'openly exploring issues of life and meaning
through reason, philosophy, ethics, religion, science and the arts'

SOFiA e-Newsletter #3

From the President of SOFiA’s Management Committee, Dallas Elvery:

In my twenties, I came to appreciate the enormous change that people of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations had lived through. I came to marvel at how well they had coped. Change in almost every sphere of life. Constant changes that significantly altered expectations and life responses.

Back then, in my youthful naivety, little did I realise my generation was in for a similar onslaught. I will leave it to others to comment on how I am coping.

These are murky waters, these waters of change, that have swirled around us and our forebears for two centuries now. Into these rapids SOFiA has plunged headlong; "SOFiA is a network of Australians interested in openly exploring issues of life and meaning.”

Over our lifetimes the Postmodern era was born, flourished, and is now waiting to be eclipsed.

Large numbers of people born from the mid-1930s though to the late-1950s into the Western European cultures (including us) grew out of traditional practices and belief systems of mainstream religions and formed groups to search for another way of expressing spiritual and religious yearnings. A yearning to find meaning, that was not to be found in traditional religious practice. The first of these groups emerged in mid-twentieth century, and many continue today.

At the beginning of this year, perhaps with the worst of Covid-19 behind us, it may be good to ask how well we are travelling in that exploration. I feel that a worthwhile question to explore is whether there may be tools, structures and practices that may assist us in our exploring?

Fellow travellers, I look forward to your feedback.

If you have contributions for future e-newsletters – perhaps even reactions to some of the material in the current one – please send them to:
We’re also seeking original photos to feature, with some quirky quality
or interesting perspective that might give rise to reflection.

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What's happening?

A re-think on the 2021 SOFiA Conference
The SOFiA Management Committee had originally envisaged a one-day conference in Brisbane along the lines of previous years to be held on June 5, 2021 on the theme of the Uluru Statement From the Heart.

For a number of reasons we have changed tack on this: uncertainty about holding events in an era of COVID; loss of our former venue at the Art Gallery (formerly free for non-profit groups, now expensive fees required); advancing age and diminishing energy levels of some of our stalwart organisers; and some social and political confusion/lack of action on the topic of the Statement from the Heart. In terms of this topic, the Committee feels we may have ‘missed the boat’ for the time being. It will hopefully become more relevant once more when real (political) action does take place in the future.

In place of the original Conference plan, therefore, we would like to announce…

Truth-telling: a two-part exploration

  • Part 1: On Saturday June 19, 10am-12pm, we will hold our annual AGM online, beginning with a guest speaker discussing truth-telling about Indigenous experience and history.
  • Part 2: Over Monday to Thursday, October 18-23, we will engage in a sojourn to Queensland’s beautiful Bunya Mountains (approx. 3 hrs west of Brisbane). The Bunyas are a place of special significance for First Nations people from Queensland and northern NSW. We hope to organise input from the local Murri Rangers there and include a day trip to the Ration Shed Museum at Cherbourg. There will also be plenty of time for informal discussion, bushwalking on the rainforest tracks and appreciation of the abundant local flora and fauna.

At this stage we are seeking expressions of interest for this 3-night residential odyssey. We intend to firm up accommodation bookings in early August. Please let us know by email if you are a possible starter for this event. No commitment will be required until August at least.

A new home
After some 22 years, the very first established SOFiA group in Australia is moving. For all that time the Brookfield Group has met at The Old Friary, a spirituality centre run by the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane. A recap of the group’s history at the venue is available on our website. Current group coordinator Helen Mason advises that their new venue will be the meeting centre at St Thomas' Anglican Church, corner of Jephson & High Streets in Toowong, and the group will henceforth be known as the Brisbane West SOFiA Discussion Group. They’d be very happy to have you come along if ever you’re able, on the first Sunday of each month (excluding January) at 7.30pm.

March Brisbane event
The Brisbane CBD Group invites anyone interested to meet them at the GOMA exhibition Unfinished Business: The Art of Gordon Bennett (which features 200 artworks ranging from installation and sculptural assemblage to painting, drawing, video and ceramics) for a guided tour followed by discussion. 

Date: Sunday, March 21
Meet at GOMA at 10.30am
RSVP: Dallas Elvery (Ph. 0438 824 378) by March 14

Melbourne SOFiA Group
The Melbourne Group has monthly online lecture/discussions on Saturdays, 2.30pm to 4.30pm.

All welcome - please email David Miller for each month’s Zoom link.

Upcoming topics:
27 February  – “The Valentinian Gnostic Heresy” – David Miller
27 March – “Don Cupitt’s Non-Realist Philosophy” – Jakob Andrade.
24 April  – “Pharaoh Akhenaten: The First Monotheist?” – Jennifer Jaeger.
22 May  – “Tertullian’s Paradox: I believe because it is absurd” – Dr. Neville Buch.
26 June – “The Urge to Merge: Spirituality and Sexuality” – Dr. Paul Tonson.

The photo

'When tranquillity floats your boat' - a secluded pond at Maleny Botanic Gardens.
(Photo: G. Spearritt)

Latest blog posts

Woke folk
Educating about sexual pleasure
Deadly theology
Celebrating arrival
A Catholic president
Without a vision?
Do what you're told
Paranoia and prayer

Recent SOFiA articles

A clear, calm voiceDallas Elvery considers the profound personal experience of stress.
A visit to the Ration ShedGreg Spearritt reflects on what a whitefella of English descent can make of Cherbourg’s Ration Shed museum and the disturbing story it tells of Australia’s treatment of Indigenous people.
Enlivening beliefDallas asks whether the reading of a poem at the Biden presidential inauguration might illustrate another way to engage with the exploration of meaning.

In the news

A few recent items from Religion News Australia - a roundup of
the latest mainstream news articles relating to religion.
Why Joe Biden’s stance on abortion has some Catholic leaders refusing to accept him (ABC News)
Feb 11 – Not since John F Kennedy’s presidency in the early 1960s has a Catholic politician been elected to the USA’s highest office.

How should we address Charles Darwin’s complicated legacy? (The Guardian, Australia)
Feb 14 – (Opinion: Adam Rutherford) The Descent of Man, 150 years old this month, is a work of humanist brilliance – yet its errors, particularly on gender, now make for uncomfortable reading

Muslim women on breaking down misconceptions and why wearing a hijab is empowering (ABC News)
Feb 6 – Sara Awamleh says wearing a hijab makes her feel empowered.

Conversion bill debate reveals Church’s hypocrisy (Sydney Morning Herald)
Feb 2 – (Opinion: Daniel Comensoli) I feel uncomfortable writing this; and wondered whether it was even worth it.

‘Bad theology kills’: Senior cleric returns honour over Margaret Court decision (The Age, Melbourne)
Jan 27 – A church leader says Margaret Court’s “bad theology” is his reason for joining the growing list of Order of Australia members who are returning their awards in protest against her elevation to the country’s highest civilian honour.

Presbyterian church head says Victorian ban on gay conversion practices should be ignored (The Guardian, Australia)  
Feb 19 - The head of the Presbyterian church in Australia says its pastors will not be directed to obey the Victorian government’s new law banning gay conversion practices, calling the bill “a declaration of war on scripture”.

‘It’s a difficult culture to break’: Sydney private schools respond to sexual assault claims (Sydney Morning Herald)  
Feb 21 - The principal of a Sydney private school believes an outpouring of testimonies about sexual assault experienced by former schoolgirls will become a powerful learning device for male and female students to understand the gravity of the issue.

Salient science

Effects on development of physical discipline and cognitive deprivation
A U.S. study reports that in a diverse, cross-national sample of youth, physical discipline and cognitive deprivation had distinct associations with specific domains of developmental delay. [Another factor, perhaps, in the level of dysfunction seen in some Indigenous communities, given the history of severe discipline and neglect of children in Australia’s 20th-century Aboriginal reserve system? – Ed.] (Photo by
The New York Public Library on Unsplash)
Study explores neurocognitive basis of bias against people who look different
A new brain-and-behaviour study clarifies how the 'anomalous-is-bad' stereotype manifests, and implicates a brain region called the amygdala as one of the likely mediators of this stereotype. (Photo by
Nathan Anderson on Unsplash)

On the origin of our species
New research suggests that genetic and fossil records will not reveal a single point where modern humans originated. (Photo: G. Spearritt)

Young and restless, old and focused: Age-differences in mind-wandering
Research suggests that adults can be more focused, less impeded by anxiety and less mentally restless than younger adults, providing new insight into the influence of the natural ageing process on mind-wandering. (Photo by
Todd Cravens on Unsplash)

Other articles of note

Hunter Dukes ‘Postures of Transport Sex, God, and Rocking Chairs’ – What if chairs had the ability to shift our state of consciousness, transporting the imagination into distant landscapes and ecstatic experiences, both religious and erotic? (Photo by Jennifer Chen on Unsplash)
Paul Inglis ‘Notes on the Nicene Creed’ – A recap of how the creed developed and how Christology was taken to the next step by later Church councils. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Alan Jacobs ‘From Tech Critique to Ways of Living’ – Is the world enslaved to technology? Where can we find inspiration to respond? (Photo by Tim Käbel on Unsplash)
Michael Sims ‘Darwin’s Dim View of the Second Sex’ – Despite encounters with women of high intelligence and accomplishment – women like Harriet Martineau – Darwin comprehensively dismissed women’s intellectual potential. (Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash)
Gordon Marino ‘The Pascal of the North: Philosopher of the Heart’ – Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), a hybrid poet, theologian, and philosopher, widely regarded as the Ur-existentialist, argued that there is no riskier strategy in life than being risk-averse. (Photo: Wikipedia)
Jason Castro ‘How the Brain Responds to Beauty’ – Scientists search for the neural basis of an enigmatic experience. (Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash)


Film & TV

Greg Spearritt reviews Promising Young Woman, a #metoo era film encompassing themes of love, misogyny and revenge.
Marie Cameron reviews the movie The Dry, a thriller about sinister events in a small Australian town.
John Carr recommends ‘Life on the Edge’, the latest of Louis Theroux’s programs on those ‘Weird’ Americans.


In the bookshop

Marie Cameron reviews Jacqueline Kent’s 2020 biography of Vida Goldstein, an Australian who advocated for women’s rights at the start of the 20th century.
Greg Spearritt considers Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2020 novel City of Girls, a story of a small-town girl finding her ‘people’ and herself, including her sexuality, in the boisterous world of New York’s theatrical scene.

The crossword

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