Monday 31 October 2011

Catthorpe Road Problem

This is my solution to the ridiculous M1, M6, A14 Catthorpe interchange, probably the worst in the country. The current A14 relies on a single carriageway road with dumbell roundabouts where two major streams of traffic cross each other on one of these roundabouts (M6 to A14 and A14 to M1) and this along with local traffic between villages.

A new A14 extension is built to the south with the A5 involved in a subordinate short merger; the once added slip roads from the M6 eastwards are removed. A bridge takes local traffic over the A5 with a new spur to join it, and a new roundabout is made around a public house to assist other local movements.

M1 traffic for the A5 would still have to use the A303 north of this map segment, and indeed where traffic was going would decide which roads they used. No more would M6 to A14 traffic cross the path of A14 to M1 traffic, on a minor roundabout. M6 north to M1 would use the A426, east of the map segment. M6 from the west to M1 south would travel to the end of the M6 returning back to a simplified merger. M6 to the A14 would use a new southern spur road that would also give improved and immediate access to the A5, without having to use the M1 and need to come off it many miles south using the A428. The A14 traffic from the east would also enjoy better access to the A5. The catthorpe to Newton road would have a safe bridge over the A5 and only join it via a new spur road south. This would also become the new local access to the M6.

I think this is arguably more elegant, capacity of traffic enhancing and in keeping with other road use than other solutions, for example within the Society for All British and Irish Road Enthusiasts (SABRE - such useful modern and old maps there). The disadvantage is that traffic from the A14 north still has to slow down to use two roundabouts, though two lanes in one direction can be available throughout, including on the single lane road under the M1.

The maps shown derive from the Ordnance Survey both as is and then as altered by me. I am claiming fair use of a minimal amount to illustrate my idea, but if this is an abuse of copyright please inform me and I will redo the map diagram. See previous entry for comment on this and a response.

Sunday 30 October 2011

QI Half Right

On the latest edition of QI (BBC2 - 8/16, the one with Sandi Toksvig, Clive Anderson, Henning Wehn and Alan Davies), Stephen Fry said that the Puritans did not escape persecution, but went to America to persecute.

Half right. Because the evidence of persecution (especially after the Civil War) is that they met in secret in houses, that they suffered the Five Mile Act that threw their meeting places outside towns, and had to wait for the King's Indulgences and then the Act of Toleration in 1689.

The Puritans wanted liberty for themselves. What is true is that they wanted a Puritan Commonwealth, a pure godly land where they could practice their ideas alone. Indeed, these first imported Americans could be called Religious Communists.

It is only later, as they had liberalised, that they began to see liberty as an ideal - for themselves and others.

He also claimed that Puritans were pictured in their Sunday best, in black, but otherwise wore clothes like the rest of the people. Only, however, if the clothes were sober, plus we know that the more moderate and parish minded Calvinists wore less severe clothing than the Independents and clear sectarians.

The Puritans were Bible only people and yet reasoned their Bibles, first in a harsh trinitarian way (and very opposed to Socinians, even to the point of wanting the death penalty) and then via many and various theories of interpretation the academies set up continued the liberalising through Arminianism and even into Socinianism later on.

They were merchants, saving money and investing, and rich people don't keep a severe religion down the generations. They later became the capitalists that wanted in on political life (the 1832 Reform Act) to overturn the feudal Church of England monopoly. We now see that at St. Pauls the Church of England has joined the capitalist establishment.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Radical Orthodoxy Exposed

Listening to the BBC interview, I really do think that Giles Fraser is over-generous to his colleagues. Of course everyone wants to respect the professionalism and position of colleagues. But what exactly is the conscience of the position on the other side?

I don't know, and it is not health and safety: but what worries is the position of the Church as an institution.

My summary book, Postmodernity, by Paul Lakeland (1995), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, has several mentions of what he calls Countermodernity, or what can be seen as the premodern in the postmodern space. This is the Radical Othodox position which, within its Christian Platonism, states that the Church is the Community of Peace (Lakeland, 1995, 70). All history should be read through Church history (properly understood, of course). Christianity is the "exemplary form of human community" (1995, 69, from Milbank (1991), Theology and Social Theory, Oxford: Basil Blackwell) - and this trumps the social sciences' attempt to identify the same.

One can see in the need for Giles Fraser to resign, just what a dangerous position is created by conservative forms of postmodernism. The Church as institution comes first (or, in Protestant cases, the Bible) and it always comes first. It is (in this case) the nonfoundational metanarrative (1995, 69) of ethics.

But here we surely have the proof otherwise. The protesters have a social science reasoning against capitalism. It is demonstrably failing. Against this the Church is now preparing for violence against them. If this does not trash Radical Orthodoxy I don't know what does.


There's a longer and freer flowing explanation in The Guardian online; interesting that Giles Fraser says in it that St Paul's and Wren doesn't do "the incarnation" in the sense that Giles Fraser can imagine Jesus born in a tent and St. Paul (himself) was a tent maker. So this implies a division in the Church, an architecturally identified one in which part of the Church isn't as "incarnate" as the rest. Meanwhile his resignation is sacrificial as there is no other job lined up (and not the Dean of Southwark as a cynical view might have - though perhaps he should apply Linkrapidly). I don't agree with his view of incarnational nor the transfer of the birth narrative, but I can see it is a view held with consistency.


So Giles Fraser has quit from St. Paul's. His view of the Church was of peace, of bias to the poor and the right to protest. The view of St. Paul's seems to be of removal, of being in with the capitalistic system and authorities that surround the building. removal is likely to show a level of violence, compulsion certainly. Thus it is a tourist and heritage site with a high price for entry. It's about 'posh' worship then. No one was fooled by the 'health and safety' reasons given for closing the church while the occupation has been taking place.

It is another example of the Church looking after its core institutional interest first and last. It's sad but this outcome was predictable. It is a black day in the history of S. Paul's. The rest is just idealism, and of a few individuals like Giles Fraser.

A few minutes after posting this, I added a rhyme on to Facebook:

As I was going by St Paul's
A protester grabbed me by the hand:
He said, "Inside, they miss the tourists they like to fleece,"
"So they are coming to grab us, using the police!"

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Dawani's Residence

It's good that the head of the Orthodox Jews and the head of English Anglicans in the south are, well, pals, after the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks went along to the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and gave a little talk about Covenants in general. It was not an endorsment for the sort of Covenant the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has wanted, but for him it added depth to the notion of having a Covenant in general terms.

So now the Chief Rabbi has helped Rowan Williams get
Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani a residency permit in East Jerusalem.

Israel stole the land from the Palestinians after the 1967 war, unrecognised by others, whereas other land taken it continues to occupy and hasn't absorbed into Israel (although they built that horrid wall in Palestinian land: a bit like a householder putting up a boundary fence into the neighbour's garden). From Jerusalem, the bishop, whose diocese dates from 1841, reaches out to the West Bank (where he was born), Gaza, Israel, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

Dawani lost his residency permit because the Israelis alleged that he helped sell Israeli land to Palestinians, and he denies it. One thinks so what if anyone did: selling land doesn't alter the State's jurisdiction does it? He says he didn't and he's going to be very sensitive to his position and location given the Israeli theft of land and occupations.

Well let's hope the fact that they have reached across to gain mutual help is one way peace can be achieved.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Context of the St. Pauls' Dilemma

I admit I have very little sympathy for St. Pauls, London, and its dilemma over the protesters outside. Anyone who wants to go into St. Pauls, other than during one of the services, has to pay a fat fee. It is increasingly the case in so many of these cathedrals.

When you go in these places there are then charges for photography, the ever present and over-priced shop, and some internal attractions demand extra entrance fees. These well staffed places tell you how much they cost to maintain themselves and this comes across as if they are without reserves and donors.

They want to be 'serving the gospel' (as they put it), meaning putting on services, but they are also part of the establishment. They don't critique capitalism anything like enough that they could, as they are part of the architecture and inheritance of feudalism and sit amongst the architecture of capitalism.

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s communism collapsed, except in China where they converted their authoritarianism into a state capitalist outfit that has, along with Western delusions, led to capitalism's imbalance and fundamental weakness all over the world.

Usually a developing nation takes on cheaper labour and the lower end technical manufacturing, and later catches up with the Western world. Japan did this, via a vertically integrated economy of corporations and lots of little workshops. It has been in a fifteen year slump. But what China has done is develop by state intervention and private dynamism (and back-hander corruption) and kept its exchange rate low; it has financed its expansion by lending to the West, and the money slushing around in the West had been expanded through its make believe gambling financial system. It all finally blew up.

As the protesters say, capitalism is crisis, because on the one hand the governments bailed out the banks and now the governments are going around bailing out one another, thinking that the banks are going to have to take some hit after all. It is a merry go round of incapability: only the Germans, it seems, have benefited from the euro because, of course, it is set lower than the mark would be if it was for Germany only. It benefits from the weaker economies, rather as the Chinese benefit from keeping its currency artificially low. Europe does not have the regional policy necessary to maintain a euro of unity, nor has Europe been prepared to allow whole areas to go into economic sluggishness while other parts do well - as has been the case in the United States. Europeans are not expected to travel to Germany to get work. Nevertheless, many governments in the euro did not keep to the rules, and in the fantasy of higher living standards than available they have themselves either gone bust or are near to going bust.

Christianity is, really, at its own decision point, though I suggest it has also undergone a similar crisis of its own. It doesn't have intellectual credibility (it explains nothing) and only a minority of people observe its rites and rituals, except on occasions - and fewer of those rites of passage are observed too. In places it has lost much ethical goodwill too, like in Ireland (child abuse) and Spain (child trafficking), though it still can from sources still generate an ethical argument.

I have never bought the idea that Christianity is a bias to the poor. Jesus of Nazareth preached reverse ethics from the assumptions of his day in his last days idealised vision, but he chose his twelve tribe leaders from among capable small business people - people who had boats, who maintained their own living, and people who were paid. They were not like sanyassins or close, not of the poor.

When Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, whole families including slaves were baptised at a time and traders became Christians as a mark of honesty and respectability - their mobility was how it carried through the Empire. Eventually its monotheism was an attraction to a centralised State. The earliest days showed a tension between being Roman and Greek and being underground. It was underground by necessity, not by choice.

And since Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and the Protestant Churches were all allied with monarchs, princes and social systems. The Reformation took hold thanks to the political support that reduced down the reach of the Holy Roman Empire and Catholic empires. It is only after the United States had a different approach and Europe's working class was generally unchurched (except for the time of churches offering welfare, education and leisure provision) that the churches started losing the middle class as well.

Paternalism was a counterforce and some parish priests considered the poor, as well as the sheer desperation of Victorian inequality (rather like in the USA today), and denominations like the Unitarians were a sort of guilt-ridden middle class Church; but it is really only in its marginalisation that Christianity has started in parts to think about minorities and economic ones in particular. Its evangelical wing remains both individualist in salvation terms and generally (but not always) right wing.

So here we are as capitalism is in deep trouble. All the West has to somehow overcome the capitalist crisis while maintaining democracy. People are saying that they will not put up with the cuts, the loss of jobs and attacks on the poor. No one will grasp the necessity, even whilst protecting the savings of individuals, that countries have to default and banks have to go bust so that a lot of it can 'start again'. There needs to be the strengthened state to regulate these commanding heights of the economy and yet still a liberal state in terms of liberty and accessible democracy. At the moment we have governments behaving like monetarists when the new crisis equilibrium has curves like the Keynesians understood (governments should be spending and employing: quantitative easing of money does bugger all). We don't know what will happen in China when it fails to retain the growth that buys off genuine reform and change but part of the 'start again' is that China won't be able to maintain its artificial imbalance.

Giles Fraser might give his quick, liberationist, support the protesters comment, but in the end the Church has been part of the feudal State, part of the establishment, in with capitalist investments and part of its theology has always been to support these. No suprise then if its cathedrals contain entrance charges, shops, added attractions and are, increasingly, part of the tourist and heritage industry. In which case there are models for them, as in Fountains Abbey and Riveaulx Abbey (etc.).

Monday 17 October 2011

When it's Going; When it's Gone

A website for non-believing clergy - still active, and who want an exit-strategy - has become public, although to be a member you would have to be screened.

It is a fact that any clergy person who has lost their beliefs and had left was, at one stage in the process, at a point of having lost their beliefs (or enough of them) and had not yet left.

Not quite behind the scenes are the well known 'New Atheists', but there is more to it than this.

There was a short study in 2010 by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola on 'Preachers Who Are Not Believers' in the journal Evolutionary Psychology Volume 8(1). 2010 and it soon gets into those not quite non-believers who are actually happy with their condition and ministry. When discussing recruiting candidates, there were:

two others cited concerns about the term “non-believing.” Though neither of them believed in a supernatural god, both strongly self-identified as believers.

But what do they mean by this? Are they perhaps deceiving themselves? There is no way of answering, and this is no accident. The ambiguity about who is a believer and who a nonbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all. This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked.

This is not just agnosticism, the belief that one does not (or cannot) know whether God exists, but something prior: the belief that one cannot even know which question – if any – is being asked. Many people are utterly comfortable with this curious ignorance; it just doesn’t matter to them what the formulas mean that their churches encourage them to recite. Some churches are equally tolerant of the indeterminacy: as long as you “have faith” or are “one with Jesus” (whatever you think that means) your metaphysical convictions are your own business. But pastors can’t afford that luxury. Their role in life often requires them to articulate, from the pulpit and elsewhere, assertions about these very issues.

Pastors do afford this luxury, however; and that's the point. They can become very sophisticated at doing so, and I can think of these strategies for so doing.

  • Biblical matters become history, only located in the past.
  • Church tradition is revered but not projected into the present: liturgy is a museum of forms with an emphasis on art, music, theatre and ancient language.
  • Detail of the biblical narrative examined as narrative.
  • Focus on "questions" over any answers.
  • Use of "stories" as a framework to matters others treat as revelation.
  • Reinterpretation words like 'ultimate goodness' (but not if they give the game away).
  • Avoidance of straightforward terms where simple explanation would give the game away.
  • Formal terminology used but then little in support.
  • Phraseology used asserting what one is supposed to do.

As for types of preacher and pastor who lose their beliefs: no one is immune. I suggest that the people who lose their beliefs fastest are the charismatics and evangelicals. The charismatics are full of praise, and then one day wonder what it is all about. It's like the gas has gone off bang. The evangelicals have the demand for strong beliefs that one day they cannot meet. Jonathan Edwards (no not him; the runner) lost his beliefs virtually overnight. It is the people who are or have managed themselves into forms of liberalism that go more slowly. They have, after all, managed this transition so far and have acquired strategies of presentation. Some do it in theology college. They create a space for their own losses. Eventually, though, a crunch point comes.

Again this is an institutional matter. In a community like the Unitarians, you can formally believe as you wish. If you are uncomfortable with the expressions of religion around you, then you might well leave - but then as a pastor you create the expressions and the question then is whether you meet the needs of some in the congregation that want more. Your creativity with words is thus pastoral and you should be able to be clear about your own interpretation. If that can't satisfy the congregants, then there is a problem. You should say to them, then, please use the words as you feel they mean, and they should not be demanding your agreement with their interpretation. It is not a community of one intended belief. Of course if that congregation as a whole is pretty much inclined towards a stronger interpretation, then the pastor ought to find a different pulpit. To be lying then is just dishonesty.

Which of course is the point. There is always the issue of honesty and dishonesty when a preacher in office uses strategies to avoid. Again, there can be pastoral reasons to stretch a point, but this cannot be permanent.

A religious humanist who puts out a 'sounds like' Christian message and who only presents this message is being dishonest. The preacher really would have to believe that this radical shift is Christianity today so as not to live in too much tension, but then when will they be clear about this to others who see it as the loss of the essentials?

The website referred to, however, is mainly concerned with people in a job as ministers, who face consequences from community, family and income should they declare their actual loss of belief and purpose. They know they have to go, it's just that it needs arranging.

There are, of course, those pastors who travel so lightly that they never really know when the zero point has come, or that it arrived and they are so dyed in the wool that they just keep going and keep going. They probably get to employing no strategies any more and just plod along as it is what they should do and do do and no one is any the wiser, including, eventually, the people who do it.

Boundaries of Belief

The issue arises about where are the boundaries of particularly Christian and post-Christian groups.

The issue arose certainly in my time in the Church of England. I remember a priest who said you can be unitarian in the Church of England but not a non-realist (effectively a denial of the reality of God). Of course there were people including ordained who had come to a non-realist position.

So the issue is not what you become, and how you might wriggle with the intepretations, but when it comes to seeking training or a new post, or indeed going for confirmation.

I suppose you can just about be unitarian in the Church of England if you are strong on God and on Jesus as a human exemplar, but why not then have Jesus as a human exemplar of what God would be like? After all, God may not be the all-loving being but simply acts as God will (the sort of unlimited Islamic model) for which your protection is either belief or exemplary behaviour.

I've always settled on the view that you should somehow be able to affirm resurrection, incarnation and God in the material. You don't need to affirm bodily resurrection, because the texts are ambiguous, but you ought to be able to say that the texts are on to something happening. I came to the view that the texts demonstrated something that was not happening, other than in the views of the early Churches based on the original Jewish expectation and the Pauline twist.

Old Catholicism as created in small groups in Britain is probably similar but with plenty of add-ons (e.g. home-grown Pagan) and stretched edges, a sort of liturgy with relaxation about interpretation. Liberal Catholicism, with its early history of diving into Theosophy and Krishnamurti, and its consideration of magic along with the supernatural, can be a combination of the liturgical orthodox and all manner of reinterpretations and additions. Some of the 'higher' manifestations of Liberal Catholicism seem to go back into the wider reaches of the first hundreds of years of Christianity and even incorporating the spiritual and Gnostic.

In the Unitarians as such there aren't any boundaries, supposedly, but actually there are in some chapels (by practice, expectation, whom they hire), and in any case you are going to have to be comfortable by the use of theistic language, however it is intepreted. It has to mean something at least, otherwise it will get very tedious. It is relatively easy for it not to be supernatural, and to have a human-level focus, but the language is bounded about a lot. It is quite clear that prophetic religious figures are all human and subject to the same limitations and mistakes as the rest of us (this being so obvious it hardly needs saying), though some older interpretations minimise the limitations and emphasise the prophetic achievement.

There are many groups where it is very easy to join in and very demanding to become a member. The charismatic types are like this: culturally familiar but signing on the dotted line demands quite a hurdle to jump and keep jumping (beliefs and expectations). I remember how apparently progressive and welcoming the Baha'i's were but then you discover that the main figures are regarded, in the texts too, as infallible and then you discover the limits of the inclusivity (try and be gay in the full sense, for example, or be a woman and have a place in the Universal House of Justice) and you discover things like the Baha'is affirming something like evolution but not the full science of evolution and indeed the method of science - because of what the prophetic figures at the time didn't understand and yet they are given the privileged treatment of infallibility.

It is amazing how, though, people become inculturated to the group and adopt its views. Things that they did not believe as individuals they take on once committed to the group. Nevertheless, people do go through groups; they do even come out of the most demanding of cults. In strongly believing groups, people entertain private doubts very privately, and then discuss with a few trusted people (often to find they are not to be trusted) and then at some point there is marginalisation and isolation, until the group magnet has faded and they leave.

The necessity to leave (moving house, changing jobs) is often a means by which people drop former beliefs that they were once so willing to express. Churches know this, which is why they are keen to get people hitched up to the right kind of church in the new location. Churches may seek out the people who have moved from another area into theirs, as information is passed along.

I think that for some Unitarians there is a fading away. They attend less often, and then even less often. They are missed by the congregation, but given space people fade away and eventually they've simply broken the connection. This also happens in the more anonymous Christian places of worship.

I sometimes think that we are observing a period of fundamental transition from the inside, that really there is a death of the churches taking place. We can stress their positive benefits for personal support and reflection, and community building, but other than for these large and entertaining media type churches the sub-culture of church life is being lost.

It is actually quite difficult to enter a 'mainstream' church and understand what is going on and why. The eucharistic ritual and its language will be strange to many - it is an acquired taste (wherever performed). I still think Unitarians are trapped into a model that is part of a past late Victorian sub-culture, yet I am less able to say how to break free. After all, meditation groups and the newer Eastern groups are themselves small in numbers. I'm quite convinced that many of the collective beliefs are reproduced by individuals in expression, but in all practical terms they don't operate (in ordinary life, as ordinary explanations for things).

The process of secularisation (which is a complex analysis) is one which shifts those Church boundaries. To keep people in, you have to be more liberal and perhaps members become more culturally attached; to attract people in you have to be part of the easily understood contemporary culture and that means distinctiveness comes in other ways, particularly in jumping through the hoops of belief.

Perhaps the thinking ought to go in different ways entirely: for example, the most likely to come to attend a more standard church are the early retired. What sort of fellowship or ministry does that group require that would be reflective for their lives and time ahead? It is not then about beliefs at all, even if these are so often operating as boundary markers.

So the institutional boundaries of belief are shifting, but in the end churches may have to stop and settle at what they have got, and are forced into being more sectarian in that sense. All groups are destined to be small, and even the big ones are only big in terms of the percentage of the actively religious.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

The Cultural-Linguistic

It's funny how one goes back to some books, even those disagreed with. Some clear books can be summarised in a few sentences. One such is the second, but most noticed, standard book on postliberal religion and theology, that of the Yale School, and it is George A. Lindbeck's (1984) The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and theology in a Postliberal Age (London: SPCK). It explains the basis of much that passes for conservative postmodern theology these days.

It gives three bases for doing theology. One is propositional, that is foundational, which is that knowledge is secured in Truth. Much theology has claimed that. Another is experiential-expressive, that is theology which in liberal terms has truth in terms of translation into personal experience. The theology the book proposes is non-foundational so called cultural-linguistic. In Christian terms it is an ecumenical average (my word) that acts as a standard of role performance. The language is that of inherited doctrine and group identity by performing that.

The book is odd because it doesn't think its own manifesto will come about. As the propositional basis of Christianity slips away - because of the secular narratives that dominate intellectual and common practical thought - the book suggests that the experiential-expressive will retain the upper hand. It says, for example:

How, as modern Christians put it, does one preach the gospel in a dechristianized world? Those for whom this problem is theologically primary regularly become liberal foundationalists. The first task of the theologian, they argue, is to identify the modern questions that must be addressed, and then to translate the gospel answers into a currently understandable conceptuality. If this is not done, the message will fall on deaf ears inside as well as outside the church; and unless postliberal theology has some way of meeting this need, it will be judged faithless and inapplicable as well as unintelligible by the religious community.

The postliberal method of dealing with this problem is bound to be unpopular among those chiefly concerned to maintain or increase the stock or membership and influence of the church... (page 132)

The point is to maintain the teaching, the ecumenical catechism. This author dislikes the liberal route, because the symbols of Christianity can go on to mean anything of experience, whereas the propositional route no longer holds.

But why then call it cultural-linguistic? What is cultural about it - other than to freeze something of a past culture? If it is revelation, then it is foundational at least in revelation. This is what the Radical Orthodox do: they push their own postmodern bubble into a premodern Christendom.

The analysis of this book goes on:

Western culture is now at an intermediate stage, however, where socialization is ineefective, catechesis impossible, and translation a tempting alternative. The biblical heritage continues to be powerfully present in latent and detextualized forms that immunize against catechesis but invite redescription. There is often enough Christian substance to make redescriptions meaningful. (page 133)

So, presumably, the author is waiting for a time when there is no cultural Christian residue in order that the frozen beliefs can be left frozen or as nothing. The present situation even prevents teaching clear Christian beliefs to the children of churchgoers, so powerful is the culture and the residue left. The process goes on, so:

When or if dechristianization reduces Christians to a small minority, they will need for the sake of survival to form communities that strive without traditionalist rigidity to cultivate their native tongue and learn to act accordingly. Until that happens, however, catachetical methods of communicating the faith are likely to be unemployable to mainstream Christians. The by no means illegitimate desire of the churches to maintain membership and of theologians to make the faith credible, not least to themselves, will continue to favor experiential-expressive translations to contemporary idioms. (pages 133-134)

I find this utterly bizarre. The faith is clapped out in its own communicative terms, so it is better to shrink and freeze it to the point where a few act it out in remaining communites. But he already realises it is hardly going to be the future.

However, I notice this policy in the most experiential-expressive groups of all - as it shrinks - the British Unitarians. It is the argument that, OK whilst the theology may have gone from our lips the appearance of being a church should be maintained. This involves addressing God, keeping saying the Lord's Prayer, having a church service structure, maintaining traditional hymns among the mix, and even when new putting such hymns in the old presentation and then there is the maintenance of some distinctive church like architecture or arrangements. We continue to have Christmas services and even Easter, in some cases even Pentecost (instead of saying, hang on, we've moved to a different breeze). I'm afraid I squirm somewhat when I get to Unitarian Christmas services: they are all tinsel and no content, because after all we do not believe in the very point of their existence. Translation into 'universal babies' etc. is just more of the same gush. You can so translate it out, but it is very inefficient. And this is often without the presence of children, which is another excuse for the nonsense in the content.

The problem here is that the younger adult who would avoid church but might attend a meditation group with a talk will see exactly what is to be avoided despite the difference in actual content and meaning. My point is that the reason the content is gone, that the theology has died (we are no longer translating - it died), is because we have moved on to seek out and reflect upon more salient ideas of Western spirituality. We should have the guts of our Puritan forebears, for example, who would avoid all mention of Christmas even on Christmas Day.

Incidentally this is from someone who is picked to take the Easter service each year, presumably because I can tackle it and make it consistent with a Unitarian view. But the point comes when the argument is done and we ought to move on. Yes I can examine the Bible and say why not a resurrection but can we perhaps do a Pagan spring instead (and many do). I wish we would do this with Christmas - just make it Yuletide and be done with it.

But to return to the book in general. One notes the current decline of the Methodists and United Reformed Church, and one wonders why the argument should not be extended to their particulars. Why not end up with rump communities that witness to the reasons Methodism broke from the Church of England or that the URC maintains two orders of ministry rather than three? Presumably you would not because the arguments are clapped out - but they can just as much be 'rules of performance' as any other. So if the Trinity is an argument that few can maintain - it becomes some sort of idealised socialisation within the Godhead - well then let that drop too. But then that would be a core belief, so defined in one of those ecumenical councils. I noticed its modalist (heretical if core: creator, redeemer, sanctifier) use last Sunday. Unitarians used all that language in the past, because they knew it wasn't enough to be the doctrine of the Trinity. My point here is that its defence now is so weak it would satisfy many a Victorian Unitarian who used God the creator, Christ and redemption, and the Holy Spirit for sanctification when those words had meaning. But we tend not to use them now, because they are vacated.

The point about cultural-linguistic is that language and culture changes. We have dialects that become new languages, and languages that import so that people start to hear across languages. Old secure languages die, and languages carry concepts that change. You cannot freeze to something arbitrarily fixed at some three to four hundred years after Jesus of Nazareth and then throw in a bit of Reformation clean-up (including, for Unitarians, the left wing of the Reformation). You have to be in dialogue with the present. And the present narratives of science and social science are very powerful because they use research and because they work. People see that technology works and explains. So religion ought to be about this - a reflection on our world as is, and world as could be as we argue out the ethics of what is and could be. You cannot privilege the arguably clapped out in terms of explaining anything.

Sunday 9 October 2011

Labels Best Avoided

I'll admit something. I've put myself on a dating website for a few weeks past. I won't reveal where. So far I've gained some correspondence. What is interesting about this to this blog is the categories people use in identifying themselves.

It is interesting to see how people relate themselves to race. Race is a construction that is rather narrow, and as DNA evidence of mixing shows, often unsustainbable. So many application forms involve the same myth of clear cut categories. It contributes to recent discussion: that here to get some regularity of measurement dividing lines are established to get one category set against another, but here there is a research argument for undermining (re-researching) the whole business of race. Ethnicity will go further, because it is based on appearance, language, location, group and community identity. The categories are still crude, however, and upset by economic and social class (power and status) and also by patriarchy.

The dating website is also interesting regarding the category of religion. I would say that the most numeric category is No Religion, and then there is quite a bunching who put Spiritual/ New Age. Some of those give that content, but many say no more. There are a variety of Christian categories, and the most populous are Christian/ Catholic and Christian/ Other. It takes something, I think, to go for Christian/ Protestant. My own is a simple Other.

There is no doubt that carrying and expressing a religious preference is a burden. It might suggest someone who attempts to self-organise in an ethical manner, but it also suggests someone who believes in mumbo-jumbo and has joined a group that the potential partner might want to avoid. These days people don't like joining groups, especially ones that demand commitments of the mind as well as time and money.

I am reminded of a new Unitarian minister who has spoken and written of the privilege felt in sharing people's life stories in the context of a congregation. The ministry is justified in pastoral terms with an emphasis on what people say and share. Certainly I have had moments myself in which my stressful situations have been shared (when in an Anglican setting, as it happens). But whilst there are ministers who have this privilege, many ordinary folk simply get on with the stress and do not wish to find such a group or person or share with them the life story so far. They rely on networks of friends, if they have them, or families (if the families have not betrayed them), or perhaps prefer to tackle problems alone. Rites of passage involve a time of wider contact, but it is noticed how many more of these are either avoided or placed elsewhere.

I don't deny the importance of the pastoral contact in a community of for those who seek it. My difficulty with it is where, beyond the meaning-making and the reflection thereof, it becomes the primary purpose of the encounter or even the religious group. The pastoral surely involves a connecting of the collective story and the personal one, even if on a largely unstated or subtle level. This is also, I suggest, an adult pursuit: I'm not convinced on arguments that 'children are the future' simply in terms of activities provided and certainly not in terms of indoctrinating. Children grow up and leave, even if they carry off some sort of deposit of some orientation; this is more about adult meaning and adult problems, hopes and wishes.

The religious groups have every right to seek out those who want to make meaning in a religious and spiritual manner. The pastoral follows on from that, and then if asked for. There is a right to set out the shop window and have the door open. There should be opportunities to browse and perhaps have a drink, but also to walk out again (breakages to be paid for?). Nevertheless, today, many will simply walk by and it is a label to avoid. Despite the surveys that always over emphasise the religious return (because people will give researchers what they think the researchers want), in reality they increasingly stay away and it is a tough world for the organised religious and increasingly a problematic label itself.

Friday 7 October 2011

Postmodern Limits

Sometimes I think I have always held the same religious views, that is agnosticism. Other times, I think I keep changing. My current change seems to be a movement away from postmodernism. Then I wonder if I ever was a card-carrying postmodernist: always a soft one, never thoroughgoing.

Where I am most postmodern is at the level of critique, to use the full resources of the ambiguity of language to undermine constructions of certainty. Yet, at the same time, I see a danger of language fundamentalism, piling all forms of reality into the workings of language. Data comes through language and symbol systems, and these must be the subject of rigorous enquiry themselves, but data does, I suggest, come through and not just from.

Watching two programmes on BBC 4 on Thursday gives the place and limits of the postmodern. The Horizon programme on dark energy, dark matter and now dark flow, shows a construction of astro-physics that is getting ever tighter in its own knots of thought. Galaxies will only rotate as they do with dark matter, but also it seems that as space increases, dark energy increases and pushes the constituent parts apart ever faster (though, The Sky at Night reminded us that Andromeda out there will clash with our own galaxy in billions of years time, even if the spaces within both will make it less of a crash than descendents might fear). Then we find the cosmic background behaves as it does if there are other universes, and so there is a different flow than if we were sealed in. So all this shows the standard model, though robust from attack, is just that - a model. It has lots of tested parts, lots of mathematics that work, but it looks a bit like Ptolemy and his earth centred solar system.

We can do a lot of postmodern application to the standard model about mythic construction and the like: a lot but not wholly so.

Then we come to yet another history of science programme, where accidents and eureka moments in the mind add to actual rational processes to produce progress. This is all about the history of electricity: what it is, that it is universal, and how in contemporary physics it is the electrons of one atom moving to another so creating a flow - especially with some nice acid wetted combinations of metals. It took the accountancy insight of Benjamin Franklin to initiate the idea of positive and negative and thus apply this across. There is a metaphor stage, to be refined by application.

Ok: Professor Jim Al-Khalili's story is neat, but these are discoveries. They are not altered by different forms of story telling. Their place and significance can be inside schemes of understanding, and these paradigms shift because of the data being rather nasty to the present, perhaps a weight of falsifications tip over an explanatory scheme.

We walk on these high wires of understanding, knowing that so much is explained, but so much is begging, and suddenly another wire will cross over and take more in.

In social science data within cultures also has the power to refute. It is more complex, charting patterns of human behaviour and institutional causes and effects, but there are similar experiments of regularity and then deep textual and symbolic investigations of meaning at a more intimate level.

Another limit that exists on postmodernism is that of pain. Never mind about pleasure: that is a difficult one. If you punch a wall, it hurts, and if a big weight hits you it hurts too. One can write stories and narratives about the meaning of all this, but pain hurts and people who suffer disorders after traumas are not simply writing their own life stories in the negative for which a different story or the right amount of therapy will free them.

Where I have least sympathy with postmodernism is the notion that it gives 'space' for any old cultural construction to have the same legitimacy as any other. First of all, it is pluralism that gives space for difference, and that might just be a clash of competing objective values. Liberalism gives space for competition. But beyond that we might develop a more fluid basis of stories in space, which lack objective anchor.

Seeing as I quoted it in my recent booklist for my ministry application, I'm having another look at Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Mapping a Post-secular Theology (2004) by the Lutheran James K. A. Smith, thus extending radical orthodoxy beyond its Anglo-Catholic home. Yes it is related to the Yale School postliberals, Duke, and Peter Ochs at Virginia (page 41). It sets Jerusalem against Athens and dismisses the neutrality of the secular (42).

The neutrality of the secular is a red herring. It is not about that but about research and about data. It is about getting results back that you don't like. My evangelical friend Rachel on her blog mentions her doing (with international visitors) some indaba (as now redefined) about contemporary society:

We have been discussing witness in a pluralist, postmodern context.

This means she has her collective package as a whole and wants to input it into a world of different views and stances. My point would be that a pluralistic world in all its stories is affected by the data we have received, data leaking into all these stories we hold.

Just as discoveries rewrite science, so they ought to rewrite religion. The idea that religion just carries on pumping out its sealed revelation or Church based myth into the world - taking advantage of doubt and construction - is just a form of sticking your head in the sand and, at worst, arrogance.

And just before this, just below, the same blog has those piles of myth about an apparent saviour's birth as if it is history. It is, as ever, treated as factual, though presumably a story based approach to 'reality' is dealing in stories. Of course, they will say yes, a story, if we accept all stories are equal.

But that is precisely the point. Yes your story is equal to other unsubstantiated stories, but there is a world not of intellectual constructions not that grants one neutrality as such but about where there are rules to acquire data carefully. One discipline that does this is history. We are all well aware that there are different houses of history, and whilst there is no need to call history a science as by the most extreme empiricist, most of them do put great stress on careful reading and interpretation of primary sources. The birth narratives of Jesus simply do not pass any historical test. They are just story telling. There's a good case to dismiss all those narratives separated or combined and simply think he was born, unnoticed, of two parents somewhere around Nazareth or Capernaum and he got caught up in his world of contemporary religion rather than just build many things like his dad did (assuming a great deal here). This account too lacks historical near-certainty, but I'm not going to base the meaning of the transcendent on it. Far from it: for me the transcendent would come from science and nature, from the arts, from values and ethics. It doesn't come from a supernaturalist story of specifics.

It is no good saying, "Ah but you need to have faith." Having faith doesn't make things come true; having faith in your head or mine does not overturn the limitations of the historical method. Having faith is no alternative to science when it comes to the need for two parents to give some new pairs of chromosomes or the rapid destruction of the brain after death.

Of course you can be super-sophisticated and discuss the stories in terms of the little meanings and values they reveal, for example the value of being born in poverty and thus the divine cares about poverty if we label the baby as divine. But it is all very round-about and the long way around - and one suspects the ethics come first as to what part of the stories we care to highlight. Some draw power from these stories through world-view belief, but - rather like inventing the nuclear bomb and not being able to uninvent it - once you know these are stories the branch has been sawn off already. You can still sit on it, but you are also sitting on the ground.

Of course some might be happy to negotiate the story in a liberal direction before then trying to apply it to other fields of activity. But that is not what the strong Radical Orthodox and biblical equivalents do. They just construct their own castles in the sky instead. But what fragments are left and to do what, and why then subscribe to the whole in a formal sense?

And, in any case, surely it is much more rewarding to build religious insight not on 'delivering' some fixed package at the rest of us, as if we are missing something, than to try and build religion from the wonder and awe of science and human culture at its ethical and creative best.

This is when the current stories of creation are so fantastic and visionary: opening themselves to big graphics and notions of wonder, on top of which we can plaster science fiction that motivates the doing of the science. So it's a wonderful story of bang and inflation, of spinning and acceleration, of vast distances, of the unseen and multiverse, of the bizarre tiny, and the paradoxes that light is always doing the same speed whatever speed we might be doing, even if by doing a lot of speed we get comparatively younger than others who remain stationary and yet who see light doing the same speed. Oh yes, and what of those neutrinos? That's data for you - either it is an error of the equipment, or it matters to the big story that has anchorage in reality.

Sunday 2 October 2011

Twenty One Years

I have a lot of sympathy for MadPriest and his ongoing agonies. He wants to be accepted by his Church, and by Church he means the one that is possessed by the nation. It is a hierarchical Church, and the hierarchs keep saying no, or suggest anonymity.

My suggestions previously are to go independent, rather in the way the folks do who join The Open Episcopal Church. I also suggest a pause: do no religion. Suggestions that are relevant include change denomination (even temporarily).

Back in 1989 I'd finished a Sociology of Religion Ph.D and had well settled on the Unitarian line. I first said no at to them interviews in 1988 but then said yes a year later in 1989. I went to the General Assembly (again) and met my future Principal in Lincoln. It was all go, and then Manchester was a shock. Chapels were quite conservative and I made a few mistakes, but the locals on committee didn't see me fitting in. When my Buddhist orientated Principal took a service in Manchester in pure liberal Christian form, when I had not (thinking it was a student only service), I realised that all the stuff about freedom of belief and no test of belief was somewhat far from the truth. The most telling report on a short (not quite) placement visit was that I was competent and all that but where would I exercise a ministry?

After dismissal I finished off a few preaching engagements where I said what I really thought, and then that was it. Religion and me was finished.

Yet at the time I said this would take ten years to sort out now, and I thought career wise about education. I flopped trying to be a Business Studies teacher, but I did all sorts in the education arena. I finally got a PGCE through Religious Studies, though I cannot be an RE teacher given the behaviour of pupils that I cannot control.

One and a half years later after UCM dismissal I went to the local C of E and took a back seat, except I was asked to take a men's service and they didn't know what had happened (it was very multifaith). The priest used that event to shift himself to a more religious humanist position in his own pulpit expressions. A look in at the Unitarian Upper Chapel didn't last long. Also I attended the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order and even wriggled into Western Buddhist Order situations. I liked them. So I was not even considering the Unitarians at this time.

Then I moved to New Holland (still with my mother) where we both went to Lincoln and Hull Unitarian churches, gradually focusing on Hull, where I realised some regarded me as the bad boy of the church and so I did not take up membership. That was useful as it got into some disputes: they could not be pinned on me. At the time I did a Theology MA and formulated a very religious humanist position. Eventually I left over how a minister was dismissed (see, distant echoes of my own past).

I made a real effort to be C of E in a friendly parish from 2004. I tried to be a postmodern liberal gentle Anglo-Catholic. I was even considering ministry when there. But it never even went to a first stage. I was asked about the "promises" I would have to make, and that one hurdle ended even talking about it. When a curate later made her promises, I stopped taking communion and so went straight down the candle. I had been on the slow decline before this; Don Cupitt had given up too; and I headed a theology group where I could see none of the arguments adding up.

I did have some links developing into Liberal Catholicism, the tradition, but in the final analyis it has never appealed. I think the essential is the congregation, and I wasn't sure I wanted to represent a more magical Catholic tradition with such notions as apostolic succession. Rather I have always preferred a market place of ideas and discussion among equals of different views gathered together.

While I was out of the Unitarians they had another minister, shrank, regathered and I joined afterwards. The situation has been theologically stable for me for quite some time (really, it has been pretty much the same since the Derbyshire C of E and Buddhists, the MA adding to my theological resources). Getting involved and being needed, to do the music, I have more or less stumbled into applying for ministry.

I mentioned it vaguely on the Hucklow Publicity Weekend. There was the Ministry Inquiry Day when I arranged just to look and go with Mhoira Lauer-Patterson. She pulled out and I went. I only told congregation people after I had been. I was unimpressed with Contextual Theology at UCM (not a Unitarian context, not my context) but HMC (in Oxford) seemed straightforward. It didn't seem practical or likely, however, until I rang up about it and it seemed right to fill in the form. If you don't fill in the form, nothing proceeds.

So it has taken not ten but twenty one years to come to this point of restoration. The form is not me in 1989. Now it has a less intense non-realism but has an MA Contemporary Theology and PGCE RE to add to the mix. So what they've got is something very academic, and this is screamingly obvious.

The movement is 2000 people fewer than 20 years back, and I think the churches have pluralised somewhat as some of the old guard have died. These churches have recruited (they would have collapsed otherwise - Hull people for example are mainly after me, even if I remain the youngest) but they haven't recruited as much as needed. Nevertheless, the question is the same: is there a place for someone like me?

If the answer is no, then it is sort of understood. If the answer is yes, it is because there will be a use for me. It is for the Church to decide, and it is on the level. Let's be clear: I would be in need of pastoral and some managerial training. There is no doubt about it. But what has gone forward, again, is someone who thinks and can leave people wondering what on earth I am on about.

There was a time when Unitarianism was a movement that had intellectual ministers, and they could preach remotely and yet have social and commun
ity status. There was a connection into a town's social and cultural life. This is not how it is now, because the ethnography is bottom up and so much theology has died. The issue is whether there is a role for someone to assist in the collegiate understanding of this approach to religion, one that rises above history, or whether now ministry is almost wholly pastoral and hardly about ideas at all. This bothers me if so; and the Unitarian Church is still a gathered Church. But sermons, after all, have become shorter and shorter, and many are historical and values based.

So my thoughts towards MadPriest are to take time out, to rest, to move away, to do something different, and see how things change before some sort of restoration can become practical. It has taken me 21 years, and the answer no makes as much sense as the answer yes this time.

Received Legal Action Threat

Today I was sat at the music area with the music going towards the beginning of the service. Bishop Mhoira Lauer-Patterson of the Liberal Catholic and Apostolic Church came in to give me a CD for her service next week and told me she had "been instructed" to give me a letter. She was busy and had to go, so didn't stay to hear Chris Pilkington all about the association of the founders of the Co-op and the Unitarians in Rochdale and the shared principles to this day.

The letter to says it was delivered by hand and uses the Church notepaper for her diocese of Northumbria and Rheged.

Headed 'WITHOUT PREJUDICE' in light blue, it then in black ink states that "Taking instruction" from her "Internet lawyer", I am to be aware that on my blog I was "acting independently of the Hull Park Street congregation" and engaged in "illegal acts" on the blog by placing parts of an email from Rt. Rev. Dr. Mhoira Lauer-Patterson in the public domain without permission. I have 48 hours to give a public and personal apology.

Also I am to remove all inflamatory and defamatory articles including her name from this blog within 48 hours.

"Appearing to have blackened the name of Mhoira lauer-Patterson and her character", I have committed the "unpardonable offence" of defamation. "This is an illegal act" and if I persist and do not remove the material, "then legal action will be taken against him."

I am advised that "publishing offensive and defamatory material on the Internet is illegal", that "cannot be described as journalistic licence" as such is "contrary to the code of ethics of journalists".

So she gives notice of the above and "reserves the right to take legal action" should I not comply with her wishes.

Well, oh dear, I spent from the end of 2009 to the start of 2011 going backwards and forwards to my solicitor, and he would not have written a letter like that not at any point "instructed" me to write something similar.

First of all, lawyers do not instruct, either to construct a letter or to hand deliver. Lawyers take instructions from clients. Secondly, letters written in pseudo-legalese are not very convincing, as this one is not convincing.

Just to be kind I'll rewrite the blog entry to remove chunks of the email. But the email chunks were for accuracy. It was an email written in direct language against me - "How dare you..." etc. and accusatory against the General Assembly, wholly based on a blog entry and full of misinformation itself. I might have just binned it, but I am not collaborating in its message. The issues were public ones and were in public.

No I am not apologising or removing anything else.

Now I am, however, bound to quote from another email, and this one matters. This is the necessary section, starting with its title:

Don't take things too seriously Adrian...

From Very Rev Dr Mhoira Lauer-Patterson

Date 2011-09-26, 16:35:17

To Worsfold, Adrian

Dear Adrian: Look, I hate to say this, but you are taking things far too seriously. My points were to ponder over, NOT any criticism of you. I am not accusing you of anything, least of all lacking in research as you always do a far more detailed analysis than I would do. Yes maybe we have gotten off on the wrong foot, so let's start over huh? On the matter of 'privacy' I felt I didn't need to add 'for private info only' as I took it that as a gentleman, you would respect the views of any woman. The problem is that we women talk openly to each other and then we forget it all and start again. I know that men do things differently and don't open up as much, but hey, lets get over it and carry on. Right? Anyway, I attach for your perusal my service sheet for the Harvest Festival on 9 October.

I'm afraid this email completely undermines the letter. As I said, lawyers take instructions from clients. The letter is trying it on for effect.

The letter appears to be of something it is not. It is not close enough to the advice of a solicitor: no solicitor would have even have mentioned a Unitarian congregation or body that was not involved, said I "appeared" to do something (you either do or you don't), written "unpardonable offence"and "illegal acts", or stated that if I didn't comply legal action would be taken and later on only might be taken, nor added the drivel about journalistic licence and ethics, and the solicitor would have given the date of the specific offending blog entry.

It seems that I am not a gentleman and do not respect the views of a woman, but, hey, let's get over it and carry on shall we, or stop playing silly games for appearances. As a gentleman I have removed the chunks of email text in the said blog entry of 24 September 2011. Or perhaps the good bishop wants to spend some money and get a lawyer.

Saturday 1 October 2011

What I am also Telling the Ministry Committee

The application needs a statement of religious position, within a thousand words. I wrote this (936):

Statement of Religious Position

I retain the position, as explained in my 1998 MA Dissertation and talk to the Hull and District Theological Society, that I promote the 'gospel of plurality in proximity': that is the witness of difference coming together and not seeking particularly an ideological or faith-position consensus. This is a social gospel because society is highly diverse and yet diversity can be shown to come together and share.

The idea behind this is communicative reasoning in an arena of ideas, but not that of Jurgen Habermas as if to achieve an instrumentally unaffected point of reason. Although I am not a thoroughgoing open-postmodernist, I am so in religion in that I regard it as being like one of the arts. No one can say, in the arts, what is most true or the best. There are crafts and skills, qualities and satisfactions, but there is either a clash of truths (Isaiah Berlin) or a relativity of shaping and in the end it comes down to the latter.

I am not a thoroughgoing open-postmodernist like Don Cupitt (though his Jesus and Philosophy was a later realist wobble due to his Jesus Seminar attachment), who says he follows the dominant narratives provided by science and social science simply because they are the large scale successful narratives. Rather, one can carry out deductive experiments in sciences and social sciences and receive answers one would not like. This anchors them and offers some small scale realism and even objectivity. Larger explanatory paradigms will shift but the investigated details matter. Religion cannot do this: it can only borrow some techniques when it moves into history (e.g. the historicities or houses of history) and defy this when generating in pseudo-science.

In taking a theology discussion group in an Anglican church, I came to the view that at no point did liberal Christianity actually work, in terms of securing Christ at a centre, although I had slightly altered my religious position to that at the borderline between non-realism and real absence, and I was able to use the language of transcendence more easily. This has been carried forward in a more relaxed manner in a Unitarian setting. I'm well versed in the language of Christianity and can use it, but I don't believe in any of its core claims and also think it gives us no information.

I did have an anthropological view of religious ritual that was dangerously structuralist. I still think there is mileage in the notion that we come together in material cost and hope to gain spiritual benefit via the practice of some ritual, often strange and indirect, for which a product is a binding together communally and an intention to go out and serve the world. The problem is that this 'universal' can be deconstructed, in the actual particular, as to what people think they are doing and do: in other words, nothing beats a bit of qualitative ethnography to undermine apparent structural universals.

Rather than providing information or indeed locating universal gift-exchange (but nothing prevents these: they are just unreliable when based on myth systems), religion is about praxis, about using resources and effects towards a spiritual goal - a discipline found in worship that I understand as reflection and contemplation. Like art, it is about being appreciative and worthwhile. I have moved slightly towards the position of John Hick, but retain the notion that each of us has dialects of languages that means translating across different understandings is problematic. When pushed, I revert to signals of transcendence and not a Real and these are contained within out understandings.

I have no time for conservative forms of postmodern religion because in their postmodern bubbles their premodern claims contradict the research that social scientists (and scientists) do. Even less strident postliberal positions (like Lindbeck; Liechty is an open postliberal) that claim to be cultural-linguistic only freeze culture to some past idealised point. It denies wider cultural anchoring (indeed it denies the objectivity of this world, as it is in a line from Karl Barth). I see hints of this even when some Unitarians say that our chapels should be recognisably Christian in what they do even if not in what they believe. Religion, even as art, must relate to the common narratives ordinary people use, which are increasingly this worldly and practical, driven by a sociology of knowledge that derives from technology doing things.

If Karl Barth leads to one kind of postmodernism, then James Martineau leads to the other. He argued for the subjective centre of religious authority, yet retained a more conserving collective language of liturgy. I have my own interest in liturgy (not complete in the book lists above). These two, collective objective and individual subjective when pressed against each other collapse into a kind of postmodernism of faith, and do so as chapels continue to give pulpit led reasoned services. The collective forms clash with individual sentiment, and force the language into being more poetic and less precise, and signs that are increasingly of their own pointing. The upshot is the positive impact of what these words and artistic forms of support do to one's own spiritual road. In a situation evolving liturgy, the upshot is one towards where lex orandi lex est credendi (the Alexander Schemann position) and yet must be incomplete for individuals and therefore only a rough guide to collective identity. I remain arguing for more artistic support of all kinds, and less of the long Puritan shadow. There is a shift more towards a Buddhist style praxis and individualism, through the practice of worship.

Adrian Worsfold 1 October 2011