Saturday 8 November 2008

Pluralist's Nine Theses

I shall attach these Pluralist's Nine Theses to my main website subsequently, probably after a little bit of further consideration and possible minor revision. I thought I would provide my own version of John S. Spong's 'Twelve Theses' in his A Call for a New Reformation with my Nine. I am reasonably happy with these:

The arts cannot locate or justify a true, objective knowledge, only working via human traditions, and in dealing in addition with pure mystery and feeling, theology is like the arts (except where it borrows from other subject areas). The social sciences are also creative, but are limited by the research of regularity and validity. The sciences are language bound and produce paradigms that can change, but are further constrained by falsifiability. Mathematics also employs symbolic language, and there is the mathematics of ambiguity, but the rules are precise, logical and tight. Each of these have had their equivalent of a postmodern turn and it is into this that in theology the most creative and human views of God are constructed. As such, God is neither objective nor subjective, and whilst transcendence of some unspoken kind is a possibility, much that we call transcendent derives from the constructs of human culture.

As such it becomes very difficult to talk about incarnations and manifestations of God, except from constructs of traditions and narratives. Each has its own inner sense but loses external force. Christology may be understood from the inside, but history as a means of knowledge has no time for the closed heremeneutic circles that seek to preserve Christologies from open scrutiny. In the end there is no protection for a doctrinal Christ, and the Jesus of history cannot be entered into a relative ethics race with others. Jesus can be understood for his ethical reversals and his immediacy of action, but much of his thought world is limited to his own time and does not translate well - even when facing nuclear and ecological threats. Jesus as the Christ of tradition is presented as one who lived a life of compassion and ultimate service, that people can approach voluntarily and critically as a guide and pathmaker along with others of inspiration.

Humans are evolved animals with no right to continued existence on this planet (or anywhere else) and subject to the same forces of environmental catastrophe, pressures and change. We are the last species of human from several and probably destroyed the others we met. We do not carry the sins of our forebears, but more simply continue to be ethically mixed in how we approach the challenges of life. The religious task is to find and choose the ethical, and to do this in the awareness and the company of others of all creatures (or, in any withdrawal, to consider the other). We may well need techniques of meditation, prayer and contemplation to direct the mind away from attachments that over the longer term let us down from a purer joy in being.

Books of scriptures across the faiths are bound into cultural and mythological thought forms, and the New Testament and Hebrew Bible are no different. We can use these for limited communal identity and ethical insight, but the approach is critical and necessarily selective. Doing ethical work did not finish with the Bible, and it serves us, not we it. The prime religious decider is not the Bible or other scriptures we may wih to consult but our conscience and intellect and the conversation collectively on these individual matters.

The Bible does not contain the doctrine of the Trinity nor a doctrine of original sin. The Trinity is but one potential of the New Testament's theological escalation, that which ascribes different titles to the earthly Jesus and heavenly Christ. The doctrine of original sin is but one interpretation of the Bible. The Bible is ambiguous about the atonement. The resurrection appears to be a highly constructed story beginning with spiritual experiences and connected with the authority and legitimacy of early Church leaders with the body-based materialist support of the empty tomb and other stories. The birth narratives are but glossy fable for the purposes of emphasising the Messianic claim. The ascension exists to explain why Christ did not continue to appear to those in the early Churches, and the second Coming is the Christian invention that follows on. The New Testament is a construction of the early Churches, as later selected, and reads the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible for its own prophetic purposes. Some or none of this may prove useful for the contemporary believer at considerable distance in time, space and culture from the outlook of that time. Much of this we may have to reinterpret or dismiss due to critical approaches of history and science.

Son of Man and Son of God have various meanings that first must be understood within Jewish monotheistic context. Jesus may have claimed another was coming soon as Messiah, or himself transformed, but he saw his mission as essential to prompt God into bringing in the Kingdom to liberate Israel. Healing miracles have to be separated from other miracle stories, that emphasise the early Churches view of the eschatological, the prophetic, the Kingdom and messianic. We should be careful to see the discontinuity as well as continuity between the Pauline early Christian and the Jewish Jesus.

Whilst the Bible may be consulted for the ethics of relationships, much of what it states about relationships between men and women is profoundly unethical. It has little or nothing to say about the complexity of loving partnerships. In general, the New Testament had a marry if you must ethic, in a last days context: that Jesus's given view of divorce and Paul's given view of marriage are inadequate for relationships. The Jesus view of marriage perhaps has to be seen impossible except for that in the idealised Kingdom. We should value relationships for how they help to build character, rather than what they are as categorised.

Christianity as so Pluralist, Reformed, and Catholic offers encouragement and support individually and communally for the reorientating ethical task of thinking again, changing behaviour and personal renewal as well as binding the community together in its seeking the common good, offering mutual support and providing identity. It will draw on the arts as well as words for a holistic means of support and encouragement. It provides rituals and ceremonies and indeed can use the centrality of food and drink in the ritual act. Following on from the Seder meal, rooted in the natural world and in the walk of liberation, Christians continue to simplify this to bread and wine with its materialist associations of Christ's body, the human body and the natural produce of the world, that we are part of the transient and to whatever it gives way.

Christianity as so Pluralist, Reformed, and Catholic offers interpretive and pastoral ministry, adding to the sense of continuity through different cultures and interpretations. Such ministry may reflect the creedless, or minimally credal by inheritance or interpretation, consistent with the broad and soft boundaries of an ever changing approach to religion and Christianity, a Christianity fully consistent with contemporary ways of thinking and a plural world.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. These are wonderful.

I wish you were Baha'i. Then again ... if you were ... you would no doubt have been disenrolled long ago!

Please keep writing. Your articles really are inspirational.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Actually at the time I attended Firesides I was going towards Christian confirmation - but even if I hadn't I became a sceptic quite quickly when their account of a PhD about the faith misrepresented it and also when one of the Bahais chucked down a book in the Hull University library which was about the Free Bahais and the time when some Germans questioned the authenticity of the Will and Testament of Abdul Baha.

Via a comment on my Episcopal Cafe entry I found my way to some very rich material of an ex-Bahai who went deeply into the movement and from that perspective asks some very perceptive questions and a number that I could not have begun to consider. She left but surely would have been removed.

It's if I have it right.