Friday 21 January 2011

Confessions of a Sceptic

In my company Lesley Fellows can be sure to impress as a Christian believer. Already I have been criticised with the question that if I am no longer an Anglican, then why comment on the Church of England and Anglicanism. Of course I'm no longer Anglican because I do not subscribe to basic minimums of being Christian. Perhaps I might try to examine what they are.

I am aware that many Unitarians call themselves Christian, and I don't want to attempt to remove such self-labelling so my definition of Christian ought to respect their label as well as something more ontological.

It seems to me that to be a Christian Jesus needs to be the supreme and sufficient exemplar of one's religious and moral outlook, and that this must relate directly to your own concept of God. This may or may not involve the Bible and concepts in it up to and including the messianic.

This allows for a purely human Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus may have additional divinity than the rest of us, if not the whole divinity of God. That would be a sort of Reformation Arianism. A more classical Arianism would use John's Gospel and say that in the beginning was the Word (as opposed to in eternity) with other subsidiary divine statements in that gospel and elsewhere and include the 'economic Trinity' too at a push.

And of course Jesus may be the third person of the Trinity, an extra-biblical doctrine towards which the Bible may and may not point, as with the 'economic Trinity' in the acceleration of titles being given to Jesus in the early Christian communities.

Now it seems to me that if you go for the purely human route, as I do, then you are in the realms of the demands of history and the production of some sort of ethical and moral league table. The information is simply not available as regarding Jesus's moral and ethical conduct. Furthermore, he is likely to have been a sacrificer of animals at the temple and there are dubious messages regarding animals taking on demons etc.. So there is a moral issue here. And his attitude towards women was progressive at the time, but could be more so. Also he was clearly tribal: it took a Paul to unversalise his message, and Jesus was a Jew for Jews. Jesus was also wrong about the world ending and a coming of a messianic figure. Now in terms of bringing himself to Jerusalem and getting arrested, I am sceptical indeed about the gospel accounts but also there is a question of ego regarding the whole matter - putting himself in harms way in order to bring about the beginning of the kingdom - which is not morally clear self-sacrifice but a conundrum of martyrdom. The business with Judas is also more than likely ahistorical, but if not then it follows a scripture and if Jesus was in on it then it looks like a sham.

All that be as it may, the effect is not only don't I accept his divinity, but nor do I accept the notion of supreme humanity. I go with Francis Newman who preached against the moral superiority of Jesus.

As for God, I think this has more to do with our highest values and deepest wants. God language may be useful as a shortcut regarding reflection and contemplation, in developing a human spirituality. Buddhists used to tell me that this is misleading, and meditation ought to be godless in intention. I am though interested in what Matthew Collings called The Beauty of Equations, and that is the elegant mathematics that opens out our physical and environmental reality, the fact that we live in chaos but also within systems. If this is a form of transcendence then I accept it, but what it isn't is a God who intervenes. It is simplicity that leads to intelligence and consciousness and not intelligence that creates simplicity.

I know all about the notion of an intelligence that creates evolving systems from simplicity in order to create intelligences nearer to God that have freedom too, but that's just to fit in with the conundrums of the biblical theory (where it is so coherent). But it is worthy of awe that simplicity can fire off patterns: that a simple equation with a virtual number iterated can produce fantastic shapes and existences that are themselves productive. Of course such an awe is about something dynamic, and again some might call this Holy Spirit but it follows that this is misleading.

I think we ritualise because we are tribal. We ritualise in all our doings: exchange brings us together, but we further ritualise at a more abstract level because that has an overall binding impact - it makes us more collective rather than just a bunch of individuals. This is research backed and exists with a whole variety of forms. It is consistent with our evolved origins with collective altruism as forms and habits, interchange as sophistication and choice grows along with levels of consciousness. So religion is a kind of oversight.

I've done an MA in Theology and I am aware of many of the arguments. I did a lot of reading for the Ph.D as well. I keep up with these, even if it sometimes feels like a visit to the museum or some past life. So I know something about the liberalisms, the postmodernisms, all the literary devices, all the preaching strategies, and the way theology allows you to appear to say one thing while actually writing another. Much more interesting is to grapple with art, with science, with maths, with technology and in social science ask how these change our theoretical everyday thinking and more important our practical thinking - our plausibility structures we might say. The religious issue is in them and not in trying to uphold an old specific orthodoxy or being a bit heterodox about it.

So any Christian sceptic can have a chat with me and they'll either discover that, actually, they are comparatively quite securely orthodox or, in reality, they really agree with me and all they have is a surface appearance for one motive or another.


Lesley said...

Nice picture... MUST start drawing again...

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Pleased that it gains your approval. It is drawn directly on to the computer screen via a graphics pad.

Unknown said...

Dear Adrian--I so enjoy your posts. Due to my early history--US Southern Baptist--I cannot shake by emotional bonds to conservative christianity, but intellectually I find what you write both entertaining and compelling. I also find interesting your experiments with Buddhism. I also have had a 10-year experimentation with Buddhism--mostly zen--but find the large new age component in (American, at least) Buddhism offputting. What finally compelled you not to affiliate permenently in Buddhism, if I may ask? Thanks again. Fred, Seattle, WA, USA

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I was attracted to Western Buddhism as run by the Western Buddhist Order (Sangharakshita and all that) but didn't care for some Tibetan stresses. The WBO/ FWBO are not in this area, the Tibetans are with a centre at Kilnwick Percy (I've been there). I think in the end I want a broader speculative canvas of thinking and a combination of religious forms.

Unknown said...

If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the Trinity, please check out my website at It previews my book, which has not been published yet and is still a “work-in-progress.” Your constructive criticism would be very much appreciated.

My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or "Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the "body of Christ" (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

* The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

For more details, please see:

Samuel Stuart Maynes