Thursday, 20 October 2016

Why I stopped Writing the Magazine

 [Updated and corrected - explanations follow where changes are made.]

This entry is for clarity. I have resigned as Magazine Writer and Compiler for Hull Unitarian Church. Now, the fact that I disagree with someone (the editor) doesn't mean I can't get on with them; indeed, to go further, the fact that I disagree doesn't mean I reject what I disagree with as legitimate and even worthy of sideways support in the wider activities of the Church.

Nevertheless I have had to resign. It is not because I did not want to volunteer to do the tasks involved, because I had set up ways and means to do them that now will be redundant. I wrote material, designed pages, put the material together with focus on facing pages and lead pages, and made a booklet of interest to a broad range of people with some success.

Despite stopping I have offered to make it possible to print this magazine that will result from my work and subsequent editing and rewriting.

[Someone has made contact to assert that I stated the cartoon was "blocked" and I have been told it was never 'blocked'. I did however think (and misread the sent email - this email in fact was the one that finally led me to decide to resign as Magazine Writer and Compiler) that the text was declared as superior and therefore the cartoon had to go: apparently the cartoon was all right. The text was the problem. The following part of this blog entry therefore is not altered.]

I stopped at a point where I was being corrected by what I considered alternative material, and after a cartoon had been made by me that was questioned late on as relevant or understandable. It is understandable! It has a picture of Chamberlain and a Unitarian flaming chalice on a wall of windows underneath which sits a motley crew of anonymous trustees, people in a meeting with papers and laptops. My usual desire to combine different elements of design were, however, somewhat lost in a theme set as Leonard Chamberlain and since. It meant a lot of text. We have had articles on him before, so these are different - beyond the basics - and show more context including changes since.

So I have done what I have done and the result is online.

[Link was here]

[This is no longer available and in fact has gone, not just the link removed. I went through the processes of making the effort into a single file, of lossless size reduction, and made into booklet form, using my software processes, but I should not have made it public especially with other careful content than mine in it. I accept the product of the magazine is as it will be when completed. I have also offered my sincere apology.]

Be clear, this [as was linked above] is not the magazine but, rather, what I can do in terms of writing and engagement, design (although much of that has taken a back seat) and the technicalities of creating a booklet from the material. Page 1 and page 2 make this clear.

[The rest of this blog entry is not altered. I do want to be careful when discussing local Unitarian matters. All I can do is give my view, which may not have all the facts or viewpoints of course, but do so with respect. I hope this is the case.]

I can explain the problem I have had by reference to something else I will not even begin.

Months back I suggested I would transfer my one-time Theology Course to the Creative Learning Centre that is Rev. Dr. Ralph Catts' initiative using the Hull Unitarians' building. My proposal is that the theology course would be ecumenical and comprehensive if tending to the radical and critical Christian theology with an appeal to religious professionals and the already interested. It would not be Unitarian as such. I wrote some extra material on Rowan Williams and others that have in recent times created a distinctive British theology. This is two sessions, and introduces the others. Others would also be adapted. I'm not sure how viable is 'the market'.

However, Ralph wants these to be on a Sunday afternoon. If there is to be no charge at the door, and no rent of the premises, he has to manage them. And in managing them, he wants them to be as discussion groups and clearly accessible to the congregation as well as others. He wants to Unitarianise them, in effect. He keeps asking me for my proposals and I have said I will not offer any.

So what this involves is rewriting my presentation. He will tell me that my ideas are too complex and not understood. The Unitarian references in my intended material are co-incidental: I had these in when I led the group at Barton Anglicans. I would add James Luther Adams into my presentation, but I take the view that his theology simply does not stand up to scrutiny. I also think he is relatively unimportant, and derivative in a number of ways.

Ralph, who has no particular ideological connection to JLA, nevertheless uses him as important and along the way. He might be in the United States, but he is also run-out there regarding relevance.

Ralph's actual agenda I think is with the notion that people gather on principles of spiritual friendship out of which beliefs emerge. It is this 'spiritual not religious' trend, as if history starts again. There still is history, but that's about it. What matters is community. Activities are communal, suited, generated.

My view is that religion and Church is institutional. People have views and beliefs and stances that sufficiently overlap and gather in one place rather than another. The people they gather with are not necessarily their friends, but hopefully people put more effort in to fellowship than they would in the workplace.

I think Ralph's view is that my approach, which I share with others, has somewhat come to a kind of end-point. I (he has told me this) represent "old thinking" - and also my reading is somewhat a few decades old. He is the radical now.

But for me, being a radical implies roots, and memory, and institutions have a nasty (or good) way of reminding one that they still exist. They transmit cultures: ways of talking and understanding. Overturn these at your peril. This remains so even among the few; it is remarkable that it does.

If I call his approach 'Findhorn Unitarianism' it is not meant as a put-own but rather as describing an amalgam, but not even equal in combination. It is rather that Unitarianism provides the space, and the semi-Pagan semi-Buddhist 'Findhorn' the content. This is because things have changed and necessity means a new approach. Hull also has been badly behaved in the past with various contentious issues, so there must be a new landscape.

I'm keen to learn from different experiences and indeed to graft one on to another, but this is so much more. But even if I am wrong about this, I am right that my writing contributions are to be bent into the mould of something I am not offering.

He must represent himself. I am speculating to some extent. Yet this is how I consider that my recent writing has been viewed for other framing... First that Leonard Chamberlain was a leading member of a Church that became the Unitarians, and that beliefs change because the universe changes in its explosion of knowledge, especially recently. Leonard Chamberlain had a vision and social justice conscience that we share, via changes in outlook. That the Presbyterian-Unitarian line is continuous, even intentional. He put his wealth to good use with concern for the poor. He fought for liberty to worship and supported our ministry.

This, however, is my view. That there is a Presbyterian-Unitarian line, and we get a Puritan echo (layers of chain of meaning), but it is as more discontinuous than continuous. We do not share his outlook, and indeed hardly understand it. He was an extremist even before his time in the outlook of Elizabeth. His view is about the saved pre-ordained, whatever one did, but that what one showed was a testimony of works about irresistible grace. Arminianism was a later development, of preordained knowledge by God of people making a holy effort. In my view Presbyterian Churches forced to be independent early on (and stayed that way) somewhat lost the plot, and declined. Ministers preached changing ideas, but with social and economic change came a materialist, rationalist, Unitarianism affected by European ideas that in effect planted itself in Presbyterian churches. People who were well off (the trustees for sure) where the ministers were left to it allowed a vacuum of Arminianism to be filled. Some of it was, yes, a sort of trinitarian universalism following on from the Arminians, but another was an 'off the page' biblical Unitarianism. And then that started to evolve, into an argument between a less Puritan more Presbyterian-parish outlook affected by Romanticism and biblical criticism, and a more Puritan style less parish denominationalism of biblicists.

I am pleased that an earlier instruction of a design change to page 2 (regarding an enhanced personnel list) allowed me to fit in a 'how it all started' and a reference to Scots re-establishing the Presbyterian line (with the cartoon). But when this was to change again, that was it: his view is also that people would not understand my compacted writing. Maybe, but I think Protestants coming back after Mary's represssion and having experienced Protestant pure rule abroad is relevant, as is being divided in Hull's Holy Trinity Church between Presbyterians and Independents before removal in 1669 - a date relevant to setting up two (not one) congregations of Presbyterians. Also interesting that nineteenth century Presbyterians acquired the former Independent Dagger Lane chapel.

Yes, it is compacted. Now, people can read these and follow them up. A5 and 12 point print does not allow long pieces even across several pages. They can follow up local history, or religious change, or indeed just read these pieces and get some clues.

But it is important that we do not confuse the continuation and narrative of looking back, with the realities of individuals and stances looking forward into the blank space at various historical moments. It is also important that in going back historical imagination - empathy - is involved rather than seeing things as, for example, similar to our 'social justice'. The provisions of Chamberlain went to the godly poor, people who might be saved, and whilst they did not have to be Presbyterian or Puritan, they did have to have some testimony of works or evidence of possible salvation via their character - not salvation by character but evidence of salvation by God. Or later on, we see the difference between a Joseph Pease making money in a fixed mercantilist setting and his grandson Joseph Robinson Pease making money as an out and out capitalist. This latter chap was also the one who set up an octagonal chapel in Hull, deliberately a European ecclesiastical design that would still show themselves as distinct from the Church of England. We need to see, imagine, the difference between a Chamberlain and the Rowley Puritans he so admired wanting liberty for themselves but not others (evidentially by their authoritarian religious communism) and the later liberals who wanted liberty to break the old feudal regime and let in a kind of free trade libertarianism.

So I am sorry but I am not going to be framed into representing a view I do not hold, either in the magazine or in theology. There will be no theology sessions led by me given the demand being made.

On top of this is the more practical point that when I took over the magazine I said that a) it would be on time (then one every two months) and b) it would have relevant and varied content. Having this magazine on Chamberlain and since and the next on poetry is not what I wanted. Nor has it been on time. The minister is very busy and the magazine gets delayed and delayed. I get on with it, but his hands on editing forces me to wait and wait.

I have said that he needs someone who 1) shares his outlook, is 2)intelligent and not "intellectual" and 3) has some experience in putting a magazine together. As it happens, even among a tiny few, there is a person who can do this (and experience of Microsoft Publisher), assuming attendance and longer term commitment.

On this basis I have given way. The ministerial workload has gone up a bit more, due to the managed 'vision' rather than a more decentred delegation. However, there is probably someone else, and even someone else as well, so it is time - even at a point of non-completion (I have offered to wrap whatever is done up, if it is done) - to pass the magazine on to someone else.

The probability is that the Newsletter becomes the only communication: I always thought that having that and the magazine would finish one of them, as the magazine lost its news function. But in fact the reason for my resignation is ideological and about outlook.

Which shows that, however small, and however supposedly about plurality, groups splinter. I shall counter that by continuing with the music (I have always left choices to the preachers who only then leave any choices to me) and trying to suggest a low cost practical improvement to the building.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Affirming Instead Religion and Memory

This is the new affirmation for Hull Unitarians. One preacher refused to say it despite being asked in advance (with an option to refuse), and I do not say it. It is based on a consultation, but the words have not been approved.

We gather as a caring spiritual community,
To help one another
And to seek meaning and direction in our lives
by exploring the vast reaches of our minds and spirit.

I do not like it for various reasons.

The first reason is we do not gather as a spiritual community, caring or otherwise. We gather because we agree on some principles, even a breadth of theology. The people there are not necessarily friends (some may become so), but others we try to get along with because they share certain views and stances. Some of these views and stances may include disagreements. The stances are something like a reasonable, somewhat rational, critical approach to religion, naturalism, liberty, and active toleration of difference, a preference for dialogue and debate over fractious division. These views come about because people are worthy of being upheld, where we value and do not price, and where we are capable and try against some difficult experience to be optimistic.

Nor do we gather in order to help one another. Helping others (including outsiders, indeed it should emphasise outsiders) is derived from the beliefs and stances. Faith and belief come before works, even if works are a way to measure the ethics of the faith and beliefs.

Thus it follows that we should already have some notion of meaning and direction in our lives, and that the gathering is a place to dialogue and debate these, and furthermore to find some sort of collective ritual commitment.

Now I wonder whether our minds and spirits have vast reaches. I'm not exploring the inside of my head, however much I use it. The preacher raised the issue of some disabled people, but of course in a theological sense they may have a vast reach of mind and spirit - but then one has a theological idea of this.

I absolutely dislike this whole emphasis of the 'spiritual but not religious', of which this is an expression.

The British Unitarian denomination, and any church within it, is an inheritor of the Presbyterian-Unitarian line, with several other inputs, such as General Baptist and Cookite Methodist. It has an identity and inheritance, partly Puritan, partly Enlightenment, partly Romantic too. As the sociologist Daniele Hervieu-Leger argues, religion has a chain of memory. Even if two or three are gathered, that chain of memory operates. It cannot be rewritten. It can have additions, and it can have memory losses (one of her concerns), but the institution 'carries' its characteristics. If you ignore them, they won't ignore you.

This is not some sort of mystic hocus pocus, but the rationale of gathering that has worked layer upon layer through the ages, producing the characteristic that functions. It is with a language and a culture, one in relationship positive and negative with the environment in which it sits. People who been there and what they do in part inculturate people who come in.

The only way that a church can radically rewrite itself is if a lead person effectively loses the people who were there, or marginalises them to the edges, builds a new following (that agree with this stance) and also drops many of the prior rituals and thought-forms in the collective use of language that has taken place and evolved over decades. So there is a highly radical revolution.

The danger of this is the 'cult', as understood sociologically. A cult is a following that takes place around one leading person. When that person withdraws, the cult collapses.

Most examples I can think of are inappropriate to the discussion, and this matter is theoretical. But the 'cult' understood this way is a consequence of radical revolution and recruitment.

As regards Hull, recruitment has been limited. I maintain that Hull is extremely tough territory to run any kind of church. I know that evangelicals complain within the city of Hull that they do all the right things and yet cannot make the numbers.

The Unitarian congregation is tiny, but it has to be maintained, and slowly built. This means it has to evolve, and it means others are nurtured. And, in fact, they are. But the affirmation is misleading, because this is not what was implied in the discussion.

The problem is not that we gather as a spiritual community, but that it may not form as a community at all, because of individualism, and yet the discussion warmed to a Unitarian Universalist statement that did recognise its tradition and place as Unitarian Universalist. The danger is a purer individualism, and a dissent among dissent, none of which is 'solved' by some up front statement that 'we gather as a spiritual community to help one another'.

What we do is come in as individuals, but the worship should use collective forms that create a sense of commitment and then community, in the sense of a mutual obligation that we do this together and we try to behave ethically to one another, and spread this out externally as a form of witness.

I realise that I am not in the driving seat, not have no claim to be even at the front of the car. The decision was taken to co-ordinate more and have such a ministry, and the ministry is entitled to build a strategy and definition. So I was there as part of approving the ministry and therefore want to see the direction produce some results: I'd like to be proven to be wrong.

I am further worried that within the chain of memory is the historical-theological content of the church and the denomination, and I argue that these should feature at the heart of the church's activities and right there in the sermon. The sermon is a very important vehicle of the Unitarian witness. I know that this view is rejected. I am not prepared myself to have the intellectual as a kind of side-show, and in any case my only personal proposal regarding theology was for a more external very critical Christian ecumenical approach, and includes Unitarian stances as only part of the wider mix - as post-Christian theologies.

When given the opportunity I write about history and theology, but I am not going to propose substitution when it is excluded from the centre.

One of the practices I particularly dislike is the 'theme' for the month, done as something one might see in a Religious Education class in school, but which in a service starts to take on unpleasant side issues. This is where lots of single name 'themes' such as 'love', 'sacrifice', 'dedication', 'caring' etc. are put on strips of paper face down. By selecting them you produce your own theme and then a theme for the church for that month. Despite all the denials, this ritual takes on the side-show of magic, because no matter how rational one intends to be, the practice starts to replace probability with some sort of intent, some sort of given meaning. It does this because it is a ritual, and it is a misleading ritual. The nearest equivalent I can think of is the random opening of the Guru Granth Sahib for the daily reading, but then it is invested with the meaning from God; it is supernatural and fits in with the Sikh way. This theme-selecting ritual is divorced from anything else and is really Pagan-magical, and we could use Tarot cards after all. Anyone who looks into Tarot cards knows that they are utterly invented and have no historical background. But Pagan groups charge money for readings, as if something is happening.

There is also the issue of meditation in services. Of course there is a place for silence, and silent reflection, and it might even relate to Unitarian cousins the Quakers, but actual meditation is programmatic, and implies a belief that the mind can be trained and changed, and out of it can come actual non-attachment and personal peace. Now this is Buddhist belief, and that is fine, and also it is fine to pursue it programmatically and consistently, even persistently. But this is of another issue, not discussed as a basis for service content, as if we should just do it. The problem is that those who just 'sit and be quiet' do so when the leader of meditation is actually being quite noisy and prescriptive in what is taking place and some of the consequences. So the person sitting in silence is in fact not participating. Now, I am someone who has weekly gone to a Western Buddhist group in the past, and did it because what I was doing had a certain theory about it, and was done by dedicated ordained Buddhists. This is a different matter from going to a Unitarian church where this is not reasoned out, understood, shared: people do not come to Unitarian churches in order to be Buddhists, only that they have certain liberal and tolerant and rationalistic stances that lead to Buddhist understandings. There is a difference here.

Now this may be unsustainable. There simply aren't the numbers who think religiously, who are liberal, and then want to join with others in the pursuit. It may well be that the 'spiritual but not religious' is today better understood. Good - well let's see if this happens. I will be happy if it does, so long as there is a corner for someone like me.

I am Western religious, a humanist, someone who is non-realist regarding God, though allowing for the possibility of transcendence, with many signals of transcendence. I am liberal, but I also see the collective nature of culture and language - so much of language and communication forms experience. We are social animals with a library and knowledge of impending death. I practice this within the Presbyterian-Unitarian line that I seek to understand. My personal memory joins that collective memory. I am not interested in the 'spiritual but not religious' because, in fact, humans are made by institutions, in which one or more has religion, through which any 'spiritual' may or may not come.

The affirmation is simply speaking, dreadful, terrible, misleading, and magical thinking is something we ought to be resisting: not a situation where we gather spiritually and then some sorts of belief emerge. That is not how it goes: I am not arguing for tramlines but there are roads and there are directions.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

New Hosting Location for Website

My website dates from 1998. It started on Freeserve, went also to FreeUK (in the days when it used Lenin as its motif) and then some years on I dropped Freeserve and stayed with FreeUK.

Before 2012 (an important date), and in fact around 2009, I had my website across six FreeUK accounts each one needing a dial-up once a month. There was FreeUK Pluralist (was the Freeserve), FreeUK Plural, FreeUK Change, FreeUK Differ, FreeUK Enk, FreeUK Renew. I purchased domain via and ghosted it to FreeUK Pluralist. Dial up was the only way I could upload. I was viewing via Broadband at last, starting with Tiscali (living in New Holland).

Not only was Dropbox a broadband solution, it did not even need File Transfer Protocol, because a set of specified folders and all subfolders were synchronised with the Dropbox cloud. So all I had to do (really?) was put the website combined into a folder and subfolders and it would be uploaded for me. So the domain was ghosted across to Dropbox Pluralist folder in its public folder.

It was not quite as easy as that. Absolute links existed across FreeUK sites. Some of the Learning Area subfolders were split across different FreeUK accounts. So I had to go through page after page putting in relative links.

All was then fine and has been for years. And then less than a month back Dropbox sent notice that from October 3rd it would no longer show HTML web pages as web pages. This would render my website useless. It turned out further that as an older user I had public folder use denied to later non-paying customers.

The first thing I did was look for other file sharing services. And I discovered that some, like Jumpshare, and indeed the Microsoft OneDrive, needing installing for Windows before version 10, display the HTML code and others, like Yandex Disk, display a blank. I learnt that file sharing meant something other than web hosting. Indeed I note that website host X10 hosting specifically rejects file sharing use despite reference to the cloud.

So to web site hosting. I had to find a suitable FTP program and the best/ easiest I think is FTP Rush. I've not bothered further with Filezilla. The first website hosting service one I tried was relatively straighforward, X10hosting, except that not everything being uploaded went completely. Some .PDF files ended up incomplete, and not always the biggest, and some files were skipped. It also erases above 10 mb files. Few of mine are that size, but one or two are. The solution is, bizarrely, to link to a file share. In fact, thinking about it, it might be possible to upload one webpage, the index webpage and all else display in it via file share links. I have not tried this, and I rather wonder if going to a webpage link produces their webpage container (for blank or code) and therefore renders that approach useless.

On the other hand, X10 provided a website name and it could be tested in the process of uploading. So I also tried Hostinger, based in the UK and Cyprus, and noticed the uploading far more fluid and smooth. It does disconnect and reconnect, but what goes up does go up and I've watched good long sessions of uploading.

But I was stumped as to how to activate it. In fact it was a near fluke that I got the FTP to work using my name. I did once I got the right identifying bits in the right places. But no way of viewing the files: how on earth does itself go there for HTML web pages viewing?

It took ages to suss it out, and I did send an email for help and received no reply. The DNS number and server names are actually done at Easily. It has the facility, different from the ghosting one. But give that this was the only reality, the website had to be up in full according to the FTP before I could direct the domain name. Well, today I discovered it has worked, and even individual own pages carry the pluralist name. If there was a _blank link to an individual page, that separate web browser page would show the Dropbox name. If I ghosted to X10 it would show the X10 name. But this one does not, and indeed individual directions to pages are also with the domain name.

So this is good. I also 'carry' a couple of other websites for other folk, so these now need releasing as also they will not show on Dropbox. I need to get an account and do the ghosting, in one case.

In effect I have two website locations (for now). One is as it happens.

A steep learning curve.

Monday, 5 September 2016

David Jenkins: You Are Appreciated

Bishop David Jenkins came to public view about the time I was getting interested in Christianity and started riding two horses - the Church of England and the Unitarians. I warmed to him and his expressions, as clearly he illustrated a 'problem with the historical details' and yet expressed a construction of faith and belief, the difference between all the details and what were the essentials to be Christian. I didn't fully achieve affirming those essentials, so secondly he had a generosity towards people like me although clearly he met those essentials and I was somewhere in the borderlands. Early on I knew he was different from the John A. T. Robinson approach, and what seemed obvious was that Jenkins was being criticised in public and from within the Church of England for being a lot less investigatory than Robinson. It seemed to me that every twenty years or so controversy raged as what was well-known to theologians hit the public sphere, and what was the real cause of controversy was that people like Robinson and Jenkins let the theological cat out of the bag.

Nowadays the controversy is even more limited. It is centred around sexuality, as if this now defines 'orthodoxy', when it doesn't, and how one bishop presently, Nicholas Chamberlain, says he is gay, and with a partner, and while out of public notice has thus 'got through' to being a bishop, whereas Jeffrey John was widely known as gay before becoming a bishop and so didn't. Indeed, having got through stage 1, Chamberlain now acts within and supports certain guidelines of celibacy, we are told, which makes you wonder how much is celibate when one partner comforts the other. It's all so bloody stupid, but this is the pathetic level of controversy these days. I met the previous Bishop of Grantham, who clearly liked to be seen as a bit trendy and with it, so presumably this appointment was into that space, but it shows just how restricted things are.

As for those theological issues, I have learnt more as time has gone along. Jenkins, I discovered, was of a line of theology that ended up in the secular theology of Harvey Cox (well, as in the 1960s). God was God, and revealed, and in Christ, and Barth and Bonhoeffer had defined that stream into the post-war. Later on I would add Bultmann, with this notion of kerygma being a Gospel drive or impact out of the text and somewhat beyond history. This was contrasted with John Robinson, who, whilst he included Bonhoeffer and less so Bultmann, seemed to me to be more of Tillich and asking questions, whereas Jenkins' participant stream was getting on with the rough and tumble of secular life and what was 'the Gospel' for it (and so on). Later still I realised that Robinson in fact did not like Tillichian systematic theology, but something more personalist, and of course found in the Christian Bible an open narrative of a personal, suffering God (and so on).

Central to this is the long established problem of history, and what constitutes historical evidence, and the fact that the Gospels are secondary evidence from the faith stance of early Christians in their diversity of outlook. Troeltsch and Harnack are important here. There is also the issue of communal rapid story telling and tradition-making - taking inherited terms and applying new insights - in what was a charismatic excitement of end times expectation dealing with Jewish and Gentile concepts. A faith of Jesus towards God in the end time becomes one that has Jesus with a central role to bring the end - wrapped up in rearranged resurrection narratives and quickly becoming the Messiah and Christ.

Jenkins' position was incredibly traditional and orthodox because of how he saw the modern problem of not believing within our cultural outlook - the same problem of Robinson's "But that I can't believe". Jenkins view was not that we have it about right with science and naturalism, and so therefore supernatural and magical views were cultural spectacles for all these foundation faith concepts going through the mill, but that God had actually then given the means to understand the Gospel outbreaking in that era of belief, also held through most of Church tradition, and surely God would now give us such means to faith and would not leave us without the means to believe the Gospel... In other words, he wasn't being naturalistic like a Don Cupitt, or relativistic like a Don Cupitt (yes, the confusion is there within Cupitt!), but that there is a God who did reveal then, did reveal later, and surely would reveal now. Surely, says Jenkins, the Holy Spirit has not ceased to be active. And given that God does not let us down, how can we open out the Gospel now with the understandings functional in our own time of cultural developments.

Thus, and here we are: real humans are not born of virgins, and being born of a virgin is a story about a high prophetic chosen individual, and for him Christ was and must be a real human, and so there is a story of his virginal birth but there is no access to the history or biology. God clearly arranged the story in revelation for those believers when the two referring Gospels were written, but he would not think God actually did arrange a virginal conception - and, if he did, how are we to know? Secondly, resurrection given as the conceptual framework for understanding God working through a Jesus into a transformed state, had to be 'more than a conjouring trick with bones'. Again history is a problem, but whatever history can be gleaned, as with the virgin birth, it all has to be kerygmatic faith and purpose.

But in 1984 there was a tick-box mentality to Christianity. The BBC Heart of the Matter treated Sea of Faith in a tick-box manner. The creeds of course encourage the tick-box approach in our culture. The text of orthodoxy was ticking all the requirements down the credal list. That was not Jenkins' approach. He didn't particularly 'start from the other end' as Robinson would have it, but started from the revelation that God was God and acted in history, but history was a problem and insufficient, as God acted with revelatory purpose. The Bible has clearly assisted belief in the past, and has all sorts of content, but what it is not is a diary of prophet or a book of biology about his parent/s.

But this is too complicated for a mass media that works on dropping people from a height, and dealing in the the tick-box and, more so, whether an establishment figure is 'unhinged' or not, defined by not upholding the interests of the status quo. Jenkins of course did not, because that revelatory impact in his own bones had a social gospel outcome that had to be pursued. And he was up against Margaret Thatcher, who thought that the man helping the Samaritan first of all had to be a greedy sod to fill up his own wallet. Jenkins knew the value of communities, whereas Thatcher said there was no such thing as society.

So R I P David Jenkins, who was around making waves when I was by the sea. His context was coming after The Myth of God Incarnate (he'd have considered much of it a distraction, I would think), and Christian Believing (that diverse Doctrine Commission stuff), and 1984 on was about the time of the rowing-back of later Doctrine Commissions (until they were scrapped). Like Barth had considered, the Church was just showing its corruption, and was frustrating, but also the Church operating in a corrupted society. The corruption has gone on, and now there is little place for a theology professor prepared to ask the questions; theologians have to be more narrowly evangelical in the surface sense these days in the institution becoming ever more sectarian and distant from the culture that Jenkins realises forces the questions (or, he'd have it, asks questions of God giving the means to come to faith).

Unlike Jenkins, I don't believe in a specific incarnation and resurrection. There would be people like me who would say they are still 'Christian' and Jenkins would be generous because they are displaying an intention of faith and association with the unfolding Christian community down the ages. He would want to engage them, convince them, but via the questions. It cannot be forced. I just think that the 'more than' the conjouring trick
is separable and that conjouring tricks are things that people see and believe and that how people interpret isn't of itself reliably what happens. And it gets lost in a fog anyway, the impenetrable that means religion is a lot freer and creative and broader than trying to construe some 'evidence' that there is one central religion, when there is not.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

With You But Not Agreeing, Colin

I am inspired to write in response to Rev. Colin Coward's blog Unadulterated Love and in particular his Living and loving in evolutionary times of August 10, 2016 responding to reactions online after the 23 July blessing of a marriage in St Agnes Church, North Reddish, between the immediately retired priest in charge, Clive Larsen, and his partner John, with Colin Coward participating.

As far as I can see, he is responding to need with provision, but obviously controversial to some others who have been jumping about online.

What interests me is the basis of Colin's faith that establishes a very different attitude towards assisting others from those of his institutional critics.

The blog entry summarises a more general position. So he criticises the use of the Bible as social control leading to abuse, from one target to another. Focusing on sin and guilt leads to negative impact. Whilst politics and society has moved on, the Church instructs clergy to follow previous mores. And yet the service conducted was celebratory and reflected loving partnership.

He asserts that faith is changing, and that this is evolutionary and demonstrating creative energy. Those who fear across the world are resorting to violence, and the Churches are defensive with its anthropomorphic God, a supra-being, where old ways of understanding are reinforced by liturgy, hymns, prayers and teaching. Dogma, hierarchy and control plus infantilising result in abuse. He notes a negative environment he can experience in church.

It is too head centred, without, he states, the heart and breadth of the unconditional and infinite and love to characterise the God of Jesus the Christ. This is set against Christianity with all its life-denials. Yet he also says there is much in Christian teaching that can enhance life, the source of his faith and the inspiration.

I have much sympathy for this view, but it doesn't quite add up.

It comes down to the question, 'What is Christianity?' I have this argument with others who identify as Unitarians, who also identify as Christian or of Christian sourcing.

For me Christianity is indeed centred in the New Testament and identification with those in the early Church who identified Jesus as the Christ, or the Messiah. This still allows for a highly critical interpretation of the Bible, of both Testaments, with every device in play. It identifies with those who did (and do) turn a Jesus who looked from himself to what he understood as the 'Daddy' God in end times into a cult of personality about Jesus himself, that he is intimately connected with God. So far I have introduced no main doctrines, except for the way the economic trinity was begun in this sense, in the eschatology of those days, in their peculiar cultural supernaturalism.

Now my argument against many Unitarians for example is whether, for them, Jesus is the Christ and they identify with this community and its turn. If they don't, how are they even minimally Christian?

Now Colin still makes this claim, but it rather feels like it is on its last legs. What he is doing is claiming an ethical outpouring from Jesus as the Christ which, for me, is far from demonstrated. How do we know this?

If things are truly evolutionary, then we have an ordinary man in every way, culturally limited, and who has to learn. He can only adopt and adapt to whatever it is that makes him this outpouring of unconditional love. But if I read the texts, he clearly is not doing this outpouring. He is Jewish first, that is his method, and his breadth is corrected, and the universalism is provided by Paul and his cultural crossover. And, in any case, we have only 'difference by degree' by which there is insufficient evidence either about Jesus or anyone else. You see, very soon the principle of unconditional love supersedes anyone who may have it, and no one can have it exclusively. The claim must be ahistorical, become an ideal.

Or else it is based on apriori doctrine, that theology comes before ethics, that the Church determines the reality of the universe especially in ethical terms. Or maybe it comes in the realm of some picture of reality, but only a picture, a kind of mythical bubble, and one superfluous surely to the main point.

But evolution is NOT this wonderful, open, love-encouraging reality. It is, rather, change by death. Things that cope less get overwhelmed by things that cope better, in any environment. What is more interesting, I suggest, is the existence of chaos (in which evolution is one example) followed by systemic interactions of what results. What is more interesting, also, is the beauty of equations, where Paul Dirac can state that the more simple and beautiful an equation, the more likely it is to be really true - not just metaphorically true, but descriptive. That is a very powerful signal of transcendence. Evolution is cruel, chaos is a swirl that can lose many, and yet there is emergent order and simplicity within complexity.

This is not Christian: none of this is Christian. Christianity is, in the end, regulative. It is regulative about the texts on the early Christians; it is about that odd notion Rudolph Bultmann claimed - kerygma. Somehow Christianity is released when it is preached, but along given texts, many of which are ethically harmful. Rowan Williams is one who digs into the tradition and lives within it to make much of it in a critical way without ever dismissing what is harmful. But if you are liberal, like me, you do dismiss what is harmful, and you select from anywhere.

It is really so simple: two men or two women loving each other, as a man to a woman, is evident. It clearly comes within experience, and it is worthy of ritual recognition. It is not for nothing that Yale Postliberalism and Radical Orthodoxy dismiss (or manufacture) experience, as they follow either a regulative path or some narrow Platonic idealism institutionalised. They have retreated into bubbles, but those who experience change cannot retreat into bubbles. Of course a Rowan Williams tries to have it both ways, thus will be in the tradition, criticise it, never drop it, become restrictive as Archbishop, freer and more inclusive when an academic. The latter position becomes a kind of ridiculous lack of discernment. Why does Rowan Williams think that liberalism came to an end point in 1978 or thereabouts? Because the tradition was under threat, whereas Colin knows that the whole 1960s to 1970s made theological discoveries that continue to matter to this day. Indeed so did the liberals much earlier. John A. T. Robinson inspires Colin as he does many still, but J. A. T. R. never went to where truth would lead. He kept starting -  a personalist panentheistic theology and biblical conservatism.

More anchors there, and more than Colin shows in his own expansionist theology. I hate postliberalism, Radical Orthodoxy, and whilst I have some time for Rowan Williams, it is ultimately deceptive, the 'as if' history when it is all literature upon literature.

It did not surprise me when Don Cupitt said, 'My critics were right all along,' meaning that he was left without the ability to attach himself to regulative or even high and dry Christianity. He didn't just give up his ministry, but his participation; he reinterpreted Buddhism and adopted a religious humanism and became a Quaker sympathiser. He cannot argue now for any kind of Christianity: he cannot be liturgically conservative and try and make it stand on its head.

The fact that he or I in different ways might use Christian or Christian derived theology to make several points does not make us Christians. As I say, to be a Christian is to identify with the early communities and they both read and formed texts to make this cult of an individual. They effectively created a history of the world by which a God intervenes and sets up means for redemption. I don't believe in that: I believe our world came about through chaotic systems of physics, chemistry and subsequently biology, out of which symbolism and culture came. This Christianity is no more than mythology that gives insights into human anthropology.

I bet this is Colin's view, but as I say he makes a final claim. But devoid of regulative doctrine, devoid of regulative text, there is no basis for that turn into what Christ apparently represents, except by some made-up idealism.

In the end, I'm afraid, the mainstream Churches are doomed to defend and promote their own mythology. From that authoritarianism and infantilism does arise. From that evident love is denied. So why continue to defend the institutional dead-end?

Other than that, I'm with his sentiments and outlook.

Since written, the next day Colin wrote a follow-up that isn't particularly Christcentric or Jesucentric at all but it is entirely consistent with what my response here discusses. He recognises his own revisionism, which is fair enough, although I think (as above) that his stance stretches beyond revisionism.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Splitting Sides

I seem to be only blogging about politics these days. On religion I seem to be fairly quiet. Take that as a sign of relative contentment. I might nevertheless write something very soon. Politics keeps changing after a seismic shift in the landscape - that's the simple explanation.

Labour's potential split is around the corner and the Tories' in about two years or so. The Tories' split is at the time of the inability of squaring the exit the EU circle, the absence of Parliamentary time and Civil Service resources to come out of the EU, the timing of resisting the-break up of the UK, and the realisation that if Universal Credit - one big change - can't get done successfully in more than a decade then coming out the the EU is nigh on impossible.

The Labour Party has 230 MPs sitting in the House of Commons. Initially, 80% have stated that they have no confidence in the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. 80% is, accurately, 184. When Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election, as he will and easily, a good number of those 80% will assess that they had better knuckle under and do no more - say 20% or 46. This leaves 138, and let's suppose they would form some sort of informal opposition.

Why so? Well, because any attempt to get 'The Labour Party' title deeds from the current leadership hasn't go a hope in hell of success, if the election of the leader has been done according to the rules, where the actual membership overwhelmingly chose the leadership.

The 138 might consider approaching the Speaker to claim that they are the real opposition, but only an informal opposition may not be sufficient for the Speaker, who'll go by real title deeds and a demonstrative leadership election. But suppose 46 of them are not happy approaching the speaker.

So 92 we might guess would at least approach the speaker. But at precisely half, the speaker would also dismiss it on the basis of not an overwhelming number of Parliamentarians involved.

So then it comes to the die-hards, the people who have spoken out so much that they really cannot go back on their words, plus those so far from Corbyn ideologically that they have to be otherwise.

So suppose 46 really would not want to split. This leaves 46 remaining. Some number like this could well be the dedicated splitters. In reality, it is probably fewer MPs because this means taking a different name, a different party, a different organisation, and with memories from their parents of those in the SDP.

But it could be more. I don't subscribe to the view that all non-Corbyn MPs are charlatans without principles and would do what it takes to keep their cushy jobs. Plus the necessary follow-through of deselections is going to include those who are known not to fall in and are just tagging along for the time being. So 46.

Some splitters would rather not, of course, and they hope Theresa May calls a General Election by which we can all suffer five more years of Tory government, Labour is wiped out and Corbyn then has to go (but don't you believe it!). Five more years from that membership means a programme of deselections.

So this is how it becomes more than 46, how even a General Election will not save the Labour Party from its leftward move, if indeed 'save' is the correct term. Try 'prevent' instead.

Follow the logic, and the split seems inevitable, because the range of Labour from softer-left to centre-right (let's be honest, some are in the wrong party, pushing its coalition to a ridiculous breadth) will not be compatible with a Momentum-shaped Labour Party. A General Election will not save them and so the rules have to be written from the beginning.

The 46 will look to work with the 8 Liberal Democrats, and may be the Tories' splitting much further down the line. The 46 may want their own identity, but an electoral pact if resisting coming out of the EU with the Liberal Democrats may be essential. There needs to be a clear General Election option of saying this negotiation did not work, is not practical, cannot be done, and therefore staying in the EU, hopefully before Article 50 is invoked.

Strong coming-out Tories will have to argue for invoking Article 50 and doing so on less economic and more cultural-immigration grounds. Tory UKIP, basically. It's not clear who'd split from whom. It could be again that some Tories would split in order to be resisting invoking Article 50. What is clear is that the EU referendum has not solved the Tory Party division. When the facts on the ground speak, the division will be back. For many, the economic option is not good enough, and that division forces an economic option into the EU resistance option. Even a huge Tory majority after a General Election (if it happened) would not save the Tories: it could split so comprehensively that a big majority turns into none.

In any case, four parties as of now cannot operate in a First Past the Post system, because the outcome is a pure lottery. If the main two UK parties split, proportional representation becomes a necessity.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Political Crystal Ball Gazing

My view of Owen Smith standing for Labour is simple: I don't like him and I don't trust him. He says he's a socialist and a bit of a left winger.

He did march with the miners in South Wales, but somewhere along the line he became a consultant for the large pharmaceutical firm Pfizer and he followed the 'choice' line of his employer. He received a six figure salary as he went into Parliament. He favoured more of the Private Finance Initiative, which was Gordon Brown's Budgets fiddle that mortgaged the NHS and schools to private builders and costs a fortune into the future.

He didn't oppose austerity and did not oppose the Conservatives opening welfare cuts under the capitulating leadership of Harriet Harman.

He supported the renewal of Trident, voted for airstrikes in Iraq and Libya and has attended a few arms fairs.

I am not a socialist, but a social liberal. In the 2010-2015 Coalition the Liberal Democrats embraced economic liberalism and dumped their own supporters after a long period when the Liberal Democrats represented radicalism and were for quite a time to the left of Labour.

They propped up the Tories. I quite liked Miliband as he had social justice and libertarian leanings, a man of compassion. But when he faced the headlights of the General Election, he froze like a rabbit. He wasn't allowed to be himself, and he was probably insufficiently skilled to handle the criticisms, the legacies.

Whilst I overlap with Jeremy Corbyn and regard him as being what it says on his tin (unlike with Owen Smith), I don't think he is a competent organiser or has the necessary bite to be a Prime Minister. Whilst there are longstanding ideological objections to him from sitting MPs, and there is more to their objections than his competence, he is clearly incapable of organising his own office. What worries me are the more 'thuggish' types behind him who'd give him his backbone, as they have over this leadership election. I don't like the culture of some of the groups behind Corbyn, and he would never deal with them.

Theresa May's Opening Night of the Long Knives was, like Macmillan's long before her, a statement of weakness not strength, but neverthless a stamp of her feet. Corbyn on the other hand is letting MPs "unresign" and crawl back on to his front bench, which he can hardly fill. May is as yet untested when it comes to the near future of decisions. But to set up overlapping key ministries of potential opponents is a key political skill, by which decisions come up to her. She can dodge and weave, but in the end she can sow overlap and confusion among others in order to rule herself.

So far May has shown an ability to lead, but these are early days. Corbyn may have 'ideas', but if he cannot lead, he's no good. Women seem to be rather good in politics (even if disliking their policies): witness Hillary Clinton's speech against the lunacy of Donald Trump. Angela Merkel is all about a steady hand, and she didn't get where she is (and stay there so long) through Corbynist gentleness and simply ideas.

The EU referendum has created a divide and is reworking politics. When Corbyn said that Article 50 should be invoked immediately, he immediately lost any of my support. He also didn't consult his 'Labour team' (if there is one).

Politics is a sluggist game of timing and opportunity. Some of us think the referendum was wrong to be had in the first place (regardless of the result), a reckless gamble of party before country, that it became a misdirected protest by people who were never told how the EU works, and one campaign for in was wholly defensive and lacked any hope and idealism, and the other was a pack of tribal lies.

I don't know what "Brexit means Brexit" means. Theresa May has also said, "As we leave the European Union", which sounds like a process not a completion. Some of us think leaving the EU is a disaster and becomes, for the future, the number one issue and to resist. For every reason: for the economy, for liberties, for wider world (sharing) idealism on a political level, for free movement of young and elderly, for science co-operation and intellectual sharing, for voting transnationally.

I'm worried that Nick Clegg, not exactly the country's most reliable politician, is approaching 'monitoring' this exiting the EU as something that is going to be done. He should be resisting it, and saying a General Election is the opportunity for voting to reverse this. I want Tim Fallon to lay it on the line in a manifesto to say he will do everything so that Article 50 is never invoked: that he and his MPs stand for election on this basis.

So what does the future hold?

It looks like Corbyn will win easily. There is no doubt about this. Owen Smith is dodgy by history and by expression. He is televisual and no doubt can run things, but he is back to the same-old. It doesn't actually matter if he was fantastic. The fact is he will lose and badly.

Now some MPs will indeed unresign, because if Corbyn doesn't do it the members will: MPs that do not follow the Corbyn line will get deselected. So some MPs will keep the meal ticket. My friends who have joined Labour and paid £85 each to vote know that they will also be voting to deselect Karl Turner if he doesn't buckle under. Personally, I think he is a lousy MP so I hope he is replaced.

But some Labour MPs have clearly crossed the bridge. They have been so open in criticism of Corbyn that they will either informally or formally break away. Informally means just organising their own voting whilst being nominally Labour; the result will of course be deselection. The formal break away is a new party, one that reflects a more social democratic view. And that means back to co-operating with others. We think some could be Liberal Democrat; crumbs, some could even be Conservative at the fringes. What may well make the difference is Europe, and the pro-EU MPs go into loose (presumably) arrangements with the Liberal Democrats.

As for the Conservatives, their change would have been sooner with Remain vote, as they would have shattered: the "war would have continued" as Farage put it regarding UKIP before the results appeared. The Out vote has meant pro-EU Conservatives "having to accept the result" - at least as a process gets under way.

But it does not add up. You cannot have a single market without free movement, unless the EU changes this and the EEA too (the EU obeying economicf area for countries that might join). You cannot be in the single market if greater immigration control and sovereignty is asserted. You cannot have England out of the EU and Scotland in; there cannot be a UK out and Ireland in with no customs border between Ireland and the North of Ireland. The EU was essential in Ireland because it undermined nationalism, as it always does, so long as you are in the EU and voting transnationally. I mean, to have Irish MPs throughout the island in one Parliament is fantastic, even while Northern Ireland is part of the UK and Eire is independent. Plus the UK is a weak entity because it is not a federal state but a unitary state with a devolution that can slice through it like splitting slate.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary now, changes his mind anyway; it was that actual marginality of opinion ostensibly immediately after the result which got him knifed by Michael Gove. David Davis is having to square impossible circles and Liam Fox is currently jumping the gun trying to make trade deals when we cannot and we are not even in the World Trade Organisation. It is pre-arranging what might never come about.

What can come about, and is the second likeliest, is Article 50 is invoked and then the EU sits on its hands (the French will for sure) so that the EU achieves more and Britain less as the clock ticks for two years and you're out; the flexibility offered may be towards Scotland in a possible different independent future. Everyone will take a hit, but the EU hit is recoverable via relocations, whereas the British will have to devalue and scrabble around for trade deals here and there and attract investment towards a largely domestic economy.

The further problem is that we do not have enough legislative time or Civil Service resources to undo forty years of the EU running through the UK political and legal bloodstream. Look at how the Universal Credit has been so time-consuming that it is delayed and delayed - and that is just one major change. Imagine trying to replicate agricultural subsidies: do we go back to the pre-EU supply subsidy or replicate (yet change the funding streams) EU price based support? What about regional policy that became EU based?

How does it work? We continue to pay into the EU to get access to the single market AND we have to find the money for all the subsidies and supports that were part of the original dirigiste basis of the EU? So taxes will have to shoot up. Who is going to arrange all this and see that it works?

So what is most likely to happen is nothing, because at the moment we are doing nothing (except for a lousy offshoot Civil Service unit investigation of what needs to be done: even I know what needs to be done in general terms). Come the repeal of the 1972 Economic Communities Act, a whole void opens up and effective political panic. Would MPs even do it?

So the likely political result is the resignations of David Davis and Liam Fox. And that will be the end of the policy, because May will say they were in charge and that the Brexit means Brexit but not after its policy makers failed. When Davis and Fox goes, the Tory party will itself split. The 'loonies running the asylum' will be back 'outside the establishment'.

And there could be anyway a General Election, enormously unpredictable because four parties in a first past the post turns the contest into a lottery. If Lib Dems can attract the current 48%, then they will impact, but who knows whether UKIP will strengthen or weaken, or whether the Tories' current command over Labour will maintain itself, or Corbyn will attract the disaffected or instead find in the Midlands and North the same as happened to Labour in Scotland. But even a huge Tory majority would likely lead to a Tory split as the exiting the EU is demonstrably impractical, so a Tory party becomes two.

Of course Trump might win in the USA so we might all end up as nuclear toast anyway, or carved up by Putin, or something similar. The Pope says that we are at war already, largely economic (and social) too, never mind everything else. It sure could get worse. We sure should not be leaving the EU at times like these.