Anger Touches Death


My nephew, Drew, committed suicide on December 15.

The pastor at his memorial (which happened yesterday) said this: “People who commit suicide think that they are putting an end to their pain. This is not true. They are simply passing that pain onto everyone they leave behind.”

Bingo.

Drew’s suicide touches everyone differently, and we all cycle through the typical stages of grief.

For me, there’s been a lot of anger, self-loathing, self-disgust and discontent. A clinician would, without doubt, say that the stage of depression has been reached. I, on the other hand, do not subscribe to the pathologization of the natural descent cycle — but I do see that a descent has occurred and I’m endeavoring to embrace it for all it’s worth.

The Buddha would say that this mess of reactivity is due to excessive identification with the body, and he would be correct.

I am still in the body, and unless I consciously attain “Right View,” I definitely identify my body as “me.”

The body is not only physical, but it is mental and emotional as well.

The emotions are what assail me now.

So, I turn to a pair of companions who bring comfort through thick and thin: astrology and the Bible.

What does astrology say?

Astrology says that transiting Mars, the Warrior, planet of anger and physical vitality, has been moving directly over Pluto, the Dark Mother, planet of death and transformation, in my natal chart.

Mars and Pluto happen to be ruling planets in my chart. This means that, whenever they are “lit up” by mutual connection, I am thrust into processes that go directly to the “core issues” in my life.

Astrology says that Mars conjoining Pluto guarantees at least a month’s worth of physical, mental and (especially) emotional INTENSITY — which, of course, exceeds the boundaries of rationality, descending my emotions into the deepest, darkest recesses of existence.

My experience of what Astrology says includes the above-mentioned anger, self-loathing, self-disgust and discontent. I’m sure there are other things going on in my chart (i.e., Jupiter squaring Nodes and Saturn in the 7th, Uranus opposing Moon, and Pluto continuing to square Moon) that contribute to the seeming bottomlessness of the descent I’m in… but, for whatever reason, I can’t seem to find the lower floor, and I’m getting a little desperate.

What does the Bible say?

Here’s where I was led:

Eph 4:29-32 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

So… the remedy for my corrupt communication, my grieving of the Spirit of God, my bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil speaking and malice… is to forgive those who are on the receiving end of my projections, and to show tenderhearted kindness toward them — no matter how difficult it may be for me to get there from here.

Whew! Tall order!

And, yet… the forgiveness piece is something that’s worked wonders in my past… because, only through forgiving others am I able to receive forgiveness for my own loathsomeness.

Yes, I am inundated by explosive emotion right now.

I feel terrible about my reactivity and my frantic corruption of communication. I feel awful about ALL my shortcomings, the totality of which seems so obvious and exposed.

In this place, I can’t seem to get over the shortcomings I see in others — I want to blame them for the pain and suffering within me.

So… I forgive everyone who has ever “wronged” me — just as I forgive Drew for killing himself.

And… I pray that my own wrong-doing toward others is forgiven in kind.

* * *

Somewhere in all this grieving, there is a bottom floor.

May my feet touch down in that place as soon as possible.

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How to Pray

Prayer
The great Walter Lanyon winnows the wheat from the chaff:

In an amusing article which appeared in the London Express, George Bernard Shaw says: “Lots of people pray for me; and I have never been any worse for it. The only valid argument against the practice is the Glassite one that God knows his own business without any prompting.”

Is prayer, then, a futile thing? Certainly anyone who acknowledges the fact that there is a God will likewise grant Him the intelligence to run His universe without any prompting, and also will allow that it is reasonable to believe that no amount of begging or beseeching is going to make him alter His plans.

Yet we are admonished to “pray without ceasing,” but we are also told how to pray and how not to pray. “Be not like the heathen with vain repetitions.” Words will not accomplish anything. Prayer must be something deeper and finer than telling God what He is and what He should do. Prayer is a conscious recognition of the eternality of good, here and now.

Any prayer that beseeches and begs God to do a thing is an open acknowledgment that the Creator has forgotten or overlooked something that is very necessary of accomplishment. The more we beg God to be good, the more we show forth our ignorance of His eternal nature.

Jesus prayed the unceasing prayer of the isness of the kingdom when He said, “It is done,” before the sense-man could see that any change had taken place. Again He said, “Thank You, Father,” indicating that He knew the finished works already existed.

We are told to “enter the closet and close the door.” Turn from the appearances of things and close the door of the senses. When we close the door of the senses, we shut off the testimony of the senses. We do not do this by effort, but by the contemplation of the isness of God and His universe, and so completely fix our attention on Him that the door to the senses is closed without effort or struggle.

“Whatsoever things you desire when you pray, believe [be firm] that you receive [present tense] them and you shall have them.” “Desire is not something to be worked for, but is the thing in its incipiency pressing towards us for expression.” Again we see the acknowledgment of the finished thing which is given to us before we ask, and while we are yet speaking. This would all be impossible if the thing or desire did not already exist in the kingdom of the Real. How could you believe that you receive a thing if it did not already exist?

No man who prays the prayer of acknowledgment will look for a sign. Remember that the “signs follow,” not precede. Looking for results only indicates a state of doubt and fear, and has nothing to do with the real consciousness, which is yours for the acceptance.

“Arise and shine” indicates that you can do both of these things and that you can glorify God for ever and ever, when you realize that glorifying Him is simply acknowledging His perfect universe here and now. “Stand fast,” then, girt about with the armour of right-mindedness with the two-edged sword turning in all directions, upon which is inscribed, “It is done.” “It is done.” What matter though the whole circumstance world offer testimony to the contrary? The storm may sweep over your house and rage without the portals of your universe, but you are founded on the rock and shall not be moved and the storm will soon spend its fury. Its fury will only last so long as it finds anything in you which accepts fury without.

Praying without ceasing is a present possibility. It is an open acknowledgment that “all is well” because God can and does run His universe without help or aid, or even suggestion. The great use of prayer is that it brings us into line with the facts of Being. We get into the universal rhythm and are carried on into our expression of peace and joy. The song of freedom is on our lips, the song of the Giver. The Giver gives without thought of return. He pours out His joy on all mankind. He does not seek to change anything, but His coming brings out hidden beauties, as the sunlight shows forth the glories of a new day — and lo! all is changed.

When man comes to recognize in prayer an opportunity of allying himself with God, he understands how “all things are possible with God,” and if possible with God, possible also to the expression of God.

Not the words uttered but the motive back of them will determine the result. He who prays constantly for self will have few, if any, of his prayers answered. Self-seeking is unnecessary when man takes his place in the universe of all good. He becomes a steward, a distributor of the gifts to all mankind.

“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” the Master asked. Why waste more time trying to piece together past conditions and failures? “Come out from among them and be separate.” Why fondle the cocoon which has given up its butterfly or the shell which has been left behind the flown bird. “Come out from among them.” Go forth into your new universe, resplendent and joyous, for you are the son of a King.

“Let us pray,” used to be a very somber and doleful thing, despite the fact that we read, “The people of God are a people of joy.” Even Jesus came “that your joy might be full.” This all seems to indicate that prayer should be a joyful acknowledgment of good and not a mournful beseeching and begging.

“Arise and shine.” Approach the Throne of Grace with the smile of freedom; the acknowledgment that God runs His universe perfectly and that you, the son, are merely taking up your place in the “body of Christ Jesus.”

If you are praying for things, remember the admonition, “Consider the lilies and the ravens.” All the effort to make God see how poor you are and how needy your case is will not alter the fact that you have a lesson to learn from the lilies and the ravens who “let” things come into expression and do not constantly worry and storm about the lack of them. How effortlessly the lilies grow and reach perfection and come season after season in all their glory, in all their freshness and beauty.

“He gives His beloved rest” — rest from the hard struggle you have made to get things. A glorious light suddenly surrounds you and shuts out everything. You are wrapped in adoration in the presence of the all good, and you are ready to hear and to understand: “My grace is sufficient for you.” Sufficient is enough. Why worry about signs? Why worry about things? Why worry about circumstances? “My grace is sufficient for you.” That is enough. Claim your “sufficiency in all things” and rest, and you shall see that though heaven and earth shall pass away the Word shall remain. You are that word, which was “let” into expression.

In a recent play the question was asked, “Who made the devil?” The answer was “God,” bringing out the natural deduction that if God made the devil, then God must be using him for His own ends.

“Awake thou that sleepeth.” Reclaim your lost Garden of Eden and dwell there in peace. “Ye shall be in league with the stones of the field,” even as Job has said — one in all and all in one — God in everything and everything in God and the blessed rest that comes from knowing consciously: “My grace is sufficient for thee.”

“He giveth his beloved rest.” You are the Beloved of God.

Not how I was taught growing up… but much more in alignment with my sense of how it should be done… which is something along the lines of becoming completely absorbed in the Spirit, surrendered, abandoned and given over… as in true communion.

Old Time Religion


Per Jonathan Ott:

“Shamanic ecstasy is the real “Old Time Religion,” of which modern churches are but pallid evocations. Shamanic, visionary ecstasy, the mysterium tremendum, the unio mystica, the eternally delightful experience of the universe as energy, is a sine qua non of religion, it is what religion is for! There is no need for faith, it is the ecstatic experience itself that gives one faith in the intrinsic unity and integrity of the universe, in ourselves as integral parts of the whole; that reveals to us the sublime majesty of our universe, and the fluctuant, scintillant, alchemical miracle that is quotidian consciousness. Any religion that requires faith and gives none, that defends against religious experiences, that promulgates the bizarre superstition that humankind is in some way separate, divorced from the rest of creation, that heals not the gaping wound between Body and Soul, but would tear them asunder… is no religion at all!”

I’ve been going back to my own spiritual roots these past several months, from which I escaped some 26 years ago and have dutifully avoided ever since. When I haven’t been avoiding it, I’ve been criticizing it, as though it has nothing to do with who I’ve become at age 45.

I’m talking about Christianity, of course… and specifically, the form of Protestant Christianity associated with evangelicalism, fundamentalism, fire and brimstone.

My father is a Presbyterian minister (who, thankfully, has migrated away from his Pentecostal roots into the far left wing of his denomination’s contribution to “Liberation Theology“). His father was a Pentecostal tent preacher who went on to found a large Full Gospel Tabernacle in Fresno, CA. My father’s father and uncle were also preachers. So, you can immediately understand why I had to rebel in a big way in order to put distance between myself and my family heritage.

[UPDATE: My father just emailed with a clarification on the above paragraph. I’ll just paste what he wrote here:

Full Gospel Tabernacle had been in existence for some years before my dad got there as pastor in about 1941. It was an old barn of a building with open rafters and hard seats, individually attached to the floor, kind of like a theater, but with no cushions. We tore it down and built a new building on the same spot in the early 50’s. Then, in 52 or 53, dad left with about 50 others to found Peoples Church, meeting in rented halls until we could buy land at Cedar and Dakota Streets where the first buildings were erected, mostly with volunteer labor.

Thanks, Dad!]

What I’m finding, some nine months after my mother’s death, is that you cannot ever get away from your family heritage.

For all my Buddhist meditation, my Hindu cosmology and my Sufi-inspired devotional ecstasy… I cannot help but be drawn back to my true spiritual roots, the fertile ground from which my experience of the Sacred sprouted.

Using some of the modest amount of money my momma left me, I’ve been buying up all sorts of Bibles, as well as evangelical “Bible helps” like concordances, word study dictionaries, interlinear Bibles, commentaries, sermons, systematic theologies, topical Bibles, Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias, Bible software, hermeneutic texts, Biblical criticism texts. I’ve read through the Bible from Genesis to Revelations twice in the last year, having never so much as read a single chapter beforehand.

Truth is, I am embarrassed to be seen with any of this material. I do all my studying at home, usually in conjunction with my still-rigorous daily meditation practice (three hours a day, as well as into the night when I manage to remain lucid in the sleep state). When a new book shows up in the p.o. box, I quickly slip it into my backpack and wait until the bus takes me home before I bust it out for a look. After spending the first 19 years of my life being forced to attend church, usually three times a week (Sunday morning and evening, Tuesday choir practice, Wednesday Bible study… which was more like a bull session amongst serious stoners), I’ve prided myself on being anything but a Christian. As I frequently say, the only times I’ve set foot in a church since 1982 have been for weddings and funerals — and I’m not the only one, because most of the weddings have been held outside the church, and funerals are usually done at the funeral home. When I got into Eastern studies, as well as astrology, Tarot and other oracular symbol systems, I proudly rode the bus with a Baghavad Gita or Dhammapadha held high in front of my face. I’ve felt no compunction against gently opening an English translation of the Qur’an at my favorite coffee shops.

But the Bible? No way.

Winding our way back to the point of our post — Shamanism — let me say that it is the issue of ecstasy that drives my current investigation into evangelical Christianity.

Like Jonathan Ott above, I’m finding that, outside self-described “charismatic” churches from within and without the Pentecostal fold, there is not a lot of institutional support for the cultivation of religious ecstasy. The church within which I was raised, Calvary Presbyterian Church in Fresno (which, I believe, no longer exists), was known for its silent congregation — no clapping or shouting, just polite recitals of well-worn hymns, combined with certain Scripture readings weaved into the liturgy — and even as a young child I would ask my father why there was no “experiential component” to our religious routine. He would just laugh and ruffle my hair.

Later, I would find that monastics from the Orthodox and Catholic traditions have left us a body of ecstatic writings, and from these I have been able to find a measure of validation for the “charismatic gifts” that have arisen from my meditation practice. The Christian Mystics would often equate the Holy Spirit with Sophia, or the Divine Feminine, and they would have to hide Her presence between the lines of their writings in order not to end up burning at the stake — but She is there, undaunted, performing her work of spiritual awakening within her lovers.

What about the Bible, which purports to be the inspired Word of God for Christians down through the centuries? Did Paul and the other early Christians have to hide the Spirit between the lines?

Have you ever seriously read the Bible? I’m talking about just plopping it open and beginning to read, day after day, until you reach the last page and immediately start over again at the beginning. I’m not talking about reading the Bible out of a fear of everlasting damnation in Hell, but rather as an act of spiritual thirst. Have you had this experience?

My reason for asking is, I am curious as to whether or not I am the only one to discover in the Word an actual living, energized, intelligent, transformative Presence that has a gradual building-up effect within the earnest reader. One may even say that diligent exposure to the Word is availing of true healing, from the inside out.

Am I the only one?

Maybe so — but I think not.

Let me just say that, when you read the four Gospels, Acts, Romans and the other early-church letters, you cannot help but be impressed by the Presence of Spirit. You cannot help but marvel at the life those early Christians led, totally surrendered and dependent on Spirit, to the point of giving up all worldly connections in order to answer a higher Calling. You cannot help but pine after that sort of fervency, tied as it was to intimate connection with Spirit that moved the early Christians well past faith into the realm of undeniable Truth.

The Shaman pictured above understands this connection with Spirit, this higher Calling.

I do believe that this Calling is available to us today, should we ever manage to distance ourselves from worldly concerns long enough for Spirit to integrate into us.

We may, unfortunately, also need to distance ourselves from the mainstream expressions of our chosen religious institutions, as the ecstatic has been all but banished from their current expressions.

In the absence of institutional support, we may need to make do with our individual contemplative practice, combined with immersion in the Word (i.e., Divinity written down, made available for those who are ready to receive), until Spirit deems us ready to assume our Calling.

God willing, new institutions will arise that recognize the religious centrality of the ecstatic.

Perhaps one has already begun to spring up… who knows?

God Has Names

Most modern Bible translations just use Lord, God, or Lord God… but did you know that the original Hebrew has all sorts of Old Testament names for that which cannot be named?

Here’s a list:

I’m working with the Jehovah (should be “Yahweh”) Rapha name at the moment. Here’s more on that one.

I wish all translations would just give us the original names, but you know they’re trying to enforce the “One God in Three Beings” concept, so they whittle it down and give us the whitewash treatment.

One translation that comes through, however, is the New Jerusalem Bible, which is the official Catholic English version in Europe.

Guess which version just leaped to the top of my reading list.

UPDATE:  Here’s another list, this one including Greek names from the New Testament.

About Those Commandments….

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Makes you think!

Moses was high on drugs: Israeli researcher

High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the “burning bush,” suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

“The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon,” he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to “see music.”

He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest in 1991. “I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations,” Shanon said.

He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

You know, I must not have been there the day in Sunday School when they talked about this….


True Prayer

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I’ve not been real big on prayer during this lifetime.

It always felt either like: 1) talking to myself in my head while pretending an invisible God or Person was listening to me, a minuscule human being amongst 5 billion others on this tiny third stone from this tiny star on the far edge of a small galaxy in a universe filled with countless super-galaxies; or 2) talking out loud in a roomful of people, reciting memorized formulas that, no matter how hard I try, never feel like they’re coming from the heart — mine or theirs.

On the other hand, I’ve always thought that there’s something to prayer, if by “prayer” we mean “communion” with the Infinite. In this sense, meditation can be prayer. Singing can be prayer. Nature walks, art, poetry, love-making, dish-washing — it can all be thought of as prayer.

The Orthodox tradition, with its Jesus Prayer as an all-day meditation or mindfulness exercise, has always intrigued me. So, I was not surprised to stumble upon an exposition on prayer from the Orthodox perspective — a perspective that resonates in me, a lowly ecstatic contemplative whose hunger for God diminishes not:

There is a story told in the Gerontikon, the sayings of the desert Fathers, about a visitor who goes to see three monks. And they talked all the afternoon. Suddenly the visitor realizes that the sun has set. “It is time for vespers;” says the visitor, “it is time for us to pray together.” And the monks answered, “But we have been praying together all the last four hours.” Prayer, in their experience, was not just occasional but continual; not just one activity among others, but the activity of their entire lives. It was a dimension present in everything else that they did. St. Gregory of Nazianzos says, “Remember God more often than you breathe.” Prayer, ideally, should be as much part of us as our breathing.

Sometimes people talk about having a “prayer life,” but is that not an odd phrase? We do not have a distinct and separate breathing life; we breathe as we live. But how are we to attain prayer of this kind: all-embracing, ever-present, prayer of the total self?

That brings me to another question: What is prayer? Evagrios of Pontos says in a famous definition, “Prayer is communion of the intellect with God.” So Evagrios sees prayer as an activity of the intellect (nous). Nous, like pathos, is a word that is hard to translate into English.

Another writer of the fourth century, contemporary with Evagrios (in Syria rather than in Egypt), the author of the Spiritual Homilies attributed to Macarios, has a slightly different approach to prayer. “It may be,” he says, “that the saints sit in the theater and watch the delusion of this world, while with the inner self, all the time, they are speaking to God.” There we see, as in the story I told from the desert Fathers, that prayer aims to be continual; not so much something we do from time to time, but something that we are all the time.

Also, we see from the Spiritual Homilies of Macarios that prayer is something that goes on in the inner self (o eso anthropos). This is a biblical phrase, used for example, in Ephesians: “May God according to the riches of His glory, grant that you are strengthened with the power of the Holy Spirit in the inner self so that Christ dwells in your heart by faith” (3:16-17).

There we see that the inner self is associated with the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit. And also we see in Ephesians that the inner self is identified with the heart. So for Macarios, prayer is something that we offer with the inner self, that is, with the heart. Where Evagrios emphasizes the intellect, the Macarian Homilies emphasize the heart (cardia).

These two approaches are combined in a definition of prayer given by the nineteenth-century Russian writer St. Theophan the Recluse. “To pray,” he says, “is to stand before God with the intellect, in the heart, and to go on standing before Him day and night until the end of life.” So, prayer is something that goes on with the intellect in the heart, and it is continuous. St. Isaac the Syrian even says that the saints are praying while they are asleep. Sometimes when I am lecturing, I notice that members of my audience close their eyes. But then I think that perhaps they are saints, and though they are sleeping, they are also listening.

[…]

C. G. Jung, in his book Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recalls a conversation he had with an American Indian, one Ochwiay Biano. [Mr. Biano is also known by the English name “Mountain Lake.”] Ochwiay Biano said,

“How cruel the whites are: their lips are thin, their noses sharp, their faces furrowed and distorted by holes. Their eyes have a staring expression. They are always seeking something. What are they seeking? The whites always want something, they are always uneasy and restless. We do not know what they want, we do not understand them, we think that they are mad.” I asked him why he thought the whites were all mad. “They say they think with their heads,” he replied.

“Why, of course. What do you think with?” I asked him in surprise.

“We think here,” he said, indicating his heart.

Now, Ochwiay Biano is coming very much closer to what Scripture and much of the Patristic tradition meant by the heart.

[…]

Mark the Monk of the late fourth or early fifth century (also known as Mark the Hermit or Mark the Ascetic) gives a particular explication to this theology of the heart – a sacramental application. He says that through baptism, Christ and the Holy Spirit enter the innermost secret and uncontaminated chamber of the heart. By virtue of our baptism there is an inner chamber, a central shrine within us where grace dwells and where evil cannot reach. Mark believes that from our baptism there is a point or spark within us that belongs entirely to God, that is the pure glorious God in us. “By the good treasure of the heart,” says Mark, “Scripture means the Holy Spirit who is hidden in the heart of the faithful” – hidden through baptism.

So the aim of the spiritual life, according to Mark, is that we should become consciously aware of this secret presence of the baptismal Christ Who is already in our hearts, mystically. The Christian journey, for him, is a journey from baptismal grace, present secretly in the heart, to baptismal grace, experienced in the heart with full conscious awareness.

[…]

Where have I heard this before?

Oh, yes… in just about every contemplative tradition known to humanity, that’s where.

I know that, from the Traditionalist perspective, it is important to choose a Path and stick to it, so as to benefit from the religious Mystery embedded in that particular Path. I understand the wisdom in this perspective and want nothing other than to honor it.

At the same time, when I read the concluding paragraph in the collection of snips above, I am reminded that there really are many, many Paths leading to the same place.

We should celebrate this fact, rather than always seeking to convert everyone else to our particular perspective.

Truly Amazing

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Who would’ve imagined something like this?

 

Uproar as archbishop says sharia law inevitable in UK

The Archbishop of Canterbury drew criticism from across the political spectrum last night after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some aspects of it seemed “unavoidable”. Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England, said that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.

His comments, in a lecture on civil and religious law given at the Royal Courts of Justice, were swiftly rebutted by the prime minister’s spokesman, who insisted British law would be based on British values and that sharia law would be no justification for acting against national law.

“Our general position is that sharia law cannot be used as a justification for committing breaches of English law, nor should the principles of sharia law be included in a civil court for resolving contractual disputes. If there are specific instances, like stamp duty, where changes can be made in a way that’s consistent with British law … to accommodate the values of fundamental Muslims, that is something the government would look at.”

Williams was also criticised by the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, shadow minister for community cohesion and social action. “The comments may add to the confusion that already exists in our communities,” she said … “We must ensure people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law. Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices. But let’s be clear: all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through parliament and the courts.”

Sharia law sets out a broad code of conduct for all aspects of life, from diet, wearing of the hijab to marriage and divorce.

British courts do not recognise Islamic marriages performed in this country unless they are registered separately with the civil authorities. The result is that some Muslims think they are protected by family law when they are not, and others can think they are properly divorced, when they are still married. However, Britain recognises Islamic marriages and divorces conducted in Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Under Islamic law polygamy is condoned, allowing a man up to four wives and giving him the primary right to call for divorce. This means he can leave his first wife, refuse her a divorce and remarry, yet still consider himself living in accordance with his faith.

Some Muslim groups supported Williams’ views. The Ramadhan Foundation, an educational and welfare body, said the speech was “testament to his attempts to understand Islam and promote tolerance and respect between our great faiths”.

More than 800 people were in the Great Hall of the Royal Courts of Justice in London for last night’s speech, while another 200 poured into the overspill marquee.

Williams said introducing sharia law would mean Muslims would no longer have to choose between two systems.

“If what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of diverse and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable,” he said.

Earlier, in a BBC interview, the archbishop was more succinct. He said it was a “matter of fact” that sharia law was already practised in Britain. “We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land … There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some kinds of aspects of other religious law.”

He did not endorse, however, the “kind of inhumanity” that was associated with sharia law in some Islamic states.

Methinks that there is a fair amount of “misunderstanding” in this article’s presentation of sharia law, as my understanding is that women have a very clear path to divorce, and that the subject of polygamy in Islam is not as cut-and-dried as this article intimates (as is the case with Mormonism).  The Bible has all sorts of references to polygamy, and yet the practice is very limited in today’s Christian world — as is slavery.

The fact is, I think that the Archbishop is to be commended for saying something that, while he had to know it would bring down the wrath of orthodoxy, is nevertheless a common sense observation that honors and respects an entire people.

If a clergyman said this in America, the uproar would be deafening, and the messenger would be run out of town on a rail.

I’m stunned.