Saturday, 30 October 2010

A Biographical Response

I have both empathy and sympathy regarding Colin Coward's entry on Thursday to the Changing Attitude blog.

There is another kind of 'coming out' there, one that many of his colleagues could make but do not. It is a reference back to the days of 'South Bank' religion, and the days of the Christian agnostic who nevertheless felt called to ordained ministry, either in one go or step by step.

I felt it more or less in one go, unlike Colin, but like him I wasn't well able to explain it. I sort of explained it in terms of we often have vocations that seem to 'fit', like someone might be a nurse or a teacher. I thought of myself as some sort of chaplain in combining the intellectual and pastoral, and I'd seen how it was done before I had 'belief' but becoming interested. At Essex for a few months I was a sort of agnostic hanger-on.

At the same time, I needed some sort of way in, and that published South Bank religion was a first step. Trouble is, I fell out with it and what it used, including Paul Tillich's Christian answers that seemed to parallel but not be existentialism. Tillich wasn't providing questions, but systematic answers and I didn't share them. I fell in with the Sea of Faith mob and much of Don Cupitt's approach.

When I found the Unitarians, and tried ministry training there, I didn't fit in with the small time chapel culture that still existed, particularly in the north. That generation is dying away, but then so is a lot of what they have throttled. There are signs of improvement here and there.

The Anglicans arguably have a greater range of spiritual resources, but in having another go at them I soon was headbanging against the dogma, the doctrinal promises and doublespeak. Yes, as a lay person I could be as rubbery and vague as the next person, but that is an insufficient test. I also found the wider institution morally dubious to say the least. It is highlighted by the treatment of minorities; the present Archbishop of Canterbury epitomises the priority of bureaucracy and doublespeak over people, and he will willingly sacrifice other people in order to introduce an ethically distorted worldwide Anglican bureaucracy. That's why, from the moment the Covenant was mentioned, I was against it, even if anyway I oppose all sorts of doctrinal restrictions.

Like Colin, the Thirty-nine Articles are archaic, and I have never bothered with any of them. I do little more with the creeds: how can anyone say, 'He was born of a virgin,' for example? The Bible is something I take or leave, as it has to be read critically. I simply cannot make it normative and won't and never did. I don't want its cultures imposed on mine: let's be critical about both ends - then and now. In any case, there are no boundaries about scriptures. The Bhagavad Gita can be as inspiring, as in what would you do when in a condition of civil war and there are ethical decisions to make. It is open to criticism too. So it the Qur'an, in construction and content. And how the Buddha's messages were passed on, if we have them securely.

In the early days I was fairly Jesucentric, in terms of a lived life and human model. But now I apply history to him as to anyone, and a lot of it is actually about a community and a reflection even imposition of viewpoints, into texts, all framed with expectations and beliefs that are simply outside our sociology of knowledge. It only comes down to ethics again, and we don't know enough about his moral condition through his life. His decisions are as ambiguous as ours, if we know them.

I take the view that religious words are hand-me-downs, mainly for spiritual effect. So liturgies are bound to say things with past words you don't actually believe. Instead of trying to reinterpret live, I just let them pass by. But in the end they became less like water and more like sand. The content is so dogmatic it shouts out the poetic. More and more Common Worship hymns became objectionable.

If anything, I give slightly more to transcendence, that something in the silence, or that relates to great art, or just reflection. It must in some way be related to our consciousness, about which there is depth and mystery, but about which we do seem to be brain dependent.

So much actual life is drudge and grasping: I have more time for Buddhist samsara than Christian sin. Our bodies are imperfect and decay. For me, death is a release but we ought to live out what we have got, what we can experience. I do think the world is real and learning is important. But we see everything in dementia, that reduces the inner sphere of the world, and kills before death.

Of course for someone like Colin, sexuality is a clash with his institutional religion. For me, sexuality is more a frustration and just a hard luck story. I managed to achieve a relationship, and it fell apart into a kind of distant friendliness thanks to events, and there is as much value in friendship probably but a relationship would be rewarding. But if you're crap at something, or you don't have money in your wallet, things like relationships don't happen - for a lot of relationships are also conveniences and imbalances that change.

For me, the LGBT people issue is a simple one of a categorised people being a scapegoat for maintaining a religious bureaucracy, and that there is nothing for it but the simple human approach of including and not excluding, regardless of what the Bible or any other document might say in what context or other. Such people get categorised, but all people can love, do love and express love, and we all seek relationships and places where we express them. Sex is an exchange as well as a means to procreate, so people in love exchange. Big deal and grow up. Again, on this the Archbishop is a disgrace.

A constant criticism of Unitarianism is that it is thin religion. And indeed it is. It is very difficult - though I have a go - at pumping some symbolism into it and making a means to spirituality. In the end, you have to make of it what you can. But I see such artificiality in liberal Anglo-Catholicism that I'm less bothered about thinness than I used to be. If an Anglo-Catholic is a contemporary person but not a liberal, in the sense of avoiding picking and choosing, then the package deal often looks very cracked and pinned together. They cannot escape the lack of fit, and the need for intense illusion to hold it together. The question always returns to a simple one as the ex-Anglo Catholic and late Unitarian Rev. Francis Simons said - "Why?" Why generate the edifice?

In the end, as the Western Buddhists have it, religion has to be fundamentally 'cool' - cool as in clear, thin, transparent. It needs to clean the mirror. Of course some Buddhists have wonderful constructions and some get very dogmatic about rebirth. But that's not the point. It is about shaking off the samsara, over time, if you can, and many of us cannot. So we also learn to live with it, as part of losing its grip.

The Anglican Church asks few people, clerical or lay, to leave. One bishop did with Anthony Freeman, because Freeman reinterpreted God in a liberal-postmodern manner, and a chap (whose name I forget) was forced out of Anglicanism in Ireland because he no longer gave a central place to Jesus.

In my own case, I realised I simply didn't tick the boxes, and in the end you do have to tick the boxes. Despite a tolerant local church one parish from where I used to live, I also know that present day Anglicanism requires more and more boxes to be ticked. It is becoming more sectarian as its 'successful' centres become more and more removed from ordinary realities.

I could have been an Anglican boundary stretcher, but it is just a losing wicket - and playing rounders while others play cricket doesn't work. Even if you join in, the rules are stacked against, and after all I am saying that I have a liberal-postmodern view of God and I do not give primacy to Jesus. Crumbs, I deny the very basis of the gathering group - I play rounders and they play cricket.

I now have a Unitarian narrative again, a sort of Martineau and F. W. Newman approach, of individualism and tipping over into postmodernity, and of all that the nineteenth century liberals discovered, so it is a kind of historical theology. Perhaps all theology is historical and biographical. Modern day conservative postmodernism that gives primacy to some given text or platonic institution on its own terms is just a form of freezing the water - and again why? Just to preserve something that is intellectually done for? Is it just (as Colin Coward understands) a form of tribalism, which is indeed a very powerful motivator. We are motivated by being in group and excluding the out of the group, by a sort of sociobiology, and it is why I dislike and still dislike the denominationalist Unitarian approach, that rejected by both Martineau and Newman.

I understand what Colin Coward means by his expression:

the God who encounters me and who I encounter in Jesus of Nazareth

But it is a language I have never been able to use, even at a stretch. I don't believe in phrases like 'What is God trying to say' or 'It is God's little joke'. If God represents something, it can only be said tentatively at the very most, and (as explained) I don't encounter myself in another except in the others I actually do relate with - actual, not imagined, reciprocity. God is our construction, although (as I admit) I allow for the possibility of transcendence, but only a transcendence that will go away in a puff of smoke - again more Buddhist than anything. It is more a way, a demand, a set up.

In the end, the religious crisis can be the religious life, forever opening up and unsettled. It isn't religion as comfort but it never was in my case.

My own advice to Anglicans (and anyone else) who face crisis in their beliefs in relationship to the institution is to stay where they are. The reason is that the crisis might be temporary, and they may never adapt to something so different from what they have experienced. Liberals rarely leave Anglicanism. Colin Coward would give up much in his campaigning connections and impact if he moved out of Anglicanism, though I have to say that his personal statements are going to undermine his campaign's reach: the actuality or pretence of full blooded orthodoxy helps a pro-gay campaign if it is about the behaviour of members of the Anglican Communion worldwide. And if you go, go if you have to go, but if you go somewhere else, go to wherever knowing something about it and positively.

Francis Simons was a gay man, who was ordained in St. Paul's Cathedral. He was an Anglo-Catholic, and "married to the Church" who went to his bed alone and frustrated. London was his village. How do I know this? I stayed with him for ten days and he told me. As an Anglican he did his investigations and was particularly hopeful via understanding west coast American Unitarianism, but he obeyed the Anglican rules. One weekend he took his Sunday service, presided at the Eucharist, preached the Gospel, and then told his congregation that this was his last. He moved directly into Essex Church, at Kensington/ Notting Hill Gate (its accommodation is under the church), perhaps the most progressive Unitarian congregation in England, and next Sunday preached at that church as its minister. He still used a few symbols and lit candles when many a church did not (many have now adopted the flaming chalice at least).

So he had organised and prepared himself: he broke no rules, and just did what he had promised to do and stated beliefs he had to state. But then he moved, and was able to say what he thought and practised his changing spirituality. He was no fool about the state of Unitarianism and its contradictions, but he had found his place and kept it until he had his fatal heart attack. Both of the people for whom he was a spiritual mentor - a German chap and me in each college - were removed after just a year: the German chap because he was a sort of Marxist-Protestant and Free Church intellectual (he then went on and studied at Sheffield among Christian social radicals) and me because I was experimental and did not fit in with the local chapel culture from the beginning. They say I'd have done better at Oxford, but my trainee colleague and Francis's student assistant didn't.

None of this is forgotten and cannot be forgotten, because it is the institutional issue in another setting. But there we are. Some of us are round pegs among square holes.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Trying to Stop the Thing

Modern Church and Inclusive Church clearly hopes that the Church of England does not sleepwalk into approving the Covenant.

(See the end for an update.)

Of course the argument against change might be one that appeals to some to prevent it: change to what? It's not for me to propose a theological method, but others might mention that the dynamic element to the Church in terms of the divine in communication with culture is the 'Holy Spirit' and as such a Covenant would throttle 'movements of the Spirit'. That would be the more developed argument that might have a broader appeal in that Church, because presumably the Holy Spirit is the element that retells the same faith to a new generation (etc.).

My own approach is nevertheless to avoid such 'God on our side' devices, and rather write more directly about liturgical and theological language connecting with a people's spirituality formed within a sociology of knowledge, within cultural settings. I don't care about pretences towards orthodoxy, for example, or that something supposedly remains the same when language undergoes huge reinterpretations and essences are not then the same.

Again arguing that the Covenant upsets a Church-State link might appeal to some who would want a more self-defined Church, with its own international bureaucracy. The real issue is whether it is legal at all for the Church of England, and should the Covenant be passed there might well be legal challenges that are costly and messy: the whole thing not being thought through.

The latest drawing/ computer painting here is only relevant in that she is a part of an evolving and changing Church, a creedless one. She is Unitarian.


Note how Graham Kings wants the General Synod to approve, so it goes to the dioceses for discussion. Come on! What he means is, get it passed through another goal, so to claim it has been very nearly passed. If you are against it, the legitimate place is to vote against it in the representative Synod at the Church level where it takes effect.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Another Potential Archbishop

Let's be honest. When it comes to the Church of England, evangelicals are in the ascendancy. So here is another potential future Archbishop of Canterbury, the other being here.

Sort of Agree: Except about Williams

Graham Kings, now Bishop of Sherborne, has written a longish piece about the legacy of the pope's visit, the focus on an interpretation of John Henry Newman that came with it, the ordinariate also connected and two potential Anglican societies.

My second to last In Depth presentation was on the Oxford Movement, and how John Henry Newman was someone of subtle thought; but once he thought the via media was no part of the patristic Church, he then regarded the Church of England as a schism, and then made an intellectual leap to regard dodgy Roman Catholic practices as consistent with entering into the ethos of the one true Church - he had abandoned the equal branches view, of course. My interest was also in the contrast with Francis William Newman, who became Unitarian and a Theist who preached against the moral purity of Christ. Such is the position I hold too, well at least the latter whereas I think there are only signals of transcendence.

John Henry Newman did change, and both brothers changed: a point being that neither had sufficient of the sort of middling or muddling character of an Anglican, who can believe one thing and express something rather different. Their beliefs did change. Whereas, say, James Martineau was a stable Tory and romanticist regarding belief and dressed-up liturgy, and produced a subjective Christian theism, F. W. Newman was a keen missionary evangelical who returned disheartened and took grip of a more sober reality, and via being rebaptised with Baptists ended up well to the theological left of Martineau with a pure theism. Whereas Martineau had set up the future, but wasn't part of it, Newman was of that future. Yet, in a sense, his theism was also detached and romanticised, though F. W. Newman had an earthed ethical charge (as in causes such as vegetarianism). In a sense, John Henry Newman also represented a future, but neither could be part of the national Church, even if others in it could compromise or even deceive.

To invent a tradition (sociologically speaking) inevitably involves some sense of fantasy. It is never an appeal purely to history for legitimacy, but is a use of history for present day purposes for which something is different once the history is used. The arguments were bent around by J. H. Newman for his own purposes.

It is an interesting idea that J. H. Newman joined the Catholic Church but later at Vatican II the Catholic Church joined Newman. Is that so now, with all the back pedalling, with an interpretation on to Newman given by the current pope that lacks the breadth of Newman himself? For me, the Pope's visit was almost entirely a fishing trip, in assuming that there was a dying social remnant of Christianity, and that he would pick up the faithful, and do it by preserving aspects of Anglican patrimony in his societies and creating an icon out of the English convert J. H. Newman. What he discovered was his own mistake: that secularisation and secularism are not the same thing, and so along with secularisation there is a religious life in Britain - it is just not the institutional one assumed, and even then the institutions weren't exactly dead. Still, ecumenism means only one thing to him: joining his Church sooner or later, one way or another. He gives plenty of legitimacy to the Orthodox, but little to Anglicans in their continuing direction towards being Protestant.

I have also written a little on the irony of an ordinariate being objectively Roman Catholic and subjectively Anglican, while this suggested Society of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda would be objectively Anglican and subjectively Roman Catholic (with that link, scroll down). The Society of St Augustine would give a Protestant experience - it does indeed suggest a failure of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda Society was initialised after I wrote my In Depth piece, in which I argued that whichever way one looks at it, the traditionalism started in Victorian Oxford is coming to an end. Perhaps I'd overstated it?

I doubt it. The General Synod would not give ground on a Third Province or non-geographical diocese, and this society idea is just a variant. If it is self-organised then it will be paraecclesiastical and run by the seat of its pants, checking that bishops and priests remain pure by touch. It would be no more than a temporary enclave, and no more than a pressure group. The fact is that once the Church of England decides in favour of women bishops to join the men, their tradition is dead in the water.

There are three Catholic groups in the Church of England. One is the pro-Roman, and they ought to go. If they don't, then they deceive (probably for the money). The second is the Puseyite High Anglican Catholic, for whom the society they might join is the figleaf described, and many of them may well become Roman, Orthodox or Continuing Anglican. They are basically broken-backed. Their intended resistance in the General Synod is their last stand. The Affirming Catholic group is the happy Anglican Catholic, but many of these are dressing up liberals, who seek a spirituality that stops a naked confrontation with the sober and 'real' (jn terms of the sociology of knowledge) - as a Unitarian does, for example, as Francis William Newman did. Of course there is a range, and some at the liberal end do force upon themselves a spiritual discipline, though one always asks that big question: "Why?"

I see that Graham Kings sees that Rowan Williams can head up theologically the Anglican Catholic approach that remains, but for him one that would be more consistent with that society. I also saw him making out with this centralist Anglican Catholic approach (that he is trying to force on every Anglican through this Covenant process).

Williams was an Affirming Catholic, indeed one of its founders; however, he seems to have betrayed that position by his actions and by making his public expressions of theology more history-like and biography-like. I wrote:

The present Archbishop of Canterbury may just be forming a conserving theology and ecclesiology, very purple in colour, internationalist and pyramidal, of a literary detailed narrative theology that tries to be as history-like and biography-like as possible, born in a postmodern age, something similar then (if arguably more deceptive) than the postmodern bubble of imagined Platonic Anglican Catholicism in the Radical Orthodox movement (that tries to stretch to Lutheranism, if with difficulty).

He only remains interesting with his interfaith lectures and some musings about the economy and what it is for. His Catholicism was never as romanticised as the Romanists or High Anglicans, and he has become something of a bureaucratic Catholic that makes him worryingly Roman in some parallels. The problem for Rowan Williams is that he has become his own spent force, the man who has to say "pass", and cannot lead anything else, as he has lost moral ground given his actions and (for some) his inactions. The job has destroyed whatever other paths he may have travelled. He could well have been a leader of a broad, Anglican, Catholic grouping, and more than just of a liberal flavour, but now even his intellectual Christian contributions are undermined. Graham Kings is giving a hurrah to the Archbishop who was once unreservedly and doggedly supported by Fulcrum, until relatively recently when he showed inadequate activity again even for this grouping. When Rowan Williams resigns his position, he'll look back and reflect, but he won't lead anything, and no one will take his theology too seriously any more.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Anyone Understand Him?

At the same time that Bishop Alan Wilson blogs about people sleepwalking into a vote for the Covenant, out of some aspect of loyalty and without reasoning about its effects, Rowan Williams has continued his praises for diversity in India including for the Church of South India itself:

"A praying church is one which knows it cannot do everything by itself. A praying church is one which has learnt to trust God. A church must be a questioning church. It must be asking questions about itself. A praying and questioning church must also be a selfless church. It does not exist to protect itself or acknowledge itself," he said.

As a supporter of Unitarianism I could hardly disagree with that sentiment. But is not the central point of the Covenant to acknowledge and protect the so called worldwide Anglican Church, that move Williams wants towards more of a Church?

Oh, by the way, the picture is no one obvious in this story, just me practising with the new software having put a picture to the Windows 98 computer and using a variety of art packages. The picture is Jody (the evangelical ordinand).

Art and Music

I've a very limited budget for anything, and now the 'Nasty Party' is in power, propped up by a Liberal Democrat wooden leg, prospects don't look good (I apply for jobs generally in the public or public supported sector). So I try to do what I do for the least amount of money.

I bought a cheap graphic tablet. I already have one attached to my now Windows 98 computer, old style and with wired pen, and generally I have had a photo downloaded to the Windows XP screen and drawn on the other computer, to then memory stick the image across and adjust colours in the Windows XP computer. This has generally been enough, but there are now art programs that are free and for Windows XP and similar only. So I spent £20 on this tiny graphics tablet and pen - what's remarkable is how I can look at the screen and draw easily even within a tiny area.

For good enough cartooning I'll still prefer to have a visible picture to go on - so the difference will be when the image is brought across I can keep editing in the new place and with more art effects if wanted. Actually the simpler the art program the better.

The drawing here was done entirely on the new tablet and not from a photo, but is similar to a statuette nearby. The picture is mainly from what is 'in the bank' in terms of knowing and not knowing how to draw a figure - and the give-away is the hands being difficult to get right.

I am also the music provider at the Unitarians, and the service provider picked two hymns from the new Sing Your Faith book. The church doesn't have it (I have my own) so these were printed out. One was covered by a Unitarian choir CD so I used that, but for the other I found a sample and chose to use this.

The formal .MID is very old now, and in terms of playing windows XP by default turns the synth player for them off. They are tiny files and consist of computer generated sounds, like instruments. I have a very old piece of software, obtained on a magazine, works across Windows, and it allows the instruments to be converted. So I took the midi sample, that consisted of two instrument lines within, and chose different instruments in combination four times, saving each. A not easy to find free piece of software converts (by high speed 'listening') the .MID to .WAV, which allows for editing and putting to audio CD. So with different instruments each verse I indeed converted to .WAVs for editing and used half a verse as a lead in and three verses joined together to produce then one file for the three versed hymn. There were silent gaps placed between verses, but disguised as such via extra echo across the verses and the gaps too. I further slowed down (without altering pitch) the second to last and especially last lines of the last verse, just as an organist would. It was all amplified to peak at maximum. And this morning the folks sang to that artificially made tune.

I'm now to organise the means to improve the sound delivery within the church. I want the music to have a full stereo effect across two high speakers and to produce a good ambience to the sound. I've done as much as I can by being hidden and producing all music on cue, but organ music especially would benefit from the high up spread across speakers. Using low and hidden speakers has an illusory effect but there is a loss of quality and 'stereo spread'. So far attempts to use the system have resulted in nothing but distorted sound so I'm going to solve this once and for all.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Choosing Your Church Wife

We might complain about tabloids in Britain, but little compares with the depths of the Ugandan Rolling Stone as it tries to get itself registered and its stupid 100 "top homos" story with some names and addresses - enough to put people into hiding. What it indicates is the condition of opinion there, and encouraged by State and Church except for watchful eyes internationally. Those watchful eyes are important, although States are more important than Churches in terms of applying pressure.

One reason why I stopped taking communion in the Church of England was a conclusion about its wider moral bankruptcy, especially as parts of the Anglican Communion border on evil. The principal reason was my own belief, but others weren't so far off in conversation and they could carry on, showing much loyalty to the idea of the Church even if concerned about the reality. Even though I had two Church wives, and was effectively going back to only one of them, communion could have continued. But it is a public act to take part, and a public act to say no especially if you keep showing your face.

There were people close to me, but also those of very different view, and I asked myself what I had in common with them. Humanity, of course, and conversation is always good, but sometimes you stretch across too far. In the end you have to conclude that they are entitled to their opinion, so long as they can't harm anyone, and if they can't harm anyone then best to let them be. They may have the same view of me. And sometimes associating with the more likeminded develops greater consistency and strength for a clearer outward message.

Now that I have moved over the river, and the now local Anglican church seems (barely) staffed with evangelicals, although my curiosity isn't yet addressed, I'm keeping with my one Church wife. She needs building up a bit.

Perhaps I have read and listened to Rowan Williams too much. I do think he says interesting things from time to time, and has potential for a social and economic and an interfaith theology that can be reflected upon, and have taken to myself his notion of patience even in the heat of situations. But his attitude to the central question of the moment is just one of moral disengagement, saying in this manner:

The decision of the American Church to go forward, as it has, with the ordination of a lesbian bishop has, I think, set us back. At the moment I'm not certain how we will approach the next primates' meeting, but regrettably some of the progress that I believe we had made has not remained steady.

This sort of pathetic statement means it all comes down to the bureaucracy and it is what makes this man so deeply depressing. One supposes that, faced with oppression, he would work to save the institution first while people suffered. We shouldn't ask too much how someone would respond to repression, given our own potential weaknesses, but Rowan Williams doesn't exactly represent anything prophetic even in his own institutional terms. He is the dead hand bureaucratic referee, but one that has not been neutral but promoted bureaucratic solutions at the cost of minorities.

The Church I choose to be with now has full acceptance of male and female, gay and straight (etc.) equality, in ministry of all kinds, though there are a few conservative type individuals that try to frustrate things in corners of their activities. Let's put it like this: some older people don't change overnight. But it has been nothing but beneficial to join in with Quakers and Reformed Jews to promote a full equality for religious participation in Partnerships, indeed to want a full ceremonial and labelling equality for couples.

Now Unitarians can be criticised because they are not Christian in collective identity, in that it would be better to have a clearly collective Christian Church that was also fully inclusive. The Unitarians do have a horrible and meaningless (when examined) Object for the General Assembly that it 'upholds the liberal Christian tradition', whatever that means, and although congregations probably do there should never have been produced such a doctrinal statement that so goes against the Unitarian creedless tradition. It is part of the current confusion of trying to have a Unitarian identity and then falling back on some minimalist credal statement like that, which aids cynicism and duplicity, and it does more harm than good for those newcomers who are ex-Christian.

The question is whether a Church can be collectively Christian in identity and be fully inclusive. Christianity developed as a communal view about the salvation figure Jesus Christ - about him, not of him. It therefore makes credal statements about him, many of which many Unitarians regard as ridiculous or worthy of being ignored. The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the Bible, but nevertheless the Bible is a book full of statements that are ethically doubtful, and if it is normative it still creates problems if one is a religious humanist. Classical unitarianism (small u) and Arianism are in the Bible and create problems enough. The patriarchial inheritance of the main Western Church stream, from which all other Churches come - and all reforms are from this - is deep in the language not just with the personnel past and present. Unitarians both share and shake off that loaded language.

So the Bible cannot be normative. Too many statements are damaging. It can be part of tradition and the discourse, but has to be rejected as directive. Tradition again is really a shorthand of language, a sticky if evolving means of discussing things that point towards transcendence, or towards something that matters most. The worst form of traditionalism is the institutional and bureaucratic: it is but a shell, a means to an end.

What matters most is compassion, service, our humanity, the place of other life. Why so? Because through these, it develops potential and without these it has pain and limitation. Community is about developing its and its individuals' potential. Religion is about contemplating these and reflecting upon them, and developing an attitude of mind about them (through spiritual practice).

Such religion then must be ethical. It is simply a wrong focus to concentrate on the bureaucratic. The bureaucratic is only to facilitate. The ethical is going to be an argument, but when the book and tradition gets in the way of being ethical, they must give way.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Surely the Welfare Budget will RISE

For ill or good, the Labour government saw an expansion in private business dependent on public orders because they kept privatising public services. With budgets slashed at a quarter and some half a million public service jobs going, another half a million jobs could go. But what about the negative multiplier effect, as less spending causes less demand, and the private sector shrinks further and further?

It seems simple to me. If you put another million plus on the dole, benefit payments go up not down, and the budget for benefits will rise.

When Thatcher did this, in part protected by North Sea Oil, she put lots of people on to Invalidity Benefit and hid the unemployment, got them through their last working years idle, and also she paid the police more to fight the social unrest.

Something doesn't add up about this government, the Conservative slashing and the Liberal Democrat role of being its prop.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Keynes and Politics in 1926

As the Liberal Democrats continue to prop up the Conservative budget approach of slashing spending without balance for growth, here is an account by Roy Jenkins of what John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1926. The picture is of Vince Cable, one time Labour and now Liberal Democrat and who mused about a graduate tax and then rowed sharply backwards. Gone are the days, it seems, when education was a public good for critical thinking and creativity at whatever level.

He was a cool Liberal. His first burst of fame came from the denunciation of Lloyd George's policy at the Paris Peace Conference, which was particularly remarkable for the fact that it was a famous polemic with its most polemical passage cut out and only published 14 years later. However, he was a friend of the Asquiths (more of Margot than of Henry) and infuriated Blooms bury by saying that he thought that the former Prime Minister was more intelligent than Lytton Strachey. His feeling for Asquith was considerable but was expressed in typical terms which might have commended themselves more to Asquith himself than to some of his more enthusiastic followers. He referred to his quality 'of a certain coolness of temper' which 'seems to me at the same time peculiarly Liberal in flavour, and also a much bolder and more desirable and valuable political possession and endowment than sentimental ardours'. Asquith's ardour for Keynes was certainly under control. 'Not much juice to him', he was reported to have said on one occasion. But this may have been after an incident several years earlier when the Prime Minister and Keynes arrived together at Garsington (the scene of the famous Keynes, Strachey, Bertrand Russell photograph) and were announced by the butler as 'Mr Keynes and another gentleman.'

What is more certain is that Keynes, while firmly Asquithian in the days of the Coalition and always more akin to Asquith than to Lloyd George both temperamentally and on grounds of international policy, nonetheless moved back into full communion with Lloyd George (on domestic policy at least) under the stimulus of the writing of the Yellow Book and the run-up to the 1929 election. In 1926, just before this period, he came nearest to a precise definition of his political bearings in the Britain of the Twenties. He did so with a deadliness of criticism rather than a gush of enthusiasm:

'How could I bring myself to be a Conservative?' he began. 'They offer me neither food nor drink - neither intellectual nor spiritual consolation. I should not be amused or excited or edified. That which is common to the atmosphere, the mentality, the view of life, of - well, I will not mention names - promotes neither my self-interest nor the public good. It leads nowhere; it satisfies no ideal; it conforms to no intellectual standard; it is not even safe, or calculated to preserve from spoilers that degree of civilization which we have already attained.'

He looked at the Labour Party a shade more charitably but then stated his objections with his habitual eschewal of euphemism:

'Ought I, then, to join the Labour Party? Superficially that is more attractive. But looked at closer, there are great difficulties. To begin with it is a class party and the class is not my class. If I am going to pursue sectional interests at all, I shall pursue my own . . I can be influenced by what seems to me Justice and good sense, but the Class war will find me on the side of the educated bourgeoisie'.

He decided that he was therefore a Liberal, even if by elimination, his main doubt stemming from a lack of confidence in the ability of the Liberal Party, on its own, to regain its pre-war power He did not want to fight the class war from the other side either. Those who believed 'that the coming struggle was Capitalism versus Socialism and that their duty was to fight for Capitalism, ought to get out of the Liberal Party'. He moved on to a still more heartfelt cry: 'I do not wish to live under a Conservative Government for the next 20 years'. The only recipe that he could see as he surveyed the leak landscape, but one which he propounded without his usual degree of certainty, was Lib-Lab cooperation, with a rejuvenated liberalism providing most of the ideas.

I think it can be claimed on this evidence, without too much affront to the rule that views on unforeseen events should be fly cautiously attributed to the dead, that Keynes would have welcomed the Alliance. Over 50 years ago he wanted to defeat Conservatism, without the Labour Party winning. He saw that the Liberal Party could not do this on its own. It needed a partner. But the only avoidable choice brought one back to the Labour Party, the second of the (for him) unloved ugly sisters. Cinderella hadn't been created. He would surely have rejoiced in her birth. The Alliance was made for him. I wish he were here to help make it.

The only qualification which must be considered in the interests of the astringent fairness and accuracy which is a characteristic of all (or at least most) Alliance pronouncements is that, like some but not all others, Keynes took a slight lurch to the right in the last years of his life...

Jenkins, Roy (1988), Gallery of 20th Century Portraits, Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 116-117.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Chadderbox Tackles the Bishop

Peter Levite: Religion section again and we have a man making the news at the moment, Bishop Barry Broadarse who is at our Grimtown studio. Bishop Broadarse, welcome. Can you hear me?

Barry Broadarse: Watcha mate.

Peter Levite: You recently described the Church in England as "fascist and vindictive". Can you tell us how you have come to this conclusion?

Barry Broadarse: They're fucking bastards the lot of 'em. Rotten rotten system and I'd kick it as hard as I'd kick a Protestant's goolies.

Peter Levite: Bishop Broadarse, can I remind you that we broadcast in the afternoon, live, and to mind your language. I wish to apologise on behalf of Radio Chadderbox most sincerely to all our listeners. Once more bishop and you'll have to be off. Now, Bishop Broadarse, on the basis that you can mind your language, go on. Perhaps you could apologise.

Barry Broadarse: I'm not going to apologise to the Church in England, oh no. I want your listeners to know how the bas.. the dutchy on the left hand side nasty pieces of work treat we poor downtrodden Anglo-Catholics.

Peter Levite: You're leaving.

Barry Broadarse: Is that the end of the interview? Haven't you heard of saying it like it is, mushty?

Peter Levite: No, you are leaving the Church in England.

Barry Broadarse: Too right I am, leaving behind those shisete...eees, nice teas, that you can, er, buy at vicarages and their garden parties for something, yes, stronger in Roman Catholic circles. You see, the Holy Father, who has never had any fascist or vindictive experience in his long and so fruitful life, has given us such warm invitations and had a wonderful trip here recently, reclaiming a true and glorious and saintly Christianity to these lands.

Peter Levite: Strong words, strong words today. remember to email in your comments or text in.

Barry Broadarse: I'm yer straight talking bishop, mate; none of your mamby pamby coming off a dandy talk from me.

Peter Levite: I put it to you that not everyone of your ilk is leaving. Yes or no? The Bishop of Beverley, he might not go, and he's in our area, though I've never seen him - because aren't you flying bishops or something, gowns out wide and up in the air?

Barry Broadarse: I'm not one o' them. I'm in London, mush, mainly. I'll need replacing by a selection and synodical system that is so blud blunt, the utter con-stables, like police constables running a church, yes, that they are.

Peter Levite: And a whole parish wants to go: Kent?

Barry Broadarse: What did you call me mush? Fancy your face 'coming out like a plate o' mashed potaters?

Peter Levite: I'm saying in Kent.

Barry Broadarse: Folkestone, yeah mate, yar alright really, overlooking the cliff. Well the PCC, which is a very democratic body, has made its decision.

Peter Levite: The congregation; the parish is leaving then yes?

Barry Broadarse: The congregation is yet to be told, er the parish is a far wider thing really me old China. Catholics have parishes and reach out to the population, which the Church in England stole when at the time Henry VIII refused to obey the Pope. His job at the time was to pray for the Holy Father, not grab the booty. If there was any justice it would all be given back, the cathedrals, churches, parishes the lot.

Peter Levite: I put it to you that the PCC is a fascist body, making decisions to impose on others.

Barry Broadarse: Absolute bol... weavils. Bulls... and cows. You think you can trap me, like some trumped up little black shirted reporter eh? Listen, mate, it isn't exactly like trying to chuck anybody out, is it, only themselves taking the path of martyrdom like Catholics down the bleeding ages. An' I mean bleeding. I tell you what, it would have been better to have been hung, drawn and quartered through the streets of my London than to have been subjected to the General Synod vote.

Peter Levite: Well LET ME PUT THIS TO YOU [shouting]. Not all Anglican Catholics are leaving. Not just the likes of your Bishop of Beverley but over near to you in the parish of Chad. 'Cause we knew you were coming we have an anonymous note sent through by fax to me from Lara Crofter in Grimtown, written by one of our Morning Elsewhere contributors, you know the minute available when listeners can leave the radio and come back to us afterwards. And he, who describes himself as 'a well known humble Catholic priest', writes, and I quote:

If I was a Roman Catholic, I would be a layman, because I wouldn't want to let down my parishioners who thought they had come to Mass when it would turn out they hadn't if I had to be reordained. Secondly, not all of us as Catholics are against the ordination of women, either as priests or bishops. We are also pro-gay inclusion too, whereas many Catholics who are Rome-bound are gay and closeted. Don't assume that these Catholics leaving are the only Catholics. The tradition of the Church in its entirety will live on as we provide the Catholic witness.

Peter Levite: What do you say to that, Bishop Broadarse?

Barry Broadarse: That is just some filthy, rotten, utter crap.. dice game shi..nty game bulls and cows and fu... nny nonsense, yes nonsense, I've ever heard.

Peter Levite: HE'S ONE OF YOURS. [shouting]

Barry Broadarse: No he is NOT one of ours. He is like a lot of them: a faux Catholic, a liberal dressed up as a traditionalist, a cover with nothing to cover, a technicolour raincoat without Joseph wearing it. One wonders what they believe. Let's look at what he says then mate. He'd be a layman, so that would deny his orders altogether just the same. And the tradition in its entirety, in Roman Catholicism and Orthdoxy, is not to have women as priests full stop, never mind bishops. So na na to him then, whoever you've dug up.

Peter Levite: Up to now you have never conducted a Mass then.

Barry Broadarse: I acted faithfully when I did.

Peter Levite: Well, assuming that - when you were doing what you thought you were doing - you shouldn't be doing it now. Q E D BISHOP, YES OR NO?

Barry Broadarse: Can you stop shouting, matey, you loud mouthed ars... me a question. Well to answer your previous question, right, I ought to get into the ordinariate as fast as I can.

Peter Levite: No more masses then. Yes or no?

Barry Broadarse: Let's call it training. We are doing what Methodist ministers do, in that a Methodist minister when he becomes an Anglican is a layman unless he gets reordained. He did his communion then, but no more until he obeys their rules.

Peter Levite: But it is not ordination according to you.

Barry Broadarse: When I am a Roman Catholic, it will not be.

Peter Levite: So it is now, and you are now, but you won't be now when you are later?

Barry Broadarse: It is a Protestant denomination: we will have made a mistake. Or at least it will become one surely. But then - this will answer your question - we are also inside Backward in Belief and the BIB is not a Church of England organisation.

Peter Levite: Not what the Bishop of Beverley thinks, if he stays, in the Church in England.

Barry Broadarse: Well we BIBs have different coping strategies. And there is the new Society of Saint Hilda and Thomas is it they can go in - anyway, BIB will probably turn into NAPPEE - the Not Anglican or Protestant Personal Ecclesiastical Exodus. Personally I would recommend all Anglo-Catholics going from NAPPY and then into SHAT should be reordained, perhaps by some episcopi vagantes doing the rounds.

Peter Levite: Who's episcopi vagantes?

Barry Broadarse: Oh it's not Thomas it's Wilfrid. Can't remember all these saints and groups. And there's Augustine now for Protestants. Oh Episcopi vagantes: well they're people validly ordained who set up their own Churches, that tend to last five minutes before they make another one. You can find them on the Internet. Clerics without congregations.

Peter Levite: Like these coming ordinariates then.

Barry Broadarse: No no. What about Kent? Twenty lay people at least from there we reckon. Anyway, mate, there are plenty of Roman Catholic congregations currently without priestly cover.

Peter Levite: But for Anglicans staying behind; you recommend reordination?

Barry Broadarse: Yeah they can find these Internet presence bishops. They do some funny stuff from time to time, you know a bit of Theosophy and some Reiki services, but they were at least validly ordained. And that's what matters. We don't do any of that funny stuff, you know, but then we're the real deal.

Peter Levite: You're the real deal, later, but our anonymous priest isn't - who is on tomorrow on the morning show everyone, so catch your Reverend Eric early; but to you he's no priest, you won't have been, no one will be, no one that is except Roman Catholics and you when you are redone.

Barry Broadarse: And the Eastern Orthodox and these Old Catholics, see.

Peter Levite: So they're all right then.

Barry Broadarse: Well they ought to recognise the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

Peter Levite: Oh well I think our time is up. Perhaps more light but plenty of heat. Still, that's what we like. Thank you very much Bishop Barry Broadarse.

Barry Broadarse: Hey Lara love who was that nasty piece of right shitehouse work, a right chef cooking font over the liver?

Peter Levite: Can someone turn his microphone off there in Grimtown? Crumbs, I would like to keep the afternoon slot. George Hudson please; time for the weather and where are you?

George Hudson: I'm glad he said all that.

Peter Levite: Well I'm not. There'll be reports to HQ about that interview. I mean you don't expect a bishop to be as common as muck do you? Listeners can text in: what do you think: should the bishop go off to Rome and do you even care?

George Hudson: Peter. I'm in Conisborough, platform one; outside your region Peter, doing weather for the other lot.

Peter Levite: And our weather is?

George Hudson: Dunno really.


George Hudson: Not like you forgetting to take a coat when you went out with Carol Countdown yesterday. She had to lend you hers, cost her thousands and it got wet.

Peter Levite: It was your forecast. Look I'm getting effing fed up with my next door neighbour sending you emails. BYE.

George Hudson: BYE, see you later. Mind your language!

Peter Levite: News is next after we have listened to Lord Carey's Dump - what? What piece of music is ever called Lord Carey's Dump? Oh it's the playlist faxed through this morning. Sorry listeners but someone wrote over my playlist sent from my producer over there in Grimtown.

Lara Crofter: Peter, sorry, I should have stopped him. I think it was our Morning Elsewhere contributor's joke. It's actually My Lady Carey's Dompe, a piece from the 1500s, anonymous and played by Elaine Comparone.

Peter Levite: Stone the crows. Oh I see he left it here. OK, harpsichord music going on - NOW. Hospital Radio has nothing on us. Oops.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Society of Saint Augustine Explained

Peter Levite: Now we have on the line a Reverend John ap Puritanson, who is going to tell us the latest development in what has become known as the ANGLICAN WARS [shouting]. Hello, Reverend John. Is it true that you are a descendant of John Pym of the Civil War era?

John ap Puritanson: Well I'm not so sure about that...

Peter Levite: Are you sure about anything?

John ap Puritanson: Well I am sure that John Pym, seeing as you refer to him, motivated the people of London to support the parliamentary cause, believed in law, and joined the English Parliament and Scots Covenant together in a Protestant cause.

Peter Levite: For someone unrelated you seem to know a lot about him.

John ap Puritanson: I wasn't aware that you had to be related to someone in order to know about someone. But I do know about my all important Puritan forbears.

Peter Levite: Before I get to the main point, I WAS READING [shouting] a book in a charity shop that says the Kingdom is coming to everyday life, in a sort of market redistributive social economy like we have now, undreamt of in the days of religion, and sacred language is now part of every day language. Does he share in one of your Puritan forebears?

John ap Puritanson: Ha! You can find Donald Cupid in charity shops now. No, he has forefathers in the Cambridge Latitudinarians, and is a heretic. Such people should be ejected from the Church, unlike the Puritans who were eventually.

Peter Levite: So he'll be related to local boy John Harrison, local to the Radio Chadderbox area.

John ap Puritanson: Who?

Peter Levite: Who did the timekeepers to find out longitude. Keep up!

John ap Puritanson: No. No. Look, what do you want to talk about?

Peter Levite: Well you're known as the Chelmsford Hardliner, so tell us about this new Society of Saint Augustine.

John ap Puritanson: No, I'm known as the Chelmsford Puritanical, by my enemies. You're thinking of someone else: Peter Gouldboy; now he really is hardline. He's Ware, I'm Chelmsford-ish. I'm in a place called Ugley, and it isn't, but not far from a chap who was a Unitarian minister and has hidden himself away as one of our clerics in Essex, the McGhost.

Peter Levite: I'm only going by what my researchers tell me. Where?

John ap Puritanson: The Ware Hardliner.

Peter Levite: Where is where? What's ugly?

John ap Puritanson: Hertfordshire. Ugley is near the M11. Look, there is a Society of Saint Augustine. It's a creation of a group called Anglican Average and follows on from an Anglo-Catholic group, called Saint Wilfrid and Saint Hilda.

Peter Levite: I've got notes here about a rhinoceros, about Winifred, Hinge and Bracket. Can you enlighten me?

John ap Puritanson: It's not Winifred and Hilda but Wilfrid, see. Then Hinge and Bracket is the joke name given to that group by its detractors because many of my Anglo-Catholic colleagues are a bit, well let's say, effeminate.

Peter Levite: Closeted gay.

John ap Puritanson: They like the garb. Rhinoceros?

Peter Levite: Rhino.

John ap Puritanson: Rhino? Oh. It's Augustine of Canterbury not Augustine of Hippo. It's the one who came to England from the pope at the time, even though the Celtic Christians were here.

Peter Levite: We ARE doing the history today! Tell us about the present. My researchers tell me this has a lot to do with the Pope's visit and Ordinariates, so called.

John ap Puritanson: The Pope has offered ordinariates - like societies - to these Anglo-Catholics, right, so that they can have an Anglican experience but be part of the Roman Catholic Church. But it means married bishops aren't allowed, so the odd married bishop can become at best a priest. So then came the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda, that offers I suppose a Roman Catholic experience inside the Church of England. You know, the code of practice by which these folk can avoid women priests is pretty much homeopathic in measure, so they are sort of self-organising instead. And then, despite Anglican Average, and the Friendship of Confessing Anglicans, we now will have a Protestant Society of Saint Augustine. There is the group I'm part of, Reform, but that has been an abject failure. So the parallel is that instead of running off to say the Free Church of England, the Society of St Augustine will give a Protestant experience inside the Church of England. But I thought that was the point of the Friendship of Confessing Anglicans. Anyway, this will not allow women to have headship.

Peter Levite: Headship? Like a headteacher?

John ap Puritanson: The problem with the Anglo-Catholic side is the theology or rather ecclesiology. It's not Protestant. It's all about who touches whom and the liturgical performance, so if a female bishop ordains a male priest he then isn't a priest, according to them. If he went on to be a bishop, he wouldn't be a bishop. So there is an uncertainty once you have female bishops. But we go by the Bible, and what it says about headship, so each male and female is taken on their own terms. The debate is around the fact that they are male and female and regardless of who ordained them, on the lines that a man can teach men and women and a woman cannot have headship over men or men and women. Sunday school is fine, however. Though some are beginning to add a bit of biblical criticism - not liberal you understand - so the texts actually make more sense when just talking about families. So the man is the head of the family as Christ is head of the Church, see, so he is the decision maker, but should sacrifice himself and love his wife see - even lay down his life. And she should know when to keep quiet, in the family context. That's not about keeping quiet in church.

Peter Levite: Well text in listeners if you think a woman should keep quiet in the family and a man laying down his life for her. Beats divorce, eh?

John ap Puritanson: Definitely beats divorce.

Peter Levite: I can think of the number of times I've taken a woman to a restaurant and could have said, "Quiet, I am eating."

John ap Puritanson: Only when you are married.

Peter Levite: IS THAT A GOOD ENOUGH REASON TO GET MARRIED?! [shouting again] Email or text in, listeners.

John ap Puritanson: Now the Ware Hardliner, you ought to ask him about all this, because he goes on and on about his marriage, about his child, and he addresses homosexuality and the Bible in considerable depth and length. He has a lot of personal investment in these issues.

Peter Levite: These societies then; it seems to me you folks in the Church of England are all joining societies.

John ap Puritanson: The problem is whether they are yet more pressure groups or have any legal status - well they have no legal status as regards the rest of the Church. Also are they yet another evangelical and indeed traditionalist failure in the making?

Peter Levite: I heard that evangelicals are the majority of the Church of England.

John ap Puritanson: They might be, but yet another society doesn't mean translating into success. It could mean the opposite. We have a problem of self-sufficiency in congregations, a kind of Puritans' outlook. Either we are in a Church with bishops or we are not. The person who set up the Society of St Augustine himself failed to get elected to the General Synod. That says it all.

Peter Levite: Well thanks for that, but it's time up I'm afraid as soon it is almost time for the Lara Crofter show. Hia Lara, what have you got for us today?

Lara Crofter: Are you in the studio Peter?

Peter Levite: That's where I normally broadcast from.

Lara Crofter: I think I'd better remain silent, Peter.

Peter Levite: THAT'S THE BEST THING YOU'VE SAID ALL WEEK! George. Where are you?

George Hudson: Bridlington station Peter, where there is a whippy wind. Peter, I had an email that you were with Carol Countdown eating out and you told her to be quiet. Apparently she was adding up the bill!

Peter Levite: Yes, thank you. BYE. We have one email from Don Shaw in Beverley that says, 'I told my wife to go to Beverley Minster and it means an hour and a half of peace when I don't have to go into my shed. I fully approve of the Reverend John ap Puritanson's view of Christianity.' One positive comment there then and here we are coming up to the news.

Friday, 15 October 2010

I Ask You

Lara Crofter: Dr Rowan Treetri, Archbishop of Anglicanism, welcome again to our Radio Chadderbox station on the line from London.

Rowan Treetri:
What is this to ask me for?

Lara Crofter: About the latest happenings regarding your General Secretary and the Anglican Communion.

Rowan Treetri: Ah, I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: Pardon?

Rowan Treetri: I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: For what? What are you on about?

Rowan Treetri: About discussions pertaining to ecumenical matters.

Lara Crofter: Why are you asking me?

Rowan Treetri: I am not asking you.

Lara Crofter: So what are you on about?

Rowan Treetri: I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: But I ask you.

Rowan Treetri: Ask me then.

Lara Crofter: Well what about discussions er pertaining to ecumenical matters then?

Rowan Treetri: It's based around, well, what, I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: Are you asking me for something?

Rowan Treetri: No. You were asking me. I am answering.

Lara Crofter: Perhaps if John Sendmehome were here, your Archbishop of the North, he would make more sense. I'm surprised he's not invited himself.

Rowan Treetri: Well I can tell you one of his jokes.

Lara Crofter: Don't bother. Suppose I ask it then. I ask you for what has happened?

Rowan Treetri: Well both the Standing Committee and I ask you for, humm, obeying the moratoria.

Lara Crofter: Why is that body and you asking me to obey a moratoria. Are there questions I should not ask?

Rowan Treetri: Anglican provinces. No, you can ask any question you like. Although I must point out that I have a very limited amount of time.

Lara Crofter: How do Anglican provinces ask questions?

Rowan Treetri: They ask about procedures relating to behaviours, whether it is the consecration of a gay partnered bishop as in the United States or the Southern Cone selling its wares so to speak outside its area.

Lara Crofter: How does an ice cream sell itself?

Rowan Treetri: No it is about what I am saying, I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: What you are asking me for a 99, say, the sort with a bit of a chocolate stick in it?

Rowan Treetri: No the General Secretary has dealt with the Southern Cone. I wanted to balance things out a bit.

Lara Crofter: So your General Secretary asked for a southern cone?

Rowan Treetri: Well he asked the Southern Cone at first but now a decision has been made.

Lara Crofter: He did ask - oh then you gave him one. You don't sell ice creams.

Rowan Treetri: I might be better off if I did. I understand there is a Lambeth Walk franchise for sale; it was only in the local paper the other day. I read the local paper to keep me sane. I'm not staying in this job forever, you know.

Lara Crofter: What are you asking for?

Rowan Treetri: I'm asking that they do not cross boundaries: an Anglican Church going into another's territory, and they cannot themselves decide which is a legitimate Anglican Church or not.

Lara Crofter: Why not?

Rowan Treetri: Because that is a job for I ask you for as well as the Standing Committee.

Lara Crofter: I don't know anything about selling ice cream. Oh, do you want to be a Church DJ? I can tell you about these sorts of jobs. Well here or in Hospital Radio.

Rowan Treetri: No no, what I have been telling you about: what is about I ask you for.

Lara Crofter: Have you told me?

Rowan Treetri: Yes.

Lara Crofter: Oh right. Well thank you Archbishop for coming on the telephone.

Rowan Treetri: And thank you for coming on the telephone.

Lara Crofter: I'll wait until I get home if you don't mind.

Rowan Treetri: You understand I-AS-CU-FO?

Lara Crofter: Well, cheeky, you're not asking me for that. Naughty Archbishop! George Hudson, get me out of here!

George Hudson: Well I'm at Hull Paragon so there is the next train, but it'll be going on wet rails this afternoon.

Lara Crofter: We have someone on the phone. Who is it?

Lynn Shea-Doyle: It's Lynn, Reverend Lynn.

Lara Crofter: Hello Reverend Lynn Shea-Doyle.

Lynn Shea-Doyle: It's the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order.

Lara Crofter: What is?

Lynn Shea-Doyle: I AS CU FO.

Lara Crofter: What are you asking me for? Hang on, that's the dialling tone. Lynn?

Thursday, 14 October 2010

No Really New Creations

So we have the claim of a Jesus as the New Creation. This to be so is surely Jesus at all times if we are to go with the fully Man fully God theory along with it, and I suggest that the non-moral perfection of Jesus rather dismisses the idea of a new creation. With the same DNA - the same common ancestor of humans and apes and all that! - he is no more (or less) a new creation than any new born baby or person who goes on to live whatever life is lived; indeed every planted or self-planted tree is a new creation in this sense.

So let's be generous and add that the resurrected Christ might be different and thus transformed and a new creation in this sense. As the first of the resurrected he is apparently the beginning of the perfect end.

This isn't just a trinitarian issue either. The earliest English ideological Unitarians believed in the resurrection and miracles, both being signs of God (the resurrection is the big miracle, after all), and thus was raised a chosen prophet to God's anointed. This is probably closest to Paul's view. Their unitarian (small u) views were eventually superseded by more critical views based on German theology, subjective individualism, and forms of religious non-supernaturalism. James Martineau pursued a sort of theistic Christian subjectivism while Francis William Newman pursued an objective theism whilst he preached against the moral perfection of Christ.

The problem with Paul is that he is so unhistorical, even with the near to him Jesus (and the escalating stories about him). The resurrection experience is nowhere explained other than as appearances and (a later tradition?) of a missing body, with the exception of Paul in so far as early on Acts says a light came from heaven came and a voice was heard and that the people around him heard the voice but saw no one. Later in Acts Paul is held to say in contradiction that they did see the light but did not hear the voice. Paul in 1 Corinthians gives a mini creed of authority about who saw the risen Christ and he being the last. Galatians is about a revelation to Paul for preaching purposes.

What is more significant regarding generating a New Creation is the Pauline theology that gets plastered on to this Jesus, and one that involved him not, apparently, conferring with flesh and blood (though Paul is full of hyperbole, and keeps having to say he is not lying or that he is telling the truth).

Paul was always of a view that it was, basically, either the Law or the Messiah, and that these were contradictory. In the first case he supported the Law but then flipped and with his Roman name supported the Messiah. Paul was an in-between man, a cultural bridge, and can see how a new Messiah can break across the cultural divide in a way that Moses and the Law could not. None of this is relevant to Jesus, of course, who stayed within his own cultural setting.

Now Moses was a primary prophetic figure, but equated with the Law he would never be able to reach out to the Greek Gentile. There will have been Greeks seeking out a monotheistic faith and the 'rationality' and earthiness of the Jewish synagogue. One reason Christianity was taken up between traders along the roads of Christian expansion was it gave a sign of advancement and trustworthiness, of godliness and dealing straight. Paul now had a Jewish figure who he could offer to the Greek mind, but only if Messiah was a salvation based son of God, where the messianic, the esoteric element of Judaism, and even the Essene is used in the crossover to concepts in the Greek mind. Such implies granting some divinity to Jesus, although being God's chosen sole worker (as regards the Kingdom) does not. Nevertheless, to have such a messianic figure at centre does allow the Law to be bypassed for those who want to bypass the Law, and Paul has been consistent with his past position, if now batting for the other side.

For Paul, Jesus is subordinate divinity at best, and indeed Jesus will give up the Kingdom to God to God (not have it eternally as in the Creed). The synoptic gospels keep this 'unitarianism' (with some puzzles in Mark about potential divinity) and only in John do you get one consistency of development from Paul, but yet a long way on: the Arianism of the first born (in the beginning) being the Word and the Word that does the job of creation.

Paul also makes an early Christian meal, consistent with Judaism, and with the love feast of Jesus, a feast after the sacrifice in memory of a - the - saviour. There are connections here with Mithras, and not the first. The Eucharist perhaps was sufficiently different from the Jewish meal to appeal to the Gentiles (note also that simplification may be a result of oppression). Not that Judaism was free of Greek and foreign influence: far from it, indeed the resurrection belief itself was only partially within Judaism and originally had come down the road from Persia and the Zoroastrians.

So a Jesus who in his own life pointed from himself to God and who healed as a servant of God, though may have come to see himself as essential to demonstrate to God the readiness of bringing in the final Kingdom, becomes instead a salvation figure not principally based on his teachings but based on the fact that a brutal regime killed him and that he was then a part of earliest messianic Christianity with transferred concepts.

The uniquely Christian bit is the ascension, that part that answers the early Christians' questions as to why Jesus, the resurrected, before all would be resurrected, didn't keep appearing to Christians - to more leaders and to more congregations say of the magic numbers 120 or 500. He appears and gives authority and legitimacy to the leadership and to congregations and then says farewell.

It is easy to get lost in this theology and say, Yes and so there is the New Creation and job done. But it is based on Paul's theology and the fact that the Christian community after 70 CE was not of the smashed Jews. It is all about interpretation, ready-beliefs and adapted beliefs, and then communal memory and the people being forward-looking for a time.

Go back a bit to the time Jesus is in Jerusalem, raising the stakes. He gets picked up with others and dispatched to his death. Paul will then have been in Jerusalem, and would not have given that or the next batch of crucified a further thought than to be careful himself, whatever may have been his fanatical nature and organising ability. The way Paul pleads his own lack of ego in the texts suggests that he had it in spades, and he found his role in life after his switch of sympathies.

The point about the New Creation is that it is just relative to these people and times, and involves a demonstration of cultural shift. This is hardly a new creation: rather it is a common example of a shift of insight. You see the same with the Bahai Faith as it leaves its Shia Muslim background and enters the West, and that had a consistency of family and written materials. Even Gandhi, who we know best of all with many primary documents, showed cultural sensitivity. New Creation is just another cultural evolution in religion.

So there is no biological sense that Jesus is a New Creation, as it has no meaning in that manner, and then theologically it seems to be entirely relative and after the event.

People might then say they feel it emotionally, that they have a 'relationship' with this New Creation Christ, but all that amounts to is their own emotions and their own fancy thoughts. They might of course want to identify with the early Christians as a community (but I bet if they could time travel they'd need the help of an anthropologist to try to get into a very different thought-world).

In the end, the question I ask is why do they want to do this, to maintain what is, in the end, a cult of an individual, of a salvation figure. You don't need to in order to examine the teachings and the stance, according to what data is available, plus such a desire for a cult of another human takes from examining other lived lives and other ideologies and thought patterns.

Spirituality is much much wider than this, and all the more interesting.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Smell the Coffee

I divert myself from what I should be doing (all part of moving, getting things done) and what I end up doing. I take the view - sod it, I live a crap life as it is (materially) so I may as well entertain myself by diversion once in a while. I have after all tried to sort out the dustbins today and why mine (those I have) get ignored.

So to my diversion, and sorting out why my other computer (only now switched on for the first time since moving) did not come on, then came on but the drawing pad did not work, and then drawing something with a pen that now seems to fly around the screen. Yes I've tried to slow it down, but it is a puzzle.

On to my diversion then and a picture of Gavin D'Costa to accompany my irritation with such theologians. Rachel, for her good or ill, is an ordinand and a 'friend' of mine on Facebook. Maybe she might want to review this because she posts her theological progress and I have developed a tendency to comment. I did over Schleiermacher, and the rush of comments that called him a heretic. How silly. He is not setting out to think in one way or another or seek or reject another's approval, but to ask what would be the mental (biological-cultural) minimum foundation for religious objectivity, and where it meets subjectivity. He produces a kind of phenomenology, that which has been summarised as 'dependence'. It's a sort of theological equivalence of Descartes' "I think therefore I am." Now if you don't like objectivity in the world of humans and the other evolved, then do a Karl Barth or join a dogmatic postmodern cult - indeed, just as Schleiermacher is the grandfather of liberalism, Karl Barth is the grandfather of later evangelical postmodernism, of which, round the corner, is a Church form of postmodernism. I call them both 'bubbles'.

D'Costa is right to see that exclusivism (and Karl Barth is mentioned again), inclusivism (as in Karl Rahner) and Pluralism (as apparently in Hick - but Hick is a universalist not a pluralist) have their exclusivities. They have their starting points and assumptions. D'Costa still wants people beyond saved and still thinks they would be by a graceful God. He assumes that these who fall outside the Roman Catholic checklist of beliefs and stances are ignorant, or don't get it, and so there is an afterlife chance that they will cotton on to what he understands as to what his institution preaches.

This is not exclusivism or a form of inclusivism: it is arrogance. We are not ignorant nor passed by (though you could argue that on Karl Barth's main view we are the unchosen and goodnight). We have studied the theology and we have done the work, and found his scheme lacking.

For example, let's take the position of Christ: after all, apparently, this makes the salvic difference between the various religious positions we might occupy. Presumably if Christ is God and Man then it matters what his life is like; he has to be an exemplar and exhibit moral perfection. But did he? How do we know? We do not have the data. Those theologians who followed Schleiermacher realised this - the limitations and techniques of doing proper history according to methods of historiography. Now if we are basing this on moral perfection, we further do not know either the existences of Fred Bloggs's around the world that were potentially morally better.

It's no good saying this is a matter of faith: it is either historically realisable or it is not. Faith that something else happens is just fancy. It's like people who say they believe in the virgin birth: who cares? You can have such a fanciful belief: you do have to overcome how DNA processes itself. What some other hard-headed theologians did was say, well it's not really about doing history, it is about the texts. Bultmann's position, which was a cultural shift problem, was all about the texts. There was actually a shift of focus away from history (and indeed science). But then it becomes not about the man, but about the texts of the man, and then actually about the community about whom these texts were primary evidence. So all the resurrection stuff is actually about a community memory and a community intention, about words and beliefs, and then a lot of these texts involve this Greek cultural shift in it anyway, never mind Roman power (or rejecting Roman power).

You can do lots with the texts, but they don't overcome the problem that got you to them in the first place.

The moral conundrums are everywhere. For example, we are told that Jesus Christ died to save our sins. I've no idea by what mechanics this should work, but let's leave that one aside for the time being. Now we must assume this is a universal, if limited to the one man, and yet it is utterly dependent on a brutal regime being in power (unless we can add a cult of suicide). So if we assume an interventionist God, such a God has to set up or allow a brutal regime to be installed so that he, as the transferred deity, gets himself killed in order to carry out a sacrificial transfer from us to him. It is morally repugnant of course, because the real victims are those who had to suffer such a rotten regime in order that the deity could appear, heal, preach a different message entirely and then get picked up by the authorities as intended.

Now of course I don't believe any of this. I believe that Jesus had a very high sense of himself and his ego, and preached some interesting ethical issues in the context of his strange endtime beliefs, and was picked up fairly casually by the authorities as they picked up so many of such minor irritants at the edge of empire. If he was following the suffering servant model in his scriptures, he is then obviously being very noble in the face of his own destruction, and would have felt it necessary (if very burdensome) to face destruction - but he did it to either be transformed himself or to have another figure coming as the Son of Man to put an end to all suffering. The early Jewish Christians thought he was coming back as Messiah, assisted by religious experiences in the context of their faith and available language that became 'resurrection'. The Greek approach gave it all a rapid salvation facelift as his titles escalated within the community, becoming a rapid movement towards binitarian worship. But that's all about them. Those of us who don't just 'join the community' and adopt its rules (e.g. "preach the gospel") then think there are times when being a martyr is less useful, indeed being a martyr is often less useful than you think. The demonstration of the living is more fruitful than the escalations of desires imposed on to a person after their death and all relying on a cultural passing moment of intense supernatural endtime belief.

So far from there being moral and ethical perfection, there are just sets of questions, and all based on limited knowledge. Of course people can then retreat to privileging Greek culture, or saying the Romans were civilised (for the later faith and its structures), or saying these texts are normative, or you must have incarnation. Why? D'Costa does what he knows he must do - he retreats to the dogmas of the Church as a precondition. It keeps his system afloat.

Hick is a universalist. He says there is a Real that is salvic, towards which all religions of ethical content point. His attachment to Christianity is like someone being attached to the wife: she is his most beautiful woman in the world. Fair enough, for a bit of subjective preference. But Hick is a realist, and does not like the implication of pluralism, that we all have our languages and our positions, and there is a kind of liberal postmodernism barrier between them, or else a clash of objective values that must be battled over with no one having the political right to impose. Hick does impose: he says the Trinity is not the highest, but the Real is.

What I do is different. I'm a pluralist. I have my own arguments, of relative realism and non-realism from the sciences to the arts; and then if I come into your parlour or you into mine, I will defend my arguments. I'll debate with Rachel and Jody and anyone. To D'Costa I say, "You can think what you like, but understand that you are a theological imperialist, and as long as you recognise that and have no power over another, we can get along." In my view, his arguments all fall down except by retreat into substantive dogma as a starting point, whereas my starting points are inclusive, somewhat inductive and limited, based on evidence, argument and common paradigms.

Someone tell me what I want to drink some coffee.