Sofia #81 - Lead editorial by Dinah Livingstone

Down To Us

This seemed a suitable title for our immediately post-Christmas issue.

It will be a short editorial because this issue includes the talk I gave to the Oxford SoF Group with the title ‘Down to Us’, which they asked to see in print.

When I was young, if someone wanted to tell me, ‘It’s your responsibility,’ they would say ‘It’s up to you.’ Later I heard people saying, ‘ It’s down to you’ also meaning ‘it’s your responsibility’. At first I thought this was London demotic but now I hear it everywhere and indeed, quite by chance, I open my paper today and see an advert about climate change saying: ‘Almost half of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions which cause climate change are actually down to us.’ (Incidentally, this can act as a trailer for the next July SoF Annual Conference, at which the speakers will be ecologist Jonathan Porritt, Stephanie Dowrick from Australia and Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, and whose title will be The Good Life?.) Today, to mean responsibility, people may say either ‘it’s up to you’ or ‘it’s down to you’, which can give rise to fascinating linguistic discussions.

This resonates with the many myths of descent and re-ascent, one of which is the Christ epic. In it there is the movement down and then up of Christ, the movement of one who was ‘in the form of God’ ‘emptying himself’ down to Earth, assuming humanity even in its lowest form, even in its most painful mortality – death on a cross – and then this humanity, represented by Christ, being highly exalted. We can read this non-supernaturally as the God whom we invented, we set in heaven, coming back down to Earth, emptying himself back down into humanity, and then this humanity aspiring back up to the ideals we set in God. There is no supernatural being up there to bail us out. The point is that both the down to us and the up to us mean it’s our responsibility.

In the opening article of this issue Kit Widdows considers how it might ease the problems in the so-called Holy Land, if the three stories of those involved, the Jewish, the Muslim and the Christian, were acknowledged to be human creations rather than divine revelations – that is, up to us, down to us. Next, we have a new science writer, Amanda Nicholson, from University College London, writing about the brain and religious experience, a field called ‘neurotheology’.

There is just room to say I’d like once again to thank last year’s Chair, Alison McRobb, for continuing to be an assiduous proof reader of the magazine, as well as a valuable resort to discuss wider issues. Finally, as requested, we print on page 9 the tune of ‘The Larger View’ sung at last year’s Conference, by kind permission of the arranger, David Dawson.

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