Tuesday 29 November 2011

Explaining Neo-Orthodoxy and Its Non-Realism

I am asked by Peter Carrell in a comment (older post comments need my approval - it stops personalities attacking one another beyond my notice)

I would be interested in hearing more from you on this [Neo-Orthodoxy]. Why does it lead to non-realism? Why would trinitarians of old dismiss it as heterodox? Would you care to name who are the neo-orthodox in the Anglican theological world today?

It leads to non-realism because of a dismissal of culture and worldy reality as sources of objective truth. All neo-othodoxies, whether Catholic or Protestant, are Platonist - idealism is based in the pure in the heavens. Karl Barth has nature corrupted to an absolute degree, as a loyal Roman Catholic states:

...if we believe this new gospel of his [Barth], God would be reputed as having said that, ever since the sin, nature is so corrupted that nothing of it remains but its very coruption, a mass of perdition which grace can indeed still pardon, but which nothing henceforth could ever heal. Thus, then, in order the better to fight against paganism and Pelagianism, this doctrine invites us to despair of nature, to renounce all effort to save reason and rechristianize it.

Gilson, Etienne, 'The Intelligence in the Service of Christ' from his book Christanity and Philosophy (1936) in Pelikan, Jaroslav (1990), The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought, London: Little Brown and Company, 218-233.

The relationship of Christianity and reason, then, is best grounded in the Aristotle approach given its marriage into Christianity by Thomas Aquinas, for here reality is grounded in our world and being, and that is a reality which needs healing (says Christianity).

Of course there are degrees of extraction, but I am referring to neo-Orthodoxy which is double specific line. The God of Barth is entirely one way, from God downwards, and so is invisible and unreachable. That God exists in a dramatic encounter, and that becomes a textual inheritance. So it is text, but text devoid of cultural root. Now we might say that the cultural root is obvious - it is Hebrew and Greek - but these are no more than wrapping paper for the text as the drama. If you happen to be a chosen believer, the encounter almost goes through the culture and indeed through the text. But the point is how to understand if from where we are. It becomes then a drama in itself, a narrative, and a story.

It is no accident that this stuff, with help from Bonhoeffer, becomes part of secular theology, that is theology of a humanity come of age when it no longer asks religious questions. This busy person just gets on with life. To ask questions, Tillich style, is to wallow in cultural issues, including cultural issues of religion. But where there are cultural issues, or a Church likely to be corrupt itself, these are entirely transient. Indeed many in their religions are entirely mistaken.

So from a cultural perspective, the religion of Christianity is non-real. It starts with revelation and encounter, but it translates as being unreal. It is not rooted in anything, other than the invisible.

The Catholic side of neo-Orthodoxy self proclaims its Platonism (so what if Plato is also cultural!) and it produces its premodern Christianity inside the postmodern space identified. Far from the Church being corrupt, John Milbank's Anglo-Catholic Church is pure truth. It is the deposit of peace and reason; its reason triumphs over secular reason. Secular reason is untrue, because it is a false theology. Therefore the world is false, and indeed has broken down into postmodernism. In that bubble of space, this non-realist Platonic source of truth, the Church (under God and Christ) is a non-objective anywhere else existence. In the Protestant version there is Lindbeck's ecumenical Church, and people in it simple have 'standards of role performance' rather than any other truth claim. Like with the biblical version, you can only perform.

So there is a sharing of non-realism with Cupitt, but from an entirely different angle, as Cupitt retains connection with the world's dominant narratives rather than the failure of the Church and Bible to connect with a larger modernity (and most of postmodernity) and therefore its sectarianism.

It is heterodox because the older folks, including the liberals, retained a connection in reality with this world. It either was full on Aquinas, or, in the liberal sense, the limitations introduced by science and social science - in other words, research.

The Unitarians of old used all the language: Christ (our brother, our leader), the Holy Spirit (the energy of God - as said Rev. in episode 2) and God the Father, the creator. The Incarnation became general and complete rather than tradition-and-person specific. Of course they were labelled as heterodox, because it isn't enough to have modes of activity or a plurality of actions, or the often heard today of the social and collective nature of the Godhead getting on nicely with each other. The Trinity is about philosophical precision of the relationship of the Godhead, and one that is both in the heavens and redeeming the earth in a dynamic eternal relationship. These days, unable to explain it, people shortcut it. Neither Milbank nor Lindbeck nor Frei nor Barth are redeeming the earth.

So I know about Milbank and a few of his fans (including some Lutheran). As for the biblical bunch, well there's my mate Anglican curate Rachel. She likes nothing better than a good trip to some New Wine church or some independent gathering for an arms-out knees-up. She is, she says, a poststructuralist. She says that many tutors in her just left theological college are fans of Frei and Neo-orthodoxy. Perhaps they live isolated lives.

I'm a liberal soft-postmodernist when it comes to religion. Otherwise I'm not, really. I think religion is culture, but culture is transient and we make religion up, including God. It's like the arts. Research in the arts is no more than the latest trend, or how we arrived at where we are. Research elsewhere is more important.

I do allow for signals of transcendence. A fundamental one might be chaos theory. Anyone listening today to the UK Office for Budget Responsibility and the Chancellor adjusting his plans should refer to chaos theory. It is a fundamental in weather, in economics, in evolution and in mathematics. It gets very little treatment in theology because too many people have become sectarian and retreated to their neo-orthodoxies. The simplest mathematic equations with virtual numbers, just repeated, produce fantastic shapes, and you can never know the starting point sufficiently to know the outcome. What a theology of creation and sustaining that makes.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Still Revving Along

I actually think the third Rev (BBC - showed on Thursdays and will Monday) is better than the second, and that was very observant. It covered evil, but got in even a comparison of ghosts and Holy Ghost, the latter identified (modally - oops, a heresy) as the energy of God. The paranormal was being dismissed: naturalistic interpretations were everywhere, starting with the heat, the radiator noise and more. Dreams don't have a conflict of explanation, but are our narrative clearing houses, so involve the evil and the naughty pleasures too. All the time the 'real' evil was being demonstrated by the dislocated child who hated and didn't co-operate, getting the vicar's wife to consider she didn't want a child (but does). Yet, despite all the naturalism, the hear-all Archdeacon (another location of evil) came to tell Adam the vicar to leave it to the "experts", as if there are any experts beyond the pastoral role that was given to the new and displaced resident of the old people's home. Then the fear factor was finished so well with the disappearance of the child left clumsily in the resident's hands, the desperate search that can cause anyone to think oh no and why me and what powers are running things... And of course the thank you with the girl sat in the park waiting is just as naturalistic and normal as any other event. The girl is nicer on leaving, and Adam accepts the gift of the protecting toy - indeed put at his bedroom door after so many bad dreams. A bit of superstition, then, does no one any harm.

It just about had everything in it, this one, and remains so closely observed of the inner Anglican world of clergy and wish to be clergy, of faithfulness and doubt, muddling through, and those strange supernatural beliefs that are involved.

Note: all the images are from the BBC online broadcast and are here as illustrative.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Neo-Orthodox Realistic?

One of the hidden points inside last week's Rev was that Christianity is not historical. It might be consequential (for some), but it is not sequential. Also it has no primary documents available in terms of history, so that all techniques of historiography have to be from a distance, and in some cases (horror of horrors) a dependency on the consensus of historians. Historians ought to be specialists on primary documents, sceptics in a way that your average amateur (for example making assumptions doing genealogy) are not.

So the New Testament as such is a presentation of community views and beliefs after the death of Jesus and becomes selective in a fast moving reforming of tradition including across a Jewish and Greek cultural shift. Nineteenth century historical theologians soon realised just how limited were the sources, that the history was both less available and more spread out.

The full title of curate Abigail's PhD thesis was (not is because it doesn't exist) NeoOrthodoxy and Realistic Dialectical Theology, later losing the Realistic when stated by the Reader (Rev Adam's sidekick, who thinks he'd make a better Rev.).

The point is, however, that dialectical theology is not realist if by realist it means there is a dependency on the world to back up the realism. Realism is, well, often based in the world (Aristotle). Given the intellectual source and drift, this realism would have to be idealised and located in God (Plato), but then the focus is on the argument of opposites (to extract the truth from exhausting the argument) purely based on the text as received and present. The method leads precisely to dropping the realist element wherever it is (Plato, is, after all, no one but a human philosopher). So whilst no one would call Karl Barth a non-realist, nevertheless a rejection of the world and its institutions (especially religious) and indeed culture - but a focus on the text and extracting its truth (from what is and what is not - very binary in contrast) - leads to others producing a pure text no world narrative conclusion, meaning non-realist.

Why? Because text is cultural and yet culture is rejected as transient and inconsequential. Therefore text is left as itself, like an island, just sent as revelation, but revelation located in a drama of events as understood and therefore to be treated as such.

Failure to understand (though the above is my interpretation, not his), says Hans Frei, leads to The Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative. Or, rather, I suggest, telling us this leads Hans Frei to tell about the non-realist basis of the biblical narrative - though he might not use such a descriptor.

Of course the text is supposed to have impact somewhere, but it is not (as the present highly narrative based Archbishop would have it) about having biblical narratives that relate to your own narratives in life. This is where your experience, and your story, is illuminated by the biblical stories. No doubt the biblical stories come first, as revelation, or indeed because they have special relevance, but the relationship on human stories suggests a dependency on human stories and that wouldn't do. That's where liberalism creeps in, because liberalism is always about individual subjective experience, and once you have subjectivity you then have objectivity and you do have realism.

Though of course what is objective and what is subjective can start to clash and each affect the other, to cause something of a breaking down. Just as you can push Karl Barth on, so you can push James Martineau on and produce an open non-realism. Martineau is not dialectical, not at all: the only contrast is between his apparent realism (at a liturgical and collective level - his residual Christianity) and his utter subjectivity or individualism as authority.

Which is where "anagogical" comes in, because it is a mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text. The extraction of a text into meaning by contrast isn't simply mundane but at a higher level. Humm: but care is needed or the interpretation and impact shoots back off into heaven again and the dialectical between sacred and secular remains unfinished. The enthusiasm of secular theologians for the Karl Barth and Bonhoeffer source was precisely because the anagogical is so limited and because you end up with a busy, secular world with a God so high and dry that the God is virtually invisible. Well, that's non-realism for you, when complete - or, at least, the option of realism is more hidden than ever.

Whereas, the Martineau route is the questions route, the beliefs of individuals route, where individuals might think their beliefs are 'real' but where, thanks to collective confusion, they are not. Or - at least - the option of realism is somewhat more hidden than folks realise.

So I would like to read Abigail's thesis, and wonder precisely at the use of the word Realistic - and what is the meaning of the ic after Realist. A more convincing title would have left the ic off. That then subjects the title itself to a dialectical examination:

NeoOrthodoxy and Realist Dialectical Theology

That's better. Because, had the title been:

NeoOrthodoxy and Non-realist Dialectical Theology

Then she would never have been a high-flyer on her way to St. Paul's.

Note: all the images are from the BBC online broadcast and are here as illustrative.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Twelve Reference Points for Religious Pluralists

A Liberal Pluralist View...


This is a focus or summary of what matters most, as a direction for life (even if not taken). It has to embrace more, not less. For some it might be polytheistic, others a high and dry theism. For me there are many signals of transcendence but a transcendence is probably not real, so somewhere from real absence to non-realism, the latter being my own preference (as a soft postmodernist or high modernist otherwise).

Prophetic Figures

No one is unique and yet we are, each of us, unique. There simply isn't the information about people we do know and those we don't know to create an ethical top ten prohetic figures never mind top one. A prophetic figure will be shaped by a fast or slow moving tradition to being a tradition's understood as top prophetic figure! Treating someone as divine (alone) is, though, and can only be, simply dogma and indeed tradition. All sorts of people have given of themselves for a greater good, and it's not clear that Jesus ever did this. It seems odd to rely on a cruel regime to achieve a death on to which to build a theology, plus Jesus is too much focused in one tribal culture (he needed to be universalised afterwards); but it is perhaps typically tragic that it was a Hindu that shot Gandhi dead for apparently being too generous to Muslims - and that generosity is necessary. Buddha is important for spiritual technique and practicality; I find Muhammad too compromised; and Baha'u'llah is compromised by similar literalism and is full of nineteenth century assumptions in a shift from one closed culture to another more open. Many minor figures are often all the greater and some given prominence are dubious at best.


It is important to be world affirming. Buddhists who attune themselves into being compassionate are world affirming, and there is nothing incompatible with individualism and being for the world. Research is important into how the world functions: so social anthropology and sociology are examining tools which a more universal theology can use. The Barthian route to non-realism is too world denying; it has to be a Martineau-like universal incarnation route that affirms the collective and individual in such a way that the two break down into a form of postmodernism.

Cultural Change

Religion is not unchanging, and nor is there some protected unchanged core. Cultural shifts with periods of rapid charismatic change are the essence of religion, and a challenge now is to rediscover a religion for a secular and scientific age and one consistent with social research. All religion is within culture, and all uses language and the arts.


No text should be privileged so that some is scripture and some are not: the only difference is that some are more focussed on God things than others and those communities that were developing God ideas. But all sorts of texts can be used religiously.


These are means to ends, routes that others discovered useful for developing spirituality. They are not fixed and every tradition should be allowed its history of change. The unethical should be dropped and replaced. A lot of tradition is actually invented tradition, with a claim to the past that does not stand up (e.g. some forms of ritualism, and the neo-Pagan) but if these 'work' in providing understanding then they can be used - it's just that we should know what they are and their limitations.

Unitarianism and Other Bodies

Unitarianism should be a vehicle for such pluralistic, possibly universalistic faith. I take an Anglo-American evolutionary view of Unitarian, meaning a community of change over time. For me, Unitarian is the adjective of a broader pluralism, whereas others will be more denominational. Presumably being more denominational has standards of role performance, and as such is postliberal and even conserving when set in a more postmodern religious context. The Quakers solve the problem of many voices by being quiet, at least in worship tradition. They may well be more cohesive but the answers religiously and socially may not be the right ones. People of liberal outlook should support it wherever it is found, but also to see institutional arguments for what they are. Many Church of England and similar bodies make arguments for ethical outcomes that are solved simply by leaving. It looks ever more unlikely (from the bottom up) but if the top down imposes an Anglican Communion Covenant then Anglican liberals ought to be told that their options are very limited - so let's hope they are not. I also would like to see a less egotistical Liberal Catholicism, that it is also a means to a greater end of spirituality and tolerance.

Inclusive Ministry

There should be no blockages to ministry on grounds of agenda or consenting relationships that do no harm. Ministry as trained and educational is important, but ordination probably is optional. Rituals should be extended to assist the stability of society across its diversity: it is one of the roles of religion to see the deeper in relationships. I would have friendship ceremonies as well as marriages and partnerships. We should also consider reflective ceremonies of letting go, as with divorces. Places to gather might vary, though many a church is potentially an open space and starts with an open space, and such may be a genuinely bottom-up movement.

Other Belief Traditions

Pluralists should always attempt the widest possible interaction with people of different faith, starting with other pluralists and then universalists, and then moving on to those liberal about particular traditions, and then those who discuss their traditions, up to the point where the door is held shut by others. Pluralists though ought to pay attention to their own critical theology, and not just be a form of 'easty-listening' religion to any old material.

New Patterns of Worship

Whilst inherited forms are a resource, pluralists should be experimental and find new expressions of means to reflect and contemplate and go on to act in the world. Worship is about finding worth. This means new liturgy, new songs, and new patterns of worship.

Holistic Mission

The purpose of mission is simply to make more available the space by which others may use the resources available by which people can reflect, contemplate and ask themselves about their own lives' directions, supported by other people, including the natural place of death. It's not about signing on the dotted line. Part of this should have charitable and social impact, where possible.


The purpose of religious structures is to further human and wider animal well being, even if such is subject to continual debate. It must mean freedom, toleration and mutual support, and the realisation of a spiritual appreciation. The planet and universe will go through its own cycles and human kind will probably evolve out (even if it doesn't self-destruct) so its ultimate purpose is to accept its own place just as the individual uses religion to accept their own life and death.

Friday 18 November 2011

Examining the NACC Position

The Anglican Communion Covenant looks like it is shaking and is on shifting ground. Its supporters look to be on the defensive, a bureaucratic solution for bureaucrats to unify what is shaping up to have various blocs of Anglican identity around the world - a reality that no document can alter.

In this light then, I want - as an outsider - to turn the argument around and look more critically at the No Covenant side in the Western Anglican Churches. As once an individual in an Anglican church, I came to the ultimate conclusion (if I hadn't before) that there is a boundary to belief and practice and I was outside that boundary. Thus, much as the Anglican ethos in some worship might satisfy, I didn't relate to its beliefs and nor to the stucture of personalised hierarchy. I am in favour of diversity, and of non-credal approaches, but such puts me outside not inside. On this basis I opposed the Anglican Covenant from the off, and I wonder about the position of the No Anglican Communion Covenant Coalition.

Its recent argument was in response to Fulcrum's defensive position. The response is my focus here.

Simply speaking, no one knows the position of the Church of England regarding the Covenant. Fulcrum speaks bureaucratically when it thinks the Church of England is in favour, given the bias of presentation, but the tests of membership so far show division for and against and a dislike when the argument is more balanced. If the Covenant is passed, it will be with considerable division and will not be a good basis on which to operate.

Again, the evolving life of the Communion is already a centralised picture, of more gatherings and institutions for worldwide gathering, but each of these gathered while preserving what was the case. Moving towards decision making with consequences is quite a different development, and this is what the Covenant represents. It is a leap forward in bureaucratic management, given Catholic and Evangelical justification because such are available for centralised Catholic and Protestant gatherings. It doesn't mean that these are Anglican, which has avoided such centralisation on a worldwide basis.

Once again (says I), everyone uses the language of federation wrongly. Federation does not mean loose association. Federation means a strong centre and subordinate parts with autonomy over subsidiary matters. For example, the United States is a federation but the European Union is a confederation. In the European Union the States are sovereign and sovereignty is shared, and on essential matters unanimity is necessary if there is to be one Europe wide position. The Covenant would create a federation by reactive Standing Committee using the meat of Section 4, creating Communion wide policies by dispute resolution, and excluding those not on the agreement side by an outer ring definition of Anglicanism. Federations are necessarily compulsive or divisive. Federation is bureaucratic. At the moment the European Union is a confederation: its Commission can propose legislation but cannot pass it - this is up to the Council of Ministers and some negotiation with the European Parliament - although the Commission is also reactive in terms of carrying out agreed regulations. Treaties entered into by States allow the superiority of European law. At present Anglicanism is a confederation of sovereign Churches, and the centre is no more than discussive; however, Anglicanism has broad similarities in different regions of the world on the lines of theological and ecclesiological ideologies so they may choose to get on together more closely.

A confederation will have an Archbishop of Canterbury rather like the ones produced now; a federation has one that makes decisions and they matter. Bureaucrats will refer to the Archbishop now, but it is a bureaucracy that gives the occupier of an office actual powers.

It is where the No Anglican Communion Coalition (NACC) refers to diversity of opinion that one can puzzle: what and where should there be such diversity of opinion. When the NACC says that Anglicans do not agree on how Christians should live and share in God's mission, then surely there must be some agreement on what makes Anglicanism and even uniformity. Unitarians are diverse, diverse to the point of individualism, and also with an evolving tradition in Britain and America that's Christian, Pagan, humanist and Eastern, a catechism tradition in central Europe that's Christian, homegrown pagan and ex-Christian missionary content in India and some new rural charismatic types and urban progressives in Africa. You really cannot pin down Unitarianism, except in blocs of degrees of individualism, but surely Anglicanism has more uniformity than this.

A communion need not be a federation, and indeed is compatible with confederation. But confederation has some shape, some principles of inclusion. The European Union has Western, liberal democractic principles of inclusion for sovereign States and the use of European wide free markets.

NACC itself does not address the limits of innovation. We might say that these are the Trinity, threefold ministry and some sort of book using liturgical tradition. The latter is breaking down by many charismatics and evangelicals ignoring their obligations. Threefold ministry starts to break down when there is lay presidency of Communion, but some have a Presbyterian view of bishops already. As for the Trinity, many who blog of a NACC sympathy are not exactly very good defenders of the Trinity, doctrine, the centrality of Christ, the existence of the Holy Spirit, and Anglicanism has produced a variety of liberal theologies that question the Trinity.

My argument from the inside for diversity was precisely to include those who questioned the Trinity. Realising that this is rather a naughty thing to do openly, and many a sympathetic liberal did not (still use all the cliches), I wandered elsewhere. A non-realist is hardly a trinitarian. I laughed on Thursday at the comedy Rev. (BBC 2) in that the up and coming female curate was hot on Neo-Orthodoxy - the topic of her forward thrusting thesis, another source for playing theological bullshit bingo. Neo-Orthodoxy is the means to a form of non-realism, or certainly a form of postmodernism that the trinitarians of old would have dismissed as completely heterodox. They knew how to defend the Trinity. The trick in the latest theological fast lane is in the use of the word 'Neo'. But, yes, the Neo-Orthodox can go places inside the bureaucracy because Neo-Orthodoxy has the intellectual and virtual appearance of one thing and yet the contents of something else - Karl Barth's invisible hand made narratively invisible into text.

The question is whether NACC is just a Liberal Protestant view, and what is the extent of its Liberal Protestantism?

But there is a further point I have made before. If the Covenant is passed, and the bureaucrats win their federation, what will the members of the NACC do then? Because the Covenant is a freezing body, where any innovation will be at the speed of the slowest. The Church of England as provider of the Archbishop of Canterbury to such a federation will be forced into the slow lane, indeed the stop lane, of any progressive innovations. Of all Churches it will be the least free. Liberals in the past have put up and shut up, usually on the basis that they occupy the centre positions and the liberal agenda slowly evolves through. In the past thirty years plus the theological agenda has gone backwards (except it allowed a route through for the Neo-Orthodox deceptivity), but social inclusion has continued to press. When the door is slammed shut, and there is no longer that chance to change, what will the liberals do then?

Sunday 13 November 2011

As With the Norse Gods Again

I don't think today is any exception, despite a Remembrance Day service led by a professional minister in every sense of the word (yet, retired). There is a sense in which we are seeing a change as big as the loss of the Norse Gods taking place as regards our religious institutions.

The Quakers in Hull might be happy, because their numbers will have risen by one. An occasional attender of the Unitarians has, apparently, moved over to attend there. But this is not an unusual pattern: people who join churches are often the already interested. People do join the church, otherwise it would have vanished long back: but they tend to have histories of attending elsewhere.

Today a board that was found with the names of the lost during 1914-1919 was displayed. The names were family names all recognisable within the church until recently. None of these families supply members any more. Some of the surnames were related to other surnames, and criss-crossing, because down the years they supplied the church with members, and they kept having relationships and getting married. The family trees will interlock over and over again.

In my time a younger Strachan was the uncle of an older Strachan, as well as cousin; now there are no more nor the related. Names still large in the city no longer come in to the church.

Recent posts have looked at the disconnect between Christianity and the public in Europe. There is the straightforward decline in numbers. There is the loss of intellectual content in supplying answers to questions of existence. There is the ethical mismatch in questions of equality and value of persons. The whole business of St. Paul's in London has been a perfect example of a disconnected Church rushing to catch up.

The Unitarians have all sorts of plans and strategies at the very lowest level to increase numbers; the schemes are given fail-safe status by their writers. But I can say we've had no visitors through the door at all by which these plans could be exercised. We are not full-on with publicity, but we are far from publicity free and invisible. People are not even visiting nowadays.

It might be better in a more cosmopolitan place, which imports habits of religious observance from around the world. But this is nothing to do with a small congregation holding on to its visitors. The church has done this. It is that the curious are simply not attending. The argument that so many people out there are Unitarian-compatible makes not a jot of difference to trying out attendance.

People talk about the rise of the Eastern religions, and there is that growth. But these are about the odd group here and there within the city. This increase is at the tiny level. There is a lot of 'spiritual' and even 'New Age' but the groups simply don't exist: these are private expressions. You might find the odd Wicca group here and there.

This is not me starting to despair, but rather simply a recognition of the situation. In terms of where we are now, we are like people within a snow storm. We are close to it and we cannot see around, but I bet this is as historically significant as the end of the Norse Gods. In the snow storm we look for scraps and pieces to keep going, but afterwards what was before is not coming back.

I remember at school, in the 1970s, being given the impression that Christianity had replaced Judaism, and that was a load of rubbish, as was the impression that lots of Gods had been replaced by the superior understanding of one God. That was nonsense too, as no God can be its equal and superior, just as can be a polytheism of thinking. What is remarkable is that those assumptions could be given to children just a short time ago.

In my head on Remembrance Sunday was the religious service that could incorporate the fallen and the need for conditions of peace. We could be reminded that capitalism is there to serve us, and not for Europe to decline again into conditions that led to reaction and war. But Remembrance Sunday was also about what there once was.

Soon there will be some more CDs of a Unitarian choir singing hymns with introductions. Why is this? Because there are more and more churches where no one can play a keyboard, either due to old age or low numbers. Producing two CDs will be very helpful, but let's not be unaware as to why this is happening. For us it might go through an excellent sound system, as these CDs add to prepared CDs, but for many it will be popping the originals into some small player. The same virtual congregation will be reproduced up and down the land. The same people appear, as if in a cartoon, repeated each time. But the reality is that the different people are ever fewer, needing the prop of a virtual congregation.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Be Less Mad and More Afraid

There is a lot of crap flying around at the moment, in relation to the Church of England Newspaper carrying itself a nasty little article on the so-labelled Gaystapo, likening gay activism for equality to the Nazis, the Nazis who killed many homosexuals and instituted terror and evil. There is enough being said about this to bother to add more, along with the apparent shock that this is said by someone of the Church and then published by a Church of England representing (if not representative) organ.

As someone who has a crack at Fulcrum every so often, and occasionally offers it an outside point if view, I want to turn to the viewpoint that at least Alan Craig is honest and upfront in his anti- gay activism homophobia, whereas Fulcrum is complicit in that whilst yet preaching in a more respectable language. It's the argument made by Jonathan Hagger, Mad Priest, as in this comment:

The only reason why Craig is a bad advertisement for evangelicalism is that he is not hiding his evangelical bigotry behind worthless platitudes. I respect the man for having the balls to be honest to his churchmanship and beliefs. In my opinion, Fulcrum is a bad advertisement for evangelicalism because they are a Trojan horse and when this becomes public knowledge evangelicals will be seen to be the haters that they truly are plus they will be outed as deceitful

Jonathan gets accused, by Tim Chesterton, of replacing one blanket statement by another.

I think my argument is a little different about Fulcrum. It's that if follows a primarily bureaucratic ethos. It thinks it is the centre of, and defines, Anglicanism. In its pushing a bureaucratic solution, it loses the ethic of what is the cost of that solution and I think it ignores that ethic.

As far as it is concerned, The Episcopal Church has fallen out with the bureaucratic ethos that says all Anglican institutions should refer to all other Anglican institutions before it comes to its own ethical decisions. But that's not good enough, when many an Anglican Church is part and parcel of a deep social and political homophobia of very serious consequences to those involved. The ethos of the institution is upheld by the Evangelical (Protestant) notion that this is a community of believers, and the believers are of a Bible that has no pro-gay verses within it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has also promoted this bureaucratic ethos, advancing this Covenant, and he has done it on the basis of a Catholicism that allows the possibility of change but where it would be decided among the international Anglican purple. In other words, the collectivity of bishops overrides the organisation of management in each Church's synodical structures. He showed this perspective over his choice for the Bishop of Dover as a Synod timetable manager: he told the Synod rejecting his choice that members should read the Ordinal.

So there are two movements here to create a conserved Church and would be sealed up as such by the Communion Covenant.

To some extent, the issue is a so what? Robert Piggot in his recent Our World showed that in one year over 180,000 people left the Roman Catholic Church in Germany because of its unethical stances; in Finland a 1000 a week leave; and Protestantism halved in Europe in 50 years. This pattern is common across Europe. In Holland, a minority try to carve a new, different, ethical approach to theology, reflecting contemporary concerns. Also in Holland you get the conservative backlash into a smaller Church; indeed the Roman Catholic leadership wants a smaller purer Church. The reaction to Germans saying no to paying the religion element of their taxes is for the Roman Catholics to excommunicate them. Talk about closing yourself down.

The Church of England is becoming an irrelevance. It would be sad if its resources are not made available for a religious recognition of gay partnerships or marriage. But then it should be allowed to aim for its own social irrelevance. There are other providers.

For decades, Anglican people of more liberal persuasion have put up with Evangelical and Catholic moves to make their Church more conserving, partly because the liberal ethos has retained at least some spaces within. I found and indeed created a small space for liberal exploration within, but I was also falling away.

There is an increasing argument against the Covenant and it may well not succeed. The liberal element that was once mainly willing to give it a try now realises just how dire this document is, and let's be under no illusions: it will affect the ethos of every parish. Even some Evangelicals reject its bureaucracy. This is not some remote, international document. It bureacratizes and freezes everything, right down into the core. It will stop any change, any flexibility: it will turn variation into defiance. It makes more of hierarchy. It means more social irrelevance and a sclerotic Church.

In the end, the issue is not about the bureaucrats or the crazy people likening gay rights to the Nazis, but what will the liberals do should the Covenant come in and freeze things up. That's when, finally, the likes of Fulcrum will have hit above its weight and caused a Church suitable for bureaucrats and hierarchs alike. That's if it comes in.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Fulcrum Getting Desperate?

Bury St. Edmunds and Wi[th]chips diocese saying no to the Covenant wasn't obviously persuaded by Fulcrum's latest attempt to shore up the document in addition to Anglicanism.

In A Churchgoer's Guide to the Anglican Communion Covenant by Fulcrum (it does have the ability to make some statements) it states, early on:

Fulcrum has consistently supported the covenant but is aware that there is little accessible material explaining it. As a result, many people are relatively uninformed or are being misinformed about it and its significance by some opponents.

Crumbs! I mean St. Mundsed Bury with Vinegar is one of the few dioceses where they had a presentation of a 'no' point of view. It's as if any presentation of a 'no' point if view is to misinform. But look at this sentence:

There are two main alternative visions competing with the covenant - GAFCON’s more narrowly defined confessional approach and the path of unaccountable independence through unilateral innovation. Despite their fundamental differences, these minority views may unite in rejecting the covenant which is much more recognisably Anglican than both of them.

Indeed they may, probably because they are more than minority views when it comes to informing ordinary folk in synods what is involved and then asking for a vote. The actual debate on Fulcrum itself isn't consistent in support.

Saturday 5 November 2011

The Shrinking Religion of Europe

BBC News Channel (and BBC Worldwide) is showing Robert Pigott's report on Catholicism and Lutheranism and Protestantism in general in steep and even active decline in northern Europe, and looks at the Don Cupitt style theology resulting in the Netherlands. The programme is called Europe's Christian Exodus. Do also see my previous posting on Klaas Hendrikse.

Thursday 3 November 2011

The Excellent News So Far

So, fantastic, we may say, that at last Gay and lesbian couples can celebrate their big day in religious premises opting into a new scheme.

The fireworks can go off a month on from now, so for many it will be 'Remember, remember the 5th of December'.

Gunpowder there will be, but we'll leave treason and plot to the Church of England and others who say "Not in our back yards, front yards, inside, or anywhere."

No doubt any gay people doing the ceremony in tents will be removed.

The ability of gay couples to marry will follow on later, we assume (given David Cameron's warm words to other Tories), but this will also need to have the obligation on the Church of England to marry all within the parish to be limited to heterosexuals, as well as giving the freedom of other Churches and religious groups to refuse the minority the ability to marry in their settings.

Florists might consider opening shops nearer to Unitarian churches, Quaker meeting houses and Reformed synagogues.