Monday 31 December 2012

British Politics into 2013

Wishing a Happy New Year is probably perverse this year. This is the first time the people at the bottom will be attacked by a British government in a consistent manner. Thatcher, when she created mass unemployment, let people 'go on disability' so they at least could have a tolerable existence on the bottom. When she introduced the Poll Tax she had her fingers burnt to the point of her own downfall.

This government is raising benefits by 1% only, is introducing a spare bedrooms tax in effect on the poorest needing Housing Benefit, and will have local authorities charge people council tax who've never paid it. At the same time ATOS is declaring disabled and difficult-to-work people able to work, with people in limbo on appeal and fearful for their future.

What makes all this especially annoying is that the Liberal Democrats are part of this nasty attack on the least. Clearly George Osborne is loving this opportunity to have a go at benefits reform and ignore the failure of capitalism to finance itself and employ all that would seek work, but how the Liberal Democrats are involved in this when they sought votes on an entirely different basis beats me. They surely understood that there is a social contract in society that there is a certain amount of employment available, that others should seek it, but those who don't get work should at least have a tolerable if poor life.

But we learn, don't we, that the Nick Cleggs, Danny Alexanders and David Lawses of this world actually like being in government and shuffling the money around and have gone from Orange to Blue. It is impossible to imagine them now in coalition with Labour. Their apparent contribution to social justice during this time has been negligible. They have done nothing for political reform at all as the Conservatives have run rings around them.

The Liberal Democrats deserve nothing but destruction. There is nothing worse than a turncoat party, the one that turns on its own supporters. Under Ashdown and Kennedy they built themselves up as liberal, reformist and even to the left of Blair's Labour Party. They went into the General Election closer to Labour on economics and social attitudes, and the general left vote was bigger than the right vote. But what we've got is right wing government and of a particular nasty kind. Bringing Ashdown in to try to prop up the vote next time was an admission of weakness by Clegg, just as John Major brought in Heseltine: when the ship sinks, it goes down as fast no matter how many captains you put on the bridge.

If there is social protest in 2013 it won't be a suprise to me. You cannot attack a significant section of the population and expect no response. It needs leadership so that it is both persistent and peaceful. Perhaps Churches (and faith groups) instead of being obsessed about themselves and sex should recapture that which was in Faith in the City and start mouthing some resistance; the Oil Man taking over at the top of the Church of England might do no harm by speaking up for those under attack.

It would be good if the coalition collapsed in 2013. It cannot come too soon for me. Labour and some Liberal Democrats (gosh - the Liberal Democrats are at least disciplined for a party of individualists!) might try to find every means possible to bring this government down. I don't have any particular faith in Labour as such, though I think that Ed Miliband is turning out to be a decent politician and with some ethical ideas and not, himself, illiberal. He and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls need to start cutting up the government and going after every weakness. They are likely to receive a landslide victory and helped by the frustration of the disenfranchised by some of the Lib Dems voters looking for somewhere to vote and settling on UKIP along with right wing Tories. The Tories remain toxic, the Liberal Democrats are a bunch of liars from the election onwards, and Labour simply needs to get its act together.

The idea that 'Labour got us into this mess' is rubbish. If anything, they handled the crisis well. Gordon Brown fantasised about no boom and bust, but the cause was banks creating financial products that allowed the West to go on consuming when it was China and the Far East doing the producing. A time comes when debt becomes so unmoveable when you just have to say 'all gone' as advised in that strange book called the Hebrew Bible.

In the end, Capitalism is only as good as it performs for the people. It is for people to have control, and take control. That's why we have democracies. Banks have got to be stopped from controlling us and we should control them. We should also realise that the monetarist IS-LM curves of money and real economy work when the economy is running along quite nicely: in this situation the curves are more Keynesian. Slushing money around physically into the banking system and dropping interest rates to zero, does nothing in an economy like today. What does work, now, is precisely the opposite of what this stupid and vicious government is going to do. Put most money in the hands of the poorest and the poorest will spend it - the rich just save. Put money directly into infrastructure and efficiency projects and people will be employed, and then the accelerator effect gets going. Yes, the accelerator effect is low when an economy runs well enough, but not when 'animal spirits' have become so low that a different and sluggish equlibrium is at work.

None of this persuades the Chancellor George Osborne, who is a social and political animal of the economic right. Cameron is a publicity man of the social right - why he won't implement Leveson. That these people, and like them, and a bunch of right wing nut jobs are upheld by the Liberal Democrats is the real tragedy of the moment. But the electorate does not forget. I voted for them more than most: I wanted the party to have that easy title and I wanted it to be government potential when I put its leaflets through doors. But we have been betrayed. The electorate does not forget liars nor those who cause deliberate distress. The Liberal Demcorats will reap the whirlwind and they will deserve every loss.

Sunday 30 December 2012

Chadderbox Characters

So just who are the folks who appear on Radio Chadderbox?

Peter Levite resembles in part a BBC journalist and newsreader called Peter Levy who tries to be dramatic and either/ or with his questions on some pretty local and repetitive news. Whereas he might just as the questions, he is forever trying to nail things down. My Peter Levite is moderately intelligent and does some research, but frequently makes mistakes. He also irritates people. George Hudson resembles someone like Paul Hudson, the chirpy weather forecaster who was advised to stay in the region where he is well known rather than take the trail to London. He has Levite as his sparring partner. Because I call him George, he shares the name of the northern Railway King, which is why he always forecasts from some railway station or other. Other folks drawn from BBC Look North (Belmont) or BBC Radio Humberside are either glamorous and intelligent (like Keeley Sunshine Superwoman and Linda Oasis) or stupid, both of which create problems for dialogue with Peter Levite.

Rowan Tree was once called Rowanov Treetri after the Russians gave him a prize (when few others did) but they grew distant too so he returned to Rowan Tree. He is the Archbishop of All England in the Church in England. He speaks in double negatives and gets lost in his own explanations. His theology is a narrative theology of detail that tries to sound historical whereas it is all as if in a novel. A brilliant manipulator as no one knew where they were with him, he nevertheless failed on every single project that was his. He was therefore as bad as his nuisance predecessor, George Cuddencareyless, particularly as he sacrificed gay people in the pursuit of Church empire building. But now he will be an adult education art teacher, as Baron Tree of Mumbles.

At the moment Justin R. Ewing, Rowan Tree's successor, who has been unnoticed as the brief Archbishop of the North East, has a clipped managerial (even military) speech and a tendency to say everything in threes when he begins. All his experience is among the rich and wealthy which he uses as examples when he talks about the poor. He had a road to Damascus type conversion experience but seems to have moved on from that. Jade Stowaway told the story:

He and his wife Sue Ellen were taking a walk with Tarsus Parking, a very evangelical minister, going from the Diocese of Southfork to Damascus in the Home Counties. And it says here, in chapter 6 verse 35 of his biography by Mark Matthew, 'Tarsus asked him, "Pray, what makes an ethical oil executive?" And he replied, "Not sleeping with my secretary and not fiddling the accounts." Sue Ellen gave one of her characteristic grins of agreement. And Tarsus replied, "No, in your case it needs more than this. You must get ordained. And so it was that, as we shall see, Justin R. Ewing became deaconed as Rev. Justin R. Ewing, and served a curacy.

At the moment everyone likes him from the loopiest liberal to the raving fundamentalist and he can do no wrong. But watch this space. Will the manager grab hold of the Church in England, or will it crush him?

I've been in some trouble over my character John Sendmehome, because some have objected to the name. But the name has been explained - sent home from one African village to another. He is the Archbishop of the North. He has become completely British and home Churched but in so doing has turned out to be a publicity mad manipulator. He seems to be able to take people in to the gents toilets and they come out with a changed opinion - just what does he do in there? He has been a sychophant of Rowan Tree and useful as Rowan Tree's sidekick. He twists arms and bullies, does this fictional character, but when he comes on the media all he does is tell dreadful jokes based on whatever anyone else is talking about. He was once chucked out of the radio station for the way he was speaking, whilst he was always trying to get on to the radio station. Although some people think he presents a media connected go-ahead type others find him an embarrassment.

New Testament Wrong was the Bishop of the North East but has now gone into academic obscurity. He is regarded as a third rate Christian apologist by academic historians of early Christianity. In his occasional appearances, he still has a tough-guy bully-boy image and now his intellectual output will bang on about the central historical fact of the resurrection (which history cannot reach). He seems to be able to join up 'primitive' Jewish eschatology and Christian orthodoxy like few others. But as a bishop in the North East he claimed to have a closeness to his 'friend' Rowan Tree that simply was not true and thus his exclusive insights as to Rowan Tree's next piece of decisive action turned out to be incorrect. He was the hefty guy to give ballast to Rowan Tree, who neither sought it nor made use of it. As a local bishop he was hopeless because he kept going to America to sell his books whilst at the same time slagging off the American Church. Thus by going into academic obscurity he has become better employed in what it is he writes about.

As well as these fictional creations, there have been some more minor commentators.

I've been following the Internet outpourings of Rachel Marszalek (who I've met) and Jody Stowell, and they have inspired my characters Rachel Marsovenus and Jade Stowaway. Rachel Marsovenus went to theological college and wrote these postliberal narrative essays on Christian belief, but in her ministry has reverted to evangelical and charismatic experience seeking. She was something of a fashion model too, and has since associated herself with commercial advertising and product placement as a capitalist accompaniment to charismatic experience. Her essay writing - the house of cards of postliberalism, based on nothing objective - and her trips to activist Church America and multi-faith India have made her fearful of going in a liberal direction. Also she associates with the male only authority evangelical wing to keep her away from liberalism whilst at the same time trying to make the Bible say what it doesn't about female authority. To push this point she may start writing at postgraduate level to affirm what it doesn't say. Whereas, Jade Stowaway realises the dilemma and despite being a main character at evangelical SeeSaw, the group that imagines it is at the centre of the Church in England, has been slowly liberalising as she affirms the leadership potential of women. She is the stronger feminist, but her theology has become almost Pagan. Her latest thoughts were that the meaning of Christmas was in the turn of the year and the tinsel. She will likely end up precisely where Rachel Marsovenus sees as the theological place to resist, though Rachel Marsovenus may well fall there very rapidly.

A couple of campaigners include Animal Lindsey and Barry Brokeback. Animal Lindsey promotes, well, animals and their theological rights, and tries to do it by writing and speaking using as much of orthodox Christianity as possible but only because he wants to promote animal ethics to the constitutency. Does he believe it? Despite being a part of it, he regards the Church in England as morally and ethically bankrupt on animals, women and gays and wonders where the ethical Church is to be found. Barry Brokeback is the gay ministry campaigner. He too has to speak to his Anglican constituency, especially to the homophobic Churches abroad. However, his actual theology is a kind of evolution-denying everything in the natural world is God-affirming and wonderful. The secular world is where you'll find the Holy Spirit bringing forward equality. But he is not actually trinitarian. His Jesus is purely human and fallible, and his God is coming out of the evolved-with-a-purpose greenery. There is a conflict therefore between his campaigning among Anglicans and his personal theology, which is a form of all-embracing universalism.

Another non-trinitarian is Lesley Tilgate. She used to be called Lesley Bloke but married a chap who only appeared occasionally in public. Doing that, she thus did not become a Unitarian minister at Wykkyfish (why she was on Radio Chadderbox at all) but retained her Anglican basis of operation down south and settled on the edge of a town called Aldershit. But Lesley Tilgate's theology is basically religious humanism with a stress on equality. Occasionally she will say Jesus is like 'the best bloke' and other such musings, but she promotes a deist non-interventionist God. She doesn't believe in the bodily resurrection either, if she believes in resurrection at all. But she loves - just loves - doing ministry. She married an occasional commentator who is himself part of a local liberal theology promoting body, so they are a team. She has admitted to fantasising about Rowan Tree. In terms of campaigning, it's all or nothing, so she wants gay and sexual equality in ministry and leadership and votes no until it is all on offer: and thus her Church is presently ethically bankrupt but has potential for one day reaching the sunny uplands where everyone can be a member, no matter what they believe or who they are.

Harry Tick is based on me. I'm just a local chuntering away, who fancied Lesley Bloke as was in her travels up north. Although ministry seeking at one time, and put out a lot of articles here and there, he is more of a backroom boy. He was both Anglican and Unitarian, but has beliefs beyond Anglicanism and the Church in England is also ethically bankrupt and will never recover. So he is almost condemned to be Unitarian, though it has potential. The position held is one of religious humanism, as in extending the philosophy of Carl Sagan.

A new personality on Radio Chadderbox discussions is Bobby Aquarius. He represents the Pagan non-rational element now coming into creedless Unitarianism - the background to this being romanticism in the UK and transcendentalism in the USA. But it is a magical approach to reality, where there is no simple probability but instead meaningful, intended, coincidence. It applies Astrology to the Gospels - the gospels are parallels of astrological meaning. Thus this position is near that of Liberal Catholicism that exists among independent priests and bishops, where magick was brought into the supernatural. It is a minority view among what is still a rationalist liberal-Christian to religious humanist denomination, but one also with Eastern insights (as indeed Liberal Catholicism used modernist Hinduism and some elaborate Buddhism). Harry Tick is turning into his opponent as strongly as against Christian supernaturalism, despite agreeing that this is once consequence of the plurality of argument.

Anthony Wedgwood Bigg is to some a creepy fundamentalist bishop whilst to others the only bishop who matters. However, now retired, he has become very mobile, so he won't stay in a studio for long and will keep a lookout. He might be interviewed from the corridor or outside the window. It's as if someone in authority might be interested in his whereabouts. He speaks very slowly, economically and with intent. He talks constantly of 'our people' by which he means male ministers in training and in congregations. Only some bishops are acceptable, organised from abroad. He is the lynchpin then of an unofficial self-governing Church within the Church in England, where the authority they seek is not diocesan but international, based on the kind of fundamentalism found in Africa. The body they create intends to take over parishes and colleges and eventually change the Church in England. The Church is thus at a crucial stage where it moves in a women-affirming adnd more liberal direction or becomes more like his sect. Rachel Marsovenus wants to agree with a lot of this theology but he regards her as having the same irrelevance as he does any moderate or liberal.

There are a host of occasional characters who appear. One is Noel John Gordon, who is not the most attractive of ordained ministers, who (unlike Bigg) would have Rachel Marsovenus in his camp if she only passed over the crossroads to male-only ministry in charge. He regards himself as doing serious theology, unlike so many (he claims), but is frustrated at the failures of the evangelical camp and wants to call the shots about total provision for the evangelicals like the Catholic traditionalists that would amount to creating a Church within a Church.

There are others but this is enough for now. Find others (perhaps from a long while back) and I might explain who they are.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Radio Chadderbox: Looking Ahead

Peter Levite: Welcome to this Radio Chadderbox looking backwards and forwards. I'll introduce us as we go along. Try and just nibble your mince pies will you otherwise we'll all be speaking with our mouths full. You've got a lot to be happy about next year.
Rowan Tree: Yes, I become an adult education art teacher.
Peter Levite: Rowan tree. Days left as Archbishop. Then you'll become Baron Tree von Mumbles in Abertawe and have your own Oystercard for travelling to the House of Lords and exercising your mouth.
Rowan Tree: Yes I will become a life peer.
Peter Levite: Plenty to say? Can you say it clearly in the House of Lords?
Rowan Tree: I will try to speak without unclarity but I will try not to speak when it queers the pitch, so to speak, of my successor. Perhaps I should not use the expression, 'queers the pitch', given one of the running issues of my time and no doubt future time.
Barry Brokeback: How utterly depressing.
Justin R. Ewing: This is the way it is. This is the way former Archbishops continue in the House of Lords. This is the award of the life peerage.
Peter Levite: Your full in-tray is the women bishops business, and the queer business won't go away.
Rowan Tree: Just a moment - without upsetting his pitch, perhaps I'll put it. Humm. As my successor he might just want to look again at what lay behind the thinking that led towards considering the Covenant of the Communion, the creation of a more identifiable worldwide Church I think. But I don't want to, well, yes, or indeed no, queer his pitch. Sorry, but we in the Church take our ethics from within the text we have the right to consult and not the secular culture.
Barry Brokeback: Have you ever thought that the Holy Spirit might be operating in the secular world and embarrassing the Church?
Peter Levite: Gay activist Barry Brokeback. Not good times for you in the immediate future.
Barry Brokeback: It's a revolution and is blowing the walls in from the outside.
Justin R. Ewing: The intention for the future would be less luggage. The intention would be tackling pressing matters quickly where needed. The intention is to listen where there is a more long-term change possibility.
Peter Levite: Why do you say things in threes?
Justin R. Ewing: To speak as I do is trinitarian in foundation. To speak as I do is to grasp the basis of summarising what I want to say. To speak as I do allows the hearer to grasp the three pronged nature that underlies most approaches to things.
Peter Levite: It could get a bit tedious.
Justin R. Ewing: One mustn't forget the international aspect. One mustn't forget my experience of the rich and contrast with the poor. One mustn't forget it is too easy to make assumptions.
Peter Levite: Rachel Marsovenus is with us again and with a friend. What are your priorities?
Rachel Marsovenus: I think I want to use commercial advertising to spread my message more. This is the world of sense-experience and just like a good charismatic session there is also selling to give that buzz.
Jade Stowaway: Yeah I mean I just love the tinsel and the joy and the coming around every year. It's the joy of the new birth, the turning of the year. That's the real message of Christmas.
Rachel Marsovenus: I thought Luke described Christmas. And he is unafraid of emotion and big about celebration. But it's not about tinsel, surely. What has happened to you in this last year?
Jade Stowaway: Just redefining things. Redefining lots of issues given that many evangelicals are no friends of women.
Bobby Aquarius: Luke does not describe; but it's not about unreliable sources, defective memories, or mistaken observations; it is deliberate so we cannot take the stories literally.

Peter Levite: Welcome first time to Bobby Aquarius, a recently retired Unitarian minister.
Rowan Tree: But I think there may be a means in the narrative to rehistoricise within the density of text at least by regulative demand that the Church community expects. So one can just about discuss the detail in the account on its own terms and as God's action seen from within that encounter by the engaged believer.
Harry Tick: What? You mean it is just a lot of text and no different from inhabiting the world of the novel. And you, a Unitarian minister, who thinks coincidence is pre-arranged and now that some force laid down text with the intention to deceive? What sort of magical world is that? We do not live in such a world.
Bobby Aquarius: Probability is boring. Magical indeed it is. Well, on Easter Sunday a few years ago I mentioned what the great Church Father Origen wrote in the third Christian century: absurdities and contradictions appear in the text to force us to look beneath the surface to find the real meaning of the story.
Peter Levite: What are the issues for Unitarians then in the near future, for 2013? You made a lot of noise in 2012.
Bobby Aquarius: Toleration for magical people like me. The Pagans are coming.
Harry Tick: The Pagans are coming but some are also critical, text based themselves, liturgical - a new way of doing year-round spirituality.
Bobby Aquarius: Magic is coming along.
Harry Tick: Well I'm all in favour of coming alongside with Liberal Catholicism and its use of magick, but if we give up a critical apparatus then we are nothing.
Bobby Aquarius: I use a critical apparatus - just in the opposite direction. So Bethlehem represents Virgo and thus virgin, see. We don't have to be the religious equivalents of Richard Dawkins.
Harry Tick: But we can be the religious equivalents of Carl Sagan. The religious message is within the universe as it is.
Bobby Aquarius: This is the dawning of the Age...
Harry Tick: No, it's the debate between the rational and the non-rational in religion, and how you have both. But for the denomination, it has learnt, with benefit, about how to do publicity on radical issues.
Barry Brokeback: For me, the universe showers forth the good of the future if we can just tap into it and draw upon its well-springs. The closed world of Christianity in its repetition, all those carols, its inbuilt misogyny and discrimination cannot express this and so I didn't go to church on Christmas Eve. But I remain Anglican and call for it to swing wide the gates.
Rachel Marsovenus: For the saviour waits - but no I think marriage is a man and a woman, because this bit of evangelicalism doesn't prevent women from being ministers.
Peter Levite: We have not heard a word from you, Lesley Tilgate, the sometime commentator we use on this programme, once called Lesley Bloke. What's the future for you?
Lesley Tilgate: I agree with everyone. I love being a minister. We need total equality but I am happy in my job so that's that. So it is one clause please next time for women bishops, and we want gay marriage in the Church in England, but without these totally then vote against and I will carry on regardless anyway.
Peter Levite: Emails and text messages tell me it is rough out there for people on benefits. After all, clergy very rarely lose their jobs, lose their income. That's a good motive isn't it, self-interest and keep drawing the salary.
Lesley Tilgate: Unless it's like so many women clergy who don't get paid anything for what they do. Non-Stipendary Ministers are completely exploited. The inequality is disgraceful, but unless we have total equality I'd vote against any progress and I'll carry on complaining from where I am within this sexist, homophobic organisation that no one sane would want to join.
Peter Levite: Any problems in 2013 from the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans?
Rachel Marsovenus: Yes if they are evangelicals who prevent women being bishops or even priests. But we ought to bring them in.
Barry Brokeback: Perhaps they ought to have been shown the door. They are entryists.
Rachel Marsovenus: With respect, Barry, are you not an entryist now? At least Lesley abides by the rules.
Barry Brokeback: No, because all that I do and say is above board.
Rachel Marsovenus: So Jesus is the King of Kings, totally perfect, the one to follow?
Barry Brokeback: Even Rev. Farmer Giles said to the journalist Polly Prattle that he doesn't take it literally. 'Of course not,' he said, and it's about a universal baby, the story, he says, that is the best expression of the smallness that is the greatness.
Harry Tick: This is all shiftiness.
Rowan Tree: It might just be a little more than that when one examines it more closely.
J. R . Ewing: It is in the text. It is in the contrast. It is right there.
Peter Levite: And will you be tackling the FCA, J. R.?
J. R . Ewing: Experience matters as a corporate manager. Experience matters when it comes to organisational definitions. Experience matters when it comes to dealing with the ins and outs.
Peter Levite: Weather?
George Hudson: Be careful what you wish for.
Bobby Aquarius: Exactly. In April 2012 people wished against the dryness, and then it rained and rained and rained.
Harry Tick: Yeah, it's called the Jet Stream, and it dumps rain. It has no moral intention and does not move according to human wishes. This is worse than the worst form of fundamentalism.
Rachel Marsovenus: We've all got problems then.
George Hudson: We have, especially when it rains a lot, like here at Pickering Station.
Harry Tick: Especially with this government, because for the first time people are really worried. All this Church stuff is so much crap set against what is about to happen to the poorest. And how the Liberal Democrats can be a part of this is the biggest betrayal of the lot. The agonies of the religious institutions is entertainment compared with what is coming to so many.
Peter Levite: I was thinking of asking this, was asking this a bit. So should people be forced to work for their benefits, or have enough to keep heads above water and so keep the economy spending, or have support and even sympathy from understanding the situations people find themselves in with the failures of modern capitalism? Well, we've run out of time.
J. R . Ewing: You might be right there. You might be right there. You might be right there.

Tuesday 25 December 2012

The Reformation Revolution

...says Prof Woodhead: “People don’t want to be told what to believe.”

The new national faith described in her research is ad hoc, individualistic and sentimental, and informed by a mix of ideologies including neo-paganism, environmentalism and Buddhism – but also shot through with Christianity.

Sounds like Unitarianism! Or, rather, Unitarianism is going the way of the new national faith. This is different from the Believing and Not Belonging approach of Grace Davie, that always struck me as too kind to a decaying generalist Christianity. It is the decline of Christianity as a supporting religious culture that has allowed a creedless body, even such a tiny one, as Unitarianism to shift to something more plural.

I was too early in this shift, doing so in the 1980s and trying it in a situation of little-minded, locally run, Manchester chapels. The question they asked of my permitted outlook was, where would I fit in given the religious map of Unitarianism in the late 1980s/ early 1990s.

The funny thing now is that so many have died off, but the movement continues. I have seen it locally. With one elderly returner, there are just three really long term attenders left in old age. Now if Unitarianism was incapable of attracting new people, the congregation would be finished. All the old families are gone, and all the names that returned each generation are no more. But the church might just be enjoying another small 'bounce' upwards. It did have one in the 1990s and had a scrap, as it tackled and resolved issues, and frankly lost people, and lost out during a disaster of a ministry, but now is well on from all that with another group of people as well as folks who came in during the 1980s.

What is surprising is the diversity of the faith positions people hold that are joining. They are not, as such, ex-Christian refugees. However, they are up in the debate about equality, and the denomination's position on gay marriage equality has attracted in some of the newest.

There are still towns and suburbs where the choices of evangelical Christian churches allow Unitarian churches to offer a communal and generalist liberal-Christian outlook, and that attracts a congregation. But it is not the way to go in general, which is far more diverse. The multi-faith carol services have proved to be attractive - having carols and all that, but extending their meaning as far as they wll go. The old self-contained myth will not do any more.

There is all around a sense of religious revolution in the chaos of change. The chaos is seen in the established Church and its own incompatibilities as a minority seeks to frustrate a majority movement, though that majority movement is itself a compromise in the face of change. The inability of even the compromise is throwing off radicals, but as the radicals realise, and painfully, that they have to cut the institutional rope, a number of positions are resulting (in their cases).

It's no secret so I'll name a few online people. Erika Baker says she has left the Church of England but retains her faith, and yet she seems to be as involved in that Church's politics (presumably hoping that it will catch up); Colin Coward is retaining his Anglicanism particularly for foreign work but actually straining at the leash to discover a different kind or more refreshing faith stance that is far more universal; Jonathan Hagger is trying to be an independent priest on a sounds-like Anglican model (an alternative would be Liberal Catholic independency); some like Lesley Crawley bang on about equality to the point of the edge of the institution but stay within the structures and carry on regardless.

All of these folks maintain to one degree or another the 'cult of the individual', that is faith in Christ. They retain that Pauline twist in the tale that made Christianity. My own view is that this is where the crunch point comes, that a kind of Buddhist stripping has to tackle this. And it is not to tackle this, so that 'we can have a faith in the Jesus who points away from himself' that's a kind of sleight of hand. Also, I think false, unless you are 'high church' unavoidably, is some sort of mystical even Gnostic Christ as some sort of universal principle or spirit. My point is that it is this subservience that is at the heart of all the other subservience - subservience to a language, to a hierarchy, to inevitable discrimination. The carols about 'the universal baby' only go so far before sinking into a pit of subservience themselves. The Jesus who grew up out of Galilee was a Jews-first mistaken rabbi and very much of his own culture and times. His reverse ethics are interesting and therefore worthy of note and use; the Bible is limited in the New Testament because it is an account of the first Christians in proto-orthodoxy creating a biography and Easter narrative of this man and then the earliest days of one branch of the Christian breakout. But that's it. This is a sort of end point of a continual and necessary stripping-out to try and get an ethical position out of the remains of Christianity.

All this leads me as capable of discussing Christianity as I was, but without the subservience. The Buddhist shift was much easier: it wasn't quite as subservient to begin with and has its own negating positions from within its subservience (but then so does Jesus the one God Jew). There is also a need for humanism to be less about humans and more about other creatures among and around us.

There is a revolution going on. The drop from 72% to 59% identification as 'Christian' within ten years isn't just due to a different way of asking the census question. In the generations, the religious change is maintained and deepened.

On Christmas Eve I joined a group of women (and one bloke) in the pub, in their later forties, some of whom work and some relying on benefits, all of whom face an uncertain year ahead, not least those who will find big drops in benefits and will struggle to survive. Some of these women have no interest in religion, some are religious by instinct and self-development, and it's where the Pagan force is coming from. It comes from little to no contact with Christianity (it is after the collapse of the Sunday School movement, and the loss of focus in RE and school assemblies) and this is what will come into Unitarian churches, if it does. This is where the revolution is happening, and it is among the never-churched (as Christians would see it) and among women in particular, the women who are progressive to themselves and not of the women who voted against change from within the Church of England and represented its increasing sectarianism.

But as I said to one Pagan suddenly among us, go back to when these dead female members were alive and active in Unitarianism, and many of them also supported a male minister and older patterns of authority and structure. This was news to her, and she didn't know that so many who voted against change in the C of E were women themselves upholding the old order. It just seems so strange to those who are spiritual but not religious, though that distinction is now breaking down along with the old order.

Pagans are not Christians, but they like carols too. It's just that they are not subservient to anything: after all the gods and godesses have to be generated, and rituals formed. They are creating not fitting in. All subservience has to go.

Monday 24 December 2012

Divisive Carols

Every year it is the same dilemma. Why do we sing carols that celebrate something we do not believe in the rest of the year? I used to exempt myself - see everyone in the New Year. Now I do the music, so I grind my teeth at what I don't believe.

The Unitarian carols are shorter and half a myth, but they don't escape the myth. So you sing along, enjoy, join in, and the explanation is something to do with the birth of the universal baby, or a baby that can be representative of new life and hope. Unlike Anglicans, we sing ahead of Christmas in line with the commercial version, so Advent gets a mention as 'preparation' but tends to get lost in the carols.

This Sunday before Christmas Day we were given the carols neat and orthodox: full length and all the trinitarian words. The myth was in full.
The service taker, one of our own, didn't have the hymn book or carol book at home, and decided to provide everything for me, when I have them all from both carol book and hymn book. We sang to Anglican and Salvation Army choirs, which meant too slow, too fast at times and too long. I still had to edit them to equalise the volume levels and put them to CDs and this when I'd built up edited stock during the year. The service proved to be divisive and I had to say I accept no credit and no blame as people offered me praise and criticism. Experimental and different services are to be welcomed, but the assumption here was all could join in and enjoy, when some did not. We have Jewish and Pagans and humanists in the congregation (including myself) for whom these carols are basically over the top and I wasn't saved from any effort despite good intentions. (The work had been done - roll on next year then!)

The Hull church has two carol services, in fact. The first one in Mid-December is also for the Leonard Chamberlain Trust residents and is a straight run myth (as in readings) but using our carols. A minister comes and the sermon usually tells the folks how we understand the carols. The second service is one where it can be 'what we do with it' and you might see a twist in the tale. This year the twist in the tail was to go all hardcore with doctrine and the myth. Well it serves to know what the myth is (from the hardcore version) and that the duplicity of the occasion is not overcome simply by softcoring the carols

The essential problem is we don't do things collectively but hand out jobs and have domains. I've asked for back up with music preparation over and again. The day I go under a bus is the day they don't have hymns and yet every hymn from Hymns for Living is covered, all the 'white' carols and much from Sing Your Faith.

Next Sunday the carols get dropped except those that have a more general spread. It's more about New Year as a thing in itself. My own new hymn will get an outing at the end: that's NB 006 My Oh My write alt which is to Slade's tune and draws on some of their words. I watched a BBC 4 programme on Slade and as soon as My Oh My was featured I said to myself, "That's a hymn." So I made it one and it is consistent with Unitarianism, as is my hymn NB 005 Cassatio write piano.

We join in with this Christimas stuff and give less weight to Easter. Easter doesn't have the run up because Lent only gets a mention like Advent. Christians regard Easter as the key festival, whereas for Unitarians it is more easily transferable to rebirth and nature. It is easy to ignore Easter. Some of us use Easter to demonstrate biblical criticism and the role of history in a way that doesn't happen with the Christmas myth. We don't go gooey-eyed at Easter.

Unitarians are inconsistent and even duplicious at Christmas. Unitarian romanticism and transcendentalism has become its non-rational Paganism and, really, we ought to focus on that at both Yuletide and Spring. We can surely find more consistent carols with our outlook. Although we are pluralistic, carol services are a means to discover the limits of pluralism and one basis of identity, and it shows that we have a different and more strained relationship with Christianity than we do with other faith expressions to which we have become more charitable.

Monday 17 December 2012

The Nativity as Remembered

Here is a version of the Christmas story, as understood in the Daily Telegraph report, although, like all good myths, it has been embellished a little since.

Joseph, who sawed wood for a living, and Mary, got married but before they 'did it' she heard a voice to carry out a pregnancy test and she found out she was already pregnant. Joseph threatened to divorce her but did the next best thing and left her as a virgin.

They received a summons in the post to go to Beirut for a census in person, in order that they'd be registered for tax. The pregnancy was high speed as, in days, Mary was ballooning outwards and so she rode to to Beirut on the pet donkey.

There was a lot of fighting in Beirut and tourism as well, because it's where Christ was born, so there was no room at the inn. There was only one inn. There were hotels, but they were either too expensive or bomb damaged.

So they had to stay in a stable among horses, their donkey, other donkeys and some sheep brought along by shepherds. There wasn't any electric lighting but a star moved overhead and they could see by it.

Three shepherds came along and offered some woollen garments and Moses's basket. Three Kings from Orient Are came too and gave gifts of a goal, Frankenstein and a mare. There were also three astrologers who said Jesus would be a footballer and Frankenstein stood guard.

Jesus was born and could speak instantly and it was clear he was already an authority on nuclear power proving that he was God and knew everything. Jesus thanked all the visitors in their own languages for coming and even the animals got the drift.

The astrologers also brought news that King Harold was going to kill Jesus. Jesus would have walked but he only had little legs and so they popped him in the basket. Jesus told them the way to get to Egypt where they did a figure of eight to come back but not before they had read the Ten Commandments in stone (Jesus told his parent and step-dad that the other 513 were in a museum somewhere).

When they got back a plague had killed Harold before he had a chance to return to England. Jesus grew very rapidly. At one point he got lost in a supermarket and when he was found said he'd been about his daddy's business, which meant he was now a skilled builder. He was allowed to stay at a Buddhist monastery where he picked up some new ideas, and so didn't agree with those stones any more, and his Uncle Joseph of Arimathea took him on a boat trip to see the world, which actually meant Britain and Glastonbury. There Jesus laid the stone to the first Christian Church before going back with his uncle and choosing some disciples who were thus bishops.

He told his disciples that before he was born he had existed, and after he died he also continued to exist, and so in retirement he had some children with Mary Magdalene, and he visited England again, ordaining St. George, because God is English, and dictating the words of Jerusalem to William Blake. In modern times he is usually seen as patterns in used tea cups or in wood. His mother, however, having been divorced by Joseph, retired in France. There she was tested for her DNA and discovered that she also had a miraculous birth. In fact the children of today, all of whom possess astrological powers, and are members of the Knights Templar, can trace their matrilineal heritage back to the common ancestor of both apes and humans but the father line gets stuck at about -4 CE. All their houses lie on ley-lines and bus routes.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Before Coming Across...

There's the Changing Attitude led letter in the Daily Telegraph, third one down, with many signatures, and then the article derived from it which says what the letter does not quite say:

Leading Anglican campaigners have warned that Government plans to exempt the Church from the new legislation will lead to hundreds of homosexual clergy and worshippers marrying in Quaker and Unitarian services and then returning to the Church.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, dozens of clergy, including Lord Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford, today urge homosexual Anglicans to follow this course of action.

Er, this is not what the letter says, and it may be that there is a rush to say the Metropolitan Community Church or even the United Reformed Church if it becomes the only mainstream denomination to offer same sex marriages (a big 'if' as it has only shown greater generosity to civil partnerships than some).

What is the scenario for Anglican clergy and laity coming along to Unitarian churches (that have voted in favour of holding same-sex marriages) with the registrar in attendance if the minister isn't registered? Are Unitarians to say off you go with your trinitarian rites and see you afterwards?

Many an Anglican liberal makes the sort of compromise with dogma that indicates a belief in public that the individual does not keep. In a Unitarian service, participants are asked what they actually believe, and what sort of content will go into making the marriage service their service. Trotting out the formal Anglican marriage service is highly unlikely, and would be a denial of Unitarian history.

Unitarians rarely have services where all members of a congregation can say, 'I agree with that.' Rather, understanding their differences, they agree to come together, and will enjoy discussion in openness afterwards. This is what being creedless involves.

The marriage service suits the individuals. The Church alters according to its individual constituents, and not the other way around. The people who want to come will be welcome; the duplicity of liberal Anglicanism will not be welcome.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Excluded from Opting In!

Unitarians are getting another mention on the BBC News channel, in that they and the Quakers are listed together as wanting the right to conduct same sex weddings. The legislation also gives the local congregation and minister the right not to opt in even if the denomination does - well this is the situation with the Unitarians anyway. There may well be the odd chapel that says no, and more that just do not register. Hull when approached by a lesbian couple agreed in principle to their conducting what was to be their own blessing, but it never went ahead. A few voted against. Since then Hull has had attendance from people attracted in part because of the national publicity that Unitarians are in favour. I'm not sure what happens if the minister says no and the congregation says yes, in that apparently a minister saying no can prevent the premises from being so used. That would count against Unitarian democratic polity: it does not give ministers the right to veto, it simply doesn't force on them what they don't want.

The government's proposals for legislation not only demand denominational and local opting in, but also specifically excludes the Church of England and the Church in Wales from the legislation. The latter I do not understand as the Church in Wales (why it is 'in' and not 'of') is not established. (Update: Nor it seems does its boss - Dr Barry Morgan doesn't want the extra exclusion!) Presumably either of these Churches would pass the laws of their Churches to include same sex marriage and then Parliament would respond - it's not that much different from the Church of England now. But it means that there is no law waiting to be met by either Church. I can't see the Scottish Episcopal Church getting the same excluding treatment from Holyrood, though it and/ or the Church of Scotland just might.

The law could be such that either Church could be excluded until self-included: but, as with women bishops, the Church of England first votes for and then the law gets changed nationally. Presumably the Church in Wales decides what to do for itself: so this law of exclusion is almost like the establishment creeping back in.

Nevertheless, the symbolism is obvious: up front a specific named Church is excluded even if it wants to be in (though in practice it won't be). The symbolism is a response to the Church of England lobbying for exclusion and for no difference between civil and religious marriage. The multiple locks plus exclusion mean, surely, that  some people are becoming fools for staying in the Church of England.

So a gay lay person in the Church of England, in order to marry their partner, has to pop out to another denomination to get married. It could be that the Metropolitan Community Church is the only 'orthodox' Christian church to offer such marriages (unless the United Reformed Church comes on board with marriage). What of the gay minister, lay or ordained, in the Church of England? Are they going to hop denomination to get married and then return? Would they then get an appointment with their bishop? Surely only those ordained with an old freehold in place will be able to do this without consequences.

If there is going to protest, the most effective will be ministers getting married via other religious means.

Some might marry in a civil setting but surely a blessing for marriage in the C of E would be just as illegal, and it hardly amounts to the same thing as having a wedding that is straightforward religious and done.

The anomaly that would still exist regarding marriage would be that people would be regarded as married in civil society, but the established Church would say some are and some aren't in its eyes (whether civil or religious) or it would just have to be two-faced.

This being two-faced does start to apply to its adherents. You can be two-eyed, but there surely comes a point when you are becoming two-faced. The law is passed on the basis of the absolute refusal of these two episcopal Churches to be involved, and are given solid-in-stone exclusions. At what point in a religiously plural setting does a minister or lay person simply change denomination? No one is forcing anyone to stay in that episcopal institution: what is it about that institution that keeps you there rather than in something more compatible, whether it be the MCC, possibly the URC, or, for clear liberals, the Unitarians or Quakers?

Monday 10 December 2012

Walls of Churches Enforcing Discrimination

Good to see minister Andy Pakula of Newington Green advancing the cause of gay equality regarding marriage; of the two Pagan new attenders attending together (one away at present) one of them also came to us because of the stance on gay marriage. So it does matter.

The Church of England is stuck in a rut on this matter, but whereas the majorities can be mobilised to enforce equality of the sexes into its leadership (should the processes go through some tortuous changes) it seems rather a different situation from achieving thorough equality of sexual orientation.

This government's last figleaf of anything progressive is using equality of sexual orientation. It now would allow through full marriage equality without making a false distinction between religious and secular - either you are married or you are not. So religious groups can opt in to do marriage ceremonies. I would couple this proposal with extending civil partnerships to heterosexuals and thus redefine those to partnerships for those who want joinings for other reasons such as lifelong friendship, the basis of which would be their own. The question a reporter might ask is 'Why did you two form a civil partnership?'Another more advanced question is why more than two could not form a civil partnership.

Such a civil partnership would be easier to bless in church, but would require the flexibility of bespoke liturgies - in stating what exactly was being blessed. The detail would determine whether such a blessing is possible in that particular denomination.

Some seem to think that there is a 'love of Christ' that will come through to embrace treating people who love with equality, but that's a construction and concept. Christianity is a salvation religion around a cult of personality, and that personality is the construction via the Bible and rventually creeds or, at root, the Pauline letters. The Bible via the Pauline has the clobber passages, and it becomes necessary to transcend these. The reversion to a historical Jesus won't do because he is a rather more simple rabbi with some tough views on the given heterosexual marriage and its transformation in the Kingdom to come. If he know of gay sex it will have been via news of what Greek culture got up to in the range of other irrelevant cults, and none of this is relevant to two people forming a lifetime (intended) bond, as indeed the clobber texts after the life of Jesus are irrelevant. If one wants to stay 'with Christ' then it becomes a mystical almost Gnostic extraction, a somewhat Greek-indeed identification of perfection. It may be spiritual but it is not historical.

I regard the world as somewhat cruel: comparative death is what drives diversity and success; some species thrive through torture of their prey. Compassion only comes in social construction among higher animals, though evolution includes looking after the least in case an environmental shift means they carry on transmitting the genes after an ecological disaster. We humans have the intelligence and consciousness to empathise and this is what brings in a moral order.

I can understand high Anglicans who might inhabit the mystic and even Gnostic, and some Liberal Catholics of the arly 1900s kind who understood the supernatural as magical, but I can't understand the low Anglican liberal who is too aware of history and its limitations, of biblical criticsm and Church history, to continue to be 'Christ centred'. Such becomes a slogan only, detached, purely ahistorical, a shorthand that isn't - except for a route that ends up with ethical considerations available to all. If this is mixed up with natural religion (however that is conceived) then it seems to me to be further detached.

Broad Church Unitarians had this debate in the later nineteenth century, when there was still a residual Christian culture. Can't there be a wider definition of 'Church', one to encompass all who love? Even then the Church of England (and other denominations, but they were stricter then) could not stretch to where the Unitarians were going. Now that Unitarianism includes the Pagan and Eastern, the Humanist and the Christian, the Church of England cannot stretch that far either. It might (might) have a role in upholding religious diversity beyond itself, but it cannot itself embrace that degree of diversity. If anything it is facing greater sectarian pressure from within.

That necessary boundary is what prevents the treatment of everyone equally. It is the construction of the religion and its boundaries that coincide with other boundaries. Mainstream Churches, in the end, prevent the busting of those boundaries, those walls, that are also the route to discrimination.

A Debate and Disappointment

I'm a late listener and watcher of the Dawkins, Williams and Kenny (not quite just a chair - he took part) debate at the Sheldonian Oxford. The debate was largely focused on the science and yet added Kenny's and Williams-understood philosophy to this, thus putting Dawkins at a disadvantage. Comments from screeching Christian websites afterwards focused on Dawkins referring to intelligence as late and requiring complexity to produce it - no, said the other two, you can have simplicity in form that can be complex in function.
The websites fail to mention that Kenny turned to Williams and said he thinks there are problems with this applied to God, which was pursued no further. The analogy used was the complex electric razor that does no more than shave, set against the simple cut throat razor that can also cut a throat.

Of course something highly simple in structure can produce highly complex outcomes. We know this already from the beauty of equations that science uses - simple and elegant seems to be the key. Nevertheless, what exists has to be sufficient in structure to produce the complex outcomes, and some of the demands of producing a God are rather large. Omnipresence and omnipotence are rather demanding, never mind creating and sustaining or matters of goodness and justice. None of this tackles the point that intelligence is late, and starting with intelligence gets it the wrong way around.

The evolutionary world is a cruel world: as Dawkins says, it depends on death before reproduction on a comparative basis to produce change. Random evolution leads on to non-random selection in the (local) environment.
The universe being anthropogenic sounds like a lot of hindsight to me. Just because we are an outcome, capable of being sustained (for a while) doesn't mean we are inevitable never mind intended. That point is conceded though in the anthropogenic label. It's interesting that Dawkins questioned whether there was a first Adam or not, and doubted that a homo erectus parents looked down on their homo sapiens baby. It rather happened over perhaps tens of thousands of years, to go from one human species to another that then cannot interbreed (and we now know that we have neanderthal bits in us and they were not our ancestors - so there must have been offspring that led to offspring with these other species).

Dawkins pointed out the absence of information in a book like Genesis and wonders why a Williams wants to look at it, and Williams just demanded the freedom to look at it for certain moral and other insights. Which suggested to me that Judaeo-Christianity is a "story" (word used by Williams once) that is voluntary for its insights. Oh what a world away we are from a more Christian-centred approach to reality.

In a way the debate wasn't focused enough on one thing or the other, so that it could have looked up front at structure and function or looked up front on Christianity being a religion of intervention (after all, what is the claim of incarnation of God in a human being if not intervention?).

All this I'm writing on a Sunday that included a service that disappointed me: we had a second attending Pagan and yet again a new first time attender. There was a rambling and disconnected bible reading of Daniel and comment, as in a 'well-known' reading, and thus a theme of heritage which linked geneaology we might investigate to the Bible having this same mix of history and unreliable insight to make it all the more interesting in its biographies especially the New Testament biography and letters. OK, but edit it down please and realise that some of us just aren't there any more, We want to keep our new folk and not lose them to a sterile debate. The point is that when new people join a Christian Church, the Church expects to change them, whereas in ours when new people join it is the Church that changes. Talking of heritage, now comes the time of Christmas carols making sentiments that few of us believe in. Normally I'd now escape until afterwards but I'm volunteered to do the music. At least after Christmas Day we stop.

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Dolphins and Personhood

I am interested in how animals with some form of language and decision making and social arrangements are to then be regarded as persons, in other words how intelligence forms a social and personal reference system, and how much they are aware of this awareness.

I'm too far away, but for those who are not there is a lecture tomorrow (Thursday 6th December) at 5pm in the Council Room at Mansfield College, Oxford on Dolphins: Personhood, Flourishing and Rights.

Admission is free and all are welcome. It is given by Thomas I. White. He is the author of In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier (Blackwell Publishing, 2007). He is also the Conrad N. Hilton Professor in Business Ethics and Director of the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.

Monday 3 December 2012

Which Anglicans Live 'of' Beverley?

In between Ramsgate and Sandwich on the Kent coast there is a rather non-descript area of land next to the Great Stour river. It is called Ebbsfleet. It is pretty much nowhere land if there is a nowhere land.

North of where I live is Beverley, which is an attractive market town that can hold its own against Hull, partly thanks to is easier car parking when comparing the two centres. Beverley is more defined; Hull is over bloated and spread out. Where I used to live was New Holland, and when Anglican (of sorts) I hopped over the parish boundary to Barton and its church; this place received visits from the diocesan bishop, and indeed the Bishop of Grantham, but much of the administration and decision making bishop-wise came from the Bishop of Grimsby, who has now retired and is no longer replaced.

Now each of these places are, in Anglican terms, sees, because a bishop has a bishopric.

Getting your Barton business done by one in Grimsby makes sense as it is nearby; even a visit from the one of Grantham makes sense (regarding youth things of his interest); and indeed both were under the boss from Lincoln, though the priest-in-charge (as was) was the bishop's representative, presumably the diocesan one. So the other two floated about a bit, but the boundariew were within Lincoln.

 But what happens if a bishop of one of these places says they have a see? Well, all bishops have one. A see implies a geographical spread, and the Lincoln one is the diocese. Clearly Grimsby, now defunct, had a geographical element but fuzzy boundaries, as does Grantham. Grantham is still there, so presumably its fuzziness extends to the whole of Lincoln diocese. He is, of course, a deputy to the boss, who can do the things the boss can do, and so helps do the boss's things among a wide geographical area.

Where is the See of Beverley? Is it limited to the diocese of York? Does the Bishop of Beverley do things coming to a fuzzy boundary with the Bishop of Hull? Apparantly not, however, because the See of Beverley is ideological.

Where is the See of Ebbsfleet? Are people around Ramsgate and Sandwich with villages west particularly well-served? Is there a lot of religious activity in those parts? Apparently not, because the See of Ebbsfleet is also ideological. So what does it mean when Bishop Jonathan Baker SSC, Fourth Bishop of Ebbsfleet, refers to:

So what, in our local context, can we – priests and people of the See of Ebbsfleet – actually do?

And as a second piece of advice he states the need to:

actively to work to maintain the bonds of charity with all those who are your partners in the mission of the Church in your area – clergy and laity of other traditions, male and female, all those involved in the life of your diocese and deanery.

This is interesting and puts him just on one side of a potentially new and different situation. He is obviously accepting that people in his See have also an existence in various dioceses and deaneries. But one 'solution' the anti-women bishops people are seeking are when he would refer to the people of his see and his diocese. Within the provinces of Canterbury or York, these sees spread, even cut, across dioceses because they are
ideological. The people remain in a diocese and thus the bishop retains unity, but one further nudge along the demands of opponents and you get geographical dioceses with holes in them, filled by the people of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet or, say, the Bishop of Beverley. At the moment they are suffragans, and no boundaries other than the province.

It works in that the bishop remains male only and male-derived. The problem for these opponents is that with female or female-derived male bishops, those in the See of Ebbsfleet could not be in the diocese of another bishop. The See has to become of a diocese, the suffrgan a non-geographical diocesan.

And that's the problem. In fact the non-geographic diocese isn't just a Church within a Church, but it relies on the Archbishop being male. That last link of sharing, in a doughnut Church, would have to become a Church of a flying Archbishop should the Archbishop be either female-derived of female.

It is this impossibility which must deny the outcome many traditionalists seek. But the reason it is denied is because the Conservative Evangelicals want the same, and they have GAFCON based international bishops and a council of its own. These in existence mean a forced entryism via the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, but to hand them a non-geographical diocese is to do this entryist job for them.

The opponents of women bishops simply cannot receive what they want. A flying bishop who's a suffragan will no longer be enough as a solution among women and woman-derived male diocesan bishops. So if they retain a blocking minority, it means there is no solution to thus introduce women bishops.

Sunday 2 December 2012

Christianity as 'Male' and Women Clergy

The new attender brought her friend, and this Sunday (in contrast to my service) the emphasis was 'Christian plus' with Advent receiving a substantive treatment. In fact it was one of the best sermons I've heard in a Unitarian setting and that sentiment was widely felt (and indeed about the whole service). Our service taker is both Christian (in Anglicanism) and Pagan herself. But I was worried in that one of these new attenders is Pagan through and through and the other has a strong female perspective. The 'other' thinks Unitarians must just argue if it contains all these different viewpoints. This is not to forget that the most recent new attender before these two is liberal Jewish in outlook.

Indeed, the latest to visit said of Christianity that it is a "male religion" and I agreed. I do agree and it is what puzzles me as I read comments, particularly from women clergy in Anglicanism.

Comments seem to be on the lines of we achieve our full humanity in Christ in which there is no male or female. Thus derives a Christian sourced theology of feminism. We hear that Jesus treated women equally, and that he arranged them to be the first witnesses at his resurrection

It is so easy to unpick this wishful thinking. First of all, he did not arrange anything, regarding the nonsense supernaturalism of his apparent resurrection. No dead human comes back to life beyond a very short time span. No one 'fully human' has that ability, let alone "arranging" who will witness anything. It is not history: history cannot reach it and it is a later tradition of story of resurrection beyond the apparent visions that Paul 'began'. If a person of the same consciousness as Jesus of Nazaeth went about in a renewed body then he was not fully human but something rather odd. The issue of women as the newscasters of the resurrection is probably about why the tradition was not well known earlier - being told not to tell anyone (etc.) goes the story - but central to the story is the lesser status of women as witnesses.

Now, I am as fully human as my next door neighbours and they are as fully human as me. We do not derive our humanity from Jesus Christ but from being evolved humans; and so did he. His full humanity, in his case, in religious and cultural terms, was being a man, and being a Jew. Indeed, his concern was for Jews and the coming Kingdom of God in that belief system. So his Judaism matters, as does being a man. He chose a man to head each tribe of Israel in their own transformation into the Kingdom. Mary Magdalene had no such portfolio. Only Paul turns this into a plus-Gentiles universalism, with women of importance in running some congregations along with cultural reservations. Some of the Pauline writings limiting the ministry of women do not come from Paul but from those later writers claiming to be Paul (yes the Bible does 'lie' about its authors along with some other well invented matters). The tradition then turned against whatever were its equalitarian turns in its revolutionary phase under Paul, once post the Temple's destruction and the ending of Jewish Christianity.

On top of that restatement of male hierarchy is the standard language of Christianity as male and monarchic. Now of course women should be bishops as well as clergy, in that the Pauline religion made orthodox has greater equalitarian origins - and one does not have to go off to the Gnostics (selectively) to get female equality hundreds of years later. Indeed, women do and should inherit the earth in all its sacred muckiness, and Gnostic spiritual purity is hardly a better road to travel.

So the religion is male biased through and through. I just find it bizarre to hear a woman say that a full humanity comes from Christ, when he is a bloke. Of course we are all fully human and does not depend on which sex, or ethnicity, we know, but it's not derived from him either but from our species.

Meanwhile the House of Laity might remove its Chair and other Conservative Evangelical gatekeepers, and try to be prepared for a different thrust to get women bishops before a re-election. Trouble is, the bishops may try to offer more 'reassurance' to the blocking minority, but who will surely go on blocking until they get what amounts to a Church within a Church - their own flying bishops, permanently. These bishops might even be the GAFCON ones. Some now say only a single clause equality transformation is acceptable now, so any further concessions would achieve resistance from the pro side. It all looks a bit stuck.

More than this, if it does take until the next set of elections, the big congegations are going to organise the representatives to the House of Laity even more. They know it works - it has worked. The Church of England is becoming more not less sectarian, and I have argued already that the Church of England has just had its best chance at achieving women bishops. I predict that in any new election the blockers will be stronger not weaker. They have the numbers and the money and the organisation.

Probably the solution is in an adjustment back towards the offending clause but not quite, and try to persuade those who seek actual equality to hold their noses and just establish the reality of bishops female as well as male. That way the territory is trod, even if imperfectly, and perhaps will be enough to liberalise the Church towards more equality to then, later, have more chance to enforce actual equality. The alternative is a more obvious male-headed sectarianism and a strengthening of the opposition in the future.But even getting a messy outcome in the shorter term might not be achievable.

Unitarians in England had their first female minister in 1904, and it was a lot easier then. And she was German.

Monday 26 November 2012

My Service, and How a New Attender Appeared

To be honest, I don't think my service Sunday was one of my best. It took as long to write, as I also write my own prayers (I just don't like what I find elsewhere, and I'm as capable as they are at putting thoughts together). There were too many new hymns and I did chop a reading down to size myself once the main point had been made. But it did reflect my own changes and did take a chance to explain how I understand the thinking of Rowan Williams and my differences with such. It's my turn back to a more realist position, and why whilst I agree with Don Cupitt about religion I don't agree with his all-embracing philosophical stance. As well as presenting the service I continued to do the music.

We had a new attender among the pathetic turnout. Now I am on a dating website and so far have been enjoying a text exchange with someone locally. She learnt (slowly) of my religious involvement (it's not something to advertise these days - by far the biggest number now is 'no religion') and she is herself neo-Pagan. But she told an ex-Catholic friend of me and the Unitarians and so that friend attended today for the first time and rather liked it. And I seem to remember that our Muslim attender's first time was when I took the service, and she kept coming until it was time for her to return to Iran.

The dating evening was a cock-up Sunday evening, because I didn't see the person with whom I've been messaging, but she was in this smallish, very packed venue with its blistering loud music. After 50 minutes I went outside to see if she was arriving, when she was already inside with a friend. So eventually after a further half an hour mainly outside I went and joined my friends arriving at another pub.

But no problems as my dating friend may arrive with new attender at the coffee morning on Friday. If both were to get involved (and my dating friend excused herself so as not to make me nervous - eh?) then we might be even further on the way to rejuvenating with more new blood the congregation. We have recruited new faces recently and if we hadn't the place would be in a sorry state indeed.

Saturday 24 November 2012

More Spin-off: Bishop N. T. Wrong Intervenes

Peter Levite: I'm joined in the studio regarding the fall out of no women bishops by the male bishops N. T. Wrong and Anthony Wedgewood Bigg. Shake hands Bishop Bigg, Bishop New. Yep. Ow, that's a bit strong. I also have with me Jade Stowaway, Rachel Marsovenus and Lesley Tilgate. Ooh, kisses from you all. That's nice. Why purple balloons, two of you?

Jade Stowaway: It's our colour of protest. Women clergy are going to start wearing purple.

Rachel Marsovenus: Rock on, I'll make it fashionable.

Peter Levite: In the spirit of your Church, let me address the men first. You have just published a response, Bishop New, to the threat by...

New Testament Wrong: Call me Newt.

Anthony Wedgewood Bigg: I can't stay long; I have to keep moving. I want to be able to continue to organise our people.

Peter Levite: You fear some sort of knock on the door, Bishop Bigg?

Anthony Wedgewood Bigg: Be careful what you say.

Peter Levite: Bishop er Newt, Parliament seems to be making it clear that it is very unhappy. You could lose your exemption from equality legislation.

Anthony Wedgewood Bigg: To be a Church in one nation is a sin; we should stretch a fellowship across the world, our bishops govern themselves abroad and to here and offer oversight. Or a third province would do it. Not only was that measure unacceptable; the present situation can't go on either where there are no bishops like me, no one of the true conviction like mine replacing those men who have retired. We need people to confess their Anglicanism, we need them to be in fellowship, we need good men as our presbyters, we need to be secure that our male bishops are properly chosen and function worldwide. Parliament is irrelevant. I'm sorry but I must be going to my next location.

New Testament Wrong: I don't know what he's fantasising about, but from where I am in Scotland I'm saying Parliament should get its tanks off our lawn. Otherwise we'll blast the institution into the Thames.

Peter Levite: Well thank's for letting me cross examine you, not, Bishop Bigg. Strong words, strong words, Bishop er...

New Testament Wrong: Don't mess with me. I couldn't give a tinker's tipple about modernity or liberals or the State or Erastianism. I take my cue from the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ - Christ! - and nothing else. That's the lynchpin, and I can prove it. [Bangs the table] Mary, she said so. That's the proof, the first one.

Rachel Marsovenus: Way to go!

Jade Stowaway: It's good to have Bishop New on side; he's like your protection.

Lesley Tilgate: Protection racket more like.

New Testament Wrong: Just you be careful - my reach is far and wide. We all know about the Timothy verse, the 1 Timothy 2 taken as refusing to allow women to teach men. But serious scholars like me disagree on the actual meaning, as the key Greek words occur nowhere else.

Rachel Marsovenus: We need serious biblical exegesis to overturn the plain meaning of the text without appearing to be liberal.

Anthony Wedgewood Bigg [opens the door from the corridor outside]: Who cares about so-called serious scholars in the present day? That's just your own version of modernity. It's not true, anyway. The words are not unusual. And as for Mary, we don't ordain newscasters. She never took Judas's place, did she? Look, there's no one about but I really must be going.

Lesley Tilgate: No female bishops without equality! The spirit moves through modernity, that's what liberalism represents. What's this about an empty tomb anyway?

New Testament Wrong: Liberalism is Whiggism and nothing to do with the witness of the Church. Shame on "liberals" in the Church to invite the State to bolster their own cause. We obey the historical resurrection, the God we follow, not David Cameron and his "progamme" or Tony Baldry or anyone else. The Church that obeys human authorities has forgotten what it means to be the Church. And I shall remind them.

Lesley Tilgate: You forget the vote. And that was human. God doesn't intervene. As I said in my sermon on the raising of Lazarus, God didn't raise Jesus in a historical sense. That doesn't happen.

Rachel Marsovenus: Eh?

New Testament Wrong: How dare you question the wisdom of a scholar like me? Don't forget that your ecclesiastical career was going nowhere but for liberal romantic sympathies and don't forget it can go nowhere in the future. One nod from me is all it takes. And that goes for all of you.

Peter Levite: Not me, not a successful local newscaster who gets the public to text and email in their comments - looking forward to them on this! No, I wasn't ordained either. Has he gone? Oh, he has gone. Bishop Bigg has left the building.

Jade Stowaway: The Bible should be our guidebook as evangelicals but clearly we give it to the people afresh in different cultural settings and in ours no one can understand that vote. Is my balloon going down?

Peter Levite: There is someone at the window. It's double glazed - can you hear him? It's Bishop Bigg.

Lesley Tilgate: He says, hang on, "You have devalued the name 'evangelical'. You all have. I cannot stay any longer."

Peter Levite: Oh he's gone.

New Testament Wrong: If he attempts to organise a semi-detached evangelical confessing network then it should be crushed at birth.

Jade Stowaway: It's already born.

New Testament Wrong: Then it must be cast out. So the key point is Junia was ordained, and Phoebe was clearly an ordained businesswoman. Mary Magdalene is the reality whereas modern ideas of "progress" are simply a feminist parody that no one has experienced.

Rachel Marsovenus: Such excellent exegesis! Where does it say that about Phoebe?

New Testament Wrong: It is my opinion as a serious scholar.

Rachel Marsovenus: So I can't use it then.

New Testament Wrong: You can use it if you pay me royalties. The State was always on the wrong side of history, let's be clear, which is why Christianity is now flourishing as a main means of explaining what is important.

Lesley Tilgate: Progress and feminism unrealised? The common narratives today are completely non-interventionist. What about chaos theory, secularisation, science? The Church's dogma is what's behind the times.

New Testament Wrong: But not in the Church! If you want to be in the Church you start obeying the Church's rules. It is the liberals who are the hangers-on, and if not for you and those appalling Episcopalian liberals - in America I mean, not quite so in Scotland, though they're not far off, but exeptions where they buy my books - yes that without the problem of liberals we evangelicals would probably get on well.

Lesley Tilgate: You're as divided as you can be. At least the liberals are united - unity from diversity. Huh - dogma? Inequality? I don't know how I put up with it. Oh yes I do.

Peter Levite: So you women - not you Lesley - have the purple balloons. Do you think the Group of Six, the Archbishops, Proculators and Chair/ Vice-Chair of the House of Laity, will be forced to bring Synod back, especially if Parliament threatens to remove equality legislation opt-outs?

New Testament Wrong: Have you not listened to a word I have said? If they have, they will get their tanks off our lawn. Otherwise plague after plague could visit this land as evangelicals pray to God to send an evolved virus.

Lesley Tilgate: I cannot see the Chair, Sir Flip Giddy, agreeing. He voted against, after all.

Peter Levite: But if Parliament acted?

New Testament Wrong: Let me put your name 'Levite' in my book. What is your first name?

Lesley Tilgate: Don't tell him, Peter.

New Testament Wrong: Ah, 'Peter'.

George Hudson: That's an old joke, that is. I'm on the platform at York, a train is in going up to Aberdeen. Stops at St Andrews. Railways - that's progress.

New Testament Wrong: I have unfinished business down in the south. I want to wish my good friend and confidant Rowan Tree a happy retirement as an adult education art teacher.

Lesley Tilgate: You were never his confidant. Look, you don't frighten me. Yeah this Church might be forced to act.

New Testament Wrong: So why do you think he has become an adult education art teacher? No longer to be even a theologian-in-situ, unlike me. Just a nod, just a tap of the finger. Remember that.

George Hudson: Can I just say that the weather will be as wet as this fresh paint on this York seat?

Friday 23 November 2012


There is a campaign arising for The Group of Six, that is Archbishops and leaders of the House of Laity in the Church of England, to use its discretionary power to call another General Synod and vote again on the draft legislation to ordain women as bishops.

Why would Dr. Philip Giddings, as Chair of the House of Laity, agree to this? He is not likely to change his mind, is he?

There is not going to be a change in the vote based on trying to convince the minority that they are only just a blocking minority. They are not going to be persuaded that organising themselves into the General Synod House of Laity makes it unrepresentative. They already think that they subsidise a large number of failing congregations.

Labour's Militant Tendency weren't asked to organise just a little less; and when the House of Lords refused to reform Lloyd George didn't say perhaps they might just vote again. The problem is the General Synod has no means to overcome the blocking minority in the way that Lloyd George could have created hundreds of hereditary peers.

Some on the liberal side say only a single clause measure will do in future, for proper equality; but on the blocking minority the demand is for a non-geographical diocese or another province, or such to produce a Church within a Church. They now know they have the numbers to demand this. But such cannot be acceptable, because it is doing the Fellowship of Confessing Anglican's entryist job for it. This and similar legal provisions of 'untaint' and secured male-only authority creates holes in dioceses where the female bishop, or male bishop of female consecration, cannot go. The unity of the bishop is lost.

So, much as Fulcrum may not like my opinion, this is an impasse. Frank Field says give the blocking minority what they want in order to establish the principle. But the more that is offered, the likelier is the division of the Church of England to the point where it is, effectively, two Churches. The point about feeding a crocodile what it wants is that it comes back for more.

In terms of waiting, the problem is that the fundamentalist churches are just going to get bigger in proportion to the rest. The next General Synod elections will be no better for the progressive view, and more likely to be worse.

So there we are. The other point that seems to be continuing is the fact that the liberals still don't budge. The liberals seem to put up with anything and everything. But you don't have to put up with this, otherwise why not be a Roman Catholic or Orthodox and really have what is unsuitable, or, for evangelicals, get some hardcore Free Church of England? Is it just privilege and outreach, or establishment, that is the attraction? Or the money? Worried about what you actually do believe when you are free to alter your beliefs?

So, for repetition: this was the best chance and it was lost. Now plan the future.