Saturday, 19 September 2009

Why More Unitarian

The legs of the stool Anglicans sit on are scripture, tradition and reasoning.

It seems to me that tradition is little more than the languages of religion. They are almost always inherited, and always loaded with meaning. If we want to talk religiously, we are inevitably going to use these languages - languages from the religions, mainly, formed over very many centuries, but also we have correctives in humanism and the Enlightenment and secular postmodernism. I think traditions look after themselves, and by so doing are more flexible. Reinforcing tradition by apostolic authority is simply to employ a localised religious police force: that authority which is simply by laying on of hands is but the mechanics of magic, but that which combines with creeds and other promises to obey is simply the mechanics of limitation. Clearly traditions involve people, and there are practicalities in organising ministry. Some argue for the priesthood of all believers - many Unitarians do - but this is a priesthood about believers. What about non or other believers? So I would have a priesthood of faciliatators, on a Paulo Freire model of enhancing communities.

Scriptures are given authority by being given boundaries, but what if these boundaries are removed? What if being canonical is as meaningless as a committee that pronounces on boundaries? So the treasures of scriptures run in all sorts of directions, and we begin to see that not only is there literature of the religions past but literature of the present, some traditions-connected and some from outside. It is not a debate about quality, which is subjective, but inspiration, which has to be subjective and can be collective. It is also the case the meaning not only changes but falls away, and therefore to let it do so in so called scriptures and perhaps to add some new ones, for example from devotional texts. Material by Kahlil Gibran seems to be acquiring almost a scriptural status.

What must remain is active reasoning. This does not mean reason is a strict Enlightenment or even Habermasian sense (communicative rationality) but rather the engagement of discernment over the traditions we receive and the scriptures (widely understood) we read. It means a market place of ideas, and these need communities, but one where the ideas remain in flux and readily traded. It's not about competing down to one product, but they are about how we can enhance, support, and build up the self-conscious with other consciousnesses, and apply to them conscience. It is about hearing and listening as well as talking, and keeping all sorts of conversations going. Reasoning is also about getting into texts, and understanding historiography (for example) in one attempt to understand prophetic figures, or using anthropology for one explanation about how religions and rituals work.

This, then, is why I have shifted over again more to a Unitarian identity. This is the group that emphasises reasoning and is open about traditions and literate resources whilst recognising backgrounds to the religious reasoning. Perhaps Don Cupitt has finally gravitated to the Quakers because it joins his non-realism and his once high and dry spirituality, that think religion that nevertheless filled him with outbursts of energy. Graham Shaw went to the Quakers from his non-realist position for reasons of rejecting apostolic authority. There he found a means to truth that was not subservient. That's fine, but I prefer more talk, and why I would just about prefer the creedless Unitarian to the creedless Quaker.

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