Monday 30 March 2009

Government Today

'I mean Gordon, that McNulty, good bloke, know what I mean, he was at it, I mean at it, really gettin' 'em shafted, 'cause he was getting them dole people who were stealing off the state. I mean, he has a London house and it is so far to commute here in London. How do working people and hard working families do it? And these dole fiddlers - we have to stop it all. I'm 'Ome Secretary you know, thanks to your judgment Gordon. Like one of them films we were watching on the old parliamentary expenses, in the house on the old parliamentary expenses (or is it the other one we got that £23,000 for?) - and it's where that big hunk gives 'em all a bit of the you know what for. He says you have no choice you scroungers and I'll give you a right going over. Wow, I could have him all right, like get him behind the desk in my department, and hubby, that one I employ (I remember the competitive interview, Gordon, cause I said, "Are you married to me, Richard? Oh you've got the job"), and he says "Cor what an employee she would make; I could really go for her." "Give her the old recruitment technique," I said, Gordon. "You can have her on expenses, like you are." She'd be a right additional feature for the office, Gordon. And I said, "Well why not get her behind the desk? That'll make three of us," like they were doing in that film and then a foursome with my additional bloke on expenses. So that was really good research that was having that downloaded and I bet that Tony ought to watch it because it would tell him a few things about scroungers. Gordon: do you and your Darling watch any films about quantitative easing? I could do with a bit of quantitative easing, Gordon, or at least Richard could.'

Saturday 28 March 2009

Episcopi Vagantes?

So Bishop Nazir-Ali is to sort of go it alone, in the Middle East, doing a job of reconciling Muslims and Christians where Christians are under some pressure. Sounds like a useful job.

Except, of course, it gives him the freedom to do as he wishes regarding GAFCON and the like, to ordain (let's see who with) and to organise. That's why he is going very early. He wants a role that he can never have within the Church of England - no more in the way of promotion, but also nothing much else to say other than his mantra of lack of Christian freedoms in Muslim areas or within contemporary British culture that advances social equality.

Yes, he will do more and be prominent elsewhere. A lot will be behind the scenes, but a great deal will not be. Bob will be the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America, and Michael will be free to gather and organise, unless he becomes the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Europe.

A Good Advert

In these days of increasing dogma and internalisation of religious bureaucracies, it is good to see some sort of alternative on offer. Catherine Robinson's piece in The Guardian's Face to Faith for today (under Comment is Free) does a good summary of Unitarian origins in terms of central Europe.

Quibble quibble... There is good reason to think that early Unitarian origins in England and the USA are separate from central Europe. The Bible only no creeds Presbyterian-Puritan congregations (without Presbyterian structures) and congregationalists in the USA drifted in a liberal direction. They were pumped up by ideological Unitarians, but the link with dispersed Socinians say into the Netherlands is co-incidental. That's why the central European tradition has a Unitarian catechism and the Anglo-Americans do not, though also the catechism protected Unitarians from development as a condition of limited toleration. Another quibble: most of Transylvania where Unitarianism developed and hung on was in, now, Rumania: in Hungary the Austro-Hungarian Empire destroyed it, as did the Jesuits once in power in Poland. Of course it is back into these places, but only in small measures, more in Hungary because of the ethnic association.

You can then get into detail: the place of Universalism in the USA absorbed within Baptists and Unitarian Baptists in England and parts of Wales, and the growth of Arminianism in England and South Wales, and South Wales divided into two distinct histories and geographies. There is the contribution of Exeter liturgical Arianism to the first named Unitarian church in London and yet Arianism was more influential within Anglicanism.

The big influence was the change (under Martineau) towards a broad Christianity that was to lead directly to forms of religious humanism and universal religion. It was the later nineteenth century 'victory' of a broad Presbyterian ethos without the Puritanism (over a denominationalist Unitarian ideological Puritanism without the Presbyterian breadth) that was Free Christianity, that openness associated with the growth of criticism and religious romanticism, a movement to conscience away from the Book.

Get into such detail and you lose the ability to summarise, of course. It gets complicated, and then you start debating.

A nice touch from Catherine Robinson that some named Unitarians were communicators. They were, and so were many denominationalist preachers that annoyed the orthodox nearby. But, yes, it happened that Unitarians were some key inventors of modern day communications for everyone.

Unitarianism cannot be a separate religion, but it might be more or less a unique approach to religion when carried out in full. But is it carried out in full? Also, it is tiny and much diminished, and has a very uncertain future along with other, larger, but falling-by-similar-proportions denominations. Unitaranism, though, can market itself as the liberal alternative and they have only old arguments against Anglicanism which no one understands.

Here is another and realistic encounter from The Guardian and 'Comment is Free' on March 16th, a visit to a Unitarian church.

Let's answer some comments from 28 March!


28 Mar 09, 12:04pm

Could you be a Unitarian, and believe in the Trinity, Original Sin, the Virgin birth, and the real sacrifice of Christ in the Mass?

Yes. Any and all. Wouldn't be very fulfilling though in terms of Unitarian ritual practice.


28 Mar 09, 2:31am

What this boils down to is that Unitarians want the warm fuzzies without the explicit codification of other superstitions. Now you only need to take one more step and become a rationalist.

But then what of religious insight, the function of ritual given a general reflective application and the practice of developing calmness and awareness?

Friday 27 March 2009

Ebor Dem

Anyone training to be a teacher is told that the worst form of teaching is the lecture. Good if you can remember 10%. Sermons are lectures too, though you are allowed to meditate in and through them. There are no questions afterwards, although there may be comments from the floor.

I don't then understand why the Archbishop of Canterbury, doing all these lectures, uses such a compressed and turgid style every time.

Goodness knows what those hearing him make of it. No doubt, partially hearing and digesting bits of a lecture, they do ask questions. I had two responses when simply reading his Ebor Lecture on the environment. First was an "oh no" as it went in my eyes and did not register content in my brain. Secondly, I asked what is the point of a lecture if he doesn't act on it: for example, all that ethical content in the previous economics lecture set against the evil of the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria.

Anyway, I'll stop doing this sometime soon, but I had a crack at simplifying it for my own comprehension. My writing style is itself a high reading level figure (called in one case the Fog Index), so it might not be that simplified and Pot might be calling Kettle black. At least I address this matter. But then the question is: what of it?

Here is my summary (I comment below):

'The face of the earth' is no longer seen as a metaphor but it helps to connect to a biblical insight (24th psalm) - God's glory and overall sovereignty to the world and it is bigger than we can grasp.

So we can't oblige the environment to follow our agenda, however we bend it; we can't change the weather system or the order of seasons. But there are relations and interactions ignored at a cost of disaster, and the environment won't always adjust to us. It will survive us and the earth remains the Lord's.

Leviticus 25.23 tells us further that we are tenants on the Lord's land. Ellen Davis says that this chapter is about enslavement and alienation - losing family property is to become a resident alien, which is the same as the community settled by God into Canaan - resident aliens. Being impoverished and sold into slavery means the purchasing Israelite must treat the slave like a hired servant, buying back as a process of redeeming. A non-Israelite family buying ought to be redeemed. Imitating the holiness of God prevents everlasting alienation (Ellen Davis, Scripture, Culture and Agriculture, ch.5, esp. 90-94).

This holiness is the key God agenda, not a human agenda. We and the environment are alike in relation to God - neither the mystery of the inner person or the resistance of the material world can be wholly possessed by us. Not possessing means not exploiting for our purposes.

Often we hear about Genesis and having dominion over the non-human creation. Not so, set against Leviticus and elsewhere in Jewish scripture. But what of redeeming when not possessing? Is it just to stand back?

No - we are to cultivate. We joyfully experience the powers of nature (St Augustine). Focusing those powers by our work keeps us in paradise and lets us resist temptation. If nature is seen just as a threat to be overcome then that is the effect of the Fall - alienation again. Aquinas says we use our reason to share in the working of divine providence, therefore to bring out the potential of humanity and nature - and that means discerning the right form of action: such as the prevention of harm or a non-pillaging use of resources for human nourishment and security (allowing for resource restoration).

Ungodly approaches to the environment means manipulation for human advantage and ignoring complex connections that are violated, such as: biodiversity, low cost returns on labour, and its finite limits for restoration.

Do exploit and you discover too late the damage done: a lost necessary species, a foreign life-form upsetting the local balance, loss of neighbouring life forms, damaged soil, supplies of fossil fuels ending. It's not just climate change but a range of doomsday scenarios. Technology to do good is also that which can do harm by domination through violence, such as through bio-terror (Martin Rees's 2003 book).

A.S.Byatt's novel The Biographer's Tale includes devastation we face through a catalogue of ignorance regarding insects especially bees, and the loss of other creatures through road building and crop spraying etc..

We have to use our intelligence,as Aquinas says, in order to redeem, as with Leviticus. This is to supply need, and to avoid famine and suffering.

Yet we collude in apparent unlimited economic growth, systematically ignoring economic and ecological global interconnectedness.

Ecology increasingly involves justice. Often those not making the decisions bear the cost of the wealthier nations' decisions. Decisions are not easy, when actions in the environment represent unintelligence and ungodliness. But asking the questions about what we do helps, and we realise that we are bound up with the destiny of the world. If we can't live within its contraints, the world may not 'tolerate' us.

God's love cannot compel justice and virtue; it is unbiblical to think God will step in to sort our the folly or sin. We are free to make a disaster; God's love won't let us go but there is no safety net. To think otherwise makes a nonsense of Old Testament prophets and Jesus's urgency when preaching.

But our intelligence used can limit the ruinous effect of our intelligence (A. S. Byatt's fiction again). It needs in Christian terms a change of heart, conversion, redemption out of an egotism that obscures judgement. Grace is need to escape from the distortions of pride and acquisitiveness. We reason including that we cannot master everything within the physical world.

So, we use reasonable skills of reason-based negotiating the material world. For example, some deny climate change but such scepticism is unreasonable where the sea rises as at Bangladesh and Tuvalu (one can argue how much is human and how much is cyclical, but there's the force of the argument about the effects of increased levels of carbon emissions and it surely isn't coincidence).

Christianity says we are not God and do not need to be God. We need to be aware of our limits in what we properly do in this fragile and moral world.

The previous lecture on the economy said the financial crisis was less about greed and more about pride: that of attempting to forget our absence of total control. We are finite, despite the denials, as in Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death, and he identified our fantasy of being 'self-created'.

Jonathan Porrit says that our general belief in progress through exponential growth means we deny the complexity of limits (Capitalism as if the World Matters, 215). He says politicians haven't worked out a form of risk-with-innovation capitalism that isn't disastrous for the environment. It needs monetary calculation of depleting natural capital and assessing individual and social well-being. This means practical and ethically defensible uses of technology for profitability along with environmental responsibility (rather different from the last two centuries). We have had an economic liberalism that says either you have current global capitalism with no democratic input or it all descends into unwanted protectionism.

This different way connects to a renewed sustainable democratic politics. Common values need defining in a renewed civil society. These values are the inteconnectedness of forms of capital - social, human, natural (293).

This involves adding vision to renew the use of intelligence. The faiths provide vision: not a private human vision on to a passive nature, but creative engagement to show interconnectedness with the powers of nature that bring joy (St Augustine) but also conscious of costs and not fantasies of unconditional domination.

The Christian view is of a priestly relationship: that humans draw out of nature its closer relationship with its creator to give a sign of love and generosity. Such negotiation with the environment would promote peace and justice, alleviate suffering and spread resources - human need met within the environment's constraints. The environment remains itself but becomes sacramental of its originating gift, the face of the earth being of the face of God. The Eucharist has this: the first fruits of a material world communicating divine generosity.

Creation is frustrated if humanity is unredeemed (touched on in Romans 8). Human selfishness stops nature producing justice and generosity. When it could be so otherwise, a doomsday scenario has the material world left to itself and chokes humanity.

God's purpose is for created intelligence to draw out nature's potential (each fulfils the other). Yet this created intelligence - us - could disappear unsupported by nature as it had diminished. By not attempting to fulfil the relationship between us and nature - the shared vocation - humans are rebelling against the creator.

There is further the context of the divine action that decisively redeems humankind - the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as his face to us that unveils our faces as we move towards God (II Corinthians). Thus we can reveal nature as a sign of love, via respect and letting it be. Christ liberates us from an anxiety that drives us towards possession; we are liberated, our intelligence is recreated, and so we can liberate the earth.

Christos Yannaras sees a loss of relation in modern society and the 'artistic' vocation of transforming the world. That forgetful loss makes technology toxic: but, as in his Variations on the Song of Songs, love compels us to see things differently, like when loving God we glimpse the landscapes we encounter together as seen through the eyes of God as 'very good'. Yannaras sees this as 'a gift of erotic joy', of desire.

This is more than adding in environmental costs, but this Christian vision suggests not just a duty of care but a conversion towards making whole: its redemption like our redemption, its face uncovered like ours before God. When God hides his face creation goes into fear and slips back (Ps 104: vv 29-30), but his breathing on it renews it. That movement of the Spirit has our love and intelligence going in the same direction.

By the way, I wish he would do a proper bibliography!

What is the method here? The method is the Jewish Scriptures as a kind of resource analogy book: a myth or story world where it relates to alienation. But we can draw alienation from more practical, direct, economic-analytical sources. I'm not particularly bothered with what Leviticus says about this or that, and to denounce a Genesis reading as unbiblical is a sort of politics of book-playing. It is just another reading, isn't it, about dominion? That reading has its own logic, which for those who go below the surface is not about domination anyway but kingship.

We can have visions and dream dreams, but this face of God to face of humanity to face of nature, all grounded in some miracle of (from Rowan Williams's point of view) reconstituted bones into a transformed body, seems to me to be indulging in redundancy - an unnecessary extra round the houses regarding the problem at hand.

Do we need such visions or stories in order that we become good gardeners of all the earth's resources, in that we grow plants to eat and, largely at environmental cost, husband animals to eat and use them? I noticed that he didn't actually mention animals.

It seems the Archbishop has his own internal agenda: that of promoting human intelligence and activity, and demoting the also Christian viewpoint that God will act on the last day in redeeming the mess and saving those who are chosen to be saved whilst damning the rest. And this is indeed as much a Christian view. It's the one peddled on all those Christian-Zionist and creationist satellite stations. It may be nonsense he is opposing, but it is of Christianity.

He says that those who will have God jump in and intervene deny the Jewish prophets and Jesus's urgency. No they don't: and, anyway, Jesus believed that God was going to intervene very soon and his urgency was directed at people. "Sin no more" in order to enter the new coming reality. Jesus did believe in an intervening God, even if the Archbishop doesn't.

I don't either. I believe that this environment is evolved, that it has formative limits that produce relationships of species in location interacting. As Armand Marie Leroi states, like the climate to the weather, there is a systemic element to the chaos of specific evolution.

What we have to do, therefore, is recognise the limits of the system with our actions of feeding and using, or understand that the system will shift to another equilibrium - even a relatively lifeless equilibrium - if we, as an overlarge part of this system, bugger it up.

I don't accept, personally, that global warming is all human made, or that the human element is systematically disastrous. The earth was severely colder and hotter in history without our contribution. Huge forests in Europe have been cut by humankind over millennia and we did a lot of coal burning and other polluting until recently. Our contribution now may be of ever larger effect, but even without it there will be environment-system shifts, and we may be adding to something of hugely greater force or contradicting an unwelcome natural movement. We ought to reduce our additive footprint, but that doesn't stop change.

The difference between Rowan Williams and me is this: the earth is not here for our benefit. There is no God patting us on the head to get on and water the plot where the natural world doesn't do it so well so we are all glorified (nice story as it may be). We will come and go like all the other species.

If we need a myth it might well be that of the tenant, but one who will die in the property or move on. But there is a practical basis of action that is meditative and contemplative. Using his words this time: Christian terms, this needs a radical change of heart, a conversion; it needs another kind of 'redemption', which frees us from the trap of an egotism that obscures judgement. Intelligence in regard to the big picture of our world is no neutral thing, no simple natural capacity of reasoning; it needs grace to escape from the distortions of pride and acquisitiveness.

How interesting are his words, given all the controversy surrounding Kevin Thew Forrester, the Christian bishop-elect who draws on Buddhist meditative practice. "The trap of egotism that obscures judgement" is a Buddhist notion, and most clearly and directly such. By intelligence the Buddhist would use awareness: awareness involves intelligence but it also involves calm and skillful application. It is not for nothing that Buddhism and Jainism are the most environmentally sensitive of faiths, because, of course, they go to the essence of the matter. 'Grace' as some outside requirement is just a prop to suggest we cannot do it: well we can: we can use our awareness if we develop it by disciplined contemplation, mediation and reflection.

Perhaps the Archbishop, in his denial of an intervening God, and his promotion of intelligence, does not wish to be seen as a Pelagian. Well at least a Pelagian gets on with the job.

Now I wish he'd get on with his job, and tackle that evil in his backyard down in Nigeria.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Satellite Postmodernity

I often ask, when bored about television offerings, whether is there anything about local people in local situations on nicely logo-free Sianel Pedwar Cymru (Digidol) or BBC Alba? Thanks to satellite TV there are these choices. There are others too.

I am sure there are some people with satellite television who like to eat late TV dinners sat in front of sad unglamorous females with padded breasts (the operations for which they need to finance), who roll around pointing at telephones for people to ring them at an extraordinary £1.50 a minute or 75p in some cases. As I understand it, punters are as likely to talk to some woman in her kitchen with a phone under her chin saying dirty things while she cleans the dishes. In the world of easy pornography these channels and their non-content are rather puzzling; I can only think there is an addiction about talking to someone on or off screen who is a lousy substitute for a real relationship, with a terrible phone bill at the end of the month to show for it. That's how I understood my brief encounter with photographic studios (reached from a photographic club) and people who photographed the same model over and over again. The model knew it was a business but the punters seemed to be imagining things. I even gave a talk about it back at the photographic club (that made me popular).

Some people scroll through shopping channels and their miracle working solutions to this, that and the other. Others spend to gamble on another set of channels for that particular non-solution to their addiction.

Alternatively you can look at the other peculiarity on satellite TV, the miracle working religious channels. They in their personalities are about as nourishing as the pneumatic twenty year olds and above elsewhere. These satellite channels, with the one exception of the Roman Catholic one that worships the Pope (and cannot possibly reflect the breadth even of Roman Catholicism), are pretty much all creationist and Christian-Zionist in bias. One channel, the one that looks like it runs on a shoestring budget, also shows frequent anti-Islamic tendencies. Genesis-Revelation TV constantly says (for OFCOM purposes) that they want to hear all opinions, but you rarely do - occasionally a Muslim comes on the phone for a dialogue of sorts - but there is a constant diet of Judaism the tree and Christianity the branch, creationism of six days (especially with Darwin 200/150 - I received my OU/ BBC Tree of Life poster today) and surface fundamentalism. There seems to be a connection with the rise of black churches and their form of fundamentalism. Some of it is quite homely, literally in the case of one programme. I gather it is run by an ex-pop group individual and his wife, he who was balding recently but has since had miracle hair growth for the sake of appearances.

What's this all about? The pro-Israel position of these channels is religious Zionist to the point of myopia, fuelled by last days fantasies about Jews returning to a whole Israel and thus Christ himself to appear. It does of course relate to exported right wing American politics and funding. They pretty much all take Pat Robertson's 700 Club, for example, but they take these personalities - one of whom (Don Stewart) wants to give away (must be) green prayer handkerchiefs because of some lines in the Bible. It is all a cheap circulation of boring and sermonising programmes. The most tedious of programmes is the Alpha one with Nicky Gumbel boring the pants off any viewer by standing and talking on and on and on.

It is, though, the religious fantasy than politics that drives these channels, that somehow events in the news media are worse today than ever before and this means the world is coming to an end, and as such the coming end is centred around Israel. These are no Martin Luther Protestants regarding Christianity and his anti-semitism, but they can be very anti-Roman Catholicism (Genesis-Revelation TV again) and definitely anti-Islamic. The creationism is that there can be no death in any creature before Adam, and if there was then Jesus cannot be saving people by conquering death. Most Christians say if the resurrection is not true then they are fools, but this creationist logic is a very high hurdle when the age of the earth and DNA based Darwinianism is supported by such incontrovertible evidence. There is a division in this Christian sector between the purists of surface reading scriptural authority and the personalities of charismatic religion: this comes down to whether "apostles" are limited to the biblical period or whether they can appear now: that now they show signs and wonders when preaching such as all this on-stage healing. They are based on - the latter. There was a lot of investment in Todd Bentley fairly recently on God TV that went bankrupt. Even Genesis-Revelation TV's main man had a miracle reported to his person, that someone he touched, who had been dead he was later told, and lived again. Presumably that would make quite a stage show, though he did it on his travels.

Flickering God TV and God TV Europe is doing a Missions Week at the moment. I noticed in flicking through that on Genesis-Revelation TV one of the presenters asked about this via email said he sees "a lot of money being raised but little mission". I thought that was funny. The usual display of personalities from these circulated programmes turns up on God TV to parade their money raising abilities. John Hagee is that big political-religious chap who'd launch a war with Iran and have Christians float up above it. Rod Parsley turned up, without Dill the Dog, and went into monologues of bizarre artificiality, but my annoyance was reserved yesterday evening for that funny guy who wears a logo, Benny Hill (is it?) but without Hill's Angels. He said that there is a credit crunch but the way to defeat this is to "bring back the Gospel into your life" and give the television station money. Now imagine a religious fundy sitting in some living room, losing their home or car, in all kinds of financial trouble, being told by this overpaid logo-wearing hair nicely done individual that they are currently lacking the gospel, and ought to restore it by paying this channel money. It is a form of mental extortion. The other day Wendy Alec of Rory and Wendy was saying how little they can do without the right money: I'd close the bloody lot down never mind what little they can and cannot do. They all peddle this idea that by giving them money you, the individual, will receive more, thanks to God, fat cats every one. I must say, though, Rory, who (like me) looks like he eats well, is a bit energetic in his delivery but I'm worried about Wendy, who seems to jump around the studio in some sort of near speaking in tongues when she gets going, as if this is supposed to convince other people about religious intensity.

I always remember the episode in Colditz on BBC One about the man who impersonated being mad, in order to convince the Germans he was mad and be sent home, and who was eventually let out and returned to Britain via the Red Cross. When in Britain he was indeed mad and had to be looked after. The Commanding Officer told the prisoners that this method of escape was never to be used again.

That's how I view these TV channels. They are lost in their own empire building, distorted personalities and religious fantasies. They are a back-end feature of our postmodern world, choice with contradiction: even more so in satellite world, among the shopping channels, the gambling channels and the young women with surgical enhancements.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Scottish Waiting

Recently I have been downloading and trailing through available free software, and it's thanks to TopOCR (much better than SimpleOCR) that I was able to convert what looks like an image based .PDF file to text by Scottish Episcopal Church Bishops on the proposed Anglican Covenant. The same seemed to be the case for its response to the Alexandria meeting of Primates. This software is primarily based on using a camera for turning images of letters into typed letters, but basically I used the excellect and free PDF X-Change reader and XML based editor and exported the pages to images, and then inserted these images into TopOCR just downloaded and installed (does multiple pages - just keep opening the images of text). The irritating SimpleOCR has gone and this has replaced it. By the way, this software trail explains my lack of blogging recently, and this downloading is ahead of a few churchpeople getting new computers and for me to suggest good free software to add to the Open Office the chap puts on for them.

Thinking Anglicans presents both .PDFs. See below for what the Scots say - in text. What do I think of their answers? Well luke warm may be too high a temperature for their response to this increasingly pointless Covenant (February 2009)- pointless because Akinola of Nigeria is heading in a different direction and is an ecclesiastical thug, he has recognised the Anglican Church of North America (a collection of oddballs and refugees) and the right wing coalition of which this is a part observes no moratoria. Disappointing but no real commitment as such as The Scottish Episcopal Church holds to the moratoria (March 2009). Once the impasse is broken it is clear where the Scottish Episcopal Church will move, but it won't move first.

The St Andrews Draft Anglican Covenant: A Response from the Faith and Order Board of the Scottish Episcopal Church

1. We would again like to express our thanks to the Covenant Drafting Group for the work they have undertaken on behalf of our Communion. In particular, we are grateful to see comments from our previous submission reflected in the commentary on that draft, for example in the discussion of the terms 'covenant' and 'concordat'; and we are heartened by the sense of dialogue which has thereby been affirmed. In this present response we would like to continue that dialogue, both through our responding to the three questions to which we have been asked to reply, and through our reporting to the Covenant Drafting Group comments which have been passed to us through the Province-wide discussions that have recently taken place concerning the St Andrews Draft Covenant.

2. Question 1: Is the Province able to give an 'in principle' commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)?

At the 2008 General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, members considered the motion 'That this Synod affirm an "in principle" commitment to the Covenant process at this time (without committing itself to the details of any text)'. Following debate, the motion was amended to 'That this Synod affirm an "in principle" commitment to participate actively in discussions regarding the future shape of the Anglican Communion at this time (without necessarily committing itself to the concept of a Covenant)'. This motion was passed by a significant majority.

3. Question 2: Is it possible to give some indication of any Synodical process which would have to be undertaken to adopt the Covenant in the fulness of time?

The mechanism for the formal adoption of the Covenant would need to be debated, in particular the ways in which it would relate (or not) to the Code of Canons. A decision regarding the particular process to be followed for the adoption of the Covenant would be made by our Faith and Order Board, once the final version of the Covenant were made available. If the Board were to recommend that the appropriate process to follow would be one akin to the adoption of a new Canon of the Church, the process would take a full one year period. Such a process would take a minimum of twelve months involving two readings of the Covenant at successive meetings of General Synod. During this period, the proposal to adopt the Covenant (and any necessary canonical amendments) would be passed to the dioceses for discussion and comment. These comments would be considered by General Synod at second reading stage. Acceptance of the proposal to adopt the Covenant would require a two-thirds majority in each of the three Houses of Synod (Bishops, Clergy and Laity). Since General Synod takes place in June each year, any proposals for adoption would need to be available by not later than April. If received later than that, they could not be considered for a first reading at General Synod until the June of the following year (with a second reading at General Synod the year after that). Depending on the content of the Covenant and the implications for our Canons, a period of drafting the necessary canonical amendments might be needed before the twelve month period referred to above could be commenced.

4. Question 3: In considering the St Andrews draft for an Anglican Covenant, are there any elements which would need extensive change in order to make the process of synodical adoption viable?

We do not believe this to be the case. As a general principle, however, the more a proposed Covenant moves into considerations of proscription and sanction, the harder it will be to reconcile it with existing canonical structures (and, possibly, with the requirements of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator, for which the Code of Canons is the Constitution of the Scottish Episcopal Church).

5. Further to the responses above, we would like to commend to the attention of the Covenant Design Group the following points, each of which was raised by a number of respondents in our recent Province-wide discussions of the St Andrews Draft Covenant.

There remains a deep unhappiness in many quarters concerning the use of 'Covenant' terminology, which is felt to be theologically inappropriate. In Scripture a Covenant classically refers to a relationship between God and humankind: it is one-sided, and is an expression of Grace rather than of a quasi-legal understanding which appears to be characteristic of the draft Anglican Covenants.

The increased powers given to the Instruments of Communion raise very significant questions concerning their representative nature, and the manner of their appointment.

We continue to doubt whether expressions such as 'common mind' and 'matters understood to be of essential concern' (section 3.2.4) are meaningful without significant further elaboration.

There are practical doubts over whether a Covenant can in any case be a practical means of addressing the issues which our Communion is currently facing. We note with sadness that 'cross-border' incursions on episcopal jurisdiction have not stopped at the present time, despite the call for a moratorium.

There appears to be an urgency about prosecuting arrangements for a Covenant, in the hope that it will be able to solve the problems it is addressing; and this urgency can only be deleterious to a genuine consultative process.

6. There remains a very deep desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion, of which the Scottish Episcopal Church often considers itself to be a 'founder member', and to which we feel ourselves bound by the warmest ties of friendship and affection. It is our hope and our prayer that those ties may persist and be deepened through the current conversations around the possible adoption of an Anglican Covenant.

February 2009.


College of Bishops Response to Anglican Primates' Letter of February 2009

The Anglican Primates met in Alexandria in February 2009. At the conclusion of their meeting, they issued a communiqué in the form a letter addressed to the Churches of the Anglican Communion, entitled Deeper Communion; Gracious Restraint. The College of Bishops has since had the opportunity of a first hand report of the Prmates' meeting from the Primus and considered that it would be appropriate to issue a short response to the Primates' letter, including comment on the so-called "Anglican Moratoria".

The College welcomes the fact that the Primates were able to talk honestly and openly together and that despite the alienation and pain felt by many parts of the Communion, there was nevertheless a spirit of graciousness in evidence in the meeting. It shares the desire expressed by the Primates for the Communion to flourish and remain united and it equally desires the flourishing and unity of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The College notes and shares the conviction of the Primates that God is calling Anglican Churches to deeper communion, which may be significantly furthered through our adoption of a period of gracious restraint. That restraint is to be exercised in the three areas covered by the Moratoria, namely the ordination of those in same-gender unions to the episcopate, the authorisation of rites for same-sex blessings and cross-border interventions.

The College of Bishops recognises that, whilst the "Lambeth Indaba" document records that "there is widespread support for the moratoria across the Cornmunion" and that they "can be taken as a sign of the Bishops' affection, trust and goodwill towards the Archbishop of Canterbury and one another", it also agrees that, in practice, there are likely to be difficulties in the moratoria being upheld across the Communion. The concept of a moratorium also gives rise to some difficulty for the College in that it is not clear when, or in what circumstances, a moratorium would end. Indeed, the terminology of "moratoria" is itself unhelpful insofar as it suggests the temporary suspension of activity which had previously been current. With those reservations, and endeavouring to act within a spirit of "gracious restraint" and in the interests of the unity of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the College of Bishops intends to observe the moratoria and comments further as follows:

1. Ordinations of persons living in a same gender union to the Episcopate: ordinarily, the election of a Diocesan Bishop would be expected to have a significant effect on the life of the diocese (and perhaps a less significant impact in the wider church). However, it can be observed from the repercussions of the- consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson that the ordination to the episcopate of a person living in a same gender union, at the current time, could reasonably be expected to have a very significant impact on the life and position of the Province within the Anglican Communion. The College is aware that there are many members of the Scottish Episcopal Church who will find this particular moratorium difficult to accept. It is also aware that there are significant numbers of Scottish Episcopalians who find the ordination of a person living in a same gender union equally difficult to accept. The Bishops recognise that we live in a Province within a Communion where we have not yet reached agreement on these issues. Having regard to the terms of the Primates' letter, the recommendations of the Windsor Report, the terms of the "Lambeth Indaba" document and the fact that the ordination to the Episcopate of a person living in a same gender union would, in the opinion of the College, conflict with the strongly held convictions of significant numbers of Scottish Episcopalians and other Anglicans within the worldwide Comrnunion, the {college of Bishops believes that, for the time being, all who have responsibility within the process of the election of any new diocesan bishop should seek to act within the spirit of this requested moratorium.

2. The blessing of same-sex unions: in its Statement dated 4th March 2005, the College noted that the Scottish Episcopal Church had, even before the 1998 Lambeth Conference, sought to be welcoming and open to persons of homosexual orientation in its congregations and to listen to their experiences. The College recognised that on occasion this led clergy to respond to requests to give a blessing to persons who were struggling with elements of their relationship and who asked for such a prayer. The College expressed its gladness to note that the concern of the Windsor Report and of the Primates'Cornmuniqué issued in February 2005 had not been with such informal pastoral responses to individual situations but was rather about the official authorization of a liturgical text for the blessing of such unions. The College further expressed the view in 2005 that given that there was still much fluidity in the debate of such matters, it would certainly be premature to move formally to authorise such a liturgy. The College of Bishops interprets the moratorium on the blessing of samesex unions as a moratorium on the authorization by the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church, or by individual Bishops, of a formal rite of blessing for same-sex unions. At the current time, members of the College remain of view that it would, certainly be premature, and some would say wrong, to authorise a rite for such blessings.

The College also recognises that very different views exist within the Scottish Episcopal Church as to the appropriateness of informal blessings by clergy of samesex unions. It is the practice of the individual Bishops neither to give official sanction to such informal blessings, nor to attend them personally.

3. Cross-border incursions by Bishops: no roomer of the College of Bishops has engaged in a cross-border incursion and the view of the College is that the existing geographical boundaries of Provinces and Dioceses within the Anglican Cornmunion should be observed.

The Most Rev Dr Idris Jones, Primus, Scottish Episcopal Church for the College of Bishops

March 2009

Extend the Family

I suspect some families were being a little dysfunctional watching or hearing football on Sunday evening, when a sermon was being given to a number (including me). It was about extending the family, getting away from that nuclear family model that even schools realise does not apply to so many - but they go on using it!

Here is an excerpt:

And once we start to enlarge the borders of the kingdom of the Saved to include all our brothers and sisters and not just ourselves and those we get on with most easily, who knows where that extended family and its shelter and nurture and love might end?

A better positive spin on and model for something that often goes wrong for too many. It adds to my own collection and linkages of Anglican examples of worship and resources.

Sunday 22 March 2009

Bugger All Dies; Long Live Bugger All

Everyone is real to someone, we hope, and death is a sadness of those attached, but in the media world there is another representational view: Anglican vicar Giles Fraser wrote that Jade Goody shares with the previous Pope a lesson in how to die well; I think she and all that generated around her represents something rather more depressing.

A person dies who makes the lead item in the news, someone who holds a mirror up to this country. She has an iconic name - Goody - think of The Goodies and that nice bunch of busy comedians solving nothing in particular in the 1970s. Her mother has a name that indicates an inability to spell - Jackiey.

What this newly departed has represented is the mass of people growing up in this country who somehow go to school (or not) and who manage to learn very little despite clocking up so many hours in its environs. In a twist of values, Channel 4 decided to embody this absence of achievement in its desire to have an idiot member in each Big Brother house, and as a result nearly sunk the channel. A celebrity arose for no more than celebrity's sake, whose iconic ignorance was later paraded on a celebrity version of the same thing, that meant she ran for cover, still noticed, and so to try and atone for her error did the same thing again abroad. And when life and death showed itself to be so close, and life as transient as it can be, she is said to have had a good death by, well, doing it all again in terms of her own Big Brother hospitalisation and the rest.

Was there something of real value shown in the drama of the end: the devotion to offspring perhaps in a final effort of money making on the basis of nothing? Take a smear test, perhaps.

So here is indeed an icon of the times. Nothing achieved in our education system; a broken home of drugs and prison as one of a mass inside concentrated housing, her own last thing marriage to someone else not quite on two feet, and a kind of continuous vacant smile all through that of equally vacant cheering crowds as an expression of "love".

Did I watch these Big Brothers? Guilty. Actually I didn't watch the one in which Channel 4 started rocking from side to side and realised just how far a once noble, experimental, channel had fallen, as I kept seeing these reports on Channel 4 News, and boy was the channel in trouble (I also ignored the one/s with Gorgeous George Galloway and Germaine Greer). But yes, viewing the world of Mu, or nothing, I did (until recently) watch those apparent ordinary people interacting, and their arising little narratives, more in live snippets than summary programmes, with a look on Digital Spy for some sort of overview. Rebecca Shiner was interesting, whose saintly appearance after, I think, a food fight I used for a cartoon of the Virgin Mary. But blow on this and so little was left because, of course, these people were having to sustain an act if they wanted fame. Though I can remember so few of them.

Recently I referred to David Dickinson. Now he, in such contrast, is the Real Deal. He shows knowledge of his field, and extensively, and he is a senior partner of the world of antiques and such dealers. But he also can present a front that handles its presentation. This is so different from Jade Goody, who represented failure, a sort of Blair's Britain of bugger all, and turned it into making money, about which we have discovered recently was also about bugger all. Oh, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown has made a statement about her death. Death to the bugger all economy; watch it come back later. Oh and his minister in charge of the dole - he's a bit busy at the moment - was in receipt of expenses on his parents' house while his department prosecuted people fiddling extra pennies as a means to get by.

Digital Spy says that the last series of Big Brother on Channel 4 (ever - viewers got bored when it couldn't be controversial) will be dedicated to Jade Goody. So presumably there will be a statue of her in the garden around which the final bunch can entertain us by chucking water at each other in states of undress. What a Goody idea.

Thursday 19 March 2009

A Beacon Approach

My piece this month for the Daily Episcopalian as part of Episcopal Café has been published. It is a consolidation of a number of blog entries here and elsewhere, in response to the active approval by the Anglican Church in Nigeria of the intentional oppression by the State of a section of people. Such takes away the need for Anglican Communion 'patience' - to what end? - and needs an alternative beacon approach for those who are becoming further oppressed in Nigeria and elsewhere.

The strategy of the Archbishop of Canterbury needs to come to an end, a man of recent ethical words but seemingly little application in his own apparent back yard, certainly not of any use to those facing such oppression: a primate whose ambitions towards a worldwide Anglican Church requires the continued sacrifice of those people. Not any longer, surely. Time's up.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Collapsing Unitarianism (Plus)

There are difficulties in the minimal hierarchy of British Unitarianism at present, with the early resignation of Steve Dick as Chief Executive Officer earlier this month. It's all rather shrouded in mystery, but probably more about incapability for many in that post. He filled the post for two years only. I remember him as a bit of a techno as well as a minister: it begs the question what makes a bureaucrat.

Throughout the world there may be 800,000 Unitarians and Unitarian-Universalists. Peter Witham of Stockton did a number crunching exercise in June 2008 and came up with a terrible tale of decline for Britain. In 1928 there were between 20,000 and 30,000 Unitarians in Britain. In the 1960s there were some 14,000 Unitarians. In 1989 there were some 5,400 members and in 1998 there were 4,500 members, but down to 4,000 or so in 2005. British Communism wound itself up when it reached 5000.

There was an average of 22 members per congregation in 2005, but some 20 congregations actually measure zero and yet remain counted: 112 are below the national average of 22, 66 of which were under 10 including zeros. Some of these zeros could be shut, barely shut or hanging on via neighbourly support. I know of one in the rural sticks that has its four required services a year so that other churches get their cash from the Disney Corporation every year. That will be one of the zero churches.

The next bit is interesting. Peter Witham did a calculation, and this produced a point of extinction in 2053, based on decline in 138 and growth in 46 congregations in 2005. Yet, what makes this interesting, is that this is about when the Methodist and URC Churches could conk out as well.

The problem is that Unitarianism is so small that it is imploding now. The structures were rationalised some years ago, but in effect they are falling in. Now the Methodists and URC are much bigger, but that is a mirage. They have the same top heavy congregations age-wise, and so are coming down at the same rate of knots.

It is surely the case that the sort of arguments and social setting that made Methodism relevant has gone now. It is also the case that the distinctive basis of the URC - that it has two orders of ministry not three - is hardly a crowd-puller. There is a case for more informal worship than at the local CofE, but then there are these media churches and the like that do it such much better. At least the Unitarian argument - that of being liberal - is a contemporary argument. However, churchgoing is so derisory in the United Kingdom that it is being throttled.

The Unitarian Universalist Association in the United States has a small and persistent growth because it can capitalise on the American habit of churchgoing, and this allows it to develop various liberal forms of belief and practice. Thus neo-Paganism forms inside the UUA whereas in the UK you really do have to find a Coven (there are British Unitarian neo-Pagans but they don't exactly form inside congregations). There are Buddhist specialities in the UUA whereas, again, Buddhists are more likely to hire a British Unitarian building on a Sunday evening. The UUA further builds on the absence of Religious Education in state schooling and produces it for all ages, whereas in Britain state schools followed established religion and so many parents handed the matter over to teachers.

British Unitarianism is just not flexible enough. It almost worships history, and its forms become moribund. It keeps the hymn sandwich Protestant-appearing service, but why? Well people like it: that is people inside like it, but this is just the road to the numbers falling away.

My own view is that there will be more in the way of informal contacts and regional gatherings. There will be plenty of plant and equipment available, and money too. A going concern needs a lot of local advertising, and a building up by welcoming people and not having a sense of possession and thus a rejection of change. Elsewhere it needs a development of small gatherings in people's houses. There are quite a few progressive religious groups that do meet, but fairly invisibly, and they are also rather awkward about coming together.

But in the end open liberal religion will be a small movement of the interested, and it could be that formal, congregational gatherings are not always the most suitable means to gather. What is puzzling is that you'd think in some towns and cities that there would be at least a number of interested people who'd gather to freely discuss, to share ideas, and to develop forms of meditation, contemplation and use of music and symbol. It does seem baffling that so little seems possible, but this is the way it has become.

I was thinking about Hull and its Methodist churches. At one time there were so many, but how many are needed now? Well maybe one in the centre, one to the east, one to the west and there is Hessle. But if they rationalised down to these, say, and then the top heavy congregations keep dying off ever more rapidly as age advances, eventually you come down to one church, one presence. And once that is gone it is gone. As Unitarianism itself reaches points of random recruitment and empty chapels (some can turn around seemingly from nowhere), the others are coming down in the same percentages but numerically far more rapidly. 2050 is going to be an interesting time, when old structures may collapse, and there is a residual State Church that carries on functioning when the old arguments for difference are finished.

The puzzle for me has always been why the Unitarians cannot exploit the new arguments; that, in the face of all this evangelical and charismatic exclusivity, it cannot provide a space for some of the refugees.

Collapsing Roman Catholicism (Plus)

Of course, it is not collapsing, but it is morally and ethically. The man in charge knows where his mouth is, and shoves his foot in it with regularity.

Well, he's not really saying anything different about condoms than his predecessors, who were all equally idiots when it comes to the range of means to prevent sexually transmitted disease. But apparently this Pope was once going to consider whether condoms could prevent death as well as prevent life, and yet in his march to the purist right - with holocaust deniers and excommunicating those who helped a child rape victim - his added words on this subject just underline the stupidity of what exists of Roman Catholic hierarchical leadership.

Yes, people can stop having sex. They can stop having babies too, as this is what happens when they stop having sex. The trouble is, people keep having sex, and indeed they marry and suddenly start spreading things to the marriage partner. The Roman Catholic hierarchy wants lots of babies, but it can't if people stop having sex. If they have sex with someone they don't know, bung a thing on.

The world of sexual contact is not black and white. People get an opportunity, and they take it. They hide their indiscretions, and pretend to be who they are not. For decades I was a shining example for Roman Catholicism, though I wanted nothing to do with these so called ethical teachings (because they are trivial), and then along came an opportunity, and it was sexual but just failed to be fully sexual... And then it was with the individual whom I married. But even then it is all a gamble.

I watched a studio discussion on Channel 4 News. The rent-a-quote Catholic just shouted and bawled. It is pretty desperate being a Roman Catholic these days.

Personally, though, I think Christianity is crumbling, but there we are. I watched the Armand Marie Leroi programme again about What Darwin Didn't Know. It was slowly, carefully, well lectured, a perfect essay in one and a half hours. The eye has one source, it is so useful it is universal throughout evolved life, hugely diversified over time, but it proves we are all one. And then you listen to Christian creationists who say like-for-like alone and about irreducible minimums like eyes. Rubbish. But never mind them, who are a bizarre and pathetic group; it is that I cannot hear an argument for general Christianity any more that can be put with the clarity of an Armand Marie Leroi, someone with expertise. More and more it appears to be about less and less.

Wycliffe Hall Biblical Selectivity

Those of us who come as foreigners to the odd evangelical website are well used to having the Repetitive Biblical Rule Book displayed. The Bible is the one thing, the only thing, to decide issues, and if bishops and other Church leaders agree to the parading selected quotes then all to the good, and if they don't then they are liberals or pluralists and not acceptable.

It is a game of in and out, rule by flattened dictat, where a thief and a gay person in a loving relationship are equal.

When I did my Ph.D and I categorised the 'Conversionists', consisting of sub-groups Fundamentalists, Evangelicals and Charismatics, I said that their authority pattern was charismatic, that is centred not around The Book but around approved persons who interpreted the Book (and other matters, like what the Holy Spirit was saying, etc.). The Bible gets treated selectively, and it is all via surface appearing quotes selected by these people past and present.

It does not require vigour in study, or completeness. In fact, being evangelical so often means being selective and ignoring a lot. Thus no surprise that an Anglican training college, Wycliffe Hall, seat of a staff turnover war against "liberal evangelicals" on the road to bashing the real enemy, the liberals, should have these statements made about it in a Church of England inspection:

97 Less successful overall, however, was the teaching in Ministry and Leadership, which tended to focus on the practicalities of ministry at the expense of linking the practice of ministry to fundamental theological and biblical principles.

74 We were also surprised at the very limited amount of biblical material in the daily services... The Hall lectionary provides for reading ‘the whole range of biblical literature’ over a four year cycle on three mornings a week for 32 weeks of the year. However, no student spends four years in the Hall... Attention should be paid to providing more extensive use of the psalms, and the biblical canticles...

Recommendation 9
  • The Principal should arrange for the provision of daily public worship to provide
  • for more reflective worship appropriate to sustaining daily life in ministry;
  • for more extensive reading of the Psalms and the Old and New Testaments in course, and the use of biblical canticles;
  • worship to mark the end of the working day;
  • for intercessions that attend to the needs of the wider church and the world.
Recommendation 10

The Board of Studies should provide for teaching during the first term of training to introduce students to the theological, liturgical, and practical issues of worship to prepare them for leading daily worship in the Hall, and for participating in leading worship in placement parishes, including an introduction to the resources of the Church of England’s Common Worship, especially for corporate daily prayer.

95 Whilst teaching broadly reflected the Evangelical basis of the Hall, there were signs of students being encouraged to adopt a critical approach to sources, and of tutors challenging narrow or superficial judgments.

97 We found evidence from lectures, assessed work and course outlines of efforts to link ‘academic’ subjects with aspects of practical ministry. Less successful overall, however, was the teaching in Ministry and Leadership, which tended to focus on the practicalities of ministry at the expense of linking the practice of ministry to fundamental theological and biblical principles.

109 Evidence from some samples of assessed work and tutors’ feedback also suggested that students were not being guided towards sustained or in-depth methods of theological and Biblical reflection on practice.

111 We consider that students should be given more background literature to assist them in keeping a placement journal – in order to encourage them to appreciate the difference between recording and analysing – and that they should be offered a wider repertoire of theological and biblical reflection on practice from a range of traditions and literatures in practical theology.

Gosh! To repeat, there were signs of students being encouraged to adopt a critical approach to sources! In other words, the College is going out on a limb: not fully addressing the Church of England approach to worship; and it is rather shoddy about using the whole Bible and addressing it in a critical manner. Perhaps I don't care too much about this any more, but this does follow all that about its Principal. That it is like this should be no surprise: the place was to become a training school for ministers of congregations to go out evangelising: training rather than formation, or if formation then rather a skewed approach.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

The Duke

The ring on "The Duke's" finger looks remarkably like the one sold to a dealer on today's programme, that David Dickinson said was the finest item ever to come into Dickinson's The Real Deal. It was the first time that Dickinson sat in throughout to protect a seller, even though he was a retired dealer, and another dealer present offered a novelty of a sealed bid.

There is a lot of backchat about David Dickinson, which is frankly trivial and stupid. His programme, and surely his, shows him as a celebrity who knows his stuff and is in command of his brief across a wide area. It is how celebrity should be.

I like the programme. You have the Antiques Roadshow which is the explanation - even pontificating - side and shows the top of the range, but the valuations are never tested. Then you have Flog It! in which the items of lesser values are auctioned. But this programme does it all: it's as if you approach a dealer and get an offer, and then you can gamble at auction (and sometimes lose). The programme has the flexibility to break its own rules: so a dealer buys and then puts into auction, or seller and dealer splits in auction. You also find out if the dealers made money on those items they managed to purchase. The dealers are personalities, so you can develop favourites among them, from an ex-beauty queen to a an ex(?)-cross dresser to a few you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley. The most "normal" looking seem odd themselves in the company.

In other words, it's about the business, including the people, and about the dosh - and you notice that the general values for antiques have gone down. Over and again people paid more in the past than they can get now. Auctions are often tough. Occasionally there is the charity shop and car boot purchase that yields plenty of profit for the seller (and then the dealer). The programme extracts several editions out of one location, and rough-looking Mike Melody's hair gets longer and shorter as if his hair grows an inch in a day and he has a barber as a personal assistant.

Given I hardly watch anything on ITV 1 (in the evening I'm increasingly a refugee to subtitles optional Sianel Pedwar Cymru and subtitles provided BBC Alba - regional programmes about local people, rather than formulaic tripe), virtually nothing on ITV 2 and only occasionally on ITV 3 and ITV 4, this programme is an unusual watch for me. Unfortunately I am able to see it - and I do because it is interesting and fun and brightens the tedium.

Monday 16 March 2009

Anything, Archbishop?

A Sarah MacVane posting at Thinking Anglicans asks:

No comment yet from the ABC?

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Saturday, 14 March 2009 at 8:23am GMT

I gave a reply, that the Archbishop did comment on how to make an ethical judgment, and these below are direct from his lecture rather than my summary:

Ethics, I suggested, is about negotiating conditions in which the most vulnerable are not abandoned.

The reduction of pain or of frustration, the augmenting of opportunity for human welfare and joy - again, these are obviously good things. They are good because they connect with a sense of what is properly owing to human beings, a sense of human dignity.

But the task is to turn people's eyes back to the vision of a human dignity that is indestructible. This is the vision that will both allow us to retain a hold on our sense of worth even when circumstances are painful or humiliating and sustain the sense of obligation to the needs of others, near at hand or strangers, so that dignity may be made manifest.

Of course, the question now facing the Archbishop is whether he luxuriates in lectures, or does he actually apply any of this to those within his orbit of influence, even if it is only influence? Does he actually have a position himself regarding the intended oppression of gays by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) by which he might set a public marker that others may understand? Or is his silence the same as the relative silence being found elsewhere, for whom Akinola is a compromising upholder of apparent orthodoxy?

Or is it that ethical positions are for lectures and economics, and that these do not apply when religious bureaucracies are at stake, when plans are mid-stream to centralise the Anglican Communion towards an Anglican Church (just a bit), when there is a coming visit to The Episcopal Church General Convention, and when already you have called for some others to consider their self-sacrifice towards this greater ecclesiastical goal of those who wear purple?

Sunday 15 March 2009

Darwin, Unitarianism and Anglican Business

The notion that Charles Darwin was an agnostic and he was sensitive to his wife's more evangelical Christianity is rather way off the mark. She was pious, but retained her well informed Unitarian (conscience-first over critical scripture and traditions, and belief in the afterlife) viewpoint, and he was increasingly a materialist flux-agnostic (unsure of the meaning of theism), though not letting science encroach upon religious views, and yet he retained a close connection with the local Anglican church and its broad activities until it started specialising and concentrating on its own congregation over parish life as a whole.

Their Unitarian connected background was shared: they were cousins, a fact that led Darwin to wonder if this led to weaknesses in their children as he realised that, in animal and plant life, sexual difference was the road to variety and thus improvement. Their intellectual circle was leading Unitarians and a few connected emerging broad Church radicals.

In the nineteenth century a man might enter the clerical profession as a means of doing something else, for example being a naturalist. Charles Darwin might have taken this route, but his doubts about orthodoxy before marrying led him away from that combination. He still was involved with the church, however, overseeing several of its activities as part of his contribution to village life and social standards.

Back from the Beagle voyage he married, and six years after the voyage in 1842 they moved to Downe. Because there was no Unitarian chapel in the area they went to the Anglican church regularly, though Charles less regularly than the rest. He and brother had been christened in the Anglican Church, and conformity was necessary to have access to established higher education, especially if he was to be a clergyman. All the children were so christened; they all took communion but Emma would turn the family around at the creed.

Charles Darwin was especially friendly with the incumbent, the Reverend John Innes (1817–94), changing his name to John Brodie Innes in 1861 as a condition of inheriting land in Scotland where he went in 1861. He was a high churchman and was made perpetual curate of Downe from 1846. Darwin paid money to the Sunday School fund, and from 1848 to 1869 administered the Coal and Clothing Fund. Charles Darwin and John Innes founded a Friendly Club for the financial benefit of members. Innes did not accept Darwin's theory but they were still very friendly.

Thus when Innes went to Scotland, and remained incumbent (with decision making powers regarding the curate amounting to something like private property), Darwin became his eyes and ears regarding the curates coming into the village. With his own property, there was no parsonage in the village and it had a low income, thus it did not attract good candidates. A curate called Samuel James O'Hara Horsman didn't care for the accommodation and spent long periods absent on his yacht, and wrote to Darwin (not Innes) to sort out his finances before his replacement - Darwin kept Innes informed. The man took the church's organ fund. He went to prison for misappropriation of church funds.

The next one, John Warburton Robinson, ran off to Ireland for three months and was seen out with a lady. Darwin noted a church attender left for the chapel in his evidence for Innes against this man.

Henry Powell 1869–71 was fed up with the lack of process towards building a parsonage, so left, having taken from Darwin the Coal and Clothing and School funds administration.

Then came a long stayer: George Skertchley Ffinden, was the Vicar of Down, 1871–1911 (Darwin still corresponding with Innes about him). A high churchman like Innes, he did not get on with Charles Darwin. He rejected his evolutionary theory and did not care for Emma's Unitarian views. He did not want them as local pillars of the community and he regarded them as non-Anglicans. One of many clashes was when Emma wanted the Down School to be available for a working class reading room in the evenings. Ffinden opposed this: Charles wrote to the Privy Council to present its view to the School Committee which Ffinden took as going behind his back.

James William Condell Fegan, 1852–1925, was a non-conformist working in the village and Charles Darwin supported his evangelistic clean up of the local down and outs. They thus attended his services.

Such a social role and contact was important to Charles Darwin as a man of money, living in the former parsonage, despite a consistency between his science and his religion that meant open ended questioning and seeking plenty of evidence. Emma had the more focused belief and participation, but retained her critical faculties and identity.

Why blog about this? Well because I'm interested (Emma is something of a heroine of mine) and there is some misleading stuff going around at present about both of them, particularly in creationist circles but also beyond.

Darwin Correspondence Project (2009), 'Darwin and the Church: Historical Essay', Darwin Correspondence Project; no date; University of Cambridge, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Sunday March 15 2009, 14:02]

Darwin Correspondence Project (2009), 'Belief: Historical Essay: What did Darwin Believe?' Darwin Correspondence Project; no date; University of Cambridge, [Online], Available World Wide Web, URL: [Accessed: Sunday March 15 2009, 14:25]

Saturday 14 March 2009

Open Theology

Robert Wright makes some interesting points in an article in The Atlantic, 'One World, Under God', which is based on a forthcoming book (2009) The Evolution of God, Little Brown and Company.

I'm interested in a few of the points he makes. The first is that the historical Jesus is a far more ethnic and tribal character than many of us perceive. The more universalist, and loving, Jesus seems to come later - to later Gospels than to Mark, which is the narrower, focused, ethnic one.

I started to think this more a while back, though for me the Pauline influence is into all the (later) Gospels. It may be that the focus of Mark is more historical, or perhaps under suffering it is more inward and less disposed to outward statements. It is the more pessimistic Gospel, and its Jesus is tougher.

Neverthless, Paul is the outward universalist in terms of making the break out of the ethnic tribe. I see Jesus as being inside the ethnic tribe, and thus the Jewish Church that vanished the closest to him. The other is clearly a development away from that historic figure.

The problem is that we also get different Pauls. There is the revolutionary, equalitarian Paul, and this seems to be the Paul who is facing a near end time. Everything is in the spin at this point, as he develops his salvation religion based on Jesus but not having actually known Jesus. Then there is a later Paul, much not actually having been written by Paul, that is Churchy and authoritarian, as in women keep quiet and keep your hat on.

I like the point made by Robert Wright that the Pauline process connected with travellers and households of business, and indeed Christian communities were like households. Christianity connected with people on the move (compare that with most communities at this time: people fixed in location for generations). The acquisition of this faith through household conversions was a way of demonstrating trust, which was important to these travellers doing their business. There were standards to maintain.

His general point here is that a religion has to get going and develop a short while in an ethnic setting before it universalises, which it does for its own spreading benefit.

I suppose all this is why someone like Rudolf Bultmann focused on the texts themselves, texts of the Early Churches, rather than a narrower historical Jesus, and why, in the end, his demythologising of the dying and rising myth, the primal man myth and the Jewish apocalyptic was so limited, that is part of Paul's thought world at least. These myths retain their features in liturgy to this day. Somewhere in there is the kerygma, the whole Jesus Christ which is more than a historical Jesus and more than in the mind of Jesus himself. It is a creation, a mythical figure via cultural insertions, Jesus himself having perhaps the apocalyptic.

But I don't think like any of this. For me, death is a process of instant rotting down, and if there is anything 'else' spiritually it doesn't feature in ordinary discourse and makes little difference beyond speculation. There is no primal man, but rather just evolution - mutations that succeed or fail in any setting, and in environmental stress matter all the more. This business of the fall of humankind/ the world is nonsensical. Technologically wrapped and (hopefully) ethical humans tend to run against the grain of evolution, but mutations do happen to human beings. The apocalyptic is just any sort of threat of end, be it nuclear or environmental. We have a lot of these, but they tend to change.

So for me its back to open history, sociology and an unprivileged theology, and I think this is what Robert Wright is doing. His approach is quite refreshing. There is no attempt to restore Christ: personally I cannot see the point of restoring a man to worship or worship through.

It does not leave a lot: I'd describe myself as a religious humanist who practises Christianity. At the same time Buddhist perspectives are still important and need no such special treatment: you just do it and see, and there seems to be a straightforward logic in the problem of craving permanence, whether it is your own life, your relationships, other people or objects. It is just a case of getting a right attitude to what these offer when around - thanks for the pleasure and the memory - and about letting go. An uncluttered mind connects with not craving (because craving enters all sorts of wants and desires) and allows for clarity which is less self-centred, plus clarity means more awareness. These just seem to me to make sense.

At present I mix these insights with what is left of Christianity: basically extracting reverse ethics and equalitarian views, and not just abstract ethics but the importance of a life lived in service and sacrifice. Not that I'm any good at it (or even uncluttering the head) but there is a model and a purpose there as a sort of reminder. That's all.