Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Archbishop of England Discusses Consumer Rights

The universality and reach of the modern superstore or hypermarket is unquestionably a landmark in the history of shopping and indeed the distribution sector of capitalism. It seems that this is utterly a universal experience as capitalism spreads itself without limit across the world. Examples of localism, in terms of the corner shop or the bustling market, is now being met by the right to cheap food and other products like electronic devices from all over the world through the multinational supermarket system that creates access to goods and services undreamt of including for the poor and vulnerable. With it comes the whole panoply of consumer rights developed in Western law and extended and contained within the supermarket system and the packaging of products.

Yet the language of consumer rights has - surprisingly - become more rather than less problematic in recent times. The 'consumer rights record' of certain multinational chains is - very understandably - deployed as a factor in calculating economic strategies of engagement; but this has its impact on any idea that the language of consumer rights is, so to speak, 'shopper neutral'. For some, it can reinforce the notion that this language is an ideological tool for one culture to use against another, as in Western post-imperial capitalism. We have heard over a good many years arguments about the 'inappropriateness' of consumer rights language in a context, say, of mass economic privation, where it is claimed that a focus on such individual rights is a luxury, at least during the period when economic injustices are being rectified. Both the old Soviet bloc and a number of regimes in developing nations have at times advanced this defence against accusations of overriding individual purchasing and choice rights. But more recently, questions about consumer rights have begun to give anxiety to some religious communities who feel that alien cultural standards are somehow being imposed - particularly in regard to inherited views of the family and the role of the woman shopper and the rituals of family eating and the place of the gay person's dinner on one's knees. There is also the issue in which products seem to work using batteries rather than by the intervention of almighty God. And so we face the worrying prospect of a gap opening up between a discourse of rights increasingly conceived as a universal legal 'code' and the specific moral and religious intuitions of actual diverse communities.

In what follows, I want to indicate some ways in which we might reconnect thinking about consumer rights and religious conviction - more specifically, Christian convictions about digestive dignity and consumer relatedness, how we belong together. There might be an interfaith aspect here. I believe this reconnection can be done by trying to understand rights against a background not of individual claims of shoppers but of the question of what is involved in mutual recognition between both digesting and those functioning beings who use distributed products during their lifecycle.

Don't or do get me wrong: I believe that rights are a crucial way of working out what it is for people to belong together in a society. The problem is when we get together to eat, or to use products, and the language gets difficult only when we do things on our own, like the gay boy who sadly plays alone or eats off his knees (girls may be slightly different). This is not just to make the obvious (please don't fall asleep) point about rights and responsibilities. It is to see the world of 'rights' as anchored in habits of empathy and identification with the other, in the invitation to come together and the "relational consequences" of not so doing. And I shall also argue that a proper understanding of law may help us here or there.

Law, I believe, so this is just me talking, is not a comprehensive code that will define and enforce a set of universal claims and systems; it is the way in which we codify what we think, at any given point, mutual recognition requires from us in our shopping habits, customs and taboos. It will therefore shift its focus from time to time and it cannot avoid choices about priorities. To seek for legal recognition of any particular action as a 'consumer right' is not to try and construct a universal and exhaustive code but to challenge a society that apparently refuses full purchasing power to some of its members on the backs of a thin universal claim towards actual diverse communities of purchasers.

What makes the gap between religion and the worldwide shift in activating consumer rights under the superstructure of capitalistic organisation worrying is that the language of the universal consumer is unthinkable without the kind of moral universalism that religious ethics underpins. It is not enough just to label goods by legislation, which cannot be the same, country by country, which packaging presumes. Indeed, packaging assumes there is a level of information owed to consuming beings irrespective of their nationality, status, gender, age or achievement. They have a buying status simply as members of the human race; so that this language takes for granted that there are some things that remain true about the nature or character of the individual shopper whatever particular circumstances prevail and whatever any specific political-economic settlement may claim. Against this, religious people will argue that they alone have a secure 'doctrinal' basis for believing it, because they hold that every consumer is related to God independently of their relation to other products or to earthly political and social systems supplying these products. Consumers and products are created by God 'in the image and likeness of God', even if some come from the factory as an intermediate means of construction. First comes nature, and that is a reflection of the love, fidelity and justice of God and about which religious people have written copious notes greater than any words on industrially provided and rather wasteful packaging.

The supermarket system and universal-leaning packaging is part of modernism and reaching ever broader; whereas I am suggesting here a plural, postmodern, basis for particularlity, but underlined by the ideas of premodernity creeping back in, with the benefits that we can save the corner shop, the street market, the family gathering around to eat, and the necessary isolation of the notion of people eating from their knees, it being a most peculiar lifestyle choice, even if a tray is involved across each knee.

This religious doctrine is deeply opposed to 'individualism', since it locates this status of the person within a scheme that (logically) requires any person to acknowledge the same status in every other person, near or far, like or unlike.

See the contrast here: individualism is also mass; and both are opposed; instead, I as an individual point of view express the rightness in religion of the particular group with its habits and taboos.

In the ideas, as expressed in the group, comes moral underpinning: the need to justify something in something else, like indeed getting back to God, rather than in the faceless assertion that we all hurt alike and love alike, when we don't know the other. The danger otherwise is that the language about consumer rights can become either a purely aspirational matter or something that is simply prescribed by authority, other than a religious authority like me. The risk would be that 'consumer rights' would be seen as a set of entitlements specified by a particular political authority when they are gifts handed out by a religious authority as representative on earth of the divine.

You cannot divorce the conversation about a new superstore coming to the edge of the city, or increasingly within the city, from the debate within a local church as to its impact on the community in that place, churches being perhaps the only places where tradition acts as a counterweight and a basis of purely free unadulterated thought, quite different from the advertising-flooded local press whose income may soon depend on that supermarket, which will have workers dependent on this arm of universalist capitalism for their jobs.

No, but the specificity of a religious ethic is itself an anchorage butter sliding of our universalist religious ethic if I can identify this myself. This is decidedly not secular, nor is the critique Marxist, but universal in the sense of the God identified by the Judaeo-Christian tradition and indeed by the plurality of communities, some observing sharia law and their own particular patterns of shopping. Indeed, the Buddhist may not even shop, but stand outside and ask others to shop and then fill their trollies for free.

Secularity is so thin, in comparison to the premodern thought patterns able to find a place in the plurality of the postmodern that claims, nevertheless, a universality within the premodern.

Law is important: it is not simply about custom and taboo. Culture can be oppressive, certainly, and a law-governed society is one in which anyone belonging to one community has certain guaranteed liberties of access to any shop without sanction that constitutes assault or to redress after injury. This counter-presence I do admit is important, and was understated when I argued some years back for the inevitability of sharia law. I hope you see how my argument now is related to that argument then, for it draws from the same plurality of the postmodern that claims a universality within the premodern.

However, despite the recourse to resources of generality, individuals must self-sacrifice themselves to the collective benefits of the particular culture in which they are reciprocated in their lifestyles. Lifestyle choices, promoted by capitalism, cannot ultimately be based on thin secular choice - the thinness in particular of eating from one's knees. It is the equivalent of buying Value products. One needs nourishment and for that one needs the transcendent.

Why would anyone want to do this act of avoidance? Well, of course, it is the elephant in the room, or rather, the television. Nowadays, as one sees in the larger supermarkets or hypermarkets, they are as big as elephants. It is so tempting to watch a repeat of The Simpsons for the fiftieth time and ask the wife to put your tea on a tray.

Wife and husband and uncontracepted childen should sit one with the other and observe the rituals that give identity and being to the nature of the person as a real consumer, rather than dashing through the shop for that food and buying all sorts of products just by choice - individualism is mass, again. They even sell condoms and sometimes next to DVDs and CDs that are of mass entertainment.

There is also an argument here against the freezer. No doubt why then it is called a freezer: my Derrida based interception of this language indicates the freezing of the community of the family. It would be better to buy daily, and of course respond positively and more easily to that universal claim of getting your five a day. There is much to be said for the pantry.

And what of the wrongdoer and the shoplifter? In modern legal practice, we generally work on the assumption that the wrongdoer's civic identity is to be preserved intact. Is it not better, however, to identify the shoplifter by a swift chop-off of the hand as in the sharia law that some communities may wish to observe, without compulsion of course? We might see the benefits, after all one hand chopped off and you are hardly likely to shoplift a second time.

To see some with one hand and some with two binds us together as a community: of reciprocity shown in the sinful action of individuals, an individualism that is nothing other than greed packaged as universalism. No, universalism belongs in the claim of the religious particularlity indicated by some people with two hands and some people with one and the occasional fool with none.

The real issue then is to tackle that lifestyle in which it is apparently acceptable to eat off one's knees, to apply against it social and cultural taboo that is strong and retaining. This is not an anti-gay argument, but one of a lifestyle choice considered to be less adequate than the riches of the social and cultural life of reciprocity, as in the one of social recognition involved with eating using one hand or just leaning over and sucking food off the plate. That pattern carries history of community care, and protection of property, of the old market where the boy was all too easily able to grasp an apple and run. Chop his hand off and he is clearly a member of society.

We cannot uninvent the supermarket, but what we can do is preserve the customs of reciprocal society by shifting the language of consumer rights from the thin and universal to the thick and religious, from where all true universal claims are made, in my opinion.

Rowan Tree.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Holloway's Prison

I consumed two BBC programmes fronted by Andrew Marr today. One was Start the Week by download from Radio 4 with Karen Armstrong, Jonathan Safran Foer, Helen Edmundson and Richard Holloway. The other was his fronting of a BBC 2 programme about David Hockney, a close neighbour to my friend's dad in Bridlington.

Andrew Marr showed relative ignorance and made easily corrected mistakes in both programmes, which is why increasingly these should have specialist presenters rather than generalists. At times he even looked bored alongside David Hockney. David Hockney's whole emphasis was about looking: seeing through larger space as we are within, what colour is within, and seeing through time. I appreciated Hockney better.

On a day when a high ranking policewoman claimed at the Leveson Inquiry systematic and continuous corruption at The Sun and with the police and public agents, thus making the Archbishop of York's article in The Sun on Sunday utterly ill-advised, and showing him to be an institutional apparatchik, Richard Holloway and Karen Armstrong in particular hoped for breadth for faith in settings that realise that faith and belief are not the same, and that modern times have created the notion that believing more is to be more religious. Jonathan Safran Foer stated how doing ritual itself is being religious - affirmed by both religionists present - and specifically Passover as a re-enactment ritual can be the last connection secular people have with the religious inheritance in Judaism, that keeps them connected.

Obviously as a Unitarian attender I would assert I go to one of those churches that retains breadth, where questions matter more than answers, and that answers are your own.

Of course the question of Richard Holloway is: 'Why didn't you tell us your actual religious position when you were an active bishop?' Yes, we knew he was at the liberal end of things, but he was also an institution-man, a prison against honesty, if not quite to the same extent as the two current English Archbishops and their depressing bureaucratic dealings.

Arguably he did, at least more than most, and combined being institutional with being a little careless in the role: there was a run-up of liberal Christian books and then Godless Morality: Keeping Religion out of Ethics came out in 1999 and he resigned as Bishop of Edinburgh in 2000, partly thanks to comments from George Carey, that keeper of Godly morality as suits. I always assumed Richard Holloway was liberal but within the boundaries of the institution, but then one shouldn't assume. He actually thought the Church institution was slow, needing religious excuses to change.

Whatever one thinks about Don Cupitt, as a comparison, at least he 'came out' in full while still an active priest, and made his position clear, retaining his role for some time against calls to resign, though later on he stated that his critics were right all along.

Like Cupitt, on the radio Richard Holloway states that he is opposed to the supernatural. Religion was a human institution, he thought, now he thinks God is made up too. He lives with mystery. He has also given a newspaper interview making the doubts clear.

What's puzzling is that he states that he began to lose his faith in God through radical doubt five years after he was ordained as a priest. He did his self-giving parish work and climbed (or was pushed up) the ecclesiastical greasy pole.He never got over doubting and a self-arguing condition.

He settled on the usual gamble, the 'as if', otherwise called Pascal's wager. Pascal's wager, however, does not work, because the God you think you should believe in has to have characteristics, and to assume belief about God with some characteristics is to disbelieve in a God with other characteristics. You cannot simply wager on God rather than no God as a security for other worldly salvation. But he did, as many do.

His new book is Leaving Alexandria and it is a kind of spiritual autobiography (see the poem by Constantine P. Cavafy, 1911, even if Alexandria is his home town). Kelham Hall in Nottinghamshire took him on as a 14 year old poor boy to form him as a future priest, which is what he became (he might have stayed at Kelham but he liked women too much).

As well as soon doubting (disbelieving) the virgin birth he doubted (disbelieved) in physical resurrection. He wanted to be as honest as possible when preaching. With this he thought about leaving the priesthood but struggled on and just buried his head into doing the practicalities, for a while.

He did think he had the gift of tongues at one point, and dabbled with the charismatics. He should look at that UUA church that I viewed on Sunday.

The doubts but the continuing performance simply indicates the duplicity encouraged by a credal approach that ticks boxes: good if you can, bad if you can't.

I'm no one in comparison, but when I attended a parish church I would think, 'People assume I agree with this stuff when I don't.' You are a visual witness to what is going on, simply by presence and by joining in. A sort of symbolic romanticism is hard to express (Richard Holloway is something of a romanticist, I would think: perhaps he can reimagine Christianity more than I could). So by presence I affirmed a kind of general acceptance and by non-participation showed where I disagreed. And thus I played less and less part in what was going on, and for quite some time. People had liked my intercessions but I stopped taking them, and once asked to do a Bible reading for a Wednesday morning I refused and made that clear, as indeed I did not participate in the Eucharist half of those services.

That's because I don't think you can do just a plain symbolic approach in Christianity. I think to affirm and take communion is to identify with the overall credal belief system (as a minimum - belief in incarnation and resurrection, whatever questions about details), and I would only take communion in future where it is explicit that there is full freedom regarding belief and disbelief. I might join in with some of Liberal Catholicism, except that they import some magical beliefs. Of course I am one of the few laypeople to have conducted a communion service with bread and wine - I did it at the Hull Unitarians in 2002, signalled in advance, and it was divisive because half the congregation refused to partake. The joke was that I was like Sydney Anglicans already. Of course the service was deliberately plural and beyond Christianity.

Another difference, now, is that Richard Holloway still affirms a following of the man of Nazareth, and acknowledges the role of the institution that can release the man to people today, whereas I have moved away from such an identification.

Richard Holloway sells books because he was a bishop. Don Cupitt sold them because he was (and emained) a priest. That's the way it works, like in man bites dog, but in the end it is good to have someone who was institutional and can preach moderation and doubt and go on to show that faith is not defined by belief.

Monday, 27 February 2012

John Sendmehome's New Job

The Archbishop of the North John writes in The Stunner on Monday.
Promoting this and me

What a fantastic honour it is for you to read me in the new look Stunner Monday. It is yet another chance for me to do what I do best - self promotion and the publicity drive, and sell a few rumoured to be newspappers. It's a fresh start in a stale world.

Seven days a week I can get a gad dose of a pair of tits and all sorts of other tittle - geddit - tackle. Wow!

It is easier for a nakk-ed woman to show herself in front of men instead of a woman, because a woman is critical while a man is just grateful. And that's the proper way, leading to actual marriage and not some civil thing that they told us was a bit of the old David and Jonathan covenant of friends, you know.

But in this bigger, brighter, shine a light Stunner, men show their chests too. A bit of equality - wow. Why do women and then men go near naked in the Rag of the Year? To air their differences, and when we Anglicans air our differences we need a Covenant too. I don't lack our cladgy vatting it down, so we need to do a bit of backroom stuff and the old methods that this paper knows all about.

I know people who criticise me for dat and dis and for writing in dis reputable rag, but look we all say sorry and forgive, even well before the police have finished their investigations and justice has not been done. OK, so some enquiry is going on, but I never bother with them myself, even though I've chaired a few.

But I like to see the best in journalists - doing the hacking telephones and police being paid bungs. See, we Anglicans have our ways and means behind the scenes too, like when I go in the gents with folk and and these people come out with a different opinion. I need to work on our cladgy more, obviously.

Alex Pope, he was no pope - but he said keep your finger where you don't want anything else to protrude. Especially in Lent, when people borrow things and when people turn their backs on what has gone before or turn their backs to get some more.

Also I lack to wrat to places like Nigeria and say that really, honestly, they ought not to execute sinful people who like to have a bit of whoopsy in the bedroom, given half the chance. I think we ought to deny them everything but not to kill them. That's a bit too far. But, fair doooos, ah'll meet them half way.

So Lent is lack a spiritual MOT and then the Chach is lack an expensive insurance policy. You pay your dues and if tha is a Gad then ya get saved. After all, insurance is a gamble against misfortune and the good thing about motoring insurance is it also protects the other guy from misfortune.

This way we can drive off to a new horizon forgetting the wreckage behind us. It's ever so umble to write in this Rag of the Year, and especially if you buy it every day for all the glamour for which Gad will indulge you mercifully.

And am looking fawwad to my caravan holiday for nine quid this year somewhere on the River Mazzey I think. Mack sure you get your vouchers from the daily papper.

And remember, it's a days wage for a day's work, lack when the readers and non-stipendary cladgy don't get anything for tacking services and preaching in our chaches. Be fair, like we are in our trade.

Read me next week in the gaseous ball The Stunner on Monday.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Covenant: The Unitarian Parallel

I was particularly impressed with Andrew Davison's paper, given as a presentation in a Norwich listening seminar, against the Anglican Communon Covenant. On its own terms it states that the Covenant makes a mistake in being institutionally human to human (thus unimportant) and regarding people as divided and in need of unity, whereas Covenants are of God to people whose baptism already makes a unity between them.

This is specifically Christian and for a non-confessing Church. What I'd like to do is transfer some of its ideas to Unitarianism.

Unitarians can say 'we covenant' and the legitimacy of that is from an English Presbyterian past.

But when we do say something like: 'We convenant together in the cause of Liberal Religion' it is not something that begins just there.

The assumption is that this has been done before. To say this is not just present-future only, but something that is continuous by being in that gathering.

The 'we' is assumed to be the congregation. In Unitarianism the Church is the congregation. The General Assembly is more like a Communion. However, the 'we' may imply all Unitarians.

This is quite a claim. There are some Unitarians that have a catechisis. These central European Unitarians are of a different tradition, even if they've handled similar ideas at one time or another. They are low Protestants with Superintendent Ministers as well as ministers. Other Unitarians might derive from African wishes for freedom from a directive denomination. A bishop goes to a post office and likes what he sees of Unitarianism on a connected computer and, bingo, a group of churches are thus designated. A charismatic bishop in the United States became a universalist, and the one place he found freedom to be was the Unitarian Universalists.

They all ought to be on a quest for liberty and liberality, and recommend it for others. Now when I take a service I include intercessions (why not - its a focus on others) and still use the Anglican model of Church, world, sick and dead. In this case, Church means people of faith [including humanists] and then specifically the Unitarian identified.

So a covenant together is all these people identified and for the general purpose, unless otherwise stated. For, despite the diversity and difference, there is a claim to unity. The unity is not in Christ, or Buddha or any such, nor in any theology, though it is religious: it is in the place of liberty and liberality in the religious quest and therefore the upholding of the individual.

Older Unitarian theology took that liberty as being a wish of God: the freedom we have say to sin or not to sin, and the ability to turn away from sin [I notice in the older hymn book still quite a bit on sin and turning from it].

Newer Unitarian theology cannot make that assumption, or at least must stretch the meaning of God (as I do). Nevertheless to make a covenant is to be both Unitarian in identity and to affirm liberty and the place of liberality.

This is different from Andrew Davison's point, in so far as:

We are not individuals who contract or covenant into relation. It is not, as the Covenant has it, that the 'Instruments of Communion… enable [our Churches] to be conformed together to the mind of Christ'.

In fact we are, and oddly the individual that keeps silent does not so covenant, but is still part of the identity - the objection would have to be that there is something anti-libertarian illiberal in the liberty-liberal statement. It really does need individual consent. But I am agreeing (once translated) that:

No: Christ's death, our baptism, the Eucharist, the Scriptures we have in common - these conform us to Christ, not any legal mechanism.

Obviously not Christ's death - no one person's death makes anything - but the common identity is already that liberty and liberality of the covenanting together.

This means something important. That there is a unity already established. If the covenant is for all then we are stating a unity. Therefore the great differences that exist in theology in the UK, across the evolved version of Unitarianism, and then across other versions, are differences and disagreements, but not to the extent that they affect unity. Because there is still the social gospel of difference as exercised within a religious community. The covenant made is a witness to that.

Same with Anglicanism: that there is not a state of disunity where a covenant needs to bring Churches together to form a unity, but a state of unity where there are differences that require other means to express that unity more fully. Unity does not mean uniformity. Expressing unity more fully might involve the same number of differences!

I might have problems with the theology and practice of some American churches, or of some African churches: more's the pity for me. God has saved me into the same Body as them.

Nevertheless, the reason to make a covenant is to emphasise the unity, and that means reconciling. Again Davison's paper makes this point. A congregation may have gone through a divisive argument, and the purpose of stating a covenant then may well be to emphasise that unity which underlies the ability to have, the necessity to recover from, the argument just had. People may have walked off, they may come back soon, or later, or not at all. New people coming perhaps need a sense of unity exclaimed.

There may be a time when ethical anti-libertarian and illiberal actions and directions cause a more of a collective split. More often than not, in history, those who wanted less liberty and more credal affirmation walked off together, even if liberty was relatively new. Sometimes splits have to happen.

There is always a danger of factions and fractions, or walking out. Individuals do indeed walk out. I did a few times. I went effectively saying, this is illiberal, unethical, not right. Sometimes you just have to do it. But in the end, you also reconcile. It is untidy but people move on and groups move on. The principles are going to guide you back to that fellowship should you have kept them (of course you may also leave if your principles have changed).

Unitarian churches are free to innovate. That's half the point. The full money-legalisation of British Unitarianism in 1844 was from the argument of a congregation evolving its faith over 25 years.

There is one continuing bugbear in all of this, and it is in the General Assembly Object - that bit that is to uphold the Liberal Christian tradition. It doesn't matter that people are told it is not a creed. It has credal implications, and expects people will be doing this, whether they want to or not. Unitarians (as elsewhere in the GA Object) have the freedom to take faith where they will. That upholding part of the GA Object was anti-liberty and wrong to insert and I'll continue to say so. It is wrong on exactly those Unitarian principles on which I'd be happy to covenant.

Incidentally, I am not a member of the congregation at Hull. For some, covenanting is indicated by membership. Being a friend means some form of distancing. For me it is a more a Martineau-like (updated) statement of a general attachment than a congregational one, that I also have problems with the illiberal consequences of pure congregationalism where a clique can demand ideological conformity and there is little that can be done to stop it (other than internally). So in this sense I do covenant with the greater sense of liberty and liberality of Unitarianism. I also affirm the proper role of the General Assembly as the Unitarian Communion (and not, say, Unitarian Ministries International), but I do it with a huge objection to its Object. I want to see that Object revised and dislike the absence of attention it receives on the basis that it makes itself redundant. It doesn't. So my approach isn't without difficulties, and I'd covenant on general principles but probably not on specifics.

Oh and we should and do value relationships that enhance and give stability to individuals, and reflect these in ministry and blessings. Yes, some congregations have votes that can be to the contrary, but there is nothing in principle against these other than individual difficulties in contrary voting. I'd say this area should come within the realm of the minister's right to freedom of worship, and somehow transfer that principle when there is no minister. But whilst I could not vote, my congregation did take a positive vote for when a possible ceremony arose to take place in the building (but didn't actually take place).

As it happens, I cannot remember the last time we did a congregational 'we covenant together to' within worship, but I remember it from Rev. Ernest Penn on the general principles outlined and I did join in. I was probably a member then; I changed my mind after Unitarian College.

Still, covenanting is something we could do more, based on these underlying principles of already affirmed unity.

Don't Open Those Bottles Yet

Just before the champagne corks start popping, Sheffield and Winchester dioceses voted in favour of the Anglican Communion Covenant.

Although such a measure ought to be at the level of a consensus, the Church bureaucrats will take a slim victory as enough for the 'importance' that the Church of England does not stand in the way of producing a worldwide Covenant, and fulfils its duties as having the role of Archbishop of Canterbury in the Instruments of Communion. As it was told before, in a kind of mirror logic, the Church of England cannot (be allowed to) stand in the way of the Covenant of others and it.

The slim defeat will also be enough for people to assert that they are the people of the Church, and that this Church as each Church makes its decisions itself, and is not introducing some new supra-Church authority or indeed extending the Communion into a Church.

However, I suspect that bureaucrats in small rooms are already considering how they can produce a situation where the Archbishop of Canterbury as a bishop in the Communion can continue to be an Instrument of the Communion when his own Church has said no to the potential new law, and in what ways the Church can continue to be 'in' rather than out. There might be, for example, a purple-only method, some sort of informal statement of the House of Bishops, that amounts to the Church of England being considered in rather than out, if only informally and by statement of the Instruments.

Whilst there are some very good arguments made, and that should be the means, the anti-lobby might consider some dirty tactics, working on the English psyche. While I am pro-European, and want to work against the current democratic deficit, I am not such a fool to realise I am in quite a minority. So whisper in the ears of some Church of England people aware of Henry VIII about this being a 1974 moment and a chance to have a referendum on the Common Market. Ask them if they know what they are signing up to in these terms? Is it a loose document of encouragement with few consequences, leaving things mainly as they are, but with a new centre of decisions, or is it instead the road to what will soon be a Federal Anglican Church where the Church of England won't be able to take its own important decisions without the nod from abroad?

By the way, I mean federal in the sense it does mean: decentralisation but where sovereignty is at the centre. And I know why I am pro-European in this sense and not pro-federal in a Church sense - because a Church (any Church) is a communion not a federation. One is about voting and having common democratic and liberal values whereas the other is about talking and deeper human relations. Communions are by their nature at least the equivalent of confederal, containing Churches, and as close to the parish and individual as possible.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Mind of an Evangelical

I saw Jonathan Edwards on television a few days ago. I'm not talking about someone in the United States playing the long dead Calvinist who debated against Arminians. I am talking about the one time British athlete now presenter and commentator. I hope to avoid him when the Olympics are on, not because I want to avoid him but because I want to avoid the Olympics.

Jonathan Edwards was a runner and at one time refused to run on a Sunday, denying himself the opportunity of medals. He later changed his mind about this, after examining biblical texts. But his examination of texts was on the surface, on a literalistic level. He lost his faith and became an agnostic (but assumes atheism) when his television career in religion began. Songs of Praise might have been easy, but in 2007 he put a stop to that, because his faith was examined by a deeper examination of the tradition and texts. The key evidence is an interview given to The Times [behind a paywall].

"Once you start asking yourself questions like, 'How do I really know there is a God?' you are already on the path to unbelief," Edwards says. "During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God."

In other words, something relatively speculative like the earthquake and epileptic fit cause of St. Paul's experience (never mind the simpler subjectivity of such experiences - and a culturally on the cusp person seeking a purpose in life) could shatter belief into the improbability of God.

Not all evangelicals undergo such overnight loss, though I suspect that they are the most likely to do so. The reason is that the hurdle of belief is set so high and is so unsupported that doubt of a significant kind leads to a crashing down of what there was.

Many an evangelical starts on a slippery slide. Some of them do it at theological college, and indeed I have met some at different stages. A Baptist who started at the same time as me said to me that he thought the enemies were outside the Church and now he finds them inside. He was quite tough and self-certain. But I have met others, including some in Sea of Faith, who started out as evangelicals and had become enthusiastic non-realists (and far more enthused than me). Some end up with compromises, retaining a theism whilst most of the doctrinal connections have gone. A URC woman in training was decidely not christocentric but retained an overall theism.

I think there are two kinds of evangelical here. One is the person who must have it all, and one is the person who can settle somewhere else. The Jonathan Edwards person is one for whom the whole lot collapses. He probably hasn't gone into all the details about why there might never have been a bodily resurrection, etc., but rather is just aware of theologians who have come to that conclusion.

But there are more. There is also the person who wants it all, and has to deal with the ever-growing set of questions. This person is likely to be charismatic, whose evangelicalism has been supported by emotional personal experience. The way to tackle doubt is to get back into that personal experience, and relive what used to be the case.

Another supporting mechanism is the Church, by which I mean denomination (I use capital C). Those with doubt can exist in a narrow Church and have the tribe supporting him or her. The Church may well give the emotional support, or revise the old arguments.

But, in the end, the tribe cannot overcome niggling doubts, and there are plenty of sociological studies of people joining cults that show just how feeble is the view that members are brainwashed. All these groups, whatever the force of dogma and generated experience, suffer losses of people after a variety of other arguments come in (some of them start as questioning leadership ethics and patterns of authoritarianism).

Personal experience might pump them up too, but if the canvas is broad the effectiveness of yet another intake of gas is going to lessen.

Church, as it broadens, or a section of the Church, might act as a resistance. One noted pattern of development, for some, is the increasing reliance on 'corporate faith' as a pattern and more ritualistic worship as a support. Unlike the gassy, charismatic stuff, the ritualistic is a theatre of patterns to observe, and this falls in with a 'whole Church view' of inherited culture.

Some of the above can even be non-realist, a postmodern form of premodernity. I suspect that, for an evangelical, this is unattractive. Evangelicals are essentially modernists, people who think they have demonstrable truth, and to move to a kind of mythic existence is not how their brains are wired. They might become militant non-realists, but would do so in a plural or secular form of religious humanism that draws on aspects left over in Christianity; some are forced, meanwhile, to engage with whole liturgies that are otherwise fairly bankrupt in terms of providing information. It must be uncomfortable, and only really possible in Catholic type Churches with written liturgies.

Yet evangelicals also have collective, non-realist forms of theology. The whole idea of an ahistorical reliance on the text, and the text as drama and identifier, and the rejection of objectvity in culture (from Barth to Frei and Lindbeck) is also a rejection of personal experience (seen as a form of individualism - and that is liberalism). Some of these folks can do some time-anthropology by getting back to an eschatological Jesus, but their main emphasis remains on the full Pauline text that jumps the Jewish primitive interpretation of end days into a salvation faith (originally too of end days). History might be attempted, but in the end history it is not. It's not that some parts are not unhistorical, but that the emphasis is not on history but on the text and the community and the self as subsumed to both.

If an evangelical finds this material attractive, and a way by which those more complex questions can be contained, then I would think that there must be a clash between the once belief in objective truth and this new, hang-it-in-the-air type approach. It is possible to get into all kinds of little details and the meaning-of-the-story, but the niggle is that the performance is somehow lacking ballast from below.

Ministers of the Christian religion are, however, in a double bind, because they are committed to performance. They cannot discuss their complexities in the open, should they appear to be doubts (as indeed they are at least doubts). Academics can become clever at the use of language which appears to be orthodox but clearly is not - this was under way in the nineteenth century when biblical criticism was becoming more than a speciality in German universities. There is this Frei-Lindbeck conserving postmodernism for Protestants and the Reformed, that simply relies on the expression of ecumenical Protestantism.

To be able to shift theology requires a Church that allows such breadth. The problem with such a Church is that it is often broader than the evangelical wants. The corset is just too loose.

Neverthless, some evangelicals don't get on this particular bus. They see that, as soon as the bus stops, they are off on the cold street. It's like the cartoon character with racing feet off the cliff edge - look down and you fall down.

In the end, if there is going to be history, experience and individualism, there is going to have to be an encounter with the liberal stance. Now the liberal stance is broad, and some liberals also are symbolic (theatrical) in expression and others are plain, but they have the difficulty that liturgically they appear to believe more traditionally than they do. There remains a question of honesty. The sermon is also to preach the gospel, not have an open set of expressed ideas, and in the Eucharist service is followed by the creed (just in case the sermon should sway off line).

I think there is a line from an evangelical to a liberal. It doesn't have to be like Jonathan Edwards. But Church has boundaries, and a too-loose corset for an evangelical in transition might well become too tight for a liberal.

Promises are promises, after all. I'm a soft non-realist regarding transcendence, and I understand the role of myth in religion. But history, experience and the individual is important. If I give a sermon, it will be what I actually think (even if sensitive to the ears of others), and if I hear one I want it to be authentic to the person speaking. I want the service to be around the area I believe, with people who are at least prepared to discuss and debate openly. Compromises are still made, but we know what they are and it should not impede open thought. There is a place for symbolism, too, but not as a rope to climb to become something you are not. I like symbolism, but I want it to be expressive and plural too. In the end, religion must be about honesty. One hears Jonathan Edwards in current times, reflecting on his religious past, and he is honest, but liberal religion also ought to be honest. He was honest, when religious too, but I'm only suggesting that a collapse is not the only option.

Incidentally I was never evangelical and was always agnostic, and I'm still in the same region, but on the other side of the religion-non-religion line. I don't have and probably cannot have an evangelical mindset, and also I failed to pump up a given collective symbolism despite attempts to see it as an orthopraxy rather than an orthodoxy. So I am where I am, but there are a small number of native liberals compared with fallen evangelicals and those liberals who dress up.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Choice Words in the Pro-Covenant Website

Late in the day a website is born to promote the Anglican Communion Covenant. The old joke about a pressure group website consisting of three men and a dog is here replicated: er, just two people. But little things can grow into bigger things. So let's look at it.

Just as opponents once said that there was a danger of sleepwalking into signing this thing into being, this website claims there is a danger of sleepwalking into rejecting it. The point about sleepwalking was the authorities having one say over what was going to happen with lots of time for preparation - but now it comes to real people voting, the real people have woken up. Presented with the arguments, rather than one argument, they tend to vote against.

But here are some interesting phrases on the 'why' page of the pro-Covenant website:

It is, nevertheless, considered to be a worldwide Church...

the actions of some Provinces have strained the bonds of affection, and brought into question the notion of what it means to be a worldwide Church.

How can we really call Anglicanism a single global entity...

And elsewhere there is: "and by our identity as a ‘global church’."

Get the pattern? It is all about building a global Church. But the Church of England was founded on the principle that no outside Church body could tell it what to do. Other Churches have that too. They specifically evolved discussive linkages between them. When will these folks get it that the Anglican Communion is not a Church? Provinces are the Churches, and canon law remains with them. This is why that why page also states:

all Provinces would be invited (but could not be compelled) to adopt.

So that seems pretty pointless, as now there will be Anglican Churches that don't adopt and those that do. It is already flawed and failing as some will never join it anyway. What then is the means of unity? Centralised, quasi-legal but without means of justice, action:

any Province whose actions are deemed to be incompatible with the Covenant can be suspended from the Instruments of Communion.


The sanctions contained in the Anglican Covenant are mild, and cannot ultimately force any Province to taking any particular course of action.
So that is division, then, by action of a central committee that lacks sufficient (synodical) oversight, and yet doesn't actually have any effect in stopping anything (and it is all about stopping what others dislike). What is the difference between being suspended and not even asking to join? So whereas now there is variation, argument, disagreement, contact off and on, but various means to dialogue, via lots of routes and contacts, including indirect, and even urgings to change positively and why, as well as to stop, this Covenant would formalise and centralise the nature of division all based on stopping (but ineffective) things: so you are out or you are in. Only a 'global Church' could think like this.

The website claims that:

The Church of England has consistently supported the Covenant up to now; why turn our backs on it?

No it hasn't. The previous General Synod vote was specifically about sending it to the dioceses. Each time the pushers have kicked the thing into little goals, they've used each goal to justify the next goal kick. But at some point a decision has to be made, and the first decision was to send it to the dioceses. Presumably 'they the people' are not just there to rubber stamp but to make a decision. The rule is, if something doesn't carry the majority of the Church, that's it.

Something like a Covenant to be made, that actually relies on a consensus in a Church, surely, and demonstrably would do so in the dioceses, has now shown there is no such consensus. And this is condescending:

While many in the Church of England may not until now have given much thought to the wider Anglican Communion

Well they are doing now, and a Covenant is inappropriate, and the argument why is given on the website itself:

It would be a mistake not to give the Covenant a chance, just because it can’t solve all our problems.

What? Not give it a chance? Once it is 'given a chance' it will take over, and become the bureaucracy no one would want to see. It is precisely the thing not to be given a chance. Surely its proponents are more enthused than giving it 'a chance'? What an argument. It is rather pointless, hopeless, useless, and yet potentially - given 'a chance' - highly destructive and divisive. It adds to the problems and solves nothing.

Translating into English

Bosco Peters states that no one has translated the recent Rowan Williams speech to the Church of England General Synod into English. I love a challenge and I'll try and summarise the choicest analytical bits.

What Rowan Williams was saying is that a bishop gets the being a bishop from the Church's sacrament of ordination, and this is derivation.

Ordination thus means a bishop can do certain sacramental things, which are derived from the ordination.

Then, a bishop actually doing what a bishop can do is delegation.

All bishops are ordained and become bishopy, but then they get licenced into a place to actually do the work. So derived is necessary and makes, and delegation puts what is made into place.

So if a woman bishop (or male one ordained by a woman), who has derived orders unrecognised by a minority, asks another (pure male) bishop to do a job of looking after male-only authority-seeking congregations, then the male bishop does not derive his authority from her, but from his ordination (that was pure). Rather, he, like she, is delegated into position, by the Church's further licensing arrangements.

She does it, but (like ordination) the Church has standard Church-wide delegating arrangements.

So a traditionalist Catholic should rest assured that the impure bishop making a request is doing no more than drawing on the Church's common licensing rules. In any case, this does not affect the ontological bishopness of him being a bishop.

Also, for the rest of the Church, there remains a united bishop caste, in the sense that those who reject the traditionalist position see also that there is one derivation of bishops, which is ordination.

But there is, first, a traditionalist flaw in this argument, and it is Protestant. In Protestant theology, the woman has made a decision to ask the other bishop to come in to play. Therefore she has exercised headship. She retains ultimate headship in the diocese, even though another retains acting headship over some in the diocese.

It won't do for Protestants, and that's because there can be no distinction between deriving and delegating. A Superintendent Minister delegates, and that is authority.

So the distinction given in his speech is irrelevant, but rather the stress would have to be on common licensing rules, and thus the female bishop must be bypassed in a request to have another male bishop to express headship. But then she is not a bishop at all from a whole Church point of view, because some are allowed to ignore her in her diocese. The distinction between derived and delegated allowed two views to remain, theoretically, only if one accepts Catholic ecclesiologies old or new.

Secondly, for the Liberal, the result is a Church-wide imbalance between women and men, or men ordained by women, based on a purity-pollution scale (which I've used above only to assist explanation). This clearly makes women unequal and is discriminatory. Whether a diocese has two or one bishops is based on a fundamental inequality of one's humanity and offends Christian or religious humanism.

So ingenious, Mr Williams, but it won't work, even if it might appease some traditionalists.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Back to 2007 (Don't Get Drunk)

As then an Anglican, I read the Archbishop of Canterbury's 2007 Advent Letter with eyes wide-open horror, and I have always taken that letter as the point where the turncoat leadership had turned 180 degrees. Written in archbishopese, I made a webpage that tried to rewrite the letter more simply and analyse its logic in a thorough manner. The purpose was to show just how bad things were, and at the time many people were giving the proposed Covenant room to display itself. All I could see was a confirmation that this was thoroughly bad and ought to be opposed.

Just to go over it. The communion shared the same faith and so no parts should be repeated geographically. The key to such recognition was the authority of scripture. There was one way of reading scripture and no group could change that. Local Churches could not change the mutual shared reading of scripture or the shared orders of ministry. Condemning homophobia and violence, nevertheless no Church could change scripture and a same sex union bishop or the blessing of gay unions in a local Church is a decisive move of a new understanding of scripture not received and accepted by the wider Church. That wider Church - the Communion - would have to change consensus, and also only it could organise intervention that would constitute repetition of Anglicanism in a geographical area when it determined that a local Church had changed its reading of the Bible. There were some bishops in The Episcopal Church - Windsor compliant - that could be elevated to acceptability, while the rest of that Church was sidelined for innovating biblical interpretation. The Episcopal Church had maximised its statements of loyalty to the Communion and more could not be expected, but if the bishops could not maintain a ban on partnered ministry or same sex blessings beyond the General Convention then the whole ecclesiastical system of bishops in The Episcopal Church would have to be reviewed.

In other words, bishops must be able to maintain authority throughout. Further, Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1:10 specifically is not only the mind of the Communion but also indicates the way to read the Bible for the Communion.

It is worth going back to this to see just what logic was being displayed. Never mind the diversity of methods of reading the Bible taught even in seminaries, not to speak of the universities; never mind the interpretations of a certain Rowan Williams: it was one Communion and the Communion was to make decisions over local Churches. This was absolutely against the founding principle of the Church of England never mind The Episcopal Church.

This was a declaration of ecclesiastical fascism - that all would come from the centre, even including the right to park tanks on an Anglican Church's lawn.

The outcome of all this we now know. The Advent Letter made attendance at Lambeth 2008 subject to agreement with Windsor and the Covenant. I wrote to John Saxbee, my bishop then, and asked whether he would therefore stay away, but the answer was that the Archbishop wanted to maximise attendance (by bending over to the Africans and other Anglican right wingers who were intervening and withdrawing). The upshot of Lambeth 2008 was, however, peculiar. It did not produce any resolution but enacted half an indaba - the gathering bit and exhaustive discussing bit, but not the resolving bit. The upshot further was drafts of a Covenant that it proponents and supporters said, now, was not about Communion centralisation.

But also now, there has been a change. Given the section 4 in particular (but not only that), there has grown a strong and united movement against the Covenant. The liberal wings of the Churches have at last woken up, and stopped giving the thing houseroom, and indeed the logic of the argument has extended to the broad Church and even reawoken the principle of the broad Church. The fact is that the section 4 can reawaken by interpretation the very centralist principles given in the Advent Letter of 2007. The Churches would have to be drunk to adopt this legislation: of course it suits some of them, given where some Anglican Churches sit in their cultures, but it doesn't suit many of the Western Churches on the one hand nor the Africans on the other, nor those that value their independence or have problems with confessional covenants.

Late 2007 was an important date for me, because it told me what the authority of the Communion was supposed to be and intended to be, and that this Covenant was going to be rammed through come what may. It would have to be part of the Church of England, or it would fail internationally, and I did not want to be part of such a Church. Locally (that means local too) might be fine and tolerant, but what was the rest of it, the linkages? But then my own beliefs began to slide anyway, and although I concluded that Anglicanism was being forced to be ethically defective (asking a constituent group to sacrifice themselves for a structural project) I was on the slide for personal reasons. And, in any case, even simpler, if there is only one way to read the Bible then I wasn't going to accept it as authoritative. I still think (of course) that there are many ways to read the Bible, and that the Archbishop's view was fascistic.

Which is why, from Advent 2007, I just thought Rowan Williams ought to get out. He wasn't just a turncoat, but a turncoat with enthusiasm. His "job" (as he called it) had twisted his logic, to coming destructive effect, and therefore he ought to be freed of his job. Neil Kinnock was accused of being a turncoat, but he took on his entryists, won, and helped made Labour electable, and would have been a compassionate Prime Minister. In contrast, Rowan Williams absorbed the Anglican 'Militant' argument and with enthusiasm (with no result: their parallel organisation plans are still operating), and wrote a manuscript in 2007 for enforced centralisation. I was going to blog against him and against him (with the occasional praise for a decent interfaith lecture). The rumour is he's going soon. I'll raise a glass when he goes - I might even get drunk.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Idle Speculation

Physics is supported in all its weird present day pronouncements by a combination of observation and mathematics, but it doesn't actually work as a theory of everything.

As I understand it, every galatic centre has a black hole that is approximately 1000th of the mass of the entire galaxy, a perplexing and unexplained relationship. The galactic black hole thus has a mass, but goes down into a singularity. Then there are numerous stellar black holes from the collapse of large enough stars, to again produce a singularity.

The problem is that the black hole, the result of relativity, cannot be understood by quantum - the problem is that gravity as something that involves movement is effectively an infinite to an infinite, just as at the no size point small space with no time has an infinite density.

Now beyond all this I have been told, I can know no more, but something intuitive seems to suggest itself and I can't understand why no one else has suggested this. It's that from the small point comes new time and new space, and out goes the material that went in. We don't see it because it is new time and new space, just as our galaxy started with an explosion of new time into new space.

It could be that the little stellar explosions form not very big multiverses, nor do galactic ones, but I bet anyway that orbiting a black hole is a form of maintenance anyway. Galaxies don't disappear down their own black holes, thus the event horizon, though perhaps in the very very long run they can. Perhaps the clue to this inverse relationship between size of the black hole as orbiting object and orbiting galaxy itself (other than how big is the reach of the black hole to force the orbit far out) is in the dark energy, an outward pushing force that is part of the unseen universe, along with dark matter, that should have the opposite, or pulling in effect (except that it is likely dispersed). Energy and matter are interchangable, except one pushes and the other pulls. Thus the black hole pulls but also maintains.

These are idle cosmic speculations. They might not impress the likes of Brian Cox or similar, but they are on the lines of physics-thought.

Another thing too is the plurality at the heart of quantum mechanics, where anything that can happen does happen, which suggests to me that every possibility has a particle arrangement for it, and one in its potentially observable outcome (when many become one, for that situation), and therefore that consciousness is backed up by physical phenomena, even if dependent on the brain. There is a construction to every outcome, and perception might just have a moment of its own: perhaps in experience momentarily following death. From the inside, so to speak, that momentary existence may have its own relationship with time and space and may (may) account for impressions of other space at the moment of death (a kind of starvation) in the carrier brain.

More through the Door

"At this rate," I said to a fellow Unitarian outside, "we'll be having the 'march of troops' that the Baha'is talk about." (The Baha'is expect to be the major world religion organising the uniformity of all through their nine person male only democratic-centralist Universal House of Justice. Dream on!)

I know I am ignoring the short period when our Iranian Muslim friend attended, but no sooner have I said that, since 1984, I may no longer be the baby of the congregation (retained on and off for 27 years), that just a week later we have yet another new attender who also seems quite well researched and intent on coming along. Of course you can never tell, nor how someone considers the experience over the middle and longer distance, but one can always hope. Few come through the door, but also the new attenders represent a dramatic drop in average ages.

To be the baby of the congregation for so long (and I've had long periods away) does not mean no one else has turned up. Quite the contrary. I can say that there are just three people present who were there when I turned up in 1984, two being of the older generation. All the rest are replacements or, I'd say, in one further person, a long returner. And as I drove home I was pleased to see that person, who is so sharp and independent but aiming for three figures, walking with today's new attender in conversation.

This newest attender told me she'd looked us up on the Internet, and was looking for a liberal congregation. Last week's new attender had looked us up on the Internet (and seen my website; she has read this blog!). To me it was important that the new person came to a service that was more than competently presented. Actually, it was extremely good, and better than most, and also highly unusual with a change to the seating. The new person said she was nervous coming in, but even contributed to the discussion element (that was well structured enough never to fall flat). I said to the new person that our 'music solution' is because no one now can play a keyboard, but it does rely on smooth planning and operation. I worry when CDs jump or the volume is not right. I was puzzling today if the stereo was front and back instead of left and right (impossible with the wiring)! Service takers have a special responsibility too. Their most important duty is to be clear and to pause. Please don't go without a gap between a reading and a prayer, a prayer and a hymn. Stop and pause. And be clear - slow down if necessary. It is all it takes. And ignore the microphone as it will find you.

The Melting Glacier

In the past Graham Kings of Fulcrum has told us that the Anglican Communion Covenant is like a glacier down a mountain valley - slow, steady and unstoppable. Others pointed out that glaciers as they go down and temperatures warm come up against a melting point and the glacier goes no further.

The melting point is the voters in diocesan synods in the Church of England. In the latest pro-Covenant article, Graham Kings repeats ten points for the Covenant. They are very easily dismissed.

1. The Covenant has been consistently supported by the Church of England. [Obviously not.]

2. It is faithful to Anglican tradition. [It centralises.]

3. It sets out a middle way [It takes from it as is.]

4. It enables Anglicanism to be recognised in a short text [But superfluous.]

5. It provides a clear framework for debate. [It confuses - excludes or does not exclude?]

6. It facilitates changes in continuity with tradition. [No, it is an innovation.]

7. It preserves provincial autonomy with interdependence. [There have been indirect forms of interdependence.]

8. It offers the only way to prevent further fragmentation. [Balkanising has already happened: better to be flexible than impose points of division.]

9. It provides ways for addressing innovations. [It is an innovation.]

10. The Archbishop of Canterbury has asked the Church of England to support him. [But he demands policies others do not support - e.g. on female bishops where the dioceses also said no.]

The Covenant is an extra document beyond the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral and is therefore superfluous. It attempts to make a proto-Church out of a Communion, a Communion that has indirect links and points of meeting for discussion. It is thus an innovation, handing power to a central Standing Committee and a number of centralising bodies that can result in relational consequences - or exclusion.

The Church of England was formed so not to take authority from outside of itself.

But this could be 'academic', and normal viewing restored, given that Salisbury, Portsmouth, Rochester, Leicester are the latest dioceses to vote against, and now a greater majority are against. It won't return to the General Synod and the policy will be over.

And the point is that this Archbishop of Canterbury will soon retire, and the failure of his principal policy ought to be the cue for him to go.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

On Fulcrum

Fulcrum is so slow at putting up posts that I can't debate with people there. They must think I'm ignoring them. So here are two waiting...

Limitations of Indaba
1 [19893] Posted by: Pluralist Saturday 18 February 2012 - 02:38am

Yes, the model of voice or exit seems reasonably straightforward. People do exit, some silently, and the voice of those with loyalty is one that gives information about those who are leaving.

I am also one who exited. My exiting is thus from the other perspective, one that was frustrated with the breadth and direction of the wider body - but I have since moved on and make no further claims other than to help out a few friends. So when Ephraim Radner pops up again with one of his styles of essay, my blog jumps in to interpret and add an opinion.

He is right to this extent - that the voices with loyalty in any indaba can only show the level of disagreement, but it then depends on where the policy changes are coming.

Now, as for the entryists, they are called so not simply because they push a Reformation theology further and farther, but because they organise it amongst themselves in advance and push parallel structures where they retain control. It is, thus, Trotskyite-like organisation. That's what makes it entryist. This is what is being presented to the Church of England - such as when Bishop Benn talks about 'our' ministers and how 'they' can be preserved from female headship and ideas he considers outside but others regard as part of the Anglican spread of believing. Thus there is talk and indeed action of overseas ordination and oversight. That's the entryism.

Evangelical and Gay
2 [19892] Posted by: Pluralist Saturday 18 February 2012 - 02:28am

I see some reference to me and a little puzzlement. So perhaps I should add some clarity for Peter and others.

I make comments here from the outside. In 2009 and 2010 I was still attending an Anglican church but participated less in terms of its core rituals, transferring again to the Unitarians and settled there exclusively when I changed home and crossed the Humber. The repetitive poster Nersen Pillay keeps associating me with revisionists, but I can be clearer that I am not a Christian and so I am not a revisionist in any sense. While I associate myself with Unitarian history and ideas, the Unitarian Church (if there is such a thing) changes with its members rather than we change to it (though I am sure there is some culturation).

Where I continue to comment is regarding loose ends - particularly the Anglican Covenant - and a reason why is because via my blog and Facebook I retain friends that overlap into the Church of England and The Episcopal Church. I would still like to see a broad and liberal Church of England. But they are the Anglican liberals and for me the Anglican Churches must choose their own futures, including issues of gay inclusion in ministry and blessings (an obvious double yes from me). I used to supply regular articles to a TEC website but they haven't received one for a very long time - it is not where I am any more. My view on Jesus (evident from my blog) is that he is no more than a culturally limited human being, like anyone else, the position that happens to be in a line from Francis William Newman, the brother of JH Newman.

I also dialogue with those who come up with forms of Yale postliberal theology - a sort of conservative non-realism, although most of its proponents seem to be quite realist and more experiential. These tend to be evangelicals. I am too dismissive of radical orthodoxy to dialogue with it because of its own collective rigidities.

Unitarianism has enjoyed slow, stable and steady growth in the United States. In the UK it still 'bumps along the bottom' it might be said, although recently some congregations have shown some considerable growth, and the questions why run through the denomination! Certainly online presence has taken away loss of sight and made for many more enquiries. Some Unitarians still regard Jesus as a significant and leading presence, and push a clearly Christian shaped (free) liturgy, but others like me do not, and there are many of eastern, pagan and humanist leanings.

Pluralist - Adrian Worsfold

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Human Welfare Depending on Animal Welfare

In a new book on animal ethics, Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, Dr Aysha Akhtar, talking about Bird Flu, states, "We don't need a terrorist to wreak havoc. By confining billions of animals on factory farms, we have created a worldwide natural laboratory for the rapid development of a deadly and highly infectious form of the virus. The stressful and crowded conditions make a perfect breeding ground for new infectious diseases that can harm humans."

This is a specific example of the more general point made by the book: that the human condition is directly linked to how we treat animals. The book is published on 17th February by Palgrave Macmillan and is the sixth volume published as part of the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics book series in partnership with the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (Director the Revd. Professor Andrew Linzey).

Dr Akhtar explores the lives of animals in violent homes, factory farms, experimental laboratories, the entertainment industry and the wildlife trade. She reveals how their treatment is related to issues as diverse as domestic violence, the obesity epidemic, the world's most ominous infectious diseases, animal attacks, high-profile drug failures and climate change.

Dr Akhtar argues that, "... public health has long-ignored the relationship between our health and animal treatment, largely owing to a misconception that animal welfare is in opposition to human welfare."

So, instead, we improve the lives of animals and we improve human living.

Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is a neurologist and public health specialist and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. She works for the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The book is written in her personal capacity and is the result of many years of scientific research.

Andrew Linzey said, "This is a must read for all those who think caring for animals is a separate issue from human welfare. The scientific evidence marshalled in this book ought to dispel any lingering doubts that a world in which animal abuse goes unchecked is a less safe world for human beings. This first book linking animals to public health is truly ground-breaking."

Animals and Public Health: Why Treating Animals Better is Critical to Human Welfare, is published on 17 February in the UK and the United States at £50 and $85 respectively.

For details of Palgrave Macmillan's current lists please see its website. Lindsey Ruthen, the Associate Publicist at Palgrave Macmillan, can be contacted by email at

The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics was founded in 2006 by its director Professor Andrew Linzey and is an independent Centre with the aim of pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic, research, teaching and publication. The Centre has more than 50 Fellows drawn from a variety of academic disciplines from throughout the world. For more information about the Centre and its Fellows go to its website (with email contact to, or

Psychology IQ Game

My website has a board game added. It is a pyschology (loosely) game of IQ Nature and Nurture. Players throw two dice but both Nature and Nurture have an impact, Nature for all of life and Nurture as environmental impact. The board is as below, quite simple really. The guts of the game is in the cards. You can find it in Learning - Social Sciences - Psychology.

Struggling through the Verbosity

Just what is it about Ephraim Radner that he has to enter every article or essay for the Rowan Williams's Prize for Verbosity and Confusion? Take a read of this:

To this extent, "procedural justice," in the sense of a robust framework of regulated debate, deliberation, and decision, with the regular possibility of subsequent revisitation of a controverted matter - a liberal political notion -- may be an ideal that has little value in a culture of easy choice. For persevering in the engagement of "procedures" demands loyalty and committed voice both, and both of these are diluted by too much choice. On the other hand, it is precisely when procedures are no longer trusted, or when their engagement does not in fact give constructive scope to voice, that they are abandoned, whether physically or emotionally. (The real analogies with the Anglican Communion are here obvious.)

Not obvious to me, and I like to think that I have a working brain. In his 1502 different words or items and 5673 total Words, in 135 paragraphs, he is saying something like this (and I could well be wrong):

In a declining body, one with issues of contention, a person getting less benefit from membership can either exit or voice. Exiting rises with greater external choice (and similarity elsewhere), but loyalty gives rise to the exercise of greater voice for change and provides information for why others might be exiting. This is particularly important for businesses of connoisseur goods and services where quality needs to be maintained rather than allowing price to fall, and so strategies to build loyalty and quality are important.

Thus is Albert O. Hirschman (1970), Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Radner uses this in regard to the ongoing Indaba project between Anglican Churches at different levels.

He is saying, I think, that people can leave or they can voice their protest at The Episcopal Church as it continues its slow road to inclusivity, which he must regard as a lowering of quality. However, it is not clear that Hirschman's model is being used properly by Radner.

Indaba (I am saying) properly and fully means a large council where all issues are thrashed out and many have their say, exhaustively, to a point where a decision is made. The Anglican version of Indaba is this, but in smaller groups and without a decision. The Covenant would instead provide processes too that involve decisions of relational consequences (should it come into being - a majority of English dioceses so far are rejecting it).

Presumably the idea is that Indaba gives expression to voice, that is draws on loyalty so that people can voice their complaints and, normally, would allow the organisation to improve and reform. However, in this Anglican case, he is saying, the voices are different and fundamentally at disagreement. Thus the voices (plural) can only ever show the extent of the disagreement, rather than any means towards agreement.

This is on the issue of sexuality, of course. For one side thinks that people of active gay relationships cannot be in ministry, nor can any of these unions be blessed, whereas the other side (and the one in the ascendent) in terms of The Episcopal Church, considers that baptismal theology includes all of these people and blessing of their stable relationships.

Is this clearer?

There are other choices now, too, like the cobbled together Anglican Church of North America, and there are all those GAFCON entryisms coming to the British Isles too. Such choices must mean an easiness of exit, so that many of the conservative side simply walk from The Episcopal Church and join one of the continuing Churches as with ACNA. Loyalty gets transferred. No doubt there will be an ACNE or ACBI soon, perhaps following a yes to the ordination of female bishops and/ or the collapse of the Covenant in and among the English dioceses.

Ephraim Radner then goes into biblical stories for other parallel means of making Christian Churches, on the presumed basis that what happened in the Bible is normative for later on. I'm afraid I both got lost and disinterested (in the non-economic and negative sense) but he goes on to see people exiting TEC on the one hand and an asymmetry where TEC might be exited from the [first tier? of the] Anglican Communion on the other (and to exit in this sense might be its own decision or the Standing Committee's, I suggest).

So he arrives at Indaba as useful for coming up with terms of exit. Really? I doubt it can even achieve that.

Does he think that a Church of England that ordains women bishops and is itself struggling with gay and lesbian inclusion is going to want to 'exit' The Episcopal Church? How many Churches are going to join it with this? What exiting would there be with no Covenant? The exiting in fact has already been underway - what ACNA did and what GAFCON is about, although entryism is a perverse form of exiting because it turns exiting into a form of return journey undermining. And what of CAPA, meeting recently, of the Global South and all that, which ignored the GAFCON produced alternative structures?

Rather, we see a lot of exiting and a lot of balkanising into types of Anglican Churches - but less rigid if no Covenant. Perhaps the Indabas might come to one voice of loyalty, that the Covenant is a dud and would only offer high-level rigidity.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


My religious position has roughly stayed in the same region over time, but when I started out as religiously positive I'd have described myself as a Jesucentric non-theist in the sense that the Jesucentrism was a form of humanism and grounding. If I give ever so slightly more to the possibility of transcendence, these days I give no special place to Jesus at all. The humanity of all humanity spreads out to a greater interest in consciousness in us and any species. One can have this rather obvious non-belief but still have a religious outlook, but that outlook is not dependent on believing impossible, unlikely and unnecessary things.

Nevertheless, we live in a world of minority religious claims and it is useful to take 'trips back' in terms of doing history and therefore why religion is to be found in the ordinary. There is plenty of mystery and awe in science and a whole theology waiting to be done in the ordinary.

But people will say, ah this Jesus carried out miracles, and either carried out or was subject to the big miracle of actually dying and returning to life. Well, skipping the big one until the coming season (like once a year comes the explanation why the 'resurrection' is precisely not an actual death and a restoring of a life), what about these miracles.

The first thing is the importance in the ministry of Jesus of his own belief in the devil or satan and that he should not be tempted into carrying out miracles on his own behalf. Once again (as has been stated before), if Jesus believes he is a Son of Man in any special sense (he could be only pointing towards a transformed Son of Man, Messiah, to come imminently), none of this should be confused with divinity and he still cannot be tempted into performing miracles on his own behalf. Even to have a belief as one of God's chosen is not the same as believing one is divine. That's a later Christian belief and one that is escalated some time on.

But did, then, God (we assume), perform any miracles through him?

There are two general kinds of miracles: the healing and the other physical miracles. There is no doubt that he went around offering healing. But who was doing the healing. Each healing is, however, surrounded by the motive of cleansing to enter the Kingdom of God (due to a belief in demons causing ill-health and ill-fortune), along with an ethic of reversals in that coming Kingdom, and with the proviso that the faith of that person is the basis of the healing, rather than the action as such of Jesus himself who becomes then a channel for beliefs in God (theirs and his).

Even some of the healing miracles have added theological meaning, and that will affect the telling of them later. One such is how Jesus is said to reply to John the Baptist regarding the actions of God in causing healings.

Jesus comes to the synagogue and reads the given scripture on that day, the Isaiah 61 read about the middle of February. It's a personal announcement that adds 'sight to the blind' not in the Hebrew Bible for synagogue use, though it is in the Septuagint (and how it was added is unclear). Luke is quoting the Septuagint, but it was also known at the time of Jesus and he might have added it in deliberately (this would also go alogn with Jesus understanding Greek). But there is the contrary too, of John 9:39, that the sighted would become blind, and this is a key Jesus ethic. When Jesus actually (in an account, Matthew 9:29) heals two blind men, he says let them be healed according to their faith. In Mark 10:52 a blind man can see because of his confidence that Jesus can heal him.

So it is about them and their faith. The same is true of other healings. A woman touches his robe and her faith heals her and the Canaanite woman's daughter is healed to the extent of her faith.

It has to be assumed that a person desperate for some healing goes to someone who they think heals. It happens today, it's just that most of them deliver peer-reviewed chemicals that have actual effect whatever you believe.

As for physical miracles, each acquires a theological meaning again based on the Kingdom and on reversals. So Jesus is the overseer of the wine at a wedding and who sees what happens isn't clear, but the meaning is a wine after water is poured in and a miracle of better wine as the occasion proceeds. It is a better taste than the horrible cheap vinegary stuff that passes for common wine. Here is one occasion, perhaps because it was early-on, that Jesus had not abandoned his family (although after his death the family firm is back involved regarding the Nazarenes).

As regards the feeding of the four or five thousand men (and then more), there is no explanation as to how a limit of bread and fish expanded into enough to eat, in front of their eyes or down their throats, nor of how many hours (at least two and a half) that it would have taken to distribute dinner. There are some simple idiot questions to ask about this if an actual miracle. There is, in simple ordinary terms (and Schweitzer thought it was a real event), absolutely nothing preventing the folks turning up on a feast day with their own grub or people selling it while others didn't work. It's not the point that the tellers and writers wish to make, for which the earliest account of the 5000 might have been the more rapidly miraculous of the story as in John. Jesus would not want to be feeding the whole crowd, just his own disciples lying on the ground to rest and eat. But the writers expand this into a tale of plenty from little, and add to this that none of the Passover food should be left until the next day, Jesus tells his twelve disciples to go and collect it and so do so in twelve baskets. The tale gets enriched with theological meaning, which continued into the Christian Eucharist. The 4000 tale is a variant story, adding support to the event of a large crowd gathered if a variation in details.

Buddha, incidentally, had an alms bowl that satisfied five hundred followers and the inhabitants of a monastery. There were twelve baskets of bread left over afterwards. Although the unessential story (for Buddhists - but it was still generated) is a nice parallel and seemingly detached, nevertheless Buddhism had been around for 500 years and the trade roads were carriers of ideas and beliefs: after all, resurrection ideas came down the same road locally starting out in Zoroastrian Persia.

Buddha managed to walk on water, in part of its tradition, too (the same tendency to generate miracle stories). The disciples, in the darkness, unable to row across a lake against the wind, who'd last seen Jesus going up a mountain, find him apparently in the middle of the lake. The key to this story of confusion of place and effort is the Pharisee belief that in the kingdom the righteous would walk on water.

Mount Herman is permanently capped with snow, and would have been a good mountain to climb for the transfiguration story. But the story is about Jesus seen as Moses and Elijah and is about eschatology if nothing else. Mountains are important because there was a literalist cosmology, of the stars indicating the dome above which was the heavenly realm, with ways through for occasional touches of the heavenly on earth. It would all come flooding through soon and transform the earth. The mountain takes one a little nearer.

In following Steuart Campbell's excellent book regarding scholarly detail, I personally think he extracts too much in the way of historical events from the stories, but it's good and challenging that he does. But he is right that Jesus resists the temptation of divine power. To be a bit more precise: Jesus is not a magician and nor does he try to be a magician. He would have had no cause or purpose to deliver any nature miracle at all (it could only have happened around him, as occasional signs). He would have resisted conjouring divine power to heal anyone but would have (and did) let faith heal. The stories that there were miracles are all after the events, if there were events: they are about demons subdued and nature coming under the power of the divine as the Kingdom was coming very into place very soon.

Whereas, as we are still very aware, there was no fundamental change and the cosmological explanations of reality were wrong.

See Campbell, Steuart (1996), The Rise and Fall of Jesus: the Ultimate Explanation for the Origin of Christianity, Edinburgh: Explicit Books, 112-130.