Loving life as a Pantheist

In the third installment of his four-part series, Paul Harrison explains Pantheism's "vibrant affirm

One of Pantheism’s greatest attractions to me is its vibrant affirmation of our bodily life. Many of the world’s religions tend to view the main priority as the peace or eternal fate of the soul. Life in a physical body, on this physical Earth, is seen as merely a prelude and gateway to Nirvana or Paradise. A best the body is seen as a distraction, at worst as a temptation and a torment.

There are other paths that endorse very positive attitudes to living, such as Western Zen Buddhism or the Creation Spirituality of Matthew Fox. But I much prefer Pantheism, because it doesn’t encumber me with the terminology or metaphysics of traditional religions. I don’t have to worry about squaring my beliefs with Christology or the Tripitaka.

Pantheism is probably the only spirituality that fully embraces and celebrates our physicality. The body is not God’s temple - it is your own temple, in and through which you celebrate life, Nature and the Universe. This is a religion for anyone actively concerned about their mental and physical health and fitness. It encourages careful thought about diet and exercise – because the spirit is the body and nothing else, exercise becomes a spiritual activity. Since food is one of the most meaningful ways in which we interact with Nature and each other, eating becomes a way of communion.

Pantheism bears not a trace of the Christian guilt about sex, but instead offers a powerful endorsement of this most natural of acts and most transporting of Nature’s gifts. There is no condemnation of any particular gender or sex preference, but a joyful acceptance of any non-harmful options. There is no veto on mind-altering substances – it’s a personal choice.

Pantheism is a religion for all who live primarily in the present rather than in the past, the future, or the imaginary. It’s a religion of exuberance for surfers, rafters, sailors, divers, climbers, skiers, sky-divers – for anyone who gets their kicks from fitting their muscles and minds to the dynamics of waves, whitewater, snow, air, rock. It’s a religion for naturalists, one that encourages patient attention to the detail of nature: the shapes and colours of bark and rock, the cadence of birdsong or of ocean waves.

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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.