Monday 11 February 2008

Say it Briefly and the Postmodern

One way of summarising the Archbishop of Canterbury's position in relation to all this Sharia stuff was given on Thinking Anglicans, and I'd just reproduce a section of the comment:

Do not forget that a number of his former university pupils are involved in the theology of Radical Orthodoxy which denies the possibility of an autonomous secular ground on which 'liberalism' can ground itself and that all culture, society, and thought must be under the sway of the 'theological'. (How closely this can been seen to fit something like 'sharia')


This is why those who engage in talk of Rowan Williams as a liberal and of liberal elites simply do not understand the intellectual basis of much of Rowan Williams's theology applied to social issues.

Postmodernism, which basically rejects a universal access to objective truth, on which the notion of God has been based (God is all truth), does so because culture has shifted away from compatibility with religion as universal. In terms of the world, then, as real, it lives in a kind of non-real bubble. Its reality then it constructs for itself.

Some theologians, like Don Cupitt, remain aware of the constructed nature of the bubble, and indeed allow into that bubble all kinds of updated playful content, and inputs from religion and thought that are compatible with the bubble view of constructing reality, and that have an Eastern compatibility or overlap with this Western development.

Others, though, take refuge in the bubble, and it becomes their world. The one bubble perspective becomes the arbiter of everything. This is the position of John Milbank.

Rowan Williams himself realises and is interested in the variety of bubbles. He will look into them and talk about them, but unlike Cupitt, he never constructs any, he never lets one join another (like they do when blowing bubbles). Whilst no expert in other bubbles, he can learn quickly enough about them to comment. In his own expertise, he inhabits discussion aound the most minute details. Yet he knows these are the worlds of constructed stories. The one bubble that Williams seems unable to appreciate fully is the secular one, presumably because of its claim to universality, but the secular bubble has an ethical basis that cannot be ignored.

My position is closest to that of Cupitt. The awareness of the bubbles, and that they are constructed, the ethical questioning of the Christian system bubble, the fact that bubbles are like languages and can beg and borrow and infuse, and the challenge of the secular, and the fact that social and scientific research works in the secular, and the social dangers of bubbling, means that the bubble is always partial and limited, and must be checked against the other bubbles.

The fact is, and it is an oddity of postmodernism, that Williams's narrative detail theology is but a wind away from Cupitt's nihilistic atheology, and yet is so conservative that it can propose the place for its community of Sharia law. But of course, many in its community value the critical - nor have they given up on universal objective truth - and secular law is to be preferred, a secular and plural (cosmopolitan) law that is well compatible with a going-back-to-the-book Sharia law.

Williams in Synod says it is part of the brief of the Church of England to comment on issues that relate to other religious communities. This does not, for me, take sufficient note of the difference between Church of England as a bubble and the secular that is the broader base of society. It is an interesting definition of Church of England, and relies upon establishment, which of course is privilege, especially in a postmodern situation.

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