Wednesday 5 March 2008

Pub Religion

It is known by the few who attend Tuesday evening Eucharists that that's the night I go on from the church to pick up, transport and be with friends at the pub, ending up in a industrial town pub in Hull with further friends. Not this evening, in that the first Tuesday of the month is not the Eucharist but ecumenical prayer which runs along lines that I would prefer to avoid. My very longstanding friends have, of course, long known my strange religious views and involvements over the years (they are both agnostics in all effect) and then the wife of less longstanding friends I transport alternately is a Methodist with whom I often discuss comparative church matters (her husband is not involved). The further friends then met in the pub, for darts and fun, have learnt something about my religious leanings. Also one is a painter and so there has been something of an art display and chat. This evening the discussion between me and two of these further friends about faith, belief and religion, went on to the point where the three of us did not play any darts (others did). One is a sceptic, one is a spiritualist and there's me.

I hear a lot about evangelism and I have no time for it. I want to learn about what others think and believe too much. The sceptic is a rationalist but believes in some higher power, and that things can be put right say after prayer. Isn't that interesting? He seems to believe in more than me there then, in terms of cause and effect. The other friend, female, had near death experiences that had, in the tunnel of light, but the tunnel, some sort of figures that related to what she saw when a child and which her parents ignored. From then on she has had a sensitivity to visitations and messages that just come to her, and thus she has pursued this in some spiritualist settings: this would include the pagan, the ghostly, the dead. These experiences are all absolutely real.

I was giving my view of the early Churches as a kind of prism through which beliefs about Jesus developed, and for example I said no I don't believe in some empty tomb - it's not how the Romans operated. I see the early Churches as communities of people asking questions, of oral traditions developing and being written down, and the empty tomb stories are about why there was no tomb worship and also a belief in the body that was to counter the Gnostics' spiritual direction. I explained about the Pauline direction, and that in the Gentile world we can imagine people attracted to a one God religion as in the synagogues, and here is Pauline Christianity saying they can have this without having to cut into the penis or obey laws. I said the rituals would have been quite similar, but with these people at the synagogue not obeying the rules the Jews who did told them to clear off. So they did, and formed their own gatherings, and the rituals began to change - an agape meal like a passover meal becoming a cut down essentials of bread and wine (especially in response to repression). Jesus was an end time Kingdom of God preacher for whom the cosmology of heaven above that celestial sphere mattered, and was coming, and whereas some wealthier and healthier people had fewer demons in them he would heal the less well off in preparation for this big event - wholly focussed on the Jews and their salvation. It is Paul who allows these Gentiles to have a Jewish-like religion without the restrictions, and this makes the change. He it was who turned Kingdom of God teaching and healing into a death and resurrection salvation religion, after which the Churches ask questions and the texts get written.

I said if you look at early resurrection texts they are clearly written to make a point and then he disappears - you get the point, you see him, he's gone. I said this is as much about absence as presence in the real world. I said nor is it very ghostly in a paranormal sense. But my friend had another view, and it is interesting.

I've always allowed for bereavement experience where a person appears (say at the end of the bed) and looks as real as can and not like a dream - the brain is capable of powerful narratives and forcing interpretations (the other explanation being a visitation). These appearances are nearly always positive in effect. It is just possible that something like this happened in bereavement from such a powerful, charismatic, personality as Jesus. Nevertheless this is just speculation: what matters is the meaning in the text - the now you see it, and the context of a meal that says "I'm back" and thus there is a relationship in the adjusted situation with the Kingdom of God that Jesus was urgently healing people for.

My friend introduced another possibility. She said that this is how the message world is experienced - that once a visitation or presence gives a message it is then gone. It does not hang around in the ghostly sense I was imagining.

One could imagine, then, that if this is a common experience among those who are so inclined (neither me nor the male friend has had any such presence felt), then the writing about Jesus visiting the disciples and Paul in the transformed manner could be consistent with this experience and therefore "make sense" - just as does an appearance that is more than a dream makes sense.

Nevertheless I think these are but shells to transmit and underline the main theological messages that the New Testament conveys: about legitimacy, authority, the gospel in community, the ethical reversals, the meal, salvation via crucifixion-resurrection, and the transitory time with the resurrection appearances finished (mainly among the leaders and then the congregation of 500 or 120) and a second coming of some fulfilment directly linked to all these connections.

Asked if I believe in ghosts and messages, and the like, I said that we have consciousness - that is we know that we know. It is brain dependent, but consciousness involves more than the chemical electrical sparking (across synapses) - and if there is a quantum particle for pretty much everything, then there can be for consciousness, which would allow it to lift beyond the dependency on the brain. So it is a possibility. My female friend goes further: believing in Karma to higher levels and also (without realising it) a Bodhisattva Buddhist principle of choosing to rebirth in order to help others.

They wondered what position then I have in the Church. Am I something like a deacon then? I said I have no position. I'm just a lay person who has done some theology. I just say what I really think. I have considered ordination from the 1980s, but because I say what I think and don't dress it up it puts me in a difficult position. I had a Unitarian background and didn't fit there, and my theology about a going in, exchange and coming out ceremony is why I am in a moderate Catholic Anglican setting. I would seek ordination but it is obviously very difficult in that I hold these views. I said if nothing comes of this I may consider Liberal Catholicism, which is a much more independent existence. I mentioned the Ancient Catholic Church under H. P. Nicholson because that developed in a spiritualist direction - he was consecrated from Old Catholic lines (explained) and there are these independents around.

I happen to think this is the right approach: to be honest about what you think, rather than parade a party line. Secondly, I am only too well aware that many an evangelical would want to start to proseltyse. What on earth is the point of that? It would be rejected and ignored and does not relate to the reality of the individual experience. So we may as well talk and understand.

I need to do some thinking and reflection on my future. I'm now into experiencing the New Deal, starting earlier today (4th March) with a pathetic double literacy and numeracy test that can only be evidence of the appalling level of education for far too many people. It's all about massaging the unemployment figures via, for too many, including one of my pub friends, a period experienced of nothing but unrelated slave labour. They can come up with as much bullshit as they like - the stories are all the same from whoever has been in these middle thirteen week stints of working for a so called training allowance that cuts down the long term unemployment figures. Before this, for a first sixteen weeks, I am introduced to "intensive" job searching, so actually not intensive because the fixed visiting time is far less than I do now and in conditions of software far less useful than at home! Who are they kidding?

Meanwhile I'm making myself available for some sort of ministry in the Church, from this not very good economically inactive position. Meanwhile it must be the case that doing theology makes my views clash with the party line - and yet the views I hold are well represented in the Anglican Church, inside its packaging. So there is now just a sense of utter drift, where this sense of vocation once again is going absolutely nowhere and which needs sorting out one way or another. In that direction I would wish to spend some time in some monastic setting, but it seems that this stupid New Deal might prevent it in the next sixteen plus thirteen and probably plus another thirteen weeks.

Still, without any titles or whatever, I do seem to attract faith-conversations, and this evening was an example.

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