Friday 31 October 2008

In front of Mad Priest

I'm doing a Mad Priest here, as he hasn't got this one.

Not long ago I told a recycled joke to respectable company about a man who goes to the doctor with licorice hanging out of one ear, a carrot out of the other and a potato up his bum. The doctor says, "You're not eating properly."

Now read (from Digital Spy)...

Vicar has potato removed from bottom

Friday, October 31 2008, 14:49 GMT

By Simon Reynolds, Entertainment Reporter

A vicar in Yorkshire has had a potato removed from his bottom after claiming that he fell on it while hanging curtains naked.

Nurse Trudi Watson of Sheffield Northern General Hospital recalled how the unnamed clergyman in his 50s arrived at the A&E ward with the embarrassing problem.

She told local newspaper The Star: "He explained to me, quite sincerely, he had been hanging curtains naked in the kitchen when he fell backwards on to the kitchen table and on to a potato.

"It's not for me to question his story. He had to undergo surgery to have it removed."

(It goes on)

Why didn't he just say he hadn't been eating properly?

Thursday 30 October 2008

Arian Roman Catholic

Mad Priest says Chalk another one up to the Unitarians. There is a Roman Catholic Church in Brisbane that is radical, by any measure, and the press report in The Daily Telegraph and more fully in The Australian is recent about a priest's apparent Unitarianism. This is Peter Dresser of Coonamble in the Diocese of Bathurst. There may well be a booklet for sale but the web blog, where much of this text of this unitarian Catholic is found, has this:

I have just received some propaganda from The Bible Society in Australia which in part stated that during the Olympic Games 2000...

It's hard to tell how old is this writing, but if it is over eight years old then this priest has held these views in this radical parish for some time.

As for others in the parish, there is a part pertinent to the other controversy regarding Anglicans and lay presidency at Sydney. Here is part of the report from The Australian:

Recently, the priests at St Mary's -- Peter Kennedy and Terry Fitzpatrick -- also canvassed the idea of Catholics celebrating the Eucharist in their homes, without a priest.

A discussion paper handed to parishioners by Father Kennedy and written by Charles Kelliher said the lack of priests in the 21st century should prompt the faithful to look back to the first 200 years of the church, before the priesthood and the church hierarchy came into existence.

"Like the house church of the first 200 years, it is the community of believers who can concelebrate and bring about the presence of Christ in the eucharistic celebration. Let us embark on the journey as a community of believers in the modern day house church.

"The community of believers would call forth one of its members to preside at this memorial service. This person could be either man or woman, married or single ... with no special designation except being chosen or called forth to leadership by the community."

Well this is quite remarkable. Peter Dresser, meanwhile says much that makes him an interfaith relativist, perhaps a universalist across the religions, and is quite similar to John Hick.

God speaks to us and shows himself to us in a comprehensive way in the life and teachings of these unique persons, these avatars. In them the transcendent God becomes immanent. Early in John’s Gospel the words of the writer could easily be painting the man Jesus as an avatar: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us...

There have been many such avatars in the course of world history and there will surely be many more to come. They usually appear at times of stress or crisis in the world or in a particular society, during times of social and political upheaval or tension. A Hindu writing states that like the countless numbers of rivers that are created by the ocean (presumably through evaporation and rain) which never runs dry, so are the countless Incarnations of our Lords. Indeed something like 21 avatars have been suggested which include Moses, Christ, Buddha, Confucius, Zoroastra, Mohammed, Krishna, and Mahatma Gandhi...

Some would regard Bahaullah as the most recent avatar. All these avatars teach and preach the same or similar principles in different words, make similar claims regarding themselves and lead their hearers to different levels of understanding and intellectual horizons. One is not better than any other...

Now Brahman according to the Hindus is the Word out of which the concrete sensible world then evolves. This creative urge is especially made present in the avatar - the avatar being the descent of God, whereas the ordinary man ascends toward God. In John's Gospel Jesus claims to have come from the Father and he is the way the truth and the life. But when the sayings of other world's teachers are examined we find that they make almost identical statements, equally declaring themselves to be incarnations of the Godhead. Thus, for example, Sri Krishna: I am the goal of the wise man, and I am the way, the Lord, the sustainer. And the saying of Buddha: You are my children, I am your father; through me you have been released from your sufferings. I am the saviour of others and so on...

Jesus and the other avatars did not simply encase themselves in a human body; they actually used the human body to express the divine. In a sense the human and the divine became one. This was one of the issues of the early Church Councils - whether or not Jesus was a divine person or a human person. The conclusion arrived at was that Jesus was a divine person but having both a divine and a human nature. So he was God in person according to the teaching of the Church. The conclusion of the learned and the clever! But one has to raise a disclaimer in all these matters. God is big. Real big. No human being can ever be God. And Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that! It would have been much better and certainly much healthier had the Arians had their way in the days of those early Church Councils. They insisted that Jesus was a human person. Certainly today among many theologians the conclusion has been arrived at which is fundamentally closer to an Arian way of thinking...

I think these extracts say enough. He is a little wrong about this Arianism. The stress in early Arianism was the subordinate divinity of Jesus who was the first born of all creation: it is reformation Arianism that stresses Jesus's humanity, and thus has a reduced divinity compared with God. He also produces a very bizarre Jesus in his multi-religious approach, starting with something quite credible:

I am quite sure that although he felt an extremely close intimacy with a God whom he called Abba, he himself would never have thought of himself as God or a god. A prophet perhaps - but never a god. After all Jesus was a Jew and a good one at that. It would have been the ultimate blasphemy to have seen himself as God....

But much further down he goes off the rails:

Jesus is the Christian Avatar with a message from God addressed to Christians. It is only natural that in his youthful exuberance he may have wanted his message preached to all nations and to have everyone baptised as his followers (Matthew 28:18). But other nations and other people living in different places and in different times will have their own avatars. They may very well be lost souls but lost souls that do not have to rely on the words of Jesus to save them. They will have their own avatars, their own saviours. Let us as Christians respect and honour Jesus but let us also respect and honour all those avatars who make the presence of God felt in our world.

Jesus in his youthful exuberance? Addressing a message of God to Christians? Matthew's gospel here is not a reliable transmitter of the historical Jesus, in its keenness to promote the early Church. Jesus would not have wanted to reach anyone but Jews, the Gentiles only later invited into the idealised Kingdom on earth.

The issue is the appropriateness of applying the term Avatar to Jesus. In the end, and Avatar is a value judgment about a ministry, and it deifies (as intentionally in Hinduism). Peter Dresser seems to be a Reformation Arian, following on from Faustus Socinus.

He ends with this:

When our own very beautiful Christian religion is becoming increasingly irrelevant and meaningless in today's world and where our Catholic voice seems to be way out of touch with reality, I find it kind of bizarre that we should be telling other people what to do, what to believe and what to think.

Let us respect each other's Gods. Let us respect each other's Avatars.

I would agree with the sentiment of all this, but one wonders where is Peter Dresser now though the others continue the radical tradition? My own view is that the issue of divinity affects both Christ and God, so that there is a crisis of meaning of both, and therefore the language of Avatar does nothing to tackle the crisis of meaning in God the Father and the metaphorical shifts that some then went on to suggest.

Wednesday 29 October 2008


My latest posting for Episcopal Cafe has appeared. It takes some of the themes I was developing here about the Baha'i Faith and has applied possible parallels to Christianity. The Universal House of Justice took upon itself powers of sole interpretation of the Baha'i Scriptures with other key writings and the exclusion of individuals from membership as Covenant Breakers. There is a potential for the same regarding the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, with narrow interpretations and a Primates' Council that would issue on high instructions of recognition and otherwise. However, should that be the way it goes, just as now there are a number of Baha'is outside the UHJ otherwise linking up and proving to be broad in their interpretation of faith, so it would be the case with Anglicans.

Now, Mrs Trellis of Colwyn Bay has emailed me to ask if, in my last entry, I am seriously suggesting that Professor Marcus du Sautoy can be mathematically morphed into Bishop Wallace Benn. I have to admit absolutely not because, whereas I am prepared to listen to or read what Marcus du Sautoy has to say for long periods at a time (based on his study and work) I can barely bother with anything that Wallace Benn has to say (based on superstition and all round general stupidity). What does puzzle me is Marcus du Sautoy's absolutist statement, given the relativity of several mathematical findings. This may prove to be a hole in Marcus du Sautoy's statements, but fear not as Wallace Benn is full of holes and this prevents morphing one to the other. Nevertheless I may have occasion to revisit my new character, Bishop Tony du Benn, for example when he next meets Archbishop Akky Nolo.

Insufferagenable Bishop

The Insufferagenable Bishop Tony du Benn writes:

We have seen it on the bendy buses. This atheism, and this materialism, God does not like. And everything we do, he sends us a clear message. It is unambiguous, like Poincarés chaotic sensitivity to initial conditions or Gödel's condition of something true but unprovable, and Paul Cohen's true and false regarding Cantor's Continuum Hypothesis. As I might have said (but I didn't, and he nearly did, but probably shouldn't have [what he did say], so there must be an equation for this conditional statement by employing prime numbers):

God [Mathematics] is all-powerful: and He rules ruthlessly. Imperious and unyielding, God [mathematics] brooks no dissent and tolerates no error. In an age of uncertainty, God [mathematics] is the only boss that generates knowledge that's immutably, incontestably, and eternally true.

That's God for you and he wants to punish us. None of this is God's [or mathematics]' postmodernism, and the consumer led economy. Britain has become obsessed with cash, and it has a stranglehold over our lives. The pursuit of greed is sinful. So when we got our credit cards and our mortgages, God said I am going to visit you and give you lot an unambiguous message you won't forget.

Because God - what he did was, he built chaos into his creation, the unprovable false, and the Anglican true and false, he did, and he says when you have too much of a good thing, I'm going to have my system turn you upside down and take you hurtling towards the zero.

It's like this. When I, a bishop, driving my car, approach a car park that is full, a new condition arises that causes people to run to their cars and drive them away. I always get a parking spot and I pray to God for my parking spot every time.

But God is also merciful. He has allowed this crisis for good. He wants us back to want Him, not the credit card or the mortgage or the over comfortable house.

Of course we should suffer. We should all be beaten up. Lot's of people over the world suffer poverty and war and they must be really bad people because it never gets any better for them. People have been put in death camps, after all. But God has a special interest in the credit crunchies - us - and he likes us because after causing us to suffer, God allows us to have our credit cards and loans back, so that we can boom before he busts us again. He might even be kind to Iceland and the Isle of Man.

Next month the Bishop explains the weather.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Doesn't but Does Matter

Ah Sydney: this business of lay presidency. It certainly generates a lot of reaction and discussion in Anglican circles. So let's envisage a situation...

BOB THE UNEMPLOYED: Who's presiding this week, Vicar?
VICAR: It's Aunty Lucy. She's having a go!

The Vicar is in the choirstalls with the choir; Aunty Lucy is at the Altar Table

AUNTY LUCY: It will be for us the blood of whoops, I've dropped it!
VICAR: Aunty Lucy, luckily with lay presidency...

I, like many, have read all the radical stuff about cells instead of churches and new forms of doing ministry, and the nearest to this in Anglicanism has been the Church ordaining locals to provide volunteer ministers who do the central eucharistic ceremony. So long as people do it for travel expenses, you can ordain as many as you like (though training is expensive: but how trained does the person need to be?).

It is one of these curious areas where the liberalism of cells and shared ministry and secular society meets an extreme Protestantism.

However, I've no clear view on this, and indeed when I was going through my humanist-symbolic phase at Unitarian College the Pagan orientated worship tutor, who had us doing all manner of meditations, advised on the qualities of having a gown, and I rather agreed with him and had mine made. I wore it too when I did my one Eucharist service in Hull: the gown might have put a few people off but the service did. I think symbolism is important, and being assured, and the Anglican approach is a set of procedures and limitations that both adds symbolism and assures people. I rather approve of the Free Catholics of the early twentieth century, which was symbolism without creeds, though obviously it will have looked and sounded rather like the credal version. I've also entertained the notion of Liberal Catholicism where the Catholic side is heavily emphasised even if doctrinal rigidity is not.

I was interested in Bishop Alan Wilson's computer analogy of the Church of England with Catholic hardware and evangelical software. Presumably the ministry chosen is the hardware, but it seems to me there is Catholic software too. Also was this rather clever association of Spong and Jensen and about how Lambeth resolutions are treated rather selectively by the Jensenites:

It looks as though this issue has now reached what one might call the Jensen Spong Vanishing Point. The whole matter was considered very fully by the 1998 Lambeth conference, which decisively rejected it. So 98 Lambeth 1:10 is to die for, and 98 Lambeth 3:22 is to dynamite. Simultaneously. Shome mishtake?

I made a comment and there was a reply, so I'll reproduce these here:

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said... If I'm one of few Anglicans who has done truly lay presidency - it's because I did this when Unitarian in a congregation, a service that did not work because in that context it was too divisive anyway (despite liaising).

My first view is really that the arguments for limiting who can carry out a eucharistic service is a form of trade unionism, that the old arguments for reserving it to a clerical class are supernatural and even superstitious and rather bust. But my second view is that it comes with some sort of competence and overview, and that each Church (i.e. denomination) has a way of supplying that competence and overview. It would be disturbing of many in the Anglican scene if anyone could just pop on some religious looking clothing (or indeed not bother) and do the stuff. And the trade unionism gives the actions and words a limitation that suggests an importance to the ritual.

An issue is how long and to what depth (for the overview) does someone need to be trained in order to do this job competently.

Then again, it raises the ritual when it is combined with those who do a range of pastoral and communal duties, which need training, who are foci of several 'operations' in the religious sphere.

I just wonder how thin my arguments are. I don't arrive at the possibility of lay presidency via Jensen's route at all. But that's only like saying traditionalist Protestants are as dogmatic as traditionalist Catholics. So what?

In general my argument is that traditions and continuities are important, and what is recognised helps what you do. But it is not a very good argument.

28 October 2008 01:59

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Adrian, thank you for your unique perspective, which opens all kinds of doors in different directions for me about ministry.

I'm wondering what the correlation is between exploding outward in all directions at once, and the strength you need at the centre to hold an explosion.

I'd want to see the whole ordination game as facilitating not limiting. I'd want to say that whether it is one or the other depends largely on the behaviour and attitudes of the people we ordain. Clerical trade unionism sounds a bit yukky to me, and I agree that part of the driving force behind it is superstition; at its best it articulates, canalises and deloys to good effect what's going on in us. When it turns back on the Church, however, it quickly becomes toxic, like one of those disease where your immune system takes over and starts destroying your body (I know I've probably got the whole physiology of that wrong).

Training and competence can be secured in all sorts of ways, I know. Again I'm love/hate about the way we've done it. I'm simultaneously worried about clergy who did the OT in eight essays, and delighted we were able to ordain them. I'm simultaneously delihgted to meet people on our ministry course, and horrified when ten years later some reject training as a way of life!

And when I reflect on your last para, I am left feeling ordaining clergy is a Good Thing as an articulation of the tradition — done with a light touch, the laying on of hands within a succession (as per the pastoral epistles) has been a means of messy quality assurance, and a historical linkage which carries potential accountability. It's a Bad Thing if it is allowed to predominate entirely — over professionalised or Voodoo’d up to the point it begins to take over people's consciousness of what the Church is or what ministry is. How we do it is more important than the fact we do it, perhaps? God has allowed and encouraged the growth alongside the main model of occasional completely flat ministry set-ups (like the Quakers) as well as alternative hierarchical models (like the Vineyard — implicit or Salvation Army — explicit), so as to preserve the whole body from becoming reduced to the set of Father Ted... ! ?

28 October 2008 09:23

I take the points.

Brown's Bust and Boom

There is something dangerous about having your ego puffed up, especially if you are a politician. The American failure of the $700 billion toxic assets buy out was followed by the (supposed) Brown plan, copied in the United States and in Europe, which was the recapitalisation of banks. In other words, they can get capital liquidity and can rely on it being returned when lending to other banks. The problem now is that Gordon Brown thinks he can shape the economy by expanding public spending in this coming recession.

There is a logic to this. It is this: that the banks, presumably ready to lend, then see businesses undergoing a lack of demand for their products and services. The readiness to lend, already to be curtailed to normal times (unlike the stupidity of offering anyone easy credit as before) is further curtailed by the actual recession.

Reduced lending to business, is then further curtailed by recent experience. Recapitalising the banks does not simply mean banks lend. So on top lending being more realistic, and actual signs of recession, banks are indeed curtailing some loans to industry that make regular interest payments and still have reasonable order books. In the latter case, pulling in loans forces businesses to close that are healthy enough. These marginally add to the recession, but in economics everything works on the margin, and in chaos theory margins lead on to tipping points. Where is the last decision that causes the change in behaviour? Presumably when enough of a pattern is started that causes the fall.

One solution to this is to nationalise the banks more fully, and to see them as service industries to productivity, or at the least to create an Industry Bank (State owned if necessary) that lends to businesses and innovators who can repay interest from profits.

On the demand side is the logic of the State initiating business activity. This is what Brown is thinking about. Value adding projects can be set up by the State that gives people jobs, does add to productivity, and gets a cycle of service industries busy again. This is much the better prospect than tax cuts to those who bung the money in the bank to be saved. However, it is true that tax cuts to the poor (or benefit increases - why not?) are more instant that big projects, but too easily private spending can go on imports or the basics of necessity that survive in recessions anyway.

However, the problem was debt, and consumer and State spending that did not reflect actual production (value-adding) or relative productivity. American and British real wages fell, but the spending carried on, and the era of cheap money went via all these multiplying derivatives into too many houses bought and therefore a value given to housing far outstripping wage levels and an ability to pay. In other words, if you keep credit going, the fat ends up in the house values that sit there until the prices crash. It is the public face of the illusion of wealth.

Now just as the solution to too much private liquidity seems to be State liquidity, the solution to people spending too much that they didn't have (in real production terms) seems to be the State spending what it does not have. It is like a drug addict being given drugs to soften the blow of their effects.

This is the problem. Suppose the banks had been left to crash. No doubt, millions of jobs would go and businesses would fail as ordinary loans to functioning businesses were pulled in. The financial economy would wreck the real economy. Property prices would crash, along with shares and the rest. In other words, the money supply would go from its inflated state to a deflated state. Zero interest rates would be obvious, not to help liquidity but simply because the economy was flat on its back.

Yet the infrastructure and facilities that we do have, and the fact that each person is a unit of demand as well as a unit of labour supply, would get the economy moving again, and on an even keel, perhaps after two nasty years. There would be high unemployment, but employment would be efficient and slowly recover. This is always what is needed if possible (as much as possible).

Yet cold turkey like this, that clears out and cleans the system, is incredibly painful, especially from a point of such bloated consumerism. It is full of victims, and not the ones to blame.

The problem with the Brown solution to borrow and spend is this. The drug addict will feel less crap in the immediate years, but the body will not have been freed of drugs. And as soon as the economy moves forward again, it will be on the basis of spending again rather than producing. The same signs will be taken as proof of success - housing recovery, people spending in the shops, people employed in service industries. The Brown spending will be part of that acceleration and he could find himself going from bust to boom again. Welcome relief maybe, and his ego puffed up for (he hopes) the next election, but the public debt will be massive beyond belief and the same crash would be just around the corner.

What he should do is repair and build houses for council housing and build transport that is subsidised and why not aim for every house have solar panels put on? Then build a new railway up the Midlands and into Scotland with spurs off and reopen all those goods lines into passenger lines again? There must be a bigger concept of the social and public good. Then never let house prices be a measure of economic success again.

Meanwhile the current United States Presidential election campaign has such an air of unreality about it. Barack Obama is raising expectations he cannot possibly meet. He is talking about policies to make American society more equitable - and gosh are they not needed! Yet his policies do not reflect the sheer debt left by the worst presidency in memory, an idiot in power who can go to war and expand the military and yet not pay for it. The American economy is itself going through a post-industrial phase where the added value it needs is too easily confused with the debt based products and services that never added value (OK a new building here and there is an addition, if it renews stock).

Still, if American racism is deeper that we think, and the voting system is fiddled again, and the fundamentalism in the country is so far reaching that one fears for basic rationality, then the old guy and his loopy choice for Vice President could still win - and, if so, the sheer demolition of expectations among so many groups (the young, different ethnic groups; health service users, college attenders) will lead probably to riots and despair - which could seriously add to economic recession. McCain would leave the desperate more desperate. I cannot understand how anyone thinks John McCain would be a sure footed President: he might be more benign than the present one, but he strikes me as erratic, and his running mate is like someone from a horror film and whose hold on politics is flaky and dodgy. McCain though may be helped by Bush having a few more sorties into Syria and other places: I wouldn't put this past the idiot in the White House.

I would have preferred Hillary Clinton to be the candidate, though when she had clearly lost the Democratic nomination she took too long to move aside. Her approval of Obama and the sheer state of the economy has healed the rift made. There is no doubt that Barack Obama has one quality of being President, which is to inspire, and he suggests stability. However, when he starts in January, assuming he does, he will just see the state of the books. And what he can do will be quite limited. He may just go the Brown route and spend on projects, but in the end he will be playing with a massive debt. One thing he probably will have to do, in revitalising the home economy, is to slash the military, so that under him the days of the American empire will be over.

Sunday 26 October 2008

Questioning Creeds

The Questioning Christian blog is one where its Episcopalian author wears his liberalism clearly, which I prefer. Reading his entry of October 11, 2008, after an agnostic emailed him, he reminds readers of an entry right back in November 25, 2004, when he did a blog entry of shortening the Nicene Creed. I thought I'd try the same exercise and then put down my own creed.

The first one is of the Church. It is written to be more corporate. Although it cuts out some doubtful theological/ historical matters and other details, it is in some ways more affirming, and doctrinal around its essentials:

The Church professes that:

There is one God, The Father, the Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, Of all that is, seen and unseen.

The Lord Jesus Christ is God the Son,
Who by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate.

He was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
Suffered death and was buried.
And rose again.

God the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the giver of life, who has spoken through the Prophets.

n this one holy catholic and apostolic Church
There is one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

Time leads towards the final resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

This is then a corporate creed based on the Nicene Creed with its "We believe". Now the Apostles Creed is less demanding than the Nicene Creed, but is given with "I believe". Do I?

What I believe (now) is more like this:

I believe that:

God is of love, the holy and holistic,
The kernel of that which is high, deep and significant,

Concerning all life that is evolved;
Pictured through Jesus of Nazareth,

The Jewish Rabbi and Christ of tradition,

The one who served to the point of giving his life,
Recognised and raised so that a new community was born,
And God visioned in a renewed light;

And seen through numerous holy prophets and faith traditions;
The Holy Spirit is the energy of this coherence:
Truth demanding, life giving and creature affirming.

The Church is broad, diverse, and welcoming:
By simple baptism it welcomes;
By the sharing ceremony of the Upper Room it affirms;
By all its proper practices it intends the moment when fulfilment comes to all:
The life of the world to come.

The last part is more corporate, but is still part of the I believe. This is where I am at present, and the reader will notice that I follow here a human-creative language and symbolic view where such affirmations are cultural. What is missing is debatable rather than rejected.

Friday 24 October 2008

Three Steps Forward, One Back, Freeze

What to make of the apology of sorts by the Rev. Dr Martin Dudley about the creative service of blessing for a gay partnership he was given by a collague and partner and performed at St Bartholomew the Great on 31 May this year? That was the service in which the Book of Common Prayer wedding service was adapted into a near as could be wedding service for gay partners along with a Eucharist.

The service and its source and construction was three steps forward for the action of a gay relationship blessing: if it can be done, this is one 'traditional' way to do it. Unfortunately the Church of England, being rather contradicted between its own factions for and against, and the actuality of Civil Partnerships by the State, couldn't go along with this ceremony of togetherness.

Once the media reported it a sort of stink errupted, even though until the media reported it there was no comment.

Disciplinary action might have been expected - not against the media but against Rev. Martin Dudley. However, Open Evangelical Bishop Pete Broadbent has done his boss's duty and announced his boss's view that the matter is closed. After "frank discussions" with the Archdeacon of London, Rev. Dudley now thinks the service should not have happened and he won't do another; it was inconsistent with the House of Bishops' Pastoral Statement from 2005, and he should have given it far greater weight, even though he thinks this Pastoral Statement is subject to differing interpretations and he is profoundly uneasy with much of its content.

Bishop Broadbent keeps his own silence on whether there should have been disciplinary action, as he passes on another's view, but he does call it a "full and frank apology".

Is that what it is? The upshot of the explanatory letter has neutralised one Rector from doing it again, but that's all. The Rector gets in his complaint too. The Church of England must think this is another finger in the dyke, as they might say in Holland, stopping one man. Rather, a good marker was put down, however, a how to do it marker, for which the performer is to be made a small frozen out martyr, while everyone knows the direction of the flood.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Answers to CDG Answers to Objections

Whilst the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori would kick the next draft of the Covenant into touch, the Covenant Design Group (CDG) reports on and takes up the Bishops' flogging of the dead horse at the Lambeth Conference 2008.

The CDG remains wedded to the Covenant name and model, as a dynamic generous-attitude relationship, despite concerns it is too contractual, and presents historical problems in Scotland and Aotearoa New Zealand.

The CDG does not intend that this become a fifth instrument of Communion. Yet it may in the future become a central text, says the CDG. The CDG later calls it a "foundational document" - it needs people to interpret its place and offer guidance and principles. This all sounds muddled, that indeed it will end up becoming a fifth instrument of Communion.

It is not a panacea for all Communion problems, but the CDG thinks the Covenant will "illuminate the quality of relationships". How about not being a panacea for all Communion problems but adding to them by formulating the labelling of insiders and outsiders?

Some feared the Covenant might overtake and undermine the local nature and flexibility of Anglican Communion. The CDG sees covenant processes in the development of the Anglican Communion. Er, yes, but they were informal weren't they, and that's the point. The CDG adds:

There is no covenant where there is no willingness...

What a good idea! No willingness, and therefore no Covenant.

Some bishops at Lambeth were worried that this is all crisis driven. The CDG knows their pain but covenants in the Bible came with:

...failure, difficulty, and the desperate cries of the oppressed, the exiled, and the fallen.

Yes, but this is an institutional issue and about none of those, other than to marginalise gay people further in the cause of institutional patching and centralisation. Incidentally, the CDG might not have been listening too well at what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks did say about covenants: he actually said how covenants of fate continue to bring groups in a pluralist setting together for practical purposes when covenants of faith cannot be set up. This Anglican one cannot be set up without causing labelling and exclusion. Covenants are not set up in order to create two tier communions.

Some bishops thought the Covenant is intended to be punitive and to exclude. The CDG would like togetherness but:

sustaining relationships in communion has to acknowledge also the reality of threats to those relationships, the consequences that actions have for relationships, and even their possible breakdown.

So actions lead to exclusion or (at least) two tiers of in and out!

Bishops were worried that it was all to legalistic. The CDG will look again at its language but much that happens in Anglicanism is juridical, it says. Indeed it is, especially in the Church of England which operates along with the law of the land and somehow this Covenant would have to come into the law of the land when an intention of that law is to exclude foreign oversight of the Church of England. Disestablishment anyone? I'm in favour of that, but not so that this binding Covenant could be introduced. It should be dead whether the Church of England is established or disestablished, however it relates to foreign Anglican Churches.

Some bishops thought the Covenant was all about institutional maintenance. You don't say! The CDG gets rather carried away here about Jesus and no greater love than this... because I don't remember the verse that states...

no greater love than this, that we lay down our excluded friends for our institution (cf. Jn. 15:13)

This Covenant is nothing to do with love or its intensification: it is to do with the prevention of actions that have received the disapproval of some leading Anglican people with an active attitude far from that of love. They are obsessed with what people do with their genitals, and in some cases encourage cultures of violence and oppression where gay people are involved.

Some bishops were worried that the Covenant would demand uniformity and confession. These bishops might just have been thinking of the creation of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. The CDG wants the faith "once delivered" (Jude 3) delivered, though some of us think this faith was once delivered over rather a long time and via some circuitous routes - indeed it was never once delivered. Diversity was rather more fundamental than uniformity, and irrelevant regarding specific actions in one Church objected to by another Church.

Some bishops thought there were statements elsewhere that need no addition by a Covenant. The CDG thinks each of the historical statements is insufficient alone:

This is so because each alone does not articulate the expectations for mutual responsibility that permit the Church as a whole, and certainly the Churches of the Anglican Communion in particular to carry through the specific calling of its mission.

But they are not read alone: they are read together and become a whole. The Baptismal Covenant, the Eucharistic fellowship, and the Lambeth Quadrilateral are comprehensive and all add to each other.

If these were inadequate before, and read separately, why was no formal Covenant produced in addition then? If they were not inadequate then, why are they inadequate now? It is nothing to do with all this elongated answering via several biblical quotes (all available and applicable before): it is because a number of people in some Churches do not like what some Western Churches are doing. They want more rules.

Some bishops saw centralisation happening. The CDG wants to handle "the language of autonomy" ..."with care".

...the Anglican Communion is best understood as a family of self-governing Churches, drawn into Communion not only by the human elements of shared history and patterns of worship, life and mission, but by the supernatural grace of God.
The CDG agrees with this model. The Churches of the Communion should remain able to order their own life, polity and discipline according to the demands of their own mission context.

But it doesn't want autonomy to override communion. Yet there is plenty of evidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury sees a direct line between bishops in dioceses and himself, bypassing the Churches that run those dioceses, and he would be central to operating the Covenant. Plus, complaint by one Church about another causes conflict resolution to move to the centre if disagreement continues. Yet it is nothing to do with one Church what another decides, if the decision comes under what it considers the Lordship of Christ and promptings of the Holy Spirit. That is what autonomy under these means, not some centralising process when someone sets up a complaint. The truth they are not free to ignore is not decided in some Baha'i-like fashion up at HQ Processes Inc.. Anglicanism is not Roman Catholicism.

Some bishops wanted the Instruments of Communion relationship clearer. The CDG speaks of moral authority over provinces. Another word for this could be 'pressure'.

Some bishops wondered if dioceses and not just Churches (provinces) could sign up to the Covenant. The CDG says if a Church's canons and constitutions permit, dioceses might sign up. Yeah yeah, the point is when they do not so permit. Then what?

And of those who do not sign the Covenant? Those who do not sign do not make the mutual commitment to responsibilities in the Covenant, says the CDG. It sees signatories deciding for themselves whether to be in full Communion or not with non-signatories - bilateral relationships, presumably. The point is why this cannot be the way forward anyway: Churches recognising one another in a patchwork quilt, Anglican-style.

Would the Covenant have gnashers? It is "radical loss" rather than sanctions, says the CDG, and consequences. But the consequences would be a systematic labelling of some Anglican Churches as second class, in a power play of who's in and who's out.

Finally in terms of objections and questions, the CDG is considering how the Covenant can be changed and what complication such brings to its text. But if there is a process by which it gets changed, then it would need to be changed for a purpose, to allow what was not allowed (for example). So therefore the Covenant would be juridical.

Over and again the questions and objections to the Covenant do not answer the driver of this: that some want a two tier Communion or full exclusion simply because some Western Churches would like to include people of various active sexualities into the ministry and to bless those who seek to commit to one another in their relationships. That's what this is about. There is plenty already organically Covenantal in Anglicanism, and this formal Covenant effort is little to do with that covenanting which is biblical and organic and more to do with rules.

How to Kick the Covenant into Touch

If the intended Anglican Communion Covenant is for any institution, it is for the exclusion or inclusion of The Episcopal Church. However, the next draft isn't even going to be considered, at least at any timescale to do anything about it, if the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori gets her way.

The Episcopal News Service reports:

If a proposed Anglican covenant is released in mid-May for adoption by the Anglican Communion's provinces, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will "strongly discourage" any effort to bring that request to the 76th General Convention in July.

The dates are that the Covenant Design Group meets in April 2009 from when would come another draft. The Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meets May 1-12, and this is the version that could be adopted. The Episcopal Church 76th General Convention meets July 8-17, and the Presiding Bishop thinks time is too short. It meets next time three years later.

Is two months enough between sending out and deciding upon it? If groups were swiftly organised, it could be, and with any doubt about it then it could be rejected. However, rejection would feed the opponents. Instead, take a lesson from British Governments. If they don't know what to do, they organise a Royal Commission to look into something. That usually goes on for a very long time, sometimes until after the issue has died down or something has overtaken the matter.

So, yes: keep it alive and kill it at the same time.

Not So Woolly Woolas

Yesterday The Times carried a report by Richard Ford and Ruth Gledhill of an interview with the Immigration Minister, Phil Woolas, who promoted the idea of disestablishment. He saw the connection between altering the House of Lords and the run through affecting the rest of the constitution:

Mr Woolas told The Times: "Disestablishment - I think it will happen because it's the way things are going. Once you open debate about reform of the House of Lords you open up debate about the make-up of the House. It will probably take 50 years, but a modern society is multifaith."

It was not the view of the rest of the government:

The Ministry of Justice issued a statement last night making clear that it has no intention of taking any step to disestablish the Church as part of constitutional reforms. The statement said: "The Church of England is by law established as the Church in England and the monarch is its Supreme Governor. The Government remains committed to this position and values the establishment of the Church of England."

The Times report then went into what would be at risk by disestablishment:

  • The presence of a parish priest for every community
  • The right of all, unless there is a separate legal inhibition, to be married, baptised or given a funeral at their parish church
  • The Church's central role in helping the nation to mark important events, such as royal weddings
  • The role of the Church as an education provider through church schools
  • The public enactment of church legislation. The laws of the Church are part of the laws of England - measures passed by General Synod also need to be passed by Parliament - and therefore the Church's courts are part of the English legal system
  • The role of the Sovereign as supreme governor of the Church
  • The role of the Crown in appointing bishops and other senior clergy
  • The presence of bishops in the House of Lords - they are not there to protect self-interest but to represent communities in a non-party-political way

My response to such is this:

  • There isn't now a parish priest for every community, and priests are now often called to go outside their own parishes.
  • The right to rites of passage is a function of a Church outlook, which a disestablished Church can easily maintain.
  • The question is whether the Church in England (if it were so renamed) should be the automatic institution to add a religious gloss to State events - some it would for reasons of continuity, but others could go elsewhere. Royal Weddings already take place in register offices and a different denomination in Scotland. Spreading it about adds and takes away nothing.
  • Personally I would cut the link between religious organisations and State schooling: faith schools are sectarian but expose the old more sleepy connection between Church and State.
  • It is bizarre that the rules of one Church are part of the law of the land: just let it make its own mind up with no need for the State to be involved at all.
  • I would have an elected President: we should not be subjects (though we are EU citizens).
  • Already the government is removing its active role in selecting Church of England senior clergy, but this ought to be complete and constitutional.
  • I would have no appointed people in the House of Lords: I would favour lifetime elections that would have the same effect as the current House of Lords but would begin with a vote: selecting someone for life would then be an election based on experience and achievement.

Phil Woolas is right, and the Churchiness of a Church is not based just on a connection with the State but on its own intention and theology, which should be wholly its own.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Five and Five

No one has tagged me, but some like Jody Stowell are being tagged and tagging others to say who are the five most influential people regarding the spiritual road. I won't sit and wait, but I won't join the chain either and tag others. I'll pick general ones, and how each one leads on to others, and then I have more face to face ones.

John A. T. Robinson is the first, in that it was his Honest to God that showed an accessible way into theology. The book, shown to some Christians for comment, got me into quite a bit of trouble, for being both too old hat and part of my creating too many doubts. It also introduced me to theology as in Paul Tillich, who I went on to reject. Part of that rejection (that it is a one way street of Christian answers dressed up in existential language, and offering no way in) led to the next and enduring influence.

Don Cupitt is by far the most continuous influence. I have several criticisms, such as the repetition and in some cases playing fast and loose, but the general position is one I do share. I am not as complete a non-realist as he is, that I discriminate between language games across different subjects and thus I will say (but so will Cupitt) that religion is like art and that it is impossible to have an objective stance rooted somewhere else. From him I reach approaches to several theologians similar and different. I have met Don on several occasions, but I refer here to his writings: and, incidentally, his writings before he took leave of God and his material on Christ are just as worth reading. If considering the possibility of overall transcendence, some of his material on a high and dry God is worth encountering. From Cupitt comes indicators of the importance of language and poststructuralism.

James Martineau is another influence, though you have to take what he wrote and move on from the later nineteenth century into the present. Broad Church Anglicans in his day knew all about him, but his association with Unitarians is why he becomes more forgotten. He would be the last stage of the objective and subjective. On the objective side he would say that Christianity points to a more general overall and universal revelation (they were looking for a Messiah but we are not) but on the subjective side he placed the centre of religion not in any messianic figure, nor in any book, but in the individual conscience. He crucially saw the difference between the activity of doing religion and therefore whilst theology had its critical role poetic liturgy had a different purpose and tended to conserve language. I think these three positions coming into themelves produce a liberal postmodernism in religion. He was also anti-denominational, something I maintained whilst hearing a Unitarian minister for many years who was broad in his religion but also something of a denominationalist. So I have always been ecumenical in terms of institutions. Martineau had a conservative temperament (including in politics) but others could see that the implication of his view was interfaith, and that is another aspect of my development: with contact in the past with Buddhists and Bahais.

Ernst Troeltsch is another long time ago influence, but one that is more recent. In the end it tells why a Church cannot be a Church, in that the supporting cultural ground has shifted away. A Church open to all has no difficulties when there is a Middle Ages Christian and superstitious culture. A Church being open today is more problematic. Of course sects can carry on. Incidentally, Martineau beat him to it regarding the Church-sect difference, but then Troeltsch added a third category, called Mysticism, of free individuals coming together to produce their religion together - and of course the Church to be open today has to have an element of Mysticism in it. No matter what the institution rules, people freely come together and, in the end, they can say what they like. Troeltsch is also important because he shows the limitations of historical enquiry, and the importance of culture in religion. He does not close the hermeneutic circle like even Paul Tillich does, and clearly a human cultural approach to religion and its impact has implications for any kind of Christology. It never supports uniqueness because culture is something we share, alter and pass on collectively. Once again symbolism and language are important.

Marcel Mauss then is the final, general individual, though there are some more. I did think of Sangharakshita and the presentation of Buddhist essentials and seeing the difference between what is important and what can be culturally agnostic. But then the cultural often is the important. Sangharakshita also can show how something is for the West and yet challenges the West. Yet in the end I'm too selective about him and not does he guide what I do now in terms of practice. This is why I go with Marcel Mauss, the social anthropologist and nephew of Emile Durkheim. Mauss understood gift and exchange in ritual activity, where a material cost is given for what is hoped to be a higher spiritual return via the use of a token, and this return binds the collective together as people do these exchanges together one to another. This has enabled me to develop a eucharistic based economics of ritual, that takes one from the general, overseeing and largely gift based religious activity and ethical challenge to the generality of exchange that we do one with each other. We go from religion to society, or from society to religion, and the gift idea is what the religious participant takes into society. It brings together my understanding of Economics and marginal value, through sociology and social anthropology, to symbolism and language, and to a continuous religious practice. There is a kind of anthropological foundationalism here that keeps my non-realism in check: I am not sure that it always works in terms of gift, and how attitudinal it is, and of course there is cultural variation, but it does at least suggest a kind of universalism, even if religion seems to be a form of added value.

When it comes to known individuals, then applying a test of personal conversations rather than questions and answers and fleeting meetings, then it is a case of whittling down a longer list to just five. And these would be:

Andrew Linzey, for offering a different vision of being Christian when I was completely agnostic, and then joining some dots when I started reading John Robinson. He also was the inspiration for seeking ordination, though this was transferred into the Unitarians and failed to take shape. Contact has been revived recently, but this is with geographical distance.

Francis Simons, now the late, who was an Anglican priest who gave his last eucharist and said goodbye to his congregation and next day began as a Unitarian minister. He thus knew where I was coming from, and also his Buddhist-Humanism was a symbolic approach to Unitarianism that I could relate to most easily. He came to see me at Lincoln as I discussed my transition. He was also giving support and training during the trouble-infected student days. He did not worship the Unitarian denomination at all, and could see its faults just as he could see Anglican faults. I warmed to that ecumenism and liberal commitment.

Roger Pickering (and wife), who was Anglican parish priest at Swine, near Hull. I was a boundary crosser then, away from the overbearing Sutton and Wawne ministry team and all that to something quieter. I was regarded as fairly dangerous and an outsider, but I had many conversations with him. He was a person who could have a better time with technology than some people, and was heavily into audio-visual presentations and use of computers. In the end I had to move on to the Unitarians, but it was due to his (and wife's) warmth that led me never quite to leave even when moving house made the cycle ride all the longer. Once I moved to Derbyshire and Manchester, that was it and they also moved into retirement. I understand he acquired Altzheimer's Disease.

Then I will include the late Ernest Penn, long serving Unitarian minister, despite differences and a more impersonal relationship, although that warmed and, despite his retirement it was important for me that he was the person that he conducted the wedding of me and Elena. In the end, he was the mouthpiece of so much Untarianism, and it was only when going into the Manchester area thickett that I realised it was something rather narrower and traditionalist. He was the person who did allow Hull to be one of the more progressive churches in Yorkshire. I clashed with him on his portrayal of other denominations and his anti-credalism: this was much more complicated than his descriptions. I think he was both under-appreciated and under-rated by too many people: they exploited his loyalty to the denomination. I think at the time I would have referred to people in the congregation as influential, but actually they weren't when I look at the long view. I could map myself both from and against Ernest Penn. Also his skill and his consistent ethic as a minister come through as you take the larger view.

David Rowett (and wife) I must include now, in that at Barton he presents a rounded and critical Anglo-Catholicism and does so as a very warm rounded personality. He (with others) has affected my viewpoint and indeed doing religious practice. In the end there is a difference between us, which is worth maintaining (unless either change) in that he takes the whole package of Anglican understood Catholic tradition which he can handle critically and I am liberal critical from the beginning as to what I will take. But he includes the other, and will present good arguments, and you can debate, and he is far more an intellectual figure than he will admit. I see myself drifting towards his position and coming away from it too, sometimes both at once on differing matters, made possible because of the relationship in the honest discussion that is ever ongoing. My life is something in transition at the moment, and so there is a pastoral relationship too, and that transition means that I don't know where I will be soon, or what his effect over all will be. It is important now. I don't even know my future regarding Anglicanism, as it seems to get ever narrower and where too many are hiding out in corners while others go on and on about "false teachers" and preaching ever more on what some get up to with their genitals. For the time being, I feel I can carry on in this corner.

They are all ordained or ministers. That says something. And male.

More Bahai

After Anglican Evensong and some socialising on Sunday 19th, I spent quite a bit of time running around the Internet looking at some Bahai related websites and especially those of individuals. There is comment from Sen McGlinn here. He is one of those who has stayed loyal to Bahai believing despite being mysteriously removed from the rolls of believers by the Universal House of Justice (now with an interesting and definitely anti-uniformity view that pluralism is a sign of building the Kingdom of God). Another free-floating Bahá’í is Alison Marshall, and there is Eric Stetson who left the Bahai Faith for Christianity. He is interesting: with good material on the Bahá’ís, he's a chap who seems to dive in with both feet into a religion and then find a critical angle, as he is now doing with his Christian Universalism, though he gives statements that make assumptions about the historical Jesus I'd certainly challenge him about. His approach is different from mine: I am liberal and critical from the beginning.

This little reinvestigation gets more interesting as an update for me, because clearly the Universal House of Justice is losing it somewhere. There was the time of crisis, between 1957 and 1963, when the Bahai faith could not longer follow its expectation of a succession of family Guardians, because either Shoghi Effendi did not leave a will or some didn't like what they had read when going through his papers. Only the Guardian would have excommunicated people, and Shoghi Effendi knocked out quite a few, indeed left no one credible. A comment was made here someone of the Regents argument (Tarbiyat Community) that gets a kind of approval from Eric Stetson: there was no one who could be the Guardian, but the UHJ overreached itself beyond its intended powers, and really the Bahá’íis should have been like the Shia Muslims waiting for the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam, in their case waiting for an eligible Effendi family descendent to take up the reins.

There does now seem to be a plethora of small groups, somewhat like the Judaea People's Front and the People's Front of Judaea etc.. There are those with different Guardians and those without, and those free floating. What seems to be coming from the UHJ is the various years-long plans that take account of the failure to recruit and retain. The education programmes are clearly strategies to retain, and in some cases to attract.

If, in a small faith, there is a large turnaround of people, in that they come in to the faith and then find themselves bored with the administration and fleeced for their money, then there are going to be quite a few people who retain the commitment of the faith, or at least discuss it knowledgably, and as leavers or removed start to change the very basis on which the faith exists. In the time of the Internet, every individual can be a publisher, and there are all kinds of ways to join up individuals. Clearly, with so many cats out of the bag, they can start to run around the streets with their own communities in their own ways.

My own view of Bahá’u’lláh is that he is an interesting man who made a transition of a faith stance from his appointed half-brother's militancy to peace via various religious sources, but rather claimed too much for himself (when he wasn't that original when you add it all up). There are the mistakes that rather upset this Islamic tradition of claiming infallibility, and I'm not sure that Sen McGlinn answers the point sufficiently, as if we don't know because we don't have the revelation but presumably Bahá’u’lláh does. The words should speak for themselves. Incidentally, I have a distrust of translations that by accident or design imitates the language style that appears in the Book of Mormon. The words ought not to have to rely on Shogi Effendi's strained olde worlde religioso English. Religious concepts are old enough without adding to the age-feel, like dropping old tea bags on paper. The real star of the show was Abbas Effendi or `Abdu'l-Bahá, a traveller in the West and who contradicted Bahá’u’lláh's own strictures against attending congregational gatherings: Friday prayers, synagogues, Unitarian and Christian congregations, and the like. As a charismatic figure he could, as a personality, break the rules and keep the factions together, whereas Shoghi Effendi as a lesser figure was a bureaucrat in a very Weberian sense. Abbas Effendi was even knighted.

So I suppose that, in adjusting my picture of the Bahá’í Faith, whilst the UHJ is the bigger strand, it is full of contradictions that come from its obsessive control of membership in an Administratiove Order, and its failures regarding its own adopted prophetic projections (no Great Peace, doesn't recruit as expected, losing a philosophical connection with advancing religious ideas elsewhere). The UHJ as it is will most likely produce a rather a tiny, failing religion, simply because people will leave either as ejected dissidents or via administrative boredom - and yet one with a future that might expand more organically outside of that frustrated core. In any case, it simply does not have the sheer intellectual and grounded resources that are available within Christianity, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, in the sense of development and it is missing a trick in not building them organically.

How could it be different? The Faith could just let be. The texts were produced from Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, and that they are a value in themselves: they have clearly a strong spiritual impact, they represent a transition and a time and place even if they date quickly. So do all scriptures in Faiths (except where they are deliberately philosophical and abstract) and they become understood and used in various ways. To be a Bahá’í could be just a preference to use these scriptures and have Firesides and Feasts with a serving administration more transparent than the current layered-democratic centralism; perhaps, instead, a limited International Spiritual Assembly. Certainly there should be no censorship. It looks like, to me as an outsider, that the transition of 1957 to 1963 could be the Faith's long term undoing, and that it forgot about modesty and humility: but the seeds of such a bureaucratic approach of power was set by the first and only Guardian and possibly earlier during the First World War.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Bahá'ís and Education: and Christians too

When I was confirmed at the University of Hull in 1984 I invited a group of Bahá’ís along as I had also been attending their Firesides. None of them came; as I discovered Bahá’ís don't like to mix their religions (like they once did, when under `Abdu'l-Bahá). I was never going to be a Bahá’í, simply because they have a Qur'anic attitude to the words of Bahá’u’lláh their founder and Manifestation of God and `Abdu'l-Bahá too. It seemed to me that here was a new religion drawing on Shia religion, Sufism, the New Testament and coming out of Persia and into the Western orbit. It was sort of nineteenth century and early twentieth century literalism of the time that could soon be out of date. Plus I discovered contradictions: like men and women are equal, but only men can be elected to the nine person Universal House of Justice, and that's intended to be a joint secular and religious parliament for the world, and elections are layer by layer without campaigns or constituencies on a democratic centralism model (a highly conserving system) - at least since the one and only Guardian (Shoghi Effendi, the leader after `Abdu'l-Bahá) gave way to this model exclusively after a crisis of leadership. Oh and they have no time for homosexual relationships either.

It has always been an interest of mine how religions develop, and of course the Bahá’í one would be a perfect one to study except that the Universal House of Justice has been rather secretive about the records at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. Nevertheless, what it decides now and its attitudes to actual independent scholarship are of course public.

Bahá’ís have always been positive about education and they claim the right of independent search for the truth. Of course they do with seekers: but once you sign on the dotted line you do have conformist obligations to the Faith - and the truth of its founder and the leadership afterwards is taken as given. Nevertheless, Bahá’ís operate in this world, and they attend universities that expect critical methods in dealing with knowledge. Or at least they should: the situation in Iran remains appalling, where Bahá’ís cannot get into university and those that are there are systematically denied their qualifications. The situation is getting worse (and perhaps the UUA President Rev. Bill Sinkford should have thought about that when he met the Iranian leadership with all the pre-arranged questions).

Some of what the Bahá’ís are now saying about their participation in scholarship and about representing the Bahá’í Faith is showing some development. I was reading an interesting article that actually (if unintentionally) says something to Christians too about doing theology. Paul Lample gave a plenary talk at the 32nd annual conference of the Association for Bahá’í Studies – North America 29 August to 1 September 2008, and much of it reflects upon a further stress on education coming from the Universal House of Justice. Clearly they are using education as a means to keep those who are recruited, not as a replacement for Firesides but as a more systematic induction. Perhaps it is like the Methodist class system: people get tied into more structures, people, commitments and things to think about. But here is how he sees Bahá’ís studying and I think this transfers to other faiths (these are extracts):

The learned Bahá'í is not a "gatekeeper" or "priest." [16]

The learned Bahá'í is not an "anthropologist" of the Bahá'í community. The purpose of Bahá'í scholarship is not merely to explain the community at a moment in history and present the resulting picture as its reality. Bahá'ís recognize that, at any point, the community is far from that which Bahá'u'lláh has envisioned. It is "less Bahá'í" now than what it will become in future. [16-17]

The learned Bahá'í is not an "archeologist." The "true" meaning of the Faith is not lost somewhere in the past, to be recaptured by excavating layers of erroneous interpretation and practice. [17]

The learned Bahá'í is not an "artist" who is free to shape the teachings according to some criteria of personal choice or creativity. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have an intended meaning and an intended aim. Unity - even unity in diversity - emerges by seeking out and conforming to this meaning. [17]

The learned Bahá'í is not an "impartial observer." The resolution of important questions requires more than the application of methods of the natural sciences. It is not possible to stand apart from the community to study it without influencing it or being influenced by it. [17]

Perhaps the learned Bahá'í is more like the "scout" who helps to guide an expedition on a journey into unexplored territory. This is someone who participates actively in the journey, but whose specialized knowledge, skills, and experience informs various aspects of the struggle to make progress... [17]

These can be translated across to the Christian theologian perhaps, though the University has its theology courses open to anyone as it cannot be the place for a special interest group. Thus the University theologian can show much or no commitment to Christianity; and there is a huge diversity of what constitutes commitment to Christianity, whereas the learned Bahá'í has a rather stricter Covenant to follow (the Bahá’í stress on unity and maintenance via - in the not so extreme - declaring Covenant breakers becomes effectively uniformity rather than unity). So if these were transferred to Christianity they might say, instead:

  • The learned Christian may be a priest and give more promises than a layperson.
  • Anthropology is not enough for the learned Christian - God and Jesus should at least be considered.
  • Archaeology is tempting for many learned Christians (that there was the true faith) but we live in the present and are going to the future.
  • The learned Christian may be an artist, and produce highly creative theology (as postmodernists have done, for example).
  • The learned Christian is not, in the end, impartial, and may dispute impartiality.
  • The learned Christian is like a scout, using the intellect to go into new and interesting areas to examine how the faith may be developed, understood and applied.

This is in itself interesting, but so is the adaptations Bahá’ís must make in the world of different commitments and institutional expectations.

Bahá’ís claim that science and religion is not in conflict, but the following statement suggests that such could at least have the potential - and look which must have priority:

It would be unacceptable and completely unconvincing to a scientist, for example, if a quotation from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá were used in an attempt to overturn scientific understanding of biological evolution while justifying nonscientific concepts such as intelligent design which are, in fact, theological or philosophical in nature. Whatever the source of inspiration, a hypothesis must be tested according to the scientific methods and standards, producing change that can be articulated and justified within the domain of science. [17-18]

That is quite a far reaching statement, and certainly comes across as different in tone from all that I was told and heard in the 1980s. In other words, in doing science you do science and not do as Christian Creationists and Intelligent Designists do. But that statement admits the possibility that the revelation for now and its authoritative interpreter may not be correct when it comes to actually doing the science.

However, this all meets limitations as regards the presentation of the Faith:

A particular tool of scholarly inquiry, for example, such as historical criticism,49 may be very useful in shedding light on aspects of the teachings. Yet, the scope of the validity of such tools is a topic of discussion even within academia. While they may have value to Bahá'ís engaged in scholarly study of the Faith, they cannot be blindly accepted as instruments that yield "scientific truth" and used to justify propositions that overturn explicit Bahá'í concepts presented in the authoritative texts.50 [18]

Such a limitation is not placed on Christian theologians; and it is by this route that one gets different understandings of Christianity and its origins. The Bahá’ís cannot allow such diversity. Yet diversity is a product of maturity and confidence.

There is clearly a struggle here for Bahá’ís, in that they face different standards of performance and expectation between their own faith and the scholarly community, and then if both have their own rules and findings the Bahá’ís then have the problem of relativism, which their faith of revelation is forced to reject:

An individual is usually a member of more than one community of practice, and therefore, is able to contribute to change within a particular practice by introducing new insights from others. Different practices are, however, not relativistic groupings free to occupy distinct realms each with their "own" truth, since insights are ultimately checked against reality and must, over time, yield to it. [18] ...we can gain insights from these practices and bring them into the Bahá'í community-to the degree that they are acceptable within the range of internal standards of the Bahá'í teachings.

There is a tension here. In a hundred years there may be less paranoia in the Bahá'í community, that is within its make-up, coming from having excommunicated so many competitors for leadership in its reasonably short history and its subsequent maintenance of uniformity from the time of Shogi Effendi. Old faiths do mature, they do produce schools, and there is competition. Faiths undergoing a lot of rapid change, including change in their environment, can crack when the speed of change increases and interconnections go across stress points (see a previous post). We are seeing this in Christianity now: Roman Catholicism papering over the cracks, and Anglicanism not doing so but finding parties separating and competing for supremacy.

Saturday 18 October 2008

It Does Happen the Other Way Around...

The notion that the poor bloody orthodox get it in the neck from Episcopalian Church leaders while those of liberal disposition are treated with kid gloves isn't so when it comes to Rev. Ann Redding. Bishop Geralyn Wolf of the Diocese of Rhode Island has inhibited her, and that she cannot perform her ministry. She has until the end of March to return to Christianity alone, or she is deposed. She doesn't function in her church anyway, but teaches elsewhere.

Apparently she has taken her Shahadah, which means two witnesses heard her say, "There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his prophet." It is what a baby hears when born, and what Muslims say daily. She attends the mosque at Seattle. She thinks she can be a Muslim and a Christian at the same time, but her Bishop Geralyn Wolf does not and the notice of inhibition states:
Standing Committee has determined that Dr. Redding abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church. The bishop has affirmed that determination.

I find it odd that a Christian who might be sympathetic to Islam and its purity of intent would want to join it. The idea that Isa, Jesus, recited the Book that was again corrupted, so that Muhammad then recited it, and it was preserved and was not corrupted, simply flies in the face of any critical understanding of the historical Jesus at all. Whilst, also, it is just possible that this business of too short a time on the cross meant Jesus did not die on the cross (I don't go with this), the idea that Jesus was raised up by God and replaced on the cross is nuts. Even the notion that the Qur'an is perfect in word order and punctuation is something incredible, and not credible to how it was compiled. Given its claim to perfection, the Qur'an contains mistakes and errors that simply shatter such a claim.

In contrast the person of Jesus (regarded as 'the Word' in tradition) is one removed from the New Testament within Christianity (regarded as 'the words'), and the New Testament and its use of the Tanakh can be subjected to a highly critical approach (which moves anyone away from, not towards, the Islamic view, with the expection of the doctrine of the Trinity - which, in its own criticism, the Qur'an misinterprets).

Islam does not intepret Christianity in the manner Christianity understands itself, and Christian views undermine how Islam understands itself as the original revelation and final prophet.

An English priest Rev. David Hart became very involved with Hinduism without renouncing his Christianity. I can understand that, because Hinduism has a flexibility that incorporates the Christian and there are Christian pluralist views about Incarnation and transcendent views about God. There are clearly different religious structures of time and space (e.g. linear Christianity and incarnation, spiral Hinduism and manifestation) but there are also overlaps. There are also overlaps and interlockings between Christianity and Buddhism (which I share myself - though this alters both), though mainly individuals choose to follow one or the other in terms of practice and outlook (I used to receive Faith and Freedom when the then Anglican book reviewer became a Buddhist, and she quickly acquired the complex language of that faith and reviewed Buddhist material accordingly).

Islam is quite singular and clear and purist, and I cannot see how an individual can mix and match between them. Each might offer the other insights, but Islam is quite thoroughgoing for it to be Islam and many of the Islamic insights are present within aspects of Christianity already.

However, Rev. Ann Redding is to be removed from post not because she has Islamic sympathies but because she has joined a different group. Bishop Robert Duncan, formerly of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was not removed for his orthodoxy, but because he was setting up to leave, and was having it both ways, and they have both been treated in much the same way.