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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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