Monday 29 September 2008

Suspend Critical Faculties?

On Saturday 27th Religious Intelligence reported that the Archbishop of Armagh wanted people to drop their religious intelligence, according to George Conger.

The Archbishop of Armagh has called for a ceasefire between the warring factions of the Anglican Communion, arguing that as truth is unknowable, faithful Christians must suspend their critical faculties and place their reliance wholly upon God to lead the church.

However, read the original. Is this what it says?

First of all the sermon (19th September) comments on the restored and renewed church building in which Alan Harper is preaching. He has fond memories of the place.

Then he repeats the reading of 'Paul''s view of two once hostile groups made one by abolishing Law and reconciliation through the cross.

He then refers to division, possibly that between Jesus and Judas that led to betrayal, the Jerusalem Church and resources for the poor, the Jew-Gentile division, the Orthodox East and Catholic West still affecting the Balkans, and Catholic versus Protestant.

Then he is back to the writer on Gentile and Jew and that both can approach the way to God: elsewhere Paul has people as new creations.

However he is in Northern Ireland, city of division, and now sees the Anglican Communion where division is replacing difference. He arguably overdoes the consequence of inter-Anglican hostility in saying that whilst this goes on the poor are not fed, the sick suffer and die unnoticed, the earth warms up and greed carries on. I have to wonder if Anglicans at peace would make much difference. Still.

Then he says the change has to happen, first, with him. Nothing he can conceal from others is concealed from God. He clings to Christ and so God sees only Christ in him. He is the least of people to judge others, and so sets aside any pretence in judgment and to see only Christ in the other person. Such removes division. Through the cross by faith, behaviour must change. Real security only comes when the walls of division are taken down and the other person is one's brother. "Peace", the word of resurrection, is said one to the other, that follows the cross. We should not be adding to those wounds. Look instead at the other through the eyes of Christ alone.

Where does he say then that:

  • truth is unknowable
  • faithful Christians must suspend their critical faculties
  • place their reliance wholly upon God to lead the church
Not in that sermon.

In fact, what George Conger has done is twist it all around, so that he is not looking through the eyes of Christ, but making it look as if the Archbishop has said stop thinking. George Conger is just continuing the division. It's like the recent reporting from Ruth Gledhill that The Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in support of Karl Marx, when Rowan Williams actually said that little else Marx said is true, but agreed with Marx on a point Marx never actually made. We mustn't let truth get in the way of sensationalism, or division.

Now there are criticisms of this piece from Alan Harper, which is that for a Jew as a religious Jew, the eyes of Christ are a matter of division, and that he is an Archbishop who represents an authority system that is itself divisive. Back to canonical obedience and all that. Religion alongside religion, when it represents the interests of a tribe alongside another tribe, leads to division, and Christianity is a religion that can service division within itself and between itself and others. In the end, one just has to be a bit more organic about division, that divisions will happen, and sometimes it is best if people go their own way, and to hope to patch things up later.

I'm not sure that Jesus did represent unity: he represented a reverse ethic and a peaceable one in the midst of oppression and conflict. In the changes Paul made, there was an attempt at universality of tribes, but only via belief through cross and resurrection, which many were going to reject. Thus a unity leads to a division. The real effort has to be between those who accept some beliefs and those who don't, and a conversation between them that is of peace.

My peace to another is regardless of what they believe. That's a bigger challenge, I suggest.

Sunday 28 September 2008


Don't panic. Not mine. The service this morning was the ordination of Kathy Colwell, now a stipendary Deacon and who will be in Barton-upon-Humber for three years, two as priest.

Someone said in the queue for elaborate refreshments afterwards that the service went without a mistake (there was one, actually:"saying" said the service-booklet before we sang). Another (before the queue) said to me that here was Anglicanism at its best, and so the service was thoroughly enjoyed. However, I said how I responded to the service in a reflecting manner all through with great ambiguity (almost crippling). My Unitarian past was identified. I said to someone also there that all through the years people have said to me over and over again about going into ministry, but I said I could not make those promises given today and previously (so the Diocesan Director of Ordinand reported for our benefit). Thanks as one listening said he could indeed see me in the ministry. I indetified the (liturgical) clutter, also, as something that stuck with me, a little: on the one hand I rather liked the adjusted creed sung to the tune of Wonders Still the World Shall Witness, though then I would rather prefer if that rousing tune was to that hymn and not a hardly altered creed. And yet, when I had these repeated ex-ordination thoughts for the nearly two hours of the service, I also thought how much I am into this, part of the doing the song and the flow.

So it rather connects with the previous entry here and the one before that.

I thought the Diocesan Director of Ordinand's sermon was rather good, with an instruction to the new minister to listen. The whole quality of the service was very good too, and was an exercise in smooth production.

The little group of folk to whom I expressed my ambiguity started to suggest I consider being a Reader instead, but I said it is the same thing, and that such promises are made too.

In any case my view of ministry has been pastoral. It's about being someone for others, rather than just ideological expression. One of the bizarre annoyances about my time at Unitarian College, where it was supposed to be creedless, was that I didn't fit in there because of my religious humanism at the time, though they always denied it was ideological. The pastoral side had simply not been tested, certainly not with the few visits I'd made to congregations towards the end of that academic year. Occasionally I dredge up this history; I join the ranks of those who have been there, done something, but never completed, where it all went wrong. I kept going to chapels in the Manchester area and opening my mouth taking their services, and they hated it as not a legitimate expression of Unitarianism - and thus these chapel committees never invited that student back, and wanted someone else, a more compatible student. Ah, creedless Unitarianism and what rubbish is that... Some weeks later the the Buddhist-minded Principal resigned, one who had given a students' observed Christian service in a chapel, after which I would have none of it from another student that Unitarians are free to express their faith without restriction.

This history is a bit like a ventrioquist's dummy, as it ends with: "Back in your box, back in your box".

Let's come to the present day. There is no doubt about it that I am a cuckoo in this nest too. I always had the view that what you can't do in ministry you should not do even as a layperson. It is one reason why I left Unitarianism immediately after I left the college, bar one service in Sheffield where I turned the argument around. I had no religious involvement for one and a half years, then I had Western Buddhist involvement (never rejected) and also Anglican (non-communicating), but resumed the Unitarian when I came to New Holland in 1994. I realised I had been the one to let them down, and especially with some infighting between others I decided to take a back seat - still taking occasional services. My last service - I did consult - was a Eucharist, in 2002, and I was thinking in that direction again. I left completely in 2004 when I increased my attendance at Barton, and then decided to grab the bull by the horns in 2006.

Clearly, though, the dive into involvement still only works marginally as an ideological expression. The ministry thing I did enquire about but as soon as it is tested it collapses. So in a sense this service of ordination was the point where, symbolically, this long standing itch was put to bed. I even thought it would have to happen elsewhere, but there is no elsewhere.

Without going into detail here, my future is uncertain anyway. I'm living in a house that will have to be given up. I may move to Barton, but could go anywhere. If I went elsewhere anything could happen in terms of religious association or none. At present I am like the person who is rather attached locally to what I do, and will carry on, but ideologically I shall please myself. There is an issue whether I should properly be a communicating Anglican, but if I stop I shall stop for good. At present I am minded to carry on (I did consider not going forward in the ordination service, but decided not to do anything now). I can just see where things go. In that I will be moving house, there may be a natural point of possibly breaking this, but I don't know.

The liturgy says that we/I are/am a child of Christ acting according to his authority and you do as you are told via the bishop. No, not me. I am a child of no one except my biological origins. I don't believe in this fantasy history, despite what I do follow about the strange Jesus and his ministry, without excluding others and their faith ministries. But that is my choice, and I am a slave of no one. This whole authority thing is, I suggest, anti-Jesus, never mind anti-human in its fulfilment.

The service began with a non-welcome. Because the bishop can walk in as he pleases, and it is his church, the incumbent does not welcome him so says he does not when he might. I've come across this before. For goodness sake, we are human beings, and let's say welcome to someone because of where we are most of the time and he is not. Bowing and scraping is no alternative to giving a good welcome.

I probably am a Free Catholic, or a liturgist, a sort of arts-and-craft thing; probably still compatible with a Unitarianism that doesn't exist except in corners in the United Kingdom and probably physically collapsing as a whole. In this I just think Unitarianism is ahead of the game.

What It Is

Bronislow Malinoswki's view is that religion is derived from reacting to the trauma of a state of loss of human continuation, that is culturally developed collective humanity is ruptured by death and people seek to explain this away through religion offering immortality. The rupture is felt by individuals but the developed sense of loss comes collectively and culturally (not individually and psychologically), which is also the level of explanation that qualifies and limits the reality of death. The explanation of religion, a salvation scheme (soteriology) is sufficient in itself but gives rise to magical practices within its explanation. The salvation scheme involving heaven and hell is religious, but praying that the dead go to heaven is magical.

I find this a rather unconvincing view of religion, simply because some religion offers not continuation but end as part of the effort required in the salvation scheme. Hindu and Buddhist religion accepts continuation as normal, whereas salvation is to bring matters to a purer, deeper, point of ending the suffering that existence brings. There is no attachment to continuation, but a trapping by continuation, from which there is a desire (if desire is the right word) for something that opens out far better than this existence.

Other views have been offered by Robert Redfield and Weber, which (especially in Weber's case) takes more account of theological variation between different religions. In essence, there is magic, magical religion, and religion. Redfield called the latter the Great Tradition, which is cosmopolitan and international, whilst magical religion is the Little Tradition, that is magically understood and practised, localised versions of the religion.

The problem with Redfield's account is that the driver of religion is often the Little Tradition. The cosmopolitan intelligentsia, including those in monasteries, or upper caste Brahmins, or Christian bishops, and seminaries of all kinds, might philosophise and write, but the underpinning of religion and its core impetus - its engine - comes from below. Weber's system is similar, except that his dynamic model of development from the charismatic to the traditional and then finally to the rational, secular and disenchanted bureaucratic, takes into account the way that the charismatic local feeds into the hierarchy of tradition. So Mary is the object of popular devotion, and the hierarchy turn Mary into this symbol of patriarchy and impossible woman. Going back to origins, there was a highly local Jewish eschatological healer and preacher, and broadened out culturally into Christianity by Paul and company, and ended up via battles about spirit and material into a central tradition incorporating ritual open to magical practice but given more general explanation. Therefore, which is Great and which is Little?

There is also an evolutionary view of religion here, that it starts with magic, becomes magical religion and then develops into full blown philosophical intelligent forms. Yet, arguably, the philosophical represents a loss of the vitality that is in magic and in religion. Europeans and Americans might see this pattern as evolving, but that is because from the Victorians onwards we have looked down on Paganism and village Hinduism, and less so on village Roman Catholicism, but looked up to refined Protestantism - especially liberal Protestantism as fully evolved. Well what of secularisation, which is the privatising of religion back towards the magical, and secularism which is against religion?

Rather, it's about horses for courses, that's to say expect villagers to have religion that has a high magical element depending on inheritance of traditions, climate, and tribal grouping (we all have our tribes), and expect the urban city dweller and those of similar culture to have something different, depending again on inheritances, change, climate, activity. Surprise suprise if religious professionals and academics have different approaches to religion from other folk.

The question is to what extent is the supernatural a sophisticate's explanation for magic? Not entirely, because the supernatural is more purposive, given and linked to means to salvation. It is steadier. Magic is immediate, problem solving and intervening, an exercise of power held in the individual to impact on the supernature, whereas for the supernatural the person with responsibility draws on a divine power held by the divine sphere.

Would it be so easy, however, for then comes the problem of the bishop and priest and the laying on of hands that delivers to this double-caste ontological difference from the rest of us and power (should this be believed in, of course). The priest is a unique bridghead to the supernatural, and conduit. Yet the matter is unclear, because in saying the right litugical words the wine and bread become, for Catholics, the actual body and blood, with an actual participation (if not repeating) of the crucifixion. It is a fine line, but the priest has a power, they say, and holds this under the authority of the already priested bishop.

So now we come to my opinion here, regarding the liturgical, the Free Catholic, the Liberal Catholic and the Catholic.

The Free Catholic was a development of people like Joseph Morgan Lloyd Thomas and others who, coming out of an Oxford Movement affected non-conformity, of some or much liberalism, developed the idea of non-dogmatic sacramentalism. They understood the religiosity of the form, that is (to push metaphors) the importance of the wrapping paper whatever the goodies inside. This must be so if it was truly non-dogmatic sacramentalism. It is arts and crafts. This is postmodernism before its time, non-realism even before its time, though most of the practioners pushed the content they believed in along with the sacramentalism - it's just that they did not insist on any particular belief. It is Christian orthopraxy that allows for Christian heterodoxy. It allows you to be religious, even if you don't think religious.

I think I want it to be a bit cooler than this, that these people did get wrapped up in layers of wrapping paper and did bring on all sorts of beliefs that simply destroyed their own short lived movement (though I'm sure Brither Douglas kept things simple). W. E. Orchard went off to Rome, J. M. Lloyd Thomas went back into education. I take a more Buddhist view, and apply it to liturgical practice, and my view of content is something along the lines of water off a duck's back. It is an unanchored, symbolic language, inherited and said for the sake of saying it, for its spirituality of either the cool quiet, spoken word or the artistic musical spectacle.

Now the Liberal Catholics were different from the Free Catholics in that they did connect with Theosophy and supernatural issues of Messiahship with Krishnamurti and all of that: however, more centrally here is the esoteric or magical element, and the way that James I. Wedwood and Charles W. Leadbeater ac quired a magical, interventionist, power view of ministry and Eucharist. Leadbeater was a clairvoyant and mystic, so he was bound to have this impact. Also the Liberal Catholics, many now regarded as Episcopi Vagantes (and independent bishops have consecrated other independent bishops), put a great deal of stress on their legitimacy and therefore give the laying on of hands an almost magical significance. Another important name was Ulric Vernon Herford, a Unitarian who became liberal Catholic in form and ecumenical and acquired bishop's orders and so stands in the same sort of line as Leadbeater, but despite the lines of bishops coming from Herford he himself is probably more Free Catholic theologically. He was not magical in explanation and had a tendency (in Oxford, at least) towards simplicity and modesty. In that the legitimacy of ministry is important, and given Leadbeater's legacy, and also the titles and ministries so named, the form of liberal Catholic worship can be very elaborate and full, and makes me think of the Anglo-Catholic who becomes more Roman than Rome in Catholicism.

So I am a little distant from that and I don't think I could perform to this elaborate extent, but I remain attracted to the Free Catholic evolution.

For me, religion is like art, and it is postmodern. It should be an arena for free, critical thinking, but obviously should do religion. Maybe one day I'll return to some form of Buddhism; the fact remains that Unitarianism has a weak spirituality (for me) and whilst infected by it I don't like the shadow of its Puritanism and really wish it would get away from the Protestant hymn sandwich form.

I suppose in the two plus intensive Christian years (I attend three or four services a week regularly, two or three Eucharists) I have become more of a thinking Christian doctrinally and now less. These are all issues and questions, and I am not a 'follower' in the sense that most people involved are. I'm not theistic (a possibility) or Christocentric in hard, realist senses. Rather the Christian tradition is a set of challenges throughout the liturgical year, almost confrontations about how to orientate your own life delivered via a religion about Jesus. So the liturgical effort delivers this, but that is all.

[By the way, can anyone guess where that image, that struck me as Mary-like, has come from? The answer shows what a sad character I am.]

Arbuthnot, Michael A. (1999), Article Review and Critique: Malinowski, Bronislaw, 'The Role of Magic and Religion' (1931), November 17th, 1999, Online, World Wide Web: URL:, last accessed, 27 September 2008.
Redfield, R. (1955),
The Little Community, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Redfield, R. (1956), Peasant Society and Culture, Chicago: Chicago University Press.
Weber, M. (1951), Gerth, H. (ed.), The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.
Weber, M. (1958), Gerth, H., Martindale, E. (eds.), The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press.

Friday 26 September 2008

Against Superstition

There is an interesting piece on the irrelevance of the Church, carried at Episcopal Café's Daily Episcopalian. It is a sentiment I agree with.

The Archbishops of York and Canterbury referred to the current financial crisis recently. One of them knowingly used a phrase to be picked up in the media, calling them "bank robbers and asset strippers" whereas the other made a claim that Marx said something that he didn't, but allowed the media to splash about his support for Marx on this, thus sensationalising another Sharia moment. For both the Archbishops of York and Canterbury here was an exercise in irrelevance: speaking like amateurs they add another notch to growing ridicule.

If my blog is becoming increasingly humorous, it is because the ridicule is getting more obvious.

On Thinking Anglicans I have been criticised for reacting (seriously) against the sermon given by Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury at Lourdes. Here I only lapsed into humour. The intention inside the humour was to seriously examine the relationship between religion and magic, the supernatural and magic, rationality and postmodernism. So I have a caricature Archbishop with a cold in a place of healing, who has one of these satellite evangelical preacher's 'green prosperity prayer handkerchief' (Don Stewart gives them away for your contact details, no doubt to be pestered ever after for money - all of this based on the pedalling of these satellite stations that giving money to them benefits your own pocket). My fictional Archbishop has such a handkerchief: after all, what is the difference between saying that can heal you (it does this as well as make you rich) and that Lourdes can heal you? Only that the latter has a longer superstition attached to it, and one is more wrapped up in myth than its instant Protestant miracle-making equivalent. Then my caricature gets wrapped up in his intellectualism, and, as he gets lost within it, and is told to shut up by the surrounding company.

There is a clash now between science (and its method of regularity of returns), coupled with technology (that it performs and works), in that this this-worldly practicality creates a way of thinking, and that this way of thinking is at loggerheads with living inside a mythical dreamworld. As far as I can see, Lourdes and all it represents is a mythical dreamworld.

There is a place for dreamworlds; there is always a place for enchantment. The arts are important in adding roundness and colour. Max Weber saw the danger of a disenchanted world, although he saw this as unavoidable. Marx saw the disenchanted world as evidence of the last stage of liberation: real and concrete relationships coming to the fore and not what Rowan Williams thinks Marx thought about myth. Marx had no interest in myth (ideology was a product of real relationships - called false consciousness) and Marx came to reject the idealisation of the human being (which Weber did retain as a viewpoint, despite its loss in bureaucratic modernist society).

So we have science, and technology, and we also have history. History is also a critical approach to the past: in fact it is largely about the use of documents held in the present but made in the past that indicate what happened and what motivated people in the past. Every document is a primary document of something (what it tells us directly about purpose and authorship) and is often a secondary document about something else.

The gospels are primary documents of the early Churches: their views, expectations and directions, and are secondary documents about Jesus and the mission - being biography-like and history-like in form. The rest of the New Testament has various forms but are obviously also of the early Churches, and mainly of one central strand.

In the gospels, where they appear, the birth narratives are constructions and clearly highly mythic, though it is all mythic in framework - they were people inside their own Jewish and eschatological mythology and then the impact of Greek culture. A highly localised Jewish end-days movement gets broadened out after Jesus's death and undergoes rapid charismatic and cultural shifts.

So the initial birth myths, drawing together early Christian identifications of Jewish scriptures on expectation, with the addition of Jesus's mother's appearance at key moments of the story, become built up via ecclesiastical tradition into a mariology, and a mariology that satisfies both a patriarchy via an impossible virgin-mother and localised village and rural superstition below the sophisticates of patriarchy.

(This is not to say which is the most vital part of religion. Arguably all religion is rooted in magic, and the sophisticates come later and impose traditionalist bureaucratic form.)

When Jesus was actually, historically, born, in Capernaum or Nazareth or wherever in Galilee, there was no fanfare, visitation, fore-knowledge or anything. It was just another unremarkable birth among one brood. For one reason or another, Jesus turned into an itinerant healer and preacher of the last days, as did many, leaving at his death a group of puzzled followers, a family involved and some newcomers (like Paul was) all of whom were still dealing with the last days and expectations business and what would happen next, and handling the mythic beliefs and language of the time.

We do not know how faithful his mother was; there is even a hint of strain in the family. How unusual! Jesus says abandon the family to join his movement. Mother though also turns up at some events, and at the end (so the biography-like suggests). We hear nothing about his dad.

A statement by Rowan Williams that "Elizabeth recognises Mary as bearing within her the hope and desire of all nations" is part of the accretion of myth. He might live in that myth, and it might feed his sense of faithfulness. It does nothing for me.

He says it is a story:

"This story of Mary's visit to Elizabeth is in many ways a very strange one."

Usually he tries to pump it up as hard as it will go towards realism. He's done this on the birth narratives and resurrection, because historical method is so critical and unkind to lovers of myth as history. The question is whether it is a good story.

First of all, I have a bias against superstition. It does nothing other than further ignorance. It is against my value of promoting education.

Secondly it is a harmful story. Virgin-mothers are like square circles, and do nothing for women's identity, equality or sexuality. I find it odd when dyed in the wool Catholics argue for equality when the mythic framework they inhabit does the opposite: do not be surprised if a Catholic like Rowan Williams so often seems compromised about the equality of people. Is equality even a 'gospel value'? I actually doubt this.

"When Mary came to Bernardette" is just superstition wrapped up in a geographical location, and Rowan Williams might make much of it but I cannot and will not.

Magic is for people like Derren Brown. They do make things happen. These honest practioners can do what all the cold readers can do and claim is ghostly, they can conjure up visions and make people believe what they did not believe. They cut through the twaddle of superstition of tale-telling and the convincing one person from a charlatan that the world is constructed one way rather than another.

If it is then not like that, but a story, the issue is then the harm or good of a story, or a bit of entertainment.

I'm not interested in female semi-deities by some sort of myth of patriarchy. If I want the female principle, I'll find one that is open, networked, aspirational, plural - not this that reflects female impossibility and male hierarchy in dresses.

(By the way, this is how I am 'Pluralist', not because I am some sort of open channel for all sorts of opinions that lacks a critical approach.)

Can Christianity be reformable, be consistent with contemporary thought and can it advance our humanity? My view is that we forever have to critically extract from the tradition. I may be wrong here; sometimes I think the tradition only works as a whole and is doomed.

I am more 'liturgical' than Catholic: if I am Catholic in any sense then it is lightly so. I do have a lot of time for those Free Catholics; I have become more distant from Liberal Catholics (because of the magic and fantasy, despite the heterodox extracting). I am not particularly Protestant either, in that whilst I do not go in for gestures during liturgies, nor do I face the Book at the Gospel reading. I have a lot of time for Charles Darwin's wife Emma, who at the moment of the Creed got her family to turn around and face the congregation.

The liberal is selective, and in the end although the liturgy is a song to a whole myth, and is useful as a pathway maker; the liberal is also clear about the difference between liturgy and theology. Saying no in theology is important, and I say no to this Mary emphasis. I draw no stories from it at all.

Thursday 25 September 2008

New Liturgies

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent article in The Spectator, 'Face It: Marx was Partly Right about Capitalism', the Liturgical Commission has been rushed into action to make key changes to Church of England worship. Here is a sneak preview of the opening lines of the Common Worship Eucharist, as revised:

Marx be with you
And also with you.

Almighty Marx,
Unto whom all brains are open,
All analyses known,
And from whom no thought is hidden:
Cleanse us from false consciousness
By the inspiration of Lenin and Trotsky,
That we may perfectly love
What you have written as historical process.
Reading you.

The elected Lecturer uses these suitable words:

Marx so loved humanity
That he gave us Marxism
And even the Frankfurt School,
To be the advocate of the Working Class
To remove false consciousness,
And bring us to a time of plenty.

Let us recognise our position in the class system,
Firmly resolved to take necessary action,
As our purpose is to change the world.

Almighty Marx, our earthly Scribe,
We have exploited
Or been exploited against
In deed and culture,
Through the system and intention,
Through our own deliberate gain, or loss.
We cannot help it,
Because of surplus value.
For the sake of your labour,
Who wrote for us,
Guide us towards the future
And grant that we may serve humanity without profit
To the glory of humankind.

The elected Lecturer says:

Almighty Marx
Who analyses all what we have all done
Show us the way forward
Strengthen us in political action
Keep us in unfolding history
Through Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Wednesday 24 September 2008

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

There seems to be an idea abroad that if the usual suspects shout and weep even louder that this equals more pressure.

Ruth Gledhill seems to want to play along as the deposing of Bishop Bob Duncan, the ex-Bishop of Pittburgh, meets the usual sensationalist agenda requirements.

In England it would be surprising if the Bishops of Winchester, Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter and Rochester didn't comment. Or Anglican Mainstream. Or Fulcrum (a little). So what?

Bishop Robert Duncan was ducking and diving, dodging and weaving, with the clear intention of moving his diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Someone with more skill than him went in and took him out.

A paragraph as this...

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams is facing growing pressure to create a new Anglican province for conservatives after a leading evangelical was effectively defrocked in the US. nonsense because the Archbishop of Canterbury does not create anything, let alone even recognise anything. It is not his business to comment on the internal affairs of other Churches. The Anglican Consultative Council may alter who it recognises as in the Anglican Communion. This intended 'Province of North America in GAFCON' (whatever that is) does not even exist yet. So all this is just sensationalist hype, as ever.

Michael Nazir-Ali gave a telephone interview to The Times in which he is quoted as saying:
"Quite a few American bishops had come to Lambeth, knowing that nothing would change afterwards. I do not think we can take seriously what they agreed at Lambeth. This is of a piece with other meetings where they have been present, have agreed things and where nothing has happened afterwards."

First of all, Michael Nazir-Ali stayed away. Secondly, no one "agreed" to anything at Lambeth, so American action was not "of a piece" with anything. The whole point was no one agreed to anything. Rowan Williams and his group announced an intention to have a Pastoral Forum, and spoke about if the moratoria on boundary crossings and same sex blessings and active relationship gays in the episcopate are not maintained. Well, they are not maintained: it seems that there is an continuing intention abroad for not having active relationship gays in the episcopate for the time being and subjecting same sex blessings to discipline (forcing Archbishop Barry Morgan in Wales to respond to the press by publically face in two directions at once). But the boundary crossings continue without a pause for breath.

The action of TEC, in taking first steps to prevent a bishop trying to remove a diocese, is to prevent one of these transgressions - to stop what would amount to boundary crossing. If Lambeth 2008 is to be observed in any sense, then Duncan would have announced an intention to go into the coming Pastoral Forum's dry dock.

So, arguably, TEC has been completely consistent with Lambeth.

For the Archbishop of Canterbury to ask the ACC recognise a competitor province would indeed be to institutionalise the split in the Anglican Communion, which GAFCON has aimed to bring about by setting up its own Primates Council, a different seat of authority.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Archbishop to Lourdes

This is not the sermon for Wednesday:

It is good to be the first Archbishop of Canterbury to be invited here at the Roman Catholic shrine of Lourdes. I preach to you today on the subject of The Supernatural, the Magical, the Irrational and the Postmodern Narrative.


Excuse me I have something of a cold. I will just take out my green prosperity prayer handkerchief to wipe my nose.

[Wipes his nose]

You can get these on the Internet. Apparently people in debt suddenly become rich when they get one, and people who have ailments get healed. Thanks to Don I think it was.

I begin. When we as Catholic bishops - and I count myself as one, even if you may regard me as laity (and I will address this point) - place our hands upon those we ordain, we are not engaging in magic...


[Wipes his nose]

I think I will need to take an aspirin. I do keep losing them. I learnt the other day not to leave my aspirins in the aviary at Lambeth Palace, as the parrots eat 'em all.

[Takes a tablet]

Rather we lay on hands to give an indelible deposit into the soul of a man, or maybe a woman, and as bishops stand in a line that goes back to Peter, the first patriarch of Rome.

This is probably not superstition, I do not think, but it is likely categorised as supernatural; it is not magic, surely, but it is a recognition of authority and personal character. Now I do not wholly agree with the Reformed or Protestant brethren that all that matters is that we engage in a Fellowship of Faith; it is not sufficient to have a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, for instance, though I would wish to state how similar are the beliefs they hold and the beliefs I express in public.


There needs to be the indelible deposit. Just a minute, there is something in my nose.

[Uses the green prosperity prayer handkerchief]

In recent decades, Anglicans, aware of the criticism of our orders, have begun to become mongrel-like (or ecumenical) regarding the laying on of hands, so that by bringing in Lutherans and others laying on of hands that we have muddied the waters, so to speak, or cleansed them, and made Anglican orders as indelible as those of any Catholic.

Some traditions have stressed the esoteric in all of this activity, and Anglicans like Archbishop Davidson remember the likes of Old Catholic Arnold Harris Mathew and then the very esoteric Wedgwood and Leadbeater who did err on the side of magic, and from them and others, such as those from the Eastern Church of India or indeed Roman Catholic breakaways have continued the deposit of ministry which does indeed sound more magical. However - this is why I stress the importance of orthodoxy - whereas with Hindu influenced Theosophy and other traditions some of those lines of ministry have become heterodox.

Whether this is sufficient to demarcate the difference between magic and the supernatural I confess I am unclear. The difference, normally, is between magic where a power resides with the shaman who manipulates, and the supernatural, where the power is delegated and siphoned from the heavenly realm.

Cough. Splutter.

My nose is running but good job I've got a moustache and beard. In today's more rational society, both notions of supernatural and magical are problematic. The Church of England has offered a small apology to Charles Darwin, who we regard as one of ours but lost his faith, even though he and his family had large associations with some grouping called the Unitarians, and the Darwins mixed with another of the Wedgwoods, who like those Unitarians (I'm reminded of the inadequacy of Bishop Spong here) probably believe in neither the supernatural nor magic but did in the liturgical and the individual.

This brings me to the matter of where I am standing, here in the beautiful Pyrenees. Do we regard, then, the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the French peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous as magic, as supernatural or as irrational?

Clearly we would have to examine her psychology and her individual beliefs, her expectations, and the beliefs of significant others around her, for the encouragement of whatever she claimed she saw. However, not everything comes to us according to culture, and we must not be subsumed by culture. God, who is potentially supernatural, has the ability to break free. I agree with Benedict that God made himself known through Greek culture and was self-limiting in his revelation, and we cannot go back to such speculations of a Greek culture free Jesus as attempted by Adolf von Harnack. So, yes: God does make himself known through culture and we must know the culture of Bernadette Soubirous. However, we must be very careful about culture and religion, as the Nazis demonstrated only too dreadfully with their invented paganism and ideas of blood.


I seem to have lost my green handkerchief. I did put it inside here but it has completely gone. Things don't disappear, do they? Having said that I do have to buy dozens of biros because they are forever disappearing - I must have used several hundred on Dostoevsky. I was just thinking the other day how miraculous are biros, invented by a Hungarian I think. I forget his name. Such a brilliantly rational object.

[Cardinal Walter Kasper passes the Archbishop a white handkerchief, and he uses it instead]

So yes we do need to not dismiss culture and all the sciences, as Darwin indicated in the new way of understanding and the correct place we should give to doubt and the don't know. And I am tempted to say that it is the knowing what we don't know and the not knowing what we don't know that matters here. Knowing what we know is so limited, but sometimes we don't know what we don't know either.

Cough. Cough.

Oh yes, I must remember my appointment with the Bishop of Linctus tomorrow, when I get back.

Culturally she - Bernadette - would not have seen, for example, a vision of Muhammad's Night Journey, as we consider this at least a possibility in the twenty first century multicultural Church of England. Or perhaps Krishna opening his mouth filled with mud and others seeing the whole universe in the orifice. Was Muahmmad's journey real, magical, supernatural, or a dream? There is the mosque in Jerusalem! A clue may well be in Krishna, for here clearly is the powerful myth, a story that has gripped generations and made culture and religion as one, though even Indian religion includes aspects of revelation when considering the deposit of the written word. None of this can be dismissed. Whether Bernadette Soubirous saw a vision or not, certainly we can say that the story of the Virgin was powerful for her. The narrative was so gripping it was real. I cannot suggest that this is the explanation, of course, for that would be to replace the supernatural, the magical, the irrational, with the postmodern, and we ought to critique the postmodern explanation...

[Cardinal Walter Kasper leans over to the Archbishop, and whispers in his ear.]

Oh yes, and so we come to the Eucharist, for which we believe in Real Presence. Amen.

Monday 22 September 2008

Pluralist's Law (Upgrade)

Going to the church this evening, I realised that what I had written and what I wanted to write were not quite the same, so Pluralist's Law needs extending further with Service Pack One. So here it is:

As an evangelical discussion disputing the orthodoxy of another grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Unitarians approaches one. The speed at which the discussion arrives at mentioning Unitarians is in direct inverse relationship to the solidity of the original argument. If the discussion mentions Unitarians or Unitarianism, for something that does not equate to Unitarianism, then it has run out of a credible argument - if there ever was one at the beginning.

Pluralist's Law wants to avoid reference to the Nazis, but it still applies, when evangelicals discuss the authority exercised by those they dislike - that the speed at which the discussion arrives at mentioning Nazis is in direct inverse relationship to the solidity of the original argument.

However, I can mention Unitarians and, in many cases, mentioning them in reference to me is allowed.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Pluralist's Law

Godwin's Law is named after Mike Godwin, and is a response to the Internet age of posting arguments among many contributors. It states that:

As a discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

By extension this becomes that:

If you mention Hitler or Nazis in a post, you have effectively ended the discussion: it has nowhere else to go.

I mention this in response of the actions of Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and the deposing of Bob Duncan, and the rapidity that the argument on Stand Firm in Faith ended up mentioning Hitler and the Nazis.

So I have a further small extension and shift of emphasis to Godwin's Law:

If you have to mention Hitler and the Nazis, for something that did not involve the magnitude of Hitler and the Nazis, then you have run out of a credible argument.

I shall call this Pluralist's Extension, assuming no one thought of it first, which I suppose I ought to find out as I would if I was doing some academic writing.

There might be another law too. I am sure this is unique, so this is Pluralist's Law:

As an evangelical discussion disputing the orthodoxy of another grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Unitarians approaches one. If you have to mention Unitarians or Unitarianism, for something that does not equate to Unitarianism, then you have run out of a credible argument.

Stand Firm in Faith (and all the rest) regularly achieves that one.

Confused? It's GAFCON Again

One minute, when it comes to Anglicanism and autonomy, "nationalism" is a sin, but next minute we have:

The world has changed. People no longer allow their identities to be defined by others. We live in a world not of empires as in the 1860’s but sovereign nation states and individual autonomy.

This is the mind-world of Chris Sugden and his tortured wavy argument as he pens the way of GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.

So now we have the equivalent of sovereign nation states and individual autonomy, then. Er, no:

In sovereign nation states, the will of the people is supreme. (But a church cannot have its doctrines determined by its members in the same way).

Right. So there has to be hierarchy - no will of the people in a Church (where the people make up the Body of Christ, presumably). However, then the argument turns again:

In forming a council the GAFCON primates took a step towards governance. They distinguish the work of developing the movement from the work of governance thus: "The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will function as a means of sharing in this great task [of defending and promoting the biblical gospel]. We invite individuals, churches, dioceses, provinces and parachurch organisations who assent to the Jerusalem Declaration..."

Ah yes, this Jerusalem Declaration. Was this not supposed to be the outcome of the Global Anglican Future Conference - a conference? Surely that was a form of autonomy and the equivalent of a constitution of a nation state? Was not the Conference gathered supreme?

Or was the Declaration written by some scribes in back rooms and only presented to the Conference? After all, it was leaked before the Conference made its approval. It had every sign of being as 'Religious Trotskyist' in method of production as the rest of the development towards GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem.

But no, apparently not. It is not about organisation! Not even a visible one!

Finding their identity in the faith rather than in the organization, they can move forward together in their orthodox ministries; ‘develop networks, commissions publications’.

Then we are told that this organisation that isn't, that is, is rather like a starfish. It is headless. So what is the Primates' Council then? How headless is that? This apparent headlessness is to be contrasted with the confused head of the Anglican Communion:
Those who identify with the institution and its head can only move as the head moves. If the head is paralysed between personal convictions contrary to the teaching of the church and his job description to maintain the doctrine of the church, then they are paralysed also.

There are two options here. Either Chris Sugden cannot string a consistent argument together, because he muddles metaphors and then neither knows whether this FCA is a hierarchy or not, or this is deliberately set to confuse, starting with muddled metaphors as part of the attempt at sending up chaff. As for the starfish being united, there is no way that traditionalist Anglo-Catholics can accept the Jerusalem Declaration neat, with its stress on the Thirty-nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and selective scriptural literalism. Given the literalist mentality here this is a fundamental problem and far more so than simply the paralysis identified among GAFCONies on the issue of women and headship.

Meanwhile, someone is jumping the gun regarding the removal from The Episcopal Church and escape to the Southern Cone of Bishop Bob Duncan. The former Primate of the Southern Cone writes to the Archbishop of Canterbury for him to call:

a meeting of the Primates to give formal recognition to a new Province in North America, as desired by the Common Cause Partners Federation.

Might this be the reason, then, that Bob Duncan was swiftly removed - that he was removed before he could claim to take the family silver with him? Perhaps now he has been given the boot there is nothing to stop him setting up some competition.

The Archbishop had set out his plan. He will be organising a Pastoral Forum, an object of intervention that GAFCONies do not want and The Episcopal Church presumably would not tolerate.

If the Archbishop of Canterbury were to change policy so quickly from Lambeth 2008, he would be doing such without notice, backing those who have organised a schism against the Anglican Communion, with a different, er, hierarchy of decision making: its Primates Council (which has taken power to itself that the Primates Meeting does not have).

Anyway, why ask someone whose 'head is paralysed between personal convictions contrary to the teaching of the church and his job description to maintain the doctrine of the church'? That seems to be quite a confused action, if the GAFCONies and the Southern Conies are signing from the same hymn sheet.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Anglican Collider Breaks Down

The Anglican Collider will be out of action for months or even years, according to The European Cern (TEC).

A large magnet, located at Pittsburgh, USA, has malfunctioned. Apparently it has slipped away, and may only now be useful for attaching to a different, lesser collider. The fault seems to be in a nut, essentially characterising a bishop, and bishops are notorious for having a screw loose.

This blog recently recorded how Anglican particles are sent spinning round the collider in opposite directions, causing huge outbursts of energy that generate more heat than light.

Some hope that the experiments will lead to an understanding of how Christianity began, whilst others just replace hope with despair. Some are more limited in ambition, rather like most clergy become, just waiting to see what fundamental questions arise, like why Anglicanism exists at all.

The problems emerged on Friday. The magnets, also called bishops, have to be super cool in order that the particles stay within the collider. It seems that a number of magnets have been heating up. A critical point was passed when the Presiding Bishop particle was set off, causing ruptures in a number of places and an immediate dislodging of that one magnet at Pittsburgh. Scientists, of course, have noted which magnets stayed cool and in place.

The rupture of the magnet let out a huge amount of stinky gas, although a number of scientists have warned before about the amount of hot air being generated. The detection of helium led to a number of high pitched voices on Friday.

The actual problem can be easily fixed: it just needs a replacement magnet. However, the whole TEC needs warming up slowly and then cooling down again, and this takes considerable time. The Archbishop of Canterbury provides the model for this slow operation. He is known to be in deep freeze most of the time, is slowly warmed up, makes an ambiguous statement and then cools down again back to freezing point. His one utterance when warm is said to keep the Anglican Collider going for months. Fortunately he has said nothing recently since a pastoral letter generated some activity but less than expected due to particles nudged in all sorts of unclear directions and lacking sufficient energy.

The failure at Pittsburgh, known as a "quench", could be repeated elsewhere, and in any case is not the first failure in these systems. However, with each failure, scientists say they become more practised in making the necessary replacements.

Friday 19 September 2008

A Different Covenant - and Controversy

An interesting debate in Unitarian Universalism... Whilst the Anglican Communion worries over what its Covenant text might look like, the UUA is worrying over what its Article II will look like, a Covenant of its own.

The Unitarian Universalist Association Article II has to be renewed every fifteen years, and this underlines the evolving nature of Unitarian Universalism. The UUA Commission on Appraisal started this in 2006. Here is the Draft text so far, and scroll down for what is ruffling the feathers...

ARTICLE II: Covenant

Section C-2.1 Purposes.

As a voluntary association of free yet interdependent congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association will support the health and growth of existing congregations and the formation of new congregations. The Association will devote its resources to and exercise its corporate powers for religious, educational, and humanitarian purposes. It will empower the creation of just and diverse congregations that enact Unitarian Universalist Principles in the world.

Section C-2.2 Identity.

The Unitarian Universalist Association is composed of congregations rooted in the heritage of two religious faiths: the Unitarian heritage ever questioning and ever seeking the unity in all things, and the Universalist heritage ever affirming the power of hope and God’s infinite love. Both traditions have been shaped by heretics, choice-makers who in every age have summoned individuals and communities to maintain their beliefs in spite of persecution and to struggle for religious freedom.

Section C-2.3 Sources.

The living tradition we share draws from many sources.

Unitarianism and Universalism are grounded on more than two thousand years of Jewish and Christian teachings, traditions, and experiences. Unitarian Universalism is not contained in any single book or creed. It draws from the teachings of the Abrahamic religions, Earth-centered spirituality, and other world religious traditions. It engages perspectives from humanism, mysticism, theism, scepticism, naturalism, and feminist and liberation theologies. It is informed by the arts and the sciences. It trusts the value of direct experiences of mystery and wonder, and it recognizes the sacred may be found within the ordinary.

Wisdom and beauty may be expressed in many forms: in poetry and prose, in story and song, in metaphor and myth, in drama and dance, in fabric and painting, in scripture and music, in drawing and sculpture, in public ritual and solitary practice, in prophetic speech and courageous deed.

Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed.

Section C-2.4 Principles.

In order that we might work together in harmony to make our communities and our world more likely to protect and nurture all that is positive and hopeful; and in order that members of our congregations might find spiritual challenge to become their best selves as they worship and work together to create the Beloved Community, we, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to honour and uphold:

The inherent worth and dignity of every person

At the core of Unitarian Universalism is recognition of the sanctity of every human being across the lifespan. We are relational creatures, capable of both good and evil. We have experienced enough brokenness, including in ourselves, to seek the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. We are called to make choices that help to heal and transform ourselves and the world, and to move toward solidarity with all beings.

Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations

Grateful for the gift of life and mindful of our own mortality, we seek to respond with generosity and loving action. We are called to live in right relationship with others.

Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth

We seek to enter dialogue with one another in mutual love and respect, honouring our varied backgrounds and paths. We are called to stretch and deepen our faith through religious education, creative engagement, and spiritual practice in our congregations and in our lives.

A free and responsible search for truth and meaning

Unitarian Universalism is an evolutionary religion that encourages and supports lifelong spiritual exploration. Unitarian Universalist religious authority lies in the individual, nurtured and tested in congregation and wider community. In a spirit of humility and openness, we are called to seek truth and meaning, wherever found, through experience, reason, intuition, and emotion.

The right of conscience and the use of democratic processes

We seek to ensure that all voices are heard, especially those often left out on the margins. We are called to promote fairness, accountability, honesty, and transparency.

The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

We seek to create, sustain, and celebrate multi-generational and multi-cultural communities where oppression cannot thrive and where hope and peace flourish. We are called to counter legacies of injustice and to foster reconciliation.

Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

Inspired by the beauty and holiness of the Earth, we become more willing to relinquish material desires. We recognize the need for sacrifice as we build a world that is both just and sustainable. We are called to be good stewards, restoring the Earth and protecting all beings.

As free yet interdependent congregations, we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust, kindness, and support. Should we break this covenant, we will seek to repair the relationship and recommit to the promises we have made.

Section C-2.5 Inclusion.

We strive to be an association of congregations that welcome persons of every identity while calling them to act in right relationship. We encourage the fullest participation allowed by law, with no person excluded solely on the basis of age or identity.

Structures of power have traditionally created barriers for persons and groups with certain identities, abilities, and histories. Dissatisfied with mere non-discrimination, we commit to structuring congregational and associational life in ways that empower and enhance the efforts and experiences of every participant.

Section C-2.6 Freedom of Belief.

Freedom of belief is central to the Unitarian Universalist heritage. Nothing in these bylaws shall be deemed to infringe upon individual freedom of belief. Although no statement of belief can be required as a creedal test for individual membership in a congregation or congregational affiliation with the Association, congregations are free to establish their own statements of purpose, covenants, and bonds of union.

Some of us in the British Unitarians used to be rather envious of the American script about its principles and purposes, compared with the unprogressive British equivalent and some of the duplicity it encouraged.

But this one is not problem free; the statement causing all the trouble is this:

Grateful for the traditions that have strengthened our own, we strive to avoid misappropriation of cultural and religious practices and to seek ways of appreciation that are respectful and welcomed.

There are people arguing against including this text, or fundamentally changing it, and those who think it is right. No one has decided what constitutes misappropriation, say some.

Given that it draws from so many sources, the use of an imported or borrowed ritual inevitably changes the meaning of that ritual. I used to realise that when in the Hull Unitarian Church use was made of what were called 'Buddhist Beatitudes'. The framework into which they were put was nothing to do with Buddhism, despite the text involved. When I took a service I tried to use imported content with fidelity, but this was not always possible.

Never mind Sydney, I am one of the few laypeople who has presided at a Eucharist. I made changes to broaden it, but tried to make it faithful to where it was coming from. This meant an inherited and contentious Unitarian view of Incarnation along with a recognition that this was part of the core community ritual of the Christian community that was narrower and collectively upheld what the Unitarians had rejected. So inevitably as this ritual drew on its available and useful multiple meanings, it was different in emphasis from its source. Whether it was a misappropriation of cultural and religious practices I don't know, but in the end we are going to apply our own meanings as participants (and I think it has changed in emphasis of meaning even within Christianity - we live in different times under different assumptions), and meanings will be extracted.

For what it is worth, despite its noble intentions, I think that paragraph is best dropped. Not that I am in the UUA or even in the United States, but it seems it would lead people to argue about what can be used and cannot be used, and that would go against the binding function of ritual.


I try to be limited in commenting in situations outside my own sphere of experience. Thus there is little here, except occasionally, about what must be the momentous moment of deposing Robert Duncan as the Bishop of Pittsburgh, in The Episcopal Church, who nevertheless remains in some sort of administrative employment, and who will get invited back when the Standing Committee declares UDI.

My only comment is a Church will defend its boundaries by existing rules, or find means to defend and redefend its boundaries, when previously one of its own is determined to extract part of it and take it elsewhere. At the moment the deposed bishop avoided becoming lonely by joining the Southern Cone, but the boundary crossing goes one further should the Southern Cone involve itself with the existing Standing Committee of an Episcopal Diocese, and presumably that Standing Committee will also be deposed by one means or another.

I cannot see how anything the same could happen in the British Isles, and definitely could not in England where the Church is welded into the law of the land. A bishop who walked would be an instant Episcopi Vagantes, and if another Anglican Church or institution became involved it would simply be as of a different denomination. Those that joined it would be those who rented or acquired property, paid out expenses and set up all the necessary parts of running a denomination. The notion of extracting out part of a Church seems to be an impossibility. It does not mean there could not be, say, a GAFCON Province of the British Isles, but it would be a DIY affair. There might be a lot of disobedience among personnel within existing dioceses on the way there, but once gone they would be gone.

The American situation seems so much more tortured than this.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Barry Morgan being Flexible

Archbishop Barry Morgan, a supporter of the Modern Churchpeople's Union, clearly understands Anglicanism as not being confessional. He stated:

"[One] of the glories of Anglicanism has been about being held together by our beliefs as contained in historic creeds and formulas but not by agreement to particular statements about that faith in each generation. That is the difference between belonging to a Communion rather than a confession."

This is a clear difference with the likes of GAFCON, in which he made it clear that a plain reading of Scripture is not good enough: presumably it does not stand up to context and transfer. In treating some sexual issues flexibly and yet others, like homosexuality, rigidly, he wonders how Anglicans...

"...have boxed ourselves into this particular corner."

Diversity should be allowed on all these topics. The present crisis had presented problems for some Churches but:

"On the other hand, in other places, it has sent positive messages about the place of homosexuals in God's church."

Not, though, if the Church in Wales obeys the moratoria: if, for example, it found Jeffrey John to be the most qualified to be Bishop of Bangor and yet did not proceed because of a moratorium. Then there are no positive messages, only negative messages and those of duplicity.

Barry Morgan wishes that the dialogue that happened at Lambeth 2008, of listening and putting your viewpoint, could continue, with ongoing relationship building.

Covenant: Busting

In trying to achieve a Covenant with disciplining powers, the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) continues its campaign against The Episcopal Church (TEC) and it apparently being in favour of the first two sections of the St Andrew's Draft but not the last section or the tentative appendix. The ACI authors want to tell the Covenant Design Group arguments of which it is well aware. Repetition does not equal keeping up some form of pressure.

A piece by Philip Turner and Christopher Seitz argues that TEC was over-represented at Lambeth 2008, given 200 or so missing bishops from elsewhere. Well, first of all, those who turn up have a bigger right to be heard and make an input. We don't know what those 200 missing represent; they seem themselves to vary between uninterest in a Covenant and wanting one so strict that it would never pass. One of the problems about not turning up is you don't know what they think.

A Covenant that will pass all the various synods of Churches will have to be acceptable to most if not all of these Churches, and must include those which it targets. If it does not, then it will be useless. It is not just TEC that would reject the punitive elements of a Covenant - even the Church of England might (given its own debating), and there is also the question whether, legally, it can even accept such outside limitation on its own development, as it changes its balance via ordaining women as bishops.

Of course the argument has run that a Covenant without disciplining powers would be useless. It may be, therefore, that the whole approach towards a Covenant is useless. But then we are back to repetition, because it has been said so often. A punitive one won't get through, and one that describes Anglicanism has no point.

The Catholicity of Anglicanism is not affected: it remains as was, and innovation that seeks to be faithful to the core sources of the Church has been a feature of Anglicanism since well before this particular dispute. Congregationalist Churches are part of Catholic Christianity too, so independency is no bar to Catholicity, but Anglicanism has an Episcopacy for each Church that can meet between Churches, as indeed it does once every ten years and far more often informally and through agreements and recognitions.

The ACI argument is stuck in a rut. It goes nowhere except round and around. Indeed the more it says the same thing, the less effective it becomes.

All this follows West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez trying to support his and his group's Covenant writing activity when attending the Festival of Faith at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bladensburg, Maryland, USA, on September 13th, mixing with Forward in Faith representation.

His main point was that it is the Covenant or bust.

He wants the process speeding up. After comments on St Andrew's Draft should be in by March 2009 the third draft of the covenant is to be completed by next April to be ready for submission to the Anglican Consultative Council when it meets in May.

He thinks that after their three rounds of discussions they:

"...should be in a position to really declare the mind of the church. It’s on that kind of reasoning I am saying I believe we could be in a position (to move ahead), but I may be wrong."

I don't know how they think their own discussions leads to the mind of the Church. What Church? Who agrees with that?

In any case, events seem to be happening quicker than with an even speeded up Covenant. He still wants Churches to sign up to a Covenant that would then define them as having violated it.

Er, yeah: not likely. Nor this illustration:

"Once you belong to the family, you belong. But in many families, you remain in the family but you can’t stay in the house because your presence in the home is a bad example to other young people, and so you are forced to move out because what you are doing is an offence to the integrity of the family."

So telling the daughter, who has followed what she thinks are gospel principles regarding all her friends, that she is going to sign up to house rules in order to be kicked out, is going to lead her, and other family members who agree with her, to sign up?

Indeed not likely.

Lib Dems when it is 1929

I voted Conservative in 1979 and Labour in 1997, the latter because it was a straight Labour-Conservative marginal. Otherwise I have voted Liberal and Liberal Democrat, and would again.

Cleggy has been a disappointment so far, in that he has the media looks and speaking ability, and has clarity, but he has made no particular impact. He is now trying this with his more 'orange' policy of cutting tax for middle and lower income earners.

The problem is this. With success, the Liberal Democrats have moved from a fringe of the regions party to a two parties within one. They cover the whole country now, but they did it first by taking Conservative seats where Labour were so far behind in 1997 and then, as Blair forgot the core Labour vote, started taking Labour inner city seats and became seen as a public spending supporting party.

The problem was exposed at the last election. Although they did well, they didn't do as well as they should have. The problem was the Conservatives dented their performance in the south, and so now redistribution has a tax cutting method rather than public spending, with more appeal to the south.

Labour did end the Conservatives' private greed and public squalor years. However, the narrative now is: 'All that spending but what's the result?' So the Liberal Democracts have to talk about efficiency.

There is also a genuine need to talk about simplicity. The Gordon Brown tax years have been those of complication, and of smoke and mirrors - which cauught him out recently that has been one cause of his demise.

We are now in a 1929 situation and politics cannot ignore this. It has allowed Clegg in his speech to talk about Labour as the living dead and other zombie jokes. This was a clear but moderate and uninspiring speech, delivered as if without notes but there were screens with text on (I noticed). It had to recognise prophetic and economics guru Vince Cable as well as promote himself: wisely Vince Cable, by not becoming leader, hasn't followed in the footsteps of Menzies Campbell, who was a foreign affairs guru with Charles Kennedy and yet lost so much when leader. Vince Cable will be needed to talk economics in these coming days.

With tough times now and coming the idea of having personal finance will appeal to many in the electorate: however, my own thought is that we will all have to scale down to a more basic existence. Mine cannot get any more basic, but I'm talking about people who have had work and lived on credit at the same time. When times are difficult, standard State provision - reliable public services - become more important and not less.

Actually Clegg said as such. If it is a less glamorous green economy that you want, then you need decent public transport. Labour never provided this. The Tory privatisations just continued on (indeed Labour have continued privatising) and these services became about consumer choice and add-ons, whereas they ought to be basic provisions.

We have a situation where the power of the State is being used to hold up some private banking institutions that have not operated carefully. One that did, enough, has just taken over a huge institution it could not have swallowed only a short time ago. Over and again liquidity is pumped into the system to counteract the vanishing of credit, but the shareholders are taking a massive hit - some of which constitute assets of other financial institutions. That Halifax Bank of Scotland ended up cheap meant it could be swallowed by a bank that still believed in savings backing up a percentage of lending. To think what the Halifax used to be: the most successful and reliable of Building Societies, that saw a main chance to be a bank, ended up with the Bank of Scotland, and the years of greed has led it to the pathetic end of being popped bubble.

The crashing of share values means a reluctance to invest via share issues or private companies becoming public. In terms of the real economy, the shifting out of the credit in terms of excess house prices means all the spending that was fuelled by the impression of wealth in housing has gone, and this has reverse multiplier effects in the economy. We should not have an economy that took advantage of a shortage of housing stock and allowed prices to spiral well beyond any ability to pay. A first political predictor of the end of this was the saintly Vince Cable again. You could tell things were wrong when ideas like part ownership were suggested by government and lenders so that people could afford to buy part of a house - and the prices notched up a bit further. Every time it was made a little easier to buy, the prices notched up again.

And then it all crashed.

In a way the Liberal Democrats could never make too much of this conference because the economy could be so different in a year. There could even be full blown economic depression. It is a good time to introduce their new leader, with his first competent speech.

We know that the Conservatives are sitting back and watching. Their timidity, and shadowing Labour, is not too helpful all of a sudden, so for that it's one up for the Liberal Democrats - but this is easily changed.

The problem is for Labour. Now is the time to actually change a leader, as they could have a run up until 2010. It is clear that Brown is under huge criticism now right to the core of his party. Even so recently he let people think there would be a fuel payment to help people with the steeply rising fuel bills (nothing for the unemployed of course, so they weren't disappointed). Then he announced that this would be a gimmick and people should lag lofts instead. He has done this before: expectations and disappointment. Political tricks, like the cut in basic rate tax and yet the initially unstated removal of the 10p starter rate, have haunted him and rightly so, as he has put playing politics over serving people.

Here's the point. In two years this government under Gordon Brown will be exhausted. The financial crisis of now is taking its toll and must. Plus it negates everything Gordon Brown did as Chancellor: far from being "an end to boom and bust" his ten year chancellorship was based on credit and housing. I kept wondering where was the added value, and some said it doesn't have to be in made things and can be in information. Somehow the real economy was slight, a mirage and a dance - stop dancing and you fall off. After all this Gordon Brown will be worn out: Alistair Darling looks worn out already and he has only been in the job a short while, as everything keeps going wrong.

The next election is due in 2010 at the latest. Somehow you get the feeling that in 2009 this government will be on its back. It will have nowhere to go and will have been eaten by crisis management. There will be a clamour for it to go. The Liberal Democrats, if they emphasise redistribution (and Clegg did) should take the northern seats where they are well second and the Labour vote vanishes. Of course Conservatives might adjust to talking poverty - they have been already. In the south the Liberal Democrats have to protect their gains, and tax cuts might help, especially if the Tories are timid. But even in a year this message might be overtaken by the nature of an economy where businesses cannot find funds to borrow, share prices are too low to get share issues made, where governments have spent billions on the crisis and have to invent money, and where state provision becomes a social necessity.

Oh and a further thought: can we afford these Olympic Games in 2012? I am still against us holding them, and won't succumb to the propaganda. When public spending will have to be careful and necessary, and it will be necessary, these games will be an extravagance where the money would be better spent elsewhere.