Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Three Lectures

The sermon this morning at the church was a tale of bedtime reading about the last days, of Christians floating about all hell let loose, and a contrast between that and a sort of searching approach to faith - somehow identified in the two non-Gospel New Testament and Gospel New Testament readings (sort of odd how they get separated). I listened to this, as I do, glazing over bits, as I do, and muttering about the priest's in charge bizarre choice of bedtime reading, "Whatever floats your boat." A sort of reading to generate nightmares or perhaps some kind of sleep laughter.

It was one of those moments I have from time to time. The sermon was wholly located inside the biblical texts, which is faithful, but I have to say that increasingly I get lost. They certainly educate, but I'm having problems extracting myself from Bibleworld into Hereiamworld. I live in Hereiamworld, and whilst I can jump into another world like Bibleworld for a bit of time tourism around a text, I'm not sure what to do with it all.

Now as can be seen in reverse order (how blogs work, of course, a new element and pastime for Hereiamworld) I have been getting to grips with the Archbishop of Canterbury's three Lent Lectures. Now I have treated these two ways: one is how he says all this when he is about to restrict the basis of the Anglican Communion, if he can, and secondly on its own terms. From one to three it goes from the contrast to the treat it on its own terms. I have to say that Rowan Williams is interested in translatability, to take us from Hereiamworld to Bibleworld and back again, as he starts with science, goes on to politics in Hereiamsociety and Christian society, and then purely in Bibleworld but bringing this to some attempted understanding in Hereiamworld.

The first is about science, about which some barmy things have been said recently - religionists telling scientists that they are in danger of going mad with what they do, when (as far as I can see) it is the religionists that are going somewhat daft by extreme comments on scientific motives. I didn't expect Rowan Williams to make the same stupid comments as Tom Wright, and he has not.

Let's take these three together, as I have now blogged on all three (and took some time too: to read, absorb and follow through what just did not seem to work). What interests Rowan Williams is ideology, and his science lecture is about science as overall explanation. This is the whole business about memes, and I am pretty sure he has misunderstood them (aha - objectifying a piece of text: named and hug around the neck! Where have I just read that?). The rationalisation of ideas is something other than memes: memes of whatever kind just replicate and die off once people are tired of them. The business of the acid is more to do with sustainable ideas, and here we have Darwinist ideology affirming, well, Darwinism. Christianity wants to make ethical comments about science, and then in the second lecture is the input of Christian views and people into the political sphere. Here he tries to set up a contrast between Christian approaches to human dignity and secular approaches to human rights, and the contrast is a false one between something that has been worked through and lives and something flat and theoretical. It won't do, because these rights have been acquired themselves through historical processes, and it may just be that they relate best to liberal democracy because they have been forged as part of its making. The connection to the third lecture is tenuous, because it is apparently the source lecture for these values of a Christian society within larger society, whereas it is mainly about trying to justify beliefs historically. The production of a Christian society seems to be an afterthought (though the idea is it is grounded in real historical resurrection facts), but in that such a society seems no better ethically than non-Christian society, or before Christianity, he then dives into something to do with Christ at least in the sacraments - as a finisher.

Now in choosing history as his justification for Christian beliefs and a Christian society he is attempting to make a connection between Bibleworld and Hereiamworld. It is a modernist Hereiamworld, but nevertheless it uses terms that can be called common currency. The one historical fact he can come up with is a gap. The gap is between Jesus dying and a Church existing. In there somewhere, after a death, is a supposed resurrection. This gap is of unknown length between Jesus's death and first resurrection belief, though there is a limit given by the existence of the first Churches (Jerusalem, Pauline; Jewish, Gentile; spontaneous). What he tries to establish is that something objective happened. Now he can only do this with these texts we have, and the basis is the difference they have in the resurrection accounts contrasted with the earthly ministry. The earthly ministry ones are polished, but the resurrection ones are raw. But they simply are not: they are as fully theologised and developed as the earthly ones, and they are as history-like and biography-like too. In that the early Churches are making changes out of Judaism, there is newness: there must be newness with a first of the resurrected, and the categories of spiritual impact and belief in the body rub up against each other.

There seems to be a demand, in this historical gap, to come up with a better theory than one to do with empty tombs and actual visitations by a transformed existence of Jesus. It seems to me to be entirely explainable by and within culture, and the sheer grip that exists by culture on one's collective understanding of reality. There is no demand for a simpler theory, because culture is not science, and indeed much that is simpler in science is complex - and when quantum science defies common sense that's too bad for common sense.

So we come full circle. Culture grips and culture shifts - the ideology of Darwinism is extremely powerful. When creatures are on a small island, and the environment is tough, evolution is fast. If resources are scarce, it does not take long for the successful animals to be smaller. If the environment is stable, or dominant, as with humans, then evolution is very slow. What I have concluded is that culture has a kind of evolution - paradigms evolve to new explanations. One reason now why Rowan Williams wants Christians to be heard is that the world is evolving to where some of what Christianity says finds others going deaf.

Well I was sitting listening to this sermon this morning and just thinking this stuff is leaving me by. One person, who is rather perceptive, and despite everything I've said, came to me and said she was thinking of me and really you have to stay in the Anglican Church. So I just remarked how I just was not with that sermon.

I'm not going anywhere. If I am, I'll let everyone know! There is a whole pervasive sense of drift and (ha ha - theology of the body) it comes right inside. Faith is very intense. The greater Anglican Church is really unethical - my interest in these lectures has been because the speaker is a driver of this unethical Communion, even unethical Church. This is not a complaint locally, at all. I just think this whole theological enterprise, this sort of demand for history, goes nowhere, but equally having Bibleworld and Hereiamworld is equally difficult.

Of course this sermon was about one's own faith path and developing it, it's just that I'm not developing it in Bibleworld but in Hereiamworld. I find the language of Bibleworld increasingly remote, however much I learn more about it.

(It's 17:34 and with the 18:00 evensong service it is time for church! The posting times of this blog are rubbish.)

Well! The readings were Haggai 1:13 - 2:9 and 1 Corinthians 3:10-17, and the sermon that followed and intercessions led me at the end to stall the last hymn (Thine Be the Glory) and then to chuck the book down and sit down early. The lay reader led sermon was coherent and intelligent, and it is part of the good fortune of the church that it has these resources, but the whole push of the sermon was a Bartian view of a full and complete and pure God - we are chosen by God to come to the church by God, he said, not by habit, or entertainment etc. and then it got to the business of the Temple, related to the Gospel of John and raising it up in three days. God builds up the Temple inside us as Christians, whereas the people outside in secular Barton are like in a desolate place, and later in the intercessions they are in a waste. This relates to the condition of Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the second Temple (if I have it right; it could be the time of Babylon too). Of course I tackled this afterwards: he was speaking spiritually and symbolically (except symbols run like hares in all directions). Do I not think that it makes a difference being in the church? Yes, it is like a resource to invest in, to encourage, to build up, to nurture: who knows what resources the people who do not attend church [are not chosen, in this neo-Calvinism?] have to encourage them, and build them.

This is again the ethical argument. It is deeply anti-humanist (meant in a Renaissance way) and, as someone else said, it is elitist Christianity. The preacher said he thought I might disapprove but can't change what he said just because I might - oh absolutely not, indeed don't change it because someone might object, and say it. But what does it mean? Here then was translation, into the saved and the unsaved, the chosen and the left behind in desolation and waste.

I said to him afterwards: my reaction to that sermon is to go and sit with the people in the desolation and the waste. I'll join them. A certain other chap might have done that, after all.


Anonymous said...

I preached the sermon that Pluralist was commenting on, on Haggai and I Corinthians. I would only add one comment to what we said face to face. Doesn't he feel that it is a privilege to be a Christian? I don't mean in a "I thank you that I am not as other men are" type of way, but as one who is proud to follow Christ. Not in the arrogance of an "I'm all right, Jack" way (which also sort of cropped up in the morning sermon alluded to by Pluralist), but as someone conscious in all humility of being called. Christianity is a way of living, more than a way of thinking (not that I would want to dissociate the two). I hate the tag of Neo-Calvinism, and any election that I may have alluded to was an election on our part, not an election by God. Does he repudiate the saying of Jesus "Follow me"? Does rejoicing in the power of the Cross make me exclusivist? Paul said it better than me.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

The neo-Calvinist tag is a response to what seemed to me, if unintended, a pure Bartian theology - that God selects us to go to church (you did say that?). To me the positive side of what you were saying has an immediate flip side and this is where suddenly an uncomfortable ethical argument comes in.

I don't repudiate the Jesus saying "follow me", unless that is the effect of saying yes I will but I also want to think about what this involves as we go along. Yes, there is a *but* in this.

No, I don't feel any sense of privilege: I actually find the Christian label a burden (some will not give it to me anyway) and a difficulty and I don't even like the label. It is a very good question. I don't rejoice in it.

Your sermon has had a big impact, and not just with me (there was quite some comment rippling around) and that can only be a good thing as it has raised some pretty fundamental questions.

Anonymous said...

The comment would probably have been about the facetious introduction.

Anonymous said...

Surely election is a basic structure of Christianity. To say I elect Christ rather than saying that Christ elects me would be Pelagian. Barthian theology on this is fine. To be one of the elect community, Jewish or Christian, is to be elected to be a light to the nations, Lumen Gentium, so it is both a privilege and a duty. But note the one or two texts in Scripture that suggest that God also elects other groups for God's inscrutably purposes -- today we could say the it is a privilege to be elected by God for the role of a Muslim for example. Indeed the witness of authentic Muslim faith and piety is an uplifting "light" to many of us. JSOL