Sunday 19 July 2009

The Big Things

I was asked by Erika:

The other question is your own role in all of this. Why do you avail yourself of the outer forms of worship if its core content is meaningless to you? What are you saying, when you guide us through the prayers of penitence, through the hymns, the readings…

I want to give Erika and anyone reading an answer. There are outer forms especially in a historical tradition, but there is also some sort of content, although I'm not a wrapping paper outside and goodies inside person except when the wrapping paper, provided by others or a dialogue, is some way off the goodies and one becomes a means to the other. There are two aspects regarding belief in something and then one about how religion is done.

One is the more obvious, and it is signals of transcendence. These signals are what the good things point towards, like the quality of craft, the inspiration in art, high ethical behaviour, good relationships, sexual bliss, meaningful conversation, exchanging one thing for another but, more so, the gift that needs no return, and the noble sacrifice. These things point to a potential transcendence of things, though that joining of the dots is what we do though it may also be done as an external. But that is pure speculation, and neither my belief in it or disbelief makes any difference to the actuality.

The second is the mystery of consciousness. Now almost certainly the meness of me is dependent on the biological lump that is me and when the lump dies that meness is destroyed and will be as if I never existed. Therefore, from my perspective, the universe, the world, existence itself, will be as if it never was, ever. However, there is the possibility that in a sort of subatomic neo-Platonism all existences have some subatomic particle that accounts for this reality, like the experience of the meness of me. If that is so, then meness may not be purely dependent on this existence. Thus while we have the meness of me, it is trapped, but once that is expunged, and another biological body arises - anywhere in space and time, as can be so subatomically - then another meness of me can be experienced. Now I rather doubt it, but this potential for becoming that experience of me in another me, whether on Planet Zog or inside a mosquito, is there.

Even if not so, consciousness is quite something. It is possible that the subatomic consciousness ability is also part of this universe: just possible, though personally I think it unlikely.

So this would be something like the Buddhist scheme then, of being and changing, and then after death opening a consciousness in another life. It is a possibility.

So if not these possibilities, or indeed - yes - as just these, we also have the reality of being self-conscious, and religion is about the pointing beyond ourselves and the pointing to ourselves as understanding beings. That of course involves that which is exploitative, wicked, undermining, and that which is shallow, as well as that which rises, and somehow one says yes to all of it but let's aim for the best.

Why for the best? Because we grow when truly aiming for the good, and because there are others, and there is a specialness about how we relate to the other. These spiritual possibilities then are there, as just that, but also we are really communal beings (thanks to our ape related line; we're not lonely Orang-Utans) and we therefore exchange, and we also sacrifice towards the spiritual gift, that extra meaningfulness that is in the round of life. Our simpler societies on this planet show us how, indeed so do higher animals. It is an anthropological given: Durkheim says it is social bonding, but it is also religious and ritualistic.

Taking religious time-out is a sort of observance of the rest of life: its celebration, its mimicking in a super-exchange and super-gift that is beyond the every day interaction, and its sadnesses towards releasing the attachments that necessarily build in the exchanging life.

These, I think, lie at the heart of doing religion, and why I do it, and why I use substitutionary religious language symbolising these sort of foundations and speculations.

So there is my answer.


Hugh said...

Good to hear you're point of view stated explicitly Adrian . Makes sense to me .

Regards ...

Erika Baker said...

Thanks, Adrian.
I'd like to stress, though, that my question was framed in the context of leading worship.
As a general theological position, I have no difficulties with your views.

Put crassly – you can do theology, i.e. speak about God and the transcendent using any language that is helpful. And if you speak to other people, you frame your thoughts in a language that is accessible to them.

But worship is not a conversation between people, worship is a direct relational activity aimed at the object of that worship, i.e. God.

I would still like to hear more about the integrity of leading an act of praising and speaking to “a faint possible subatomic consciousness ability” that you personally believe is unlikely.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Don't forget that I have withdrawn even presenting prayers in an Anglican church, and haven't even done readings lately. I preach in a Unitarian when asked where the expectations are different, though far from perfect, where no one is attempting to obey apostolic authority.

Erika Baker said...

Fair enough, but does the question alter materially depending on which denomination one leads "worship"?

It's more to do with the definition of worship than with where and by which rules it is being conducted.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Yes it does because if it is formally creedless then it does all come down to the dialogue between the actual person in the pulpit and the congregation that sits there at the time. The key difference is obeying apostolic authority or not having such authority.

Everyone, remember, in Catholic Churches represents the bishop - they are his substitutes.

Erika Baker said...

Sorry to keep at this like a ferret, I'm still not understanding you properly.

Doesn't the word Worship imply that people are there to praise, love, engage with - something other than themselves? Self-worship would be pretty shallow and narcisistic.

So, creed or not, worship is not talking ABOUT but talking WITH or TO.

It's not about the preacher having a dialogue with the congregation. It's about the preacher facilitating a dialogue between the congregation and whatever or whoever is being worshipped.

Otherwise, it's a lecture, an exploration, a talk, a seminar, a lesson.... anything you like, but not worship.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

No, because there can, and indeed often is, a silence, and that can be a silence relating to God or the mind or a moment of gathering your thoughts. The third element in all this - that between the service taker choosing the forms and the congregation participating can be a variety and mix of things, whether various understandings of God, consciousness, evolutionary science or whatever. The purpose is the key, the sense of moving towards some sense of personal salvation (however understood). That can be by clearing the mind or can be by worshipping a God or two.

Erika Baker said...

I think I understand you better now, thank you.

I don't think that for me it's at all about personal salvation, so maybe that's where our core difference is.
It's not about me at all, it's about God, whatever my place in the scheme of things may or may not be.

Of course, if you make it about yourself, then it can be done by anyone anywhere.

Tony Hunt said...

I'm trying to grow into my own satirical shoes. It's nothing compared to your seasoned posts, but I wanted to give it a go.

In good fun

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Very good, and I am flattered. I left a comment over there, so I won't repeat it here. Erika, you must be honoured too to be included in such virtual conversation.