's conference and at Stephen's suggestion focussed on Tim Jackson's contribution which he had thought was the most original. His central point was that religion has historically provided a ''sacred canopy'' (Berger's phrase) enabling humankind to find order socially and psychologically in a world of suffering and injustice, but that in modern secular life consumerism can be shown to serve the same sociological functions. His conclusion is that consumerism cannot be countered by exhortation or rational argument and that it is necessary to tackle the symbolic and cultural drivers of consumerism, to build ''alternative theodocies''.

We liked the proposition, but on reflection wondered if the argument was overly skewed towards the psychological needs that consumerism unsatisfactorily satisfies. The comparative neglect of the social means on the one hand that we overlook the powerful economic forces behind it (producerism?) and on the other that we miss out on possible ways forward -- Tim Jackson finished on an upbeat note but it seemed pessimistic -- without a sense of the kind of solutions we should be looking for. These could well lie in our social lives, in sharing with others and mutually reinforcing aspirations for a more restrained, less profligate mode of contentment, and an ability to recognise rather than strive for happiness (ideas that actually bring us back to some of the points made by Stephanie Dowrick and Jonathon Porritt in their conference talks).

Toying with the idea of theodicy further however, some of us wondered if it was not at heart dishonest. The search for order and meaning in a suffering universe makes no sense if in reality there is no meaning beyond the way things just are, or if its only meaning is the one we choose to give it (with the emphasis on we, sharing). A more grown-up response would be to invite spontaneity (Cupitt's Solar Ethics?) and we played with the idea of carnival or as on a previous occasion jazz as more appropriate models. We remembered that Pelz had made a lot of the humour in Jesus' parables, with parable itself a demonstration of how significance is found in the way things just are (I looked this up afterwards). On the other hand, if Tim Jackson is right about the prevalence of human need for its sacred canopy then it is probably right not to expect people to abandon it in numbers; his argument is persuasive and his conclusions are at the very least expedient.

For our next meeting, David Lambourn suggested that we look at A C Grayling's recent collection of essays: Against All Gods. It's short enough to be read by then so we agreed to make that our topic. David will be able to share his copy for anyone who can't get it elsewhere.

That meeting, as previously arranged will be on Wednesday 20 February 2008 at 1930 at David Lambourn's house, 28 Frederick Road. Edgbaston. The meeting after that will be on Wednesday 2 April.