Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Not Chomping Through Animals

Those of us who worry about what we eat might like to worry more with a new book coming soon, though this has emphasis criticising hunting with dogs, fur farming and commercial sealing. The differences between humans and animals is the basis for many for discrimination against animals for their exploitation, but this book will show that such is the basis for not discriminating. Apparently this will have a Chomsky style edge to it, which presumably means something on libertarian socialist lines that we don't have an elevated position unless it can be demonstrated with therefore a strong equalitarian and accountable outlook to all. We'll see. The book is Why Animal Suffering Matters: Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics by Rev. Professor Andrew Linzey and is published by Oxford University Press on July 16, said to be available July 23 in the US and September 17 in the UK.

I want to highlight this only because I want to point to examples around of theology that promotes a radical liberty and an inclusive approach to ourselves and our environment.

I argued on this blog fairly recently that I was unconvinced by Jesus centred arguments towards a vegetarian position:

But surely we have a right to expect that the trinitarian God the Son shows a vision of that Kingdom in his very being, that the paradise to be is walking around and on personal matters eats his greens. In other words, if he was sinless, he was sinless.

It is said that he was tempted, thus human, but was sinless. I'm sorry, but the equivalent of this is that meat is put on his plate but he doesn't eat it. To say he was just a man of his time on this issue is such a cop out it either destroys a trinitarian dogma or it is all right to go on eating the flesh including in paradise.

This has to be so, I think, and indeed during my theology MA 1996-1998 I wrote some material precisely in this direction even though I did not eat meat. Though Andrew Linzey would disagree about that Christology (indeed my rejection of such meat affirming Christology - he'd say Christology points away from animal consumption), I still like his previous theos-rights approach that the blog entry also highlights, once there is some universality added. The analogy can be made with infants, but my observations are made with dementia recently, that whatever may be the limited and even bizarre outlook of the dementia ridden person, it is still a full world inside that consciousness, and we ought to value it and even uphold it in all its strangeness. The consciousness of animals also ought to be valued and upheld in a similar way: it is a full life for the animal, and should be lived to the full: stimulated and consistent with ordinary feeding, behaviour and life itself. Life life, we might say (Cupitt style).

My argument seems to be going in this direction in a number of areas, recently. That was what my John Robinson entry also highlighted, and my sympathy towards the position in Essays and Reviews and, of course, James Martineau at that time and afterwards.

Photos with Edge

Do look at the photos on my Encounters with People Facebook album. By the nature of the thing those who know me will recognise more. About 75 pictures so far, and most via scanning and processing. But I have more to add.

All the images are mine, thus all have my copyright (according to UK law - I understand French law was/ is that the person in the image has the copyright. Is that right?)

Sunday, 28 June 2009


Rev. Julian Mann is in a stink about what the British State will do to the Bible, quoting a passage out of context that will apparently offend named groups.

He ends with this:

It is after all the Word of the King of kings and Lord of lords they are tampering with.

Calm down that ordained Reform member! No one is tampering with anything. No one will, or call for it, because it's your narrow interpretation anyway.

This is typical tabloid style writing: set up a straw man type argument, usually along 'Disgusted of Bonkerstown' lines, and then even claim it is already happening. Expect such from the coming FCA as well, as Julian Mann is part of the Anglican Mainstream team and his post is reproduced there too.

Crank up the sense of persecution!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Honest to John

I've just finished the first draft of the next In Depth contribution (in July) about Honest to God (1963) and a few afterwards. It is one of the Anglican theological controversies. Next comes the not so Anglican controversy of Presbyterian John Hick's The Myth of God Incarnate, after that Cupitt and Taking Leave of God (and his phases) and then it's a case of reactions/ reactionary movements (e.g. Evangelical) and traditions (e.g Thomism) and then a variety of theologies (so in effect covering the ground - Liberation, Feminist, etc.). That's the plan anyway.

The first draft was a little different this time in that I used a Zen Writer (!) as recommended by a Unitarian Christian minister blogger. I think he is right too - seeing nothing but black screen and text means all the surroundings are lost and its the words and yourself. I even added in the typewriting sounds and went from green neon to pink neon text.

Honest to God is of particular interest to me because it was my way into Christianity. I saw that its language and that of the local church (Methodist) was quite different. When I decided to test the book out on some of the local people there that I socialised with - I was starting my Ph.D at the time - it got me thrown out of the church on the grounds according to the minister that a) my theology creates too many doubts and b) it is old hat. In those days my theology consisted pretty much of Honest to God and as best as I could see and understand Paul Tillich. The youth leader at the time wasn't having it and said I could still attend his youth club, and so I did.

Thus started a church career that was forever on the edges. I did get confirmed at the University Chaplaincy in 1984, though not long after I discovered the Unitarians and eventually it was with them that I discovered how to be a heretic even among them while training for ministry.

Honest to God framed my religious insight, and the further I have got into theology the more that has become clearer. I, like Robinson, aquired a Jesucentric faith where the issue was less about this human than what to do about God. So God was demythologised and God was the main issue. The Jesus-centred nature of faith morphed later into a material-humanist focus. Thus, in a denomination that was God first and Jesus or others second, I felt I was the other way around. I had as much trouble with God in the Unitarians as I had in the Anglicans: indeed it was exercising my freedom that the denomination is supposed to give that got me thrown out of ministry training on the basis of incompatibility with congregations as they are, on the whole, in Britain. A report wondered where I would go. So I had exchanged up front creeds for behind the body armtwist creeds. When I drifted back to the Unitarians in 1994 I was continuously uncomfortable until events (nothing directly to do with me) caused me to leave in 2004.

Well it is a long time since my 1983/ 1984 encounter with Honest to God and a lot of theologican water under the bridge. Now I can return to the book with different and better informed eyes.

Basically the book was an argument that the 'up there' version of God could not be believed, but neither can the 'out there' vesion of God. Tillich was brought in to discuss what matters ultimately, Being (as a verb) and depth. As for Jesus, there was a lot of starting at the other end, and much to emphasise his humanity and once you get his full humanity right and in his service that you get the divinity flowing out.

[There now follows a gap of writing this of some half an hour as I look for some old writing.]

As I write this blog I have now discovered that I read Honest to God in 1983 and have extensive responses on 29th October (but I knew of it just before I acquired and read it properly). Even then I realised that Robinson makes a big leap from his constructing of God (as I saw it then) in that I'd rightly perceived that he asserts (in my words) 'Jesus our Lord had showed his Ground of Being by his acts and dying.' That I understood and took, but it seemed far more was being claimed than (my interpretation of) his: 'I with the thou in fellowship & worship reveal ultimate reality.' Actually I'm impressed that I seem to understand more than I might have, being so green to such a book and to such form of writing! I wrote, 'The difficulty seems to be that Robinson wants to say God is love without saying love is God.' I further wrote, 'He wants to remove religious rules but keep Christianity and remove the "man in the sky" God image.' And later, 'The problem with the Robinson scheme is that anyone, if they can go far enough, can be like Christ. All can reveal Christ as Christ can reveal God, all have God within.'

Hey, I'm rather impressed with my old self when I was 24! Remember that this was without any of the theological absorption I have undergone since and with only limited experience of worship services. This was before confirmation classes, confimation, seeking ministry, and any of that.

What I did not know then, and could not, was that of the big three, Tillich, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann, Robinson was closest to Bultmann - the one he used the least. Tillich was basically reused (as were Bonhoeffer's fragmented thoughts). I now understand Tillich (I sort of did then - after this book I've seen that I was reading Tillich sections out of an Epworth published Tinsley book), and Tillich was an ontologist whereas Robinson had a personalist biblical theology. Here is the point: that Robinson thought the biblical faith was for everybody, and needed demythologising. But the 'up there' that needed changing was made even worse (this not obvious in Honest to God) by the 'out there' of Thomism (and I knew nothing at all of Aristotelian theology then!!). Robinson was a panentheist, but stressed God's outpouring in the ultimate service that Jesus gave. Those who recognise Alistair Kee overviewing Robinson here are quite right, and I largely agree given the background to Robinson.

The point is, and it is the point Kee goes on to make, and I'd got straight away (apparently) was that there is no exclusivity of Jesus here, and in the end he says (Kee, 1988, 119) only ontology or faith (and revelation) can do that job. For Robinson, it came down to simple assertion, and a posthumous publication has him saying the Church has to learn how to assert this exclusivity. For that read he had the difficulty as the Church remained dogmatic. When Robinson faced those 'liberals' who could not assert the exclusive centrality of Christ, he criticised them, though in seeing the problem in the Colenso controversy a hundred years earlier (as was in 1963, see the preface of Honest to God, 9-10) Robinson thinks the solutions since have been too conservative and his own potentially seen as heretical/ radical solutions not radical enough. But he, Robinson, I say (Kee doesn't) went in for his own form of dogmatics, simply to assert that Christ was this decisive demonstrator of God. He simply doesn't pass my "unknown Fred Bloggs test", who is never tempted and gives himself up in extraordinary service to others, and has the same full (and not just appearing to be) humanity that Robinson insisted Jesus had (including two parents). Also being fully human means you learn, and a Jesus who learns only reveals God out of him in full when he has learnt and wholly served: for Robinson, God is fully revealed precisely at the point of most weakness, and this is his criticism of Thomism (and ought to be a criticism of Tillich who provides parallel systemic Christian answers to existential questions).

I see that my 1983 writing (only for my consumption) goes on to say, 'It's like making buildings out of jelly.' So what did I go on to write then? Crumbs...

So the only way out is to show how I see it. We start with two or more in fellowship or social action or worship, they see that there is love, feelings of love, of the 'spiritual' unexplainable by Freud etc.* {* according to Tillich, that is. [side note]} There is a direct contact with that which is the very cause of why they love rather than hate. This cannot be located in the body, just like you can't [locate] your mind. The murderer when he shows no remorse (nobody in 'humanism' need show no remorse, incidentally [a false double negative there]) is cut off from this groung [typo.] of all being. The Being as it is is transcendent because it is beyond control, it is universal. Jesus showed in the extreme this Ground of our Being, he is a pointer for the rest. There can be others, I do not regard him as unique although was filled with 'God'. Jesus revealed this - a revelation. This allows Theism as well as * [underlined] Deism. {Should be 'rather than' except it is deistic [side note]}. Men have images, feelings, a sense of uplift, joyfulness and a sense of well being. That also gives transcendence. It does follow that the opposite is the devil, that is a whole new can of worms of cause. The sadist is devil-run, the ground of his being is not with God, but most peoples' is. Now then; in comes biology, sociology and psychology who - I insist - must be able to analyse both God and devil and why one is there and not the other. However it is my belief that as a mother shows love for a baby instinctively so love is dominating. That is a belief but it is demonstrable by science. * {e.g. Hiroshima & Nagasaki film recently).

Struth! I don't know why the Church of England didn't snap me up when I approached them! Actually I told a Methodist minister about my ideas, who was soon to chuck me out.

This goes on a bit but ends:

But secular Christianity [what I'm calling it] is no more moral than successful and intended good humanism, it's [grammar error] importance is arrived at through logical sequence that says, in the end, oy look at me.

Good grief: I even rate this Christianity above humanism, not allowing humanists selfless service! These days I'm not convinced about the supremacy of good even if most of us are ethically trained. Just as devil-talk is just that, and God-talk is, well so God talk is just that, and I suppose I go now with signals of transcendence and the possibility of transcendence that is not always linked to the ethical. The artistic (I see in writings days later) remains important in these pointers. Interesting then that the Jesucentrism obviously made some kind of deposit as the God issue was always the bigger one, and whereas Jesus was never unique the God issue continued to plague me wherever I was.

But gosh I was fast when I was 24. Those were the days, eh?

More on the Creeping FCA

Previously here, and at Fulcrum (as an outside viewpoint), I have expressed the view that the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) is entryist. Entryism is nothing to do with the innocence and joy of a group of evangelicals, if that is indeed their state. It is to do with how a group is formed, led and maintained. In the United States and Canada the strategy is replacement, but here it is entryist - though, in the end, entryism always has the long term goal of replacement. Once you have entered the host and corrupted it from the inside, the host is in the end left in a weakened position and starts to collapse, leaving the entryist body to take over its identity but in its own image.

I have made the argument about enthusiasm and membership drawing on types of people attracted into the Baha'i Faith. The argument goes like this. The Baha'i Faith has a shop window of modernity, equality, syncretism, worldly awareness and peace. The reality, for those who sign on the dotted line, is slavishness (eager or otherwise) to the actual words of Baha'u'llah, Abdul Baha and Shoghi Effendi, according to the translations of Shoghi Effendi, and - more to the point - obedience to the Universal House of Justice, the peak of the Administrative Order. That peak of nine people elected by those who know them best is male only. The syncretism is Baha'i interpreted only, that is authoritative interpretations of other faiths that these others don't necessarily accept, and the ideas of the Baha'i Faith are religious ideas emergent out of Persia and the east into the West at the time of formation all locked into infallible texts. For example, they have some odd interpretations of evolution which no evolutionist would accept, but the believer is absolutely obliged to accept them. The best example of intellectual mind bending is of course male only government (intended to be a world not just a religion's parliament) and, it should be said, hey ho, this faith is against homosexuality.

The thought was this. If the Baha'is attract fairly well educated and often middle class idealists, then surely that's how the thing will become. But it is not so. A member feels the pressure of the Administrative Order from the off, and for a very good reason: money can only be raised from members. Grand plans for expansion come from Haifa, and these cost, and of course there is a full calendar of activities. What happens is that people will break free of the social links that come with religious fellowships - and then they leave the faith. But what also happens, and evident on the Internet with just a little looking, is that many are ejected. Express an individual, heretical view and the believer might well suddenly find they are a Covenant Breaker. The Administrative Order operates structural censorship of ideas over its members so it is represented properly.

The point is it matters how an organisation operates. Now the FCA is not just another pressure group. There are plenty already. Nor is it a bottom-up association of free individuals. The key here is the historic divisions of Evangelicalism. This group is out to end that division but do it on its terms. It goes back not just to this self-selecting Primates' Council, but to the Conservative Evangelical writers and formers of decisions that lie behind even that, where the decisions are made first.

All you need to know about the viewpoint being promoted is to look at Anglican Mainstream and its website, and one thing that hits you between the eyes is its obsession with sexuality (for one thing). But the wider plot is there and has been fairly visible elsewhere, and the crux is that strategy delivery of Richard Turnbull some years ago. The first requirement is to stop the resistance that the evangelical division has caused, and that means first target is the so-called liberal evangelicals, and then that clears the way for the real target, which is all those identified as liberals according to this outfit.

There have been arguments recently about control and management of evangelical bodies; indeed Richard Turnbull was seen as cackhanded in forcing through his agenda and stood down from the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), but any similar giving way won't happen with the FCA. And with the FCA in town, the other evangelical bodies won't matter so much anyway.

Let's be clear about the real nature of the FCA because of its connection with the Primates' Council and a particularly narrow form of Conservative Evangelism. Anyone joining that 'fellowship' will be associating themselves with the support for arrests of gay people in places like Nigeria and in the activity of criminalising homosexuality. Now no doubt some of the FCA people will even approve (after all, one of the ballast Churches does), but a great many individuals have some ethical sense about them.

But my point is that, in some groups, the ethical sense of the membership does not change the body; it is the authority system in that group that presses on the person who signs up. In my opinion, anyone who signs up to the FCA is signing up to a particularly nasty form of exclusivity.

Of course they have the talk that they 'love the Lord' and people like me don't. So I'll turn that around and use my freedom to say that this group is out to undermine structures and enforce its own agenda through these being weakened. And it comes with a very heavy ethical price. They 'love the Lord' and criminalise their neighbours.

Incidentally, just in case I am accused of the same entryism, as a heretic among Anglicans, I should say that I decided to deliberately restrict my involvement and participation: my views are as they are and I cannot seek and have no right to alter any structure or presentation that I may visit and participate in. Anything I do is on sufferance. This is not the position of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which as far more ambitious - it is, by its own use of language, a revolutionary body and not one that would see its influence evolve. It is out to crack eggs. The host body had better decide to defend itself.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Unitarian Expansion in Africa

Unitarianism is not simply present in developed areas of the Western world. For example, it has long been established in the Khasi Hills of North East India, a set of villages where chance meetings led to local establishment of Unitarian churches in opposition to Welsh Calvinists and is decidedly not Christian in understanding (nor Hindu). As for Africa, there were four Unitarian churches in South Africa (from 1857) and two in Nigeria (1919).

The same as India has happened again recently in Kenya, especially in the tea growing Kisii District, in central Kenya west of Nairobi, and this development extends to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The nature of this Unitarianism in Africa (but not in India) is biblical literalist, as were the first English ideological Unitarians that revived old Presbyterian chapels and built many of their own. So there is strictly one God, Jesus is their brother, all are sons of God and preaching is from the Bible and straight off the page. The Old Testament is honoured.

Such Unitarianism is local, and defines itself against what is seen as foreign oversight of missionary churches, and it is polygamist by choice, but preaches against domestic violence (in Kisii men often gather to smoke while women labour) and the common practice of clitoral mutilation. It will oppose the government as necessary and addresses poverty through developing education and health-welfare projects. Some women see Unitarianism preaching equality rather than being told to obey as in other churches. They have opposed abortion and homosexuality, incest and rape. Central Unitarians have preached against alcohol.

There is a radical Unitarian development in Kampala, Uganda, which consists of the local middle class and has a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender group. Like the others, it has to concern itself with orphans and runs an orphanage.

Rev. Patrick Magara is the local founder and responsible around Kisii, and is called Bishop, overseeing now at least several dozen congregations, and the son of one wife Theresa oversees other congregations. Women can lead worship and his second wife Alice leads a congregation. Magara came from the Seventh Day Adventist tradition and was General Secretary of the East African Christian Alliance, a grouping of biblicist denominations. In 1999, it sponsored him to study for two years at a non-denominational seminary in Philadelphia. He met a Unitarian Universalist in a shop and contrasted the description of Unitarian Universalism with the way he perceived Africans were treated by his own denomination. He like the idea of freedom of worship, was questioning his own beliefs and liked the idea of God in each person. Back in Kenya that personal contact was lost but he went to his Post Office to read about Unitarian Universalism on the Internet. Since then he can't use a donated computer of his own because he can't afford electricity, though he owns a number of houses and supports wives and offspring.

Magara decided to become Unitarian and his pastors followed him. Support from the UU has to respect the autonomy on the ground, and money is for projects for investing in self-sustaining business and avoids dependency. Many projects are local and hand to mouth, reflecting the number of orphans and the situation with AIDS.

This is the area of Unitarian Universalist Council of Kenya (UUCK). There is a second cluster of Unitarian churches near Nairobi among the Samburu and Masai, the area of the Kenya Unitarian Universalist Council (KUUC). Some of this includes coffee growing. This latter central area can be linked to a sense of development among the tribes and modernisation provided by association with churches. It stresses multi-ethnicity at a time of conflict, with a tag line 'One day, one tribe, one people'. It works with the western Unitarians under the KUUC.

In this case John K. Mbugua heard that Unitarianism stresses the equality of people under God regardless of religion, and that set him going regarding organising this approach to religion.

In both the west and the centre, Unitarians meet in houses and shops as few can afford churches. What makes the difference is the information that exists on the Internet, and thus the non-proselytising Unitarianism is being read about and self-generated on the ground.

This summary derives from an article in UU World by Scott Kraft. He also provides the Flickr photos.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

FCA, a Double Strategy Entryist Body

Anglican Evangelicals are facing one of those moments of decision as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) is about to launch in the UK, with a series of events led by male speakers in London and the south on July 5th and then the launch event on July 6th.

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is an extension of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). The two intend a Primates Council of self-selected Anglican Primates, not including the Archbishop of Canterbury, that authorises and legitimises provinces and structures such as the just launched Anglican Church in North America, which has no place or legitimacy among official Anglican structures. As such it is schismatic to the existing Anglican Communion, particularly as it claims to be consistent with the Anglican Communion if not necessarily through Canterbury, and it is in this light that the FCA can be seen.

The FCA in the British Isles will inevitably organise to pass opinion on bishops, dioceses and churches, and even have churches allied to its own structures that reach back to this self-selecting Primates Council. So it is more than just some sort of support group or pressure group, but has clear potential to be 'alternative' in its Anglican routes of authority. In that it intends to be international, it must be alternative in that the Church of England by law cannot accept any authority beyond these shores. Should any church, let alone deanery or diocese, ally itself with the FCA and declare itself out of sorts with its diocesan bishop or Archbishop, the result is likely to be action with not just the force of law behind it but the force of the constitution, as things stand.

It might be at least straightforward in its alternativeness if it wasn't for the rather shadowy history of GAFCON. That is to say, its founding document, the Jerusalem Declaration, was already drawn up and leaked before the conference got to see it. Behind the self-selecting Primates is a grouping of Conservative Evangelicals which with African ballast achieve influence far beyond their numbers in the West. It is why they defer to parts of the Global South; but no one is in any doubt that the creative minds have come from the Global North, where they have long ago basically lost the argument.

The strategy of GAFCON/ FCA is clear enough, though of course it is never announced like I would tell it. First of all, via the international ballast, it is to compromise the more moderate Evangelicals and weaken them. The history of Anglican Evangelicalism has been division, division since the National Evangelical Anglican Council (NEAC) decision in 1967 to be as one on the inside has rather come apart. Fulcrum is evidence of it coming apart, as it had to organise in 2002/ 2003 to insist on supporting existing Anglican structures - and has shown this vigorously in recent times (as in support for the Archbishop of Canterbury and promoting the proposed Covenant come what may). Thus division is made between Open Evangelicals and Conservative Evangelicals, different in method and different in strains in loyalty. There are the less loyal pressure groups like Reform and Anglican Mainstream for Conservative Evangelicals.

Already the FCA seems to be effective. Emails are flying around and notices posted inviting applications to join, and once again the Open Evangelicals are being strained between those more Conservative than them and those more liberal.

It is only the second part of the strategy to take on 'the liberals', those who are open and critical in method, but nevertheless almost all of whom uphold the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection. We might separate here the Keith Ward mainstream broad liberals from the Richard Holloway/ Don Cupitt liberal-postmoderns (the Conservative postmoderns, like those of John Milbank, appear to be orthodox but may be just good performers of the tradition - one wonders their fate). The second strategy is to go after the Keith Ward type liberals, who are now establishing their own legitimacy claim via Affirming Liberalism.

Interesting here is the role of divided Anglo-Catholics. The frustrated dogmatic traditionalist Anglo-Catholics are invited to tag on to FCA, as indeed they are in the new North American Church. The problem is that the FCA is obviously Protestant in foundation, a fellowship on belief-confessing principles. The Anglo-Catholics believe in what the Councils have stated as belief, and in the threefold and diocesan structures that follow on. Well, they believe in the correct threefold ministry and Church structures, whereas the FCA can bypass them. Bishops for Protestants are more like functionaries, who organise, encourage and represent groups of believers. It is a different principle. The habits and beliefs that flow from these, particularly regarding the Eucharist beliefs, differ. The question is whether an extreme view of Anglo-Catholicism that is on the point of leaving the Church of England can sit in the same bed as extreme Protestants. That they did co-exist before they did only because of a broader Church that negotiated among the more basic agreed principles, where in a three way institution a different two had the vote against a one across varying issues. That was a more stable arrangement than one plus one.

A good offer of a Roman Catholic oversight Anglican Rite Church might send a flood of these Anglo-Catholics away from FCA and indeed the C of E to such an institution. It is a matter of politics across to the C of E and internal to Rome, this offer is not made - but it might be. As such Rome now takes individuals. So the FCA can only be temporary for Anglo-Catholics, and they might split from the Anglican Church of North America over matters like women clergy.

The split with Affirming Catholics has already been made. Many outsiders regard Affirming Catholicism as made up of liberals already: they are just the liberals who bolster themselves with Catholic dress and forms. It is a misrepresentation, as some of these Affirming Catholics types really are tradition first, but see valid tradition as having to communicate outwards and be translated. I suspect some Affirming Liberals are tradition first too, but probably many just a little bit more Protestant, if again critical. The danger for Protestant Liberalism is being so close to religious humanism, with no support via ritualistic method from an eventual slide away to ordinary speech. But some manage the argument within the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection confessions.

Such is not good enough even for Open Evangelicals, who would insist on the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection, and on a stronger obedience regarding what seems obvious from the Bible (e.g. homosexuality) (see some expressions at the Fulcrum 2009 Conference, though some are Conservative). And such is their problem, because the FCA is wooing them, but under FCA leadership - what I'd call Religious Trotskyism.

Why so? Because Evangelical history is one of division, and wooing Open Evangelicals does not mean creating some organisation that could split again among Evangelicals. Wooing Open Evangelicals simply means to weaken Open Evangelicalism, as first strategy before taking on the Keith Ward type liberals and any others to the theological left.

The FCA is the Militant arm to infiltrate and change the Churches. One strategy in the USA is thea replacement structure. In the UK it is infiltration by weakening and opposing. And let's not be under illusions that this Protestant approach is particularly Anglican in loyalty.

A group called the Fellowship of Confessing Churches, which is FCA by another name (compare the document it uses, as paragraph by paragraph its Covenant reproduces parts of the Jerusalem Declaration), is organising precisely on the divisive basis regarding the Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland has perfectly functioning and legitimate presbyterian structures for its decisions and maintains loyalty to creeds and its documents, as does the Church of England. The FCC wants to divide and separate according to its views of legitimacy. The FCC has plenty to agree over with the FCA.

The Church of England describes itself as Catholic, Reformed (Protestant) and Liberal.

The history of the Church of England from the 18th century onwards has been enriched by the co-existence within it of three broad traditions, the Evangelical, the Catholic and the Liberal.
  • The Evangelical tradition has emphasized the significance of the Protestant aspects of the Church of England’s identity, stressing the importance of the authority of Scripture, preaching, justification by faith and personal conversion.
  • The Catholic tradition, strengthened and reshaped from the 1830s by the Oxford movement, has emphasized the significance of the continuity between the Church of England and the Church of the Early and Medieval periods. It has stressed the importance of the visible Church and its sacraments and the belief that the ministry of bishops, priests and deacons is a sign and instrument of the Church of England’s Catholic and apostolic identity.
  • The Liberal tradition has emphasized the importance of the use of reason in theological exploration. It has stressed the need to develop Christian belief and practice in order to respond creatively to wider advances in human knowledge and understanding and the importance of social and political action in forwarding God’s kingdom.

The Church of England consists of more than what the FCA represents, even if the FCA was no more than a pressure group. The point is that the FCA is different, and the issue is whether anyone in the Church of England (or the Church in Wales or the Scottish Episcopal Church) is going to do anything about it. Strategy 1 is shortly to be under way, and some Open Evangelicals are already dancing to its tune instead of attempting to strangle it at birth.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

The Cartoons

Some of you comment from time to time about the cartoons here. They are all by me, though this one started life elsewhere...

Most of them are done with a tablet and pen simply in MS Paint, though the updated Irfan View allows for minimal manipulation, background, and resizing (I tend to elongate pictures upwards). Otherwise they can be drawn on paper and then scanned. This weblog choice requires a backing colour of 255, 255, 206 though sometimes that gets moved a few points even with full colour treatment, and showing at a reduced size can produce an odd background slight shift effect.

Well now all the religious cartoons are available on my actual website, so they come with their own webpages. Some people, the unlucky ones, like the chap above, have more than one drawing to their name! Now go and use them, if you wish: great potential for church magazines! Requests too can be met, on sending a photo - so long as I can use it freely.

Friday, 19 June 2009

When Is He Going?

The stupidity of 'Gordon Bennett' Brown's attempts at populism now knows no bounds. He says that because of Twitter (a rather pointless 'what I am doing' communication method, there could be no more Rwandas. This is yet another attempt of the dour politician to appear 'with it' and another embarrassment all around. He is thinking about Iran, but Twitter regarding Iran is a desperate attempt to get information out, and is being compromised by Iranian security, while the State clamps down on the Internet through more filtering.

Since 'Gordon Bennett' won his little politburo - that is, the cabinet - victory, and said he would change, he has introduced an enquiry over the Iraq War that would meet in private and has been condemned by connected people to the issue, thus leading to a limited U-turn towards some public hearings by choice of the Inquiry, and he has presided over comprehensively censored expenses information that would not have led to revelations that were made with the Daily Telegraph. Even the evil 'Come and Maim Me' in Iran is using the expenses claims to imply Britain is stirring up the opposition in Iran, prior to some real repression being installed and the happy puppet 'Ah My Dinner Jacket' doing much of the dirty work.

Gordon Brown continues to state that capital spending and current spending will continue to rise in the coming years under Labour, and that the Tories will cut by a stated "ten per cent" - but the stronger Chancellor 'Hello Darling' (as a result of keeping Brown in office) says that spending peaks this year and then everyone will feel the pinch. So no one believes Gordon Bennett Brown on this matter either, just as they never did about ten minutes after a budget speech when the details were examined (as with the 10p tax debacle).

Well Labour is stuck with Gordon now. Or is it? Surely when the conference season arrives, and the time between a new leader getting his or her feet under the desk and a required General Election are about the same, there can be a proper coup to at least present the public with who the next leader of the Labour Party will be. Gordon Brown received the voters' verdict but his trump card was the severity of a verdict - no election now - but one is coming and then it is better with someone different at the helm.

If he held the party's interests first, he would resign and make way for someone different and avoid the need for a coup.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

A Word and Picture for Mark C Taylor

Mark C. Taylor is little known in the UK, one of the radical theologians in the United States who combines the paradoxes of postmodernism, theology and culture. He is Department Chair and Professor of Religion, Columbia University; he was the Visiting Professor of Religion and architecture since 2003; Chair since Summer 2007.

His topics interweave religion with philosophy, literature, art and architecture, education, media, science, technology and economics. The writing itself is important, and there is more than a little lateral thinking. Some of the podcasts available of his lectures are quite tricky to follow; you have to imagine yourself in the classroom and his moving between students and a wipeboard (or whatever he is using).

...I always tell my students if they don’t come out of my course more confused than they came in, I failed. My point is not necessarily to take away their faith but make them question whatever it is they have faith in.

Q. Do you believe in God?

A. Not in the traditional sense. God, or, in different terms, the divine, is the infinite creative process that is embodied in life itself. As such, the divine is the arising and passing that does not itself arise and pass away. This process is actualized in an infinite web of relations that is an emergent self-organizing network of networks extending from the natural and social to the technological and cultural dimensions of life. Public Affairs Office, Columbia University, interview by Melanie A. Farmer (2008)

I like this, because on the one hand it seems to say a divine exists. And on the other it doesn't: something is realised that is not actually realised; the divine is the arising and passing that does not itself arise and pass away. It is postmodern theology with paradox to the fore. Eventually I hope to introduce some of Mark C. Taylor's ideas locally, which will be an interesting discussion (God died into writing, and all that; religion slipping away and all pervasive), though next up in about a month is an assessment of John A. T. Robinson, another who has used Paul Tillich with a twist - already in my head is that what I want to say about Robinson might surprise one or two of the group.

Mark C. Taylor is similar to Don Cupitt and both have books of similar titles:

Cupitt, Don (1997), After God: The Future of Religion, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Link / Taylor, Mark C. (2007), After God, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press; Bristol: University Presses Marketing [distributor].

Public Affairs Office, Columbia University, interview by Melanie A. Farmer (2008), 'Q & A with Religion Professor Mark C. Taylor', Columbia News, Special from The Record: News and Ideas from the Columbia Community; January 2008; Columbia University, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/news/08/01/taylor.html. [Accessed: Wednesday June 17 2009, 02:34]

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Iran Now

I take the view that the Iranians have to sort this out for themselves, and decide whether to push for a full scale revolution that even their convenient opposition head would not want. Western leaders should say little (while providing technical support via the usual channels, to allow more discussion and communication). This narrative will unfold as the protesting goes on: it is rather like the Chinese did around Tiananmen Square where a whole series of events focused around a politburo individual but became for a full scale democratisation - and the Chinese responded by killing its own people. But, as a result of its lost authority, the Chinese went hell for leather for privatisation and development, for a non-political space as well as politics, and some corruption to operate and hold in check, and keep the people busy. The Iranian regime, being committed to a strong ideology of religion, cannot do that: a democratic regime would be culturally Islamic but not power Islamic.

It must be obvious to most of the folk of Iran that there is an incompatibility between a clerical supreme power and a democracy that wants rights invested in the democracy itself. Thirty years ago there was a revolution that had economic, social, international and religious elements, but the Khomeini regime came in because he was the obvious head - but he came in with power and oppression to destroy the socialist revolutionaries and indeed the liberal democrats. Religion and the evil of power took over.

The Iranians like the Chinese are a developed and intelligent people and with a strong and educated middle class, itself a holder of power, but this scruffy 'Ah my Dinner Jacket' bloke in power has shown a form of power manipulation between the clerics on the one hand and the rural folks on the other - sending bits of money their way so that they make ends meet, but at a cost to the economy and indeed real social reform. In doing all this and frustrating development, he and his regime (he is more its puppet than the regime his) has laid himself open for a triggered response to an event out of the frustration that has been bubbling up for a long time.

And the nature of the new media allows power to be decentralised into comment and activity: the authorities show their hand through censorship and closing much of it down, but it leaks badly. Falun Gong people in China can tell the Iranians a thing or two about communication.

What puzzles me about this Iranian vote fixing is why they didn't attempt to be more subtle, to make at least an effort to produce something credible in the regime's desired result. They can't do it now as a 'recount' as the cat is out of the bag. The regime's contempt for anything democratic was shown in the early announcement, despite the volume of the record vote, and is probably its worst mistake, so that in the end the regime of clerics and violence may well be toppled by a people who want the right to vote effectively and who won't be fooled.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Say it Again

Keith Ward's Affirming Liberalism lecture struck me as being rather like his first one a year ago. The central message was the regularity of science, indeed he wondered if the Islamic view that God could do as he pleased whenever undermined the development of Islamic science. He repeated his argument against Richard Dawkins regarding materiality, on a very narrow view of existence, on the basis that physicists deal in realities in mathematics and such as up to eleven dimensions. He also repeated his reference to the Hadron Collider and the expertise needed to know whether certain atomic events had taken place. I find this argument about dimensions unconvincing: physicists make assumptions and mathematical models about such as up to 11 dimensions, and so far none of this is experimented upon. It is arguable that so far the maths does not work, but where it does and where it is experimented upon then we bring that into the materiality of experimentation.

The other argument presented is that of consciousness, and that the universe is simpler (and better) explained coming into being via consciousness than via all kinds of amazing explanations like multiverses. Multiverses may exist so that every possibility of existence is realised: thus (joked Keith Ward) there may be a multiverse including resurrection and virgin birth. Again this puzzles me: if our universe requires a goldilocks existence, that it has to be just right, then it is going to be just right to exist. Who knows how many false starts previous universes had? As time is within each universe, issues of probability simply don't come into it. The pack of cards is laid out as it is laid out.

The one bit I did like was the infinitesimal-us and this universe, asked about in the questions. The answer was it takes about 13 billion years to produce carbon life forms of consciousness, so that the universe is going to expand by that amount in time in order to get to something like us. Though, I reflect, 'we' might have had scales and big bodies if the asteroid hadn't done its work. (Anyway, in case readers here are puzzled, the accompanying image is of a carbon life form.)

Newton, a "devout Unitarian" introduced regularity and this seems to be the key. (He was also a materialist - as we would see it - and believed in hidden meaningful numbers within the Bible. Early Unitarians were like that, a combination of biblical literalism and materialist science that accompanied materialist economics.) As for the nature of this God, Keith Ward thought it better during the questions that children should not draw God and that the Sistene Chapel is "a disaster". But this begs the question as to where the lecture could have gone: into more detail about a God that is more than deism, or about transcendence (questions led to a reference to the apophatic God being cataphatic somewhere). All there was, really, in terms of content, was a quip about a God of eternity making everything that is past and future outside of time meaning there is no six days of creation.

Obviously lecturers produce what interests them at the moment. I used to think Don Cupitt was repetitious, but there was always the margin of moving on, and he did try to say something of a different angle at Sea of Faith Conferences. Given the mention of Newton, and that it is "possible to have devout Unitarians", I would have thought this lecture could have added more flesh to last year's lecture. There was a hint of Keith Ward's own trinitarian language, but that was all, and also a question led to an unconnected with the lecture mention that all Christians, even the most fundamentalist, are selective about the Bible.


The written version of the lecture is a considerably cleaned up version (or the original) of the spoken lecture: my comments are based on what was spoken. Both overlap with last year's, the spoken more so.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Affirming (Sort of) Liberalism

The second Affirming Liberalism Day Conference came and went. I have only listened remotely. I listened to Martyn Percy's lecture on Why Liberal Churches are Growing. I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Martyn Percy is Principal of the successful Ripon College Cuddesdon theological college. He doesn't talk about the book, and that might be one weakness of the talk as I see it.

Once again the liberalism tackled is qualified at Affirming Liberalism. This is the liberal element of the mainstream Church which is (was, I would say) properly a mediating element within the Church. He makes a distinction between liberal Protestantism in the past and something more orthodox in the twentieth century - well that's the very point I have been making in the local In Depth group. It's about 'proclaiming the gospel' rather than investigating the gospel and other sources that might be a bit picky about what is actually proclaimed. Martyn Percy talks then about freedom and liberalism, but it isn't because it is restrained. He does use it in a qualified way - a "generous orthodoxy". Also, in talking about churches growing, he means a broader concept of spiritual growth rather than bums on seats.

The actual book Why Liberal Churches are Growing does include the liberal by full definition: the 1% each year growth of Unitarian Universalism for example in the United States (though the same growth cannot be said of Unitarians in Britain, where the definitions that Americans have developed that are evolved are much more sclerotic in the UK). See Cooley, T. (2006), 'It's Not all about UUs: Growth in Unitarian Universalist Congregations' in Percy, M., Markham, I. (eds.) (2006), Why Liberal Churches are Growing, London: T&T Clark, 60-70. So the book extends to a range of definitions of liberalism - but not the lecture, and not this (pressure?) group.

It is mediating then not just within the Church but with culture and even other faiths - negotiating all the time. This is another definition of liberal, which has wide variety, including Evangelical and Catholic beyond it. The liberal core is such as Affirming Liberalism, Affirming Catholicism and the Modern Churchpeople's Union and that of SCM. The contemporary condition of this liberalism does include the claim that the 'Cold War' between SCM and the Christian Union is over. Well he's right that there is a flexibility in many gatherings, Stott and Spong being read and discussed, though not I would suggest in many Christian Unions.

The lecture in the end is about ecclesiastical politics. It wants the legitimacy of mediating as was the case with the Broad Church. I too put all this mediating in my Ph.D in 1989 using my concept of 'orthodox liberalism' (as opposed to those of 'heterodox liberalism'). The problem is that from being in the centre, the Affirming Liberal types are now on the end, because - despite the Cold War being over - the "North Koreas" Percy did not mention in the lecture are ever more effective; even Open Evangelicals have cut off points that exclude the likes of the 1980s Bishop of Durham warmly quoted by Martyn Percy and the 1960s John Robinson. They were orthodox liberals.

I think that Martyn Percy's tour into the past, about the 'modernities' of past centuries (especially examples from 1500s, 1600s and 1700s) was good for a laugh but not particularly relevant for now. His point mentioning them was that the Church has always been in crisis and things weren't so great in the past and you can't blame liberalism (actually you can, if liberalism is combined with Statism as did happen in Essays and Reviews of 1860).

Again the approach is Church of England centred. He draws on Grace Davie's catchphrase Believing and Belonging, though he thinks it is a form of belonging, and people who say they don't attend actually do. There is a move, he thinks, from religious assumers to religious consumers, but there is little cause for alarm.

He is not concerned with the former liberal movement of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. A more general definition of liberalism has three inputs: firstly, Christian truth and culture, and that Christ prefers truth to him because before he was Christ he was truth but follow this and you fall into his arms (Simone Weil); secondly, sympathetic and syncretic with others - revelation, text and traditions with then outer aspects (gender, liberation etc.) infused with the liberal spirit, thus about the freedom of communities along with Christianity. There must be ethical and political consequences, and it is not just pietistic. Liberals (still) tend to be optimistic about the future.

Liberalism is not a form of theological perfection. It seeks to maintain the relevance of Christian faith, if in some humility. It is anti-imperialistic. It is not a well organised party within the Church because liberals don't believe in a party or tribal gathering. This is a blessing in disguise. Martyn Percy calls this "directional plurality".

Of course the North Koreas deny that this approach maintains the Christian faith in seeking its relevance by engaging. My criticism is different: that in attempting to do the job of maintenance it compromises its theological freedom.

What happens if the free thinking is not generous orthodoxy? Free thinking goes where it will. He thinks liberals should convert non-believers to believers, not just conservatives to liberals and waiting for others to 'grow up' and catch up. But the fully liberal never waits for someone to catch up but simply talks with the other, and they go where they will.

The model he pursues is the parish one of 'the inside place for the outsider' - a vision of growth bringing in a mixture of people. A community of difference is in the New Testament model - a welcome to people who don't fit in. This must be so, but I would extend this to the ideological sphere too - a community of different beliefs and yet able to come together to worship and to seek out something better of life.

He wants a liberalism of innovation with composition: Church being public, functional, aesthetic, distinctive: a sign of God in communities, open to the world, hope, faith and charity with attentive love. It means uncovering a God that is the author of freedom and intends this. And such is another difference. I don't know that this God is the author of freedom or indeed an author of restriction. However, we humans have the right to seek our freedom, whatever a God may think or people impose upon a God. If such a God that is freedom is a projection of ourselves then so be it.

It is not just about seeking truth first (that then becomes Christ), but about understanding that truth itself can be displaced and diverse. And if truth itself is multiple, then it is also about Krishna and Buddha and Muhammad and none of these. This is where my view of liberal is breaking down his barriers too, and yet still is of a 'parish view' of a people out there who could be in here with all their differences, including beliefs.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

At Episcopal Café

That's a very interesting heading (and accurate to the piece) for my monthly piece in the Daily Episcopalian at Episcopal Café as run by Jim Naughton. It is called Purity and the Necessary Absence of Honesty and it is about Rev. Kevin Genpo Thew Forrester failing to get consents to become a bishop and not just about why but the structural dynamics in a credal religion that rewards the dishonest and restrains the honest. Incidentally when I went on to Facebook, Kevin Forrester soon added me to his list of friends, which I hope is entirely accurate.


Tim Goodbody writes about why he is still an Anglican, when I wonder whether I should be, a reflection taken further when I spent Wednesday evening unplanned listening again to Yusuf Islam. This absorption started with Cat Stevens in 1971, then Imagine (with Alan Yentob) and Yusuf's story of disappearing into his own musicless Islam and the community and then re-emerging into moderate, engaging Islam, and then his recent BBC 4 Session. This is a person of spiritual depth who sings about transition, love, peace and faith. I appreciate even his song Beloved, which is about the Prophet, and indeed I could listen to that many times as I can listen to George Harrison and My Sweet Lord (about Lord Krishna). However, it is his songs of transition old and new that mean most to me.

Some folks near and far know that I stray to some religious channels just to sit in incredulity, though I have a soft spot for the communication Genesis-Revelation sets up with its clientele. So I happened on two people this time, a nurse it seems permanently staring into the camera and the usual presenter who looks here, there are everywhere and has a Bible verse in his head for most things. As the nurse was being rather broader than the usual, he suddenly decided to declare that he was dogmatic on only (three then) four things. I nearly fell off the chair. They were the resurrection, otherwise they are wasting their time, and he said there is no science to prove the resurrection; the virgin birth because Jesus could not have a human father; the creation (literal, as in Genesis) otherwise Christianity all then falls apart; and the Jewish people whom God will gladly restore to Israel - thus this presenter is part of the Christian Zionism of that station (and some of its anti-Islamic rhetoric is as dangerous on home turf). At other times he has said this restoration of the Jews to that land and the coming of the Messiah is around the corner in terms of his lifetime. That's what they always say and they are always disappointed.

Well I didn't stay long, to hear again a bit more of the human journey some 60,000 years back towards Australia. That's rather earlier than origins according to these bizarre creationists, as indeed is the appearance of this world and the making of the universe itself: and if they wish to have such a high barrier to their beliefs at which 'it all falls apart' then that's their problem. As for this ethnic preference for the Jews, it means nothing but strife and conflict and of course it puts land ahead of faith (of any kind). Like Yusuf Islam says, we have to work for peaceful ways ahead through all these incredibly difficult conflicts.

But of course many a Christian, rejecting the Creationism and the obsessive right wing Zionism, will affirm the virgin birth and resurrection, and some will affirm the resurrection. Whilst I can just about say that someone can 'live a resurrection life' (though I don't see the difference between that and living a baptism life - they both have the dying and rising metaphor) I certainly do not believe in a virgin birth (not in any necessity to believe in that - rather the opposite because a fully human Jesus would need two parents to qualify) but nor do I believe in a resurrection in any historical sense. I am not even satisfied that there were subjective experiences, at least shared ones and generally. The story has the concept for direction for something that will be and is delayed while the Church community is in between the beginning of the end and the end. thus identifying with the community you can live that resurrection life: an issue of outlook and stance, in a sense that with Islamic concepts Yusuf Islam has modelled his life - and looks to a time when the children killed in war are resurrected to an endless playtime.

Tim Goodbody is ordained and the Church of England gives him the advantages of outreach, yet he opposes the parochial system. It is a contradiction that he recognises. People go to rites of passage, or to appear at folk-religious festivals, which is a chance for his sermon moment of manipulation - I suppose if people enter the institution for such purposes then they should expect such a message. He also uses his access into public institutions to spread his word, which I find more problematic.

He also dislikes all the politicking. So the two integrities are an oxymoron and he is frustrated by the 'continual haranguing that evangelicals get from the liberal wing of the church for our position on matters of sexual morality'. Does he expect the issue to go away?

The existence of dispute shows that there is life in an organisation, because people will always disagree; however, there is no doubt that the level of disagreement in the Church of England is such that it is sapping the life out of it. The dispute is such that it demands institutional changes and realignments, which will kick off in earnest with making women as well as men bishops.

As for myself, there is that sense of transition again. I've been here before. It is like one of those product cycle curves. You've relaunched via a new product, this time me back in the Anglican Church. You dip down at first because it is a change of environment and there are new specifics when you had the previous stances. But then there is the 'getting into it' and the curve rises upwards. All is fresh and new. You become much more comfortable, with working theologies and busy in contributing. Then you start looking down, and you realise you are on thinner foundations than you'd like, and then contributions start to pause or end, or shift about. Just as an example, I was on the PCC, and then decided after a year to come off, a close run thing then between stopping it and even accelerating involvement up a level. Now such would be an impossibility. You get a real sense of the downward curve and reflections on events continue that sense. I make adjustments and clarity.

However, all of my life has this sense now. I saw my dementia-crippled mother in hospital last weekend, and there is coming the moment when I will have to vacate this house (which looks increasingly run down), and there is now nothing holding me in this part of the world, and there is a good argument really to start again. I wouldn't mind a sustaining income either. The feeling of transition is intense, and goes along with my beliefs in transience and experience of uncertainty. The whole of my life needs a relaunch and this means institutional relationships. The sense of deaths along the way seem to be coming together at once, for something new to come about - and yet consistent with the me who is me.

People say that a religious community offers stability, and you do make friendships and connections that are important. These are spiritual friendships (I import the concept from Buddhism) and not to be sniffed at. But there is the sense that such stability is something of an illusion, and that that downward curve cannot be defeated. If there is no relaunch, then all that happens is a continuation of that marginality I have experienced before. You tread water and contribute less and less. So I am in that kind of Steven Georgiou - Yusuf Islam moment, that the pointers are in a direction and there seems to be an end to be met and something new ahead and yet, in my case, unknown.

From Father and Son (Cat Stevens/ Yusuf Islam):

How can I try to explain, when I do he turns away again.
It’s always been the same, same old story.
From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go – away
I know, I have to go

Away, away, away, I know
I have to make this decision alone – no

All the times that I’ve cried, keeping all the things I knew inside,
It’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it
If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them you know not me
Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go – away
I know, I have to go

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

The Spineless and the Gutless

So where has all the politics arrived? The public made its contribution, so that Labour achieved 16% of the vote in these European elections. They might console themselves that the Conservatives did well mainly by default, but 16% was also the percentage that the BNP achieved in Barnsley (Barnsley for goodness sake - the homeland of Arthur Scargill and his Socialist Labour Party!), and its vote was such that we have the shame of putting two of them into the European Parliament. The only really pro-European party now achieved a steady 14%, and that's a depressing statement too.

The action was over on Friday. It was in the hands of the cabinet to finish Gordon Brown, and it didn't. The Labour MPs were left without a means to challenge him without blood all over the floor and the necessity of an election. Looking into the abyss they are effectively huddling together.

There is no easy way to remove someone who does not voluntarily step down. Appeals that he stepped down were ignored. Gordon Brown made promises to Labour MPs but he's made them before. He will not stop spinning and briefing against perceived opponents, because he believes in little victories, and needs these means to that end, and he operates at close hand in the exercise of power. He preaches truth and says things that are known to be untrue. He paid his price to Mandelson, and to Darling and Miliband and still occupies the position he covets. I wonder whether he will even produce any constitutional reform that has the prospect of going through Parliament in time.

We are left with a government that hangs on for the sake of it, and that has people on its side speaking openly against it. From the women who were supposedly visual wallpaper to ex-ministers and MPs, the cat is out of the bag.

What saved Brown, then, was the necessity of an immediate General Election if he was replaced. That strength is also his weakness. In the end, a month or two left won't make a difference and then matters will change. They might not replace him now, but him leading the troops into the next General Election when he intends to remain as Prime Minister is going to be too much to face for many. When a General Election 'now' is not much different from a General Election 'then', someone new as a different, reforming, potential Prime Minister may be irresistible, and then Brown will have little defence. Perhaps then he will stand down, but more likely given his hubris it is then that the removal women may have to start cooking and visit him to do some wallpaper changing.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Shuffling Up Together in the Bunker

I have a soft spot for Caroline Flint, ever since this nasty piece of work said unemployed people who have council housing (and presumably housing association accommodation as well) should be forced to sign contracts saying they are looking for work, just so that they don't keep drawing too many housing benefits. I'm pleased the dole minister Tony McNulty is another one to go.

So James Purnell dropped his bombshell at polls closed on the night of the crap results with full newspaper publicity for Friday morning. Once David Miliband met Diane Abbott's viewpoint that he lacks even a minimal level of courage, and instead shored up Brown's government, and thus both Miliband and Darling stayed in their posts, the reshuffle got under way on Friday before the D Day commemorations not after them. Thursday night Caroline Flint also gave a shoring up speech for Brown's benefit, but when there was no reward for her she decided to resign today with a letter saying Brown uses women for window dressing in the cabinet and accused his forces of briefing against her.

Well it looks bad when you attack someone after not getting a job to run a department. Claire Short once showed another indecision looking both ways and that did her no favours. Meanwhile Brown is weak at the knees, as only four people in the cabinet are the fresh faces intended once to give the government that new look after all this political scandal. Back in the 1990s, John Major brought in Michael Heseltine to prop him up, which he did with Douglas Hurd. This time, keeping Miliband in the Foreign Secretary slot wanted by Peter Mandelson has meant adding titles to Peter Mandelson, including the new one of First Secretary. Ed Balls was for Chancellor and hasn'tgot it and so lost out. Apparently (call him) "Sir Alan" Sugar is now advising somewhere, but not to tell Gordon Brown that he's fired.

As for the legacy of Caroline Flint, it's a laugh a minute that Glenys Kinnock joins the government, like a Hillary Clinton British style that includes Glenys joining her husband in the House of Lords, the institution that constitutional change proposed by this government might make democratic and yet would prevent such convenience of parachuting in ministers. She won't be in the Cabinet though - Caroline Flint only attended cabinet occasionally and then was ignored.

Lord Peter Mandelson physically hung around in Downing Street around lunchtime making sure he appeared uninvited to news broadcasts to try and shore up Brown in terms of what broadcasters were saying. He just walked into Bilko's news report at the 1 pm BBC News rather as Alistair Campbell did regarding the BBC and the Hutton affair. The purpose of Mandelson was to tell the media of a new policy basis to the cabinet (this before Flint and her stunt). Peter Hain appeared on Newsnight, a sort of back as Welsh Secretary again joke, a lot to do there given the devolved administration, clearly a man to appear on the media many times. For a while as the results came out TV could find no one in Labour to talk about them - with Conservatives on an actual disappointing 38%, Liberal Democrats on 28% and Labour on 23% (with worse to come in the crowded European Vote scene) and in this election Labour lost all its councils.

Brown appeared in a press conference where, as far as I could see, watching it, the more he spoke the more ridiculous it appeared. I would give him this: if his constitutional thrust to his policy emphasis of the 'new regime' did offer genuine proportional representation, the Liberal Democrats might well pick it up. It could be the way Labour avoids a wipeout: PR is kinder to minority parties. However, Brown was vague and there would be consultation, when he seems not to realise he has at best a year left. I'd draw up plans for PR now, if I was Brown, and force them through (past his Labour opposition - but then even they surely want to have some seats left too, and not to support would bring him down) and then he could argue that other constitutional changes would follow such a dramatic change in method. A new government (multi-party) would then have more authority to tackle the House of Lords. After all, Alan Johnson, who had a secret structure of people in place for a leadership election, spoke in favour of PR, but has now been promoted to Home Secretary to keep him inside the shored up government.

At the moment it is because the cabinet was going to decide whether Brown should go, and it decided he should stay (despite escapee Purnell's letter, and because the largely Blairite opposition lacks co-ordination), that Brown is a little stronger. Miliband's decision to stay leaves the Blairites without their favoured leadeship candidate, and Alan Johnson also knows that the assassin does not get the prize.

All this is supposed to produce good legislation? Inside a year? They ought to focus on their exit strategy, and bring in proportional representation, but Brown is full of hubris about his own necessity to govern.

So what might actually remove Gordon Brown? Well why not the Daily Telegraph, which has done so much by daily deliveryto turn the MPs into depressed fungus on the benches? It has a report for today Saturday that before he became Prime Minister Gordon Brown billed the taxpayer for two second homes. He claimed parliamentary expenses for his constituency home in Scotland while he was charging the taxpayer for a flat in London. He flipped his second home for claims purposes. He also claimed second home allowance after moving into Downing Street. The colourful bit here seems to include hiring a Scottish bagpipes player for veterans on his office expenses (£30) and there are these 77 days of an electricity bill claimed for in cold Scotland when his second home was a flat in London.

That was nicely held back by the newspaper for an attempted killer blow, but much has already been checked and repaid by Brown. The Daily Telegraph here seems to be doing something of a New Labour trick of warming up some old news and adding some held-back titbits as Brown had seen past errors and made (apparently miscalculated and inadequate) repayments, and it follows the usual Nuremberg defence. Trouble is, Brown had also criticised others for their errors, including Alistair Darling, who he had wanted to move, but now cannot, and forgot to criticise himself, as he wants to stay. Why do people cling to power?

Friday, 5 June 2009

British Politburo

Now that James Purnell has run from the cabinet and openly told Gordon Brown to resign, on top of all the others, David Miliband has surely only made a statement that steadies the ship overnight. Miliband and Alistair Darling will now expect to stay in their jobs, which means they would rise in power and demonstrate Brown's weakness. If Brown moves either or both, they won't accept other jobs and will add to the sense of impending doom - in that they will comment from outside (via resignation speeches and more) and because it may get difficult for Brown to fill some cabinet posts. Labour MPs are openly disagreeing with themselves. It isn't a straight Blairite fight here, getting their own back on Gordon Brown, because Darling worked closely with Brown and showed himself as a lapdog - rather that Brown's back room boys tried to load the crap on to Darling as a sort of scapegoat for present troubles. Mandelson is also showing loyalty to Brown, though his options to strike are limited for the very reason he was chosen to add ballast to Brown - he is in the House of Lords. He wants to be Foreign Secretary (to remove Miliband) but there is more damage removing Miliband now (thus his quick and clever statement, only that he is not resigning, that actually doesn't commit him to much.)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

European Voting

How many went to vote in the UK? I did this afternoon, as I value voting and I am pro-EU anyway and voted accordingly. The European Union will always be confederal, however integrated it may become, simply because sovereignty remains with the nation states and is shared by them and these nation states have long identities within themselves (some much longer than others). The counter of this, the Regions, is a European perspective, and economic and cultural, but will not replace the locations of sovereignty (where different) nor the locations of key established Parliaments and Assemblies but only additional and local decision making areas.

As a matter of practicality, law has to be EU centred, otherwise it would not work, but it is still the case that the Council of Ministers focuses national sovereignty and remains the crucible for key sensitive area decisions, and this selections of equivalent ministers are derived from national government executives (which is surely wrong - executives have to be accountable to parliaments). People talk about Brussels bureaucrats etc., but the Commission proposes legislation about which the Parliament can adopt a stance, or the European Parliament can ask the Commission to make a proposal; the Council of Ministers and in ordinary cases the European Parliament share co-decision rights (thus providing some check on executives that come together to make decisions) but on sensitive areas the European Parliament is limited to an advisory view.

So this makes the European Parliament important, but it is not federal. If it was federal then sovereignty would exist at European level, rather as it does in the United States at the level of the United States. Even then decision making should be heavily decentralised.

The trend is also to give more powers back into national and regional parliaments and assemblies, as would be the case with the Lisbon Treaty - decision making down as well as up.

Western Europe shares a great deal; and in an international capitalist economy and a world of large nation states and blocs, working with one's historic neighbours and friends in structures that interlock them politically (and ties economic interests together) seems to be progressive. There are issues about how broad this can stretch: countries inside must be both reliably democratic and liberal in terms of decision making and rights. It is why Turkey and some ex-Soviet Union countries are problematic, and problematic is too a high a risk until the credentials of stable liberal democracy are as secure as possible.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chomping Through Animals

For over 12 years until some two years ago I was a non-meat eater. I put it like this because I did eat fish, and indeed fish made up 'the gap'. Because I was a non-meat eater it meant that my mother too was mainly a non-meat eater and then, at least with my purchases, so was my wife.

This partial vegetarian period started not just for ethical reasons but also for religious reasons. I was at Unitarian College for a year from 1989, when the vegetarian question was present (it works like that, it goes around your head like a niggle) and then I left in 1990 with no religious involvement anywhere for one and a half years. Then I started attending a Western Buddhist group, not just as a sort of meditation consumer, but going to their houses and joining in more fully, and this was the spur to becoming at least a non-meat eater. I decided when at the Sea of Faith Conference to take the vegetarian option, and from then on did that everywhere.

In the latter years of not eating meat, having been in New Holland for a time, there was a sense of no support for not eating meat. For example, a church bash would fry and roast, and to be vegetarian was virtually not to join in. Meals with friends and there were always meat based, and my wife wanted meat and my mother liked to have bacon in particular. Then there was the pub grub at quizzes too, which started meat eating as an allowed exception but in the end meat crept in elsewhere.

Now my budget is so tight I have to buy food that is economical, and given my lack of cooking skills I cannot any longer afford the supermarket based vegetarian meals that performed as a centre for added vegetables. Of course the fish eating goes on, but varieties of fish are expensive too, and suddenly the fish I eat is a lot less than it was. My compromise, if it is that, is that I go to a butcher for choices that provide a centre for a meal, but even then I have given way to a packet of 20 sausages for £1 at Lidl (the only supermarket 'meat' I have bought). I think one can safely say that these 5p each sausages have much else in them that is not meat, and I'd rather have a couple of butcher's sausages for taste than five of the ones in a packet of twenty.

The Buddhist argument for not eating meat is a moderate one, and does allow for practicalities (like cutting down to fish) and it is about the development of your self towards a selflessness that relates to the other. You can't do that if you have to take a sentient life to eat, because what you are doing is staying in the sticky goo of the samsara you wish to peel away.

Now Christianity has a different view, which is that we are stuck in the sticky goo anyway. Christianity is a materialist faith, and one where redemption into something more like paradise will come from without. This for many is a sufficient excuse to go on chomping their way through the animal kingdom as food, plus they will dig up something of a natural theology that there is a food chain and we may as well eat up. Paradise might come, but not yet, and hasn't so far, and even won't.

So Karl Barth called this "Just Meat Eating" in the same sense as there is a "Just War". There is some humour here, as if the chap won't eat his vegetables. On the other hand, there is a view that Christians should reflect the grace of God and make an effort to reflect this Kingdom that Jesus Christ himself reflected - one of service and sacrifice. The animals might be sacrificing themselves in the food chain, but the sacrifice ought to be ours as indeed service ought to be at the core of kingship over the natural world.

I think the argument of service and sacrifice taken alone stands up, but the Christology argument does not. The problem is that Jesus sacrificed animals as an observant Jew and he also chomped his way through a good meat meal. The Seder meal would have its roasted lamb on the plate along with the bitter herbs and egg and the rest.

The argument then put is that he was a man of his time, but for a trinitarian argument this is a cop out. After all, if he is fully God and fully man, and perfectly sinless, then this ought to be demonstrable and visible. Now the analogy can be given that he did not pick women disciples, and so was a man of his time, and thus he equally chomped his way through animals.

But this won't do. Whereas one might accept he didn't pick women to head any of the twelve tribes of Israel, and this might not be regarded as sinful, and he showed compassion regarding women, and of course women have leading roles in elements of the Christian story, the issue of animal eating is closer to the bone (so to speak). So there is a public recognition issue regarding women of leadership, authority, and legitimacy connecting him and the tradition later on. But surely we have a right to expect that the trinitarian God the Son shows a vision of that Kingdom in his very being, that the paradise to be is walking around and on personal matters eats his greens. In other words, if he was sinless, he was sinless.

It is said that he was tempted, thus human, but was sinless. I'm sorry, but the equivalent of this is that meat is put on his plate but he doesn't eat it. To say he was just a man of his time on this issue is such a cop out it either destroys a trinitarian dogma or it is all right to go on eating the flesh including in paradise. Not only this, but in the stories of Jesus there is the one where released demons (that have made a person sinless, healthy and prepared for the Kingdom) are transferred to some piggies who then run off and jump over a cliff to their deaths.

The Christology then that supposedly supports the vegetarian effort is contrived. However, a theism that supports the vegetarian effort is credible. Andrew Linzey (1987) argues for what he calls theos-rights, and this sets up a contrast with simple this-wordly human rights and animal rights. The language of rights is used because of the legacy of scholasticism in the Church, and thus the sense of rationality and law has to be addressed, but whereas human or animal rights have to be argued in a legal sense (in the same way that law becomes established: conflict, power, consensus, via something like a court of opinion formally and informally), theos-rights are about the grace of a sovereign God into spirit-filled creatures.

Indeed this draws on the central Christian insight that law is fulfilled and grace replaces legalism. There is some Christology in this, of course, but the focus is on God as love with action as a gift, and our Being (under God's Being) is therefore equivalent of that gift that should not be violated. We ought not to look gift horses in the mouth, let alone eat them.

So whereas human rights have to be argued, and then animal rights have to be argued, theos-rights are more simply a given across creation. Some of the biblical clues to theos-rights are in Genesis, specifically the opening of life as a kind of paradise of eating vegetation that then gets muddied by reality and a food chain. So the highest response to the spiritual gift is to stop chomping one's way through animals, and despite Jesus's own inability to do this, we should if we can choose the path of peace towards building a future paradise. Indeed, Jesus far from being a vision in his being of the Kingdom coming, is just another participant in the world as it is, spirit filled but of the same inadequacies, as indeed he was when a foreign woman said the dogs (even dogs) could have the crumbs under the table. Jesus learned something that day, as they say, because the woman changed his mind, but no one changed his mind regarding his diet (well it's not mentioned anywhere).

But are even theos-rights as secure? Well, perhaps not, in this sense. They also have to be argued. However much Karl Barth might like to think otherwise, things don't just drop out of the sky. So the argument for theos-rights has to be made, along with human rights and animal rights. Then, in addition, not everyone believes in God, or a God that gives grace, so the argument is undermined by unbelief. The argument in the latter case has to be about human rights and animal rights, and must focus on the tangible.

The God argument is better coming from below (as Bishop John Robinson might have put it), from the tangible, if theos-rights are to have a more universal mileage. It can go something like this. We humans are conscious, and biology meets culture: and what's more, through language, we record our past and we know that we die. That gives our life a narrative shape of meanings, and the totality of that meaningfulness is our connection with what might be called Godness. It's that height where pointers up to what includes and yet transcends the mundane start to join up. We cannot be sure there is a joining-up, but there is at least a clue of transcendence, and it comes from culture and speech and, well, just life pointing upwards. And as a result you start to say that life has an overall meaning, a story, that gives its value, and then you start to come down with the overarching all that was just about met when going upwards. There is a lot of as-if about this, but life is often about what-ifs.

Now animals are different from humans, and by degrees, as are humans between themselves of course, in terms of biology and consciousness, in terms of a culture and language. But - and this is important - small understandings are big inside them. The mentally handicapped, the dementia-ridden, has a big life within that small or crippled mind-universe. The knowing is confused or less obvious, but it is a whole, and value is not on a sliding scale comparative from one person or creature to another. Life experienced is big experience. The dog who gives biological (and a sort of cultural) loyalty to its owner, the pack leader, and luxuriates in the life of walkies and the food given and the comforts, and who tunes in to that environment and its pack leader's changing tone of voice, is living a very full life. So is the poor dog running around a back street that must stay alert and find something to eat in a bin.

It is the fullness of life, positive and negative, that can be turned around to translate into a kind of grace about that fullness of life. It's of Nietzsche's Yes to life, to say yes if this treadmill is to be reincarnated in an ever repeated Groundhog Day.

We are all evolved creatures with some sharing in consciousness, even the little insect that does what it does automatically, and the fantastic evolution that has individual creatures serving the mass of the species in any one place. And on top of that sharing, comes the interaction. When the bees vanish, we humans are going to be in serious trouble, and we had better treat their honey and how it appears with some reverence.

So this approach, then, is not particularly Christian, and it is irrelevant whether it is or not. What it is about is some quality that is within the conscious mind, even of a tiny bit, but it is very obvious in a conscious mind that considers its own consciousness and that of the other.

It is that sense of unity that demands empathy and sympathy, and that unity which is a form of quality that then, as such, distributes a kind of grace. When you are conscious of being conscious, you really have to be a psychopath (or a trained killer) to not have that sense of empathy or sympathy. And then, of course, the role of religion is to give that empathy and sympathy a little push and development - through teachings, rituals and meeting people in an attitude of service and sacrifice.

This is what the Buddhists do and it is what Christians do. In the Christian tradition it is a fact that the left wing has been more focused on this issue and sympathetic, whether it is an Albert Schweitzer with Unitarian sympathies or Liberal Catholics when they leaked into Theosophy and the East. It is religions that developed in hot, sweaty countries that developed compassion for animals also struggling along and that sympathy and empathy needs extending.

Theos-rights have much to commend them, but they do have to be argued from below; Christology has less to offer.

See Linzey, A. (1987), Christianity and the Rights of Animals, London, SPCK, 68-98.