Friday, 10 November 2017

Liberal Religious Controversy

I have been asked by the National Unitarian Fellowship to produce a two thousand word piece on Easter. I wasn't 'tramlined' about this in terms of any selective focus. I decided I would address the whole Christian Passion events and resurrection claims.

I think that from time to time these claims should be tested, so that the position one acquires is built on solid ground. I have already written more than two thousand words, and I have started some editing, but I am waiting for a book that makes a particular argument highlighted in another book I read. I have until February to produce this piece. I won't put it on my website until it is placed on the NUF website and printed out.

The New Testament proclaims the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ. It is indeed a New Convenant based on the Lordship of Christ. Now of course there are many theologies that produce the New Testament, but they are all about the Lordship of Christ. Now I do not believe in the Lordship of Christ and so I am not a Christian. Connected with this is the belief in the Incarnation of Christ. This belief I think is what makes a Christian. I neither believe in the Lordship of Christ or the Incarnation of Christ, but I can converse in the language. To believe in the Lordship of Christ is to have at the least a proclamation theology - minimal, I suggest, to be of the Body of Christ. Rudolf Bultmann had such an ahistorical approach: it all came down to text, and he argued for kerygma or proclaiming. He did, many do, I don't.

My view should fit easily into Unitarian or Quaker attendance. I have recently added a review of a presentation and its book on to my website, the activity of which indirectly was to see me leave my local Hull Unitarian church completely. I was already minimally involved, mainly attending socially each week.

I am not going into detail about this. All I will say is that the activity of the writing was highlighted on Facebook, and that I indicated what I was going to write from first impressions of reading the nine pounds paid-for book. I deliberately left a name link produced by Facebook for one of the co-authors, knowing that she may well contact the other co-author. she did because instead of response and debate, the phone call was made to involve a third party and in such way I was accused of being inaccurate and disrespectful. This I defended, on the spot, and then decided that I had had enough. I was not surprised.

My view about the book having read it and what sources it draws upon is even more dismissive than I was apparently when approaching it. It started with a presentation I made an effort to attend despite minimal involvement.

The review is necessarily lengthy, starting with the presentation as far as it went including what is in the book and continuing with the book only. Basically the book argues for a 'conveyor belt' of cultural relevance according to changing times taking liberal religion and Unitarianism/ Unitarian Universalism from the classifications of Liberal Christian (Orange) to Pluralist (Green), to Integrative (Blue) to not fitting or Para-Mind detachment (Indigo) dominant congregations. The more relevant, the more people would join. The colour scheme is taken from Ken Wilber, and the scheme is his departure from Spiral Dynamics. I thought at the presentation that the scheme was similar to Stages of Faith by James Fowler or by Robert Bellah, but this was wrong. It is pseudo-science, a made up colour scheme based on the notion of the inadequacy of evolution: it is the movement of Spirit from spirit to matter and back again, a driving force by which otherwise evolution would not happen. It misunderstands evolution and how it works. So something that promotes your search and not our belief ends up depending on a belief. There are several errors in the book that would improve by a little more background reading. Basically, the book is a pseudo-science based presentational gloss to a faction fight inside Unitarianism for a more pluralist outlook at least. It is entirely individualist regarding belief.

On wants books promoting pluralism, and then we get something like this. This is a need for a theology of pluralism, not repetition of classifications.

Among other things the book states that Florence Nightingale was Unitarian, when she was not (she wanted to be a Roman Catholic, but settled for being a universalist Anglican), and that the Baha'i Faith is a beyond the pluralist into the integrative approach to religion and one of the fastest growing. It misunderstands the Baha'i Faith by its short lift of information. The language in one part also strongly implies to the unknowing that Karen Armstrong is within Unitarian Universalism. I ended up arguing about these, and then made the main point about the scheme itself. These schemes about faith all favour the Liberal Protestant; they raise issues about what is the fundamental of religion anyway. Is the core of religion popular and therefore more magical and supernatural? Isn't the more philosophical approach to religion something else? But the Wilber scheme is pseudo-science: yes, it is about 'we're better than you' as in 'more advanced', 'more relevant'.

Since then I have tested contentious sentences on the uninvolved and unknowing, and have received an opinion that my initial Facebook posting was not disrespectful.

I make a big effort to play the ball and not the person. The fact that I play the ball hard at times should not be misunderstood. If I don't agree I say so! The book is very very disappointing and cannot be an argument made by a contemporary pluralist who is anchored into our scientific and social scientific world. I dislike and think it misunderstands regarding even liberal Christianity as a private indivdual view with no collective implications.

I am very opposed to the whole 'spiritual not religious approach', and one where diversity apparently happens in nothing but a space once called a Church. Institutions do not work like this, and for evidence I bring forward the tiniest of bodies like the Liberal Catholic Episcopi Vagantes. Numbered in ones and twos up and down the land, they nevertheless 'carry' meaning at a collective level and all that identifies Old and Liberal Catholicism.

Identities do evolve and change, and cannot be fixed. Some try to fix them, and cannot simply by those who disagree, but those who try and empty the space first cannot either. This is why it is important to learn, to some extent, where the institution has been and where it has not been.

Basically, in a creedless setting, and with our present sociology of knowledge (how we 'naturally' think, assume), if someone has a liberal Christian theology then someone else will develop a religious humanist theology. If someone is rationalist in faith, someone will find a way to be romanticist in faith. If there are religions out there that can be more loosely interpreted, then in a creedless faith people will import them.

In other words, Unitarianism is a running argument where each position in a particular setting can generate an opposing argument. It's very Hegelian - a later synthesis produces a new opposite. Take how the Puritan Calvinists produced Arminians, how then the Unitarian revolution of a biblicist, denominational kind - an ethos similar to the Puritan without the Presbyterian - produced a Unitarianism that was Presbyterian without the Puritan, and so was high Protestant, Romanticist, and broad. Both were liberal Christian culturally and liturgically. They merged, the opposite being a religious humanism. The more simple, Puritan kind produced a more broad, Pagan including, multifaith spirituality. Where next?

None if this development is anything to do with any scientific or pseudo-scientific claim about the cultural superiority of pluralist over liberal Christian, integrative over pluralist , or para-mind over integrative congregations. None of these have any better success or failure in pulling in the numbers or losing numbers. It's just that with a memory for ideological positions, others will develop, grow and compete (or contribute). So we expect more diversity despite and even during chronic decline.

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