Monday 7 September 2009

Future of Anglican Conservatives

In the distant future, there is very little future for the sort of conservatism displayed today. The reason is that there used to be more of it in the past, but what passes today for orthodoxy would have been dismissed on all sorts of arguments now hardly ever observed. All orthodoxy is relative to its time and day, a sort of few steps backward from where we are.

Today the sociology of knowledge determines that we think practically and in a this worldly fashion. We do not expect God to send the rain, push up the crops, or have demons making us unhealthy. Some sects still think like this. Slowly people are understanding the quantum world and its meanings thanks to virtual reality - working on computers and a reality that never has to exist as 'hard copy'. As a result, religion also is being understood at a fantasy level - a good story, a novel by which to live your life, if it seems relevant.

Combine that and practicality and we can see that the notion of a true, historical, religion is being overtaken. Plus the arguments are now widely disseminated about why Christianity is not 'historically true' as given, whereas the arguments used to be the preserve of academics.

The idea of the Bible as a faith document - or documents - of faith communities decades later, of only secondary documentation of what is its core focus, is gaining wide knowledge. Everyone knows how stories become refocused, changed, magnified and diminished according to the present into which they are told. Also those who today rewarp those stories are noted for their highly selective use of the secondary sources, turning relative statements into tablets of stone, commentaries and stances into laws. Such laws are brittle.

Faith has to be practical - about what you do. Some of what is done is worship. Its best hope for regulation is orthopraxic, not orthodox. Following a liturgy is not the same as following a description of things, but is a stance and can be a like-stance at some degrees removed. But then we realise, with the relativity of everything, that we can make it all up. We made it up in the past, and we can make it up now. Revelation turns out to be the skill of the storyteller, whether around a camp fire or on to paper or into the computer.

When I do earth, fire, water and air, I know that these elements are not elements. They are symbolic elements. They represent the winds of the UK and its neighbours. They can include the UK's four main saints. They can get us to a material appreciation, an appreciation of our mythic and historical past (which overlap, depending on methods). They substitute for science and allow us to incorporate evolution. These elements allow a symbolic display - a sacred circle or egg, and an altar, and thus emphasise place, even the idea of enchantment in a magical place. In other words, religion visibly becomes like art, as indeed it is like art. And thus we add in actual art, and music - and silence too. In the end religion is a reflection upon being conscious, and self-conscious; but if you have a symbolic space and display then this is done with others. We build ourselves together through exchange (with benefits and growth), and sometimes exchange turns into the gift (the spiritual offering in a material setting).

When priests do bread and wine, they are not doing anything but juggling. It is just symbolic exchange-gift ritual. It can still be a focus, but it has no absolutism about it whatsoever. Prayers are also reflections, thoughts, in your mind and shared with others - here today and gone tomorrow. You can meditate to clear the mind of clutter, and become more aware: that's a good idea. Good then to go into a space and contemplate, not in a sleepy way but in an aware way. Clarity is never a bad idea.

Yet, all in all, everything passes away. Nothing lasts. If religion manages anything, it is how to deal with transience, and how to allow for and accept death and the end. If you hang on to anything, including orthodoxies, they will bite you in the bum. The obsession with them, their institutions, their rules and methods, become a distraction from clarity.

Conservative religion cannot handle any of this. It is stuck and is a biter in the bum. In the end, it is as transient as everything else - it just won't admit it.

Such groups end up in their own stuck institutions and at continued war in compromising institutions until they have faded away or as a rump merged into their nearest stronger and different group; the question then actually becomes one whether Anglican liberalism has the flexibility to move on itself, to leave the conservatives in their boxes doing whatever it is they still want to do. Or have we arrived at a point where even Anglican liberals are quite conservationist and thus conservative themselves in their own ways?

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