Saturday 30 June 2007

Is the Archbishop an Anglican?

There is a jokey question, isn't there, that follows any statement of the obvious: "Is the Pope a Catholic?" You cannot quite say it of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, even though he is indeed Anglican.

On the one hand he definintely is Anglican in the sense that he believes in listening and talking, which implies compromise between parties, and he does not see himself as in any sense equivalent of a pope but as a facilitator to all sides. His nuanced theology, that sees Christianity as a narrative with narratives, which moves this way and then that way with the details, and finding tentative conclusions, is clearly consistent with Anglican reasoning.

The trouble is, Rowan Williams keeps changing, and his views seem to be drawing on the Catholic side with this job as Archbishop. Back in 2000 (April 8, to be precise) he wrote:

In the last analysis, Anglicanism has always been wary of a central executive power. It has worked on the assumption that a common ecclesial language and theological method take you a long way, and its authority has been a mixture of authoritative texts and a process of rather untidy corporate interpretation of them. The primates’ meeting showed no signs of wanting to become a ruling synod. Its one plea was for more frequent meeting, and this is likely to happen: the present strains on the communion are severe enough for personal contact and consultation to be imperative, so that actions are not taken without awareness of the wider context. The next few years will undoubtedly be increasingly painful and difficult for many Anglicans; but this particular meeting suggested that the classical Anglican method was not dead yet – and that the sheer experienceCheck Spelling of sustained biblical reflection (wonderfully led by David Ford of Cambridge) and uninhibited theological conversation may yet save Anglicanism from its own variety of the Vatican I débâcle.
In 2000
Now he is proposing a Covenant to restrict what Churches in the Anglican Communion can do themselves without getting agreement of others, and a decision making of the Primates gathered together on disputes because the Anglican Consultative Council (which has lay representation) does not meet often enough. The Archbishop talks about process, so it is as if the Primates become the Congregation for the Process of the Faith, rather as the Roman Catholics have the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the successor of The Inquisition). It is centralisation and a departure for Anglicanism, which has always had Churches and their polities as the centres of authority, who have discussed among themselves, perhaps innovated and then other Churches have either found they cannot agree or end up agreeing and acting later. This flexibility is threatened by centralisation, as is the mix of lay and clerical in each Church.

The Archbishop's position as a non-pope is this, as stated to Time:

I'm now in a position where I'm bound to say the teaching of the Church is this, the consensus is this. We have not changed our minds corporately. It's not for me to exploit my position to push a change.

Source a
Source b
This is what is being applied to these institutional changes. Some say that the corporate is equivalent to 'The Body of Christ' and so should act as one. That argument should mean joining with the Roman Catholics and Orthodox, to why stop at Anglicanism. And if we do stope at Anglicanism for its argument, then Anglicanism is made up of autonomous Churches representing different cultural settings.

I am though here as much interested in Rowan Williams' own theology. Since his job started it sometimes seen that he has abandoned his previous published views and is sort of standing on his head. Again in Time, just before the comment above, he was asked and then stated:

You yourself once thought it possible that same-sex relationships might be legitimate in God's eyes.

Yes, I argued that in 1987. I still think that the points I made there and the questions I raised were worth making as part of the ongoing discussion. I'm not recanting.

He has not stopped the expression of all his views, however. Some that he had he is now expressing. He was brought up in an Anglo-Catholic setting, and has beliefs consistent with this background. In an interview in the Tablet in 2006, he said:

I went a few months ago to give at talk at the Roman Catholic cathedral in Southwark, just down the road. And, interestingly, I was asked what I believed about the eucharist. I think my questioner was a bit surprised when I said: “Of course I believe in the real presence. I believe that Christ is active in the sacrament, and that it’s not something we do, as an act of mental remembrance.

Catholic Herald

He furthermore said this:

It was a curate in the parish who, when I was about 14, lent me some of his books to read, including St Teresa’s autobiography. So I was beginning to find my way in this, to understand a bit about the monastic tradition, about traditions of prayer. The teaching we had in the parish was solidly sacramental, very much focused on the Eucharist. It was old-fashioned High Churchery, but with very serious emphasis on the centrality of the Sunday morning parish Eucharist and the daily Mass in the parish. That’s what I grew up with and it still forms who I am and what I am as a Christian.
He considered becoming a Roman Catholic too:

I thought about it a lot for several years, during most of my student years. That was a time when the biggest influences on me were coming from one or another kind of Catholic environment. I was reading St John of the Cross and a lot of that tradition. I was making retreats regularly at Benedictine monasteries. Also, writers like Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar were the people who got me excited. And I was thinking about whether my calling was in monastic life and, if so, was it in that sort of context? The thing I couldn’t quite manage was, as it were, signing up to the theology of the papacy as it evolved. I couldn’t cope with Vatican I.
He also disliked the Roman Catholic doctrine of grace.

The question that comes to my mind, however, is whether these are such a big deal. He must find more agreement with Benedict XVI in theology than disagreement. They somehow seem to be characters who can have worthy conversations. Rowan Williams is positive about Marion theology, for example, and about associated icons, but not quite as emotional as John Paul II (interview as above).

This is being written whilst Rowan Williams is on a sabbatical for study. He is in a Roman Catholic institution in the United States, out of reach regarding present controversies.

With this background, what of present experience and the controversies? In my view, he could, slowly, be coming to a view that a Church needs order, and needs to be effectively One. He could be facing a failure in Anglicanism to accept what has been his policy of centralisation by process. Should it happen, this would be a considerable blow, and may be instructive as regards Church order.

He would find Roman Catholicism different, without women priests. In the same interview he said:

I think perhaps what one doesn’t always realise is how very, very normal this has come to feel for the huge majority of Anglicans and it hasn’t undermined what people feel about the ministry of the sacraments. So that now that putting it back in the bottle is not an option. I don’t think it has transformed or renewed the Church of England in spectacular ways. Equally, I don’t think it has corrupted or ruined the Church of England in spectacular ways. It has somehow got into the bloodstream and I don’t give it a second thought these days, in terms of regular worship.
One should not mistake Rowan Williams' nuanced manner for a lack of acceptance of women priests. He was not showing any reluctance. However, Church order does allow him to sacrifice social groups, and just as he has with gay people, he could just with women. One can imagine him being progressive regarding women's ministry, but from a colective position say it has not been decided yet. He applies, of course, theological conviction in the Anglican Church (or, rather, much of it) to their ordination, and this in the Church of England in particular, but won't use that argument in a consistent fashion in one Church and then another to gay people. Logically he could say whilst he has personal views favouring women's ordination, there is no consensus for this in the Church as a whole, and it should move as one.

It is not impossible, in my view, that this Archbishop could end up doing a John Henry Newman. He could equally go Orthodox (and there are fewer objections to Orthodoxy, surely?). I would never have thought this before he became Archbishop, because he was such an Anglician theologian and enjoying its freedom of expression, but elements of his thought have become dominant and, along with ecclesiastical events, might make a more orderly Communion more attractive to his theology and spirituality.

One Man's Ethic - Policies?

Gordon Brown has chosen his cabinet, and the key to it is - well, they are all, but for Jack Straw, up and coming younger ones. Thus the boss is the boss. As Chancellor, Gordon Brown had his tentacles in every part of government, and he will know the branches of government better than his ministers - at least for some time. The BBC Political Correspondent Nick "Bilko" Robinson says that the luckily thwarted terrorism events met inexperienced Brown and Smith, forcing them to learn very fast. This baffles me in respect of Gordon Brown, who was very much in the top of the government and not some new face. Gordon Brown's pals are in the cabinet, and no doubt he will listen to them, but also there is no doubt that his vision is the only real one, whatever it is. I suspect it is something to do with the Protestant work ethic translated into soon to be announced various policies. So, to take a couple of relevant areas related to that...

He could start by having a revamp of the unemployment system. People exist on next to nothng now when unemployed, especially long term, and there are an ever increassing number of compulsions that threaten those who find it harder to get work the longer they are unemployed. People end up going through the motions of pointless employeer contacts (that must drive employers silly) in order to produce the appearance of effort. What it needs is not the bureaucracy of officialdom, rules is rules, all the time, which produces this daft merry go round of going nowhere and the appearance of doing something - and the proliferation of telephone lines to get money mistakes sorted out as the staff are cut back - but a wholly different approach. This would involve case workers who take someone on, understand the person and listen to them by going through what they have done in the past: in other words, this would be a qualitative approach based on actual individuals and skills rather than the current daft situation of handing out off the cuff inappropropriate compulsory job suggestions so that staff have handed out something, recorded on a computer. The case workers could do some ringing up themselves, and be able to draw on many different levels-based and skills-using schemes with employers that give the individual real and actual experience. In other words, these schemes are an employer of not even last resort. The dole office should be like the old Job Club (what a stupid cost-cutting decision to get rid of them), set out with tables and computers and telephones, with free stationery and stamps, where for a few hours on several days people could go in and get on with looking for work. This would allow a mental organising of self and time for getting work. Of course if people are not looking for work then bring in compulsion, but do not assume it: no one could live for long on the meagre benefits now received, but also who actually wants to do this? Furthermore, it does remain an economic fact that unemployment of resources must exist, including human resources. Such is capitalism, cyclically and in technological transition, and structurally it also happens because education and training mismatches the world of work either through noddy schemes or many employers' lack of flexibility regarding what education offers to then train people themselves.

The approach at present is targets based, and recording fragments of work-seeking activities, in an atmosphere of compulsion, which potentially can be not only be a show by the staff but a show by the unemployed. It has to change, because it serves no one who really needs help and assistance.

It is just like the targets and appearances of results in schools and colleges, the processing by which now every sixth form and college achieves 100% A2 passes and each one puts them on websites as if this makes a claim for success. We all know that processing people through exams is not the same as education, and how it is that students are passing more exams and doing more quantity of work than ever before and yet such "successful" students can get to university seemingly without the skills and understanding to study, spending the first year as if doing the A level all over again with a less processing approach to study. Ah - but now the Schools department has been separated from the Universities department. What was the point of that then? Appearances, probably.

The change needed is that academic students must be taught principally how to think, with a huge effort on study skills (incorporating literacy and numeracy and use of ICT), with a push towards abstract learning and understanding in most of their subjects. This means reducing the numbers of students in mainly pure academic subjects and increasing the numbers in an all round education that emphasises literacy, numeracy, ICT and applied subjects. This means applied education (not simply vocational training) of a more concrete nature. There must always be the opportunity for individuals to move from one emphasis to the other, and so the academic people must do some applied subjects too. Those who seem better suited to the mainly abstract academic from the applied side can change emphasis, and vice versa. Then the universities might get better thinkers, and some of these universities and colleges in specific courses can also attract the more applied types.

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Meet the New Boss

I was annoyed that The Daily Politics programme (BBC2) cut the final moments of Tony Blair in the House of Commons for the endless tennis (that itself will go on and on for an unfinished match). When that happened I switched quickly to BBC Parliament to see the all round standing ovation (except nationalist MPs). Other than that warm good natured theatre, I think the day is underwhelming. This is because of my view of Gordon Brown.

Gordon Brown is a schemer. He blocked and plotted all the time he was in government, in effect becoming the Domestic Affairs Prime Minister. Plus he stopped an early entry into the euro and maintained a distance with Europe against Tony Blair's own direction. I thought Tony Blair should have resigned a while back, indeed as a result of his disastrous hoodwinking entry into Iraq in order to carry out a pre-decided policy. We hear that Gordon Brown asked "why now" in cabinet, but came on board; indeed in public Gordon Brown was even more hawkish about removing Saddam Hussein whilst Blair maintained for the time being that the war was about weapons of mass destruction.

I always thought Blair was weak, in the sense that he went along with where the biggest beast was pushing. He also wanted to be liked. He did act on Bosnia: that was genuinely his effort and did persuage Bill Clinton. Having gone with the simplistic big beast of the international stage, George Bush, to maintain our relationship with the USA (as well as genuinely to act against the lunatic terrorists we now face), he then had to use his barrister skills with his back against the wall, and he realised himself that the old Tony Blair was finished. He might have been better off for it, but there was such a break of trust with the people who elected him that the Labour Party found some rebels to do a little backbenchers' coup that finished him in advance, and sent him out of office earlier than he would have liked. He would have wanted another three years, but even the ten that he managed looked unlikely at one point.

Gordon Brown, presented with a knife on several occasions, failed to use it. He is known for taking a long time over decisions. He just knows the detail of government and hisown Chancellor will be no equal to him like he was to Blair. However Gordon Brown bullies via detail; he blocks, and he will employ political tricks. I think he is devious, politically. His 10p tax band removal, and then calling a tax rise for so many a tax cut because of the 2p cut foxed David Cameron for a moment - but no one else after an hour or so. His announcements of spending were made many times, usually by change of emphasis or time frame. This is devious spinning. So if he believes in "change", he will have to change himself.

Indeed Gordon Brown timed the defection of Quentin Davies to come to sit beside him prior to the day of resigning and his accession. Somehow this defection is very ineffectual and comes at the wrong time in the electoral cycle. Davies has socially conservative views and would, it is said, feel uncomfortable with the Liberal Democracts. What a lot that says about Labour today.

The comparison of the present is with John Major taking over from Margaret Thatcher, except that Tony Blair is getting right out of the way and does not intend to back seat drive. John Major did go on to win an election, which meant he and not Labour had the ERM crisis of the overvalued pound (this is of no relevance to the euro - once you are in a currency, you are in it: the ERM was always in tension with an actual currency). Gordon Brown may not have such a crisis, but neither did John Major until he had won. It is not clear that Brown will even win an election, and he knows it and thus he spins about "change" and employing outsiders.

The clever change would be to the electoral system and constitution. He knows that proportional voting changes how government is created, and that he then could have outsiders on the inside as manifestos have to be traded according to how people voted. It would mean a realignment of the left (of which, once, Tony Blair spoke with references to past Liberal leaders). That realignment could mean a generally left-leaning government for much longer than otherwise. The Swedes once did something like this: seeing the socialist vote drop, the electoral system was shifted. If so here, Gordon Brown's travelling friend Menzies Campbell could genuinely join in.

We do have an untested, as yet insubstantial Conservative leader who seems to be mainly presentation. Blair continued to have the ability to present. The question first will be whether the lack of presentational ability in Brown and Campbell wins against presentation in Cameron. So far Campbell has struggled, but curiously Brown may help him.

Let's wait for the future to display what happens. Too often news programmes live in the future as a substitute for analysis. Here I am arguing that Brown is a devious political operator up close, a spin merchant behind the scenes, a manipulator, but he lacks presentation skills except for surprises that last hours before being uncovered.

There is further thought. It is good to live in a country where politicians can be civil with each other, and recognise one another's talents, and where all but sour nationalists can recognise a big political figure of many talents and be both humorous and generous in strong measure.

Rwanda Walks - a Significant Move

The news is that Rwanda has made a vital step in walking from the Lambeth Conference in 2008, and done so for reasons consistent with Nigeria and Uganda surely doing the same. This is the lack of invitation to its bishops that double up on Anglican provision already provided by The Episcopal Church in the United States, which is in violation of Anglican ecclesiastical order. Nigeria and Uganda also have their own bishops in the USA.

It goes further than this. It is also consistent with pre-planning to set up interventions and, subsequently, it seems, an alternative geographical centre for Anglicanism that is consistent with their view of orthodoxy, which is basically a form of biblical literalism.

The Covenant is thus made redundant. It was not designed for the parties in the Global North to stay together, necessarily, but to keep North and South attached. At the same time a certain Archbishop Jensen in the diocese of Sydney, Australia, is making noises that might send him and a few under him and like him off in that direction too. He is known for favouring lay presidents at the eucharist. There is no point to a Covenant should others follow Rwanda and co-operate between themselves. It is now becoming clear that many Liberals are opposed to this Covenant, so there would not be much point in Liberals having a Covenant with others when they favour more flexible and informal methods of co-operation and not a new Law. As for Conservative Evangelicals, some of these are plotting anyway, including against Open Evangelicals, as with Wycliffe Hall, so who knows with which geographical centre they could end up allying themselves. Open Evangelicals may still favour a Covenant, but it could hardly be with a party that does not want one like Liberals.

Lambeth 2008 was being set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury for non-compulsive (in terms of outcome) continuing discussions with legitimately selected bishops from both sides of the argument about inclusivity of gay and lesbian people, this well after September 30th (a deadline for TEC agreeing to the outcome of Dar Es Salaam Communique demanding agreement to restrictions on consecrating active gay bishops and same-sex celebrations), and probably no one was going to be pushed out for refusing to accept the Communique, and yet Rwanda has decided it does not want to discuss anyway.

The question always, in a split, was who was going first. Would TEC leave, unable to come under any discipline, or would the Global South selective literalists leave, wanting what the more tolerant Anglican Communion could not give? Discipline seemed unlikely (or at least disciplinary action to exclude), given the ongoing discussions, but with Rwanda walking it does mean that the Anglican Communion is likely to end up with TEC in it, more inclusive, and tolerant.

Saturday 23 June 2007

Anglican Mainstream

One place I do not comment is Anglican Mainstream. I find the attitude on there sour. Subscribing contributors are not mainstream but Conservative Evangelicals, supporters of Akinola of Nigeria and also the Rwandans and the Ugandans with their incursions into the United States. They are deliberately also being entryist regarding Wycliffe theological college (Rev. Chris Sugden, the organiser of Anglican Mainstream giving his full support for Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull's strategy), so that it joins Oak Hill into being exclusivist and Conservative Evangelical.

At the moment everyone is watching 'this space', so to speak, as to what happens on September 30 and after. The likeliest outcome is not very much, nor at Lambeth 2008. The Conservative Evangelicals won't get the sufficiently restrictive Covenant they would want, if they get one at all, and really they are the ones who are going to have to decide what to do as everyone else will just keep talking. At some point the Conservative Evangelicals are going to have to put the money where their mouths are and probably recognise another geographical centre for Anglicanism within Africa, rather than Canterbury, as some African leaders have suggested, and then we may see many Conservative Evangelicals ally themselves to that centre instead. The real difficulty then comes for Open Evangelicals, as to which way to jump: to go with Conservative Evangelicals or with Liberals, but recently the Principal of Wycliffe Hall has been calling them "Liberal Evangelicals" and seeks to exclude their influence on the way to having a contest with the Liberals, and others have been lumping Open Evangelicals together as letting the side down, which isn't quite fair to these evangelicals.

Moderate evangelical voices on Anglican Mainstream tend to be rounded upon by others of the true faith. I am sometimes tempted, rather like a red rag to a bull, but I don't see why I should supply some sport. These people are disgruntled and even angry in some cases, and so feeding is a matter for care and calm.

Redding and Hart

Two of the most prominent Anglican clerics, Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding in The Episcopal Church, and Rev. David Ananda Hart in the Church of England, are also self-declared members of Islam and Hinduism respectively, according to their own confessions and practices.

I tend to treat Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding and Rev. David Ananda Hart slightly differently. I have met David Hart on a few occasions in Sea of Faith gatherings.

When it comes to the transcendence of God and even Jesus as a highly regarded prophet, Rev. Redding is all right, vut for me the problem comes with the Qur'an. Islam now universally regards the Qur'an as the Book dictated from God by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad, and in the special (not present day) Arabic it is perfect in every word and punctuation mark (no exegesis I know about, even that stressing the particularity of its location and time, criticises this given). I do not see how Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding can follow that, and maybe she does not. Even more so, Muslim belief is that this same Book was recited to Isa, Jesus, and that this became corrupted as in the New Testament just as the words of Moses were corrupted, as were all of all the central prophets. Now Jesus, we can be pretty sure, did not recite any book, nor is this the structure or origins of the New Testament. The New Testament is a collection of books originating in the early Churches, with its key figures, and at some stages removed include oral and already communal material about Jesus as understood by the early Churches. The material, arranged as biographical, with its huge stress on Easter, in the synoptics, and the emphasised Greek philosophical base of the Gospel of John, or any other parts or collections, do not have an origin in a recited Book by Isa or Jesus or Yeshua. Rev. Dr. Ann Holmes Redding must know this. Presumably too she is aware of other insights later than Muhammad into the revelation of God such as by Sikhs and Bahais (to take but two) whereas Islam states that Muhammad is the last prophet, not just one, should she actually believe in a from-God form of progressive revelation that therefore moves on to and moves on from Muhammad.

Personally, too, whereas I have no difficulty with the Jewish healer, preacher and teacher Jesus, with his reverse ethics and his immediacy, and his peaceful self-sacrifical roads, I do have a problem with Muhammad, however relatively ethical in his day, who continued with raids on caravans going through the desert, and was in effect a clan leader, however communal and ethical was the organisation of the clan. One of these is, as far as we can tell, clearly ethical and unambiguously so and the other leaves me with questions.

Perhaps Ann Redding really does believe that Muhammad in the cave received actual revelations. Perhaps she thinks they were recited, and done so to Muhammad first as more purely religious and then more organisational. Perhaps she believes in the miracles that Muhammad, apparently illiterate, could remember himself and tell others, have them remembered by others perfectly, have them collected after Muhammad's death that then became several versions of the Qur'an years later, and just happened to collect correctly back into one perfect Book. She might believe this, and she might not, but I do not. If she does then she must account for the content of the Qur'an, much of which is easily contradicted by reference to what it apparently describes. The Trinity, whether it exists or not, or how, is not God, the Son and Mary, and it is not polytheistic. This is just one example of "error" in the Qur'an, which is supposed to be impossible. It only takes one error, after all. That does not deny its beauty as a heard recited document itself, but it does deny the claims made about it.

David Hart is rather different, because David believes that all religion is a human construction, and is a postmodernist, so the Gods of Hinduism are themselves constructions. Now he can say this because Hinduism allows a variety of explanations and indeed Hinduism is story based - it does not matter if these characters exist as story, although we have to be careful not to impose Western "truth" notions on to a cyclical religion as Hinduism or indeed "non-truth" origins on to it. I see myself no difficulty understanding, say, Ganesha as a God who removes obstacles, or Krishna as the colourful character that he is who was playful as a child and precocious teenager, who opened his young mouth and showed the universe, or Rama in his victory, and then of course the insights of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer-recreator - insights into creative processes, never mind then the pure transcendence yet still relational Brahman.

I have a brass Hindu 3-0 with Ganesha on the study door, Hanuman is on a study shelf top, and there is a baby Krishna in the art room, and Ganesha is in the dining room... They are expressions of aspects of religion. There are Buddhas too through the house, Pagan items and, also, Christian icons, crosses and candles.

I've just taken delivery of John Hick's (2004) The Fifth Dimension but passed it on to a friend who will be an ordinand from September. This discusses the transcendent Real, different faith constructions, Gandhi and Kushdeva as examples of a key ethical basis of religion (as also seen in Jesus) and Christianity as true myth. I have much agreement with his viewpoint.

Friday 22 June 2007

Liberal Anglican

One of my most vigorous postings in recent months on Thinking Anglicans has been about Wycliffe Hall, the Anglican theological college and part of the University of Oxford. It used to be roughly described as Open Evangelical, under the Principal Alister McGrath. After him it moved to being Conservative Evangelical under a new Principal, Richard Turnbull, and this is confirmed by a video of a speech he made. This video was first brought to wider attention by an Open Evangelical called "Jody", and then I spent some hours transcribing it given its fighting content when its text made a bigger impact into the national press and especially the vigorous journalist Stephen Bates of The Guardian.

In October 2006 the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Richard Turnbull, gave a speech to the Conservative Evangelical Anglican pressure group Reform in which he left no one with any doubt which way he was taking the college. For me, however, it wasn't so much the direction that mattered in where he was taking it, but the manner in which he saw his mission. It was purely partisan and purely oppositional regarding other types of Anglicans. They are the enemy - even his so designated "Liberal Evangelicals". They are the first to go in the bigger struggle against "the Liberals" proper. He accused Liberals of having a broad "strategy" to "capture" the "generations" of trainee ministers, but he had first indicated he had a "strategy" and so in fact was just talking about himself. As such the theological college would lack the breadth to serve a wider proportion of Anglicanism than itself (about which everyone should be realistic: Anglicanism is party oriented and any theological college would struggle to serve all the Church, although liberal inclusivity - unlike Turnbull's oppositional outlook - actually is somewhat self-limiting and therefore, rightly, reaches out some way beyond itself).

In the end Conservative Evangelicalism is a sectarian faith, here within a Church. In so far as these labels work (Church/ Sect) the Conservative Evangelical is, whilst forward thrusting, backward in terms of contemporary culture. It uses popular culture for emotional worship as an easy way in to start to climb up its high wall of doctrine and dogma, but it is not going to revive anything broader than the usual population fringes it attracts in and manipulates. What I would add, however, is that liberal Christian expression is also not a mass movement. It may even be a movement that takes previously "conversionist" people after their beliefs have undergone change, where more traditional ritual practices give an otherness to their commitments while beliefs get closer to the world in terms of common evolution stories and a this-worldly outlook. Liberal Christians will also attract in the moderate and spiritually interested, but will not do so in great numbers. It is too gentle to do any more than this, and allows the fact that people come and go and take time to form their views and practices. So it should, too.

I do not hide that I am a liberal Anglican (and I always have been liberal). My position is somewhere between Don Cupitt and John Hick (the adopted US Presbyerian) with some additional creative liturgical understandings, social anthropology, and actually a rejection of Don Cupitt's latest moves against what he calls heterological language. I view Christianity rather like Hick does as a "true myth", seen as myth, in The Fifth Dimension (2004), but I go with an earlier Cupitt on many postmodern consequences of contemporary religious faith. I also appeciate much of Cupitt before his Taking Leave of God (1980).

I think that Anglican liberalism has to be more honest about how it treats the various Creeds, never mind such as the Thirty-nine Articles, and also the relationship between belief and a more inflexible conserved liturgical practice. It has to be honest about when it subscribes to theological concepts in how they are being changed. It has to deal with modernity and postmodernity.

Some liberals are happy and solid with a realist God, the Incarnation and Resurrection, as sort of pillars of Christianity, even if they have a critical view of the Bible, redescribe the Trinity, or argue over details such as of a virgin birth and bodily resurrection. Whilst these Broad Church people once used to be seen as well heretical, say in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, they became rather central. Liberalism, however, extends further than this, where all these concepts are under a kind of constant review. There is a liturgical path of faith that one follows: it is a tradition that contains and releases the reverse ethics of that strange and hard to find historical Jesus and makes continuity with the early Churches (plural), but its ideological and institutional structure is open to critique everywhere. Christianity is thus relative and contingent. There is an uncomfortable division between the liturgical path as a path and the content that resists reductionism and remythologises any demythologised understanding. The fact is that religion is ancient and historical, and attempts to remake religion raid the past, and so we as moderns and postmoderns have to deal with these old texts as faith-paths.

So there are no secure walls against having precisely the same view of other faiths, though they may not be followed for cultural reasons and due to lacking depth of insight. I have had involvement with a Western Buddhist path, and attended sessions of Bahai Firesides. They are paths, whereas the Unitarian involvement I would call approaches to religion, if creative. I have also used postmodern neo-Paganism (partly as a remythologising effort within otherwise reductionist Unitarianism). Inevitably some of my understanding of Christianity is coloured by Western Buddhism. The Bahai Faith I have criticised to the point where it does not inform my faith: I recognise its contradictions between literalism and modernism set in a particular moment of a Shakya-Shia Islamic background spiritualising into a more Western oriented faith. Western Buddhism makes an effort of understanding essentials from culture (very modernist!), but drawing on cultural faith too back into the essentials (and allows some agnosticism about these extended riches - postmodernist), and is less "en-bloc" than say Tibetan Buddhism and, say, less purist than Hinayana Buddhism.

For me it is important that Christianity can communicate with the world. It is a form of incarnation, a form of the sacred within. There are not great claims to be made about it: it is more like juggling with balls. It is a way of spirituality and reflection and a pastoral free space. Ritually the eucharist embodies a sense of self-giving and receiving a gift in hope, a process of reorientation that involves bread and wine, earthly and human-made elements, related to the human body, to therefore reflect, go through it and come back into the wider world. My view, then, is heavily social anthropological (using Marcel Mauss's insight that giving materially and receiving spiritually in a circle of token-passing activity binds communities) - it mixes and even fuses the social anthropological and the theological.

One of the possible outcomes of current events around Anglicanism, of which the Wycliffe controversy is but one example (and a very informative case), is that much that has been suppressed in a spirit of compromise and inclusion, such as actual liberal views, or the aggressive sectarianism of the selective literalist interpreters, will come out. It may cause splits, of course, but more honesty will surface. Some of it won't be very pleasant, some of it seemingly undermining.

We have seen how the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, on taking his job, suppressed his own views in order to carry out and defend policies with which he was not personally associated. It is this sort of dishonesty, demanded by the institution, that ought to be ended (he has become almost, if not quite, more Roman Catholic in his adoption of a more centralised, institutionalist, internationalist, real presence Body of Christ stance). Well such dishonesty never will be ended, quite, because this is how institutions operate, and individuals make compromises, but it should become better than it has been, and as represented by the current Archbishop and so many others.

Gordon Brown

Elements of the Labour Party clearly have a soft spot for Paddy Ashdown, and he has shown leadership capability in Bosnia. The usual leaking took place about junior roles for some Liberal Democract peers (with what political futures, what potential promotions?) and then we had Gordon Brown's travel partner Menzies Campbell in for a chat about these positions, and probably about Paddy Ashdown for the less important (now they run the place themselves) Northern Ireland Secretary. So Gordon Brown favours the big tent that he, apparently, resisted when Tony Blair thought about it back in 1997.

As Michael Portillo said on the BBC, all political parties have been disturbed by this move by Gordon Brown. Brown is looking to the political future. He must be aware that this new Prime Minister led Labour Party is the same Labour Party, and rather like a clone being born old (if clones are born old) he must see a diminishing vote for Labour as its heartland continues to evacuate support for it and the middle class runs away. So he wanted to compromise the Liberal Democrats.

They are right to keep out. I want to support a party that does believe in redistribution, that does support individuality as well as the collective, that is concerned for liberty when so much that we assume about liberty is being lost. I voted Conservative in 1979 as an economic liberal, and voted the equivalent of Liberal Democrat at ever election since except 1997 when, in this constituency, we just had to remove the Labour candidate with the one most likely to win. This is because I am a social liberal, and one who has become more radical as the government has become more right wing. I am not a member of a political party.

I also think that Gordon brown has been a "boom and bust" Chancellor. He has been so in public services. Much of the expansion in jobs came in the public sector. I am sure they add value (where we add value is a difficult puzzle when manufacturing is ever smaller and when buying things sends money-flows far from the people on these islands or indeed in Western Europe - we can forget about old Balance of Payments calculations). Now the jobs are disappearing as cuts are made whilst the spin goes on about well financed public services.

I think we should wait and see about Gordon Brown. He is going to be a Prime Minister who knows every nook and cranny of government, having been a Chancellor running virtually every domestic department via the purse and via detail. The Chancellor under him will be a minor figure for quite some time. If Gordon Brown continues this almost Singapore like social control - a sort of must do this, must do that, surveillance based capitalist society (watch out for the Protestant work ethic) - then it will be very important to vote him out, even if it risks an insubstantial David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.

I think the curve of the life cycle of this government peaked a while back, but it may have far to go, and I'm hoping that it will be David Cameron who looks something that is past its sell by date, the flash and lacking, and it just might be - might be - that Menzies Campbell can appeal to voters as capable and able. He, like Brown, must promote a team.

Perhaps if there was a proprotional voting system, and Westminster was more like Scotland, Menzies Campbell might be inviting some Labour experience into his cabinet!

The First One

So I have decided to join the world of blogging, realising that it is something to maintain from time to time. It does not mean that I will fail to update my own website, or my diary, or all the many activities I should do.

This is not going to be an all encompassing diary. It is not going to reveal much that belongs in private conversations or is an ongoing personal difficulty or exists as gossip. It is going to be opinions readily made, that I may repeat elsewhere if scattered about. If it gets anyone into trouble, it will be me. This is the intention. I have in the past been in positions of holding pastoral and commercial confidentiality. I like to think that whilst I hear gossip I do not spread it. I'm sure I fail at this matter of confidentiality, but not by intention. I do though stumble into controversy, even with activities above board. Where matters are local, they will already be public, and national/ international matters will concern what is in the public realm. The only revelations can be my own, or something I do.

The main interests here will be political and religious. On the latter I tend to say much on Thinking Anglicans and less so Fulcrum (both Anglican); sometimes I add comment at Faithspace, and I occasionally add comment to the National Unitarian Fellowship Forum (my only connection left with Unitarianism). I do not comment politically anywhere and so this will be additional. In terms of religion, what this space will allow is me to add comments as I wish rather than answering a particular debate.

How long this will last I do not know. My website began in November 1998, and as I write it has over 1850 pages. It needs slimming in some places and recently I pondered a redesign and then made only small changes. The main matter there remains content, and in one sense this blog, which will obviously have a prime link from the homepages (there are two, one originally for counting, now one for mainly first things), is an addition to the website. The website itself has news pages, which update sporadically, the monthly updates even more slowly, and this news element will continue there. Indeed nothing will transfer here. This is new and extra.

It begins...