Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Conferences and Focii

As ever, a number of conferences are taking place later in the year when the lit part of days are much longer.

Two at the liberal and radical end are addressing themes of science and religion in this year of Darwin.

Sea of Faith
is looking at: Making Meaning: Science and Religion and this is held at its usual location at Leicester University from 21 to 23 July 2009. Its speakers are quite broad and impressive, with a Quaker, Tom Shakespeare, a social science Research Fellow Newcastle University, and specialist on genetics and disability issues; a Quaker, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell FRS, Visiting Professor of Astro-Physics: University of Oxford and President of the Institute of Physics; and an Anglican priest, Michael Reiss, Professor, Institute of Education, University of London. Don Cupitt provides reflections. There are also many workshops tackling the breadth of religion and science.

The general position of Sea of Faith is that religion is a human creation, but it will be interesting to see how far that line is pursued regarding science - in other words, is science an equivalent narrative or is it more narrowly governed and even differently realist?

It is tackling a whole range of questions from science in education to questions within physics, and how consciousness comes out of evolution and applying religion and ethics in science.

Science features in the Modern Churchpeople's Union Conference thanks in large part to Keith Ward (see below) but this seems to have a fairly scattergun theme about the whole. It gives space to Bishop Geoffrey Rowell, outside the camp perhaps, whilst Bishop Brian Smith of Edinburgh wants to liberate the Church, Helen-Ann Hartley thinks she can liberate scripture (fundamentals not fundamentalism), Gary Dorrien specialises in liberal theology, Lucy Winkett delves into the economy (an area that would interest me the most) and Jonathan Clatworthy asks if liberal theology is to bring peace or a sword.

Shorter conferences include another with a science theme, but also a bend towards internal Church issues.

Affirming Liberalism is a recently established group (not as active as the Progressive Christianity Network) that describes itself as 'A Church of England Network Supporting Liberal Christians of All Denominations'. In such it heavily overlaps with the modernist MCU. Affirming Liberalism's Second National Day Conference is called A Credible Faith for Growing Churches and is held on Saturday 6th June 2009 in The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford from 10 am to 4 pm. Keith Ward is to Affirming Liberalism what Don Cupitt is to Sea of Faith (though Don has stepped back a bit from providing full lectures), so this is his main base. Keith Ward speaks on "Why the Scientific World-View Confirms Liberal Christian Faith". He is Regius Professor of Divinity, Emeritus; Oxford University. More church focused is "Why Liberal Churches Are Growing" by Canon Professor Martyn Percy, Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford.

From reading about the first conference I noticed a tension between a moderate, centrist, liberalism of the Church of England, and those who had a more distinctive liberal faith.

Affirming Liberalism's starting point is the Church of England's own inclusion of the liberal perspective, and then it makes a number of points, for which (I think) point 1 and point 4 can be in conflict.

1. Affirming faith in Jesus' life, teaching, death and resurrection as revealing God's limitless love to all humanity in this life and the next.

4. Affirming a free, questioning and philosophical approach to Christian faith through God-given reason.

In fact point 1 would exclude me as a matter of course, as I don't affirm these points and my view of liberalism is more like point 4, though reason is sufficient.

Point 9 has:

Affirming open, creative conversation between Liberals, Evangelicals and Catholics to enrich our understanding of the Christian Gospel.

In such spirit I'll mention the Fulcrum Conference on Saturday 16 May 2009, 10 am to 4 pm, at Christ Church on the B283 north of New Malden station. This is wholly inwardly concerned with Church matters titled Spirituality of Unity and features various evangelicals, namely: Hugh Palmer, Rector, All Souls Langham Place, London; Jane Morris, Vicar of Cricklewood, London; Adrian Chatfield, Director, Simeon Centre for Spirituality, Ridley Hall, Cambridge. Afternoon sessions are group based with Phil Stone, Vicar, St Mark's Kensal Rise and it ends with Bible Study with Ian Paul, Dean of Studies, St John's College, Nottingham.

It recognises strains between evangelicals but puts a stress on exploring unity between them.


Sceptic said...

Don't you think "Sea of Faith" is more a puddle of unbelief?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No. I think it understands the impact of postmodernity on plural religion.

john said...

But I think 'Sea of Faith' is very uninteresting, which is not to say that it may not be right. The claim that religion is a 'human construct' is ambiguous and lazy. Don Cupitt has been saying the same thing for years. Keith Ward, an enormously more positive and agile thinker (WHETHER OR NOT YOU AGREE WITH HIM), regularly grasps the nettle of 'non-realism'. Answer, from 'Sea of Faith', comes there none.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't know where you get this from. Sea of Faith keeps the claim 'human creation' low key and deliberately, because it has been debated constantly whether religion as a human creation is just human detail but a realist transcendence, or whether religion is non-realist all the way through, and how much other disciplines are non-realist, with also the term disliked by many. It is an issue tackled by structuralists and post-structuralists and it's there in the varying Cupitt books and talking by others.

john said...

Well, I have read/flicked quite a few Cupitt books and talked to those who follow him. It seems to me quite clear tha whereas he was at one time someone who believed in something 'transcendental', he no longer is and hasn't been for a very long time. It's a perfectly honourable position (seems to be yours as well). I just don't find it very 'interesting'. By that I mean that it doesn't of itself generate any interesting debate, in rather the same way as atheism, of itelf, doesn't.

As for structuralists and post-structuralists, the former do assert meaning, the latter don't. The latter derive from the former but arrive at diametrically opposed results.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't think that's accurate enough. The poststructuralists generate meanings, but they are unstable and can collapse in on themselves, but they are still meanings. Cupitt is the same, that he generates meanings that you zip along with.

He believed in a high and dry transcendence up to 1979. Then he had an individualist loss of God faith position, then it became more collective and around language, later it became more a plainer energy of live life and just do it. He did have a religious experience that led to this solar metaphor. However, he seems now to have the same basis of relativism of knowledge, but has come down on the narrative power of the naturalistic explanation, and so religious faith is to be found in the ordinary. So he retains a religious outlook but now even churchgoing has pretty much come to an end.

john said...

By 'assert meaning' I meant 'assert a purportedly stable meaning'.

You obviously know about Cupitt's thinking, whereas I don't in any, or up-to-date, detail.


(a) the term/criterion 'naturalistic' requires interrogation. If it is used to refer to 'the laws of nature' and the like, then it has to look into the possibility that these are not exhaustive/don't describe everything. They obviously don't, even on relatively orthodox physics. So it is open to a sophisticated, liberal Christian with highly metaphysical views to claim 'naturalism' on his side too.

(b) I'm not sure quite sure why Cupitt and others still want to describe whtever they are doing/thinking as 'religious'. I find a sort of psychological parasitism here which I don't much like. Why am I wrong?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm sure a liberal Christian can claim naturalism, indeed surely that of secular theology with a high and dry God, or existential theology, with questions, can do so. It's back to kerygma or kernel questions though: how much a kerygma compromises naturalism.

I agree that naturalism is a slippery term: he is using it almost like bringing back a grand narrative.

Why is Cupitt and related religious? It is because it relates to what constitutes salvation, so you end up discussing fulfilment in these terms, and usually because it then leads on to some form of symbolic and ritualistic practice. Though Cupitt in The Old Creed and the New leaves little room, and he did stop church attendance as was in 2008 - though he indicates religion via philosophy more now in the Chinese approach.