Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Looking in From the Outside

More of a personal reflection...

Once again I have spent too much time reading down the comments on Fulcrum after the NEAC 2008, and yet read clearly as someone on the outside looking in. I like to read in ascending date order, but go to the last page first, and back to the first post read previously to read on forwards. I did also take the odd suggested direction elsewhere. I also look at Thinking Anglicans, but on this it isn't the main centre of comment, of course, and some comments there go off focus towards contributors' own biases.

I'm sure there are quite a few uninvolved people looking down at what people are saying. To start elsewhere, I'm sure I disagree with Peter Ould about most things, but his alternative resolution to vote upon would be uniting of these different evangelical factions. He doubts if such would be put by CEEC, however. The Fulcrum forum on NEAC shows something of a return to the issue of Richard Turnbull himself and his impact, and also Chris Sugden's declaration of loyalty to some Global Anglicanism while taking advantage of the Church of England parish basis. The mess from NEAC is getting worse, spilling out, but one comment suggests that the failure too of the Covenant - or its uselessness once done - could leave Evangelicals in a worse state still.

I just maintain the point that this is all to the advantage of the people running CEEC. When opponents (because this is what they are for as long as they disagree) are scattered and neutered, then the one show in town can make its progress. Soon there will be no other options, such as when the Covenant finally dies from its thousanth cut.

I'm personally in two minds about this. This ability to self-destruct clearly limits Evangelical progress, and that I regard as a good thing. I think the self-destruct button and the nature of Evangelicalism are connected. When Pete Broadbent wants a Communion that excludes the non-orthodox but regards Evangelicals ejecting other Evangelicals as "party mindedness", all I can see is the same boundary line drawing at a different place. The assumption is that The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are non-orthodox, which I just find bizarre. Some individuals might be, but it follows the basic lines of credal Christianity in all its worship. Some seem to be worried about theology, but theology is like this - it is diverse in its interpretations. Otherwise what is the point - separate out university theology from something sectarian in the Churches? Trinitarian worship shoehorns in theology, even with tight fits: it does its own excluding - and I say that as someone who separates theology and liturgy probably further than they can go.

On the other hand it is sad to see a scrap like this, because there is quite a fallout taking place and it is yet another negative hit within Anglicanism. It may be that there is no alternative to such a scrap. Sometimes there are points where breaks have to be made, or positions taken, and you stand up for them.

I have to say that more and more I look upon this as an outsider, and not just of Evangelicalism. There are numerous ropes and other threads connecting me as an individual and aspects of Anglicanism. I move around in odd corners on the inside, but inspect the ropes and threads and they are fraying. I assess that some kind of liberality will come through in the Church of England, and it is naive to think it will just be ethical and social and not doctrinal. They go together. However, it will be limited and won't really stretch to the position I occupy.

One can go on inhabiting a quiet corner, but in the end I don't like the feeling of being neutered.

There are almost no institutional alternatives for someone like me, a sort of symbolism recognising postmodern liberal who holds to no particular doctrinal position.

The Unitarian Church ought to be the closest to my position, but in the UK it has its own battles and the liberal Christians continue to push a realist agenda of last defence and last practice and the religious humanist has neglected art and symbol in religion. Its long Puritan shadow and the unstated chapel majorities, that do influence types of religious expression, limit its potential as creative, evolving, ways of faith. It has lost an understanding of ritual as a means to cohere, and it has lost a cohering view of ministry. Its historical attempt to find an objective core via a subjective method has limited the impact of postmodern play.

I would equate to something like Free Catholicism, if I understand it properly, but it was a temporary emergence and the nearest to that since would be Liberal Catholicism. But Liberal Catholicism in its different branches has taken from its inheritance of Theosophy and first individuals a very esoteric, even magical view, of the Eucharist and the laying on of hands of bishops, which, though I could live with it, is another workaround. It is socially inclusive. Like its earliest developments, it is highly clerical even when very small, and there is this troubling element of compensatory fantasy.

Another potential institution is - well let's call it - Open Catholicism. This equates more closely to the Old Catholic rather than Liberal Catholic, but is not dependent upon such past associations. From what I can find, it is rather straightforwardly ecumenical in intention, around the set creeds and seven sacraments, and rejects the Protestant, but is not dogmatic beyond these and is socially inclusive - female ordination including as bishops and an open table regarding the Eucharist, with an intention of avoiding judgmental attitudes. I suppose here the liberalism is consequential rather than doctrinal and by intention (such may have been the case with Liberal Catholicism too, but the impact of Theosophy is that it picks up Eastern religions, Gnostics, and New Age, all of which is intentional and invigorating) and so the Open liberalism is clearly limited. Where does all the creative liberal and postmodern theology fit in with Open Catholicism?

The one group I did get on with and only left because I changed location was Western Buddhism. There were issues there, but they were only side ones at the stage of involvement I was at. The emphasis on spiritual friendship involved higher up organisational separation of the sexes, and that was a niggle, though not as I mixed with them. Also I was not as dedicated to the one cause as the dedicated; I did attend an Anglican Church at the same time! My theological diversity was frowned upon by this Buddhism as muddle and even harmful (no God one minute, God the next).

That there are non-affiliated Baha'is lurking around in some numbers now is interesting and encouraging, to say the least. I wonder how much criticism regarding infallibility and all that, and how much relativism, can the Faith take before what is essentially Baha'i is lost? Just where do the unaffiliated Baha'is pitch their critical relationship with the Faith? They vary, of course, but perhaps it starts to look like a version of Unitarian Christianity where the relationship is symbiotic and oppositional at the same time, a relationship towards the Creeds that rejects them.

I find a many people agreeing when discussing areas of theology, but for some reason they have an easier institutional time of it than me. My desire I suppose is to fit an institution and then get fully involved, and it has never happened. In some cases it went far and then became utterly frustrated, and in other cases never started because the objections were clear early on.

So there is a bizarre reflection when looking at these Evangelicals in a state of almost warring factions. They are all well within the institutional boundaries, but some are knocking the walls down anyway and they seem to scrap like hell. And they also scrap, if less ferociously, with others within the walls. But there are liberal Christians who I'd see as well within the walls that others would regard as outside. At least I don't have that grey area to worry about, like say Bishop David Jenkins: I know I'm a cuckoo in the nest.


Erika Baker said...

I loved this analysis, thank you.
In many respects, it reflects my own journey, although I have not travelled as far outside the institutional frameworks and done my journeying more in reading, talking and from within.

What caught me was your sentence "I find a many people agreeing when discussing areas of theology, but for some reason they have an easier institutional time of it than me."

And I wonder whether the real difference between you and me is that I am actually, deeply and truly grounded in the palpable reality of "God", however you define him. That clear focus gives the institutional a far lesser weight than it must have for someone who rejects the idea of any "supranatural" being.

Will it lead ultimately to the question "at what point does faith stop being faith in any meaningful way"?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't know the answer to your question. I seem to attend and do so purposefully in one place or another: I did have 18 months 'off' after I left Unitarian College. I've never been involved for purely social reasons - indeed social reasons have been usually mismatched in my case. There are connections now, but I tend to talk religion with the people I talk with, so should the candle go out I'd have no basis for the social connection - just cups of coffee and seeing people. The candle hasn't gone out, it just does not have a candle holder.

Erika Baker said...

"The candle hasn't gone out, it just does not have a candle holder."

What a wonderfully moving image. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pluralist. I always enjoy your analyses.

I'm an affiliated Baha'i (Tarbiyat) and a former Augustinian Religious. I reside near the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver BC.

Surely you've heard of Bishop Michael Ingham? Lovely man. Archbishop James Packer? No comment.

Is faithfulness intratextual or extratextual? Propositional or experiential-expressive? It seems to me that it might be both if one accepts the hypothesis that religious propositions are not (fundamentally) doctrinal statements but rather metaphors, similes, allegories, symbols ... of which the Manifestation is the chief one, even when (or, perhaps, especially when) he insists otherwise. There is some resistance to this notion among many Baha'is, but it seems to me that we must approach the intratextual from the extratextual, the propositonal from the experiential. Otherwise we are, in the words of Gurdjieff, simply "reacting automatons."

"All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond."

It has been said that Judaism is one faith with many different facets. Franz Rosenzweig said that Christianity is Judaism for the Gentiles. I say that the Baha'i Faith is Islam for the infidels. At least one prominent (unaffiliated) Baha'i has written that multiple religious identity may be the wave of the future. Different kinds of affiliation serve different purposes: one might be private and personal, another might be public and communal. Even these distinctions often overlap.

Remember: "The foxes have their holes and the cuckoos have their nests."

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes I would agree that there are grounds for multiple religious identities - as one who has that. Quite an insight there.

The Yale postliberal view is an intratextual one and I'm unconvinced by it - cultures change and you cannot freeze oneself into a textual drama, e.g. ecumenical Christianity, when cultures and languages mix and match and change.

Oh and I've no time at all for James Packer's output.