Sunday, 2 November 2008

A Different Approach?

As a blog entry Andrew Brown's piece Why I am not a Christian is sharp and to the point, covering the 'different universe' argument (that much of Christianity implies regarding the causality of things) and the old ethical argument (that Christianity is no advance and even gets its concepts muddled). He accepts there are Christians who see the world plainly in its causalities just as he, an atheist, does (and cites Robert Runcie) and that they do at least issue the ethical problem better than some atheists.

After the morning eucharist service I described myself as on a down curve regarding so many of these beliefs presented within the service - the different causalities, a different universe than the one we understand - though not a credit crunch.

So is there any response that might nudge such a person towards a more acceptance of a Christian solution (as he puts it)?

Personally, I don't care about labels in the end. Useful as shorthand, they don't extend very far, and this is true of the Christian label. There is a continuum between the Christian and the humanist, other than something of the supporter's club. One hopes the supporter's club extends ones being beyond the home ground of the club, though labels are often operated by switches, and some people display one label in one setting and another elsewhere.

, Marcus du Sautoy, something of a humanist himself, told in his history of mathematics series how one mathematician was accused of producing "theology" as opposed to what should be utterly reliable - mathematics. Whether or not mathematics is totally reliable, the point is perhaps missed that theology should have this plastic, malleable nature, that it is an investigation into a kind of unknown - and yet such an investigation is possible through theological tools. So the theological essay that gets good marks but neither pupil Andrew Brown nor chaplain who marks it can assess its truth is, for me, the point of the theological enterprise. It is a road into possibilities and creative ones at that.

There is indeed a road here to forms of romanticism, but this implies no belief in miracles. It rather implies a belief in art and the broader view as part of the religious appreciation. One tries to run rationality (the practice of, not so much a belief in the oneness of all knowledge) along with the romantic. They do different jobs, even if they are complementary.

Sometimes rationality will cut out beliefs that seem superfluous; but there may still be a role there for the romantic. That would be so for me and a number of Christian beliefs: resurrection and non-healing so called miracles (for example). Biological bodies when dead rot, and do not get off slabs, but then the whole resurrection narrative becomes so strange (to us) and culture-bound, it is hardly about that anyway. Personally I think they used the lime pit to speed up the rotting process of so many killed bodies, though bodies rot very quickly once life ceases to maintain them. This life and its maintenance I find far more fascinating than near Eastern beliefs spiritualised and then re-embodied again, and all made into a fantastical literary explanation for an early Church asking why the resurrected Jesus no longer makes appearances.

There is still the romantic question, however, about whether there is any meaning in "living the resurrected life": the values and commitments, the community attachments that this involves, and the recognition that such living involves the coming beyond episodes of pain and difficulty. There is nothing hard and fast about such transference of language, and it is disconnected from some sort of pseudo-history and pseudo-science.

Apparently, in his book about Dostoevsky, the Archbishop of Canterbury asks not whether one is theist or atheist, but whether one lives a spiritual life. Of course he has made a succession of contrary pseudo-historical points, that he would not be a bishop at all if Jesus once dead did not get up off the slab, whilst conceding there is no method available to establishing whether he did. There was the ridiculous pseudo-history displayed at the Simon Mayo programme about the even more obvious Christmas fictional narratives.

Without the ecclesiastical politics and all the parade of promises (how many times?) there might be more honesty from those Andrew Brown regards as a sorry lot of bishops. But he is right: even the cocksure parading evangelical today appears heretical to some degree by their forebears.

I cannot understand why he finds Calvinism "intellectually satisfying" (I don't), though it is indeed morally repugnant.

My approach as a participant is something like this. Forget the label of sin, because it is about blame and punishment and tries to discriminate between sinner and act (why?). The Buddhists have it better, that we are attached and somewhat clumsy. Samsara is that sticky clottish world. There is also the deliberate and the malicious, the devious and wicked - usually with attachment motivations. The task, then, of the spiritual life, which is a decision, is to be less attached and a little less clumsy. The spiritual life is something that needs supoprt and connection, including in communities that inherit the language of some bizarre beliefs. Support comes from those who have lived the life, and those who have reflected and acted on those who have lived the life. So that is where the central prophetic figure comes in.

In the end, the thing to do with bizarre beliefs is to put them to one side, and ignore them even. If they are romanticised, then they can become a tool of the spiritual decision.

There is no reward from any of this; nothing in the next existence (as the assumption from evidence is that we rot when dead) and I don't even go with forms and explanations of rebirth (though consciousness is a very mysterious quality - the meness of me and its relationship with a material body). The only reward is a kind of self-giving one, that the other person is improved by this. It really does have to be reward free, but respect for the other does help one to live with oneself, however rough life may become.

This may not offer Andrew Brown the label of Christian, but I've already stated that I don't care for labels, nor am I much of a supporter of clubs.

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