Sunday 27 April 2008

Female Don Cupitt

The Only Connect blog of the Modern Churchpeople's Union highlights an artificial battle between Vancouver's own Bruce Sanguin and Toronto's Rev. Gretta Vosper. The Sanguin (e!) approach is the more moderate, trying to hold on to and put contemporary life into the same language used by all Christians via a liberal interpretation of it, whereas Gretta Vosper is a critic of Christian language as well as a user.

Douglas Todd, of the Vancouver Sun (Saturday, April 26, 2008) tells us that Sanguin prefers a yellow Christ and values a turquoise mystical Christ to the fundies' blue Christ and Vosper's orange Christ, the orange being thoroughly human and demythologised whilst the yellow one is about divine interconnectedness (sounds like a form of process theology). The colours come from the developmental studies of scholar Don Beck who talks about levels of human growth (and this has been done before: how, for example, the universalism of all things is a higher stage of development from a pluralism of clashes, itself higher than the concrete absolutes of fundies and undeveloped teenagers and younger). I don't care for these brain development ideas that link moving from the concrete to the abstract and then jump from educational theory into religion. The Vancouver Sun is right to show that Gretta Vosper is at the overlap between the faith path of the UCC and the Unitarians. Vancouver, incidentally, is a base for progressive West Coast Unitarianism as it features in both Canada and the USA (Unitarian Uiversalism), as developed by religious humanist Rev. Phillip Hewett in Vancouver who wrote very progressive interpretations of congregational development.

It is when she comes to the topic of God that Gretta Vosper is a female Don Cupitt. She clearly thinks that the word God and its concept is problematic. She just about allows it to mean transcendence, but shifts it then to transcendent values. On the rest of it she might be the equivalent of John Spong, but it is on God she goes the extra distance.

Her latest book title suggests as much: (2008), With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe, HarperCollins.

The radicalism is scholarship-plus, the implications of a Jesucentric approach to ethical values, but one which refuses to turn the use of Jesus into an idolatry. It knows that the focus that Jesus had towards God was turned into a salvation religion about Jesus, and thus wishes to question even that move. Nothing, but nothing, is beyond questioning.

She said back in 2004:

I can no longer believe in an individual who could embody all of that, a single person who could bring about the salvation of the world...

We tell the stories he told. I stress that he lost, not primarily because he was crucified, but because the church rapidly developed a system that silenced what he was saying and created a theology of salvation and atonement, which was contrary to what he was saying.

She said this in 2004 when Gretta Vosper launched the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity in Toronto. It is based in her church (and as such reminds me of the St Marks centre for Progressive Christianity in Sheffield - it is likely to be more politically radical and not quite as consistently theologically radical).
Back in 2004 she also said:

We don't pray to a God who will grant our requests at whim. We don't know what happens. Sometimes our hearts are lifted when we join as people of faith and they connect in a way that is amazingly healing. There is something transforming in prayer that comes from within.

It has to be said that that was then: once someone acquires a radical form of faith, it goes through many transient changes, so although she thought this in 2004 she will have changed.

Anyway her book launch is on Monday evening, April 28, 7:30 for 8:00 pm at the The Multi-faith Centre, 569 Spadina Avenue, Toronto.

There is an interview, dated April 7th 2008, related to the book launch and is worth hearing in full, including the comments from a more mainstream minister: for standard broadcasting it is quite theological and it is the first 22 minutes of part 3 at the bottom of this Canadian Broadcasting Corporation webpage. The other minister questions her commitment to transcendence, but the attempt to parcel her off into secular humanism denies the fact that what she does is religious, and that she is helping to build a faithful congregation. The interview is very good - a journalist who knows about sensible and searching questions and this is why it is also here (it might need two presses on that little arrow):


Mystical Seeker said...

I'm a fan of Bruce Sanguin. I thought that his book "Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos" was a wonderful expression of how a faith and science can interrelate.

I have some sympathy with what Vosper is trying to accomplish, but I think she goes farther than I am comfortable with.

James F. McGrath said...

I'm currently reading the book, and found your analysis of it helpful. I'll let you know when I eventually publish my own review. If there's something that (at this point in the book) seems to me to distinguish Marcus Borg and Gretta Vosper, it is that the former still likes Christianity. I'm not sure to what extent Vosper does. But I'll withhold judgment until I get to the end.

Borg is useful for those who already value the Christian tradition in some form. Vosper might be perfect for addressing those outside of the church entirely. But as she goes out to meet them, will she bring them back in with her, or remain outside with them, because the aim is to remake the church so that it has no distinctive features from humanism or any form of secular spirituality in any tradition.

OK, let me stop and wait until I finish the book! :)

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It may not be her intention to bring people back in; Don Cupitt has never had that intention, though he has written about people staying and being subversive (Radicals and the Future of the Church) and he, and I guess she, wants to reform the Churches. The faith expression is to serve them, not them the faith expression.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

By them I mean the people...