Monday, 2 February 2009

Disagreeing with Myself

Given my change in stance, I have wondered if I am now with Don Cupitt and his position of 2006, when he contrasted his New Creed with the Old Creed. I wrote a review at the time, in which I declared he had nowhere else to go, and instead I put up a defence of heterological thinking as a form of spiritual involvement based on old texts and old myths to enhance the actuality of exchange and gift in ritual.

I am surprised how my thinking there overlaps with that of Rowan Williams's recent lecture on revelation, where a space is made for receptive surprises. There are differences, particularly apologetic, but the overlap is definitely there. In this approach, different from the detail I criticised in 2006, Rowan Williams sees revelation as opening up what you don't know (though there is a Knower) and encouraging the search, but he does it from a stance of a tradition and associating Jesus with the transcendent.

So what has changed with me? It's that the Christian myth is worn out. It is not delivering any of the surprises in the spaces made for it to operate. It has simply gone away, vacated itself of any particular meaning.

Cupitt's 2006 reasoning was that the critics of his Christian non-realism were right all along: it is a philosophical thinking that demands realist connections. I'm not so sure that is my position still. Where I am being forced to agree with him is in the testing of the market place on naturalistic thinking, and that this in the end is going to be the means to deliver meaning. It is not - absolutely not - Rowan Williams's alternative of consumerist spirituality. However, much of that is in the same boat as ancient Christianity: a thought-world vacated.

I still think there is a lot of mileage in exchange and gift, in the social anthropology of doing religion. Where I am closer is that this text has to be plunged into for itself, rather than adding Christian substitutes. The gift is not some quasi-divine offering, though it must involve the surprise of insight; rather it is the altruistic, and we can talk about altruism in all kinds of tribal, anti-tribal, evolutionary and against the evolutionary terms. I'm moving towards, I think, a thoroughly humanistic interpretation of doing religion. Even human spirituality has coloured windows; even human spirituality makes space for insight by being a little heterological. If it uses Christian texts, it is only because those texts can be invested with a broadly humanist meaning, not because they have any intrinsic meaning, or at least adequate intrinsic meaning.


Erika Baker said...

The problem remains as long as you believe that faith is a purely rational thing that one can think about and then either decide that it's true or not.

At its heart, it is not rational at all, and it is not based on any verifiable fact.

So it is not "If it uses Christian texts, it is only because those texts can be invested with a broadly humanist meaning, not because they have any intrinsic meaning" as though that was in any sense a meaningful general statement about faith, rather than a true statement about your personal faith.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

At heart then don't make claims, for example, that a person who was dead became actually alive if transformed. If it is just a matter of subjective fancy, then there is no objection.

My point is which language has a more powerful explanatory value; clearly, for many, Christian language remains potent, but not for me. However, my point also is that people in every day life think in a this worldly practical fashion. Their superstitions (say astrology, crystals) and religious beliefs do not give a consistent world view of causality - they come to be like add-ons.

Erika Baker said...

"At heart then don't make claims, for example, that a person who was dead became actually alive if transformed."

No, you're still thinking in too literalist terms.

Once you have faith, you can proclaim the resurrection as truth, because from within that faith it IS truth. And it has nothing to do with rotting bones fusing together again.

If you don't share that faith, then of course it is not truth.

A scientific truth verifiably by all, and a religious truth experienced by those who have faith, really are two different things.

"My point is which language has a more powerful explanatory value; clearly, for many, Christian language remains potent, but not for me."

The same applies. Language in general, language shared by all, has a different value to the language shared by a group of people with the same faith.

Again, this is not about one being right, the other wrong. It's about each being impactful in their own individual context.

And what people who do not share my faith think is really not relevant for the expression of my faith.

You must stop comparing apples and pears and then decide that apples are objectively the only fruit, and that pears are not because they're not apples.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Who is being literalist? Not me. I bet you find yourself in a minority on this one. Yours - a subjective or possibly postmodern view - isn't the view held for example by Bishop Alan or the late poet John Updike:

My view about science is not quite that: it is about falsifiability and close explanation to experiment: as it goes to theory then you get to paradigms of explanatory power but likely to shift. It is open to experiment, but much is still language based. Maths is very powerful but open ended, and applied to science it needs experimentation.

Erika Baker said...

Oh I'm not saying my view is in the majority!
And I certainly don't find myself in agreement with Bishop Alan, far less with John Updike. I like a lot of what Bishop Alan says, but his recent comments on our faith having to be more strongly incarnational just didn't work for me.

And our own Rowan Williams lost the plot, as far as I'm concerned, when he said that his faith could not survive if Jesus' bones were ever found.

But the point I'm making is not actually what you personally believe. That is quite credible and valid.

My problem is that I believe you consistently make a category error when you explain the reasons for what you believe or no longer believe.

To say that faith has to be verifiable or that it has to be possible to subject it to conventional methods of investigation, is like saying that language should be verified in Pounds and Kilos before it can be deemed valid.

It's just not possible.

There can be NO verification. To that extent it is purely subjective.
That is an inherent characteristic of it.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

My position relating to yours seems to be this: that certain expressions in Christian liturgy have lost their expressive power and have done so because there is no additional impact from invoking them compared with naturalistic explanations. You tell me that these expressions have impact and that they still move you as others are moved, whether they have a realist (pseudo scientific/ historical) or subjective basis of faith.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Pluralist, you have lost your faith - or so it seems to me. It happened to me. I don't know quite how it happened to me, but I didn't reason myself out of the faith, as you seem to have done. But some years later, I found my faith again, or my faith found me, and here I am, a believer once again. I never stopped going to church, mainly because I had children, and I wanted them brought up in a church. Also, buried deep in the back of my mind, was the not quite dead notion that I could be wrong, and the whole faith thing was real. I wanted that possibility kept open for my children if they chose to go in that direction.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I attend, but it is difficult and I manage it by differentiating parts of the service.

In recent years I haven't attempted to translate liturgy in a liberal sense, I just let it be like water off a duck's back and mean itself in its own drama. Now I think I'm going to have to translate, not in some bit by bit method but as a grand scheme.

Anyway, Grandmere Mimi, where are you regarding the Erika-Rachel poles? Nearer Rachel, nearer Erika or some synthesis or elsewhere?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Adrian, I warn you, if you try to figure out my theology, you'll probably go mad.

Erika and I agree on many things and disagree on some. On the Bishop Alan-Updike resurrection poem, I accept it, but I don't agree with Bishop Alan on everything either. I'm more on Erika's side of the spectrum than Bishop Alan's, if that's any help. I don't believe that I know Rachel, so I can't say with respect to her.

I have no absolute certainty about my faith, but I live in great hope and expectancy that the basic tenets are true.

What brought me back to faith was an experience of God's powerful presence when, in in the midst of my lack of faith, I asked someone to pray for me. I know that this won't wash with you and lead you to any conviction that faith is real. My experience of the presence of God could be delusional, right? The experience of what I believe to be God's presence has been repeated over the years. I suppose that I work out from there to a theology.

I say the Creed with conviction, but not with a literalist mindset. I rest easily in faith as myth and faith as mystery.

The Jesus in the Gospels seems so right and true, that if he didn't exist, then he should have, and the way of the Gospel is the way I want to try to live my life.

Trying to describe my faith often seems like trying to speak of the ineffable. I have to take it in bits and pieces to talk about it. I would not make a very good proselytizer, would I? I don't even know if I'm making sense. Probably not.

By the way, I sent you an email. I have a question that I don't want to ask online.

Erika Baker said...

I’m not telling you whether the Christian stories HAVE impact or not. This is not a scientific statement.
I’m saying that FOR ME, they have an impact. For you, they don’t. End of story.

It’s the methodology I object to.
If I tell you that I love Susan more than anyone else in the world, you cannot possibly prove or disprove that statement. And you certainly cannot say that the love and the relationship it implies it isn’t true because you cannot prove it.

If I tell you about the depth and complexity of my experience when I saw Maria dance on stage yesterday, after she’d been unable to do much physical activity for years, you have no means of verifying this statement. And you certainly cannot state that it isn’t true because you cannot verify it.

That something is subjective doesn’t make it any less real or impactful. It doesn’t reduce the truth of it.

God just happens to come into the “cannot be proven” category.
Yes, experiencing him is subjective.
But it doesn’t mean that those who don’t experience him can logically say he doesn’t exist.
They can only truthfully say that they don’t experience him and that they do not believe in him.

Read Spong again. His autobiography “Here I stand” is a marvel in the deconstruction of faith that you also excel in. But at the end, having stripped everything away, he doesn’t find himself with nothing, but with that core kernel that, to him, is still absolute truth.
It is very possible to be a modern deconstructionist and still have a deep faith.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm not so far from madness myself.

I don't think the gospels are idealisable, that is if they convey not-history-at -all they are still a wonderful example of this, that and the other. They are more mixed up that that ethically, for example those piggies sent over the cliff.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes the issue of the kernel was something I addressed: the position I held was one of surfaces and layers (wrapping paper), kernel or kerygma, and I chose wrapping paper like a good postmodernist. Spong is an old time modernist with a big of the postmodern thrown in.

Now I have a lot of wrapping paper strewn over the floor, rather like on Christmas morning in some houses.

Erika Baker said...

If it's a genuine choice - why choose the wrapping paper over the gift?
Once you know they both exist independenly of each other, could you not look for the kernel?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Poor wording of mine. It's that the wrapping paper contains wrapping paper and possibly a box.

It's wrapping paper versus a kernel versus kerygma. Your Spong is a kernel person, Cupitt is a wrapping paper person, the modern theologians (e.g. Bultmann) were kerygma people.

Grandmère Mimi said...

They are more mixed up that that ethically, for example those piggies sent over the cliff.

Now, now, Adrian, that's picking the Gospel to pieces. Why the piggies story, for goodness sake? Look at the main point, the Golden Rule, and work out from there in assigning levels of importance to the stories in the Gospels.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No no no. Now that really is giving the gospel stories a hierarchy before they are read.

It's like the Bhagavad Gita and saying this is a spiritual book. Yeah, but Krishna tells Arjuna to fight - to do his duty and fight. So what does that say?

No the piggies sent over the cliff matter, because it says something contradictory and that matters. Where is it contradictory and about whom? This cannot be smoothed over ahead.

Grandmère Mimi said...

But, Adrian, I have read the Gospels. I assumed, wrongly, I see, that you spoke to those of us who were familiar with the stories, at least to some degree.

There's nothing there for you, and there's something there for Erika and me. I suppose that's where I leave it, because I don't see any way to move the discussion forward.

You seem troubled and bewildered by your present no-faith life. If your faith is gone, why is it so difficult to let it go?

Erika Baker said...

"This cannot be smoothed over ahead."

I must have said a hundred of contradictory things in my time. And used wobbly imagery. Or metaphors that work in one context but not in others.

Even you cometimes contradict yourself on your blog.

But we both follow a very clear path and, all in all, it's very easily possible to discern what each of us is about.

Why so literalist? Why cling to the detail?

As for
"Your Spong is a kernel person, Cupitt is a wrapping paper person, the modern theologians (e.g. Bultmann) were kerygma people."

So what?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I contradict myself, and I change my mind. I have recently.

So what? Well it helps to say that one is more wrapping paper, another is kernel, and another is kerygma. It might be something for argument too.

I do assume you read the gospels, I assume that because you have obviously a ranking them according to some ethical order. I'm saying there are bad bits I don't like, which means there are good bits I still do like, and much that is much of a muchness.

Is it a no faith life, or a different faith life. I think it is more a religious humanism. I'm back where I was about ten years ago.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Is it a no faith life, or a different faith life.

That would be for you to say, Adrian. Perhaps, it is a different faith life - a faith life as a religious humanist. I see that I may have leaped to an erroneous judgment that "you've lost your faith", when I shouldn't have. Sorry about that.

I admit that the bits like the demons going into the pigs and then running them off a cliff don't do much for me, but those bits don't ruin the whole Gospel for me.

I contradict myself, and I change my mind. I have recently.

And I think that is an absolutely necessary process for you now. Go where your thinking takes you, and maybe disregard all that I've said here. What do I know?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't know what you know. You knew something a few minutes ago, and then you didn't.

Sometimes in the bit of time when you know something, before you don't, you can say something useful.

Erika Baker said...

Now I'm confused.
First you say:

"No no no. Now that really is giving the gospel stories a hierarchy before they are read."

Then you say:
"I'm saying there are bad bits I don't like, which means there are good bits I still do like,"

We all share in that last statement. There are bits I don't like, they are bits I don't understand, and there are bits I find more important than others.


"So what? Well it helps to say that one is more wrapping paper, another is kernel, and another is kerygma"

That's as may be. But it's only important if one or t'other speaks more to you. The fact that there are differnt views is .... well, yes.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's important, I think, to recognise that Rudolf Bultmann, for example, upholds a kerygma of the gospels, whereas Spong upholds a kernel, and that Cupitt or even, I'd argue, Radical Orthodoxy, deals in wrapping paper.

It helps to know what you are daling with, a form of classification is being used.

Mine is wrapping paper, so I like that bit and I don't like that bit. When it comes to religious humanism I'm saying something like that I'm not into waste paper.

I'm sat here looking for jobs at the moment, and comments like this lead me towards another blog entry, and then I don't look for jobs. I have some hand-scribbled rubbish about Rowan Williams at Alexandria Library for a blog entry - can you guess what it could be about? - and again I'm struggling to keep to the boring stuff. It's like this every day and I do tend to avoid the boring stuff.

Erika Baker said...

So maybe we'd better try to have constructive conversations about job hunting instead?

My vote - you should become a religious correspondent for a newspaper. I've read quite a few recently who were a lot less well informed and a lot less careful about how they write than you are.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well that's very kind of you. Yes, one should look for David Virtue traps and try to resist the craving for a cheap exclusive.

I've just banged out one application form and there are some more to do, and more looking. However, before my tea I'll enter a competition and do a silly blog entry. I'll keep back the wrapping paper one for afterwards.

Grandmère Mimi said...

The more I talk about faith, the more I see that what I call my faith may work only for me. I expect that is true for many of us. Those who want certainty find a place where they can get one, and only one, right answer to any question about the faith.

I attend church because I need to be part of a community of folks who, with more or less success, care for one another. I want the liturgy. I want the meal, the Eucharist. My attachment to my church, especially the Eucharistic celebration, sustains me in my daily living and in my faith

And, Adrian, that doesn't help you find a job, pursuit of which is, indeed, a boring activity. I shall pray for you, for what it's worth.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes the caring community is very important, and so is a place with some questioning and development.

You can pray for me if you wish but I tend not to. I am quite capable of dealing with prayer requests from nurses and the like.