Friday 31 August 2007

Decision Day?

Rowan Williams is back from his hols on September 1st. While the cat has been away, the mice have been playing, and just before his return the Kenyans got a few consecrations under their belt to parachute a few of their bishops in the United States, to add to Nigerians, Ugandans and Rwandans. So they have not kept to their side of the bargain, of the various international statements by Anglican primates, whilst the Americans have frozen any consecrations of openly gay bishops or approval of same sex blessings for this time period up to decision day of September 30.

This picture of Rowan Williams was inspired by the style of a cartoon that is of The Simpsons. I am not sure if it is actually of the cartoon or not. See this location

Some think that the Archbishop has never done anything to overturn what he has called, unhelpfully, the mind of the Communion, which is the resolution of Lambeth 1998 called 1:10 which opposes active homosexuals in the ministry but also calls for a listening process. It might be the mind of a rowdy and unpleasant meeting, but why the Communion should have one mind and it being a mind made up one wonders. Indeed he says that is not to be overturned next Lambeth but all the issues can still be discussed.

What these self-proclaimed orthodox types want is Rowan Williams to disinvite those of The Episcopal Church he has invited to Lambeth 2008, when they fail to come up with the goods on September 30. It seems to me though that they would only be so disinvited if they flatly turned down talks about this Covenant process at Lambeth 2008 - the Covenant to produce a process by which change can be managed and monitored on a Communion basis. Some there and in England even hope for an open Covenant, plus it promises not to be any more than what is historically Anglican. It must be possible for the Americans to agree to that; and the Archbishop knows that The Episcopal Church is a qualified episcopacy - it needs its General Covention 2009 to lay down the sorts of rules to pause innovations that these recent statements demand with this far too early September 30 deadline.

So what is Rowan Williams going to do? Well he will join the House of Bishops at New Orleans. Some of them will be mucking in with some of the physical work needed there still. He will participate in a September 20 evening interfaith gathering to rededicate the Morial Convention Centre.

Er, sorry, put that one past me again? He will take part in an interfaith gathering. No doubt the Christian contribution will be solid as ever, but such an event values the place, work and beliefs of people of other faiths. I cannot imagine those at the episcopally testosterone charged event of consecrating one another would participate at an interfaith gathering.

Meanwhile, Andrew Carey, son of previous Archbishop and frequent traveller to the United States to stir it, has a blog in which he states:

Of equal scandal to the theological drift of the Episcopal Church into a kind of uncommitted unitarianism, has been the failure of those who are theologically orthodox to stand firm together in opposing that movement.
What "kind of uncommitted unitarianism" (qualifications and small u noted)? This is the charge made because the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has referred to others having a different way to God (like, presumably, at an interfaith meeting) but her personal view does not affect any of the guiding statements that guides The Episcopal Church, even if it tolerates various theological methods. Gosh, so does the Church of England. There is nothing at all that even approaches the claims made by William Ellery Channing (07/04/1780-02/10/1842) about the definition of faith, and he was very much a Christian Unitarian, or, more formally, a Unitarian Christian. He was about some time ago! The committed Unitarianism (big U) of the Unitarian Universalist Association today is well to the theological left of that, with some Channing and other Christians, some humanists, Easterns and Pagans (having absorbed transcendentalism, religious humanism and updated Universalism). It come from a tradition of reasoning, that has since broadened beyond that with its plurality and postmodernity, rather that scripture, tradition and reason. Unitarianism is also anti-credal in the Anglo-American approach (the central European approach has a catechism; this catechism lays out the unitarian view (small u) in a way the Episcopal Church never could - and it has bishops).

Would that it was more liberal! There are individuals, most notably John Spong. Now I have read John Spong, who is concerned for those at the margins of belief, but he always turns down the most radical postmodernview and asserts both the personal God and the Christ of faith as part ofthe understanding of this personal God. Is his a kind of uncommitted unitarianism - well, maybe, but he wants to assert the closeness of the two, whereas traditionally Unitarians of a more doctrinal bent have asserted the difference between the two. Jesus may even have been God's supreme worker, but he was utterly and only human. John Spong does assert the Jewishness of Jesus, but he also thinks Jesus opens up a new chapter to the future and for faith for others. One of the problems with Unitarianism was turning Jesus into a kind of liberal humanist, which Jesus definitely was not, and Spong does not make any such assertion or near it. Jesus was supernatural, full of Jewish expectation for the near future, mysterious, hard to detect in the texts of the already changing faithful in the first century.

John Spong remains untypical of these Episcopalian bishops. Of course some agree with him in part, but none make the huge effort of outreach of his views that he has made. Plus, John Spong is now retired, and like Bishop Richard Holloway from Scotland is free to write and lecture wherever he fancies and on whatever beliefs he holds. And he still does not hold classically Unitarian views. He has not even advocated (as far as I know) co-operation with Unitarians - and some Church of England Broad Church people did in the nineteenth century.

So Andrew Carey's charge does not stick. However, Rowan Williams is participating in an interfaith gathering when in America. It could only be under the most perverse circumstances that a man doing that then disinvites American bishops to his party (following the agenda of sectarian boundary crossers).

He may follow the call of Desmond Tutu (in the Church Times) and invite everyone, whoever consecrated them, as he is excluding those who are boundary crossers (so far - unsure about the latest ones). This is more likely. Unlikely he is to turn against those with whom he has a large measure of agreement both personally and at the formal level.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

Calculating the Peace

Anyone who has experienced the Peace before the actual eucharist part of the eucharist service knows that unless few are present and are sat close together that congregants cannot shake hands with everyone.

Dave Walker produced one of his subtle cartoons to this effect in a recent Church Times. He came up with a formula, that I'll present slightly differently here:

H is the number of handshakes and C is the number of congregants. What he does not explain is how to understand the formula. Thanks to my very numerate wife, Elena, I can explain (thanks to the software, I can write the equation).

The common denominator of 2 below the line is because at each transaction, two and only two people are involved in shaking hands - thus halving the number of handshakes. The minus 1 above the line is because each handshaker is one and the transaction is with as many others to be met - so there must be one less than the total present in each case (think about it).

Incidentally, the priest is counted as one of the congregation. There is no point counting the priest separately as there is no special characteristic for the priest (in this case). He or she does what any other congregant does.

A congregation of 2 has one handshake - the priest and one other (you count just the one other involved, and a handshake always involves two thus halving everything: so it one other in each case that is multiplied by a half (halved) multiplied by the two who are doing it in the church). A congregation of 3 has 3 handshakes. A congregation of 4 has 6 handshakes. It rises very rapidly. A congregation of 10 has 45 handshakes but multiply those congregants by 10 and the handshakes rise to 4950.

I said to Elena that the one other must be like fence posts and gaps in the fence between the posts, but she didn't see my point. I don't think it is this either; after all, the others that the (minus) one does it to - once divided by the fact handshakes are done by two at a time - are multiplied by the number present. So this is like fence posts, gaps within, and then fences. I know - it is late at night.

Elena next day tells me that the reason for minus one is that no one can shake hands with oneself, so each source individual must be excluded in each case - minus 1. However, she further adds that Dave Walker's cartoon is wrong to put arrows on each line. The lines should be arrowless - the interactions go both ways.

Clearly there is an increasing time and space problem for large congregations, which could extend service times to a ridiculous level, but this is not straightforward. Everyone can shake hands at the same time for a fixed time period, but people are different distances from each other and these distances take time to traverse. I'll leave that to Elena to work out, based on D for distance. She won't do it - she is doing some statistics preparation before she goes to Reading to read Statistics properly.

Of course all this is rubbish because some people prefer to hug, and this alters the time taken, and this brings in probability, as indeed probability should be brought in for the expectation of excessive and restrained handshakers in the first place, as well as huggers, for which probabilities must be factored in the churchship [non-sexist word] of the people involved. People who hug in threes are a nuisance.

Anyone who reads this drivel (if anyone does read this drivel) and is competent in this area might like to send in a formula that covers all the probabilities using number sets.

Deconstructionists in Christianity

Not all liberals are deconstructionist and not all deconstructionists are liberals. I am a liberal deconstructionist, however.

Liberalism itself divides into at least two categories. One is to be liberal about something, and one is to be liberal in a constitutional or freedom sense. For example, being liberal about Christianity means being other than, less than perhaps (in terms of beliefs), the given orthodoxy of the day or some previous period. Yet it can also mean acceptance of the right to vary belief, even if this particular individual has not varied belief from a given orthodoxy. Usually, however, they go together.

It follows that this variation of belief is either a matter of subjectivity or it is a matter of being consistent with a different objectivity than provided within the orthodoxy. So, for example, the variation of belief is a personal preference, worked out for oneself. However, it could simply be a clash of objectivity: that scientific objectivity, or social scientific objectivity, demands variation of belief from Christian orthodoxy.

Incidentally, there is no agreed basis of what is orthodoxy, which is a standard of belief. It varies between deonominations and it varies within them. One group's orthodoxy is another's heterodoxy. So here it is variation - usually doubt about - from an orthodoxy however it is defined.

All that deconstruction involves is understanding. It means reading between the lines and employing techniques of "differance" (as Derrida called it). In other words, the text becomes understood as constructed, as a free-floating narrative, that it performs but is not objectively rooted. Even if it is not so rooted (in culture, history, binary language, some foundations of God), and just performs, and is a narrative for whomever it suits, then it can still be presented as such, as it was (when it was believed to be so rooted).

This is what the postmodernist John Milbank has done. He takes the tradition lock, stock and barrel, but understood as in a postmodern space. He was taught by Rowan Williams just before Williams became Archbishop of Wales. Williams does not follow the Radical Orthodoxy of Milbank, but he and Milbank overlap in the place of narrative in their theologies, and the impact of Hans Urs von Balthazar on both. Radical Orthodoxy, like Balthazar's thought, is postsecular as well as non-objective in any worldly sense, and into that postmodern space is placed premodern Christianity - frozen according to the point the tradition is utilised. Rowan Williams uses narrative to write about the Christian story in intense detail. Both appear orthodox, and appearance matters, but there is something not quite full as in the days of Christian culture from where this orthodoxy was plucked, as it had developed to that point.

These are definitely postliberal, even though both theologians take something of the freedom or constitutional liberalism in order to have the right to promote their versions of shifted orthodoxy.

Postsecular theologians continue to use the word God, and indeed all the other Christian words. At times it is as if the God is just as the old God, and is like a light from the old window into the postmodern bubble. However, that God is just as contained within the bubble as all the other text. That God is subsumed into the liturgy. What is real, such as "real presence" isn't quite so real as real. It is like inhabiting a virtual world where everything is the same except it is in a mirror reflecting spacetime from the past that no longer exists.

However, there are deconstructionists who freeze nothing. They do not objectivise anything either. Their mirror is up to date, or indeed stretches out into a perceived future time. They'll criticise science and social science when they need deconstructing, but they will deconstruct Christianity too - and thoroughly. The tradition exists as a resource and an activity, but it is reversed in and around itself, sometimes pulled through ninety degrees, a hundred and eighty degrees and even three hundred and sixty degrees. It is a mixture of tradition used and tradition undermined (even abused). The key is advancing the inner life (though that is not an objectivity) without dualism between the Christian tradition and the rest of life (though one must allow the Christian story to be its roundabout language play - why I don't agree with Cupitt's The Old Creed and the New (SCM Press, 2007) and its dismissal of heterological language. Dismissing the narrative play and going for direct language is the mistake liberal objectivists have made.

The stream of thought for the postmodern orthodox is Karl Barth, Hans Frei and George Lindbeck. Nietzsche is important too in the background. Barth's God became so detached from culture and objectivity that Frei said the Biblical narrative is something that stands in itself and in its reading, and Lindbeck did the same for doctrine - (ecumenical) doctrine is identity through performance of what people do, that is Christians who commit to a particular role performance. Milbank intensifies this to a form of (Anglo-Catholic) Church and Christian condition. This is all frozen: the play has been written and it keeps being performed.

Above are John Milbank and Don Cupitt, deconstructionists both but very different!

The stream of thought for liberal deconstructionist is, I would say, James Martineau, who promoted subjectivity and individualism, for which the biblical narrative was just one example of faith, and where the individual conscience was greater than any book. The implications of Martineau with his subjectivity in intense plurality are postmodern. Not many know of him, but he worked out subjectivity the best. The line is surely then John Robinson and John Hick, and also Nietzsche, Altizer and Hamilton, and then into the postmodern with Don Cupitt and, from the death of God theologians only, Mark C. Taylor. When the postmodern is arrived at, the objective and subjective dissolve, and there is a new stress on language and the collective, but nevertheless individuals and groups will play with forms of religion for the purposes of pursuing the inner life. As for the inner state, this is more akin to Buddhist no-self than a subjective self. Martineau wrote about the self, but deconstruction liberals understand more about the no-self. The self too, just like the secular, is subjected to deconstruction. In the frozen form, the self also gives way to the collective narrative, that it (the narrative) provides the way of peace, whereas for the liberal deconstructionist the reduction of ego is the means of promoting the inner life towards nothing - that the purpose of all liturgical forms is simply to give oneself into the floating narrative and reduce the self. The reason why I think Martineau understood this was his emphasis on the liturgical, on the poetic, and that inevitably liturgy is more conservative in its forms of language than the belief it carries.

In both forms of deconstruction, the emphasis is on performance, on doing. It is about practice in and around the tradition, one subjected to the freezer after selection, and the other subjected to intense play. My own line is that of Martineau, Robinson, Cupitt and also Lloyd Geering (New Zealand Presbyterian version of Cupitt - more historical), Graham Shaw (Anglican, plus Quaker, user of the tradition and all its resources), Paul Lakeland (American, an overview), Jean Baudrillard (sociology, semiotics), Peter Berger (sociology - his actual religion is out of step with the implications of his sociology), Marcel Mauss (Social anthropologist), Philip Hewett (Canadian Unitarian - broad, open, humanism) and Daniel Liechty (ethics first open postliberal). There are also influences from different faiths and an increasing appreciation of John Hick and Richard Holloway.

Saturday 25 August 2007

Whose Is It?

Every teacher realises when a student produces work that does not belong to him or her. The style is just wrong, and usually too well crafted, plus the concepts being presented are out of keeping. Clever students realise that they have to do something to turn a piece of plagiarised writing into their own, for example reintroducing mistakes.

It is not racist to say that some of the English style that comes from the Nigerian press is clumsy, at least to our eyes, and indeed individuals have their ways of writing and speaking. Every individual has a more or less academic style, a more or less official style and a more or less informal style. We all do this, but the give-away is always there.

This is why the latest document out of Nigeria to persuade others to have The Episcopal Church (in the USA) repent of something, or other or have the Anglican Communion split, raised some doubts by the sharper eyed that it actually came from the stated author Archbishop Akinola of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). It just was not his style, nor the Nigerian style seen in its press, even though when it first appeared it was a formatting mess on the website and had to be reproduced. Then someone got hold of the Microsoft Word document used to produce this document, a document that first appeared with paragraphs missing and had notes without references. The Church Times claims that the MS Word document shows 600 or so edits by the Nigerian made Bishop Martyn Minns, and even touched up by Chris Sugden - he's the one rumoured to be made a bishop sometime in the near future (for the benefit of the English Anglicans should it be thought they also need a Nigerian incursion). So far Chris Sugden, who runs Anglican Mainstream, has not denied any involvement, though the press chap (and look at his writing!) from Nigeria says Chris Sugden did not touch it.

It is normal collaboration, we are told, that busy Archbishops have their staff to write documents for them. Yes, except that Martyn Minns is excluded from the next Lambeth Conference 2008 (or he is at the moment) and he is part of a political and religious right wing attack on The Episcopal Church. He has an agenda too, in other words, though no doubt Akinola has come to a conclusion to walk from Lambeth and, in the eyes of some, like the Archbishop of York, cause a schism. The issue is becoming, however, whether that many other provinces will go with him, and this is why some would say Akinola's going might not be a disaster if he (and those who join him) leaves behind a more tolerant Communion consistent with Anglicanism in general.

Anyway, given that the intelligent student with a ghost writer reintroduces their own style back into a written piece, I have some advice for Sugden and Minns, shown above, when it comes to writing anything for the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion).

The latest version of Microsoft Word might help...

Wednesday 22 August 2007

Identikit People

In an historical setting here is a certain person made up Identikit style...

Isn't this nice! The concept has been around for a while now, at, and a number of people have used them. This one is a bit of a cheat, however, because I have taken the edited image and made it my own, and then turned the glass of wine into a silver goblet with a wafer disc (What does this represent? See the previous post). The Weeworld has books or art, and I have both, plus I have put me on to the canvas.

Anyway Elena and I did one together, another cheat, with her favourite type of hat, her favourite setting and the rabbit represents me. She is of course drinking wine and has a handbag. Even the shoes are rabbit shoes.

I will, however, on places like Faithspace and the National Unitarian Fellowship discussion boards, continue to use my small Brahma Avatar, because it has four heads and represents plurality, as well as coming from a religion different from Christianity.

Sunday 19 August 2007


I hope I have invented a new term for the eucharist in postmodernity.

Read more here - I hope this is an academic standard essay.

The basic idea is that this derives from transignification (sometimes spelt with a double s, but then so should transubstantiation). Transignification is where there is a signifier of bread and wine, or substitutes, with the ritual of the eucharist, especially the prayer of consecration, where this collected signifier points to the real presence of Christ. To cut a very long story short, this is fine if signs and symbols are understood as structuralist, for example one revealed by Marcel Mauss. However, with the poststructuralist turn and the freewheeling nature of signs, with a heavy focus on the signifier, the signified and the sign itself becomes ambiguous at best. The upshot is that (along with a historical survey that justifies both real presence and real absence under more stable circumstances) real presence gets replaced by neither and both of real presence and real absence, appearing and reappearing in an instance that it takes to vanish again - the mirror image of eternity. An obvious model here is the quantum world, but this is within semiotics.

This essay took four days to write, with quite a few hours thrown in. I gave the last inute completed first draft to a member of St Mary's Barton-on-Humber In Depth Group on August 13th 2007, although it is a mess compared with the final draft. The final one has had paragraphs reordered, and much text edited, removed, and corrected. The reason I wrote this was because a strong pitch was made at the previous In Depth Group for transignification, and though I said "nothing" happened at the eucharist I later realised that my use of Marcel Mauss was in fact compatible with transignification (probably why the priest-in-charge approved (so far?) of the social anthropological approach. Plus whilst Marcel Mauss, the social scientist (nephew of Emile Durkheim), has provided a key piece of my theology for some time, I have never been happy with its structuralism. Levi-Strauss used him. So somehow I want Mauss without the structuralism, and for this I have brought in Jean Baudrillard, who died in March this year. Many people think Baudrillard is sloppy and writes like a madman (I know he is dead - academic convention keeps writers alive) but I think he understands the impact of the media world we live in, and how semiotic relationships reverse around in postmodern conditions. He hyperreals his own writing, but fortunately there is the Horrocks and Jevtic cartoon 1996 book Baudrillard for Beginners (also entitled Introducing Baudrillard) to tell people what he was on about.

By the way, for the last few years or more I wrote "simulcra" and it seems I have not been alone. There is another 'a' in there, so it is simulacra and therefore simulacration, or my view of the eucharist in postmodernity.

Wednesday 8 August 2007

A Postmodern Stance

I don't normally reproduce writings that have gone elsewhere, such as on to Thinking Anglicans, but I will break that here to reproduce this, and then add a little that would otherwise break its 400 words limitation.

Something old hat [outlook of John Spong] is still there; my point is that having lost its novelty it's part of the fabric. I don't spit this out at all, I rather take from (and add to) what Spong writes. The people who want to narrow it all down are a bit like those who want to uninvent technology: the biblical criticism is done and more is being done; the doctrinal histories are not quite as they were once presented; there has been a wholesale cultural shift or five since [St.] Paul was relating this to that in his cultural situations.

I've no idea if this is elitist - it's available to anyone in a church who can read or listen or indeed speak. What should we be - like baby birds in a nest with mouths open taking what is handed out? Pew fodder? No, grow up and go and find your own food, with a bit of help here and there.

I don't use postmodern expressions because they are novel, they are used because they make sense in a pluralistic world, and one where knowledge (especially in the arts) is problematic. There are limits to the postmodern, such social scientific grounded research, and the science processes of falsifiability, none of which apply to religious belief.

Religious faith is like a narrative, and this is why postmodern insights are important. Incarnation is not an alternative history, and it is not psuedo-science. It falls into the area of religious believing and insight: the Jesus(es) we forever reconstruct are about the ethical and inner life, community and direction, the immediacy of right decision making and trying to put away wrong decision making, of not condemning and not excluding - in relationship. Of course there is some fantasy element to this, as in any story-telling, in that it comes via a construct, but the postmodernist inhabits that point of telling a story and awareness of the story.

John Spong is old hat in he sense that the structure is pretty much as was, with modernist criticism; I'm saying it needs a more dynamic turn, from wine alone to a collection of juices in the punchbowl.

The key to this is the cultural shifts we have undergone. We cannot reconstruct as a whole (some sects try it) of having a last days culture in which Paul made sense to his followers, as well as managing the disappointment in his lifetime when the last days failed to materialise. Nor do we think with Jesus that some utter other entity of a Kingdom of God is about to break in, so close that you could taste it. We do not have their intensely premodern views. We replaced them, and then replaced them again, and again.

The Christian tradition is like a big river that has come from a number of small rivers, and rain that was once part of other rivers and the sea. It is mature - this river - and a lot has happened. Because we can look backwards, and add to our language-makes-possible library, and picture gallery, we can see where the river has been, and it and its surroundings have changed. We can also compare it with other rivers, their various paths, seeing similarities and differences. And, more than this, some of these rivers are joining into one huge, swirling, estuary, with all sorts of islands and meanders in the big river.

Modernism was a kind of rationalising process, a thought-world that believed it could get at the truth, and this became truth through various subject disciplines according to rules of method in each case, and towards, ultimately, a higher truth. Modernism is still powerful, and we have Jürgen Habermas who claims that disinterested (from economic pressures) talkers can come together in communicative reason and arrive at a rational truth. Postmodernism says that you can never find that pure, neutral, disinterested space, and therefore will never arrive at a pure, disinterested truth. More than this, the mechanisms by which we imagined language has been no more than a filter towards achieving truth turn out to be distorters of such a process, and that language itself (and I add symbolism in general, not just words) is part of that internal creation of world-views that exist in their own linguistic formations.

This means a relativity of knowledge between one construction and another, between one faith and another, and there are a number of possible outcomes if this postmodernism is followed through for a religious system like Christianity (or, indeed, any).

The first possibility is that whilst there is no objective anchoring of the system in anything outside, the system remains true to itself within itself. Indeed, an adherent can use this system as his or her own rationality. This is the position of John Milbank, a conservative postmodern theologian. Therefore he regards the social sciences as secular theology. He turns it all around. He promotes an "everything" Anglo-Catholicism in his postmodern bubble, and the bubble is where he is. A lesser version of this is the intended ecumenical frozen cultural-linguistic system established by George Lindbeck that regards Christianity as a kind of dramatic performance, where Christians are identified as performers within this cultural-linguistic system. Again, there is no outside anchoring.

The second possibility is that the awareness of the relativity deconstructs the Christian system so that ones attachment to it is loose and free floating. This is like Don Cupitt's, or Mark C. Taylor's, where the linguistic system tends to collapse in on itself over and over again. It is a sort of Baudrillard religion, a simulacra of the rituals and meanings that play around with each other. The cultural-linguistic system is open, like in Daniel Liechty's version, and so there tends to be a focusing on ethics. Religions bump into each other, and share, and lose, and become reunderstood, and ethics are discussed and compared. Nothing is certain. Doctrines are like surface features that appear, disappear and reappear again. There are no secure walls between this and any other system, because language and symbolism go right across them all, so that borrowing and re-fitting can even become furious and constant, in a kind of choice of remoulded jigsaw pieces. The dictionary of connected words - one definition giving meaning to the next word (as in incarnation, resurrection, ascension, pentecost, revelation...) - starts to stretch off in new chains of meaning, all altered by admitting new words and chains into the meaning situation.

A third possibility - and it strains as a possibility - is that outside either of the above is some extra-linguistic external entity, that can never be identified or even named or imagined (because as soon as you do it becames another subsystem of the cultural-linguistic system). This is a kind of ultimate realism behind all the postmodernism. John Hick, the Presbyerian theologian, has this view (and he rejects the complete postmodern). Each religious system suits the followers concepturally and in pactice, and each privides a deep, meaningful, religious system. However, religions are but pointers to transcendence. If you try to describe what this transcendence is, you end up with a higher level religion, a kind of super-religion. The offence committed, of course, is to say to religious followers, "Your faith is not the complete deal - it just points beyond itself into mystery." The difficulty is that by even stating this John Hick (and others) is producing a kind of ultimate, syncretistic, universalism, as well as offending Buddhists by saying their non-God approach is, ultimately, the same outcome as those with a personal God, and those with an impersonal God approach. Plus, whatever is said, because it is said, it cannot lie outside the cultural-linguistic system. Too much has been said and imagined already. And, supposing John Hick has access to this reality, how come he, unlike the rest of us, can step outside the cultural-linguistic system? Has he received revelation?

[The same point was made about Karl Marx. How come we are all prisoners under false consciousness, and yet you are so privileged to see it as false consciousness?]

This is why I cannot agree with John Hick. I never made a good Unitarian nor agreed with syncretistic universalism. I could never be a Bahai and Bahaism produced a separate religion.

Nor am I a complete postmodernist! The reason why not, quite, is this. Social science involves research, and this process narrows the options and anchors truth in a culture with a possibility of a real outcome (though in the end culture wins out - you have to defer to social anthropology here and then only the very limited possibility of universal human structures). In science, falsifiability points to regularity and, again, limitation, although its direction and description is massively cultural-lingusitic and is not value-neutral. Against falsifiability (and towards the postmodern) is that facts aren't much without hypotheses that keep them connected, giving rise to paradigms that function at the useful meaning-level which, thanks to falsifiability and research over a range of facts, can suddenlyadd up to a new paradigm of understanding. These may be truthful in intention, but only for a time; paradigms may exist as pointing to a real, but they do change! Furthermore, whilst something like fractals suggest simplicity behind complexity, powerful mathematics and geometry cannot prove its logical systems, and cannot demonstrate timeless absolute proofs of some major issues.

Religion, though, is not like any of this. Religion is much more like art. No religion can function as alternative history, even if for sections of it historiographic methods are brought into play. No religion functions as alternative science, because religions conserve and continue with the same insight-giving stories and myths. So what is religion? Religion, as suggested above, is a round-about way of dealing symbolically with the inner life, using story and symbol as an enchanter and enricher of the ethical quest in the same way as art is used to enrich. This is why, I think, religion ought to be about symbol and not just words via a sermon and readings and limited music. It ought to be imprecise, symbolic and enriched. Yes, it can be stark, but stark suggests purity when life is messy.

A modernist view is that religion is unnecessary and just fades away, and a religious modernist view is that we kind find via some poetic clarity the essence of religion, but I think otherwise that religion via enchantment and enrichment is about taking stock, relating self to society, binding oneself to the other, and how to behave to advance both self and society, and to see the better from the gratuitous. It is indeed about the ethical, but also about passing on a symbolic token one to another (a gift-exchange) that, by this act, relates the material of where we are (and the problems that beset us) with the spiritual absorbed within the material in order to renew the material, transitory existence.

I am aware of the contradiction in this thought - that I have explained a denial of an essence of religion by producing a structuralist essence of religion. However, I collapse that because the structuralist essence does nothing itself - you must have the round-about content, the means of enchanting, and, also, let it work on you. It somehow needs to be enough to project out and then do the pulling you along. Religion is projection, and this awareness of the process of course limits its pulling power (like seeing how the magician does his magic trick - but what skill is involved!). So, yes, there is an explanation, but it would be a mistake to think the explanation is it - it is not. It has to be done. I am not unhappy about having such contradiction: the Buddhists teach us (and not only they) that with the deepest plunges into religious understanding comes nothing but paradox: samsara and nirvana cannot be one, but are one.

This is my explanation of doing religion, and it holds - for now. Everything, after all, is for now.

Friday 3 August 2007

Sort of Confirmed Rumour

The Church of England Newpaper has warmed up the rumour by some degrees. According to the free edition, daily_020807.pdf, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) will consecrate a bishop to organise churches in England.

News Digest

England to get ‘flying bishop’?

NIGERIA is on the verge of appointing its own 'flying bishop' in England to represent disillusioned Anglicans, the Church of England Newspaper has learnt.

A new bishop to be appointed by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola could be consecrated before next year’s Lambeth Conference if plans succeed.

A source describing himself as a ‘worker in the Nigerian diocese’ said he was aware of such plans and that such a person would be employed as a ‘mission co-ordinator’.

Rumours regarding the possibility of such a role have been circulating over the last few months but this is the first time it has been confirmed by a clergy member from Nigeria.

Speaking to the CEN he said: "It is possible that Archbishop Peter Akinola will have somebody appointed by the next Lambeth Conference in July 2008."

To read the whole of this story see this week’s Church of England Newspaper or go to

Note that the Church changed its name to Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) months back. The pattern in the United States is for a national of that country to be a bishop but under the Nigerian umbrella. The same would happen for England, as below. This is from the extended report, given in full here:

"They will choose someone in the Old Testament way," he said, "they are not looking for management people, they are looking for people who will be mission co-ordinators."

He added: "Whoever is elected will have a very rough ride... I think that anyone in that position will be a hostage to fortune."

But it is believed that the appointment will be of an English priest, rather than a Nigerian one, following the pattern set in such appointments in the USA.

The development would also reflect the current structure in North America where many Anglicans resort to the authority of the Rt Rev Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). In May 2006, the Most Rev Peter Akinola consecrated Bishop Minns, a former Episcopal priest, to provide for those concerned about liberalism, sparked by the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003.

As for who - I know where my bet is going, and the odds are shortening.

This rush to organise - before Lambeth 2008 - is in keeping with the decision of the Bishop of Pittsburgh in the last few days to organise outside the Canterbury centred Anglican Communion. He won't be able to take a diocese or even parishes with him - lawsuits and all that will fly all over the place - but of course individuals and groups (majorities and minorities of churches) may well leave and set up again with him as their overseer. He has decided, already, before the Archbishop of Canterbury meets The Episcopal Church (TEC) House of Bishops, to go; this meeting could pave the way for The Episcopal Church to be sidelined from the Anglican Communion. However, this does not seem likely, and although The House of Bishops cannot agree to the Tanzania Communiqué of February 2007 (it needs the General Convention of 2009 to do that) it does have to agree to continue with the Windsor Process and the Covenant discussions in order for the invitations to Lambeth 2008 to continue to be valid for its bishops. It can do that, plus the Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken about the value of patience.

Those who want TEC disciplined see September 30 2007 as a do or die day, but certainly the invitations to Lambeth 2008 did not give that impression, nor the Archbishop's intention of keeping as many talking as possible.

Some think that the Archbishop can be "bullied" into not inviting the TEC bishops and inviting those he left off, bishops who are boundary-crossers, such as those from the Church of Nigeria into the USA. It could be that these moves are an attempt to shock the Archbishop into reversal.

However, the Conservative side is not united. Ephraim Radner resigned from the Anglican Communion Network, a body organising dissent with The Episcopal Church, as soon as Bishop Duncan said he would organise outside of Canterbury. Philip Turner, vice president of the Anglican Communion Institute, has also written in the same way, against leaving the Canterbury Communion.

The logic of this is fairly simple. The more that turn up at Lambeth on the Conservative side, the more likely will they there get to discipline TEC and have the kind of Communion and Covenant that suits their Conservative agenda. Unfortunately, for them, the schismatics are schisming, and history elsewhere suggests that it tends to catch on. Liberals, used to putting up with doctrines in lists, and being inclusive, will tend to turn up anyway. The Conservatives seem to be like generals in an army all marching off in different directions.

My view is let them. The ones organising the getting out and setting up their own really do want a Church Communion in their own image. They want it doctrinal, biblical, anti-gay and as strict as need be. They know that Lambeth 2008 must lead to compromise, simply because of the nature of the Anglican Communion, with liberal leaning Churches like the US, Canada, Wales, Scotland, Ireland (it seems), South Africa, most of Australia and New Zealand. These Western Churches simply will not accept a restrictive Convenant, if (in the end) one at all, and will emphasise Catholic inheritance and the place of human reasoning. If enough of the Conservatives break off and organise on their own, the effect must be be to re-emphasise the tolerant nature of Anglicanism, its breadth of views and its multiple inheritances. It may even get itself off this sexual hangup that won't even accept faithful and loving gay relationships amongst its clergy and lay workers who "promote religion".

An outbreak of tolerance might not happen at Lambeth 2008. October 2007 onwards is going to be a pretty nasty time all around, and Lambeth 2008 will either be full of bitter arguments, unoccupied chairs or (most likely) both. When the dust settles, however, the outcome might just be a little better than some could have hoped.

Incidentally, I am by nature someone who wants to keep the tent as big as possible. However, the people leaving the tent, and those sitting in the corner (most of whom may conclude with events that they in the end have to leave), are going to make the tent more managable.

This upcoming schism, that seems to get more and more likely as this impatience runs riot, is in this one Church or denomination, but the divisions are within most denominations and it is (in institutional terms) the start of the New Reformation that I wrote about in my Ph.D up to 1989.