Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Not Quite On Demand

Today I watched the programme How Do You Know God Exists? via the Internet that first aired on Channel 4 on 16 August and has about 20 days to go on 4OD (Four on Demand). The programme was written and produced by Anthony Thomas. There was also a newspaper report at the time.

Although it featured Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Roman Catholic figures (namely Jonathan Sachs, Sadhu Paramtattvadas, Tariq Ramadan and Vincent Nichols), two of them national leaders of their religious bodies (Chief Rabbi and Catholic Archbishop of Westminster), a main interest here has to be in what Anglican Christian Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said in the programme because of what he had said recently to his own Church regarding gay people being unable to be representative of Anglicanism in any ministry.

He said (according to my listening) that although he is not as a leader of a party, nor that he has no convictions or cannot speak on them, his position means he holds personal convictions he cannot push.

What he does though is push very well, in entirely the opposite direction a viewpoint than the one it is supposed he does possess as his opinion! That is what he did, when he crossed the line and made his declaration about the impossibility of gay people representing the Church in any ministry. May be he has changed his mind and believes this too. He has said before how he changed his mind regarding the importance of the virgin birth (towards a more orthodox view). Plus we know that he has no restrictions pushing his personal belief in Catholicism and relating that to an international Church bureaucracy.

Whatever he still claims about holding a private opinion but representing another opinion, many an Anglican has decided to say that's it and have had enough of this because of the damage that will be caused by pushing his public opinion and the private views he can push. Anglicanism is not, nor should not become, a more sophisticated form of Roman Catholicism in its centralisation.

Rowan Williams can talk about the Church catching up with society! But note on this how he spoke in terms of women and ministry. He said that the Church must try to solve the matter in its own terms, which can be longer and embarrassing. People around it don't understand why it takes so long or the terms Church uses.

So he becomes purely internal in his language and logic, but this (we clearly see) results in a reverse gear. He seems now to inhabit two worlds, an internal Church world and a secular world communication of Christian views. Most Anglicans do not do this, do they? Is not the Anglican more culturally connected and communicative? We know of the believers who, pressed regarding their faith, will flick a switch and become other-worldly dogmatic, and then when released from questions revert to being ordinary and practical thinkers like the rest of the population, but surely the Archbishop is not like this? Or is he when it comes to Church-world?

He admitted that the Church doesn't have a clear voice in the media, being conflict ridden and obsessed by in house matters, but people say they want to hear from the Church for a vision held up before them. More generally, he is confident and trusting that God exists, an awareness from his teens. You can have a personal relationship. God is absolutely present in every bit of creation in every act of the universe. God is promised to be in the afterlife. He has strains of belief at times of bereavement and times of someone's suffering.

I was interested in his references to dementia, in that my own mother has become diminished through this and now needs professional care and treatment. The presenter was so affected by a relationship with someone with dementia. Rowan Williams said that he has also sat close to dementia sufferer, and that it is painful to watch someone disappearing. He did not think that the body is left behind with something of the person gone somewhere else. Instead God may deal with people at levels we cannot understand. This was the best sense he could deal with it and that it is brutally difficult.

My own view is that the God language and relating that to 'should be no suffering' is not helpful. Rather as the person diminishes mentally, they are within that personality, and it is within that and even its strangeness and misconnecting that a sort of value of life is still to be affirmed. We do not know that world within, its dreams and nighmares, and its frustrated talk, but the speaker seems to be sure and certain and communication goes on. Somehow you have to level with it and engage with it. The explanation is biological and a form of death, but its the life within that is the point of engagement, and even when there is apparently nothing left there is something, just a spark, or a moment, before finally the body switches itself off through being incapable of running itself. Death, then, is the last point of death.

He is right to say nevertheless that your value as a human being does not depend on control, or possessions.

He said that atheists do have moral values and impressive ones, but his question is where they get them from. He holds that the universe and what is profound pushes us towards a moral perspective in life which is the presence and action of God in all things and the atheists (like it or not) benefit from that.

Well that is his view, of course, though for me wonder is in the science and the maths itself. I find God language less and less useful. Moral values derive from pain and pleasure, and a question arises about what is happiness - is it an excess of something or is there a joy to be found that is a deeper happiness. The Darwinian view of a pitiless creation is a three a clock in the morning view of the world, he said, but from another perspective we are capable of meaning, love, relationship and prayer. Some indicated how the Darwinian world is the self-refreshing world, it is its own newness.

There was no Buddhist in the programme so for that perspective the viewer relied on a comment from Rowan Williams himself that [his] hell is to be stuck with his selfish little ego for all eternity. It is torment enough to be thrown back on yourself. I happen to agree with him here, which is why death in the end becomes important because the idea of going on and on strikes me as a hell too.

He also thought we should (or at least he does) come to the Bible with enormous openness, with an eagerness to be taught, but not to read every single verse of Genesis as if history as we understand it. I think that was putting it in a very mild and limited way (but the context was Darwinian and pitiless evolving). My view is to have an openness to all scriptures and an eagerness to learn, critically, and this is of course extendable.

The presenter noted that these religious leaders, to whom he gave gushing high moral praise, were closer to each other than to they were to those who share their specific beliefs. Well that's because he chose them, of course, but it probably was not the case with the Hindu anyway and the Roman Catholic was rather select in his own answers.


Fr Mark said...

Yes it's very strange that Rowan claims hell is utter loneliness when at the same time that is exactly what he says gay Anglicans are called to a life of!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

That's an additional and rather good point.