Sunday 23 September 2007

The Talk Talked

What was so good about the talk to the Sea of Faith Yorkshire Group (see the previous post) is that it was more like a conversation. People and movements I had read about others knew about and had experienced, and thus there were a series of comments from the group all the way through, my talk providing a thread and theme of issues to consider. So, as a result, I hardly read the talk out at all - that is, I obviously knew what it was about from writing it, and by looking I could talk about the point rather than just read it. For example, I added extra detail about Joseph Morgan (Lloyd) Thomas, and cut a lot out about the Liberal Rite/ Liberal Catholic Church International history - whilst indicating the associations and why these in these associations folks were keeping themselves semi-independent (part of my thesis). I think I explained better than I wrote why these groups do fail to come together, in that they develop sub-groups, sometimes a bipolar argument, that constrains the nature of debate, and provides little traditions, guidelines and barriers, and these barriers constrain that also (and therefore) prevent the mixing with others.

Interesting comments brought alive people I mentioned - biographies that showed even more the connections I was indicating and only knew about through research. What this does is revise what I once considered dead history. The standard view is that J. M. Lloyd Thomas produced a Free Catholicism that diverted from the Unitarian movement (and certainly its Puritan shadow) even if it followed the Presbyterian parish church mentality. (My argument, not expressed in the talk at all, about Unitarian development has been that the denominationalist side had revived the Puritan ethos without the Presbyterian stretch, whilst the later nineteenth Free Christian side had revived the Presbyterian breadth without the Puritanism - and both were myth making anyway in their selectivity.) Because it went off on its own, then, when it collapsed, as some practioners went to Rome, it has failed ever to connect with Unitarianism.

Then my argument has been that in the age of postmodernism the symbolic is important. I said at the talk (again not reading) that we now focus upon the signifier end of the sign, that there is a proper way to do liturgies and spirituality for their own sakes and that in some modernist inheritances, like the Unitarians, spirituality may appear to be a "bit thin". That, though, is one of its traditions. It then turns out, however, that there are connections between the Independent Liberal Catholic movement now and Unitarianism. Inspired by Lloyd Thomas, this movement of freedom to believe Catholic symbolism has been developing now.

One of the three who were inspired to start The Liberal Rite apparently went to do Unitarian ministry. Interesting, and one person at the group who "knows everyone" in Unitarianism (and does) did not know who this might have been. He did know, however, that one significant person in the small Liberal catholic Church International had started out in the Unitarians. Since the talk I have learnt by a correspondence that the Liberal Rite was connected with the Unitarians but rejected, presumably for the very reason that it did not fit in with the existing subcultures of the Unitarian denomination. I said at the talk (purely ad-libbing) that in my own case back in 1989-90 at Unitarian College I did not fit in with any of the running arguments, crossed them, managed to offend just about every sensitivity of these boundaries, and therefore did not last.

You would think that a liberal group, usually small, would welcome the broadest possible variety of associations. My talk was to emphasise that this is not the case, and it was demonstrated.

Incidentally, two points unmentioned in the talk have troubled me about the talk. The first is the point that liberal groups tend not to schism as groups, and secondly that they do not get together. These points probably hold up, but the LCCI has been part of various schisms in how it came about. They were over theosophy and doctrines, so doctrines cause schisms, but perhaps some have been due to personalities as well. I did qualify my view over the doctrinal American Unitarian Association breaking off from the UUA (with a good conversation about Kings Chapel, Boston, happy to be in the UUA whilst it maintains its Anglican ethos via its "Arian" theology). Secondly I would have rolled over and admitted the one big gaff over liberal groups not coming together - the Unitarians and Universalists in the USA did come together in 1961. What I would have said there is that all the arguments that kept them apart were long since defunct and they were still apart. When they joined, no one took up a general Universalist argument as opposed to a Unitarian argument. Each had plenty of the other anyway, and both were well modified too. Nevertheless it is a qualification to make, and I probably shall change the .HTML version of the talk.

Since being home a church friend has pointed out some transubstantiation statements made by the LCCI, although it also professes freedom of belief. Well it does for laity. Clergy should believe in some manner in real presence. Well, LCCI is not inspired by J. M. Lloyd Thomas, but as I understand him, J. M. Lloyd Thomas promoted a creedless Catholicism. He may well have come to believe in some form of real presence (I don't know) but, as with Martineau, this would have been an individual's view. Therefore this group, the LCCI, is not promoting a creedless Catholicism (and has never claimed to do so). But when I have written about simulacration as a postmodern version of both real presence and real absence, I get a feeling of exclusion regarding the LCCI on grounds that would not restrict a clergyperson in the Church of England! I would hope the Liberal Rite is different, and that the ILCF reflects the creedless view. Once again, at the very least, this is an example of small differences of view in liberal groups having a significance that keeps them apart. They can associate, but they don't join. This is the thesis that I think does hold.

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