Sunday, 1 February 2009


To think that a year ago I painted this for this point in the Christian calendar and that it played a small off-centre illustrative part in the Candlemas sermon last year:

So much changes in a year. This probably was me being no more than playful, but did indicate the interrelationship between the religions with ourselves as people and in presenting ourselves for service to others, plus there is a pattern here of family and religious official involved here as anywhere.

Today, as I said to a fellow churchgoer, reading this blog is very dangerous for your spiritual health. This isn't here to uphold anything. I'm in a different place now. I was today, too.

The seventy or so 'in the room' sit in such places that, arriving near the start as I do, the positions I once used to sit at, somewhat middling up and down and near the aisle, seem to be no available, and I either project to the near front on the right or find a spot towards the back on the left. Today I wanted to be at the back, because I don't like standing up to say the creed only to sit down immediately afterwards. I want to stay sat, but I don't want to do a public protest: I'm not there to suggest others agree with me, in the slightest. Though the language of the creed is no more dogmatic than the rest of it, I don't believe it, don't commit to it and so I don't want to say it. I want a more liberal relationship with this (and other) material than is on offer.

Well I was at the back for this Candlemas service, with bits added on, some of which worked and some of which didn't, but not only did I stay sat at the creed but also through the Eucharistic Prayer where people stand until the Lord's Prayer. It was actually turned out to be more 'spiritual' to just sit and listen to that rather than participate in a fractious way, and as I don't now go to the communion rail that seemed to be more consistent.

The sermon, given by a talented and intelligent lay reader, who I sat with afterwards with coffee, was neither here nor there in terms of my reception of it, but it seemed to me the whole thing is based on a sort of early days Jesus superstition and personally I find the whole Mary thing laid on too thick (I always did: I'm a good Prot). The sermon was good for describing the two-pronged basis of the Presentation and Mary regarding this Candlemas echo of Christmas past, but it's when one tries to make anything of it that it starts to lose something and become unanchored.

It seems that I am settling at this position now. It could have been temporary, and I'll admit a certain pull of the ceremony while I just listened. So I could still change my mind. But I ought to be clear to myself that the branch I sat on did snap and there doesn't seem to be a way to mend it. There may be other branches in the tree, of course, but I was sat on one of the lowest and, being a tall chap, all I had to do was stand there anyway - or sit on the ground, like Buddha did.


Erika Baker said...

once you stop wrestling with the branch you sat on and just listen, you may discover other branches you hadn't seen before.
Sitting at the back and listening is a good place to be.

Rev R Marszalek said...

I'm looking at the creeds at the moment in a Christology module. Which parts do you object to, in particular? It might help sharpen my thinking to ponder what you think.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

To be honest, all of the Nicene Creed...

We had a discussion about this in one church group in which the 'we believe' element came about because the bishops came to these statements. So one said, "So it should say 'They believe'."

Well, John's gospel is very Arian in terms of Jesus as subsidiary divinity and first born, so that might be an objection (though I choose neither), and he had two parents, and the came down from heaven is rather silly and docetic. He was crucified but not for anyone in particular, and may not have been buried at all. According to the scriptures he did rise, but did he rise or rise again? It says the kingdom will have no end but Paul says he will yield up the Kingdom to God - because the Bible doesn't support the Trinity. Then there is the clause that caused the Roman Catholics to break away from the Orthodox (yup, it's that way around). Finally, dead bodies rot and will not be reconstituted and why look to them. I've never looked for any life to come.

Rev R Marszalek said...

Isn't it 'first born' as in the new Adam - the one to be born who is the first one with a flawless humanity? And the word made flesh - doesn't seem like a subsidiary divinity. Surely he was crucified for us in a fulfilment of the OT prophesies - he paid the price for our sin and through him we are lifted up to share in the trinity. Or do I just sound like a right evo? this is how I see it though.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

In Arianism the first act of God is to make the Word, the Word which then makes the world. So Jesus Christ linked to this Word is the first born of creation.

Many of these prophecies were not written as prophecies, and certainly not to be fulfilled by a shift of understanding that a salvation religion understanding brings. They are read backwards from the Early Church. History is much simpler than this. There happened to be people in power who killed because life was cheap and power was by threat and demonstration. For prophecies to be fulfilled in some sort of grand plan, it needs the grand planner to have everyone suffer a murderous foreign power in control. Rather unethical, methinks, of such a grand planner. No it was unfortunate that people who stuck out and had followers, and who pricked Roman superstitions, got themselves hauled up to be killed like so many. There is nothing original in it at all.

Many Christians make the mistake that this Jesus was big news at the time. He would have been relatively insignificant. Saul, who became Paul, would have been in town at the time, and paid it no attention.

Rev R Marszalek said...

'In Arianism the first act of God is to make the Word, the Word which then makes the world. So Jesus Christ linked to this Word is the first born of creation.'

But Arianism was condemned at Nicaea because it was heretical to hold that Jesus is not pre-existent and begotten not made. He is of the same essence (ousia) as God and was not created like a creature but begotten, sharing in the same substance as God, homoosious with the Father. God the father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, distinct and yet sharing the same essence - the mind-baffling trinity.

'There is nothing original in it at all.' But Jesus rose from the dead - that's certainly original.

emm interesting.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

So what if Nicea said that? John's gospel has got clear subordinate (what I meant to write when I put subsidiary) features. And the meaning of the opening passages is of the beginning.

It takes very little time being dead for the brain to be unrepairable, for the rot to set in. Now are the resurrection stories about a person who had a repaired, if transformed, body? You can believe that there was one exceptional person that would have physicists and biologists competing for a Nobel Prize in science. Or are they about encounters based around expectation and restoration of a central religious ritual meal? They are not primary documents to do with evidence at the scene of the reverse-crash (where dead bodies come alive). They are about leaders and communities looking immediately ahead to the end time.

Read, for example, how, when they get the point, that they see him, and he disappears. It's like, "Do you see now?"

Rev R Marszalek said...

... the divinity of the risen Jesus meant that he functioned outside of the constraints of time and space...

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Could you set up an experiment to show how he operated/ operates outside of time and space?

We only have language and symbolism, and our bodies. We are very much inside.

I don't know how you can make such an extraordinary claim. Erika has already given up on such claims - she says they are nothing but personal stances, subjective, what I might call fancy.

Erika Baker said...

"Erika has already given up on such claims - she says they are nothing but personal stances, subjective, what I might call fancy."

But you are such a child of modernity, insisting on thinking in terms of literal truth!

I know that the resurrection cannot be proven, I don't even believe it was a literal event.

But that does not mean it wasn't true.
As I commented in your most recent post - there is a truth that is accessible to those with faith. It is no less true for not being scientifically proveable.

You may call it fancy - but that can also not be proven.

Your scientific tools are simply completely unsuitable for verifying religious claims.

Faith is, by definition, outside scientific explanation.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I apply scientific tools for religious claims when a scientific claim is made for a religious phenomenon. Seeing as you keep your truth of resurrection subjective, I won't apply any scientific tools. Rachel is making claims open to scientific dialogue, and even slips them past into a super metalinguistic claim beyond the reach of science but science sounding.

Rachel is probably closer to the Christian claim than you in terms of making an objective claim, but that's like coming out of the trenches and being open to potential experiment, to the rigour of historiography - and she meets none of these tests.

Postmodernism is post modern. The modern comes first. It is quite important. Postmodernism is not some retreat into fiction about everything; even Cupitt, who pushes his non-realism as far as it can go and further, recognises the sheer explanatory power of the modernist or naturalistic text.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I'm going out now. I expect God to reserve me a parking place and for me to have enough money to live on. God has seen to it that the nasty weather cleared just so I can do my business.

Oh no, we don't think like that now do we?

Erika Baker said...

No, we don't all think like that!
And even the literalists don't actually think like that... well, apart from those strange guys Peter Owen dug up in the States, you know the ones who believed Jesus would protect them from the bites of poisonous snakes - and they continued even after 150 of their congregation had died?

I'm finding Rachel's beliefs not intellectually convincing either and I certainly don't share them. Neither do I believe that they are typical for most Christians, although they are typical for the evangelical movement.

My main argument is that it is useless to challenge those beliefs - ANY beliefs, with scientific arguments because that's a category error - one which the literalists are making too!
All you can ever say is "I don't believe that".

Rev R Marszalek said...

But Adrian there are loads of things science can't explain - love, the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, Jesus' resurrection are just a few I name at the moment. probably because I've been dwelling on these things of late. Our science is a product of the thinking of our brains, we are human but there is something outside of human - God.

An ant can't contemplate my existence. I do not have the brain capacity to understand God, he will always be beyond scientific explanation but thank God he has shown the world his nature through the incarnate Logos and has also reconciled us to him through the cross. I suppose this is faith. Faith and science do not cancel each other out, they can lie happily together. Adrian, who made you? Or rather how did our planet come to have these thinking beings upon it and in whose image do you think we are made?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I do not think we are made in any image: why should we be made in an image of something? We are evolved as is all else, via a few catastrophes on the way too to other evolved creatures.

Ants have ant-world, within ant-world. You are making a claim as a human ant to know something beyond that ants know nothing about. There may be all sorts of beyonds, like dimensions beyond time and space, but you are making such a 'beyond' claim with rather a lot of precise, descriptive language. So that's not the same as ant and a beyond ant-world.

Science does not explain the arts; science does not explain a great deal of phenomena, but it can explain what is scientific, and if you claim that a dead man came alive again it can explain the physical process by which a rotted dead person can reconstitute - with the evidence. Of course there is no evidence as not only has it never knowingly been repeated but the science is that it cannot happen: it breaks the rule of entropy.

Tell me how people are reconciled via the cross. Or let me suggest why not. The fall in terms of loss of moral goodness is not clear in the biblical text: it was developed by Augustine. So it a very late idea and why should Jesus reconcile this idea rather than another idea? Now the ancients of that time and place believed that people were ill and died because of the weight of sin - thus those who lived longer and were better, indeed the social hierarchy, suggested less sin. From that developed a whole theology of a sinless person not having to die and thus dying so others could live. But it is all based on a false view of why people die. We die for biological reasons: it makes not one jot or tittle what Jesus did as to the length or state of my life in any transference. Indeed there is no mechanism for such transference. Of course people carried on dying: St Paul was asked why they kept dying. And people do, so everlasting life became something after you were dead - a neat shift but a nonsense regarding the original development of the belief.

Again you can have it as your own personal sense of good feeling, like a sort of subjective motivation that Erika says she has, but the mechanisms have no basis for existence beyond mental good feeling. It's all a load of castles in the sky.

Erika Baker said...

That it isn't!
It is that before you believe it.
But once you do, it is absolutely real.

Bit like being in love. Kids think it's soppy and silly and a mere embarrassment.
Adults know better.

And you are intelligent enough and have read enough theology to know there are many other ways of interpreting Christology and all its big themes.
Do you lay into the obvious ones because they're easy targets?
I really don't understand this.

This conversation is becoming more and more like Dawkins attacking the fundamentalists, where the only answer can be "Yeah. So what?"

Alternatives to Augustine have been around since Irenaeus!

As I just posted in a later thread, forget the clumsy words that are groping towards a very difficult numinous reality. If they don't work for you, bin them!
What's important is whether there is a deep truth in that core kernel that Jesus points to for you nor not. How you express that is pretty secondary. What you cannot do is bin the idea simply because humans make a sometimes shoddy job of trying to express it.