Friday 30 September 2011

What I'm Telling the Ministry Committee

These are the books I declare I have read to some personal impact. The lists ignore many pamphlets, journals (except one series) and web material; nor is there biblical criticism or debates in various faiths. I have much more. The first lot are books on Unitarianism and the second are the theological debate:

Hewett, Phillip (1985) The Unitarian Way, Toronto: Canadian Unitarian Council (and (1976) On Being a Unitarian)

Wigmore-Beddoes, D. G. (1971, reprint 2002) Yesterday's Radicals; A Study of the Affinity Between Unitarianism and Broad Church Anglicanism in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge: James Clark and Company.

Davies, D. Elwyn (1982), They Thought for Themselves: A brief Look at the Story of Unitarianism and the Liberal tradition in Wales and Beyond its Borders, Llandysul: Gomer Press.

Channing, W. E. (1841) The Works of W. E. Channing D.D. With an Introduction, New Edition, London: George Routledge and Sons.

Goring, J., Goring, R. (1984) The Unitarians, Christian Denominations Series, Exeter: RMEP.

Hostler, J. (1981) Unitarianism, London: The Hibbert Trust.

Marshall, G. N. (1980) Challenge of a Liberal Faith, New Canaan: Keats Publishing.

Emerson, R. W. Selected Essays, London: Penguin Books.

McGuffie, D. (1982) The Hymn Sandwich, A Brief History of Unitarian Worship, London: GA Worship Subcommittee

Short, H. L. (1965-1968) 'The Later History of the English Presbyterians', 1 to 9, complete series compiled, Hibbert Journal, Vols. 64-66, numbers 252-263, London: The Hibbert Trust.

Bolam, C. G., Goring, J., Short, H. L., Thomas, R. (1968), The English Presbyterians: From Elizabethan Puritanism to Modern Unitarianism, George Allen and Unwin.

Hill, A. (No date), A Liberal Religious Heritage: Unitarian and Universalist Foundations in Europe, America and Elsewhere, Unitarian Publications.

Holt, R. (1952), The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress, London: Lindsey Press

Lyttle, C. H. (1952), Freedom Moves West: A History of the Western Unitarian Conference 1852-1952, Boston: Beacon Press.

McLachlan, H. (1934), The Unitarian Movement in the Religious Life of England and its Contribution to Thought and Learning 1700-1900, George Allen and Unwin.

Manning, B. (1939), Essays in Orthodox Dissent, Independent Press.

Martineau, J. (1891), Essays, Reviews and Addresses, Vols. 1-3, Longman. [sections of]

Hawkins, P. (1998), 'Transformation and the Unitarian Movement', The 1998 Essex Hall Lecture, Information Department of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches.

Wilbur, E. M. (1952), A History of Unitarianism: in Transylvania, England, and America, Volume 2, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Lakeland, Paul (1997), Postmodernity: Christian Identity in a Fragmented Age, Guides to Theological Enquiry, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Troeltsch, E. (1931), Wyon O. (trans.), The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, Vol. 1, London: George Allen and Unwin, especially 380-381.

McEnhill, P., Newlands, G. (2004), Fifty Key Christian Thinkers, Routledge Key Guides, London: Routledge.

Hanson, A.T. , Hanson, R. P. C. (1980), Reasonable Belief: A Survey of the Christian Faith, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Beeson, T. (1999), Rebels and Reformers: Christian Renewal in the Twentieth Century, London: SCM Press..

Pauck, W., Pauck, M. (1977), Paul Tillich: His Life and Thought, Volume 1: Life, London: Collins.

Seaver, George (1939), Albert Schweitzer: The Man and his Mind, London: Adam and Charles Black.

Hebblethwaite, B. L. (1980), The Problems of Theology, Cambridge: Cambridge, University Press.

Ellis, I. (1980), Seven Against Christ: A Study of 'Essays and Reviews', Studies in the History of Christian Thought, Vol. XXII, Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Goodwin, C. W., Jowett, B., Pattison, M., Powell, B., Temple, F., Williams, R., Wilson, H. B. (1861, first published 1860), Essays and Reviews, 8th edition, London : J. W. Parker.

Gore, C. (ed.) (1902, first published 1899), Lux Mundi: A Series of Studies in the Religion of the Incarnation, London: John Murray.

Edwards, D. J. (ed.) (1963), The Honest to God Debate, London: SCM Press.

Robinson, J. A. T. (1963, 1994 imprint), Honest to God, London: SCM Press.

Robinson, J. A. T. (1967), Exploration into God, London: SCM Press Ltd.

Robinson, J. A. T. (1973), The Human Face of God, London: SCM Press.

Robinson, J. A. T. (1980), Roots of a Radical, London: SCM Press.

Robinson, J. A. T. (1979), Truth is Two Eyed, London: SCM Press.

Kee, A. (1988), The Roots of Christian Freedom: The Theology of John A. T. Robinson, London: SPCK.

Edwards, D. L (1989), Tradition and Truth: The Challenge of England's Radical Theologians 1962 to 1989, London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Goulder, Michael D. (ed.) (1979), Incarnation and Myth: The Debate Continued, London : SCM Press.

Cox, H. (1966), The Secular City, London: Pelican.

Green A., Troup, K. (eds.) (1999), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth Century History and Theory, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Hampson, D. (1996), After Christianity, London SCM Press.

Hick, J. (ed.) (1977, second edition 1993), The Myth of God Incarnate, London: SCM Press.

Palmer, M. (2001), The Jesus Sutras: Rediscovering the Lost Tradition of Taoist Christianity, London: Piatkus.

Sykes, S. W., Clayton J. P. (eds.) (1972), Christ, Faith and History, Cambridge Studies in Christology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wiles, M. (1974), The Remaking of Christian Doctrine, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1971), Christ and the Hiddenness of God, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (first published 1972, 1985), Crisis of Moral Authority: The Dethronement of Christianity, was Lutterworth Press, SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1980), Taking Leave of God, SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1984, 1985 paperback, revised 1994), The Sea of Faith: Christianity in Change, BBC Books.

Cupitt, D. (1989), Radicals and the Future of the Church, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1992), The Time Being, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1995), Solar Ethics, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1986), Life Lines, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1987), The Long Legged Fly, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1990), Creation out of Nothing, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (1997), After God: The Future of Religion, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Cupitt, D. (2000), Kingdom Come in Everyday Speech, London: SCM Press

Cupitt, D. (2006), The Old Creed and the New, SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (2008b), The Meaning of the West, SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (2010), Theology's Strange Return, London: SCM Press.

Geering, L. (1980), Faith's New Age, London: Collins.

Shaw, G. (1987), God in Our Hands, London: SCM Press.

Sea of Faith Network (UK) (2001), Time and Tide: Sea of Faith Beyond the Millennium, Alresford: John Hunt Publishing.

Van Buren, Paul (1963), The Secular Meaning of the Gospel: Based on an Analysis of its Language, London: SCM Press.

Freeman, A. (1993), God in Us: A Case for Christian Humanism, London: SCM Press.

Hick, J. (1983), The Second Christianity, London: SCM Press.

Hick, J. (2004), The Fifth Dimension: An Exploration of the Spiritual Realm, Oxford: OneWorld.

Hyman, G. (2001), The Predicament of Postmodern Theology: Radical Orthodoxy or Nihilist Textualism?, Westminster: John Knox Press.

Jenkins, David (1985, originally 1966), Guide to the Debate about God, London: S.C.M. Press.

McFague, Sallie (1993), The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, London: SCM Press.

Wilson, Ian (1984), Jesus: The Evidence, London: Pan Books.

Perry, M. (author), Bock, G. W. (editorial associate) (1993), An Intellectual History of Modern Europe, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 17-22, 26-31, 36-39, 40-49.

Green, V. H. H. (1952), Renaissance and Reformation: A Survey of European History Between 1450 and 1660, London: Edward Arnold Publishers, 111-29, 139-150.

Beard, C., Intro: Barker, E. (1883, revised 1927), The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century and its Relation to Modern Thought and Knowledge, Hibbert Lecture, London: Constable

Hart, David A. (1993), Faith in Doubt: Non-realism and Christian Belief, London: Mowbray.

Dawes, H. (1992), Freeing the Faith: A Credible Christianity for Today, London: SPCK.

Kennedy, L. (1999), All in the Mind: A Farewell to God, London: Sceptre.

Liechty, D. (1990), Theology in Postliberal Perspective, London: SCM Press.

Lindbeck, George A. (1984), The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age, London: SPCK.

Smith, James K. A. (2004), Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-Secular Theology, Bletchley: Paternoster Press.

Rorty, R. (1989), Contingency, Irony and Solidarity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Holloway, R. (2001), Doubts and Loves: What is Left of Christianity, Edinburgh: Canongate.

Holloway, R. (2004), Godless Morality: Keeping Religion out of Ethics, Edinburgh: Canongate.

Zizek, Slavoj (2010), Living in the End Times, London: Verso.

Sykes, S. W., Clayton, J. P. l. (1972), Christ in Faith and History, Cambridge Studies in Christology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cupitt, D. (1979), The Debate about Christ, London: SCM Press.

Cupitt, D. (2009), Jesus and Philosophy, London: SCM Press.

Carpenter, J. Estlin (1949), Life in Palestine when Jesus Lived, London: Lindsey Press.

Machovec, M. (1976), A Marxist Looks at Jesus, London: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Altizer, Thomas J. J. (1997), The Contemporary Jesus, London: SCM Press.

Campbell, Steuart (1996), The Rise and Fall of Jesus: The Ultimate Explanation for the Origin of Christianity, Edinburgh: Explicit Books.

Darlison, B. (2007), The Gospel and the Zodiac: The Secret Truth about Jesus, London: Duckworth Overlook.

Sanders, E. P. (1991), Paul, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murphy O'Conner, Jerome (2004), Paul: His Story, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davies, Douglas J. (2002), Theology and Anthropology, Oxford: Berg.

Linzey, A. (1987), Christianity and the Rights of Animals, London: SPCK.

Plaskow, Judith (1990), Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Bradshaw, Paul, Spinks, Bryan (eds.) (1993), Liturgy in Dialogue: Essays in Memory of Ronald Jasper, London: SPCK.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

The Other Unitarianism

I'd like to highlight a different approach to Unitarianism on another blog (I've only seen thanks to comment here) - a chap who gravitates, in the end, to neither the GA nor UMI. There is a comment over there from a UMI person who is also within the GA approach.

Just a mention about what I call Central European Unitarianism, that of ethnic Hungarians in Transylvania. This is different from the Anglo-American evolving Unitarianism - Unitarianism being not of a theology, but a collection of liberal-democratic chapels that change over time. The more fixed, theological, Central European version consists of almost all born Unitarians, many in rural villages, of about five per cent of these ethnic Hungarians or 60,000 people.

Under the Communists, and towards the end, these villages faced devastation and new housing on some lunatic socialistic model of living. Fortunately all that went, but now capitalism is raging and causing depopulation. As a result some 10,000 Unitarians have migrated away and been lost to the movement by dispersion.

But then there is a further change. The village children are getting confirmed into the faith, so that they can particpate in the four times a year Communion of the Lord's Supper, and yet the membership certificate is turning into a leaving ticket. This is a phenomenon well known in Western Europe, and I showed it in my own research about a Methodist church and an evangelical Anglican church.

The young people find the bald and simple approach to religion within these chapels as uninteresting and are going elsewhere for their entertainment. They move off and stay off, perhaps to return for rites of passage. One wonders whether the Sunday School movement will undergo the same collapse as in much of Western Europe, thus removing Christianity as a common memory.

The Transylvanian Unitarians have about one minister per two churches, but a means to tackle the challenge is more ministers and urban variety in religion. It has a bishop and deputy bishop, really Superintendent ministers and not observing apostolic succession.

Originally the catechism was an ice cube to freeze a faith for its preservation against attack. It was unable to evolve further. It's leader, who did change, Francis David, had died in gaol. Polish Socinianism was ethnically cleansed and Unitarianism out west in Austria-Hungary was closed down. But of course now the frozen can evolve again, and some of the more progressive and creative ministers realise that there is a need for more lights, art and action in the new expression of this approach to religion because otherwise the environmental culture will have moved on.

Thanks for much of this to Jim Corrigall and The Inquirer on 9 July.

Keep and Don't Lose Your Friends

It seems that some people are getting very defensive and touchy about this blog inside part of the Liberal Catholic community. So I think a few things need to be said clearly.

I have never claimed someone in the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church can be ordained in a week, or someone who just wants it gets it. I have said they are selected, that it is up to a bishop (and the authority system used) and I made the point that similar selection is in this Unitarian Ministries International. Now of course they may well also train, but a system with personal oversight based on apparent apostolic succession is one that can decide.

Now I have always been positive about the LCAC, and indeed I was the link person who led to Mhoira Lauer-Patterson preaching in Hull Unitarians. This was a little risky, as people have different ideas, including the patterns of ministry that I have defended.

When I was in the Church of England I picked up the vibe there that British Old and Liberal Catholicism was regarded by the Church of England in roughly the same spirit that the Baptist Union thinks of Unitarians. The Baptists don't like Unitarians, not just because Unitarians are not 'orthodox' but because we kept pinching their General Baptists, either in bunches of or single congregations. The Church of England does not like British Old and Liberal Catholicism because Arnold Harris Mathew used to go around reordaining Anglican Catholic clerics worried about their orders, and there was dispute with Archbishop Davidson.

Amongst those I met who knew something about Liberal Catholics, they would say that these were:
  • Jumped-up self-appointing clerics without congregations (episcopi vagantes), giving themselves enormously long titles that are without substance, many of whom were failures to be ordained through the proper channels (so to speak). They are bishops with clerics of incredibly named dioceses, none of which really exist, and the whole thing becomes a fantasy of the imagination. You find the local church is either the garden shed or the garage once the car has been removed or perhaps the front room in a house.
  • There is a strong tendency to schism among Churches of about half a dozen clerics, forever moving on to new associations and dividing again.
  • Many of these have been dodgy characters (and this was said to me because there was one well known in the area). The same charge was heard recently in the Unitarian press, advising us to beware, which was an over-reaction but based on history.
  • The Anglicans also responded to the Libeal Catholic stress on apostolic succession as being only one half of the equation - that these people plugged themselves into apostolic succession but then did not 'carry the gospel' and instead believed in all manner of semi-Pagan, interfaith and unitarian beliefs or whatever they wanted.
  • Then there are the seminaries that are made up of no more than the same people already in charge, awarding degrees to themselves that no one else recognises.
  • Anglicans also identified that Liberal Catholic explanations of the Eucharist were magical and that these were about the power of the priest as a magician rather than the supernatural power of God through the priest. Anglicans also criticise Eucharists with just the celebrant, which is specifically not allowed in the Anglican system where there must be a congregation of at least one.

The last point is a legacy of Leadbeater's interpretation of the Eucharist, and indeed the more 'magical' interpretation has been defended. The Eucharist alone is often a matter of necessity if there are no lay people (I can see both sides of the argument - but I have moved away from Eucharistic worship in any case). The matter of variable belief has been a matter of honesty, say Liberal Catholics, regarding intellectual freedom, in that Anglicans are often credal formally but equally believe all manner of things once investigated. Theology is broader than those creeds. However, liberal Anglicans will then claim to be more naturalistic - both less supernaturalist as well as not magical.

I am, of course, in favour of wide varieties of belief, and have a soft spot for the troubled history of Free Catholicism both of Lloyd Thomas and Herford. I think apostolic succession itself is so much hooey, whether Roman, Anglican, or liberal Catholic, or indeed Buddhist, except where it is a means of a person teaching his or her expertise and regulating the one who then is to be ordained into that deeper tradition.

I've also said that every Church, however small, ought to have something like a seminary in order to do its training and regulation. I don't obviously think much of these institutions awarding degrees. No institution beyond will recognise them. But no one is necessarily going to recognise another's internal qualifications, which are for internal consumption. Of course one can recognise the actuality of training and experience. An Anglican priest, say, becoming a Unitarian minister, still should do some transfer courses, but not like a newbie, and then be accepted on the GA Roll, and a Unitarian minister becoming an Anglican priest needs the bishop to examine ministerial experience, and then select and ordain, and the priest needs to take on a parish.

My argument about dodgy characters is that you get these all over the place, and not just in Liberal Catholicism. I don't think this argument against Liberal Catholicism holds. Liberal Catholicism doesn't attract baddies any more than the rest. They do it a lot of damage, however, because of the small numbers and notoriety gained.

Of course people move around. The tendency to break up and move about has been defended even by those who do it. Nevertheless, small groups have very intense relationships and there is a tendency to schism. Unitarians were born of schisms, when the orthodox in many congregations used to walk off and form their own new chapels. The new LCAC is a schism of the old, and it was born after numerous name changes and then taking on a redundant tradition and name of the Ancient Catholic Church. No sooner had the LCAC been born and running that its principal bishops (but one) went off and later then had their own split. Let's hope the post-schism LCAC has no further schisms.

As it happens I have considered what happens at LCAC Swindon to be good in its attempt to be a rainbow inclusive body and carry out social mission. Nevertheless it has ordained people into lower orders and higher in a manner that puzzles. Well, that is part of the Liberal Catholic inheritance. It doesn't bother me but it has been somewhat humorous to others. Actually, the Church of England better be careful on this one, because it is tending to ordain locals in order to carry out clerical Eucharists and not all these locals have the kind of neutral authority needed: they carry baggage in their communities. It raises eyebrows when a local council official or shopkeeper suddenly becomes a deacon in the local church (priested a year later) when the folks around know the stories about them.

Personally I have no time for all these titles. In the end a minister minsters and the titles are pretty irrelevant. It's just a means of identity and organisation. I would defend Liberal and Free Catholicism as legitimate against its many detractors. Also independence is necessary and of real benefit in some cases, and the Internet based priest is a new and interesting development. I think we should also respect another Church's method of organising, so I call people by the titles they want.

So here we are. These are my opinions. They are not the opinions of other Anglicans or Unitarians, many of whom are much more critical.

But a word to Liberal Catholics: if you don't know who your friends are, you won't have any.

Saturday 24 September 2011

Fierce Criticism: My Response

This is the position of the blog entry that is now the subject of the threat of legal action, delivered to me on 2nd October 2011. No doubt Mhoira Lauer-Patterson has kept a copy of the original entry. So have I. I have kept her email source of this blog entry too. Nevertheless I shall meet her objection minimally by rewriting this entry to exclude using indented chunks of her email. Nevertheless this blog entry remains the same.

There is a blog entry on 2nd October 2011 that tackles the legal threat directly.

I have received an from Bishop Mhoira Lauer-Patterson that is in direct response to a blog entry here. Really it should have been placed as a comment. She tells me that she is deeply offended by my recent blog entry and that she will not be serialising the latter part of my article 'The Wandering Bishops...' that was in the June edition of NUF Viewpoint. My facts are apparently (now?) inaccurate.

I did not intend offence. I take it that the NUF Viewpoint article, written for the NUF (but she was free to spread it around) was going to be serialised, so it looks more like a sanction: if the 'facts' are inaccurate then presumably they were inaccurate.

The substance of her response is that Unitarian Ministries International is not in opposition to the General Assembly. On that, I put the opposition inside single quotation marks because it might be regarded so but I did not make the point myself. The point I make is that it selects ministers and the General Assembly arranges, oversees the training of ministers and their regulation. In other words, GA Unitarian ministers are trained and registered as such.

Nevertheless, Mhoira herself clearly sees a difference between the two bodies. The assertion is that the GA has a function to unify fragmentary views from roving speakers in Unitarian pulpits. Set against this, Unitarian Ministries International is in existence out of necessity because a number of Unitarians in Britain and the United States seem to put forward a non-Christian message.

This is the wrong idea about the General Assembly, as it does not intend to unify fragmentary views. The General Assembly's existence is no more than having brought together two umbrella organisations, the denominational one and the looser collection, in 1928. The argument for doctrine inside the denominational body was lost, and the looser collection, free Christian, was decidedly evolutionary in intent. So the fact is that the General Assembly covers both Christian and non-Christian. As in the United States, it is an individualist body, where the doctrinal centre is not a Church or book but the individual. It practices subjective, perhaps now postmodern faith. It has always been different from the 60,000 or so Transylvanians and their catechism based Unitarianism (a system though, once threatened by a lunatic Romanian leadership, is being badly affected by depopulation and economic change). However, the Transylvanian Unitarians do not attach themselves to the UMI but to the UUA and GA, and their bishop and ministers are having to confront hard decisions about adapting their faith. I referred to Knut Heidelberg because he seems to be one person riding two horses at once.

However, I was certainly opposed to the adoption of the GA Object, which includes the intention to 'uphold the liberal Christian tradition'. It is not the job of the GA or the churches to uphold anything. That we are free to ignore that just makes a mockery of its adoption in the first place, and is rather like the Anglicans who ignore their creeds. I am not a Christian and I stopped saying the creeds and taking communion when attending an Anglican church, but I fully participate in the Unitarian congregation because there is no demand that I should be a Christian.

Mhoira tells me in her email that the reason she joined UMI was because the GA is exclusivist regarding its ministers and them not joining other bodies. I did explain this in the previous blog entry on this topic. Actually, though, Mhoira has been welcomed into pulpits across the Yorkshire Unitarian Union, and all of us have respected her Church and the right of her Church to select its own ministers. We respect her Church based titles. I am, and I think we are, quite open ended in ecumenical terms, or interfaith terms. The UMI, Mhoira tells me, is not a church, but a ministerial tool by which those who are Christian Unitarians can share views and work experiences. She says is not a controlling body such as the GA, but then the GA only has the power to persuade.

Her email claims that the GA and UUA intention to own the name Unitarian is as much protectionist as Roman Catholicism or Anglicans saying you must belong to the Church of England. They build walls to stop people getting in and eject people when it suits them.

This is a misunderstanding. To be Unitarian is not to have a theological position, but to be part of an inheritance of congregations that, in 1845 in Parliament, received recognition that over a period of 25 years a congregation can change its views but retain its assetts. It all followed on from the Lady Hewley case in York, and completed what was started by the legalisation of the theological view practised of Unitarianism in 1813. In other words, to be an evolutionary Unitarian, holding views that change, is something particular to the congregations that started out as English Presbyterian and were joined by others (Cookite Methodists, Unitarian Baptists) and continued to change. After 1845 the Free Christian side, the evolutionists, that gave rise to the Religious Humanists and even Free Catholics, were in the ascendancy and thus gave identity to the Unitarians. Thus is completely different from Anglican exclusivity (which isn't - there is a distinction made between being in communion with the See of Canterbury or not) and Roman Catholicism. So, for example, I am Unitarian but I am not unitarian.

She claims I asserted that she joined UMI instead of undergoing 'ministry training' through the GA. But I made no such assertion. I said that UMI selects its ministers similar to LCAC. Here is the point: Anglicans and Roman Catholics choose to train ministers, but each has bishops who can, in theory, simply select who they want and make them ordained through a sacramental act. LCAC and other Liberal Catholics also ordain, indeed not only do some ordain but they reordain the ordained often several times [drawing in different lines of apostolic succession].

Actually the GA Ministry Committee does take previous academic and training experiences into account; the Anglicans and others who transfer over often only take short transfer courses like Unitarian History before coming on to the GA Roll simply because they were trained and are experienced already. The problem (and Mhoira is past the age of retirement even of Archbishops of Canterbury [who must retire at 70!]) is that she met none of the criteria of the GA, and that's the crux of it. The training side is the least of the issue. She and I were going to the Unitarian College presentation but she pulled out on receiving the forward rejection via all the criteria (she could still have come along). I decided to go on my own and I have written here in this blog about my considered response.

But let us just tackle the issue of training, because it does seem to grate. Mhoira outlines her extensive training: a Grad Dip Theology intensive degree programme and then a three year MA programme attended by ministers of various denominations. She also went to a Baptist summer school and had a year of ministry oversight in the Anglican Church of Australia.

Not only did she ask me if this is not enough, but she contrasted it with perceived amateurism regarding attempts to give cohesive sermons in Unitarian pulpits, and against that would not want to be moulded into the GA version of a 'professionally trained minister. She heard a minister try to relate to an elderly congregation by reading it children's stories, indicating that GA training is lacking.

Well, I spent seven years part time supervised producing what became a Sociology of Religion Ph.D. I had a year at Unitarian College Manchester (a year I regard as largely wasted - hardly training). I spent two years part time getting a Contemporary Theology MA. I spent a year full time getting a PGCE in Religious Education. Now I think this is not enough to be a minister, because I have not had a placement or a pastorate. Mhoira has had academic education and one year of Anglican pre-ministry training oversight after which she was told she was too old to continue towards further training.

She was therefore ordained otherwise independently and then, back in Britain, the LCAC (post-split) took her on and also decided she would be one of their bishops. That is absolutely their right, their judgment and their procedure, and I have not argued against that. Nor, actually, have I ever said anything about having a long-established piece of work submitted to what is her own theology school (whether or not registered in Florida, the United States), via a Skye viva or interview and being awarded a Ph.D.. What I have said about this is that the GA would be unlikely to recognise it, as indeed would not any university in this country. I have no idea if it is a Ph.D level piece of work and neither wish to see it nor judge it. I have only made the point with sensitivity that the GA would be unlikely to recognise the doctorate.

Also, against her assertion, I never claimed that others are not training professionals. I said they select. As for ministers and what they do, well we all have our views about what we hear. I too dislike children's stories when there are no children on the pretext that adults like them too - it is often (but not always) an excuse for not preparing a service for a particular congregation. It sometimes shows an inability to adapt ones own familiar running order. It is not an exclusive ministry issue.

She agrees with me that the LCAC is a clergy-led church, but that it is not true that it is easy to become a priest of the LCAC by simply asking for it.

But I haven't said that selection is easy. I have said it is a selection. How Adrian Glover decides to select (and now indeed Mhoira Lauer-Patterson) is up to them. Indeed, it is up to them.

Oh dear. John Kersey and Alistair Bate fell out with me over assisting a friend in Glasgow and now it seems I have fallen out with the newer LCAC as well. Is this why Liberal Catholics are so schismatic?

I have a lot of agreement with the newer LCAC and indeed aspects of its work in Swindon, but one gets the view in Swindon that it doesn't develop a congregation but ordains it. I would ask, have all those ordained in Swindon been through an academically backed training process? I realise the use of minor orders but I don't agree with this approach (that selects). In contrast, Unitarianism is lay led and its ministers serve; indeed in Great Britain few ministers are actually ordained.

I'm asked to get my facts right. But what is wrong is a claim that the GA has its own preferred system of indoctrination or that there is a question whether the GA has become as dictatorial as the mainstream Churches. She feels the difference between GA ministers and other denominations is its unitarian theology and little else. It would be something if the GA was dictatorial!

But obviously it is not even Unitarian theology. Oh, and how Anglican were the dissenters who refused to assent and consent to the whole of the Book of Common Prayer? Well, they were Anglican, formally, but how Anglican had some of them been during the Civil War and prior to the Restoration? How was it that when Christmas Day fell on Sunday, the first Hull English Presbyterian minister in his sermon did not even mention the birth of Christ once?

Mhoira now signs herself as +Mhoira, osb Rt Rev Dr Mhoira Lauer-Patterson (Ama Katarina) Bishop of the LCAC Diocese of Northumbria & Rheged Dean of the English College SMIU Unitarian minister without portfolio. [I respect the latter designation too, even if it is quite confusing to we GA Unitarians!]

Thursday 22 September 2011

Liberal Democrats Losing the Democrats

I'll be honest. I don't like Nick Clegg. He fronts a party that misled people before the election as to what would be done after. On the economy, there was a view about some growth and necessary cuts. In government, they swallowed the Tory line and it could lead us to a second recession. But of course the biggest about face was the student loans. I listened to his speech live and the rubbish of it here is not how easy it is to pay but the sheer weight of debt people are expected to carry for having gone to university. How is anyone supposed to get a mortgage if they already have heaps of debt?

That speech probably made the best of a very bad job. But there was something else in his speech. I'm a social liberal, and it is important to me that the party was named the Liberal Democrats. In fact I wanted that name, an obvious name, when they were called the Social and Liberal Democrats. But in that speech he referred to liberals, not Liberal Democrats. This is a worrying sign of relabelling. If he ditches the social democrat side of liberalism, then he is saying that the liberalism he wants is individualistic and closer to economic liberalism alone. The last economic liberal in power full on was Margaret Thatcher. Now his liberalism includes more in the way of ladders, but is it only ladders to economic liberalism? Do really social liberals now have to vote Labour?

As for staying on and on, does he not realise that he is toxic? His leadership should die with the coalition. Once the coalition folds, he folds too. Otherwise the electorate will simply ask, why should we believe him? If he really believed in his party, and hasn't gone native in the government, he would agree to get out at the end.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

LCAC with 'the Opposition'

First of all congratulations to Mhoira Lauer-Patterson on becoming a bishop, and also best wishes for her move to be among the more marginalised in Beeston, Leeds, as regards her own ministry.

Meanwhile, has she joined the Unitarian 'opposition'? The September news of the LCAC tells us (she writes it in the second person):

On Wednesday 24 August Rev Dr Mhoira was interviewed by Rev Stephen York, Vice President of Unitarian Ministries International via Skype. The result of the hour-long chat was that Mhoira was invited to meet the full board of UMI on Sunday evening 28 November. The result of that urgent board meeting via their telephone conference line was to welcome Mhoira into full ordination standing with UMI. Rev Dr Mhoira is to be awarded a second certification by UMI after her consecration as the first woman bishop of the LCAC which respects and acknowledges her standing as an LCAC bishop.

This doesn't worry me particularly and I'll suggest why. Unitarian Ministres International, under Rev. Maurissa Brown, is a sort of Internet Unitarianism that follows on from the breakaway American Unitarian Conference (from the broader Unitarian Universalist Association). Thus it retains a doctrinal (today) Channing-like Unitarianism that wishes to remain Christian and not evolve as the Channing Unitarians had done. So it retains a biblical Unitarianism, an original left wing Reformation view that was lost via the theological romanticism of the UK and the transcendentalism and humanism of the USA. It does relate better to central European Unitarianism but, by and large, that Unitarianism is formally related to the UUA and British General Assembly. Knut Heidelberg in Norway seems to be on both ships at the same time, the UMI and the UUA/ GA whilst he retains his Christian Unitarianism.

UMI like the Liberal Catholic Apostolic Church selects ministers and is clergy-led, indeed clergy dominant. To join, you become a minister, and so has she. The sense of this is unclear, because whilst the LCAC goes to great photographic and documentation lengths to connect itself with apostolic succession, this cannot be so with UMI. When Knut Heidelberg was ordained a Superintendent Minister, he was told specifically that Unitarians do not believe in apostolic succession. The reason, of course, UMI has ministers, is because it is an Internet based Church with no congregations except a few rump ones in the United States under the AUC.

However, a few die-hards on this side of the Atlantic, in the GA and members of the Unitarian Christian Association, have also become ministers of the UMI. For the most part, they don't actually minister to anyone. It's a Protestant version, perhaps, of the Young Rite: where the priesthood of all believers means making everyone into a priest. To some extent, this is the ethos of Liberal Catholicism, but the Young Rite takes this to its logical conclusion - anyone who wants to be can be ordained as a priest.

It's fair to say that Mhoria is Jewish sympathetic and unitarian (small u) by her own beliefs, but she hasn't the contact or background to train up to be a Unitarian (GA) minister or position to give it a commitment of five years after training. So she has shifted a group that selects than one that trains. The GA Unitarians also remember the confusion over a Minister who became a Bishop in Europe of the very different Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. There is at least overlap in anti-dogma terms between the LCAC and GA Unitarians, whereas the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star was a magical, charismatic, semi-Christian body.

I see no difficulty in Mhoira taking services from time to time in Hull or her developing her ministry in overlap. That's no more than any of us do. Personally I wouldn't join the UMI as I can't see the point, the same as I'd be a trained minister doing ministry in a particular setting. I have PHD, MA, BA (Hons.), PGCE, but I don't have specific ministry training (except for a year and I don't count that as training) and my experience in service taking is ad hoc or self-taught with advice.

Grumpy Resigned versus Roaring Success

I see that the Telegraph's campaign to unseat the Archbishop of Canterbury has entered a substantive phase. After all, it has a prediction (going in about a year) to meet.

Take a look at

See how this 'report' by Jonathan Wynne-Jones contrasts a resigned Archbishop up against the cool of atheism with a Pope that only has to turn up in Britain and up goes religious belief in the nation (message: Roman Catholicism is the new national upholding Church). Nothing about the scandals of Roman Catholicism and the cover ups then.

But then see another set of figures, as highlighted by Thinking Anglicans.

Monday 19 September 2011

When the Sermon is Instant

I could see the clock from where I was taking the service, so I knew the sermon had to be quick. Much of the text had been about time, and contrasts, including some science, about the I Ching, and Pink Floyd lyrics. The music included Fairport Convention's Where Does All the Time Go, one of the many versions with the singer Sandy Denny.

I started with the passing of time, twenty one years or so since I was at Unitarian College and that they'd wonder where they'd put me so I left after a year. Yet there I was, originally going with Mhoira and to share the cost (perhaps), but after she pulled out I went anyway (to discover later that travel expenses were paid). There are Unitarian only courses but the main course is contextual theology, that is a normative theology by which the activity of congregations can be understood.

So then I said I'm reading again a book on the different approaches to doing history. There's the empirical school, like of Arthur Marwick who appeared on those late night Open University programmes many years ago. There are lots of schools, including Marxist, geographical - like how mountains affect history - and an interesting one is ethnographic, which is to get amongst the people and find out their meanings and stories. A good example is on TV at the moment, which is the programme about how primitive peoples understood dinosaurs, and one way to do this is to get among American Indians and find out their stories remembered about how they treated the bones of animals that were unlike those that roamed the landscape. So that also gets into oral history.

Then I picked up a Religious Education book, from Warwick. There are different ways of teaching RE. One is critical, which is from the inside - private schools still do this, where there is one tradition of religion and they apply a critical approach. Well that is theology, or the beginnings of theology. The main school is phenomenological, however, which is description of the essentials of this religion and that religion. There are others like experiential, that is without necessarily reference to religion it looks at spiritual development and values. But the interesting one, again, is ethnographic, and rather than have descriptions of religion, it's about what people actually do. What do children do that go to the mosque or go to church. This is the Robert Jackson stuff at Warwick.

I did some ethnography once like at an evangelical church. It had its theology but what were the young people doing? Well, they were trying to go out with each other, and had a good time. It was all clear when they went to the pub afterwards.

So the Federation has contextual theology, Christian theology which is a means of understanding how congregations work. It's like the work of Christ, and how is this done. But two things. First of all, if I did this, I'd have to bend the theology so far backwards it would be utterly different. Secondly, if they actually did an ethnography of Unitarian congregations - and I would include the liberal Christian ones - they would find that our language from service takers and within is different from this theology that is given.

So there is something odd here, I said. That we have two strains of learning for all laity, which is the worship and the Unitarian history, but when it gets to the ministry we seem, at one college at least, to be training them in something else. And this doesn't seem right to me. And that's all I want to say.

So having typed this out here - and I missed out on much 'unpacking' that might have been in a script - that was it.

There was a chat afterwards in which I said about normative theology would be say Christ's sacrificial work and we would look at what sacrificial elements are in congregational life, for example the Eucharist, or indeed people standing back and letting things go in disputes.

Of course the sermon didn't involve me looking down to read at any point because I had nothing to look at. The most I did was hold up a couple of books and flick through them. In a longer sermon I might have said more about schools of history and schools of RE, but they could have distracted from the main point. People can easily get indigestion. And indeed on reflection the reading about the I Ching probably did give indigestion even though its main point was the need for opposites but to process them from the centre.

A sideline from all the hymn stuff I do was to advise on their singing, and also whilst a chap operated the controls for the prepared CDs I said to him after, now he sees why I operate both CDs - because that way I'm not faffing about with the sliders. They are set. There's no pushing up during the starting of music or missing beginnings. He said he'll have to do more; thus I'll sit in the congregation. One hymn he fancied for his own service in November.

The service included reference to Mhoira, not just as a potential visitor to Manchester but also being made bishop as I was speaking, so she was mentioned in the 'Faiths/ Church' section of the intercessions. Yes, I include intercessions in the sense that it is us thinking about ourselves and others.

Sunday 18 September 2011

Entryists Hijack Arab Spring Motivation

We do read some drivel these days. Apparently, the tiny group of Conservative Evangelicals, in terms of their number in the Western Anglican Churches, are likening their entryism across Church structures to the Arab Spring!

Goodness me: I thought Rowan Williams was a bit unpleasant for making people cry on committees, and John Sentamu similar for engaging in destructive gossip, but I never thought of them and their system as tyrannical. But the Conservative Evangelicals do:

We can learn here from the Arab Spring for there are many parallels. The Arab Spring was started by few people, as few as seven in Egypt, who were provoked by the suicide of a market trader in Tunisia and by the murder by police of a blogger in Cairo. In the CofE, following years of similar problems, a bishop refused to say he would teach that homosexual practice was a sin and thus young men were unable to accept ordination from him.

In the Arab Spring, those seeking change made straight for the central square, the focus of national life and identity and occupied it. They were claiming it belonged to them, not to the tyrant who had usurped their nation for himself. They did not say that they were forming another nation. They did not say that they would emigrate. They went to the central public space and occupied it in order to state clearly that the square and what it stands for was theirs. They stood together in a way that the authorities could not control to claim their heritage.

Let's be clear. There is no large scale sympathy for a minority group of Conservative Evangelicals wanting to make the Church of England even more homophobic or sexist. Having produced the usual suspects as shock troops, there are no follow-up large scale demonstrations in the parishes.

This use of 'global Anglicanism' is precisely because the Conservatives lack support on home turf, whether among bishops or the rest. The whole point of entryism is to infiltrate and bypass according to the strategy of the few, and to have 'international oversight' means just their own preferred authorities.

There is no such thing as global Anglicanism as a system of authority. That some people, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, or Fulcrum, would like to push in that direction, only encourages the distant minority to then use the idea to push their own corner. The Anglican Communion Covenant gives the excuse, only to be ignored by the entryists as they choose.

Anyone in authority by now should have taken these people on, but of course they are frozen in the attempts to cause 'centralisation by process' through the Covenant. If the Covenant can be killed off, then the entryists will have lost their excuse. Their attempt to circumvent, to power grab, will then be all the clearer.

Thursday 15 September 2011

When the Service Taker Emails in Sick

Our service taker has emailed in as ill for Sunday, and that means making quick and emergency provision. A long time ago, when I started doing the CDs approach to hymn tunes and more, I wrote two 'emergency liturgies' that could be used at short notice. I also did the hymns for each, and placed on CDs. Since then we've had the new system up and I've made several editing improvements to the music and a different system of so doing.

There is one traditional liturgy and one that is more radical. Now the traditional one is capable of being liberal Christian but it is also capable of drawing from other faiths and secular sources. It gives a traditional feel. The radical one is still liturgical (the idea being to have an updated liturgical book that replaces Orders of Worship from way back in 1932) but its content is deliberately of new thinking and towards the broad based.

These texts I may review, give a few days running up to Sunday, and indeed the CD can be altered and even have one per service, not one for both.

Both services don't just reflect on my thinking, but are articulations on how the congregation thinks (I think). Unlike Anne Rice, the vampire writer, who a year back announced she'd follow Christ but not the Church, this is a following the Church and not (necessarily) Christ - though it is theologically aware. I'm not a Christian, and I don't follow Christ. I don't believe in him as any other than one of many ethical teachers in a time and place.

It's why I react against the Federation course of Contextual Theology. It's not our context. But the problem with any liturgy once the normative theology is gone is that they need revision. It is why we can't use the 1932 book any more. The trick is to get the feel of the 1932 book and alter its substance.

If the liturgies get revised, don't be surprised!

Monday 12 September 2011

The Stage I am At

I'm still considering whether or not to apply to train as a Unitarian Minister. So far I think I'll leave things a year rather than meet the October deadline. I might talk about it with someone useful, however. What I do think is that Unitarian College at Manchester is not appropriate. At present it joins in with Federation Contextual Theology, which means a normative theology that is applied to congregations. I have two objections to this.

The first is that the theology that discusses congregational life is often not appropriate to the kinds of beliefs and expressions people in Unitarian churches express. It is a bit like analysing them through a Hindu perspective. I'm sure it would make sense to Hindus but it would only make some sense to Unitarians (those who draw on Hinduism, especially modernist and philosophical interpretations - and there are such Unitarians given the association with Brahmo Samaj; and indeed those who learn from the Eastern perspective coming westwards). I'm sure I could bend and twist the theology presented (not simply asking liberal Christian questions) but it would be done in constant tension with the norm.

By the time I and others I met might start, this programme may be over but the tension with the Federation will be the same with whatever replaces practical theology.

Secondly, it is not where I am any more. My understanding of the world comes predominantly from the natural and social sciences, and the arts are broad and wide. I know the various angles theology comes from, but it has to be treated freshly and within a more humanistic framework. Given the appeal of history to Unitarians, a lot can be derived from the 'Houses' of history, its methodological approaches that overlap with social science and, indeed, theology. What we actually need, I think, is much new theology following on from such theory. Harris Manchester College Oxford seems freer of the clutter that the Federation causes in Manchester.

One role for a minister is someone who can learn, absorb, express and re-express the Unitarian tradition and apply it as it is in the communities. It must, I think, focus on the practice of those communities - and again in the language preachers use in communication with everyone else. It is strong on doubt, on not being very supernatural, and plain thinking. So how do we develop practice of sorrow, doing again, thankfulness and reinvigorating at the heart of the practice? How do we use the arts to enrich. If Max Weber thought modernity meant disenchantment, how can the arts help worship in a programme of re-enchantment in the contemporary world? These are both intellectual and congregational issues. They are not examined by trotting out normative doctrinal theology however 'liberalised' but by examining resources across the intellectual fields.

That's where I am at present. As I have also suggested before, I'm not sure what the level of demand is at present for such a person - if there is the demand or ever will be.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Do Go (But it's Just a Rumour)

If there is an easy story to roll out, it's the one that Rowan Williams is quitting early. The Sunday Telegraph is saying he'll go after the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and BBC News reviewing the papers took it as a reflection on his political difference from the current government.

The story says he is "understood to have told friends". This is one of the loosest and least substantiated forms of journalistic sourcing. It is sort of third level rumour at best. This is then described as "The news". But it isn't news, it is a journalist who understands he has told friends. Perhaps someone at a pub said Rowan Williams has told friends. But then we have "Sources close to the archbishop" saying he'll go in June, this after a refusal of Lambeth Palace to comment. But sources close to the Archbishop used to be people like Bishop Tom Wright, who always got it wrong. Now he is far away. More vague words appear that the University of Cambridge will find him a job, which is a better prospect than for many a curate.

The Sunday Telegraph report refers to female bishops, which no doubt is the origin of this report, in terms of trying to scuttle this development. There is a possibility that the legislation won't pass its needed two thirds, and if it doesn't it will leave an almighty mess.

But the unmentioned elephant in the room, of less interest to The Sunday/ Daily Telegraph is the Anglican Communion Covenant. The prospect is that Williams will attempt to force this through the Church of England, while it looks like the wheels are coming off its wagon at least in some locations around the world. As it firms up that some provinces say no, and as the UFO gets in a muddle about changing the Standing Committee or not (that it is not significant or it does change matters), the result becomes a solution that really does solve nothing.

Now in all reality driving the Covenant through is a project to last until this Archbishop should retire. If the wheels are coming off the wagon, it will need a new policy and that means a new Archbishop. Perhaps he is fed up with the whole business, being lost in the complication of provinces actually having and retaining autonomy.

What will prove difficult indeed is that if the vote on adopting female bishops is lost, then sealing the Church of England up in a Covenant that freezes movement forward will be resisted. Some will inevitably think that a Covenant will make the job of adopting female bishops harder, given that some provinces might object to the 'mother Church' having female bishops when they don't.

This is exactly why the Covenant is a bad idea, of course, and always was. It is a charter for banging on the brakes for anything that is in a progressive direction, even though the Covenant won't attract those who'd bang the brakes on harder. They have a more entryist approach to generating resistance.

This Archbishop has been a disaster. In India someone asked him what you have to do to become Archbishop and he replied that he must have had a very bad previous life. That's narrative theology for you - it can adapt to Hinduism quite easily for its jokes with intent. What really would be a disaster is that he started a process down a road and then walks off to leave someone else to clean up the mess - but then it might well be better than pursuing it to the end.

There is no doubt that once the Covenant project is obviously a) dead, or b) contradictory to the point of being ridiculous, or c) hopeless at doing its intended job that Williams will go. It is his one policy. He's driven it; his policy will be finished. His policy was to push the purple 'according to the Ordinal' (as he told the previous General Synod when they said no to the Bishop of Dover managing the business), and push that purple internationally, to have a more centralised Anglican Church in terms of process, and go and tell the Bishop of Rome that Anglicanism made more ecclesiastical sense. It's just that he was doing this according to the permanent exclusion of gay and lesbian people, that they were his sacrifice, and thus he has been performing the words he once used against the Church machine when he was Bishop of Monmouth. If he got an academic chair at Cambridge, would he do another about turn on this issue?

This chat in The Sunday Telegraph about the anti-women (for bishops) Chartres or the self-publicist and gossip-monger Sentamu as replacing Williams is so much guff. It'll go to someone else, probably someone like the guy in Liverpool who's of the theological right but has broadened out, and who abstained on the Covenant (the only one who did). Whoever gets it, it will have to be someone who can start again, who pays attention to the Church of England, and is prepared to let the rest of the world operate loosely again.

Perhaps Rowan Williams could do people a favour and announce he is going, and that way it isn't left to gossip-mongers and the old nudge and wink method. So far it is just The Sunday Telegraph's agenda, but the Covenant is looking less secure than it was, and that's what will unseat him.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Providing Music

Because of my role as music provider, I've become more knowledagable about what is on offer, titles of tunes and metres, and appropriate uses. (My images, by the way, are not of Unitarians but high quality music providers - singers - in the Anglican sphere.)

Last week I assessed a service. It meant filling in a form, but I did it in a wordy way. I'd made notes from behind the curtain and because the service taker added verses and lines to hymns and presented in an unusual way it needed more response. The chap was trying very hard, but he didn't negotiate with me, as the music provider, nor did he do any other investigation regarding how his service might be appropriate. He provided the music, and it was not right, and had left me in the dark, leading to poor delivery, and his five sermonettes to provide a comprehensive history of Florence Nightingale were not short and sweet to help a narrative, but were five because he had too much material. This chap also bellowed out, "Wake up" at the start of the service, that caused the microphone to humm. Good job I wasn't wearing the headphones or anyone using the loop. I'm hoping no serious damage was done to the microphone (taken to our technician) or system.

But what the service helped show was that a worship service belongs not to the provider but to the congregation, and they make it happen. Service takers and providers of the music are facilitators of their worship. In a Unitarian setting it helps to know something of the span of the congregation and also its practices. Variety is possible but it has to be within reach of those sat.

By having different service providers we get variety of content and delivery. It does mean, though, each having to know and negotiate with our system, and it all happen on time without fail.

I do wonder about the appeal of the standard service. It is actually very difficult to replace the hymn sandwich or a deliberate liturgical alternative. I prefer something more liturgical but I want wider appeal. I try to innovate with music, by pushing the boundaries (it seems to be hymns plus Classic FM and this is over-restrictive), but my usual rule is to facilitate the service taker and offer occasional advice. I try to include some hymns with choir backing, from Unitarian CDs, along with good quality organ or piano music - occasionally this is made by me. It is possible to get a MIDI sample, read its notes in music composing software, edit them, change the instrument/s and add instruments, change the speed and then output a decent piece (usually organ or piano, but some woodwind can be excellent). The verses are either repeated within the scores or in sound editing software later. I always prefer to do the introduction within the music composer by some copying and pasting a section of verse. A constant issue is speed and not going too 'high' for voices. Hymns for Living (1985) is a little high, Sing Your Faith (2009) is a little low.

This Sunday is a lot simpler than last, and with someone who's taken a service many times and indeed was once in the congregation. He hasn't been so prescriptive about music as usual, but a preference for Mozart means much Mozart. I don't know about his theme, other than three of four hymns refering to truth, and one to summer, but given the date I put in some Charles Ives and Copland - one of which may be heard and one of which might play softly while people have coffee afterwards. I negotiated one hymn to be via Angel's Song rather than the tough to sing Deo Gracias (Agincourt).

A lot of our hymns are refreshing to ex-Christians and those who have an open view of faith. They are rather direct and not very supernatural. But I do wonder about the appeal of the format and whether they attract. Thinking of alternatives is the harder part. Only a minority go for a meditation class and a short talk - these are not compelling alternatives. Cathedrals do well these days, but I think they are populated from refusniks leaving behind usual churches to the ideologically committed and those who are club-joiners. Still, we might enrich our services more with better music.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Going Caput with Caputo

Last night in the pub I asked my once Humanities studying friend if he'd heard of Arthur Marwick (1936-2006). Yes, he'd heard of Arthur Marwick and was he some sort of revisionist. Well, no; he was no Marxist though. He was an empiricist historian, for whom history is science, based on not what historians do but on what documents show. He did look at the common person, and championed film as primary source material (primary sources are the only reliable sources - created for the purpose of direct recording) of history.

I knew of Arthur Marwick because I am of the generation who stayed up watching BBC 2 when it went to The Open University programmes and there was the long haired beareded Scot who would talk about the witting and unwitting testimony. Now I related that to overt and covert motivations in sociology, though he wouldn't because he hated sociology as so much speculation. No doubt he would have thought the same of theology.

People like Arthur Marwick check my tendencies towards postmodernism, and I make a bad postmodernist. He would have nothing to do with that either. All other schools of history, Marxist, social scientific, narrative, French (from Geography!), postcolonial, ethnographic (anthropological), gender, quantitative, learn from empiricists the importance of primary documents.

So what are we to make of something like Radical hermeneutics, of John D Caputo? He seems to fascinate my online friend at Belper. This is about we are not God, so we are all interpreters from within our own settings: the writers had their settings and we have our settings. He is accused, like others of this kind, therefore, of relativism and not having objectivity.

It is no surprise that Marwick regarded history as a science, but Caputo argues that all science is interpretation, and religion is interpretation. The scientists have a theory and the religionists have an imaginative and poetic approach. They don't conflict.

But one is not relative and the other is. One says, actually, not just a theory but a testable theory, and a theory that can come with a response from a test that disables the theory. Theories or paradigms set up tests that begin to demonstrate it as falsifiable. Of course paradigms are subject to language, selectivity of what to test, interests including economic and social, institutional issues of approval, ignoring important aspects, and the speculation of mathematics into beautiful equations. But there is still a goal there of rationality, impossible to achieve perhaps but a distant possibility.

The imaginative and poetic can be anything. Can continuing deconstruction make any distinction between what is divine and human - of course not because the words collapse into each other. The human is divine and the divine is human (the material embodiment). In Christianity the notion that God was a human adds to that confusion, and indeed secularisation is often regarded as Christianity burying itself.

Being may end up as becoming, but then becoming what? Bonhoeffer had a Christian who was too busy to ask questions, and with Barth's shadow this approach ended up in Harvey Cox's The Secular City. I couldn't understand where this left 'believers'; at least with Paul Tillich they asked questions, even if he did provide all the answers. Such a closed system Caputo would pull down.

Why should an ethical response (humility, for example) be the result of a chaos of meaning? I much prefer the Buddhist programmatic view: if one arrives at emptiness then that produces a calm, and therefore an ethical response. That's because the Buddhist retains a form of metaphysic - it might not be the stacked up Western kind but it follows from practice. It means what happens due to the human effect of worship or meditation. This is why worship practice makes a religion - because the divine is human and it is we who alter.

There is more than a suspicion that these radical hermeneutic types want it both ways. If you want to maintain an open perspective on mystery, that there is a divine, then you need some basis of order in the text and in the process of being religious.

This is why I am a liberal, because in the end there is a point of settling, a (dare I say) critical realist point of reference, and order that is in the practice through the art of religion - an interpretation that goes far and wide in terms of sacredness and texts available, but one which says we by doing this practice do religion rather than just do philosophy.

However, when it comes to specific texts, a touch of the Marwick does no harm. Having scholars vote with coloured balls for the historical reliability of the text (like the Jesus Seminar does) just won't do. It is not about historians. Apply the Marwick test to these faith texts like the New Testament and you get remarkably little from them. Of what do they constitute evidence? (At very best something of the proto-orthodox Early Churches). Larry Hurtado says they show a rapid escalation of the titles of Jesus even among early Jewish believers towards binitarianism. He might well be right, if the documents do show this.

Yes, they are poetic and artistic for us, though of course the writers didn't think so, with their different view of reality from ours. Actually, I like a touch of the ethnographic approach to history, so a bit imaginative in time travelling to the Jesus end-time beliefs and small society, then Paul's bigger picture end-time univeralism, the charismatic excitement fast moving beliefs of early believers with authority structures drawing on the 'resurrection', a crustier dogma-supernatural and backward looking faith centuries later, and our every day common rationality based on technology.

My view of radical heremeneutics is that they get us nowhere fast, and the only way some texts like the New Testament or Bhagavad Gita can be made sacred is through a pre-decision of sacredness applied, and that is to make an exception of them from a drilled down never ending reinterpretation that doesn't refine.