Saturday, 27 July 2013

Wonga Hear about the Archbishop?

That Justin Welby, he's wonga person who can't do right for doing wonga. He wants to put the payday loan firms out of business via credit unions, but rather than invest in credit unions the Church of England is already investing in payday loan companies. There is an Ethical Advisory Group so that investments don't wonga off into the wrong areas. The moral compass for investment by Church Commissioners works out as a maximum of:

3% of profits from pornography
10% of profits from armaments
25% from tobacco and alcoholic drinks
25% from gambling
25% from high-interest-rate lending

Think of the poor student who had tried to get through university by being a part-time model since Labour's David Blunkett introduced fees. It's not her fault that she enters the grubby sex industry at a low level to pay her way but this limitation could seriously cut off the flow of funds. After all, this is just a moral display about mainly men having the odd private wonga over pictures and videos.

Weapons obviously do much less damage, or perhaps there is a kind of defence justification for going to war that is factored in. So you can invest in a company so long as its subsidiaries making killing machines only amount to ten per cent. The Romans used to have one in ten for the random kill too.

Then we're up to a quarter of your business as a stop-point for investing - and smoking tobacco. That really is a killer. It is surely worse than alcohol, although Father Jack is no advert for priestly consumption. They were all occasional smokers too, in that Roman Catholic household.

Now gambling is interesting because it now booms on television in the wee small hours. Yes, it is economic growth without economic growth because addiction is not utility and so you are not buying anything you actually want but buying to meet an already existing and demanding negative utility to fill. The Internet is seducing enough without adding to it the whole thing to do with roulette. And what's all this with Texas Holdem' - when did that ever become the standard poker game when so much is open to chance? Perhaps churches remember the days when it held whist drives on an evening; I used to attend those on holiday when the Church in Wales was a larger part of society than it is now. It was part of Christian charity for a person to sit opposite an incompetent like me and realise she couldn't just keep winning.

And it is as high as twenty five percent for payday loans companies. When the firm says, 'Don't worry, borrow what you owe us,' then you're on the road from a hundred pounds to the United States national debt in over seven years. This must be attractive to the Church of England, after all if it can persuade people to borrow for a bit wonga the money is a good mark-up. With that sort of income, it might actually be able to set up the odd credit union rather than just provide a few places for it to meet. We know these firms are profitable because of the huge amounts they spend on television advertising, especially in the daytime when those who wonga work but aren't are watching.

But for an Archbishop who's worried about the Church of England being marginalised and on the wonga side of society, this sort of intervention is useful even if a bit unco-ordinated. It makes the Church more inclusive - that others might include the Church in its considerations of what is relevant in society. Perhaps it's better to be practical than wonga about the more indeterminate theologies as did his predecessor, whose main economic concern was the short-termism of bankers (surely epitomised by the wongas among them); the alternative is to say nothing and just wonga about in the palace garden. [Enough wongas for now. Ed.]

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Subordination and the Trinity

On Sunday 21st the service taker at Hull Unitarians referred to John Bidle 1644-1697, while I contributed appropriate 17th century music (and how Purcell's Fairest Isle became a hymn tune for later words). The readings included the Gospel of John where the text clearly indicates Jesus as subordinate to the Father, the basis on which John Bidle and his Bidellians met and worshipped. There is no link from him to Unitarians, and if he was Socinian (he denied it, and the detail supports the denial) then founders of congregations that became Unitarian had harsh views about Socinians. The Calvinists thought they should be locked up; some even thought they should get the death sentence. Bidle's treatment by Oliver Cromwell of being exiled was reasonably tolerant given the alternatives, and he was mainly in prison once the first heresy was marked.

I'm going to be so bold as to partly correct the service taker.
Yes, Bidle first denied the deity of the Holy Spirit (in terms of the Trinity), but also argued for a more pure Trinity (like Servetus) so that Christ had only a human nature, yet was Son of God, and was also God. He read Socinus and the Racovian Catechism and wasn't convinced and preferred the terminology of scripture itself. He preferred the notion of three divine persons. His unorthodoxy spread wider than the doctrine of the Trinity and he went on to deny that Christ was God (but was divine) in a debate that got him swiftly imprisoned and, whilst Presbyterians argued for his conviction some Baptists (with whom he debated) argued for his freedom. This is when he was sent far west for a while but freedom was followed by the Restoration and the imrpisonment that finished him off.

Now for me there was the extra question. The Gospel of John as read clearly had Jesus as subordinate. So the extra question is how come modern Christians retain the Trinity in the light of such obvious texts?

The answer can be found among present day evangelicals and those who want to deny women leading roles in ministry, certainly as bishops and in cases of running a local congregation. There is an article just published online by Ian Paul that rather explains it.

Like Bidle, the evangelicals read the same texts and call it subordinationism. The son is eternally in functional subordination to the Father, an essential matter to their being, but the hierarchy is functional only and not in being. Therefore women, otherwise equal, should be subordinate to males. Ian Paul doesn't get it (neither do I), because it is essential to their being, and rather likens it to the Arian debate [of the post-Reformation kind as discussed]. In other words, evangelicals of this argument are dangerously close to being heretical.

Ian Paul reminds about the kinds of Trinity:

...‘economic’ Trinity (how we see God as Father, Son and Spirit at work), the ‘immanent’ Trinity (Father, Son and Spirit as they really are, so to speak) and the ‘social’ Trinity (how the ‘persons’ of the Trinity relate to one another)...

And it is wrong to base social relationships on the latter, when the texts on authority are between the godhead and humans. But I don't get him either because he says, as a corrective:

Christian faith is about believing in the Trinity, and not believing in a particular doctrine about the Trinity. 

This is a nonsense! The logic is self-defeating! It takes some dogmatic gnosis, surely, to assume a Trinity about which all else is deducted. Anyone can do precisely the same in gnosis about the biblical record, say regarding a Divine Unity, for which trinities may exist but the 'immanent' Trinity of co-equality and co-eternity is not present except by later Church doctrinal escalation, and based on other than the limited texts on the economic or functional trinity and the social or relationship trinity. They are not exactly a Trinity at all, but manifestations of God, simply read. John's philosophical gospel, putting words into Jesus's mouth, is in any case an unreliable basis to build such doctrine. And it is doctrine - philosophical and so doctrinal.

Whilst doubt may be expressed about the biographies in the synoptic gospels, as John gets more philosophical it also gets more stratosopheric and dislodged from reality. John's gospel is pulled towards as well as fighting off the Gnostics (as was Paul) and struggles to keep to a material basis of the Christ concept.

The service taker referred to Biblical Unitarians, these being other than Unitarian Universalists, that are now of a more pluralist condition, including liberal Christians but others too. We've moved on.

And, in the end, here is the real parallel. The debate about women and authority argued out against so-called subordinationism is a clapped-out argument - clapped-out both in having the argument at all and in the texts to justify resistance. It's the same with gay equality and ministry. The source arguments of resistance are simply dismissed as having no legitimacy beyond the members of the sect that uphold them and use them for resistance - in both cases.
John Henry Newman understood the problem. He could see some gospel elements as unitarian, and others like in John as Arian, but what made them trinitarian was all of them taken as a whole under the direction of the Church. Now, taken as a whole (alone) doesn't work: they are simply varied, and so needs the Church.

The matter of the Trinity is developmental, from the escalation of beliefs in the early Jewish-Christian and Gentile-Christian communities and beyond. In the end, the evangelicals are as Church-directed as the rest. They look at their Bibles through blinkers and tinted spectacles. That's why when a Hooker (the man) puts Scripture first, then reason, and only then tradition (a contrast with Aquinas), it isn't true. Those who simply read the book saw it quite differently. And Bidle was trying to compromise.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Cupitt in Cambridge

It's not my purpose to 'run a campaign' against anyone, or any church, but I know that I would feel mighty uncomfortable at Cambridge Unitarian Church.
We had a new to Unitarianism person attending at Hull going home and her nearest church would be Cambridge. Having enjoyed the full range of opinions theist and non-theist, Christian and otherwise, the Cambridge minister Andrew Brown identifies himself with Yale postliberal theology and now reports a meeting with Don Cupitt and substantive agreement with his position.

Now I have a lot of time for Don Cupitt, and he is probably theologian number one in influence over me, although there are significant points of disagreement. I do not share his philosophical base that leads to the primacy of language (I reject that, however important language may be) and then his thoroughgoing nature of non-realism, that all reality is metaphor. Where research delivers answers we would not like, language and culture might still be important but they only skew not determine. Mathematics is capable of getting spaceships to planets, and it has to be reliable, realist and not just a symbol-system. There might be economic interests determining scientific and social scientific questions, there might be inadequate or misleading paradigms of understanding, but research has the power to deliver answers contrary to what we might put as a novelist. Yes, religion is like art, and there metaphor is hugely important - so, in religion, I am a soft non-realist, but other language games harden up and they harden up because the are subservient to other realities. Science cross-cuts Christianity and history can only deal in culture and beliefs, not supernatural acts. These are ahistorical as such (yes, even history as historiography) can be ahistorical; it is not just a tale of shedding the supernatural through centuries of philosophers.

The attitude of language first and philosophy is essentially dogmatic, and thus we get this from Andrew Brown regarding the Unitarian (and Universalist) inheritance of faith:

In terms of belief a member of a liberal church such as this can only now hold our historic belief in an underlying divine unity in this weak, metaphorical way. But it is vitally important to hear the real strength found in this weakness - a weak strength that is vital to the development of a successful secular Christianity - indeed vital to the development of any kind of secular religion.

Now I actually agree with this, but the liberal Church such as this is actually going to be open to many more views than mine, and surely his; but Cupitt as a preferrer of common narratives is quite secular in outlook and is quite critical of those postmodernists who retain old forms of thought principally for the purposes of Church identity or a fantasy of Church performance, such as Radical Orthodoxy's Platonic Church.

Lindbeck's Church identity comes from a supposed ecumenical Protestant identity in the context of the Second Vatican Council, so this has little to do with Unitarianism.

My argument is that Cupitt pursues a liberal postmodernism that arrives at common general "autologous" narratives, rather than Church narratives from the inside, and that Martineau's pure subjectivity combined with collective liturgical theism is enough to collapse each into the other and produce a liberal postmodernism.

Don Cupitt has never considered Unitarianism. He values the Quakers but in my conversations he once would rather have been Roman Catholic and at another time made reference to Mark Rutherford, the fictional character based on a Victorian reading of chapel culture in the Unitarians.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Support for my Economic Position!

At Fulcrum I wrote this:

Quantitative easing is like trying to push string. Basically, it makes bonds and makes liquidity, but it won't work if its results are parked in the banks. It won't make much difference anyway. You only have to do the basic IS LM curves at this time in a recession/ depression to realise that what works is not even tax cuts (better - if given to those who'll spend it not save it) but actual spending. The Japanese have found it tough to bring a high value economy out of recession, but they've made a lot of infrastructure on the cheap.

My own view is that communism failed twenty years ago and capitalism has failed now. Of course it has failed - it has banks that put governments into the red to bail out banks, like a mad circle of collapse. The world divided so that the West consumed the far east's inc. China's output on the basis of debt, private and public, and the debt produced an inflation hidden by the cheap basis of manufactures and labour supply before it, so that the inflation instead went into property. That went bang and brought the system into crisis.

The government has eased property buying and maintained a low rate of building new property; prices have risen again and this is being seen as a sign of growth. A lot of liquidity has gone into stocks, shares and bonds. But the currencies are still in crisis and the liquidty is still not flushed out, debt passing around as ever. So it will go bang again, and again.

The answer is to realise the game is different now, and more like going back to 1945. Then a bankrupt country shared and worked on the basis of necessities, and it achieved a huge amount in a short time. They built, and on that the subsequent government freed things up a little. The neo-liberal straightjacket we have now doesn't work, and won't work. If the curves were more monetarist shape in the recent past, they are not now, and the solutions are going to have to be Keynesian, interventionist and communal.

The tragedy is that Labour is running scared of present politics when it could be leading by making the argument. Personally my vote was stolen by the Liberal Democrats and I cannot wait to punish them along with so many for what has amounted to betrayal.

Interestingly, a sparring partner (on the matter of postliberal theology) 'Bowman' wrote in support:

What is the Church's responsibility when politicians are in the grip of a 'groupthink' that is having destructive consequences for the poor and for all? 

# For the UK, Adrian's general macroeconomic view in the post below has been affirmed by Martin Wolf (Financial Times), Simon Wren-Lewis (Oxford), and Jonathan Portes (NIESR), all of whose forecasts for the UK, US, and Eurozone economies have been notably reliable from 2008 because they relied on ISLM analyses of the 'liquidity trap' and keynesian multipliers. This cannot be said for those with strongly differing views. 

# For the US, whilst the financial markets seem to think, and the economists named above and below certainly think, that QE has been more effective in the US than just pushing a string, Chairman Bernanke of the Federal Reserve Board, which administers QE here, has said in testimony to the Congress just what Adrian said about the still greater effectiveness of fiscal stimulus. This is also the consensus view of independent US economists whose forecasts have been both clear and reliable, such as Paul Krugman and J Bradford Delong. 

# Again, there are those who disagree, but their forecasts have failed repeatedly for reasons traceable to their rejection of ISLM analyses of the 'liquidity trap' and keynesian multipliers. With humane respect where due, some views on macroeconomics are not now of serious interest to any but future historians of the policy failures of the Lesser Depression. 

# In other words, Adrian is substantially correct -- and has been shown repeatedly from publically available data to be correct -- about the condition of the UK economy. And the human costs of policies associated with the disproven theory of 'austerity' go beyond the budget cuts affecting the poor to include also high unemployment, low investment, and the damage done to future British productivity.

# The UK, US, and Eurozone governments have all, in the opinion of the International Monetary Fund, failed to follow sound keynesian principles in managing the aftermath of the crisis of 2008. It seems that Western politicians have followed misguided moral intuitions rather than evidence-based economics as their guide to policy. What should Christians do about this false moralism?

# Adrian's sketches of current UK politics and the next UK political economy are beyond my horizon here, but he is not alone in arguing for another order of things. What should Christians think about the future?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

New Bishop Test

So as not to single out gay people in a discriminatory fashion, all candidates for becoming bishops are going to be examined as to their sexual behaviour, so that all stay within the purity of sex within marriage limitations. Here is an example of such an interview.

Inquisitor: Well, you are not supposed to know that you might be up for a change in your ministry task beyond which I can say no more. But nevertheless I am under instruction to see you and ask you some delicate questions of the private variety

Anglican priest: How very interesting. I'm to become a bishop? Oh how lovely.

Inquisitor: You might think that but I could not possibly comment. However, given the situation I do have to ask you these certain more nudge nudge say no more questions.

Anglican priest: Shoot.

Inquisitor: Well, that's one way to put it. Perhaps you could tell me, is there anything awry regarding what could be called the unmentionables in the darker hours?

Anglican priest: Seeing as you don't mention them, I don't think so. How would I know? Tell me more, ducky.

Inquisitor: Let me try to be more specific. Are you heterosexually married and if you are, are you on the straight and narrow avoiding all forms of polyamoury?

Anglican priest: Very straight, very narrow, but not heterosexually married my love.

Inquisitor: Oh, this could become complicated. Here we are. Are you homosexually married, which would be unacceptable, or are you in a Civil Partnership which might be acceptable according to if you avoid the diddly wotsits among the fanciables and also depending on where you live in case it's a bit backward there and it might not lead to unity among the flock?

Anglican priest: I can categorically reply my dear that I am neither married in a homosexual manner nor am I in a Civil Partnership.

Inquisitor: So you are single.

Anglican priest: I am divorced. It happens.

Inquisitor: Oh dear, it does happen, so this means that I have a subset of questions to ask. Is there a person alive today who was involved with you and featured in the breakdown in the marriage?

Anglican priest: Only Jesus Christ. Otherwise, no.

Inquisitor: Jesus Christ?

Anglican priest: He is the answer to everything, apparently, and helps us along, or surely we are told the Holy Spirit is involved. Surely so?

Inquisitor: Humm. Let's not bring God the Son or God the Holy Spirit into it. Have you had a relationship with someone after the separation and divorce, even though they had nothing to do with the separation or divorce.

Anglican priest: Yes, a beautiful woman presented herself for care and consideration.

Inquisitor: More than pastorally?

Anglican priest: It becomes a grey area.

Inquisitor: Ah, this leads to a subset question. Did you ever intend to have or indeed have had sexual relations with this person, that is nookie of the intimite variety including or not including the train into the tunnel?

Anglican priest: A kiss, in the context of a growing friendship.

Inquisitor: This might be construed as sexual relations. When?

Anglican priest: Some time after the separation. We deliberately refrained from sexual relations. You are a nice boy but I don't like your tone of voice.

Inquisitor: Right. I can't help that. Someone has to do this job. And how is this relationship likely to develop?

Anglican priest: Well, I think we will be friendly with one another, perhaps get married and only then shag each other senseless. I am hoping she will be brilliant with her eating orifice but of course I've no idea because we refrain from that sort of thing. I'm not bad with the old tongue, however.

Inquisitor: Oh and what experience gives you that information?

Anglican priest: Historical and geographical information. Historically, during the marriage, and, geographically, about half way down the body of my wife where one torso becomes two legs.

Inquisitor: There are one or two other questions.

Anglican priest: Go on, if you must.

Inquisitor: Have you ever had sexual relations with a member of your family?

Anglican priest: Yes, my wife, when married. I refer the honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Inquisitor: No, I meant your mum, dad, daughter, son, uncle, auntie, first cousin although second cousins carry exceptional exemptions.

Anglican priest: No, I don't think so, as there was a sort of preventative taboo in operation, although I quite fancied my auntie.

Inquisitor: Have you ever had sexual relations with a horse or a dog?

Anglican priest: I once considered it with a pig but I am relieved to say that nothing actually happened.

Inquisitor: I'm pleased to hear it.

Anglican priest: The pig ran away, probably filled up with demons. Plus it lived in a pig sty and I prefer tidy accommodation. Though apparently pigs themselves are rather clean.

Inquisitor: Are you or have you ever been a practising homosexual?

Anglican priest: I have not tried to train to become a homosexual, no, but thank you for asking.

Inquisitor: Have you had any connection with anyone close who has been or become a practising homosexual?

Anglican priest: I believe my wife now shares her bed with another woman, and may have a Civil Partnership with her when the divorce comes through. I have no idea if this intention indicates that they simply share the bed to sleep, or otherwise, given the ambiguity of the legal agreement.

Inquisitor:  Can I be sure that you are a man or a woman, and nothing less clear?

Anglican priest: I am a man but may have some slight female gender tendencies of disposition, my dear. I do stop any such tendencies before I get to cross-dressing, except for advanced clerical garb.

Inquisitor: Oh dear. Well, let's see. I am afraid that I'll have to report that you did kiss a person outside of marriage and it has sexual potential and that this took place at a time when you might have had reconciliation that might have restored the marriage and that, in any case, your wife during the separation is sleeping with a woman that could be the cause of scandal and affect unity detrimentally and therefore your ministry will probably be just as it is now if that. But then I wasn't actually enquiring into anything specific.

Anglican priest: Well I'm glad that is cleared up. It was getting rather messy, dear man. I don't like messy. Oh it is so much simpler to be and stay a virgin.

Inquisitor: Well we can't all manage that. Anyway, I have no need to carry out further tests, such as with these cotton buds.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Miliband for a Landslide?

Following up a story about benefit cuts and people in London splitting up to maximise benefits, I note that the Daily Telegraph has a new toy that tracks polling. If people voted now for a General Election, the tracker in front of me states that Labour would have 361 seats, Tories 247, the Lib Dems crash to 17 and UKIP has zero. The UKIP effect benefits Labour. The report about the tracker, presumably earlier, has the Labour majority higher and the Liberal Democrats doing a little better.

At the weekend I dozed off near the end of the Washington Journal on BBC Parliament and woke into a briefing by Nick Clegg. I ended up mouthing off Anglo-Saxon expletive after expletive because this man stole my vote. On the making the new unemployed lose a week's money rather than three days worth, he said they didn't because they money is ploughed back into job seeking activities. Arsehole. Yes the money is taken off those who need it and the job seeking help is the same round the roundabout stuff that has been done for years. It never progresses and achieves little. This man stole my vote, because I voted for the Liberal Democrats on the basis of their manifesto and not the neo-liberal economics that is burying hope for many.

I am worried about Labour. I am less worried about Falkirk and following the news agenda there, but I am worried about Labour running scared and taking the poor's vote for granted. If you keep appealing to the middle class, keep saying we won't frighten the horses, then the vote to rely on vacates itself and hollows out.

This happened under Brown and Blair: it's Miliband being a left-winger (we hope) that makes him more attractive, not less. We have reached, now, a time of necessities, when the spirit of 1945 is more relevant and fair and achieves more than this negative neo-liberal economic road to nowhere.

The Liberal Democrats need to be punished very severely, and need to be forced into their own disaster zone and take decades to crawl out again, if ever. As Labour went to the right under Blair, they went left, took many students with them, and built quite a broad urban alliance, and then the Orange Book squad used the votes received to dump on us. If the Liberal Democrats have any sense they'll arrange for a new leader to replace this one for another Parliament.

Hard luck if apologists like Simon Hughes gets kicked out, and Danny Alexander will hopefully be kicked out as far as the boot will transfer its kinetic energy. I can't wait for revenge, if I survive until 2015.

As for the Tories, we shouldn't have been surprised. They are what they are, and have proved it, and obsessed about Europe too.

The problem for Ed Miliband is that it is his election to lose. It may be that the coalition cannot survive much longer, although the Liberal Democrats will no doubt hang on and hang on. The Prime Minister can no longer call an election, but the House of Commons can, and the sooner the better please.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

In The Inquirer

Posted on to Facebook by the editor MC Burns The Inquirer · 6 July 2013

Inquiring Words The Road to Prinsengrach

A month ago I stood in a tiny bedroom at the top of a house in Amsterdam. Yellowed post cards of the young Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and newspaper cuttings with stories of Hollywood stars are stuck to the wall. There's a post card of the chimpanzees' tea party from the London Zoo, just the sorts of things a young girl sellotapes over her bed. But this is not the room of an ordinary girl. It is the place where Anne Frank lived in hiding and wrote in her little red-and-white-checked diary. It was her home and, in a way, her cell. She and her family and the acquaintances who joined them were trapped in that small, steep space behind the bookcase that camouflaged their annex; forced to hide from the blind hatred which would kill them for their beliefs.

It was my second visit to the house on Prinsengracht, the second time I climbed the steep, creaking stairs, the second time I stared out the window at the chestnut tree whose very existence comforted Anne.

My first visit to Me annex was in January 1993. I was travelling from Mogadishu to New York after reporting on the famine in Somalia. My flight landed in Amsterdam before dawn. I needed some air. I was fighting amoebic dysentery and struggling with what I had witnessed in the streets of Mogadishu, the harsh calculus at the gates of feeding censures and hospital doorways. Life and death left to the decisions of strangers, the size of your weapon.

My most vivid memory from that 1993 visit to Anne Frank's house is not the little room at the top of the hidden stairs. It's the ground floor museum, filled with photographs of concentration camps - the withered limbs of the naked survivors, their deadened eyes staring out from gallery-white walls, the countless sunken cheeks and distended bellies of hunger. It was all too familiar, too much like what I had left behind in Somalia. The mothers I met who had nothing to offer their dying children, the lonely father who dug a grave on Christmas Eve for the second of his sons to die that week could have been in those museum pictures. It all felt the same. The famine in Somalia was a human construct - nature's fury exacerbated by a power struggle. Warlords who controlled the fertile regions cut off the food supply. More than a quarter-million people died.

The dehumanization of Somalis allowed the dying to continue - just as the Nazis dehumanized Jews, homosexuals, disabled people. Despite the hopes of the little museum on Prinsengracht, there is no such thing as 'Never Again'.

The hatred, the refusal to see victims as human beings, worthy of dignity and care began with words, began with irresponsible leaders who bought into the easy and cowardly politics of 'us' and 'them'. The wilful misinterpretation of belief - repeated as if to make it truth - justified the ghettos, the trains, the work camps, the gas chambers, the ovens. It started with words. It started with taking the tenets and history of a rich faith and twisting them into something else.

I write as the police begin an investigation into the bomb placed beside a mosque in Walsall. Racist graffiti just appeared inside a mosque in Redditch. As of June, 632 anti-Muslim acts in Britain have been reported since March 2012, according to MAMA, 'Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks'. Each of those acts of hatred started with words, and with silence. Every time a politician or other leader implies there is a difference between Muslim values and Christian ones, the hate is justified. Every time individuals stay silent when prejudices are repeated, the hate grows. And if you are part of the group being marginalised, every act of vandalism, every attack, every ignorant rant is a new blow to a still-tender bruise.

As people who don't proselytize, as people who are not wed to dogma, as people of compassion, Unitarians can help. Confront the ignorance. Remind leaders that none of us should be judged by the worst acts committed by other members of one's faith. Reach out.

It is a shorter road than any of us may think to that small attic room on Prinsengracht. -MC Burns

Articles express the views of their authors. Submissions are welcome and may be edited for content and length. They should be emailed or typed and should be the author's original work or be attributed appropriately. Subscribe Annual subscriptions are £35 with discounts for bulk orders. Cheques payable to 'The inquirer'. Write to James Barry... ...  Find out more about Unitarians or email The General Assembly, Essex Hall 1-6 Essex Street London WC2R SHY ph: 0207 2402384

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Religions and Animal Welfare Project

There's a new research project at the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics which is multi-faith and multi-disciplinary. It asks the question whether a religion held by a human in beneficial to the animals.
Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist Preacher, once claimed that a person cannot be a true Christian if his dog or cat is not the better off for it, so that's the basis of the question behind the project. It is not about dogs having holy communion, or whether animals have sin or not. Potentially religion can be both beneficial and detrimental for animals (similar if more directly regarding a religion's effect on human rights).

The first stage of the project will culminate in a Summer School on Religion and Animal Protection at the Anglican theological college St Stephen’s House, Oxford, from 21-23rd July 2014. Potential contributors to the project should contact the Centre’s Deputy Director, Clair Linzey, in the first instance. 

Thinking about this myself, one can immediately think of Hinduism's positive attitude towards say cattle and monkeys, but then debate whether the results are positive towards cattle and monkeys. Jainism is an obvious candidate for compassion towards the smallest creatures: Gandhi learnt this compassion from Jainism. Buddhism also has a compasionate approach, with its general vegetarianism, but as much on the basis that it is good for the individual as for the recepient. Neo-Paganism is earth-centred and tends to have a positive view of anything that lives.

I also tend to be critical of the monotheistic faiths, particularly around animal slaughter. I'm not convinced about the immediate and direct slaughter of an animal. In the religion I know best, Christianity, one first realises that as an observant Jew Jesus will have visited and participated in temple rituals of animal slaughter. He also had a view that demons could leave humans (to make the human ready for the coming Kingdom) and such could jump into pigs and send them over the cliff to death. The dogs of the Gentile woman asking for long-distance healing for her daughter weren't exactly raised up in status (her daughter was being lowered). He did make more positive and comparative statements regarding birdlife and things that grew, and of course he'd have believed that there was an active God-energy making them grow in a way we'd view as 'interventionist' (for those that believe in that sort of potential). During my MA in Contemporary Theology I wrote in this fashion about Jesus and animal ethics and rather pissed off the Anglican tutor there who regarded it as a given that Jesus was a perfect character, but then he was pissed off by my all-round scepticism. There have been Christian 'saints' regarding animals, of course, and in the Unitarians we have radicals Frances Cobbe and then Francis William Newman, a pioneer vegetarian.

My view is that evolution is local and specific, and is amoral and thus (small) animals that, for example, capture other animals and keep them alive and fresh while they eat them are very successful but such is not exactly positive for the 'losers' or prey. In other words a chaotic and local cause with comparative advantage based on death produces a pretty cruel competitive system. Some husbandry indeed, as also indeed pet-keeping, can free some animals of a lifetime of looking over their shoulders at those who would take them as their dinners. A farm then is a bit like building a council estate with a health service clinic nearby except that when the tenant reaches 25 they get stunned and killed for a new tenancy to take place. So a general humanistic outlook is itself mixed by observation and intention: one can improve attitudes and behaviours but the actual animal universe in the wild is not pleasant for many.