Sunday, 24 August 2014

A Contemporary Religious Realism

I don't know Ian Paul. He's probably a very nice chap. He doesn't appear to be a very nice chap in his writing, however. He seems narrow-minded and authoritarian. If you expect self-defined Christians to come across as warm, pleasant, engaging types - well, he doesn't. He may be quite different in reality. He's just combative. I can be combtive too, in words, though I'm really a fluffy bunny.

He's been arguing with me, and many, on Facebook. He seems to enjoy it.

As I understand it, his position is that the Bible taken as a whole (the usual evangelical priorities and inclusions) is not an inclusive document, so that we take a text, and try to discern the original meaning, pr its context, then relate it to how we live, with our societies, then relate it to the revelation of God and the identification of God, and then have the ethical result.

So on the gay inclusion issue, the texts are blunt in their own context (but blunt about much else too). We live differently, now, but the texts won't stretch to say what was black is now white. Unlike with the authority of women, there are no contradictory texts when it comes to sex. There might be friendships, even close ajd loyal same sex ones, there might be relationships today that are not covered by Paul referring to Pagan same sex encounters as one of a list of sins. Jesus says nothing on homosexuality but then upholds strict views on marriage and divorce. The ethic which derives is therefore, no matter how much one pushes a different society, the maintenance of the biblical text means the exclusion of same sex and therefore the exclusion of same sex marriage. It means, in contemporary terms, the Church is forced to be homophobic, and it means the ethic derived clashes with contemporary inclusive ethics.

All this is to uphold the status of the Bible. But why so? Well, because they say so, because part of a Church has said so, the Church that made the canon has people who uphold the canon as the privileged source of revelatory text.

Now my sympathies are with the people who are for inclusion. I hope Colin Coward, recognised by the State with his MBE, succeeds in changing the Church of England. But I note how he does it. He does it by regarding the Bible as a flawed document and has an expansive view of the love of God. He gets this view from, I think, natural theology, and he is a critic of authoritarian Church and Bible. He is a critical participant and user of both. Others, however, stretch the text via the heremeneutical divide between then and now to include present loving, sexual relationships whilst maintaining the authority of the Bible, but not obsessed by sex. In contrast evangelicals appear to be obsessed with sex, which may be because that's the bit that remains off-limits by texts that mention sex by those who focus on the sex question.

The critical matter is the then and now divide, and the now divide has become all the greater: a time when they believed in a supernatural world, some of them in its last days (something that periodically affected ourselves in the past in times of weather and economic and conflict stress), and where we have believed in a world of its own regularity and now in a world of mathematical chaos (accompanied by some with a kind of philosophical chaos). The latter two positions have, for most thinking, God as a transcendent extra, not something that pushes up crops or allows the birds to fly. In terms of direct believing, a one time sacred canopy is replaced by choice and its loss, a working class resistance to organised religion in Europe and similar followed by just about anyone. Decline is affecting choice based America now and so active religion is still associated with magical and supernatural cultures, and with fear, and economic sub-development, or nationalism.

Thus the Ian Pauls of this world have to become defenders of identities, of rules of association, and in his case via the privileged Bible. And it's more than Bultmann's 'it's in the text' ahistoricism about how to understand 'the kerygma' of what was the basis of grasping the gospel. It is real information about understanding who Christ is.

Bultmann was aware of the problem of history, and the difference with science and other subject specialities. He and the anti-cultural revelationists, like Barth, and Bonhoeffer, whilst different from each other in so many ways, were searching for that space to organise biblical religion when the culture is not just hostile but urban, technological and indifferent. Others, like Tillich, created systemic parallel systems by which Christianity retained its systematic interrelated nature, but not as accessible from the outside as it tried to appear.

They were theological managers of decline. The fact is that history in its various historiographical schools has rules of procedure, and particularly regarding primary sources. Christianity doesn't have primary sources. The New Testament would be primary sources of the early Christians, and that's about as close as it gets to making Christ out of Jesus. They are their own, if related, supernaturalists and magicians. They are involved in the switch from end-time tribal leader of some Jews with a universalist Christian faith that focuses upon the messianic figure.

The closest we can get to them is imaginatively via the texts, if we want to. Why do we want to? I don't. I see no need to follow this 'cult of an individual' who is as evolved and mistaken and time-limited as anyone else. The rest is mythology of that time, and adapted since into traditional religion.

Religionists in the manner of evangelicals like to fashion themselves on the universality of text and communication and the 'linguistic turn' (until it comes to supernaturalism again - that Christ is really Christ as he always was, rather than accept the price of the linguistic turn). They'll blab on philosophically about language, but not like the liberal postmodernists for whom such text leads to a kind of non-realism regarding all religion. Once again it is pre-selected performance-text, just as some postmodern conservatives have reinvented a performance-Church, an identity that for some is Protestant and others is Catholic, all based on selecting and freezing past cultures. It's a game of preservation again.

My final Anglican minister of religion said to me he was not a liberal but followed the whole tradition Catholic-style because he wanted to gain the whole benefit from the discipline of doing it all and whole. At the same time he'd say he agreed with Dawkins on biology and contemporary physics and all the rest. His package was a kind of doing, based on former times and inherited. This to me, in the end, is a cop out because it says religion is impossible in contemporary times. It is like Chasssidic Jews who'd return to the older, better times, and try at least to culture themselves accordingly.

It's like the Rochdale bus driver who does his day job, but his home is full of the civil war society memorabelia that guides his life-view in between re-enacting battles with his wife in some smoky hut doing some weaving.

I used to be 'story-based' in doing religion, one as a Christian-dharma, a path, with some consistency, but was still selective. The trouble with the 'whole tradition' is that it carries harm along with the benefits. It isn't ethically checked first.

Unlike with Ian Paul, ethics must come first, ethics decided by collective debate and individual conscience. But then comes knowledge, and how we know, even in the context of talking communities of friendship (in the MacMurray sense). The issue of language has captured even liberal postmodernists into a kind of language fundamentalism that I find misleading, misleading because research delivers back results that show language as a filter only when dealing with results. We make progress through these results.

So first we have mathematics, with form and structure. These are realised in physics, in pure falsified knowledge, and then expanded into chemistry. Then comes biology, or chemistry coming to life (where it does) and then we are led to psychology (some theories are speculative!) and anthropology (animals and humans). So into sociology, and economics (and politics even) and then the houses of history. So much geography seems derived from economics and social science, applied spatially. Then you get to the arts, where objectivity and subjectivity are merged, as is the case with religion pure.

I no longer attempt to apply a non-objective-subjective merged language postmodernism across the board. Its relevance in religion, as in art, maintains where objectivity and subjectivity have merged and collapsed. In physics, subjectivity is part of the objective system - the observer principle. In religion, this principle is far more pervasive.

Buddhism understands the individual observer-participant principle, and it is at the core of its activity. So is the mixing, at the deepest level, of the objective and subjective, and yet Buddhism didn't pay the price of Western continental philosophy with its anti-realism. Buddhism held to the real and the transitory nature of all things. At the deepest samsara and nirvana meet, and nirvana or nothing is also real, real if away, the transitory state itself at its ultimate. There is not a meeting of Western non-realism and Buddhism, and indeed the Stephen Batchelor's of this world realise that Buddhism is yet another package, but one of insight.

I don't agree with Don Cupitt and his pervasive non-realism and the application of the philosophical sweep. Rather I think there is a hierarchy of knowledge where theories are speculative and guiding as underpinned by the best falsified tests and research. It's not all language when social science delivers results we'd rather not see, and this is the answer to the Radical Orthodoxy's tripe that sociology is but secular theology. Not when there is research.

And I don't agree with Ian Paul about the privilege of a text. Why? He says the move of liberal religionists to history and science was disastrous. To whom? To people like him, to a religion based on past world views. As for the disaster, well tough. No wonder he appears combative. A number of his inclusionist Church friends are going down the liberal route - usually sticking and compromising at some awkward and artificial point. Peter Berger (the sociologist) could see the gravediggers in action, and the awkwardness of the compromisers over the sectarian traditionalists.

I'm interested, instead, not in gurus but in forms, like fractals and beautiful equations, like signals of transcendence (another Berger insight), where behind complexity is simplicity. Chaos theory now is seen throughout reality, from weather and climate to economics and evolution. Evolution and chaos almost forbids a designer God - it just is so that the copied mutate, and the mutated gain advantage in localities. Out of these chaotic growths come interactions that prove systemic, and systems give stability until they crash.

At the moment our link with dinosaurs are a few reptiles like crocs, aligators and, oh, bird life. Birds are dinosaurs! But the big meteorite 65 million years ago wiped out the big reptiles and gave space for the mammals including us to grow. Those who follow an 'incarnation of God' realism regarding Christianity have to account not just for the accident of the meteorite so that 'the Christ' didn't have a lizard skin but the outcome of mutations good and proper that led to us being the most self-reflective ones on this blue dot.

Oh I'm being silly. No I am not being silly. It's how people used to believe. If it is now 'text' and 'story' then say so, but the world is not the equivalent of a novel, even if your religion is so. I'd like religion to be more than a novel, to use cultural resources and means of reflection (yes, dragged from the past in some extent - there is method in its madness) to reflect on what there is - in terms of human misbehaviour, science, history, chaos, systems, space, time.

By the way, I don't agree with Colin Coward's natural theology. I think nature is cruel, nasty: evolution operates via death, and much of life has been just transitory. What is good has to be made good. The transcendent, if it exists, is not simply good, but gives a capacity for beauty and the good. Nor do I think he and liberals like him will necessarily succeed. I think his Church, despite the ordination of women -and women use experience, that alternative to 'text' - is struggling and the money and suburban churches are going the way of definition. Inside sects the old supernatural and magical universe lives on, unless otherwise organised.

My view of Christianity is - thanks for the introduction. The graveyard you built is over there.

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