A spirituality to suit the times

Paul Harrison wraps up his four-part series by explaining the complementary relationship between Pan

One of the strongest attractions of Pantheism for me is that it seems perfectly attuned for our times. We are living in world where scripture-driven fundamentalists from the three Western monotheisms are threatening international security and peace. A world where human neglect of nature and the environment has reached the point where it threatens all our livelihoods and lives.

What we need at this time is a spirituality of Nature and environment. This current is growing in all religions, as they re-interpret their core writings in line with the needs of our crisis. But Pantheism, from square one, places Nature at their very centre.

We need a spirituality that is not afraid of science, that doesn’t seek to deny science, nor to gradually withdraw into a hidden corner of untestable claims that can’t be investigated. Pantheism is possibly the only spiritual path that fully embraces science and the scientific method (that doesn’t mean we embrace all the technological products of science). It’s also possibly the only path that is utterly at home in space, in the Universe revealed by the Hubble telescope.

There’s no doubt that the numbers of self-described Pantheists is growing – we recently counted more than 10,000 separate members on WPM and related email lists. There’s also a vast number of “Pantheists who don’t know it yet” - people who don’t believe in supernatural beings but who do revere Nature.

The prospects for Pantheism as an organized religion are less certain. The World Pantheist Movement has made the strongest shot at it so far, but it is not easy to encourage people to form local groups. One reason is that Pantheists are non-conformist by nature, and many have been turned off all organized religion by bad experiences with traditional religions. Pantheists also tend to be secure in their beliefs – we believe in what’s in front of our eyes, and we don’t need the confirmation of group gatherings to reassure us that our beliefs are not crazy. Nor does our “salvation” or peace of mind depend on recruiting others to our beliefs.

If you simply revere Nature and the wider Universe, then there is no one correct way: ceremony is a matter of personal expressions and taste. So Pantheists vary widely in their interest in ceremony, and differ over what to do when they do meet. In a large survey, we found that 14% of Pantheists dislike ceremony and avoid it. At the other extreme 15% enjoy rituals such as dressing up, group chanting, or symbolic “props.” The rest of us are somewhere in the middle, not uncomfortable with group meditation or using natural objects for contemplation.

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Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war