Here's a comment I've just added to Fulcrum and is (as I write) awaiting its place in the debate around the article 'Where Are We and Where Are We Going' by George Day.
I’ve no idea if this helps or not. I’m writing a story, at some 600 pages plus double spaced at present. It’s a bit Blue Velvet in the distortion of things, but otherwise recognisable. I’m changing one character and her impact, an ordained evangelical but is a member of ‘the clergy scheme’ (as in real world ‘the Clergy Project’ in part funded by Richard Dawkins charitable money) where members of the clergy continue to do their job properly – and sound as they should – but have in fact lost all belief and intent. This is different from the non-realist, who continues to think there is a cultural and postmodern way to present Christianity as a kind of religious humanism. It is different from the Radical Orthodox too, who thinks they can present a premodern Platonist pure religion inside a postmodern bubble. The person in ‘the clergy scheme’ makes no reformist gestures because it’s all over, and the issues are that of a relationship, housing, money and the best way to get out, but it may take years to go.
An evangelical one minute can become a ‘Clergy Project’ individual the next without a period of liberality.
The point is the clergy scheme person has lost none of the theological college training, none of the words, can do the job just as before, and for all intents and purposes appears to be the same. The vocation becomes doing a job for the money until something can be sorted out.
Another character is liberal and attracted to the history of theological change in Reform Judaism. In the past this would have been an old style liberal but theology today is very diverse. A diocesan bishop is somewhere between Radical Orthodoxy and non-realism in a rather dangerous place, although he thinks it is exciting, and a suffragan is, well, so far, corrupt and an organiser of his own amoral and communal world.
What I am getting at is that appearances don’t necessarily tell of where a person is. And the argument here (in this thread) seems to have an element of ‘what do we want to appear like’?
‘Appearing like’ is a kind of skill of presentation, a definition of institutional acceptability to which clever people can conform. Appearances deceive, and it takes a skilled user of these terms to detect what sort of conforming is going on.
Nobody, of course, has privileged history and so many yet to-be falsified truths do not support many of the assertions of traditional religion. All people dealing in religious assertions work against this difficulty, but some claim there is privileged and special writing, privileged reading, direct divine contact and other forms of gnosis. They are at least ‘genuine’ in their delusions (let’s say) as opposed to those who manage their delusions for positive ends or those who just appear with them and would get out.
When the question is asked ‘where are we and where are we going?’, is this a debate about appearances then and positioning? What is the point of this set against such theological and ecclesiastical diversity out there?
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The story is set in a place roughly in the position of Mablethorpe (Serpensea) as a kind of backwater with its own sexual secrets and even sexual based economy, with references to its archaeological past as a kind of wet, marshy area for reconstructing valuable items in Roman times and today with little economic prospects at all beyond the way people 'entertain' themselves. In other words, the backdrop is gloomy and surface based. It's into this that there is the national Church with its corrupt tentacles because of the various people who occupy positions - the Diocese of Foss is regarded as dysfunctional. The first person heroine has as much dodgy about her as the suffragan that she and her friends debate about exposing to the press. It is a story so there's a plot and twists and turns, but it is also a piece of different theologies and clashes in amongst the murk and the memories that a core four people have. Involved and explored are these 'national Church' theologies, Reform Judaism (I had to add this inspired by a friend's conversion experience), Liberal Catholicism (as in the Old Catholic offshoot) and Unitarianism. The Internet is important, as is local television - of the kind that has just started where I live. But if you change a character, you have to follow through all the implications. So I have one in the 'Clergy Scheme' whose best outcome is to have a secular job and not to be reordained sub-conditione in independency. And as she thinks she is the private girlfriend of the suffragan, that evacuation of all belief has further implications on the baddy of the story.