Monday, 12 May 2008

In Depth - My Position

The local In Depth group meets this coming week. It is a local group, led by a long-standing church member (though begun by another attender) who is introducing radical theology. It is kept relatively easy to follow by using Tony Windross and his writings, though usually the introduction goes further than this.

So the group that has been called by one participant, the "radical theology group" is discussing its own subject.

Radical theology is seen as distinct from liberal theology. Liberal theology is open, seeking, doubtful, eager to learn more, pluralistic, and tends to run around existing debates and structures. It is decentralised and individualist and is heavily reliant on experience - feeling leads to expression. It comes under pressure these days from the self-described "orthodox" as being inadequate to Bible or Church, secular, not Christian-sourced enough, and over-compromising. Radicals also see liberal theology as forms of sitting on the fence.

Radical theology is more definite than this: that in a postmodern interpretation of pluralism sets out its own less doubtful ethical religious humanism, and is unafraid to reinterpret. It can be individualist but tends, with a stress on language, to be more collective - and language means a relationship of signs and symbols that goes beyond talk. Talk and understanding generates experience. Expression leads to feeling. Actually this is only one form of such theology. Radical theology can also be postmodern conserving - liturgically conserving for sure but also it lives within its postmodern bubble, its own culture that rejects objective grounding in a worldly beyond, and works on the level of narratives. This is the theology of John Milbank, and would be of Rowan Williams if he was more consistent about narrative and detail. So the reinterpretive side of postmodern radicalism is sometimes called atheological nihilism or nihilist atheology. The a-theology is obviously a reference to the movement away from standard theological references: as with Mark C. Taylor in the United States or Don Cupitt in the United Kingdom. There is a third position which is more complex, that of a tradition of radical unknowing, the apophatic, that comes from an extreme depth view of nevertheless-impacting contradictory doctrines and paradoxes. In this one is left with a kind of transcendental mysticism of the East. The latter is the equivalent of depth-Buddhism, for example, in the philosophical self-negatings of some sutras. This position then is an objective, truth-clashing, leaving a vast transcendence position. Related to this is something called Real Absence, which is the objectivity of the transcendence but one that is almost lost to the severe cold.

Whilst I can see some possibility of the latter apophatic position, I don't think I hold it, because I think some of the doctrines don't work any longer. I am more into signals of transcendence than a full conclusion of transcendence - signals being both a liberal and radical compatible stance. I'm not coming at doctrines and tradition from within, where they then clash. For me doctrines have a lightness of being and only clash because they are weak, not because they are strong.

Primarily I am a liberal, in that I am too doubtful across a range of positions and not just Christian. So there is a transience regarding any position, and that is a route into the postmodern of imploding doubt. I am also theologically radical. I am both individualist and recognise the role of language as collective. Religion constitutes a series of symbolic relationships, and that (with a doubt about structuralism) there are strong social anthropological activities (eg gift-exchange, involving token passing and other ritual patterns of body and culture) that allow religion to work as facilitating an overall perspective on life and a communal binding of one to another. The Christianity is in essence a Jewish based ethical reversal as displayed by Jesus and the sacrificial life lived (the theology developed out of that was exchange based too). So the religious life is not an expression towards some deity, but rather all that about a deity being an expression of the searching life, which requires, in a sense, a Christian dharma - a liturgical way.

All the arguments about Jesus as a man of his time, early eschatological Judaism, Pauline eschatology and salvationist ahistorical Christianity, heterodox forms of Christianity, the Reformation, the left wing of the Reformation, and changes due to negotiating with the Enlightenment and after, are all relative to shifts in culture and to the processes of writing for particular concerns. Doctrines as such are relatively unimportant, but symbol-systems are important.

It is why I feel a particular attachment to the idea of doctrine-free symbolic Christianity as a way and path. I may reinterpret them, but my own personal saints are J. M. Lloyd Thomas and Ulric Vernon Herford. I can see what they were doing in their day and why, and it still resonates.

My Anglican identity (as well as biographical) is in that Anglicanism has a moderation about it, and its Catholicism gets checked by Reform and its Reform gets checked by Catholicism. It has tried to develop broad theologies. In that it is now under pressure to become more sectarian, and that it is becoming ever more unethical socially and sexually relative to culture, and seeks to draw in boundaries to exclude far more than me in position and people, means that it and I have a problematic relationship which I have tried to resolve and still try.

Of course I am free to express these views in a reasonably like minded group like In Depth, with people in it other than me of high Catholic symbolism with theological radicalism, an intellectual input, an interfaith input, moderate liberal-radicalism, scepticism, liberality and just interested... It is a space in which to just discuss for a short time, and because we are discussing the thing itself this time I shall present something of the above. It is just one group with a broad stance and there are other groups with other stances locally: that bigger spread of stances is something I also welcome as a pluralist.


Erika Baker said...

“feeling leads to expression” and “expression leads to feeling”.... can you substantiate that?
Aren’t feeling and expression two form of emerging awareness, their dominance or priority depending on individual psychology?
Do they really say something about the direction of thinking (liberal, or it’s sub-group, radical)?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Theoretically, the individualist liberal stance has been that one experiences, feels and gives expression. Starting with William James, and going on into the postmodern, the primacy of language and symbol making is that in the act of expression you create the feeling.

No doubt there are other ways of seeing this. I'm just making a distinction between the liberal and what became the post-liberal.