My memoir To and From God has much to say about my life as a student, geography teacher and outdoor educator. For those who think they know me well there will be some surprises.
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Extract from Ch. 11
Not long after dawn on the third morning of our adventure, we stood on the East Peak of the mountain, under the clear blue sky, gazing down on a foaming sea of fog that hid the upper Logan Valleys. It was a startling experience. How strange that our eyes had to adjust to the glare caused by the sunlight reflecting from the endless white cloudscape below. That is what I remember most: that incredible whiteness, and the equally brilliant smiles on the faces of the seven Mount Gravatt High School students. Only Mount Barney’s East Peak, where we stood, the pinnacles of the North and West Peaks, and the turret of nearby Mount Lindesay poked up as islands through the expansive cloud. I drew in a breath, feeling as if we were breathing the cleanest, purest, most sparkling air in the world. We found ourselves in a heaven without cathedral spires, altars, crucifixes, or pearly gates. It was simply a glorious, unscathed, natural world resting above the clouds, and the isolation made it appear as though we were the only creatures left on the Earth, as if we had witnessed the Great Flood and everything and everyone else had been swallowed up by a tide of radiation fog. We were the chosen few, the mountain our treasured Ark.
Extract from Chapter 13
Spinoza’s teachings still inspire me. His two major publications were Principles of Philosophy, and Ethics—the latter published after his death. He likened God to the essence of nature, to the universal substance around us, and he did not accept the idea of God in a human form. He saw God as a presence rather than as a “being.” Thought, ideas, and knowledge were included within Spinoza’s natural reality. According to Spinoza, everything is linked and happens of necessity. Humans have no free will, yet they mistakenly think they are free. Spinoza formulated his philosophy without the benefit of modern science. At the time, astronomy was a fledgling field, and Galileo had been silenced by the Roman Catholic Church. Darwin’s theory of evolution was still two centuries away. In the 1990s, when I began to read more widely in philosophy, I recognised the concordance between Spinoza’s teaching—the concept of God being a presence in nature, and of both the intimacy and universality of God—and my own strengthening environmentalism.
At the time, Spinoza’s style of pantheism gelled with the message in Honest to God: that we need not see God as anthropomorphic, but rather as the life force that lives in us and around us. The serenity of beautiful scenery, of magnificent forests and spectacular deserts, of rainbows and northern lights, the glistening of dewdrops and the fluttering of butterflies—these could be acknowledged as God’s poetry of landscape. Seeing my religion as less anthropomorphic and encompassing and valuing the whole of biological life, including the processes of natural selection and evolution, and thus accepting the incredible length of time involved in the Earth’s history and geological eras, allowed me to resuscitate my failing Christian faith. Evolution could be viewed as God’s tool for unfolding creation. I did not need to go to Church and align with a worshipping community to sustain that thought. Much about the exploitation and bigotry of organised religion had turned Dorothy and me away from wanting to be involved.