Sunday 30 November 2008

On a Personal Thread

It's not in my theology - I simply don't have that belief - that anything supernatural goes on and so I neither expected nor wished for nor thought I hadn't received anything in terms of my recent failure to get a job that I really wanted, had prepared towards, impressed at interview about, and was beaten for it by a candidate on a very narrow basis. A "luxury" of two good candidates when five were interviewed (thus why not interview two, or was only one expected and then the interviews are that merry dance?). Good job I made my own arrangements for getting travel expenses. It was a Higher Education job too, to suit me better, and they are very difficult to secure.

Nevertheless, despite my theology, that you can't knock what you don't have in the first place, the impact of that decision (and so much else) and sitting in the first Advent service does make you wonder what is the point of being there.

I think they call it Michaelmas when the curate was ordained deacon in the church. At that point it was said she had made these promises, then she gave them again, then at another service gave them again. And I thought, whilst I could see how I could make such promises, in all honesty I couldn't make those promises. Since then, though it was cracking beforehand, I haven't said the creed with everyone else. I ought to be like Emma Darwin when she and her family turned around during the creed and faced the congregation. She was still a Unitarian in an Anglican church. I just stand, but should anyone watch my lips they have stopped moving.

I continue to go to the communion rail, but obviously it strikes me that this isn't quite consistent, when you don't say the creed, and so I have been thinking of stopping. My sense though is that once I stop that's it, and so I have not. Nor will I change behaviour on the spur of the moment.

Mentioning this afterwards to someone, I was told of someone else with a theology not far from my own, who started out as an atheist, married a churchgoer, and ended up having adjusted position on the other side of the line and is now a Reader. It would indeed be interesting to talk to such a person. I am a naturally committing sort of person, that when in I want to push my involvement. I've paused my involvement for some time: I did do useful project work recently (and I would do more of that) and I still present some material for an open group discussion.

I write this before attending some Advent procession service. To be honest, I find this time of the year fairly tedious. I do disappear more around the Christmas period, avoiding those endless tiring carols in services and the myth building that grates against the intelligence. My Christmas budget this year - all have been informed - is zero. I was pleased when a pub friend said this year its no tree and all that in his house, so that makes two of us. I shall be no doubt here alone, rattling around, and television will be so awful it will likely be off most of the time, while others eat themselves silly (I can do that anyway) and watch endless rubbish and hopefully have some genuine family contact. I gave up on my family years back and then there is the strange separation...

To get back to the point, if the giving up communion would be temporary, then I won't. I might try without for a trial period, with the intention of 'going back'. However, assuming it all collapses, the issue then is about religious observance.

First of all, I like the Anglican services as such. Secondly, I like the people, and have some important relationships, and when you are on your own and doing sod all most of the time, meeting other people is valuable in itself. But if I stop taking communion, what would happen? At present I attend Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, most Tuesday evenings, most Wednesday mornings. I do this in all seriousness, and as intended practice. All of those, except most Sunday evenings, are Eucharists, and it would be ridiculous to attend especially said Eucharists if there was no consuming, especially the one with say eight people present. In any of them, the prayer of "thank you for feeding us" that effectively winds up the service is a bit pointless if you were not fed.

I don't know really whether the position I've arrived at is one where there is no more that I can do, that the Christian language is once again not giving but taking - that the incredibility of the mythic package is undermining all that which I have theologised about in a more positive direction (and which I still believe).

The Christian service as practised by Anglicans is a very closed affair. Once you are on the other side of the line, you are excluded by the main services that repeat throughout the week. The core service is for insiders, and must be why it generates long term decline. Not that other denominations, with a more open service, are doing any better - indeed their services strike me as cold and bald and lacking the artistic support and indeed power of the ritual path.

At the moment I hang on with a thread. The Advent period is never a good time in my religious calendar, and indeed Christmas is the worst. Maybe I should do something like do the equivalent of hibernation for a short time, still visible but asleep, to perhaps wake up when all this rather nonsensical season is over.


Anonymous said...

There seems to be an intrinsic sadness in your life Pluralist that comes across in this posting.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

That's because there is.

June Butler said...

Adrian, I'm sorry about the job.

For all your lack of belief, you're a faithful attendee. You're present at more church services in a week than I, and I'm pretty much a full-fledged believer. I have no problem at all with the Creed.

For so many people, this time of the year is difficult and sad, but it's my favorite of the church seasons, not because of the shopping, and the decorations, and stuffing oneself with food, but because of the sense of hope and expectancy in anticipation of the celebration of the birth of the Christ. But I guess if you don't believe, then that doesn't work for you.

Erika Baker said...

Here’s what I don’t quite understand. Not having a belief in the supranatural, and not only as an agnostic, but as a positive statement – isn’t that the same as being an atheist? Then, of course, having nothing but contempt and exasperation for the myths of Advent and Christmas makes sense, because even more than ordinary church times, it brings the absurdity of Christianity into sharp relief.

But you’re theologically trained and intelligent enough to understand the concept of myths, and I dare say most of us celebrating this period do not believe in the stories as they are being told. I dare say quite a few of us also abstract a lot when we recite the creed.

Hm…. at heart, I suppose I don’t understand atheism. The God concept cannot be proven, so faith and atheism are both positive statements of belief. Why choose the one that leaves you feeling bereft and not the one that still clearly has so much meaning for you?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I have a possible transcendence view, and along with that a non-realist view. I'm neither opting for one or the other, but not supernatural. All it means is that I don't believe in any kind of God that directs any kind of traffic.

As for the creed, one argument is that there comes a point where the abstracting is overturning. Now my issue is a little different, in that I've long been past that point where the creed is believed or not - I only use it as a statement of what the Church inherits. It has been my institutional unease that led me to pause on the creed, as exemplified by these promises.

I have always found Christmas awkward. My problem here is that whilst I like a bit of warmth and colour, and argue against Puritanism's shadow, and whilst I argue for enchantment and remythologising, I also have the brute of rationality and the Puritan in me. So the baby in Bethlehem and all that, and the whole collection, does nothing for me. Advent isn't too bad in comparison.

Erika Baker said...

What do you mean by transcendence? And what by supranatural?
I don't believe in a celestial traffic warden either, but spiritual experience clearly points to a transcendent something that does have the power to influence my responses if I allow it.

And Christmas makes sense because the historical Jesus was closer to understanding and emboyding that transcendence than anyone else we know of, to the point that he explained it to us in terms that almost make sense of it: redemption, love, healing, wholeness.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

What I mean by transcendence is that joining up of higher and greater things, of values and potentials, to which we have pointers in the likes of art, humour, love and the like, but for which we only have pointers.

We never can join the dots of these pointers. We suppose transcendence. But it is beyond, high and dry, out of reach - if at all.

We have precious little evidence about the historical Jesus. How do you know, historically, that he was closest to the transcendent? This is league table stuff. Do you know what he was like as an older teenager? What about his tribalism as a perspective? I know a Mr Bob Day of Perseverance Street. He was a very quiet baby, a wonderful student at school, and spent a lifetime living modestly whilst giving to charity and working for others in his spare time. He did more in his old age. He accepted no awards from anyone. He always tried to find a way to help when someone was in trouble, and he had a local reputation for animal welfare.

Now I shall define the transcendent as all that is good, noble and charitable, though I have no grounds for doing this, as God could be something of a sod given the evidence, but given my definition Mr Bob Day is now the closest we have to the transcendent, and I can have the historical proof.

The identification of Jesus with God is nothing but doctrine, and nothing but the escalating claims of an early worshipping and charismatic community.

Erika Baker said...

OK, so Dr Bob is doing the same thing for some people Jesus did for others.
Doesn't invalidate either. To say that identifying Jesus with God is nothing but doctrine is looking at it as literally as we accuse our fundagelicals to be. Look beyond the letters and doctrines to what they mean and why and how they still set intelligent people alight.

The proof of this particular pudding is in the eating. And whether Jesus was a crabby baby that never slept or a rude teenager is beside the point. He left a legacy that pointed and still points many people to a higher state of awareness.
In that respect he's ahead of Dr Bob because his recognition value is greater:-)

You know this comment that if we're wrong about our faith we will still have been more moral and more idealistic than the Universe? It's that, really.
Only I don't believe we're wrong about it.

June Butler said...

“Oh dear, it’s very difficult being a Catholic!”

“Does it make much difference to you?”

“Of course. All the time.”

“Well, I can’t say I’ve noticed it. Are you struggling against temptation? You don’t seem much more virtuous than me.”

“I’m very, very much wickeder,” said Sebastian indignantly.

“… I suppose they try to make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?”

“Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”

“But my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”

“Can’t I?”

“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”

“Oh yes. I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”

“But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”

“But I do. That’s how I believe.”

(Brideshead Revisited)

That's one of my favorite quotes for this season of the year. In a sense, I believe in the same way that Sebastian believes, and yet, I'd say that I'm quite rational in many ways.

If we had proof that the Jesus story was true, then we would not need faith. If tomorrow it could be proved to me that none of it was true, I believe that I would still want to live my life following the way of the Gospel as best I could. It seems that your Mr. Day did exactly that. I'd call him a godly man.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It would be a problem if there was a serious ethical problem with Jesus: there are one or two - the animals over the cliff and the woman who has to plead for crumbs. But the ethical argument isn't the point of Christianity. The argument is about the dying and rising - and my view is that such comes from and is part of the general eschatology of the period adapted by a group that saw him after death as the Messiah. The problem is simply that if offends physics and biology and has no access for historical enquiry.

My invented Mr Bob Day is just the many folks about who have lived exemplary lives, known to some but not to others. I was trying to avoid competition between prophetic figures; our knowledge of Gandhi as accessed through history is so much more secure, for example.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Waiting for Godot has the same approach to the Gospels - remember them and pretty colours.

OK, no problem there but one can goe to art galleries and music concerts.

Erika Baker said...

Your invented Bob Day does the job perfectly well, because he higlights that we can see glimpses of God in all kinds of people.

What bothers me is "The problem is simply that if offends physics and biology and has no access for historical enquiry."

That's a very literalist approach to life and religion. One argument could be that there is not "yet" an answer rooted in physics and biology. Another is that there are many kinds of human experience that cannot be pinned down in physics and biology. Love, hate, altruism, telepathy.... our whole daily experience cannot (yet) be explained by neuroscience.

Outside historical enquiry...hmmm... but there are things we can know. We can know how the awareness of Jesus' "resurrection", of his "coming to life" in people's lives, has compeltely transformed those lives. It has transformed the historic disciples from fair whimps to martyrs for their faith.
It has transformed the lives of people throughout history and is still transforming the lives of people now.
Is that nothing?

Just as music, art and poetry have a truth that goes beyond the notes, the paint and canvass, and the letters on the page, so do the Jesus stories. None of it has to be taken literally, if anything, doing that reduces their meaning to nothing.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Our dear Archbishop of Canterbury tells us that if Jesus's bones weren't actually transformed then he wouldn't be a priest, even probably a Christian, but has no historical method to demonstrate...

So we don't know yet? Regularity suggests that we do, to the point of falsification of course, and that is that dead bodies rot very quickly and we've yet to have any physics prizes awarded regarding any form of paranormal activity after death.

This is not literalistic, but a starting point. If you end up with a purely mythic religion then you are at the same place as me.

However, even if one has a most spiritualised view of all of this, the intention is that resurrection has an objective truth to it and is not dependent upon the supporters. My point only is that there is no access to this, that "having faith" makes no difference as to whether there is or isn't an objective reality to all of this, but the onus to demonstrate lies with those who claim it not with those who don't.

If someone says there are unicorns and then because there aren't they are defined in some spiritual realm and still said to exist, and all sorts of people are 'moved' by them, it still doesn't demonstrate anything other than people are moved by their view of them.

Looking out of my window here across to Paull on the north bank of the river I can't quite tell if there is a fire or a new powerful light or a new burnoff. But there's something. That cannot be said for the above, only that there may be but may well be not.

Erika Baker said...

"My point only is that there is no access to this, that "having faith" makes no difference as to whether there is or isn't an objective reality to all of this, but the onus to demonstrate lies with those who claim it not with those who don't."

But this is irrelevant. Having faith doesn't make a difference because it may be "right", but it makes a difference because of what transformation it can cause within you.

I don't have to demonstrate anything to you. My faith in a transcendent reality outside our direct grasp is real and "true" because I experience it as a salvific force in my life. Nothing else matters.

"If you end up with a purely mythic religion then you are at the same place as me."

Only that for you, mythic seems to mean "not real but only story", whereas for me it means "deeply real but not expressable in any other form but story".

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

So do you fall within Paul's if the resurrection is not true then Christians are most to be pitied then, because I reckon that according to him, and the way I think he means it, I am one to be pitied. But then it's just his opinion.

Presumably you think it is real but only expressable within a story. Is this similar then to Hinduism with its real and mythic story base for its followers? Christianity has always claimed that something was acted in history, not only that something is contained in story - why it has attempted to claim objectivity. My point is that it cannot demonstrate such acting in history, that it is subjective or postmodern.

June Butler said...

Adrian, Erika said it better than I, but Jesus enlivens me and is a presence in my life, therefore he is alive for me. There is no way to prove this objectively by physical laws - yet. There are things we don't know.

When I say that I experience this life, this presence within me, you may say that I am deluded, and I cannot prove otherwise - now. But this life, this presence within me enables me to be a better person than I would be without it. I am transformed. My life is changed for the better. I like that.

I'm not suffering from other delusions - voices or hallucinations - that I know of. What I believe is real hurts no one else, and it helps me, so though I can't prove to you that it's real, I'm going with it, because my life is better with it than without it.

Again, over to Erika about the myths. I agree completely. It's story. It's poetry. It's mystery. It's transcendent. And it's real.

Forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon over.

Erika Baker said...

Are you to be pitied? Only if you pity yourself.

Christianity has claimed that something was acted in history - yes, but you don't have to accept that in the literal sense. If Jesus showed us a new way of understanding God, and if this way survived him and is still closely linked to him, then that is an act in history.

Of course you can't demonstrate it, that's logical.
But that doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Faith is, by definition, about that which cannot be empirically proven.

We have to find its truth or not from within us, within our perceptions.

Only - it can't be done with the brain alone. Pure analytical thinking ultimately leads us in a cul-de-sac.
A truth like human love and compassion cannot be understood by thinking about it but has to be experienced.
Faith is the same. The more you insist on rationalising it, the further the possibility disappears.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Nah. faith is not about that which cannot be proven. That's God of the gaps stuff, in the end. Faith is about a state of trust with something, mythic or person.

If something is said to be historical, then it should be accessible. If it isn't, then it's neither here nor there. The mythic package might point to something, including itself (irreducible), but it ought to watch its claims.

I'm on the boundary between real absence and unreal presence.

Erika Baker said...

Oh no, it's not God of the gaps!
It's God of experience.

You cannot explain what being in love is like to someone who has never been in love. That doesn't mean that being in love isn't real, but it's a reality that cannot be communicated by conventional empirical means.

One of the tenets of our faith is that God cannot be "seen", that he is not subject to our scientific enquiry. You may rebel against that and say that you'll only believe him once he can be proven.... but that's not strictly speaking a logical response.

The only logical responses are:
It cannot be proven that he exists.
It cannot be proven that he doesn't exist.
Some people say they experience him as a reality.

The mythical package doesn't have to watch its claims - they are not objectively verifiable. They are experienced truth for some people. They are not experienced truth for others.

Beyond that your logic cannot take you. The rest is faith.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Experience! Subjectivity, it is then. It claims objectivity. Where is the objectivity?

Erika Baker said...

What kind of objectivity?
"Did it actually happen like that" is a postmodern question, it is not one the writers of the bible ever asked.

Jesus lived, that we know.
Whether what he said was truth or not has always been subjective. The only one who ever got "proof" was doubting Thomas and he isn't portrayed as the most sensible follower of Jesus, because he's actually asking for a kind of empirical evidence that isn't possible.

Literalism is a postmodern disease.

June Butler said...

Where is the objectivity?

For you, seeing lives changed is the objectivity. Have you not witnessed that ever? Hearing the stories of lives changed is objectivity, of a kind, too.

What helped me begin to recover from homophobia was hearing the stories of LGTB people. When they told me that theirs was not a "lifestyle choice", but rather "who they are" over and over, I came to believe them.

In the same manner, if you hear stories of lives changed by the message of Jesus in the Gospels, and that Jesus is alive and acting in their lives today, isn't that a kind of objective reality? Are all the folks who say that delusional? Are gays and lesbians delusional?

Erika, you should have been a theologian.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Isn't it objectivity like that Grandmère Mimi? Well not really. It is all in the space of the subjective.

Erika, the question of did it happen is modernist. The people who just layered stories and thought them true were premodern. Our story use and yet knowledge of critical historical methods is postmodern. It is the literary turn that makes anyone postmodern, but you can't univent all those critical methods.

Questions about the historical Jesus are just that, and their answers do not make faith. Faith is something more trusting and directional, personal and the rest. In the postmodern approach, the objective and subjective break down, so that personal experience becomes more about manipulation of received cultural stories and inputs, hardly individual experience at all. Yet all the objective grounding has gone too. The methods the modernists used still occur, but they are more limited in what they can do.

June Butler said...

Faith is something more trusting and directional, personal and the rest.

Yes. And I believe that one cannot be argued into it. I rest my case.

Erika Baker said...

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying.

It may well be that the idea of objectivity has been lost in post modernity, but I actually think that the ideas that everthing is grounded in objectivity were a huge error or modernity starting with the Englightenment.
If anything, we're slowly returning to a more complex way of understanding faith.

For us it has always been blindingly obvious that there is no verifiable truth. If there was, everyone would have the same faith, because you cannot argue with observable truth, there'd be no religious wars, no genuine different attempts at arriving at the same mystical truth.

My understanding has always been that there was the concrete, observable Jesus, but that the faith we have built around him is based on unverifiable experiences and stories of his immediate disciples and all those who have been ignited by what he stood for through the millennia.

Are you saying there once was an objective way of proving the truth of what Christianity claims that has now been lost? How and why would it have been lost?

The gospels weren't written until long after Jesus' death and they were written records of various oral traditions about him.

The idea that any of this should ever have been objectively verifiable and that this is the only way of understanding faith is very strange to me.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I agree with all that.

Except, it was *thought* that it was objectively verifiable - and of course some people still think this. Indeed I'd suggest perhaps most still think this.

Erika Baker said...

But now we've gone off topic. I understood your original post to say that you cannot believe in a supranatural God because he cannot be verified.
Did I misunderstand that?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It's not off topic!

I've indicated such yes: either I have a weak view of transcendence, just about, or a non-realist view. But a non-realist view as a postmodern view of God after a modernist view of God won't do.

Erika Baker said...

"either I have a weak view of transcendence, just about, or a non-realist view."

But you argued that the non-realist view is based on the inability to locate the stated truths of Christianity in history.

Yet, in your post immediately above the last one, you say you agree with my thinking that the existence of God has never been objectively verifiable.

Doesn't it then follow that all religion is automatically illusion for you, because it can never be based on verifiable observations?

Which makes me wonder why you were ever drawn to it - when it was obvious from the beginning that it is based on the main plank of an unverifiable God.

For me, there's too much head in there. I know analytical people struggle to accept subjective experiences, but logic alone should tell you that in the case of faith, they or a willed statement of faith are the only things that make believing possible.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I was drawn to its possibilities: it's always been beyond the evidences. I fell out with Paul Tillich because he closes the hermeneutic circle and whose welcome was not an open door. I'm like the long legged fly that skates on surfaces. They break easily.