Sunday, 1 May 2011

Theology of the Body and Culture (and Best Wishes)

One might wonder where and how a more liberal and radical theology can be 'grounded' today given a general pluralistic outlook across faiths and philosophies. Not, I don't think, in "following" anybody: rather that those many indeed do follow are making contributions and insights down the ages. The ethical stances and programmatic approaches are all available and useful only as ideas and their practice as lives to be lived again.

I used to be more of a postmodernist than I am now. I am still when it comes to art and religion and the way symbols often point just to other symbols and then others. What stops me is the fact that research (social science) and experiment (science) delivers results back that you don't want. A full postmodernist across the board would be able to write a novel of choice into his or her reality, and this is just not available. This still allows for the flexibility that comes from choices made and interests that skew, and all that we have not done and looked at given what we have looked at (that has delivered both confirmation and rejection of views).

The two 'groundings' that go together seem to me to be the Theology of the Body and the Theology of Culture. The one thing we are is biological. We have evolved from the very small, and intelligence is something late not early (you do not need intelligence to create simple to evolve into intelligence). The nature of life is shaped by the reality of death. The task of religion is to come to terms with death, and accept it. Some religions do this directly, some on a delayed reincarnation principle, others claim life after death in some form or other.

My own view is that all that speculation is rather pointless: and I'm not interested in any supposed reality behind a supposed 'transformed body' that disappears when a theological point is made either about authority or ritual or the Church, or unknown tombs where women were told not to tell anyone or were regarded as unreliable witnesses (and all that).

And although there is plenty to puzzle about regarding consciousness and how it becomes ever more self aware in different creatures, I don't see much point in worrying about a consciousness spark moving from a body that has just died to one that is coming into being. The me-ness of me is an important focus, but it could just be that fluke of transient existence, and the most likely explanation is being a prisoner of a body. Empathy becomes a key aspect of a positive outlook towards all other prisoners of bodies.

The theology of culture is an extension of the individualism of the body to the whole, but it is also the 'society in me' just as there is 'me in society'. The society in me is the collection of norms and understandings, the whole running sociology of knowledge, that understands culture. It is the trip into the ever expanding library that language allows: knowing a past and wanting a future.

Hope then is building that future. We won't see it: for each one of us the universe is not 14 billion years old and with trillions to go, or the earth 5 billion old and the same to go, but about 70 years with good fortune. We make some sort of a mark to hand on something better for others, but most of all we participate in all that went before. We are constantly enriching the symbolic landscape, but two principle aspects of this are the political economy of exchange (that binds us together as people) and the religious economy of the gift (that delivers that excess of spiritual value, even as a surprise).

The Internet and interactive Web page has enriched and speeded up this cultural development: it adds to the local and meshes the transnational. Of course a lot of it is evil and horrible, and that is part of the old old story of the dualistic gods, or the fallen from the essentially good, in the stories told, but it factors into new developments in religion and newer ways of doing faith communities.

And while I'm scribbling these thoughts above via a keyboard, I'll add here my best wishes to the Anglican sceptic and reaching out Lesley Fellows and her 'Affirming Liberal' husband to be Alan Crawley. Yes, from this terror blogger to the punk blogger and her man, as I affirm a liberal approach to religion too and they might have much to contribute to theologies of the body and culture. I made a quip once on her comments about when little Fellows start Crawleying around, and that was some time ago, and so I'm not that surprised. Presumably then I'll have to rename all my cartoons on and after 25 June when she becomes Lesley Crawley, unless Lesley keeps her present surname.

1 comment:

Lesley said...

Thanks Adrian, yup - I'll have to start renaming a few things too!