God: creator or created?

How can people who believe that god is a human creation and people who believe that humans are God’s creation relate to one another in modern Australia and the world? The SoFiA National Conference hopes to answer the question.

by Ted Nettle

For millennia humans have raped, murdered and fought wars because they have different beliefs about their gods.   We are still doing it. Loving and compassionate gods as well as warlike ones have been appealed to, to justify this behaviour.  While religion has articulated some of our highest values, religion has also been a major cause for social divisions and violence throughout human history.

Most people believe that dialogue is preferable to acrimonious debate or inquisition or war.  The last millennium has shown us that focusing on the differences between those who call themselves Christians and others who also claim that name, or between Christians and Muslims, or Jews, has not been productive of the kind of society that the founders of any of these religions let alone their “gods” would have envisaged.

Perhaps the problem lies in the words we use.  The words our culture gives us clearly influence the way we talk about the things we experience.  All the religious words we use carry so much baggage that they have the potential to promote inaccurate and unhelpful assumptions and get in the way of free and open discussion.

The Sea of Faith in Australia (SoFiA) is a network of Australians who seek to “openly explore issues of religion, faith and meaning”.  SoFiA’s second National Conference will be held in Sydney, from Friday September 22 - Sunday, September 24. 

Don Cupitt, one of our keynote speakers will begin his talk with the assertion:

The fundamental conflict that is raging all over the world today is a conflict between two great systems of thought.  One system is variously described as ‘fundamentalist’, or ‘dogmatic’, or ‘realist’; the other system is called ‘liberal’, or ‘critical’, and even ‘nihilist’.

He goes on to examine these two systems of thought, and their concepts of God.  Participants will be challenged to examine their beliefs and the implications for their relations with one another. 

Don Cupitt is a former Dean and Life Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  He was the author of the BBC TV series The Sea of Faith, which gave its name to the Sea of Faith Network.

Other speakers include Stephanie Dowrick, Lloyd Geering and Michael Morwood.

Stephanie Dowrick, of Sydney, is known as a columnist for Good Weekend Magazine and as the author, of best selling books Forgiveness and Other Acts of Love and The Universal Heart. For many years, she has given talks and conducted retreats and workshops on spiritual, psychological and ethical issues. In 2005 she was ordained as an Interfaith Minister and will bring this perspective to the conference.

Lloyd Geering is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand where he is a well known and respected, yet controversial, character. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he was charged in 1967 with doctrinal error and disturbing the peace of the church. The charge was dismissed after a dramatic, two-day televised trial.  The author of Tomorrows God  and Christianity without God will challenge participants to clarify what they believe.

Michael Morwood was a priest of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart whose book, Tomorrow's Catholic was banned by Archbishop George Pell, in Melbourne, in 1998. Since then he has worked in adult faith formation in almost every diocese of Australia helping Christians examine what they believe and why they believe it, within a contemporary understanding of our place in the universe.

The conference will begin at 7.30 pm on Friday September 22, with a public meeting addressed by all speakers in Sydney’s Pitt Street Uniting Church.  (Public entry $10)

Sessions on Saturday and Sunday will be held at Dunmore Lang College within the grounds of Macquarie University.

On the Saturday, the conference will hear keynote addresses from Don Cupitt and Stephanie Dowrick in the morning and from Lloyd Geering in the evening. 

On Saturday afternoon there will be a series of workshops run by members of SoFiA.  These will cover topics such as: "The Terror of God – reasonable responses to fundamentalism", “Worship for Non-realists”,  “Communicating across the void – beliefs and individual differences in communication styles" and "Intelligent Design?".

On Sunday, Michael Morwood’s address will be followed by a plenary session featuring the four speakers.  The conference will conclude with lunch on Sunday.

It is our hope that engagement in the issues to be raised within this conference will help us to learn more about ourselves, about others and may even contribute to a better, and safer world.

Information regarding registration and costs may be obtained from the SoFiA website or by ringing Ted Nettle on (02) 9876 2915.

Conferences and lectures of possible interest in September include:

TONIGHT  Sharing your faith without losing your friends, Peter Holmes, Manager, Courses of Study, Catholic Adult Education Centre, Sydney, as part of the 2006 St Thomas More’s forum programme, Campbell, ACT.

The University of Notre Dame presents The Philip Neri Lecture: 'Globalisation and its impact on the poor', by Dr Freddy D'Souza (Deputy Director of Caritas India), St Benedict's Hall, cnr Abercrombie St and Broadway, Chippendale; 7pm. Admission: $10.(further information: (02) 8204 4411; email acrook@nd.edu.au)

15 Forum: Towards a cohesive Australia, with Tony Abbott (Federal Minister for Health and Ageing), Sheikh Taj Din Al Hilaly (Mufti of Australia), Cardinal Edward Cassidy, Ms Nadia Jamal (journalist and author). Chaired by Sr Libby Rogerson, Social Justice Co-ordinator, Diocese of Parramatta. Welcome, Bishop Kevin Manning. Dooleys Lidcombe Catholic Club, Lidcombe. 7.30pm. Information: 0402 964 662,  0410 336 922, (02) 9683 6277.

20-21 The Catholic Church in America:  2006 will bring together lay and religious Catholic Church leaders, scholars, journalists and activists at The Catholic University of America, Washington. The conference will feature a keynote address from Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, titled Still Ever Ancient — Still Ever New? While the Very Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of Catholic University, will give a breakfast talk on Catholic higher education in the United States. Representatives of several prominent Catholic movements will speak about their organisations — including journalist/author Russell Shaw of Opus Dei, Mary Pat Fox, president of Voice of the Faithful.

21 Hidden in our history, discovered in ourselves looks at what has not been integrated into religious history and its present day significance and influence. If one listens deeply to the silences of history one can hear voices that have been heard only rarely before: voices speaking of Sophia - wisdom, of Shekinah - a dwelling presence, of veriditas - greening... voices in community, voices of poets, mystics and healers, voices of ancient and modern times honouring difference and connection, voices which are contributing to change today in theologies and in societal thinking, voices stimulating or supporting change. This is a presentation by women participating in the Women's Spirituality Forum. St James Church Centre, 40 Gillies Street, Curtin, ACT; 7.45pm (small cost applies)

21 Public forum: Australia's New Workplace Laws - What is a fair deal for young people? moderated by the Australian Catholic University Professor of Law, Institute of Legal Studies (ACU National) Pro. Frank Brennan SJ; Francis Rush Centre, St Stephen's Cathedral Precinct, Brisbane. (RSVP Institute of Legal Studies on 07 3623 7486 by September 18 or email ils@acu.edu.au)

23-27  Learning Communities Conference 2006. The conference will actively bring together leaders in all forms of learning - service providers, industry and government - to pursue how communities can embed real learning outcomes. Speakers include Bernard Salt (KPMG), Elaine Henry (CEO of The Smith Family), Javed Kahn (director of Learning and Community Development, Harrow Council London). QUT, Gardens Point campus, Brisbane. Information, Alanna Hardy, ph 07 3864 2916; email: ar.hardy@qut.edu.au or visit the website.

27-29 Among The Many Voices Catholic Education Speaks Now, National Catholic Education Conference, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Catholic schools are making a major contribution to Australian social, cultural, economic, and political life. One in five young Australians is currently being educated in a Catholic school. Yet, the 21st century Australian Catholic school is very different from the school which is so deeply embedded in the memory of the parents and grandparents of today's students. More and more families, many of whom are not Catholic, are choosing to send their children to Catholic schools. And for many children today the Catholic School is their only experience of Church. These trends reflect profound changes in modern Australian society, culture and religious life. We are now a nation of many voices. This conference is a celebration of, and a reflection on, the Catholic school voice and how it is being heard and understood.

The conference program aims to explore what it means to be a Catholic school in 21st century Australia.  The keynote speakers are:

Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Religion and Culture in Modern Australia, with a response from Dr Kath Engelbretson

Professor Kamah Oniah Kamaruzaman, Islamic University of Malaysia, Understanding and practicing one's own religious tradition, with a response from Bishop Michael Putney

Professor Mary Kalantzis, RMIT, Melbourne, Religion and culture in Australian schools, with a response from Allan Dooley

The conference will conclude with a 'Conversation' discussing the question Is being religious un-Australian?

To keep abreast of significant events happening within the Church in Australia and overseas, see the diary entries in from the editor each week


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