Archive for Spirituality/Philosophy

Unapologetic

UNAPOLOGETIC: Why, despite Everything, Christianity can still make Surprising Emotional Sense

by Francis Spufford

Faber and Faber £12.99 ISBN 978-0-571-22521-7

Book cover of Unapologetic

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The author of Unapologetic isn’t a bit sorry for offering this entertaining polemic. He makes an impassioned case for Christianity making emotional sense, ‘despite everything’. He is withering in his criticism of vapid nonsense like John Lennon’s Imagine – ‘the My Little Pony of philosophical statements’ – and similar offerings that assume that peace and harmony would be the spontaneously arising natural order of things between all human beings if there was no such thing as religion. As the author opines; ‘Yeah, Right!’

Don’t expect to read one of those Josh McDowell-type Evidence that Requires a Verdict tomes that try to defend traditional Christian teachings in the face of modern criticism. Curious outsiders wondering what makes believers tick are much more likely to find an answer here than in a whole stack of theological books and strident critiques from Richard Dawkins and A C Grayling. Those readers who are stumbling along the pilgrim path are very likely to find a mirror into their souls, (or maybe that’s just me).

Spufford was inspired to write Unapologetic when he realised that his six-year-old daughter is soon going to discover that her parents are weird. Every Sunday morning the go out to church. As she grows up she will hear that Christians are a pretty bizarre bunch. According to those who care enough to object, these churchgoers are weird followers of some imaginary sky fairy, but for most people in Britain, church goers are just embarrassing. We’re ‘not weird because we’re wicked. We’re weird because we’re inexplicable.’

In their eyes, ‘Believers are the people touting a solution without a problem, and an embarrassing solution too…’ We just can’t allow things to be what they are; ‘They always have to be translated, moralised – given an unnecessary and rather sentimental extra meaning.’  We just can’t tell the difference between stuff that exists and stuff that is made up; ‘Our fingers must be in our ears all the time – lalala, I can’t hear you – just to keep out the plain sound of the real world’.

Yet, in fact; ‘It’s belief which demands that you dispense with illusion after illusion, while contemporary common sense requires, continual, fluffy pretending.’ In examining this, he turns to the famous atheist bus slogan that raised a lot of controversy recently, ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ Does the implication stand that enjoyment would be the natural state of anyone who wasn’t being ‘worried by believers and their preaching’? ‘Take away the malignant threat of God talk, and you would revert to continuous pleasure under cloudless skies. What’s so wrong with this, apart from it being total bollocks? It buys a bill of goods, sight unseen, from modern marketing’ – the world of advertising and beautiful Gold Blend coffee-sipping people with good looks and plenty of cash – who can get all they want by going shopping.

Spufford argues persuasively that peace is not the norm, ‘the default state of human beings’, but that it is rare. So the atheist bus slogan might be fine for such improbable people but it is totally inappropriate for those many folk who don’t fit that definition. If the slogan is true then you’re on your own if for some reason you’re not enjoying yourself. ‘What the atheist bus slogan says is: There’s no help coming.’ There’s no hope, no consolation in this ‘cruel optimism’.

To Spufford, the notion is false that the emotions involved in religious belief must be different from all other kinds of imagining, hoping and dreaming that we do; they are ‘deeply ordinary and deeply recognisable to anybody who has ever made their way across the common ground of human experience as an adult.’  Spufford seeks in this work to decode the technical jargon and theological in-talk into plain (and often profane) basic English. Sin, for example is not a list of prohibited actions you can avoid or self-indulgence in sexual conduct or doing vaguely ‘wrong’ things like eating too much chocolate. To Spufford it’s simply the Human Propensity to Fuck things Up – the HPtFtU.

This distils in a short phrase the root of the problem with people; a problem ignored by humanists, atheists and sadly, many religious liberals too who have too rosy a view of human nature. Bad things don’t just happen to guaranteed 100% bad people. Christianity recognises the real truth; human beings are neither perfect nor perfectable, we’re all prone to fuck things up. We’re all bad people who need mercy. Spufford argues that this is a much more realistic starting points for us than awe at the stars and sunsets. You can’t live in a constant State of Awe. Recognition of the HPtFtU is the start of the way back, an admission of self-discovery that you really are guilty and in need of Grace and Mercy. Everyone fails. Nobody only means well. Nobody means well all the time.

For this reason, Spufford argues, the Church is not a cosy club of really good, holy people, or weird followers of a mythical sky-pixie but a ‘league of the guilty’. The International League of the Guilty has littered the landscape with useful buildings where people can find help to strip away self-delusion and comforting illusions; we call them churches.

This book gets off to a roaring start, so it’s slightly disappointing that it loses a bit of steam towards the last couple of chapters. Still, it really picks up again near the finish. That said, it’s still a cracking good read with a great message of hope from our ‘awkward sky fairy’ who says, ‘Don’t be careful. Don’t be surprised by any human cruelty. But don’t be afraid, for more can be mended that you can know.’ If you only read one ‘religious’ book this year, make it this one.

Reviewed By David Kerr

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Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?

ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE?

Smile or Die; How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the WorldSmile or Die; How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World

I HAVE often wondered what it is about dictators that cause them to misread their situation so completely.  The late Romanian dictator Nicholai Ceaucescu and the Libyan leader Colonel Qathafi were both surprised at the hatred they inspired in a large number of their people.  The answer seems to be that they had both become isolated in their own little bubbles and had become ‘Masters of the Universe’ in their own eyes.  They thought that they could reshape reality by the force of their own will.

This delusion was reinforced by a coterie of fawning hangers-on who either would not or could not tell them unwelcome truths.  In such societies optimism was compulsory; to point out otherwise was considered unpatriotic, defeatist or counter-revolutionary. Naturally people told their leaders what they thought they wanted to hear.  We hear similar rhetoric from the coalition government; when those posh boys David Cameron and George Osborne – despite mounting evidence to the contrary – insist that their austerity policies are doing us good, really and that we should all knuckle down, get with the programme and like it.

This delusional thinking, though, is not restricted to dictators and out-of-touch prime ministers and chancellors of the exchequer. A glossy best-selling book, The Secret, has convinced many people that getting the things you want is primarily a question of ‘the law of attraction’, visualising what it will be like when they are yours, whether it’s a new partner, that dream job, a fancy car or a lovely necklace or handbag. You will ‘draw’ these things to you. Just ‘name it and claim it’.

In Smile or Die; How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World, Barbara Ehrenreich examines the roots and the effects of the cult of blind optimism known as ‘Positive Thinking’.  This notion has gained a large foothold in American popular, religious and corporate culture.  Positive Thinking sounds attractive for a number of obvious reasons; nobody likes to be a misery or to be thought of as a misery. People are generally happier to be around individuals who light up a room by their presence than those who are constantly moaning, complaining and cursing their rotten lot in life. That’s fair enough. So far, so good.

However, basic cheery natural optimism is not what Ehrenreich is targeting in her wittily written polemic. ‘Positive Thinking’ the ideology is much more pernicious. It’s positively delusional.  The reckless optimistic bias involved undermines preparedness and invites disaster.  Its deep penetration of American popular culture, especially in the corporate world, may well have helped to precipitate the financial disaster that began to hit the world in 2007.  After all, why would you bother about debts and ruinous exposure to defaults when all good things come to those who are optimistic enough to visualise success and to expect it?

The truth is, things don’t get better by wishing them so. Positive Thinking of The Secret kind encourages its practitioners to treat other people as if they don’t matter, mere ciphers and bit players in their own ever so important life, rather that independent, thinking, breathing beings with a will, hopes and fears of their own.

Barbara Ehrenreich exposes the cynicism, delusion and greed of those who sell this stuff at society’s most vulnerable sections, some of whom are seriously ill with cancer, or who have lost their jobs owing to corporate ‘downsizing’.

Ehrenreich opens with a frank account of her own diagnosis with breast cancer, and her dismay at being almost buried in an avalanche of pink ribbons, pink teddy bears and sugar-coated therapy sessions in which there was no room for anger or sadness. Although it’s a popular theory, there is no scientific link between having a ‘positive’ outlook in the face of illness and rates of cancer survival.  As she says, ‘We really should question whether it is valuable to encourage optimism if it results in the patient concealing his or her distress in the mistaken belief that this will afford survival benefits.’

The undercurrent of always having to look on the bright side, so that your recovery may be undermined by your own poor ‘negative’ attitude if you don’t do so, is pernicious. It is disturbing to discover that some American cancer survivor groups have hounded out those whose cancer recurs in case any association with this ‘negativity’ might prove contagious. Such groups can properly help people come to terms with the consequences of their illness.  This may offer the patient social and emotional benefits but it will do nothing to overcome cancer or extend his or her life.

Ehrenreich traces the origins of positive thinking to reaction against traditional Calvinist doctrine in the nineteenth century.  She analyses the development of Positive Thinking through early self-help books to the slicker, more persuasive motivational speakers and their books and DVDs around today. She exposes the dangers to business of reckless optimism as all too often anyone who doesn’t fully sign up to the mantra is dismissed as ‘negative’ or having a bad attitude when they may just be more realistic. This notion also conveniently shifts the burden of responsibility for illness and unemployment on to the individual.

The author cites one self-help classic Who Moved My Cheese? when a worker wakes up to find that his “cheese”, or job, has disappeared, he should immediately “paint a picture . . . in great realistic detail, [of] sitting in the middle of a pile of all his favourite cheeses – from Cheddar to Brie”. And magically, a delicious new employment opportunity will arise. Don’t blame the system. Don’t’ blame the bosses. It’s your own fault if you don’t land another job. It’s no wonder that American corporations are buying this book in bulk and handing it out to the workers they are paying off.

Ehrenreich’s alternative to Positive Thinking’s bastardised mixture of personal insecurity, narcissistic self-absorption and blind acceptance of the status quo isn’t that we all become curmudgeonly Victor Meldrews; grumpy old men or women. All she suggests is that we look at how things really are, not how we would wish them to be and that we use a little critical thinking. To put it another way, don’t moan, organise to put things right. That’s true positivity for you.

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Revamped 1

Revamped 1 by Tim Bragg

This revamped compilation of songs comes from a number of previous albums that are no longer available, although listeners are rewarded with one new song, The Fighting’s Over, and a pleasant slow cover of the Thin Lizzy classic, The Boys are Back in Town.

Tim Bragg offers a number of memorable melodies and catchy guitar riffs, notably in the opening song, Rise Above It and in Of Doubts and God. This album explores love and loss, whether it’s looking for an elusive girl in a white dress or a dad’s pride in his son.  My Boy contrasts completely with Harry Chapin’s estranged son in the bittersweet The Cat’s in the Cradle.  This dad takes time out for walks by the river with his boy, perfect walks where he can take pride that his boy is growing into a man.

Not every song has to talk about love, however. Common Courage suggests something else is needed.

The re-release of Fields of England is timely, given the Con-Dem government’s recently announced scheme to wipe out planning laws in order to allow a property developer’s free-for-all. This would make an excellent soundtrack for a YouTube video protested at George Osborne’s scheme to bulldoze the fields of England into oblivion.

This album is permeated by a sense of spirituality, reminiscent of Van Morrison’s Avalon Sunset, especially in the track, Holy Spirit with its commendation of quiet meditation.  The catchy Heaven on Earth suggests that you can find heaven on earth, working the land. In Of Doubts and God though, Bragg declares with frank honesty that, ‘I’ve got doubts about everything’ and that ‘I don’t know anything about anything’.  This questioning attitude is the mark of true faith in which the Way is a Journey rather than ‘The Answer’ to everything. Like much of Bragg’s work, this song provokes deeper thought that is not dispelled by its infectious melody.

The production values on this album are high, given that it is self-published, but it’s a shame that no lyrics were included on the CD booklet. That’s only a minor criticism.  It’s superb. Let’s hope that we won’t have to wait too long for Revamped 2.

Available for download from Amazon.co.uk or ITunes

The striking cover of Revamped 1.

Revamped 1 is available for download on Amazon.co.uk for £7.49 or £0.89 per track or from ITunes for £7.99 or £0.79 per track. Find out more from tahbragg[at]googlemail.com if you want to buy a physical CD.

David Kerr

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Book Review: Is there Life After Death? The Extraordinary Science of What Happens When we die

Life After Death Cover Image

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Is there Life After Death?

The Extraordinary Science of What Happens When we die

By Anthony Peake

Review: Tim Bragg

(Part of Body, Mind, Spirit & Time)

Am I treading the same road that I have trod so many times? Am I alone on my wanderings – have I walked this way before so often that I am in an inescapable rut – or – is there a guide, placing signposts for me to veer onto new lanes? A guide that has intimate knowledge of my many intended or worn trails…

What a curious mesmerizing book this is! Gripping, thought provoking and unsettling. Great – my cup of tea! With ideas fashioned around the theories of Many Worlds; Multi-Universes; Quantum Theory…Time itself (and the nature of its and our subjective perceptions); shared consciousness; neurology; psychiatry and more – the reader is guaranteed a stimulating read. A book that provokes thought and a thoughtful response.

For some time now (well this is my subjective perception!) I have had this rather clichéd and simple notion that “Time is the Answer”. And yet this notion has deepened and become deeper and been given more credence through reading Peake’s book. Time – subjective – bending to the occasion…speeding up and slowing down…and fragmenting? Time stretching so that at death we cease to be ‘time-full’ but enter a new relationship with it. Does time cease or are we catapulted back to its (our) beginning? What is the relationship between Time, Matter and our Consciousness?  Has our universe and human consciousness sprung from a time-less and matter-less place? Although Peake doesn’t answer this last question he does give his coherent idea of what happens to (our) time as death approaches…

Is there life after death? Existence after death – a continued existence…if you’re looking for reassurance about conscious existence after ‘death’ then you’ll be both excited and – perhaps disappointed by this book. Excited because through its pages we learn about Quantum Theory – about how we bring into existence external reality through our sensory perceptions – that we are subjective beings in a subjectively made reality. There may not be an identifiable, objective reality – at least to us subjective beings. But more than this – we might not even be alone. And when I use the word ‘we’ I don’t just mean the consciousness reading these words  – there is also a ‘we’ that is ‘us’ – a dual consciousness within that we all seem to share. The brain divided and mirrored – holding two different ‘mind-beings’.

I am not going to use Peake’s scientific or esoteric words in this review – this is my review (and accordingly may only exist in ‘my’ reality – and in your reality I may not actually exist!) – but respond simply as a reader who has been affected by and has given considerable thought to the ideas. I am also aware that I don’t want to spoil the unfolding of the book’s ideas by giving too much away – because you need to be taken on its journey (as was I). Also, I am not without criticism or further questioning of ideas within it and, ultimately, not without a sinking feeling that what Peake’s research and originality offers is no more comforting than the traditional idea of reincarnation.

In Western societies the concept ofre-incarnation can sometimes be used to make sense of our existence and offer the hope of rebirth and re-existence rather than a one off life followed by annihilation…and yet, I, the ego am not aware of this pre-existence except through unusual “flash backs” to a supposed previous life. Thus the ‘I’ – the ‘me’ that I am fully aware of – will face obliteration. Now, without giving too much away (I hope) Peake argues for (and there is always enough scientific corroboration to make his points) that each human has indeed dual consciousness – that there is a Higher and Lower self…and that these entities exist in a form of communion, but that the Higher Self is only manifest (seemingly) at certain times – including in dream states and during hypnotism. This Higher Self also plays its ultimate significant part at the approach of death. This is where the possibility of “life after death” comes – though technically there is no death – only the perception of one’s death by other folk!

All sounding a bit much? Well you will discover the strange world of quantum particles and their unresolved existence until brought into ‘focus’ by sentient life…you will glimpse into the world of the schizophrenic which might be the world of your other consciousness (Higher Self) – an unfiltered world that our lower self finds overbearing; a world where ALL is perceived…why do we perceive all? You will have insight into those who experience Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and the idea that life is experienced between epileptic fits at birth and death…And how our mind has (perhaps) evolved to cope with the dying experience.

Sometimes we are treated to great rabbit-holes of fun and imagination that ultimately lead nowhere. We rush off after the White Rabbit – constantly eyeing his watch – “I’m late, I’m late!” – but find that though this pursuit is fascinating we are left somewhat perplexed and unfulfilled. This might result from my own intellectual failing. I have to state again: I LOVE this book. I love how it takes me into my own mind and for my mind to question itself and its very reality – but the ending felt a touch like bathos with questions seemingly left unanswered: what is the point of the eternal return (if any); is this reliving simply a product of a peculiar universe and mortal existence or is there some higher hand at work; can we escape this reliving – and if so how? …Perhaps there’s another ending waiting to be written – it felt a little unbalanced. I appreciate Peake’s desire to fuse science with areas of enquiry normally dealt with by religion or philosophy – but there’s so much more to delve into surely? I prefer to fuse science with spirituality – looking to science to answer WHY as well as HOW (however beguiling that HOW is!). It is in that WHY – that questioning that the spiritual element will be found – if we are the way we are and we are programmed to an eternal return – then WHY? Why does that mechanism exist?

The brain and the mind (co-dependent?!) are fascinating – figures given in the book reveal the brain’s amazing complexity. It’s a wonder people can manage to be so ‘un’ conscious having such a tool! Can consciousness exist apart from the brain – and if so – how? What can/could sustain it? Are “out of body experiences” proof of the ability of consciousness to exist independently? I have had an OBE – but was it within the capacity of my mind to PROJECT such a reality at an extreme type of stress…thus I wasn’t “out” of anywhere – just experiencing a different perspective?

Perhaps, as Peake suggests, we all eventually “fall out of time” – perhaps we stretch time into a kind of infinity…perhaps we re-tread this life over and over and over again. But if there is an escape to this mundane repetition it is an escape denied to ‘us’ (the ‘us’ that is connecting with these words) because the escape itself will exist in another universe, in another reality. Trillions of versions of us – like a mirror reflecting upon itself – like an infinite number of mirrors reflecting infinitely! And even the word ‘infinite’ is useless here because it suggests Time! And the BIG question – what for? Is there any profound reason behind all this? Becoming Perfect?  – How close to perfection would we need to come to escape this Eternal Return? Has anyone ever achieved perfection? Jesus gave into anger, was he forced to return and, if so, why didn’t he become Greater Than Jesus – or did he – yes you’ve got it – manifest in a different reality/world/universe? Not so much a Second Coming but a long time coming.

 Déjà vu, that notion of being here before, of experiencing the same feelings and senses before, is perhaps the key to unlock our sense of return…but – for “us” who have but an inkling of a re-run – so what? And even those in Peake’s book that seem to re-live their lives – and be aware of such – there is no comfort or satisfaction. There doesn’t seem to be a sense of justice in getting things right simply for a version of ourselves to exist in another Quantum Leap. And if ALL has happened to ALL then any sense of meaningful independent reality is lost! The subtlety of difference between ‘this’ and ‘that’ choice would be diluted in a vat so large that any such choice would be rendered meaningless! And given that people seem to go on making the same mistakes, are some ‘souls’ bound to re-live nightmare lives that are short and brutal over and over again!?

There certainly is more to Heaven and Earth than meets the eye, it seems. Quantum physics shows us a micro existence without common sense. But can we extrapolate into the world of Here and Now? Are there realms of the brain we can lose ourselves in? When we dream are we dreaming a reality? Perhaps this is evidence for survival of death – when I dream I certainly am in a ‘reality’ and though it is me – this ‘me’ is unconnected to the me that wakes into my apparent ‘normal’ reality (but only made ‘normal’ by the act of waking and of a sense of repetition). There is a connection at times (lucid dreaming fuses these two realities) but normally ‘I’ can live in two very different experiential worlds that have similarities – each seemingly with its own integrity and continuity – but that are DIFFERENT! And passing from one state to the other is unconscious – I am unaware of slipping through that ‘twilight’ world between wake and sleep.

Finally, though I can see and understand Peake’s idea of consciousness and its perception of time as one’s death looms, I wonder about those folk who have lost contact and consciousness with this world…did they see their mental death approaching – was any mechanism in place for them? If there is a ‘breather’ between returns – in which existence is it to be found? Again I apologise for being a tad cryptic – but you need to work through this book – take in the various speculations and new scientific research it provides and explores, and get led down Peake’s rabbit-hole world. As he says – he may not even exist in our world – well, my world – well, your world. Just as I might not exist in the world of whomever is reading these words. So in which case – who wrote them?

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The Crucible

THE CRUCIBLE
American High School Theatre Festival

Pilrig Studio Venue 103, 1bPIlrig Street

ARTHUR MILLER’S play The Crucible, set in the time of the infamous Salem Witch Trials of 1692 was intended as an indictment of Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklisting of persons accused of communist sympathies in 1950sAmerica.

This modern dress production is presented by a talented bunch of High School students from Pius XI High School inWisconsin. Despite their youth, they have total mastery of the script.

Young Alex Sobczak’s manipulative accuser Abigail Williams was so convincing that the audience were scanning the ceiling for the imps and devils she claimed to see. Roc Bauman was every inch the stout God-fearing farmer who knew that the accusations of witchcraft against his wife Elizabeth and scores of others were nonsense; Connor could not make himself heard against the clamour for blood. Instead he came under suspicion too, especially as he could not remember all of the Ten Commandments. According to Reverend Hale, his examiner, ‘Theology is a fortress. No crack in the fortress can be allowed.’

The Crucible still speaks powerfully today as there will always be people who act or look different from the norm for one reason or another.  Such folk can become objects of suspicion, fear and hatred and can be vulnerable to victimisation by unscrupulous manipulators with a score to settle or in pursuit of power and influence.

Reviewed by David Kerr

***** Five stars

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Philosophy: The Dirty Secret

Underneath the cool blue skies of this rich, poor and diverse world lies a dirty secret. Only it’s the kind of secret nobody wants to hear. The kind of secret pushed underground where corpses and rotten things belong. Under the subtle layered colours of diffuse light in the Northern Hemisphere or the vast horizon-stretching light of eternal days in the Southern Hemisphere, this secret is kept quiet – quiet…but only to greater – or – lesser degrees.

Where mankind is poor and unsubtle and living close to his animal neighbours the secret isn’t so hushed. Where man is civilised and praises the art and technique of its finest painters, musicians, poets, composers, architects, philosophers and religious practitioners – then this bestial secret is as silent as incest. My God what can it be this secret so bad? What war or inflicted famine can it refer? What hidden boil of racism as yet un-lanced? What defilement of the planet by Big Business; of International Capitalism? None? None of these? What then – some radical suicidal movement of politically or religiously induced thought? What is there so bad and yet so unsaid?
Beneath our veneer of civilisation…our table-talk civility and UNESCO trumpeting culture of The Family Sitting Round the Table…beneath the high-blown morality of the righteous off to church on a damp Sunday or to worship in the local Mosque or Synagogue there lurks the blood and sinew factory of churned-out death. Perpetual…simultaneously efficient and inefficient barbarity – a civilised humane slaughter on a scale that would make a Jewish survivor laugh.

It IS Big Business and it IS a product of International Capitalism – it is: animal slaughter on a scale unimaginable! Never ending stun-gunned and throat sliced…casual imperious kicks, violent indifference and meaningless banal torture…and within this – even – like the oubliette in a stinking dungeon are those slaughtered without stun – throats sliced and left to bleed-out consciousness – in the name of, God damn it – Religion!  Overriding even the tiniest decency and nod to humane-ity the Religious Righteous of Islam and Judaism (with the deaf ears of so many Christians) need their animals to bleed to death – calling out to “their” God; listening to the prayer as their cries fall into the slaughterer’s twitching ears. God Almighty!

Day in day out, night in night out animals are slaughtered so we humans can fatten ourselves on their flesh and blood. Day in day out, night in night out cruelties are visited on animals as if they were the vermin, the lice of Satan himself. No end of creative thought applied to this cruelty – no end to the warped imagination of Man…and yet others after fattening themselves hunt fellow creatures for the pleasure; not the necessity but for fun. And others cut up and into the flesh of beasts for “knowledge”. Others wear animals’ hides and fur. And others stand by and bark their nonsense in defence of religious slaughter, or hunting with dogs, or lethal dose 50 or that’s it’s natural…

And my God but don’t speak out against any of this. Don’t mention this dirty secret – don’t even wipe the blade across your best suit. Call him/her, this person, that person a racist, a fascist, a capitalist, a paedophile a common murderer but don’t say one word about the bloody conveyor belt, the dangling chains, the gruesome slaughterers, the caged and penned in necessities, of The Factory. Keep that bloody secret tight to the lips.

Animals have fed and clothed us for thousands and thousands of years. Yet across the globe, within its continents; in icy lands and tropical lands; regardless of skin colour; of religious or political belief  (with some notable exceptions) animals have been and are slaughtered for their meat; skinned for their fur or hide; kept as playthings and pets; used as hunt prey; used as live bait for hunting other creatures; farmed and (across all seas, in rivers and intensive fish-farms) fished – from ripping out elephants’ and rhinos’ tusks to casual kicking of abattoir animals (or sodomising with knives!), to “religious” slaughter, to breeding animals for their “looks” and incurring severe health problems; to skinning alive; to torturing before slaughter to” “improve taste”; to pipes inserted into the livers of bears for their bile; to penning birds in cages as pets; to forcing animals to perform for our amusement; to force-feeding geese; to slaughtering dolphins as a
rite of passage; to fighting bulls in arenas; to “kidnapping” chimpanzees; to de-beaking, de-tailing, de-clawing; to boiling lobsters; to chaining dogs; to vivisect!! Insulting animals by anthropomorphising them whilst at the same time visiting on them these untold cruelties – O look at the cute little pig “Babe” he’s talking just like us! And on and on these monstrosities happen across this globe without prejudice to the might and ability of Mankind to exploit and exploit and exploit! But…

Don’t say a word in polite company – not a word. Don’t be a bore. It’s a woman’s right to wear fur; it’s so passé to be anti! No, no, no I never THINK – why of course not – thinking might alter my behaviour, tut tut…It tastes so good…What would people think if I turned vegetarian?…Everything is fine just as it is and always has been…

Okay. Okay. What am I? What are you thinking? Some raving nutcase; some warped nut-burger? Some veggie spouting over-blown sentimental tosh-twaddle? God damn me a vegetarian (or worse were I a vegan! – which by the way doesn’t even exist on my spell-checker). It’s okay to love your cat and dog but it’s just a bit too left field, too eccentric, too ODD to care or show love for any other creature. Cats and dogs are different aren’t they? They’re kind of like us…
I generalise. There are folk who care. Lots of them! Folks who really care and get their hands “dirty” caring. So. This is what I’m saying:
If we are to eat meat – let us at the very least do so in the knowledge of where it comes from, how it is reared, how it is fed and how it is slaughtered. If we ARE civilised beings then let us do all this with humanity and true civility. (If we were TRULY civilised – would we eat meat at all?!) But the whole of animal “management” needs looking at. Just as the small, diverse farms have turned into bigger, narrower concerns, so too have the slaughterhouses (once close by to those older farms) – all been removed, shutdown and in their place Factory Slaughter-Houses (houses?!) created fitting of Factory Farming! Factory – a FACT!

There are climates where – were it not for modern day transport – we couldn’t BE vegetarian. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to go veggie or vegan? – but by reducing consumption of meat and fish and by insisting on an improved manner of slaughter then things could improve for our fellow animals. As for wearing fur obtained by such procedures as anal electrocution and skinning alive – forget it! No justification whatsoever!

Further, how can – how CAN any religion not have a tolerant attitude towards animals? A religion and its practitioners should be the ones triumphing animal welfare and rights. They should be at the vanguard of Animal Rights! If we humans are the only ones with souls then surely, surely with reason and with spirituality those animals without souls only have their one life on this earth. This one often so short and violently ended life. Thus there should be no religious slaughter in its current barbaric methods. Yes, I know that recent CCTV footage stealthily filming x number of slaughterhouses didn’t film ONE pig slaughtered as it should have been – thus “legitimate” so-called “humane” slaughter is highly unpleasant too – but there are rules to be obeyed (as well as ignored and flouted it seems). Religious slaughter is the utmost in hypocrisy – it’s laughable, risible to be pitied were it not ABOVE the law of England and other lands. A religious practitioner
should surely think – when I die, having followed God’s laws I will be rewarded with eternal life, pleasure or whichever…but my religion states that only humans have souls (Christianity, Islam, Judaism etc). How lucky we are! Now these other creatures – created by my God – they only have their life on earth – will die forever; not only should I pity them but also give them the best possible life! Dream on. No. Somehow these other creatures of God are simply for our benefit – our exploitation. I can’t imagine Jesus strangling a lamb or slicing the throat of a cow. It just doesn’t seem worthy – but then, as I’m often told ((basically) – what the heck do I know about the “mind” of God – or – it doesn’t say “be a vegetarian” in the bible (add alternative religious book at will).

A religion that can sanction the stoning of a woman (who may have been raped by a married man, thus, apparently, committing “adultery”) is perhaps unlikely to be as squeamish about the slicing of an animal’s throat. Or a religion that holds that women – in general – are inferior to men (not different but equal – INFERIOR) –will, perhaps, hold that animals are way, way inferior. How curious. Slavery was once legal too wasn’t it? – and often sanctioned by Christianity!  There’s a kind of sadism at work here maybe. And sadists might well begin with cruelty to animals before moving on to humans. How we treat animals – especially as refined, “spiritual folk” should automatically alter and improve our treatment of fellow humans. It seems odd to be kind and sympathetic to humans yet indifferent and cold towards animals.
Of course we are all hypocrites. I’m a hypocrite! But I know it. I should be vegan and though I haven’t eaten meat or fish for over 35 years and have given up milk in tea and coffee and try and eat only goats’ milk I DO eat milk and cow’s cheese. I have begun to reduce my consumption and may well give it up entirely.

It IS hard for us humans to comprehend death (until it’s too late?) – hence our seemingly hard-wired ability to believe we will live forever (or some glib, O I know I’ll die – but not actually truly comprehending this eventuality). Thus – it’s hard to comprehend the never-ending mechanised slaughter of our fellow creatures. So how about this for an idea (it doesn’t have to last beyond a week though I have included an “ending”– maybe it’ll end much sooner and hit home effectively); if you have a cat or a dog (or can “borrow” one) put it in your front-room/lounge in an elevated cage with no flooring except the wire mesh. Make sure the cage is just big enough for the animal but small enough so that it can’t turn round, groom itself or do – well anything but breathe, eat, drink, urinate and defecate (it will have the “luxury” of smelling only its own waste). Set a little feeding trough and drink dispenser – it’s the least we can do – it has to
grow fatter so we can fatten upon it.

Leave your pet in the lounge – next to the TV – TURN THE TV UP! – though I would presume after a day or two it will have given up crying (meowing/barking – but you never know). Watch it. Watch. Okay a little boring – just watching. Never touch it and just scoop some other animals meat into the trough at regulated intervals. Keep watching. It might amuse for a while its attempts at biting the wires of the cage – but, well, nothing happens…nothing really happens. You move away for a few hours – and, well, when you come back – there it is. It’s not going anywhere and it’s not doing anything. Minute by minute. Hour by hour. Nothing. Eating when food arrives; drinking when there’s water to be drunk. Hour in hour out, hour in hour out. Well it’s kind of hard to have that animal – sorry, YOUR animal, your PET in the room with you now isn’t it? Even if you borrowed someone ELSE’S pet – actually even harder, the guilt, THE ABSOLUTE GUILT. But, well, one day
merges into another – maybe it gets harder feeding this animal; harder to look at it; harder to look at its eyes; INTO its eyes; harder to bear the smell and clean up. Harder to watch it – well, diminish – DIMINISH and grow fatter in its cage simultaneously. As if it isn’t your animal anymore – not really a personal thing any more – sort of…just a THING.
Well there is no longer any purpose to your once adored pet – it grows fat only to help you grow fat…its waste has to be collected and disposed of; it is no fun there in its cage and you can feel, sense its deep, deep misery. No running outside, stretching those limbs, chasing and living like a cat or dog should! There’s only one thing you can do – slaughter! Kill it. Get rid of it (or at this point halt the experiment and spend a long, long time winning back that pet’s confidence in you). The experiment must continue…

Now there may have been a time when you could have killed your pet right there at home – or taken it to the vet nearby to be “put to sleep”. You could have held it in your arms at least as you chose your method of death. But this is no longer a “pet” it’s a factory animal and due for factory slaughter. You can staple information to its ear, de-claw it and maybe de-fang it (just for everyone’s protection) and then it can be picked-up by a lorry full of other cats and dogs – no water, little light; cramped inside. A modern day cattle-truck for persecuted people only it’s a real cattle (animal) truck full of sentient creatures destined for the mouths and stomachs of people.

Wave your animal goodbye. Maybe a little concern as the lorry driver “helps” it into the acrid smelling trailer with a little sharp boot. And off. Off on a long journey to the factory slaughterhouse. If it’s “lucky” it’ll be a successful stun gun to the head and know nothing of its death – though it could smell death approaching. If it’s unlucky it may regain consciousness as its hind-legs are shacked to the conveyor belt. Then, for all its struggles it will feel the ice-steel of a knife bite across its throat. If it’s VERY unlucky it will go for RELIGIOUS slaughter.
Is the animal religious? Ummm no!
Is it an animal that follows the God of the Muslims or Jews? Ummm no!
So how can it be slaughtered religiously?
Is it one animal – a sacrifice – a REAL sacrifice for many, many animals – a token expression (as the animals aren’t Muslims or Jews)? One animal sacrifice as God allowed Abraham in place of his son? Ummm no! Many, many animals – those destined for religious homes and bellies (or sold stealthily through money-stained supermarkets) are killed in the name of HUMAN’S Gods!! It is human’s Gods (and they are mutually exclusive religions so even by THAT logic some of these animals have been killed for a non-God!). The Gods of humans demand the slaughter of animals as an act of sacrifice in HUMAN’S name. Ummm.

Would the slaughterer of these animals choose to be killed in this fashion? No sir! Stun first. Effective stun (if nothing more humane!) and then the throat slit. But these animals have no choice anyway.

The animals that go for religious slaughter can sense the fear and smell the blood as they wait in turn (though this is meant to be forbidden!). Your once beloved cat or dog will be upturned throat cut, gurgling on that warm blood in its throat; fighting to breathe; kicking its legs…hoisted up by its hind legs…what still not dead? Still struggling. Open the throat more so that it can drown in its blood or – as it wields its head (your pet!!) – lose consciousness slowly but surely. The last minutes for this animal are slow, packed with fear, packed with utter terror and pain – no where to run, to escape – held captive and dying.

And these slaughterers – what does this chain, unending gruelling chain of slicing animal throats do to THEIR soul?! With every gashing knife slash isn’t their soul diminished – its own spirit-essence draining away like the blood of their victims?
O God…O my God! Have pity on them all – and why would you make creatures so close to us so alien!! How like us they are (the vivisector’s argument) and yet – of course – unlike us! Eyes, ears, mouths, legs…feelings…

And so your pet is dead. And in this nightmare all pets would be slaughtered all the time. A factory. A business. What an alien world.

And you know, talking of things alien – what would another species make of this world and our treatment of animals if they visited? What would they make of the unending slaughter? It would take them time to find out our dirty secret – but can you imagine the confusion? Cuddly lambs and pigs in the toyshops for tiny children – carcasses and flesh on the dinner table! A whole lot of sentimental guff in the media and conversely – factory-farmed and slaughtered animals. And to find out a God (he/she/it), a deity, way, way above our intellectual scope has fashioned beings simply to satisfy our hunger! Almost as if allowing cannibalism. What would the aliens make of us? Maybe they would fatten upon and farm us?!
That’s what it’s all about in the end isn’t it? Hunger and taste. Hunger, warmth and fun and taste.

Hunger – well we need to eat; some have a choice and some haven’t. Some have the choice to be omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan. It’s easier to be omnivorous…and if you are and you’ve read this I would simply ask you to at least choose your meat carefully: buy organic; buy free-range; buy local; buy meat that hasn’t been factory-reared or halal/kosher slaughtered. But you must be responsible – and ALL slaughter is bad! It might be more expensive to eat free-range meat but eat a little bit less – eat good quality meat less often than cruelly slaughtered, cheap cuts every day. Just do that. Make a start! It WILL make a difference. Be aware. Be aware of what you’re popping into your mouth and digesting in your gut. Everything you think, feel, do is propelled by that meat and the vegetables, pulses, fruit and other such foods that you eat. You really ARE what you eat. Would you eat your dog or cat “slaughtered” in the experiment? No? then why a pig, a lamb or a cow?
Give it some thought…please.

Maybe you could have days when you eat “vegetarian”. Just call it an “alternative” diet – it’s just great food that doesn’t consist of meat or fish dishes. Don’t get hung-up on a word. Explore all the range of foods that are available to so many of us NOW! Eat those seasonal vegetables and fruit. There are so many combinations of vegetarian food – food that looks good, tastes good and IS good! Don’t be put off by lazy chefs in restaurants that can’t seem to grasp creating a meal that hasn’t had blood dripping from some part of it.

We vegetarians and vegans – don’t be too judgemental (it may well work against our ideals). I don’t know why everyone isn’t vegetarian (at least) but I’m married to a meat-eater – she’s cooked me the most amazing vegetarian meals for over twenty-years. Incredible stuff. But she’s hooked on meat – part of her (French) culture. It’s ingrained – but doesn’t have to last forever – culture’s CAN change! But she likes the taste! That’s it. She doesn’t buy meat that’s been factory-farmed or sacrificed to a religion. She cares where the meat comes from – but she’s never (it seems) going to be vegetarian. Meat eating seems hard-wired into human society and we vegetarians and vegans have to acknowledge that. We have to BE vegetarian and vegan and show society around us that it’s okay, it’s healthy – it’s better! But we’re not going to get anywhere by forcing folk. Direct action has its place and is the only answer sometimes – but if we are to
convert people to non meat-eating we have to take a different and subtler tack.

I turned vegetarian after seeing a sticker on the back window of a car over 35 years ago (I’ve lost count if it’s 36 or 37!). I’ve stuck to it! I’ve moved towards veganism – I understand THEIR arguments. I’m doing my best. The movement is in the right direction. I’m trying to look at the world and how it might be – how it might treat animals; how we might survive…how we COULD go vegetarian in great numbers…but veganism would be too hard for some – held in contempt by those who were vegan through poverty (think rural China) but now glorify in the gory. Eating meat has been the historical privilege of the wealthy.

I can’t argue the case for vegans other than to say – that it makes logical sense to move from meat eating to vegetarianism to being vegan. But the logic is stretched by the actual ability to be vegan (in Northern climates) and having to depend on modern supplements – yet we DO live in a modern world and it is this modern world that is killing animals in such a “modern” way! That is treating cows so abysmally in dairy “production”! My son – who is beginning to think about being vegetarian – finds it odd/interesting that if I DID eat meat – I would enjoy the taste. Maybe. But my response is that nothing is truly worthwhile without an element of sacrifice. Not to martyr oneself with that sacrifice – but to accept and acknowledge it. Maybe I’d LOVE to eat meat and fish – well, it’s irrelevant because I’m never going to. And what I DO eat I find excellent in taste, health AND spirituality.

While I write – and I confess that this has been hard to write – like wrenching out bad stuff…nothing much will have changed. How many animals have been in fear; been tortured; been hunted; been slaughtered? But. Also – maybe just a sense that the tide is turning…yes, yes, I know and have heard of the Islamic economic movement to use FOOD (halal) as the way to conquer the world – but each of US no matter what religion or none can use our MINDS to say NO. Use our courage to say no. Use our influence to help others reject inhumanely slaughtered animals (as if there were a humane way!); use our skills and sensitivities to wake people up. PLEASE. I beg all of you who agree with most of what I’ve written to pass this article to someone who is “asleep”.  We need religious folk to change their minds – we need Muslims and Jews to work at changing the attitudes and mores of their religion…We need Christians to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with our fellow
animals – just as they re-evaluated their attitude to our fellow men who were once enslaved!

We are the converted and we don’t need any further conversion (but yes, we need to stay firm at times and feel nourished in our beliefs and maybe improve our diet and beliefs). We need to ask those religious folk to analyse WHY their books tell them to do this or that…why their prophet or guru (if TRULY a spiritual leader) wouldn’t swipe away the factory farms as Jesus swiped away the money-lenders tables and contents. Sweep them away. Sweep away the old style of thinking. Ask why those religious folk who follow Jesus think it’s okay to slaughter their fellow animals. Ask what is truly spiritual and acceptable in our treatment of and relationship with our fellow animals.

Do a little. A little is so much more than nothing. Don’t give in to despair – because each minor revolution of the mind and heart and spirit will make for a better world not just for our fellow animals but for US TOO!

We will be forced to make hard choices soon. As our world population increases to near unsustainable levels how we produce our food will become more and more vital. Animals will either suffer in greater numbers and in utterly appalling conditions to satisfy our growth or we’ll begin – at last – to understand the nature of being human; a sentient creature with such intelligence on this finite little globe revolving through space. Please God; Please US that we make the right decisions…we won’t be able to get this one wrong.

Expose this “dirty secret” – once it’s been voiced it cannot remain a secret…it cannot remain un-thought of. Once it is no longer secret – it can be challenged and changed. And the power to change lies within us all.

– Tim Bragg

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Body, Mind, Spirit & Time Part 2

There are people who claim to have had “Near Death Experiences” – though what exactly can “near” mean? How “near” can one get to death? Is a miss as good as a mile – or is there a subtle connection between life and death? In these NDEs (as they are known) some folk report classical ideas of Heaven/Paradise and others Hell! The interesting consequence of research into NDEs is the seeming ability of consciousness to leave the body. But first – regarding Heaven and Hell.

If we take these NDEs seriously (and they certainly seem to have deeply affected those who have experienced them) then I am bound to ask: has GOD decided who goes to Hell and who to Heaven? And if God has decided how is it possible to draw such a distinct line – such a black and white JUDGEMENT? It would be interesting to know from those who have had NDEs if they considered themselves “worthy” of Heaven or Hell. Had something inextricably put them in one or other “place” – or maybe it was the lack of something?!

Is there no nuance, no shade to JUDGEMENT!? Okay – you this way – you that way. You have been 51% “good” – Heaven for you. You have been 51% “bad” Hell for you! Can the judgement of God be so unsubtle?!
Therefore one asks – are the experiences authentic? And: does it matter? Well if they ARE authentic – this should get us thinking very seriously about where we’re headed – and it DOES matter because either the experience is real or there is something very peculiar happening in the mind when it is “close” to death.

Maybe what matters is that consciousness “seems” to be able to leave the confines of the body/brain. People have been able to give graphic recollection of surgical procedure and also identify things seemingly impossible for them to do – as they have been lying unconscious on an operating table! How could they know that a trainer (sport’s shoe) is lying on the roof of a particular hospital building they have never previously been to? This is the exciting stuff (and hopefully not influenced by human perception or fraud!). Quantum Physics – of which I’m no expert – talks of things being able to be in two different places at the same time or of appearing and disappearing out of or into nothingness (if such a state exists). And the further one goes down and into the minutia of matter then the greater “space” there is between things as if reflecting the universe about us. If things can appear out of nowhere and befuddle conventional thought and science then maybe our
consciousness can leave the body and move and see things without the aid of limbs or eyes?! Science seems to be moving further from neat explanations of this world to uncovering wondrous and startling new facts and existence.

During NDEs in Heaven people experienced young, healthy bodies and could move instantly to a place thought of and there was talk of the non-existence of time – yet there WAS still movement! The blind from birth could see!! Presumably those who had lost limbs had them restored – and thus an IDEAL of the perfect body…Ideal to whom/what?

We interact with this world through our senses – I say “this world” but what other world could I mean? A “world” after death? A perceived world? If the “other world” is the world of mind (thought) then isn’t that formed through our sensory experiences. We also know that our senses are flawed – that the world around us – is to some extent – manufactured by our minds. Our minds can take information our eyes “see” and alter it so that this sight makes sense to us. Or our minds can take our sight and produce something other than what we see because “it” (!) thinks this will make better sense for us. The obvious example here is the hollowed out facemask that on being turned changes to 3D and convex not concave! Because that is the way our minds view faces!!! Even if we lose sight in patches our minds will flesh out the blind spots by taking information around them and making “sense” of them. Do our minds do the seeing and not our eyes!

When we approach death does our mind “see” things pre-ordained by a death mechanism? Do we enter a death realm or an infinite time-less state with a final thought or perception based on our beliefs? So – we are perhaps guided into final thoughts by some mechanism and in this we choose a state we have come to believe in through our life experiences. If we are Christian we may indeed see Jesus as a six-footer with long hair and a beard and enter through the Pearly-Gates into a Heaven where God IS and infuses us with light and love. Maybe another faith guides us into another limitless experience? How many thoughts/ideas can be held for infinity in those dying moments? Could fear and anxiety create a sense of Hell that actually thrusts us into perpetual and classical torment?! (Be careful what you wish for or think – especially at the point of death!!)
NDEs suggest that close to death (or what would once have BEEN death – before modern medicine) we become consciousness only and thus there is no light or matter. Then comes the “light”.

We “see” dead people on the television screen – acting as if they were alive – well they WERE alive! But these are mere reflections. Would these long dead folk retain any sense of who or what they are/were when plunged into timelessness? Maybe post death it is another existence where the body and mind is sharpened and it isn’t the end of the end? Thus – there isn’t infinity or timelessness at all. Just another form of experience before yet another “physical” stage – or the final end of (perceived) timelessness and infinity – SOME PARADOX! If people gain healthy bodies – superior to those on earth perhaps their minds are sharpened too? Can think things beyond our capabilities on this parochial earth…

If we were to go into a classical Heaven – where we are received with love and light and by our family members who have “passed-on” – how far would the interest of our spirit-ancestors go? How many generations back? Would we lose interest in the world we have left (given that we could maintain some sort of contact) – would we greet all our family members forever…or until the last generations before the Earth is vaporised? When would our forefathers’ interest wane in us, or our own interest in our sons’ sons’ sons’ wane? How far would those in Heaven go back? To the earliest humans? Would Heaven cope with the different strands of humanity? The different ideas of men? If the personality were to exist how much would it need to change to cope with being in Heaven? And if none of this is important in Heaven why has it been so important on Earth? Would all religions and philosophies and ideas and prejudices melt away on arrival in Heaven? Would it be Heaven for those
who hold strong beliefs to find their beliefs utterly at odds with existence in Heaven?!

There are said to be more people alive today than have ever lived! Thus more people will die now than at any other time. People living a multitude of different lives – often boring, frustrating, mundane lives – seemingly for no purpose…people dying in absolute (seeming) futility. People of all ages dying and passing into another existence. Who amongst us would cast the sinner into Hell? What would their sin need to be? How can we judge another – “let him with no sin cast the first stone”. But God (if existing) seems to have the power of judgement if Heaven and Hell do exist. SOMETHING would cast us one way or another. Perhaps only we – deep down – know the answer.

If we are “lucky” enough to enter Heaven (of course there is NO luck involved we hope) – then as we become sharpened in mind – bereft of prejudices; bereft of many things! Perhaps enlightened in many things – and as we think ourselves to places (in an instant thought!) time may become as time in our minds…not linear time but stream-of-consciousness time. Maybe if Heaven has got “time” then it is the time of our very own perceptions. Maybe Heaven (or Hell) itself might be our very own perception. How else would the diversity of thought within a myriad people co-exist in a state where personalities still exist? How long could a personality exist and remain connected to its earthly personality? Would infinity dilute personality out of existence?! And if our personalities change – then who, exactly, are “we”?

How close to SPIRIT is personality? What is spirit and where does it reside – how is it connected to “us”? So many folk talk about being “spiritual” but what do they mean? What does it mean to live a spiritual life and from where do they draw their ideas of spirituality?

Everyone who has had an NDE has been changed profoundly. Changed in a way that a dream or a hallucination can’t quite manage to change. Not everyone who has been “near death” has NDEs – or can recall them…why do some recall or have these experiences? Is their a mechanism we all have in our brains that works when the brain perceives imminent death – are our minds simply reacting to this process or driving it? When we enter Heaven or Hell are they of OUR making? Can time exist in another realm – could we exist in a time-less realm?

As I have – finally – been prompted to write a second part to this series (and believe me there have been many false starts! Mainly in my head…) – is there a REASON for me to do this? Is there a REASON for everything we do on this earth? Is there a REASON for our minds to think and our bodies to react or not. Is there ever an end to things? Well, with this question I’m ending this second part! There is so much more to think, to write, to explore – and no certainty of any answers. But the nature of our beings is to explore – isn’t it? And we explore physically and mentally – and spiritually? We certainly can’t remain indifferent to developments in science – especially when science uncovers an aspect of us that may prove to be TRULY enlightening!

Tim Bragg – February 2011

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