I think I want to say clearly, that for some people all the doctrines in the world can be challenged and stripped away, and they are still left with an inner conviction of an Other. They might accept all the arguments of say historical limitation, research and science and the rest, but still regard a transcendent power to have presence.
Fine, but this is not actually my main argument - even if I don't have that conviction myself. My argument is really about the sociology of knowledge and the application of religious beliefs, all of which seem to be olde-worlde in origin and form. I am interested why some people equate religion and stories (narratives) in a philosophical manner when they have a contemporary outlook.
In my outlook, which is more about a spiritual pathway and life direction, the issue is how to marry religious words of impact with contemporary forms of understanding. What I accept (and indeed what was clear to liturgists at the end of the nineteenth century as this quandary became evident) is that religious language is inevitably out of date and even out of sense in the terms of all other use of language. Yet this inheritance ends up being reused and it seems so very difficult to invent contemporary religious language.
I suppose the Unitarian community is made up of two halves in general. One is people roughly like me, who see ongoing value in the religious task and seek to find appropriate language and actions to represent this, and to strip out being misleading in expression. We see, along with William James, that expression gives rise to experience, but expression has to gain some consistency across the board - from science, to social science, to the arts and to religion. The other half is those who have stripped away beliefs they either can't achieve or no longer want and yet have an inner conviction of some spiritual, real, core, that can be called God or Spirit or some such name. For them experience comes first and then they look for appropriate language.
The philosophical difficulty I have with the latter position is this: that all experience is itself symbolic, and leads directly to a broad definition of 'language'. Painting, music, writing are all symbolic forms, language of accuracy or inaccuracy, all if which are formed from 'interpretation'. To be brief, interpretation is already interpretation. This also cuts into the sciences and social sciences, but where I differ with the hardline non-realist or poststructuralist is that research is clearly an activity outwards that delivers results not always within our own creative desires. In other words, it goes into a real, even if that real is itself symbolised and only can be transmitted through language. Language is not then purely self-referential, but strives for accuracy outside of itself even if still using itself.
I do not see this with religion, and one reason why not is because those who have inner conviction of a spiritual real end up speaking of being language-less in a kind of ultimate state. It's not like any other real. Otherwise they would strive for accuracy of language - and there is no accuracy of language when it comes to religion. Up against the 'real' it becomes purely subjective.
That work has already been done: James Martineau moved towards a pure theism and realised that it was achieved with maximum subjectivity. He also realised that liturgy used an olde-worlde language and thought forms to generate that sense of outer being.
Whilst this does suggest a beyond language core to some, the inability of accuracy suggests a blank to me. Now this can be consistent with much Buddhism, although the 'blank' in Buddhism might be likened to an inverted real, but not quite the non-real of the Western philosopher. Perhaps Buddhism meets what some Christians have called Real Absence. Once asked whether I was on the side of non-realism or Real Absence, I went along with non-realism - but it is very close indeed. The difference is rice-paper thin.
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