The Last Western Heretic, a documentary about the life and ideas of Lloyd Geering, was shown on New Zealand TV last weekend. It was excellent – extremely well made and great intellectual content. Geering is considered a radical theologian and a NZ icon and was once described by the BBC as “the last living heretic.” He has fearlessly challenged Christian doctrine for the last 50 years. I have read several of his books and attended several of his seminars. His ideas are always stimulating and refreshing.
I admire people who are prepared to challenge outmoded ideas. Particularly when this could result in personal and financial recrimination. I suspect that there are many thoughtful ministers of religion who have come to the same conclusions as Geering. However, most of these appear unprepared to face the prospect of loss of income and pension rights, and a comfortable life style, which would result from public honesty on these questions. So they continue to hypocritically promote the same old tired myths to their parishioners.
The documentary is structured around the following nine statements:
1: We created the concept of God.
The question of the existence or non-existence of a god is nonsensical until the god is defined. Without definition it is a stupid question.
2: Jesus was not divine.
He was seen as human by his followers. Attribution of divinity came after his death.
3: Resurrection was symbolic, not real.
This, together with the next statement was a reason for the heresy charge.
4: There is no life after death.
Although the heresy charge was dismissed as “not proved” by the Presbyterian General Assembly the issues themselves were never debated by the church.
5: The bible is not divinely inspired. It is often wrong.
Biblical claims are often proved wrong by scientific evidence. The scientific enterprise can be seen as a new “revelation.”
6: Fundamentalism is a danger to the world.
The fundamentalist mind builds a barrier around itself to provide security. Fundamentalists suffer from stilted intellectual growth. Fundamentalism exists in all the major relgious traditions as a resistance to change and a desire for the past.
7: Religious beliefs evolve over time.
There is a tremendous amount of superstition within Christianity. Prayer is superstition.
8: We need a new ethics and new rituals.
Christianity is in rapid decline. We should be concerned to maintain the beautiful Christian buildings or they will be lost. Religious rituals are in transition. Christmas is now a family event. Funerals are being bought back into the world and becoming more secular. A celebration of the life of an individual rather than their passing on to the “next world.”
9: The New God is our planet.
We alone, of all species, have the power to destroy all life on earth. We have a responsibility to the planet and all life on earth.
Some of Lloyd Geering’s books:
Lloyd Geering Reader: Prophet of Modernity
Christian Faith at the Crossroads
Christianity without God
A Religious Atheist?: Critical Essays on the Work of Lloyd Geering
Intelligent design and the threat to Christianity
Religious opposition to “intelligent design”
Atheism and religious diversity I: Diversity in New Zealand
Atheism and religious diversity II: A personal perspective
Atheism and religious diversity III: Conflict between science and religion
Atheism and religious diversity IV: Values, morality and spirituality
Thank God or Thank Goodness?