Tuesday 26 June 2012

ICUU a Minister

Sunday was an interesting service prior to the Hull church Annual General Meeting. It was conducted by John Midgley, one of the senior ministers of the samll Unitarian denomination, and of course conducted with expression and confidence that many other service takers can yet learn. Celia, his wife, who gave a reading, is of the same acquired status. However, there is no such thing as a 'senior minister', but we know who they are; but, in clarity, there are such things as ministers.

The theme of the service was the story of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU), a new worldwide body that was formed to give assistance to such liberal groups around the world, and I would say of the different traditions of the confessional Unitarians of central Europe and the evolving Unitarians/ Unitarian Universalists elsewhere. The And Something Else Happened chapter of the story was what happened after this grouping set up the obligatory website. What happened was that people around the world started reading the principles of individual religious liberty and congregational freedom, and started getting in touch to form new groups, sometimes in parts of the world hostile to the principles, and who cannot get visas to come to the ICUU meetings. In each case, as possible, ICUU people go out to meet new folk and give advice. The effect of the ICUU was to give seed to more Unitarianism worldwide beyond the ex-colonies and central Europeans.

I am minded to compare this with Anglican facilities to meet worldwide, which started on the same advisory and assisting basis; but whereas the ICUU can never be any more than this (because the General Assemblies of denominations are themselves advisory), the Anglican tendency to hierarchy and some Catholic theories of bishops, as well as a Protestant view of a fellowship of common believing, took hold and started creating a communion that made resolutions that some people took as more than just authoritative.

We know that Unitarians around the world are in different places regarding religious expression. Fortunately the east Kenyan group with the polygamous and homophobic bishop has now wandered off elsewhere, so there is at least an ethical consistency in Unitarian radicalism. The differences are wide: the Africans joining up dance as part of their religious expression; the Romanians (of Hungarian ethnicity) keep to the simplicity of 'God' while other Europeans and Americans think of other words for spiritual depth, and some are very Protestant and rational while others light candles and look into postmodern Paganism, or hold a place for dissident Baha'is. Unitarians are relaxed about diversity, and indeed diversity is all.

But as the Anglicans started to centralise, so their differences started to impede on one another. As those who were most authoritarian in the West asked for overseas support in increasing the authoritarianism, different Anglicans started to concede and compromise, even tried to incorporate. It was never going to work, and the Anglican Communion Covenant as an attempt at Protestant and Catholic process was crippled as the high-ups assumed it could be almost forced into being.

In terms of a Christian background, the Unitarians are very low church. Even where it is most Church it has Overseers called Bishops that are decidedly non-Apostolic. They are elected, oversee, and retire - but they are ordained. I have made contrasts between this approach and the Liberal Catholic one, where diversity of belief started with Theosophy and Hinduism but they retain the magic of continuous apostolic ordinations and indeed the magical interpretation of Eucharist; Old Catholic tends also to be broad but its looseness of ministries means that some delve into the Pagan and magical whilst the official view can be more ecumenical and ordinary (and thus not necessarily a magical view of Eucharist). The difference is that Liberal Catholics select and make a minister but Unitarians can only train for a minister to become one.

But, unlike some Anglicans, one cannot imagine the Liberal and Old Catholics sacrificing their independence. Others concelebrate but by invitation, as each holds to their own interpretation about what is universal about ministry and about parameters of ritual and belief. If Unitarians share practices, it is by pure diversity and individualism, and not by any kind of sanction. Nevertheless, these Catholics, once they recognise due process as having taken place, recognise their ministry titles even if they don't have concelebrations. For Unitarians, it ain't necessarily so.

But the Liberal and Old Catholics have, with their hierarchy, and yet their different understandings, a tendency to split and divide into ever smaller pieces. In Great Britain, the original Open Episcopal Church split when the Scotland diocese as was became its own Church, and thus the OEC as was replaced the Scottish diocese. Such developments should not surprise.

Unitarians do also have group mentaliites as people form around particular emphases, but the diversity helps keep people together; in this case, however, the different structures come from outside. This was true when the evolutionary Unitarians and confessional Unitarians discovered each other. It is true now too: thus we have Unitarian Ministries International coming on the scene, making ministers of its members, and because it pursues a unitarian theology, attracts the support of the Unitarian Christian Association, which is principally attached to the British General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches and forms its most conservative movement. The 'threat' of the UMI is that it forms a wholly different structure, even outside the ICUU, and produces 'ministers' that are not recognised as ministers elsewhere. There are people acquiring the title 'Reverend' when they haven't been through the selection and training procedures of the General Assembly, and it potentially undermines ministry as a unifying body of the denomination (even though there are no reserved areas for ministers: everything they can do other folk can do too). So there are UMI Reverends that take services in Unitarian churches in Britain, but (it seems) don't use the title Rev. when they do.

There are also people who have acquired the title Rev. from selection and training in another denomination, and (unlike most) have not been through a process of transference since becoming Unitarian, and still call themselves Rev. even when operating in Unitarian circles. I suppose the toleration of that difference, between UMI and others, is that the others have a legitimacy that the closer competitor UMI, of a largely Internet existence, doesn't have. Anyone can call themselves Reverend, but it ought to mean something in each place.

Personally, I'm not too worried about the UMI. It is founded on a historical view of Unitarian Christianity and it isn't the basis of the GA (other than the adoption of that nuisance Object, in and amongst the freedom stuff, and the history, to 'uphold' Liberal Christianity). The problem is not the Romanians, who stay with the ICUU and related bodies, but others and individuals, such as the revived Scandinavian group that is as much with UMI as is the British UCA, and usually on a maintenance of Christian identity argument. This is where the confusion can start.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Wonder of the Universe

Challenged about eyewitnesses and such (usually in the gospel period, but clearly not just) I suppose I get tired of underlying assumptions or people trying to equate speculative belief as faith with whatever is the trust or faith in the scientific method. I don't care that this is into an evangelicals' forum. So I made an entry, which actually outlines my general approach to 'faith':

Let's look at evolution. The work done on what Darwin didn't know is underlining the solidity of the Darwinian scheme and indeed what we did not know a little while ago gets reinforced. For example, it was thought that there were many examples of the evolution of the eye, and the eye exists in creatures at every operating stage from light cell to as we have. But the existence of particular genetic switches have shown that the eye has evolved just once. That evolution is incredibly powerful, and it does not get more scientific than that. Because now it really is all linked down one tree to the simplest of creatures.

This does not require faith. It requires simply deduction, argument, ongoing proof. Yes, all science can be overturned by better explanations, but the test is everything (and not just observation - where old Aristotle made his mistake).

All the matter of 'God' is faith, it is all cultural and it is all transient. People who eyewitness see what they see within a context of explanation, and that explanation comes in culture.

You give it away when you refer to Abraham. There is no demonstrable evidence of any kind that an Abraham existed, so that which is written is pure myth. Or, if you take Moses, well 'someone like Moses' may have existed, but such is lost in the fog of time and story.

The issue for me is not a God that exists or acts, but about transcendence - if there is any sense in which the higher qualities of all that is have a transcendent value that implies some sort of connection. If not, then it is a good idea, but only a human reflection and aspiration. The interesting stuff is our own self-consciousness and how that 'exists', which is largely mystery even to science. For example, does consciousness have a quantum aspect to it, and if it does how does that have any 'continuance' beyond the body? I doubt that, but it must be a possibility, even if fleeting.

I do not think anything has been created with intent. Intelligence is something that comes late in evolution, not early, and it does not take intelligence to produce intelligence. But again, what is interesting is how simple numbers with virtual numbers in a repeating equation can produce the most complex of shapes, and there is beauty in equations (thus the question about transcendence).

The world as we have it is fascinating enough to evoke a religious response, but it is not one directed by some dogma but rather in the questions that the world as it is throws up, principally that of pointers to the transcendent - in what points, in the wonder. And it is amazing to be alive and self-reflect in such a vast universe and that is enough wonder for me.
Added on Tuesday 26th:

I am taking my view from the good scientists and the rest, and indeed the contrast that there is between evolution not in doubt and the comparative difficulties in astro-physics still that requires missing aspects or a rewrite - a rewrite of the explanations to fit the observations. Evolution behaves like a chaotic system because it is locally formed in every case, but in the interactions between species (in competition, in co-operation) it may well have systemic qualities. So, just as weather is chaotic and unpredictable after a short period, climate nevertheless shows stability over longer periods - but then can undergo shifts. These systems are all self-explaining. What interests me, then, is the language of interpretation and appreciation, and therefore the religious-reflective response. This is how I understand religious humanism, but my pluralist tag is about secondary, non-causal language of appreciation coming out of different religious traditions - so that, for example, if I write liturgical material I will include Krishna opening his mouth and seeing the universe inside.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Music Editing Gap Filled

As might be known, I'm like a church DJ. I guided the installation of a new sound system and have since provided the music for singing and meditation. I get music from a variety of sources: the Unitarian choirs CDs and odd cassette tapes here and there. There's the Clyde McLennan Australian website of organ and piano music, and he knows that people are going to use free Audacity to slow down the tempo and lower the pitch of some .MP3 organ and piano pieces (do the two together and the integrity of the music is maintained). There are numerous .MID samples. These are computer generated sounds with internal instruments and so can appear inside music composing software. I use the free Musescore which is comprehensive. It produces its own .OGG, .WAV and .MP3 output with internal instruments, as well as .PDFs to display scores and .MID files. The latter do not speed up or slow down from the score's editing (as far as I can tell) but instruments get changed, as well as new or lost notes are included. So it is possible to edit inside the composition software and inside audio software. Audio as .WAV and similar sounds better, but whilst we might identify its origins in instruments and voices a computer cannot. It is just a wave form that makes one skwark rather than another.

Imagine if some could. Then you could find a .WAV, get it processed, and then enter it as computer digital information into a composer. Suppose you compromise, like tell it the tone of an instrument and give it an instrument. In fact there is software that needs this initial assistance. Now let the software discover the notes and their length and loudness and save them to .MID. Ones you pay for produce the file result but limit the saving. Crumbs if I didn't find a freeware one, Amazing MIDI and less ambitious, completed in 2003.

It completes the loop. You can take a .MID sample, but it in composing software, output as a .WAV with lots of improvements. Perhaps there are derived introductions, longer notes for a final verse etc.. Audio editing software can play with the sound and repetitions and bring things together. The best to send back to .MID is the clarity of piano playing, but now I can fill the gap. I can get a .WAV to become a .MID and some of the clever playing is retained in incredibly dense and complex scores. You do get extra notes and trailing notes, but the result can be quite clever.

I don't think closing the loop is the intention, but rather having the ability to produce a score from a .WAV or audio file. So you have a nice song, you process it and can produce, say, a .PDF of a score.

I also have tried a .PDF to .MID program, that attempts to read the score. I don't know its limitations, if it fails say when the score is derived from a picture. The one I tried saves one page only trial a time, though you can do it page by page, but I found some missing notes or not giving a note long enough, when the .MID was made.

It is all grist to the mill. I can download You Tube and similar videos and convert to .WAVs, so I wonder which video will end up displaying as a .PDF of a score? And of course I can copy the score out of a hymn book to produce an acceptable .WAV file of my creation with better instruments than in a .MID file.

To think I once bought a computer mainly to type and make corrections. Now the multimedia has transformed use. Small software with specific tasks is the best, but I have much that makes being a church DJ a practical proposition, creating, sourcing and remaking sound material.

Monday 18 June 2012

Churches Booming Apparently

Sociologists of religion have, apparently, got it wrong. Rather than Churches being in decline, as the doom merchants and pessimists state, they are often growing and fast. The research demonstrating growth is endorsed by all sorts of leading figures in different Churches and denominations.

I have no idea what 'endorsing' research does - either it is good research or it is not. Research does not improve by being endorsed. But there it is: and, otherwise, the media, academics (even academics) and other Church leaders do not see the growth that is going on, because they don't want to see it and it doesn't fit the usual picture.

Then we find it's not quite so fantastic.

Growth has happened, at least in some places, at least among some identifiable (ethnic) populations. Right. Academics do know this. Growth has happened in London. Yes. Academics do know this. Churches have closed and churches have opened, in equal number. Think about this. It is a reluctant moment when a long existing church is finally closed. Many such stand on the brink and hang on. Those that actually close equate to those that open, and an opened church can be a fellowship, or a plant. Equal does not mean equal.

Main denominations are in decline. This is important. The bulk of churches, of Churches, are indeed in decline. So the kinds of Churches opening and growing are different in kind institutionally. Newer denominations indeed, and ethnic groups within them.

But what about London? The answer regarding London is in its function as a world city, with 'villages' of ethnic populations and a highly mobile general population. London is almost American in terms of how churches function as places to carry out community and social functions. You get specialist churches within denominations: every variety can attract a group of supporters.

Now the danger here is to wear some very rosy-coloured spectacles and start theologising. The idea, for example, that the Church of England could import a black African leadership to gain some sparkle simply does not make cultural sense - imagine the homophobia involved and there has been enough of that in the home-grown variety just recently, and very damaging it has been.

Asking what David Hope did as Bishop of London is a daft question. Well, perhaps he could have caused damage but the answer is probably nothing. The London phenomenon has an equivalence in the run up to 1913 in the denominations nationwide. Back then main denominations were doing well, north and south. Someone realised, however, that the population was also rising and churches provided education, leisure and welfare functions. But the labour movement and later the middle class withdrawal saw an end to that role in society. Today there is still an educational motive to attend church - to get children into particular schools - so that is equivalent to Victorian and Edwardian behaviour, but this is nowhere near as extensive. Churches have specialised and most church life is about doing religion, more around the core activities.

Indeed there are growing Unitarian churches! Some grow because they are in a location that reflects a geographical community, sometimes where the church alternatives are evangelical. Others are in large cities of fluid populations, so London ones can have both a radical and traditionalist old-style Unitarian edge. Yes it helps when they are well ministered and well managed, but the potential needs to be there.

The secularisation thesis is more robust than these Christian optimists would like to make out. As a general pattern of knowledge and activity, the secular and practical is becoming dominant. Churches are more sectarian in terms of people gathered into membership and activity. Secularisation may involve linear religious loss or a diffusion into civic religion and forms of degraded superstition (ghosts, luck, use of magick), but it is about the sociology of knowledge - the everyday and practical way people assume truths.

There is no magic formula in church growth. You can plant them, but whereas London is fluid, places like Hull are clearer versions of what is more typical. In Hull, evangelical churches struggle just the same as others. One very suburban west of Hull Anglican church does well, and there is a Pentecostal church that is going to try and expand. I'd be surprised if it gets many people from Bransholme. But whilst there may be handfuls of extra people attracted, there is rather more a circulating population of such already believing folk. Of course, any influx of immigrants, legal or illegal, will tend to increase church life as they become places to relate people to each other. The same is true of mosques and Sikh and Hindu temples.

None of this growth will reduce the need for the Church of England (and other denominations) to clip its wings and cease to be overstretched theologically. Its traditionalist Catholics are still going to leave, and the Conservative Evangelicals have a self-tendency to self-destruct even when they think they are on the point of managing their own success. It is a longer argument, but I also think in a tighter Church the more radical form of liberal will be very uncomfortable. We are already seeing this in the gay and women leadership debates and awkward processes: the fall-out is beginning, with liberal people actually leaving the Church of England on ethical grounds, but the demand will be to conform more as overt theological liberalism will be unacceptable in a tighter, narrower, Church.

If Church leaders and enthusiasts misunderstand the sociology behind where churches do grow, they will surely get the theology wrong. Making statements about Jesus being magnetic and the Holy Spirit being busy is frankly silly when there are good, researchable, sociological reasons for church growth and decline.

Goodhew, D. (ed.) (2012), Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the Present, Ashgate Contemporary Ecclesiology series, Farnham: Ashgate; launched at Church House, Westminster on Tuesday 19 June, 5 pm - 6.30 pm. Cranmer Hall, Durham, Conference on 'Church Growth in the North', 2 July, where David Goodhew is Director of Ministerial Practice.

Saturday 16 June 2012

A Treatise on the Alteration of Money (and Demand)

Some time back Matthew Collings explored The Beauty of Equations, as used in physics, from the perspective of the artist, but one he might have considered in economics is the Irving Fisher equation, MV=PT. This is the money supply and its velocity (speed of circulation) is the same as prices and number of transactions. MV+PY is a development where Y is output of goods and services.

 The latest effort of the Bank of England, that banks can draw on cheap money from the Bank of England only when it is leant to business, is an attempt to influence V or velocity. Because up to now quantitative easing has increased the money supply but it has simply died in a stagnant pool of no movement. Also the intention is to increase Y, and Y does include investment goods. MV=PY does not of itself suggest the dymamism of the economy. The reason an economy can borrow to pay off debt is because borrowing to increase demand during a slump has a disproportionate effect in getting business responding. In this cycle the money curve is somewhat flat, the demand curve thus raises output far more than prices. When an economy is running nicely, to add demand is to basically raise prices.

At this time some economies are stuck in a euro that has a value level well above their ability to be competitive, leading to an over-emphasised slump. A single currency needs a trans-European regional policy in good times and bad. To come out of the euro, however, and into a comparatively worthless currency, might help recovery but might, equally, lead to local hyperinflation. A long time ago it was known that the State debasing currency had an inflationary effect. But as A Treatise on the Alteration of Money, by the Spaniard Juan de Mariana (1536-1624), shows, it was also known that debasing a currency had beneficial effects of generating trade. The book lacks the theory that was to come about in the Enlightenment, but it carries within the ethical issue of the State (usually the monarch) debasing the coinage. What the scholastics did not know was that a high value metal, a rare metal, was not itself important, but that rarity itself was. So what was needed was the ability to make inflexible the supply of money. This was achieved when notes and coins included the promise to pay based on a gold deposit, but actually it didn't even need that deposit. It just needs to be able to pay up if the currency collapses.

The book is an example of the 'prehistory' of economics, before the capitalists and mercantilists, but the very fact that countries had currencies drew the curiosity of Aristotelian type observation [Aristotle founded truth in earthly experience rather than in Platonic heavenly idealism, but he was no scientist and so did not experiment correctly - observation is not enough]. So, of course, historians observed the effect of monarchs being naughty and debasing currency, noting an increase in trade at times, and inflation of prices at times. It all was written about in a general kind of way, as within this treatise.

But we have this legacy of naughtiness of currency debasers, whereas we should regard these issues as technical. It is just as unethical for the Germans to restrict the euro (suits its exports wonderfully) on some lecture about economic efficiency and house keeping, as it is to allow the complex economics of the continent to work flexibly. Still, the Chinese are unethical in the way corrupt state capitalism operates, that is a combination of one-party backhanders, private firms functioning, suppressed unions and wages, and a currency held down in international value artificially. Although wages are rising, and the economy should catch up with the rest of the world in terms of price differences, this period of Chinese state sponsored growth has seen huge surpluses in China by which Western consumption has been upheld by debt, with the debt running into property prices. Now with the collapse - and you cannot insure against collapse and so all those money supply-expanding derivatives vanished too - the various governments of the world funded the desperate banks and now the governments need desperate funding. The old view that the State is the one institution that cannot go bust is being tested.

The only way out of this is perhaps the biblical method of 49 years and clear all the debts. Creditors won't be very happy, but that's tough. Apparently the Romans were the first civilisation to insist on debt repayment, but as an empire it forgot how to innovate and ran out of new land and sources of slaves, and we all know what happened to it. Some countries today have to default; banks have to collapse (whilst protecting private savings). The world needs to start again in some places. There is a good argument to nationalise all personal account banks - the banking collapse has led to State takeovers in terms of ownership but not to the extent of rewriting the rules.

We know that these are the real ethical questions, but the important matter is to get the technicalities right. The ethical behaviour of banks in their derivative making profiteering is the topic of the time, and banks ought to undergo new restrictions. But the State can debase its currency because that is a means towards growth, with an ethical positive, but at present it is one of the least effective ways of generating growth without restoring demand as well. And one of the best ways to generate demand is State spending on projects, and secondly is by giving more not less to the poor, as the poor spend what they get whereas the rich will just save it. So, ethically, and practically, the poorest should have more because that will get demand up and more of the poor back to work. Restricting the poor's money to make work more attractive is daft because it doesn't increase work. Pay the poor more (working and not) and the jobs will start to come about, and people will always want to be productive.

Mariana, Juan de (1536-1624), Acton Institute (2011), trans. Brannan, P. J., intro. Chafuen, A. A., A Treatise on the Alteration of Money, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics and Law, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Christian Library Press Academic.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Other Voices

Crumbs, it comes to something when even a bishop says:

So, I am forced to say that those of my colleagues who have spoken out on same-sex marriage do not speak for me and neither, I dare to say, do they speak for the Church of England - they are rehearsing their own opinions.

That's the suffragan Bishop of Grantham in his own blog.

Given the fallout, there is perhaps a strong need for other voices to be heard. After all, people are leaving over this and only a few drift back.

Homophobic Disintegration

This time it is the Archbishop's Council, making its anti-equality statement, regarding marriage, whereas the mess on the legislation for women to become bishops is the responsibility of the House of Bishops.

The consultation of the government with the Church of England does not seem to extend to the Church of England consulting its own bodies of authority. Perhaps it has an authoritarian view of itself, at the top.

The position of the Church of England is that of, recently, the Archbishop of York. It is hyperbolic and the same strained nonsense. It merges its own doctrine of marriage with apparent social custom. But social custom shifts, and can do rapidly, and is doing. Even its own Book of Common Prayer is not as secure as it thinks for reasons of so-called complimentarity (do they mean plumbing?) as it gives reasons for marriage that would support gay marriage. Thus the dubious document of response quotes Common Worship instead.

It says the government is confusing religious ceremony and civil ceremony as different marriages, whereas there is one marriage. But then one marriage comes about through social custom, and that custom is by consent, and that consent is changing. You might be fooled that doctrine carries objective truth, but there is no objective truth in social custom.

The Church never welcomed civil partnerships, and it says these are enough to maintain legal equalities. But it is not about legal equalities but social custom!

If the Church wants unique access to maintain its religious route to social and legal custom, then it has to change. Otherwise it has to be a private provider of marriage ceremonies and to those for which it discriminates. It can say it will provide for any heterosexuals connected with a local church in a church, and to no homosexuals regardless. But then it must cease to be the State Church.

Its argument should be that it provides true marriage and does so via the religious route of its own believing, according to doctrine, and it happens by social custom not to marry those married by civil means, even if that is an inadequate method to marry. In other words, it ought to be honest that the ceremony does matter and is, in fact, crucial.

But already someone with a Civil Partnership cannot also marry, so someone with such a Partnership cannot marry in Church. So the Civil Partnership clearly does impinge on marriage and is not some other legal tidying-up nicety. But if the Church married people privately, it could do so, dismissing other forms of partnership that it regards as irrelevant from the point of view of emotional partnership forming. That is, the Civil Partnership is not simply some means to make forming a will easier or conveniently tying up some legal knots, but the Church could imagine that it is for its own purposes. It can do that if it is not connected with the State.

It is all the sociology and theology too of institutionalised homophobia. It doesn't really see Civil Partnerships properly: it regards them as legal niceties that may or may not have some emotional aspect. It won't offer blessings for Civil Partnerships even though they are part of the State and social custom.

The statement has been explosive, with an immediate 'Not in my name' campaign started.

But others are leaving. My online friend Erika has decided not to sign a petition but to leave. My sometime debating partner, who would persist in her theological argument being loyal to this Church, and accuse me of always undermining basic arguments, has cut the rope. Once upon a time I used to debate with Merseymike, who was a theist to my non-realism. He ended up leaving the Church and dropping Christianity and is now a 'materialist', regarding the Church of England with contempt. It will be interesting to see how Erika changes her views now she has no obligation towards the homophobic institution. In my last months within a church and parish, I made a distinction between the locality and the national Church, but increasingly one could not maintain the local and try to dismiss the national. I was identifying with both, and that was not ethically possible. However, I also had theological difficulties that meant withdrawal locally too in terms of ceremonial participation.

It seems to me that as a society we should allow social custom to evolve (if rapidly at present) and to do this have marriage available to couples regardless, and also Civil Partnerships available to couples regardless. The latter could then develop its own definitions, particularly based around friendship and a different level of emotional association and be an agreement about sharing. Marriage implies a stronger unit and bonding, and indeed involves personal resources. Religious bodies could provide ceremonies for marriage and indeed for partnerships, as they see fit, but these are registered with the State.

If a Church does not care for social custom as it develops, then it should stop trying to serve it. The Church of England ought to be disestablished. A body that is homophobic (and cannot even raise women to equal leadership) ought to be removed from its legal connections with the State when it has found itself at such a distance from the State and social custom. In any case, the notion of establishment seems very archaic and irrelevant. We can choose our religions and religious ceremonies, thank you very much.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Tories Starting to Lose Wagon Wheels

I've gone along with the idea that, even with short memories, the effect of the Liberal Democrats as props of the right wing government is that if you want Tories then vote for them, or be progressive then you'd vote Labour. The Liberal Democrats have done themselves no favours, but of course worse than this was the electoral promise over Higher Education that they reversed, despite the same-time campaign for political honesty, and their last minute adoption of the Tories' austerity approach. The Lib Dems also were sold a up of the Alternative Vote scheme and subsequently lost, instead of going for proper electoral reform. Given MPs and constituency relationships, it might be that they drop to some 20 MPs after the election. If Nick Clegg was to resign in advance and a new leader elect come in, the losses would be less.

But some weeks ago there were quiet mumblings and corridor echoes of Liberal Democrats talking to Labour. The context is the fixed term parliament by which a Prime Minister has lost the power simply to call an election when he chooses.

When Tory MPs started attacking Liberal Democrats for frustrating their anti-European stance and making House of Lords reform another non-event in improving the constitution, some Liberal Democrats decided they'd had enough. Now the opportunity has arisen for which real and actual damage can be done, and one that might even see Liberal Democrats as bystanders as the political damage gets done.

It comes about with the identification of the top of the government with privilege and with the News International people. The Tories promised in opposition to close down OFCOM and there was, one, a real danger that our media could have been concentrated in the hands of Murdoch with the BBC wings clipped. Indeed, the BBC has already responded by trimming its activities (as in magazines and the extent of its website, so to be sensitive to competitors). The licence deal pushed on the BBC involves contraction. The Tories made these promises while socialising with the powerful media owners and employing them. Jeremy Hunt and his political advisor expressed very pro News International views: he claims, however, that he acted neutrally. Of course the Tories did not win, and a coalition took place, with necessary proper cabinet and civil service operations, and Vince had the media job at first.

It all looks very sleazy and there are some non-central but not unimportant Liberal Democrats appearing on TV and sticking the boot in about the socialising, the bad judgments, the emails and texts, and about the personalities. But the point about these government mixers is that they are so easily identified, and it is the frustrated Tories who are getting angry with their own side, never mind their dislike for the Liberal Democrats.

It is quite possible that, in the context of a fixed parliament, where bringing down your prime minister does not change the electoral arithmetic (the government used to fall with a prime minister), the Tories could go after a sleaze drenched and Liberal Democrat compromised top of the party and attempt to replace it with a more right wing leadership. Never mind the Liberal Democrats splitting, as Liberals once did with the Tory-like National Unionists and then the others, the Tories could also split as this government continues with its sleaze and its economic failure and overall lack of direction.

The poll ratings are dropping now, and for the Conservatives in particular. My own view is that Cameron and Osborne are like privileged amateurs, politicians for appearances rather than of substance. Should this little elite tumble, the parliament could rapidly rearrange itself. Clegg would have to go, but a new arrangement before the election date could involve that grand coalition of the left. It may not be a dominant government, but the Conservatives would be weaker. It might be just enough to reverse some policies, to understand that the economy is a dynamic relationship of economic actors and not some zero-sum game of costs - where the flat money curve at a time of deep recession means spending on infrastructure to get capital and people working.
If the Liberal Democrats could switch, they might just redeem themselves as progressive, and as having a role in forming government between fixed election dates.

The Leveson Inquiry is putting a spotlight on to elites and power, and a particular elite that came to power on a coalition (and one it quite enjoyed at first). The wheels are wobbly and they could soon start coming off. If they do then the political results could be quite fascinating.

Sunday 10 June 2012

Liturgy (Emergency) Service 3

Again, it fell to me to provide a service at short notice. I wrote liturgies to be picked up rapidly for the purpose, but this time I had enough notice to write another. So this is the third produced, and follows the structure of Orders of Worship (1932) Service 7. Now Service 7 is itself an amalgam of two services written by James Martineau. He embodied the principle of evolving and changing liturgies as beliefs changed, although he still used forms that were of more 'dogma' than he believed - in other word, liturgy was still a conserving form. This is also my view, to give a pathway and content, but the language is far too flowery and Christian in assumption than I can maintain. To the structure is added nature and related themes in content: they are there simply to have readily-available material for the last minute let-down by a preacher. There is a given CD too, but with notice these can be varied.

Our newest attender appreciated my service, but it was also her last visit. We always wanted more university students to attend, but she is now back home and any higher postgraduate degree would be on a visiting basis. She came to us ex Church of England and cited the gay debate as a reason for leaving. She was quite Christian in orientation - we had a good chat about that once, like on a checklist. Back home the nearest Unitarian church meets earlier and is a good journey away. I said the minister there blogs a kind of postmodern Christianity and I wonder, within Unitarianism, why he can't relax a bit: why try to retain a Christian path if he is pretty much atheist regarding the existence of God and go to such effort for a non-foundational Christianity. It makes more sense inside the Church of England where liturgies are fixed. The Unitarian route, including for written liturgies (a practice mainly dropped in the 1950s and 1960s), is when you stop believing something you actually make that known in what you say and do.There is less chance of a sense of misrepresentation. The potential for being postliberal is, obviously, rather limited in a liberal setting: there is no need to be postliberal. But, then, liberalism contains all sorts, including imaginary liturgists like me.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Scotland's No

It's another No to the Anglican Communion Covenant within Britain. The Scottish Episcopal Church overwhelmingly (112 to 6) rejected the Covenant at its General Synod, in that it threatened its independence and was against the Anglican Communion in how it involves relationships betwen its Churches. It was a document and idea seen as unnecessary and unwanted. Now this may take several years to come to the notice of those bureaucrats favourable to the Covenant: they have yet to hear that the Church of England failed to endorse it which, in terms of a yes or no - either you have agreed to it or you haven't - the Church of England said no. Someone in Scotland called it a blancmange with shards of glass in it.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Watching those Lines

So, Richard Holloway was a person in denial, a PID, when he once advised a parishioner to stay clear of Don Cupitt. The PID over, Holloway likes what Cupitt says. The analogy is with the equator. The realist expects to see a black line at the equator (and others crossing it), the critical realist a grey line, and the non-realist realises it is human made. But I expect to see the sun rising at 6 am and setting at 6 pm, regardless of black or grey lines. Yes we drew the lines, but the sun rises and falls the same time always (that is, this is where there are no seasons). Now the science has to be right, and the history has to be right, and both are subject to transience and limitations, but the point is not the lines - nicely human - but the reality represented. And this is why I am the softest of non-realists, and the most critical of critical realists. The problem is not realism or non-realism, or narrative, but the misleading nature of much of the Christian narrative. If the story is rooted in research, it will work at the level investigated and give a positive return.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Radio Chadderbox and a QC on Anglican Latest

Peter Levite: I'm joined by arch Anglican bureaucrat, Anglican General Secretary Keiron Kenneth, to discuss broad Anglican affairs, incluiding the resignation of Rowan Tree, and by Bishop Pete Straitasadie [sounds like straight a Sadie] who, among such things, is going to help explain the current women bishops legislation. So, Keiron Kenneth, are you sad to see him go?

Keiron Kenneth: Who?

Peter Levite: Rowan Tree. He's thrown in the ecclesiastical towel.

Keiron Kenneth: Is that a ritual?

Peter Levite: It could be. What do you think about it?

Keiron Kenneth: No one has told me about it. Where does it come in the liturgy?

Peter Levite: No, his resignation. Surely you know he is going. You mean it is news to you?

Keiron Kenneth: I need to see reports.

Peter Levite: I'm a reporter and I am reporting.

Keiron Kenneth: Why are you scratching around your crotch?

Peter Levite: I can't keep still. Bishop Pete Straitasadie [sounds like straight a Sadie], help us out.

Pete Straitasadie: My name is Strait-as-a-die. Like in opposite of bent.

Peter Levite: The Bishop of Willie's Den, in the Big Smoke.

Pete Straitasadie: Indeed. Is there something wrong with your willy's den?

Peter Levite: It's just nerves. I'm behind a desk.

Pete Straitasadie: I think he had a very difficult job. He had a grand vision of an international Church and overstretched himself - a herculean task that even he could not achieve. As he tried to give the international entity more coherence, to try and bring it together, he forgot the home front and the 'There is No Alternative' publicity gave space for people to develop an alternative. The enemies had a space and place to gather and they undermined him.

Peter Levite: Serious accusations, strong words.

Pete Straitasadie: Really? I don't think I can get into any trouble over these.

Peter Levite: And this is all news for you, Keiron Kenneth?

Keiron Kenneth: Well, he is an Archbishop and a colleague. I'll have to check the minutes to see if he is not coming to the next meeting.

Peter Levite: Of course what Bishop Pete is referring to is the defeat of the Covenant in the dioceses. As a General Secretary this must trouble you.

Keiron Kenneth: I have no idea what you are talking about.

Peter Levite: The vast majority of dioceses did not adopt the Anglican Communion Covenant. It cannot return to the General Synod for three years.

Keiron Kenneth: So far, with various wordings, eight provinces have adopted the Covenant. The Church in England, like any province, has to decide its own timescale of adoption of the Covenant.

Peter Levite: You surely have some idea when the Covenant comes into being.

Keiron Kenneth: When provinces adopt it.

Peter Levite: But what about a timescale after which you can say well so many have and so many haven't?

Keiron Kenneth: No, there is no timescale. Indeed, we agreed that there is no timescale. The whole effort is one of bringing together, encouraging, and adopting the Covenant whether provinces have adopted it or not.

Peter Levite: I put it to both of you that the Church in England has not told your international Council that it was defeated in the dioceses because it is embarrassed. Yes or no?.

Pete Straitasadie: I don't think there is a mechanism for saying that the Covenant was defeated because there is not a timescale by which it can be said that it hasn't been adopted.

Peter Levite: I don't understand that. Was there ever a press release about the dioceses not accepting the Anglican Communion Covenant?

Pete Straitasadie: To say what?

Peter Levite: What I have just said.

Pete Straitasadie: But in three years...

Peter Levite: In three years the dioceses have the same view, surely.

Pete Straitasadie: But in six years... This is the long game.

Peter Levite: Talking of long game - could be so with women's ordination as bishops.

Pete Straitasadie: We ought to just get on with it.

Peter Levite: Is that your view, Keiron Kenneth?

Keiron Kenneth: What happened?

Peter Levite: To accept - hang on while I look at these research notes -  what the Gang of Six have said about what the House of Bishops has done in terms of the amendments to the legislation and bring the ordination of women bishops into force. Or something. The Gang of Six said small changes only but others think big consequences from the House of Bishops.

Keiron Kenneth: Well, if and when this happens I might pass an opinion about it. I'm not aware of changes in this general matter.

Peter Levite: Have you not even discussed this at Lambeth Walk Palace?

Keiron Kenneth: What's that?

Peter Levite: Where the Archbishop of All England lives. The one that is retiring is there now. A tied cottage, isn't it.

Keiron Kenneth: Oh. I'll have to see some maps. And read some reports.

Peter Levite: I'll try you, Bishop Pete. Now you were one of those who decided on the amendments. These amendments have really annoyed some pro-women's ordination folk. Some say you have introduced 'Pick a Bishop' and something called doughnutism.

Pete Straitasadie: Describe what you mean by doughnutism.

Peter Levite: It's not, not, on my notes. It was said on the Skype by some blogger to my researcher after our meeting. Presumably, like parliament, you create a bishop for the people who don't like women bishops and then crowd all around him to give him support. He is like the hole in the middle. Prop him up. Tell you what. You look like that bloke I see in the pub. Every time I see him I say here comes the Bishop of Willie's Den.

Pete Straitasadie: I've not heard of doughnutism. I have heard of donatism, which is about choosing a pure, perfect, minister, to preside over you, otherwise the sacraments are invalid, whereas we have always allowed for the Holy Spirit to work through anyone so long as general faithfulness has been evident among the whole people. Presumably in this case donatism means people picking their bishop according to approved theology rather than accepting who is available, and it is a charge I reject because we are not doing it that way.

Peter Levite: My head hurts and my stomach wants some sugar. There's no VAT now is there if someone heats up my doughnut? Just thinking - is it like then the opposite of doubt nut ism or dough-unt know ism?

Pete Straitasadie: He was Donatus Magnus, a bishop.

Peter Levite:Magnus? Doughnut Magnus Magnusson?

Pete Straitasadie: For a minute, I thought you knew what you were talking about. But you are clueless aren't you.

Keiron Kenneth: I think this is something that can be arranged.

Peter Levite: According to this, you've got priests and parishes who say in the Bible a woman cannot be head of a man - they are limited to flower arrangements and Sunday school - and you've got others who say the same but also a man bishop cannot have been ordained by a woman. So they need a man. So a parish PCC like this now, because of your amendments, says please send a bishop who agrees with us.

Pete Straitasadie: Now you really are clueless. Did you read the press release?

Peter Levite: Not only did I read it, we all read it in planning for this interview and discussion, and none of us had a clue what it was on about and had to ask those in the know via Skype and several blogs.

Pete Straitasadie: Bloggers? What do they know? They are the curse of the moment. They've wrecked the Covenant. And I should know, being a bit of a blogger myself, sort of, when not forced to be quiet. Just about every blogger has this wrong. No one understands the sheer subtlety of the amendments brilliantly produced by the wriggle room the Archbishop suggested, before he goes.

Peter Levite: He's left you a double train wreck, hasn't he?

Keiron Kenneth: Is he going?

Peter Levite: Do parishes pick their bishops like a person at the sweeties counter in Woolworths, at the Pick'n'mix. Yes or no?

Pete Straitasadie: No. Someone is coming in.

Peter Levite: Who are you?

J. Robert: I am J. Robert, of the Levitating Media Inquiry.

Peter Levite: Why are you here?

J. Robert: I'm investigating radio stations at the moment and dismal content. Yours was the station with the two old women providing cheap radio?

Peter Levite: You are interrupting my interview.

J. Robert: I simply thought I could do it better. So, if you just look at the research notes by your side, Mr. Straitasadie.

Pete Straitasadie: Yes.

J. Robert: I had better introduce myself. I am J. Robert QC. Your evidence, Mr Straitasadie, is that there is no pick-a-bishop because of the diocesan scheme. Is that correct?

Pete Straitasadie: Yes.

J. Robert: But the contention is that the brought in bishop, as it were, to oversee the parish requesting a different bishop from the diocesan; well, the parish still gets a bishop that is agreeable with the parish's own theological opinions. Is that not so?

Pete Straitasadie: It is so but it is decided by a diocesan scheme.

J. Robert: But is this not a technicality? For example, in how the diocesan scheme is drawn up.

Peter Levite: Is this man allowed to do this? By the way, bishop, are you looking forward to the Diamond Jubilee?

Keiron Kenneth: I'd have a nurse examine your crotch area.

Pete Straitasadie: It is drawn up according to the Code of Practice - how the diocesan scheme is drawn up, not the Diamond Jubilee.

J. Robert: And no one knows what this Code of Practice looks like yet. For example, the Code of Practice is bound to direct the diocesan bishop to investigate the theological views of the parishes that are requesting different oversight. And in that way they are picking their bishop.

Pete Straitasadie: The important thing is this is directed.

J. Robert: But the alternative view is that it is a technicality, is it not, if the theology of the delegated bishop has to be compatible with the parish. This is where the charge of donatism comes from.

Pete Straitasadie: Not if this is the Canon Law of the Church in England.

J. Robert: It isn't just a case, say, of one alternative bishop per diocese, is it Mr Straitasadie?

Pete Straitasadie: Why not?

J. Robert: One parish for example wants a bishop who theologically agrees with the view that a pregnant woman or a menstruating woman cannot bless the Eucharist.

Pete Straitasadie: That is sophisticated sexism.

J. Robert: Well, what is the difference between sophisticated and simple sexism? Presumably sophisticated sexism has a theological argument.

Pete Straitasadie: I can't see a diocesan scheme providing for that level or detail of argument.

J. Robert: Why ever not when the legislation as amended calls for theological compatibility?

Pete Straitasadie: It was always going to be selection of a bishop even without the amendments.

J. Robert: I'm talking about theological compatibility. Who, for example, is going to define the basis of agreement?

Pete Straitasadie: The diocesan scheme under the Code of Practice.

J. Robert: But if the legislation - never mind the Code of Practice - calls for theological compatibility, how is it met unless it is met according to the views of the parish? Do you see what I am getting at?

Pete Straitasadie: I think the important point is the initiative comes from above.

J. Robert: Humm. OK. But let us take a Conservative Evangelical parish. They would have a Conservative Evangelical bishop too. Is that right? It couldn't be you, for example, as you do not have those views?

Pete Straitasadie: Yes that is right, on both points.

J. Robert: Let's take two Conservative Evangelical parishes. Suppose one of those was universalist and another Calvinist in terms of theological belief. Would they each be entitled to their own kind of Conservative Evangelical?

Pete Straitasadie: Not if not in the diocesan scheme under the Code of Practice.

J. Robert: Well why not? Let me try and develop this. Other than not knowing the Code of Practice yet, and even without knowing it, the amended legislation is calling for theological compatibility. It does not say how wide, how compromised, how precise: just compatibility. And what is not important to the diocesan bishop might well be important to the parish - including, is it not so, acquiring a priest of that parish too. This is very wide-ranging legislation.

Pete Straitasadie: Er, it is unlikely some would be Calvinist and some universalist and make that matter.

J. Robert: Well, why not Western rite and Eastern Orthodox in some other cases?

Pete Straitasadie: This is ridiculous.

J. Robert: Do you see what I am getting at? It is not that it is a diocesan scheme as such, but the compatibility that matters. Perhaps that could be in broad terms, perhaps it could be in narrow terms. Is that not a possibility?

Pete Straitasadie: How do we measure broad and narrow?

J. Robert: Quite so. That is my point, I think. Moving on. Does this not, then embed sophisticated sexism? Women bishops will not be equal.

Pete Straitasadie: They will. From their perspective, they are the full deal. That's the clever wriggle room.

J. Robert: Well you say that but there will be a range of alternative bishops, many of whom regard women with theological - sophisticated sexism no doubt - taint. And others will still have problems with a woman delegating - I mean Evangelicals - even if others accept derivation.

Pete Straitasadie: Some might see the existence of taint. I might see they have that view. But I won't have that view. If you don't have that view, then it doesn't exist.

J. Robert: Accepting those who do embeds sophisticated sexism, Mr Straitasadie, unless one adopts a position of extreme subjectivity, presumably. Do you not agree, or how else would you put it?

Pete Straitasadie: So what is the alternative, Mr Robert? Have the traditionalists go to Rome, the Conservative Evangelicals go to some Free Church?

J. Robert: Presumably it is a question of the price being paid in ecclesiology for not seeing them go. But some would say they are leaving for the ordinariates anyway or indeed some Conservative Evangelicals are setting up their own structures of statements, fellowship, ministry selection, payment trusts, if nominally within the Church in England. You see the argument - that you might stop some leaving, and yet they are already going, and the changes proposed are too innovative for the benefit of keeping these people.

Pete Straitasadie: Innovative?

J. Robert: Like with the Covenant: you are introducing changes that are far reaching in consequence. The consequence of these changes is an uneven status of bishop, some multiple oversight in dioceses, and selection by theology. I am suggesting that selection by theology was never in the Church in England.

Pete Straitasadie: Ah, not formally. Perhaps this is more honest.

J. Robert: Which is the difference, is it not, between racism and apartheid. Do you see the distinction? We know there is racism, but we don't then embed it with apartheid.

Peter Levite: You might be some sort of clever clogs but you're no good reading the clock. We've missed George Hudson and the weather.

J. Robert: No doubt we will pause for tea at this point. Your other guest seems to be asleep.