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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Around the World in 80 Faiths

One of the few quality TV programmes that is getting my undivided attention these long winters nights is a corker of thought and rumination, called "Around the world in 80 Faiths" ( see link above ) on the BBC.

In it, Peter Owen Jones has set himself an enormous challenge: to travel the globe and take part in the most important rituals of 80 of the world's religions, a journey covering our most beautiful and holy places, people and events.

Throughout his tour he meets the practitioners of the faiths, attempts to understand their beliefs and immerses himself in astonishing religious ceremonies. Jones' epic quest covers six continents, taking in the Far East, where the world's most ancient religions are still practiced, Europe, Africa, Australasia, North and South America, and the Middle East, the epicentre of religious turmoil today.

Amid often baffling and intense events, Peter finds moments of serenity and also terror: from the remote beauty of the Mongolian mountain shrines to the synagogues of Lithuania left empty in the wake of the Holocaust.

Peter Owen Jones is a writer, television presenter and forward thinking, Anglican Vicar in a Sussex parish in the UK. He is the author of several books, including Bed of Nails, which describes his experiences at theological college, and Small Boat, Big Sea, a year-long account of his life as a parish priest. His television presenting credits include The Lost Gospels ( one of my favourite things he did ), The Battle for Britain's Soul and Extreme Pilgrim.

I hope, of course, that we have not already seen in the first episode, the weirdest religion that will ever be featured.

But it's hard to believe that again in this eight-part series, that his far-flung efforts will uncover a set-up quite as strange as the John Frum cult. John Frum, it appears, was founded as a challenge to the Christianity that had been assaulting the island of Tanna, in the south Pacific, ever since Captain Cook first turned up there in 1774. The first missionaries had been eaten. But this didn't deter others, and by 1969, when cannibalism finally ended on the island, conversions were so widespread that a determined rearguard action had gathered pace.

A distinct cult first emerged in the 1930s, apparently, with a promise from somewhere that if the islanders would only return to the spiritual traditions of Kastom, then they would be provided for.
But the cult didn't get its name or its symbol until the Second World War brought a US air base, and it was decided that Kastom had delivered these free-spending men. They would introduce themselves as "John from...", which became John Frum, and they loved the Stars and Stripes, so the US flag is the cult's most revered religious symbol. Mainly, the cult exists to campaign against the imported religion, untroubled by the Christian identity of the US, but deeply resentful of religious colonisation.

In the modest travels the Rev Owen Jones has so far made, in Australasia, it is the odd clashes and weird accommodations between indigenous and imported religions that give the show its fascination, and its intellectual bite.

For me it is welcome grist to my mind mill, as to the fascination, of when Humans, having never come in contact with the main religions, are they any less Human Beings for not having been converted?

Maybe i will never come to any other conclusion than the one i hold now: That Human Nature is at its core, basically Good. That a Man should be left to believe what he wants to believe. That he shouldn't be affected by the herd mentality of others, unless he wants to be, and that he shouldn't ask people to believe what he believes, because he says so, or believes that they will be "better" for believing as he does.

Sir Dayvd ( still soaking it all up and thinking about it ) of Oxfordshire


  1. In college we were required to take religion classes as the University is a Methodist funded school...I took seven once I found some professors who really opened my mind and made me think (my parents got their money's worth!)

    In one study of the seven main world religions there was the startling statement that there were two core beliefs though out human history:
    There is a Creator, and our only expectation from that Creator is to love one another as It first loved us.
    (sometimes called the Golden Rule)

    Of course, mankind put together more rules and good/bad issues...

    The variances come from when and where we are born and grow up. For instance, if I were born in Japan, I would speak Japanese and follow Taoism or Shintoism if that's what my family taught me. Or perhaps another regional religion depending upon what time in history I was born and lived.

    It is comforting to me that the many religions have these common cores.
    It is distressing to see human beings struggle with the "stuff"
    that separates us and hurts us when
    our Creator only wants us to share this beautiful world and love!

    While I love the comfort of being in a church community and the traditions involved; it has presented struggles with remembering that there is a world outside those walls. To be brave enough to venture into the big world with the trust that Love will prevail.

    One of my favorite sayings is:
    Wherever you go, there you are
    (and so is God)

    Sir D, I will need to see this series someday and see how others celebrate this life and world we share. You made me think again!

    Lady Suzanne of Greenbriar
    who needs more coffee to absorb these deep thoughts so early in the day - a wonderful sunshiny day!

  2. Excellent blog, Sir Dayvd.
    No room for Thinking and debate here (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

    I just read a couple of pages from Neale Donald Walsch's book "Happier Than God."

    In it he writes:

    "Many people believe that God is everywhere, but do not believe that God reside inside of them. They may say this out of humility, but actually it is the height of arrogance to imagine that God exists everywhere in the Universe except in you."

    "If God is everywhere IN you, if there is nowhere in you that God is not, the God is YOU. And everything else."

    Of course, that's pretty hard to imagine when we see what we perceive as evil. So, we create the devil to do battle with God.

    I don't have any answers -- just thinking out it.

    Sir Bowie "if you don't like what I wrote then the devil made me do it" of Greenbriar

  3. ...yup .. i too haven't got all the answers... but i'm working out that Me Myself I am "God" My atoms are actually stardust and so "God" or "Dog" whatever you want to call it. and that applys to everyone else.. So once you connect with that...i'm not actually sure orgnaised religion is needed.

    DO still working on it

  4. oh but people need people;
    at least women have this deep need for connections

    last night I had the crazy experience of seven very different women
    (who met through a common friend, yet are very very different in many ways)

    we sat down and talked about forming a friendly group/support group/party group/traveling group since we all came with different ideas/needs/goals

    the common factors:
    seeking love and friendship

    the result:
    a new group "Ecletic Eight" has been born, always room for one more is our motto!

    help each other live a happier 2009 and beyond

    a religious group?

    no, but one based on loving each other and helping make this world a good place for us all

    wait, maybe this is a "religion"!

    it could be a sign of God working in mysterious ways...and to think we met in a bar called Legends...

    Lady Suzanne of Greenbriar

  5. LOL... oh no doubt that Humans need each other... for love an companionship.... even guys do...( tho we are okay about going off Fishin' or Metal detecting and doing our own thing and generally not helping enough round the house.)

    But yes its great to be gregarious down the Inn... and we have things in the UK called the Women's institute, and of course major Soccer teams here have huge, almost "religious" followings... So i don't doubt the need for Human interaction... it is sweet and healing and helps you let off steam to vent your problems...
    I'm involved in Charitable organisations and Aid etc etc... but none of those things involve any overbearing hiarchy, in robes or ceremony....or humbling yourself in front of an earthly "deity"...

    The Eclectic Eight LOL sounds like the Womens Institute

    thats something you might want to look at. :)

    So none of them really i'd consider Religious. Religion always conjurors up irrational and unnecessary, and misdirected ferver, that sometimes has a more sinister controlling almost tyrannical element about it.

    Helping my middle name LOL.

    Actually talking about Soccer teams and i guess you get the same with your "Football " teams...

    I personally find it annoying, ( actually this is a bit like the bit i don't agree with with religion ) when Fathers, get their toddler sons all dressed up in the fathers Team Colours, and indocrinate him into the Fanclub of a certain team...way before he is capable of any choice...and this conditioning can make a marked difference to the son's relationship thru his life...especially if like me you want to go support a completely different team, and let your Father down...but Hey!! Chelsea Football club play in Blue and I like Blue!! LOL....

    Sir D ( nothing like a bit of spirituality to spark a debate...:) of Oxfordshire..

  6. Wow! My head is still spinning from the blog, the comments and trying to get my work done yesterday. I really wanted to jump into the frying pan, so here it goes!

    I have seen the Lost Gospels...excellent! I would love to see this current series, perhaps I could find it on iTunes? It reminded me that I really wanted to go see Religiosity by Bill Maher...If not now, WHEN!

    Lady S said it well in her first comment, an experience shared by myself in college. I was raised in as a Southern Baptist (Fundamental Literal Interpretation of the Bible). My Grandfather was a minister and I was actually a licensed minister when I was 17. I wasn't allowed to attend Mass with my neighbor friend, who by the way was my families best friends (go figure?). I also wasn't allowed to attend the Bar Mitzvah of another friend, who was the son of our doctor that my mother worked for.

    At that time I was allowed to accept invitations to preach at other "Christian" denominations with our traveling "Tent Revival", the Young Disciples. We would play contemporary Christian music and three of us would take turns preaching over three different nights.

    That is when I began to see similarities between different organized religions. I decided to quit preaching when I was 19 after an 80 year old lady came up to me after one of my sermons and asked my advice on what she should do about a particularly sensitive subject. First, I had no idea what to say to her, but I also realized that she had given me the power to control her life. It freaked me out. She should be giving me advice!

    This is the source of corruption in organized religious societies, well...any society really. It can be summed up in two very common phrases, "Oh Lord it's hard to be humble" and "Absolute power corrupts absolutely"!

    That is when I began my real spiritual journey. As a history minor in college I focused on World Religions. That is when I had the same revelation as Lady S. You can track the common thread of Christianity through Jewish and Babylonian history. That is when I "soaked up" anything that could enlighten me, a process that still continues today. I read the Koran, the Mormon Bible, writings of the Desert Father's and Great Theologians, etc.

    What began as an idea that intrigued, yet disturbed me when I read the liners on my Jethro Tull Agualung album the first time, "In the beginning Man created God and it was good"...has now become a core philosophy of mine.

    Yes, Sir D, human nature is basically good because human nature is also divine. Yes, Sir Bowie, God is everywhere, especially inside of us, which makes us divine and co-creators. Yes, Lady S, we need each other and that is why it's important to celebrate our beliefs together in community.

    Basically, we don't need religion as much as religion needs us. Every day is a day to keep and make Holy. Every human is connected through the Divine. To quote one of my favorite Gospel songs, "It is well, it is well, with my soul!"

    Sir Hook the Extreme Pilgrim and Sometimes Dirty Vicar of Warrick