Tuesday 2 March 2010

An Answer to McGrath

Despite leaving the discussions of Fulcrum I can still see what arguments it is presenting, and it has reproduced what might be seen as a core argument against the liberal position, at least that liberal position as most clearly seen inside the Church of England. The book it comes from is quite old, apparently, but presumably it is being seen as having some bite in the present developments of the Church of England - certainly, in its hierarchy, of what might be called The Silence of the Liberals!

It just seems to me that the argument presented by Alister McGrath - 'The Confession of a Disillusioned Liberal' - in his opening chapter of what is titled at Fulcrum Why Doctrine? runs on a number of claims that need some examination at least. [Update: Attempts here to find the supposed original book have been removed - information on its origins in 1993 is given here.]

The first point to make about doctrine is that it is not the result of individual reasoning, his or any other. He might arrive at views that equate with a given doctrine, but doctrine is a collective 'before' stance for a member of a doctrinally managed group prior to any reasoning. It is the guideposts of the group, and placed there because it is believed to be necessary.

If a point arrived in history, as it did characteristically in the nineteenth century, when doctrine is severely questioned, it is because there is a gap between what people think and what the doctrine insists upon. What happened in the later nineteenth century was that Anglican academics, with a look over their shoulder to Unitarians, were aware of the growing gap between the growing disciplines of knowledge in the university and their own theological enterprise as suggested by doctrine.

That gap has since become much wider, and means that a Christianity that engages with these worldly disciplines is prone to wander off the historical straight and narrow as doctrine had defined it. As it does so, and is seen to be self-undermining of the tradition, the argument is made again about the sureness of putting doctrine first.

The Oxford liberals of 1860 were deemed unacceptable, but Charles Gore of Lux Mundi and 1899 was actually a compromise of the liberal position and a strident Anglo-Catholicism before them, where a re-insistence on Jesus's divinity was combined with a kind of worldly sacramentalism along with a compromise with ongoing intellectual thought. It is the foundation for much liberal Catholicism today, and that against which McGrath once rebelled, despite his use of Gore. Of course, some liberal Catholicism can be a combination of some very liberal views and a lot of liturgical dressing up and mythic theatre, but the point here is that much of Anglican Catholic liberality is based around Gore and a later ongoing ability to trade off more minor doctrines and miracles while keeping the big ticket declarations.

There is, of course, another approach, if related, which is that of the narrative. This isn't so much a trade off, but the maintenance of Christianity as a 'story' while the rest of the world reasons in a different way. It even appears to be conservative and faithful. The story, maintained more or less in full, then 'delivers' its insights and ethical goodies. Some, like Rowan Williams, go so deeply and detailed into the story that it starts to look like raking over bits of history, whereas others may go for a kind of large scale Christian platonism, all within the bubble. For them, doctrine is the story book: it provides the page titles and the text, sometimes all of the text. A Rowan Williams will say that, for example, the Virgin Birth was not important once for him but its importance has since increased for him. You see the sleight of hand, here, and there is a kind of deception involved. Another variation (on this) is to know perfectly well that the whole virginal conception business rests on a Greek mistranslation, and to say so in any biblical study, and then to go on offering prayers to the Virgin Mary in good Catholic form. It is a contradiction a liberal is going to point out.

That's what defines a liberal. It is not someone who doubts a bit of this or that. It is someone who says, look, this is a gap, if there is a gap, and if you think this but say that then there is a falsehood involved. Tell your story if you like, but do explain how one thing matches the other or doesn't. The liberal can be a pain for someone who has Christianity as a resource book or some sort of personal discipline. Fine, but a liberal never stops asking "Why?"

Christianity without doctrine is not a denial of the issue of truth or a denial of truth. The issue of truth is there all the time. It is that Christianity doesn't match up to the demand for truth as it has been developing across the disciplines. It is that Christianity is dislodged, and doctrine becomes one large sticking plaster for a crisis situation. So why have doctrine?

Because, of course, if Christianity is like the other disciplines then it becomes necessarily contingent and relative. That, presumably, won't do - or won't for Alister McGrath. All disciplines are like that: they are open to change. So if Christianity asks for help from history, it realises that history is a careful discipline that has rules that, when applied to Christianity, shows a Jesus who is a strange, distant, and largely unknown figure, one who might be an exemplarist from the received texts, but beyond which little can be said. Again, apply philosophy to Christianity, and you uncover the imposition of Greek Platonism. Remove or replace that, and Christianity becomes far more relativistic.

McGrath wants neither the relevance of a 'useful story' nor the relativity of a Christianity amongst the disciplines. He needs something that has to be true. For me, truth has to be established; doctrine is a short cut for truth, because it is a laying down in detail of apparent foundations that declare themselves true. Often doctrine is about what you want to be the case rather than what you can establish: it involves a leap across a gap.

But all having doctrine does is take one back to a position where the liberals started from, where the gap exists, unless one is going to declare living in the Christianised bubble (like the Radical Orthodox do in their Christian Platonist separation). The only other position, a realist insistence on objective doctrine of truth, involves a kind of violence on to the rest of the world and its thought forms (actually, so does the narrative Radical Orthodox, though they claim no worldly objectivity for their Church of pure peace).

From such an objectivist stance we end up, unsurprisingly, with a lot of loudly stated, aggressive even, biblical quotations, laying down the rules, laying down a privilege of knowledge.

It then becomes a 'Whose side are you on?' and very macho. It becomes about obedience and, as McGrath puts it, who to obey, as if anyone should be obeyed.

The notion is that obedience to another than this world gives a Church some backbone against the culture in which it finds itself. But why should this be so, if a Church has regularly committed itself to ethical values of compassion and service that it has discovered in its, yes, relative engagement with its and other traditions in the setting of varieties of knowledge? To reflect and contemplate, as in worship and meditation, and to do so in full relationship with a culture, is not the same as accepting that culture in all of its ways and activities. Liberal Churches do not worship greed simply because Western society uses it (though, I notice some doctrinal charismatic churches operating an apparent biblical prosperity theology).

The argument, rather, is that the Church should engage with the world, and that's what gives it contact and relationship, and then to say there are ethical bases that we have to discuss that are surely better for a communal humanity and our relationship with the natural world.

Common human experience is important: after all it is the difficulty of human experience that gives rise to a call to stop, to think again, to do something differently, and to offer the new suggestion outwards.

McGrath's need for otherness then comes down to the question of Christ. He's right that Christ over the others as 'the best moral teacher' doesn't work, though it doesn't work because there isn't the historical information, and also why should any human embody what is best in a consistent manner - and, if anyone has done, why should we know about them? There are going to be many worthy ethical people who have lived and expressed their stance quietly and about whom we rightly know nothing at all. Equally, many a person has made a great deal of their position, and we might know about them, but doesn't mean we should take any notice.

The problem with turning Jesus into an authority is that it is actually a Jesus and Paul show, an early Christian community show. It is credible that in his sayings Jesus was pointing away from himself to the belief he had in a God who acts and was going to do so very quickly. Like other healers and preachers of his time, who also culturally mixed healing, an ethical stance and the world of demons, he thus acted as an active agent of God, healing and declaring sinlessness so that the person could be ready for the coming Kingdom of God about to be realised. His tradition was that of the suffering servant Jew, mixed with the immediacy of the time, with a Messiah coming.

None of this points to doctrines. It points to the fact that here was yet another fallible human being, wrong about his cosmology (the world wasn't going to end) and as much trapped in his culture (demons, sin equals ill-health and death) as any earth dweller. Indeed he focused upon his own tribe, and the missing tribes that would return. Thus he had twelve disciples (and, apparently, made another mistake regarding one of them).

Indeed, it is the Western world of now that has made the greatest strides (though the ancient Greeks tried) to break out from the limitations of culture. The fact that we now cannot reason chains back to origins - because like leads to unalike, the fact that we have quantum discoveries and relativity on a large scale, and that these deliver in maths and in experiment (and are thus sustainable) are arguably anti-cultural. Yes, a culture of money drives them, and much is missed and interests develop, but they still repeat and deliver. Whereas Jesus was simply lost in his own culture, but able through human experience and through that culture to make some ethical stances at least. Good - but these are open to reasoning.

McGrath says:

Yet if we allow that Jesus has authority simply because he echoes what we happen to believe to be right, we are setting ourselves above him in judgement. It is our own concepts of morality, our own standards (wherever they come from) that are judging him.

Indeed so, in that he derived these standards; so did the Buddha 500 years before him, and Zoroaster, and also many unknown, and others created ethics of cruelty and evident destruction like the (mixed up) Romans and like Hitler. Of course discussion and debate are going to apply concepts of morality to Jesus, just as to any one else making this claim or that. We condemn Hitler by sheer experience of cruelty, not due to doctrine.

What is derived ethically and lived ethically still allows for transformations. Buddha says, "Suck it and see," and also, "If the raft is not needed, stop using it." The fact that we generate constructive ethics doesn't prevent them transforming us.

McGrath also says:

Christianity does not assert that Christ has authority on account of the excellence or acceptability of his teaching; rather, the teaching of Christ has authority and validity on account of who he is - God incarnate. The object of Christian faith is not the teachings, but the teacher.

Quite so for Christianity the Religion, that it is after Paul and the early Christian communities, producing the 'cult of the person'. Instead of focussing on what matters: how we go on to live, how we go on to deal with our fellow human beings and animal life, how we develop compassion and the good, it turns the whole thing into a person cult. I mean 'cult' without derogatory undertones, and also avoiding 'cult of personality', though the generation of these by national leaders themselves has usually been of a fictional personality. Here, regarding Jesus, it is that his person, his being, is the object, so personality might not be quite right. But then, of course, Christianity contradicts itself (as it often does) as prayer is supposed to go through Jesus Christ, the one Paul set up as the sole route to salvation, God's sole worker to earth. (And all without meeting the actual person: imagine Paul as Saul in Jerusalem when Jesus was executed, not having any interest in the 'yet another foreign occupation State death' event at Passover in order to bully the locals.)

In the end, though, what is at issue is not saving the place of Jesus, who can stand up for himself, but saving Christianity. The commentaries of Gore and Temple and the rest are all about keeping Christianity as a self-resourced, dominant, hierarchical religion. They are all about the worry that, if the rope is cut, all the institutional apparatus starts to fall apart.

There is another argument, that the sort of liberal presentation here is a kind of doctrine of its own. Well, it has presuppositions about the capability of humans. It simply states that we are pretty much all alike, and there are no privileged offerings from heaven. Social Anthropology made this point clearly, that primitive people are as capable as Western people, and there is no biological blockage to what and how we all understand. But that declaration, that non-doctrine, came about as a result of reseach - and why it is nonsense when Radical Orthodoxy tries to call Sociology 'secular theology'. No it isn't because it uses research. Very important, research, and it has important rules of procedure (sociology has qualitative and quantitative, and understands the limitations too).

So the doctrines of liberalism are not equivalent to the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. One is allowed to develop, to be corrected, and to bubble up from below, whereas the other is a start that determines the finish, and is, frankly, bogus as a method of knowledge.

As for pastoral sensitivities, well we of course like to treat people nicely, but in the end religion should be about coming to terms with death, not trying to prolong life in an imaginary sense. Who knows about consciousness - of course - but that is an unknown. Actually, many people prefer to have the issue of their coming end straight, and then in illness be prepared. A last breath should be a peaceful breath - an amen, the end.

Doctrines were created through the politics of institutional religion, and came with the idea that you set up a truth and the highest truth was unchanging. That is not so any longer, and if doctrines are the bones for a body then they are brittle and misdesigned. A body that works best is a flexible body, where it evolves how it evolves. Strength, as evolution shows, comes in flexibility, in adaptation to change. If Christianity is declining in the West, there are good reasons, and the clamour for doctrine is simply the arguments of those inside it worried that the bones are indeed brittle.


Erika Baker said...

There’s no sleight of hand in Rowan Williams now believing the virgin birth to be more important than he previously did. And being liberal does not mean pointing to the gaps and wanting logical answers.

I know your personal liberalism is like that and I know you find it hard to see anything other than deception in other people’s position. But actually, for most of us, faith is a journey, a development, not a scientific discipline. And we do change our hearts and, dare I say minds, as our experience of God changes our understanding.
You may watch it with incredulity, of course, but please don’t see deception in it. It is absolutely and truly genuine.

For you, there may only be the gap or a realist's insistence on truth. For many of us, those are the fundamentalist extremes. They are the modernist “Oh yes it’s true – oh no it isn’t” games that people play who insist on factual reality, either an objective yes or an objective no. Both sides have more in common with each other than with most believers. And they seem to know it – which is why your arguments are always with the literalists and the evangelicals’ argument is always with Jack Spong. Extremes talking to one another using parameters they both understand.

What both completely miss – and misunderstand! – is the genuine faith in the middle that, depending on temperament and on where in your faith journey you find yourself, takes some things as impossible, others as possible and most on trust.
And for those people, doctrine is a human attempt of putting into words the inexplicable but nevertheless real, weaving it into a narrative that expresses deepest truth.

I know you don’t share this view, but please stop insisting that it cannot be held.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

A virginal conception is either something that happened or it isn't. To not change a view on whether it happened but to change its importance falls into the objection McGrath is making. What makes a person liberal, rather than say a narrativist-of-the-tradition, is that the liberal will say no or yes to something and drop or keep that something accordingly. In communal terms a liberal says that the beliefs come from below, from a discussion and debate and consensus, not from running doctrine from above.

All this is done with doubt, not without it, so that with doubt tentative statements are made, the doubt is expressed, the flexibility is maintained.

Postmodernism ought to be post modern, in other words modern as well, not premodern (this is where the Radical Orthodox make a mistake: they abuse the space of postmodernism by inserting their premodernism as if this is simply allowed. It isn't, when you introduce the importance of research.

This is not an extreme view. It is a reasoned view, and one about how McGrath uses doctrine.

There is no reason in the world why, when you speak of doctrine, it cannot be revised or changed. If you don't do that, yet otherwise think like a Westerner, why not? This is not the approach of McGrath, who imposes doctrine for authority, for external authority, which actually turns out to be some people rather than other people, and not so external after all. It is about saving 'Christianity the religion' rather than seeing a method of doing religion that compares well with the method of doing other disciplines, and that way of seeking truth.

Erika Baker said...

First of all, doctrine can be changed, absolutely. It should be over time. In the Anglican Communion you can see this happen in a less obvious way: it is no longer obligatory to believe in a virgin birth.

But I still think your view leaves out a lot of possible nuance - you would probably call it deceit and stretching concepts beyond their intellectual credibility.

People happily live with doctrines like the virgin birth because there is no cross-examination about what it means and we are free to fill it with our own meaning.
Some translate virgin as young woman. Others interpret Mary as pure at heart, one of the great innocent trusting people you sometimes meet in life.
Others need a belief in physical virginity, some go as far as to need a belief in subsequent perpetual virginity too.
And many many are quite happy to be completely agnostic about Mary's status and never think much about it at all .

If you analysed what different people believe under the heading "doctrine of the virginity" you'd find a very broad spectrum and very little agreement.
It's only purely scientific minds that insists on dividing the question into a yes or no, allowing no spiritual meaning(s).

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

But in the end it's where you draw the line.

The evangelical won't let you draw the line where you have drawn it. I only referred to the virginity thing because of what Rowan Williams said since he has been in his current 'job'.

Many more won't let you change doctrine: it is supposed to be based on eternity; creeds get treated like a roundabout to circle around but they are intended to be rather like those signs that used to appear on motorway slip roads. Now things are as they get used, but then you won't change the sign despite the flouting of what it says. In any case, it is reasonable that if the sign says no L drivers it surely doesn't mean that you can have L drivers on the road on the adjusted principle that 'what it really means' is to drive with confidence.

I'm applying this across the board, and to the whole business of authority somehow outside of us, and this Christ figure whom we should 'obey'. All along the line the liberal asks 'Why' and it does get really irritating after a while. I'm fairly confident the whys end up with an institutional answer.

Erika Baker said...

Yes, liberals ask "why" because we don't like our own thought processes to be artificially curtailed by dictat.

And yes, if you're looking for a quick change in doctrines you won't find it. It's usually more a slow weakening of firm doctrines until they become mushy, or at least allow some of us to have mushy interpretations.

That evangelicals won't allow me any of that is true. And that the church is drifting towards the prescriptive and puritan is also true.
And that is actually an argument in favour of very very slow changes in doctrine - otherwise we'd all have to subscribe to penal substitutionary atonement by now.

What you really do, in terms of L-drivers, is slowly change absolute command signs to recommended action signs. That way, all sides can believe they're won and the roads remain safe.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Poor Adrian.

I see him living in a crumbling castle, trying to devise ways to support the roof and replace windows. Little help from other tenants, who disagree about the extent of damage and need for repairs. Then there are the local authorities with their building codes and National Trust designations -- no changes to historic structures!

Finally, there is a nice lady roaming the corridors assuring him that the place is haunted and imploring him to do nothing to disturb the ghosts. She derives much comfort from their company.

Total collapse might settle the arguments, but perhaps not.

(Word verification: "cookiess" -- as in "preciouss"? Gollum!

Anonymous said...

'What you really do, in terms of L-drivers, is slowly change absolute command signs to recommended action signs. That way, all sides can believe they're won and the roads remain safe.'

2 March 2010 19:11 Erika

Thanks for this Erika tis a revelation to me. Very true and works - poem like for me....

best wishes


And bonus V-word is obleyseq !

Erika Baker said...

If you're still reading.
All the lady is trying to is tell the guy with the building plans that he may not have the right solution if he simply ignores what the leaky roof represents to most of its tenants.

We can all agree that it leaks and crumbles.
But wouldn't it be better if we found a solution together rather than have one kind of tenant impose his on all the others?
Why does that concept ring so familiar?
And could it be that it contributes to the problem?

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

Yeah, Ms Baker. I'm still here. Waiting for you, actually. (This is Murdoch, not Gary.)

So Adrian "ignores what the leaky roof represents to most of its tenants"? The leaky roof has a meaning? The leaks are facts. Materials to repair will be facts. It doesn't matter whether some tenants think the leak is a punishment for their sins or a warning of deluge to come. We are dealing with facts here, not stories told about the facts.

Up above you say, "We do change our hearts and, dare I say minds, as our experience of God changes our understanding. You may watch it with incredulity, but please don’t see deception in it. It is absolutely and truly genuine."

Yes, your feelings are real, your intuition is real, your experience is real -- but sincerity doesn't guarantee that your interpretation of these is accurate. You cite "experience of God" as evidence -- but it's precisely whether your (real) experience is "of God" that's in question. The intuitions you attribute to "God," I see as more likely coming from the stories you've ingested and the reinforcement you get from the company you keep. Church people do speak very easily of "God," though differing factions do so with equal confidence and there's no evidence after all these centuries of central direction (other than that supplied by institutional authority).

Adrian's trying to put a floor of fact and history under the crumbling old walls (the sand they were built on has shifted). You seem to keep pestering him to pay attention to your intuitions, to validate your perceptions, when those have nothing to do with his project.

This isn't a case of "one kind of tenant imposing his solution on all the others." The roof is leaking and the walls are crumbling and prayer and group-think haven't slowed the process. People like Adrian, Gary, and me rather like the old pile and want to see it continue habitable. You can still hang around tell your ghost stories, but they aren't of much help to the masons.

Murdoch Matthew said...

On Finite and Infinite Games...

The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must change.
Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries.
Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.
A finite player plays to be powerful; an infinite player plays with strength.
A finite player consumes time; an infinite player generates time.
The finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth.
--James Carse, Philosophy Prof at NYU

Erika Baker said...

it doesn't matter what I personally believe.
Adrian is talking about the church as a whole and in his essay here he has answered Alistair McGrath and made some general points about doctrine.

Now my problem with this approach is that his reply simply ignores the reality of the church, which is that it is full of people like me.
You may not like us being here.
You may think we're totally doolally, misguided, not terribly brainy little creatures that only serve to prevent the cause of progress.

But even in your own interest you ought to recognise that in order to be effective, your answers need to at least acknowledge the fact that we exist, regrettable though it may be.
And your answers and prescriptions for the church will be completely ignored if you don't find a way of including us somehow.

You don’t have to share any of our beliefs, you can participate in our rites, rituals and liturgies for whatever you get out of them, you can argue with us, debate, get frustrated – all that. But you can’t pretend that we don’t exist. And, personally, I’d much rather you were sweet and kind enough to accept that we really truly mean it and not keep accusing us of delivering sleights of hand, of being deceitful and all the other things Adrian repeatedly says about Rowan Williams.
Your position is intellectual and credible enough, you don’t need to ridicule and misrepresent us just to feel superior.

The problem with this kind of intellectual superiority is that it creates these terrible Them and Us groupings where each one of us sits in smug judgement of the other, listening only to their own voice and completely not hearing what the other is actually saying.
Precisely what has brought the church to the state it’s in.
A little less of it would do us all a power of good.

Erika Baker said...

Sorry, I meant Murdoch!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

"delivering sleights of hand, of being deceitful and all the other things Adrian repeatedly says about Rowan Williams."

I say it specifically about Rowan Williams and his method (I've also said other things). I haven't said it of 'Erika Baker' and alike. You make me out to be so intolerant, whereas I am happy to give a personal opinion of affirming your place in the C of E, not that it is up to me in any sense. My position is, in the end, outside the boundaries, because simply I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus or in any sense of his definitiveness or finality.

Erika Baker said...

I know you haven't actually said it about me and people like me.
But you consistently present the discussion as though there were only two alternatives, a childish and unintellectual faith in a supernatural God, and then the intelligent version that you stand for. And anything that doesn't fit into the parameters you define isn't valid.

And every time I try to make you at least understand what intelligent Christians believe, we end up with a silly argument that what I say cannot possibly be true or valid because you say so.

You don't have to spell it out clearer than that.

Now, as I said, it makes no difference to me whether you "get" what we're about or not.
But you marginalise yourself in the debate if you consistently fail to understand and take into account what most Christians represent.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I have never claimed that there is either a childish and unintellectual faith in a supernatural God or my view. I simply have not made that assertion or even implied it; there are intelligent and supernatural beliefs. Nor do I feel marginalised. What I do is argue my case and invite counter arguments. What is the counter-position you actually wish to make?

Erika Baker said...

let's not go there again, you have it in your own archives.
The only counter claim I want to make from an intellectual point of view is that neither theism nor atheism can be proven, so both are faith.
If you want to be thoroughly intellectual you have to be agnostic.

And the thing I keep saying is that if you limit yourself to only accepting what human science can prove, you are artificially limiting yourself.
You may do that, but it doesn't prove anything.

And so it just really annoys me when we have finished these kinds of conversation with some kind of understanding between us, and then you go on to write another post some time later starting at base all over again, insisting that there's only 2 ways of looking at this... and it's really tiresome and I'll now keep the promise I made to myself the last time which is that I won't engage with it any longer.

I've never wanted to convert you or anything like that, but I had hoped I might get you to open up to possibility. Clearly, at both extreme ends of the Christian spectrum, possibility is the loser and certainty reigns.

Murdoch Matthew said...

Perhaps the most important advance in the behavioral sciences in our times has been the growing recognition that the perceiver is not just a passive camera taking a picture, but takes an active part in perception. He sees what experience has conditioned him to see. What perceiver then sees what is really there? Nobody of course. Each of us perceives what our past has prepared us to perceive. We select and distinguish, we focus on some objects and relationships and we blur others. We distort objective reality to make it conform to our needs or, our hopes, our fears, our hates, our envies, our affections.

Our eyes and brains do not merely register some objective portrait of other persons or groups but our very active scene is warped by what we have been taught to believe, by what we want to believe and by what we need to believe. It is impossible to reason a man out of something he has not been reasoned into. When people have acquired their beliefs on an emotional level they cannot be persuaded out of them on a rational level, no matter how strong the proof or the logic behind it. People will hold onto their emotional beliefs and twist the facts to meet their version of reality.
-Sidney J. Harris

This is, of course, true of all sides of a discussion. But discussions based on evidence or facts have a basis for reaching agreement. Discussions based on intuition or authority cannot, as Ms. Baker notes, be resolved. But the fact that neither theism nor atheism can be proved is not a license to admit imagination to the dispute. It means that the issue itself is non sense, a discussion of no thing.

Yes, we recognize that the church is full of people like Baker who believe without evidence and demand validation of their intuitions (based as much on a shared story as on experience). We know that they really and truly "mean it" and are not being intentionally deceitful. But in the end, it's not possibility vs. certainty. There is no ultimate certainty (language and perceptions are slippery) and some things in our universe are not possible. Adrian isn't imposing one side of a dichotomy, he's picking his way toward a defensible way of dealing with the religious impulse.

I fear that Ms. Baker is right, that such a rational approach will not appeal to the present clientele of the institution. But the old story is proving less and less attractive as people look to present experience (there are gay people in the world) and see theological concerns as irrelevant to their lives. It's not that old believers will be converted -- just a hope that new thinkers will be given more useful ways of coming to self-awareness and considering their responsibilities to the community.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

There's no answer to what you write, Erika, because I'm dealing with reason, and you weigh in with something other. So the something other is unanchored and can be anything. That's fine, but I can't be accused of over certainty. Unique miracles can happen; one faith might be privileged over another; and all sorts of such matters are possible, but then there is nothing other than that to be said. I'm looking for religion is a regular world: that one that is indeed quantum, relative, Newtonian within boundaries, mathematical. That's where the fascination is. I don't rule out other possibilities, but I look for the patterned and the regular.