Letters - 26 November 2021

From The things of heaven to Force

The things of heaven

Roger Plenty (12 November) is disappointed that, in Voirrey Faragher’s fine summary (28 October) of my Adderbury Lecture, I suggest that consumption is now the more concerning of the twin drivers of greenhouse gas emissions: namely, population multiplied by consumption. 

The lecture was about my book, Riders on the Storm: The climate crisis and the survival of being. If Roger looks there, I hope he will be reassured that I very much emphasise population. But while fertility rates per woman are now falling rapidly in a growing list of countries – India 2.3, Malaysia 2.0, UK 1.9, China and Brazil 1.7, Portugal 1.2 – consumerism (as consumption in excess of what is needed for a dignified sufficiency of life) is escalating. This is a spiritual issue. It seeks to fill an inner emptiness with outer stuff that can’t give ‘no satisfaction’.

The population debate has long been blighted by ‘population control’ accompanied by racist narratives of ‘too many Indians and Chinese’. This has led to knee-jerk antipathy from the green left. It is time to reclaim narratorial control from the authoritarians. But how? As I show in Riders, fertility rates start to fall naturally and rapidly when two conditions are in place. Social security (led by social justice), and women’s emancipation – including education, voting rights, economic opportunity, perinatal and family planning access, and tackling patriarchal domination and violence. These are not agendas of the hard right. As such, the authoritarians will be delighted to see the green left continuing to shun ‘population’. Rather, these are the agendas advanced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

I am completely with Roger on the importance of keeping population on the table. But it’s a long front. As Friends, I’d love to see us focussed mainly on the applied spiritual drivers of equality and freedom. Seek first the things of heaven – ‘thy community come’ – then all else will settle into place. Including contraceptive clinics, mindful that there may be (for those who like that kind of thing) a religious mandate to fill the Earth. But not to over-fill it!

Alastair McIntosh

Sinaitic Palimpsest

I am grateful to Michael Pozner (8 October) and others for their researches and insights into the Sinaitic Palimpsest. It is true that the sayings of others were attributed to Jesus, or that he made use of them, but he was an historical figure, rather than a legendary one – if by that is meant that he was an imagined vehicle for the thoughts of others.

Unique to him was his mission statement that the kingdom of heaven had come to earth, was among us (within us, says Luke) and not in any other place. We know precisely when he died, but not when he was born. Luke connects his birth with Quirinius who was governor of Syria (AD6) and Herod, but there is a ten-year gap between them. In any case, sad to say, the nativity story is a myth as there was never any Roman worldwide census. The story is a device to prove that Jesus was the Messiah and for that he had to prove that he had to be born in Bethlehem.

We do know that he lived and was crucified because it is also recorded by Tacitus and the Romanised historian Josephus. Both also, rather scornfully, add that his followers were claiming he had risen from the dead and lived among them. Although the execution was a Roman one, it seems to have been done with the greatest reluctance, which may be attributed to Jesus having friendly relations with them and never showing antipathy towards them.

‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’ Pilate seems to have been interested in talking to him and did his best to save him. Those unfamiliar with biblical criticism can find a review of its history in Albert Schweitzer’s The Quest of the Historical Jesus.

Kathleen Boulton

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