Friday 27 December 2013

Donkeys at the Nativity

Thinking Anglicans points us to some terrible bishop sermons from this time of year.

Referring to John's gospel, the Bishop of Oxford sermonised against the Bethlehem approach and for the big picture:

This is no small town deity pushed to the edge and trying to get a mention in the weekly newspaper. This is the God whose light has been travelling towards us from the Big Bang for 13.7 billion years at a speed 186,000 miles per second.

So the cosmic becomes the literally cosmic, as so often the nativity myth is mined as if history-like.

The Bishop of Lincoln tells of a get together for clergy doing Christmas sermons (I bet that was real fun):

The group divided itself into two parts-those who favoured the topical approach and those who opted for something more traditional.

The topical preachers shared plans about how they could liven up their sermons to show that the church is trendy and up to date...

People like me could be forgiven for using the same old words, because at its heart, it's the same old and wonderful story.

We don't know what was in the minds of the shepherds that first Christmas Eve. We know that they were a group of tough manual workers-perhaps like farm workers or building-site labourers today. They had left home to go out to work on a dark, cold winter's night.

And yet out of the darkness came something totally unexpected and frightening-something so magnificent and powerful that it challenged them to leave their sheep, their livelihood, to find out more. ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened'.
 And of course this happens for us as well - think of the family...
[For which he gives a contemporary example to liven up his sermon.]

The Bishop of Bradford was into literalisms too. In an otherwise sensible sermon about oppression around the world he veered off into the silly:

Thank goodness that the people of Egypt welcomed to themselves the Holy Family on the run from King Herod’s furious infanticide.

And then, in the church:

Nothing better expresses what we believe about God here with us than our sharing in this Eucharist tonight. Jesus is here in the crib and he will be here on this table in the form of bread and wine.

Here's a rough comparison from another appalling sermon, the Bishop of Norwich:

There are lots of reasons to be afraid in the Christmas story. Who wouldn’t be afraid away from home with nowhere to stay and about to give birth? Who wouldn’t be afraid when there was a despot like King Herod around?

He wasn’t above murdering members of his own family if he took a dislike to them, the sort of thing that’s gone on in North Korea in our world today only a couple of weeks ago. The Christmas story is very up to date.

There's no comparison: one is a myth without foundation and the other is a nasty and actual little power struggle where power and terror are used against an absence of authority.

This also works both ways. The myth gaining its power in the contemporary shows that the myth is current-dependent for its power, yet these salesmen of a religion all claim dependence in the myth itself.

The Bishop of Beverley was in his sort of non-home of a minster near me (he's not a geographical bishop but a roaming one who supports those who can't accept women priests as priests) and he hasn't been paying attention:

But the word which the Oxford Online Dictionary nominated as its word of 2013 was ‘selfie’: defined as

a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.

Even the coverage of the funeral of Nelson Mandela was dominated by a selfie, as the Danish Prime Minister posed with David Cameron and Barak Obama. The selfie says: ‘Look at me. Look what I’m doing. Look who I’m with’. They are fun.

No it wasn't. It was dominated by a man waving his arms about who'd obviously applied for a job as a deaf signer and was accepted without anyone ever checking he was qualified.

He was probably at the nativity with hand movements saying, "Animals above, birds came with the birders, stars in your ice; read the tea leaves tomorrow; good moaning."

Chelmsford had one last statistic:

One saviour born in a stable at Bethlehem. Countless millions of people saved. A whole world changed.

Well, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. What happened? Did I miss it?

Gloucester also mixed reality and metaphors; All the homeless, but one deliberate homeless:

That’s what Christmas is all about, the messy mix, in which God in Jesus Christ chose to live, born on Christmas Day, to inhabit the mix, to share the mess and to make a stupendous difference. Yes, because he was God with us, one homeless child at Christmas was the sign of love and the source of salvation.

No wonder this religion is in trouble. Some of its chief advocates tie themselves in rhetorical knots and add a 'donkey' into the nativity - and I can hear the comparison now between a donkey and a deity.

Time Berners-Lee's Religion on BBC Radio Four

When religious categories change the BBC doesn't keep up; and yet it insists on deciding the categories, not the religious. So when it is the case that a Unitarian minister is a non-theist (Andy Pakula), that one is excluded from the 'official' Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Four's Today on Boxing Day, whereas when one of them is a theist (Jim Corrigall; extra information: he's on the right wing of the denomination, argues even for a Christian norm) such is included. Not only that but one is introduced differently:

BBC presenter: Time for Thought for the Day; We had an alternative Thought - well, we got two sort of alternative speakers today because Tim Berners-Lee our guest editor wanted to hear a selection of voi...; he chose an atheist for an alternative Thought for the Day an hour ago. The world has not stopped spinning, although it might have done and we just don't know in the studio. Anyhow, he also wanted a Unitarian voice so the speaker here in our studio with us now is the Reverend Jim Corrigall, who is the Unitarian minister in Ipswich and Framlington [sic].

No, incorrect. Both are Unitarian voices, and ministers, one in east London and one in Ipswich with nearby in Framlingham. The latter is not the only Unitarian, and the old theological category of 'unitarian' cannot be imposed. Of course, when it comes to Buddhism, the BBC has to ditch its theists only policy otherwise that religion would not get a look-in. So the equivalent is to have had Andy Pakula on at the later time.

Earlier, Pakula: ...the BBC talks about not allowing people of 'no faith' to present Thought for the Day. Well, what does 'no faith' mean? Here I am: I'm minister of religion, leading a congregation, talking about peace and love, and I'm considered a person of no faith because I say I'm an atheist.

 Defintiion of faith? Trust. I once called myself a non-realist and, in religion, I am so still, but taking in all of the thought-worlds and my revised views I'd also be considered atheist. I never quite make it to 'real absence' when going up the transcendental road towards theism. I held a similar position when training at Unitarian College in Manchester 1989-90 and put the backs up of a number of locals in charge and thus was waved goodbye after a year. One practice report said OK about me but where would I minister? The Principal, a Buddhist orientated Unitarian, was gone soon after. His service, where I'd put my feet wrong, was Christian through and through. The worship tutor was a Pagan Unitarian minister, who outside the college played a straight bat and had alternative times for his beliefs in his church. Our read-through of the Bhagavad Gita rather than Bible class wasn't followed up the following year! Things have at least moved on since then, in that the dogmatists have lost some ground and the Pagans and obvious non-theists are now much bigger in proportion. Trouble is, the numbers are now so small that changes in proportion could become more random and simply chaotic.

But do keep up BBC and if you don't know, don't impose; ask.

Personally I'd scrap Thought for the Day just as I'd scrap compulsory Religious Education in schools.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Putting Away Xmas

It's the 24th, now, just, and it's all over for another year. Yup, I've put all the carols and Yuletide songs into computer storage until a year passes. The duplicity of having Christmas and not believing in its core myth (the deity-incarnation of a person) is finished for another year. Unitarians worship according to the commercial Christmas, somewhat restrained. So the carols come out about mid-December, while the shops are busy, and go away immediately the last service at Christmas is done. Christians (the ones that follow the script) have Advent up until Christmas Eve when just before midnight for the next day they start singing the carols. I see that Sing Your Faith (2009) has a Candlemas hymn, but I wonder if any bother with that.

My service is the first one of the new year. I wonder whether to be naughty and extend the unwanted... (I have other, more interesting ideas, however.)

I'm very dogmatic about Jesus and his birth. He was born, unnoticed by anyone than mum and dad, probably in Capernaum, and was a child like all others. He grew up to learn the building trade (probably the nearby Roman settlement had plenty of work) among the capable self-employed. I think it's possible he could speak Greek to get about the nearby town, as well as Aramaic and enough Hebrew. He was the insightful religious odd-one out of probably a fairly religious family among the locals and being a bit 'odd' and possibly spare cast himself out via John the Baptist's clan, believing in a world ending to rid of Roman oppression and bring everything to fruition, and went on himself to preach the coming of a Messiah with his own group of capable independent types, especially with the Baptist off the scene. He wasn't unique in this, but then not every last-days preacher had a Paul. If one deducts Paul, it's debatable whether the Jewish followers would have had staying power, and there would have been no Roman Empire element (although that wasn't necessary - the faith as 'Nestorian' also spread East outside the Empire and into China, where it subsequently died out, and with peculiarities into India). One point I contest is that early Christianity was significantly about the poor: it was capable businesspeople and employed as disciples, it spread along the trade routes as a badge of respectability and trust among traders and travellers and their householeds: it was concerned with the poor with the Jesus reverse ethic but the poor were added on and in. (The Victorians did so with education and leisure, but the middle class and capably literate have always run the show.)

The idea that there is some sort of strong oral memory of the birth in terms of supporting the mythic infancy texts is made nonsense by the fact that they are travelling in completely different directions regarding the Bethlehem Micah prophecy. There is no record of a census at that time, and Romans were good at keeping records. For different reasons, if like the story of the trial, the myths of the birth do not add up. They are unhistorial, if mythically ahistorical. The gospels are rapidly-made geographically and communally specific oral traditions and include two inconsistent birth narratives, both of which went into text.

The Unitarian tradition outside the United States is too weak now to 'move' and produce something more distinctive. It will remain confused with some services being Christian-like and others becoming more Pagan and green-leaved at Yule. I suspect that in the US the transcendentalist tradition will aid the move towards an increasing romantic, Pagan, festival of lights. If Sunday Assembly has legs it will sing along to pop Christmas muzak, which is about the level at which most people encounter the festival.

In Hull we used Hymns for Living (1985) again rather than a home resistance carol book (no date but well over fifteen years old) with more traditional words. The hymn book removes a few sexisms, but inconsistently, and also a few theological embarrassments, but again inconsistently. When I seek out non-Unitarian choirs, they sing the old words; using the old hymn book Hymns of Worship (1938) does not help as it has the same theological variations from those old words even if sexism was no issue at its time of production.

I don't put up a tree or decorations and I don't send cards (the latter as a waste of money matter, and I encourage others to do the same reciprocally). I'd rather do without it all. But being the music man I have to encounter it each time I do the music. However, it was noticable just how many even of the few stayed away from the Christmas services. People do that when they don't believe it. Trouble is, they are doing it anyway.

Thursday 19 December 2013

We Are All Cartoons, It Turns Out

Forget about the nativity, or Christianity, or indeed much that is mythologically otherwise regarding cosmic origins and interventions. Indeed, much of what is scientific is only a working model of evidence at our convenient level of operation. It turns out that we are, in fact, fundamentally, cartoons, and we have no gravity. We don't fall off the page. I'm using my intelligence, here, to interpret Nature, the international weekly journal of science.

Blame the Japanese scientists, who have perhaps spent too long looking at drawings of people with big eyes. Or blame Gerald Scarfe. Blame holographs for being misnamed as holograms (it's just ignorance, this).

Apparently you have to go into the areas of thinking where General Relativity - he's fought a few battles - mix it with Quantum mechanics (I've met such engineers with their slide rules and steam traction engines) where you get string theory and some eleven dimensions which are ten plus time. If this is hard to understand, imagine a cat and a ball of string and give it enough time.

But all this is only so far. The reason is due to calculating what happens at black holes. These are mysterious areas where, really, probes should be inserted, but so far they have been only observed and calculated. And in doing the calculating, these Japanese mathematical modelists can now understand black holes in a much simpler model that is but two dimensional. It's as if, when you do the common denominator, we are really editions of the hard to fathom Family Guy where the dog Brian has sensible conversations and the baby is already a fully developed psychopath.

Now as a layperson I used to think that a black hole was like this. Everything could sink into it, and nothing could get out. In it time stopped, although from within it continued as if out there had sped into high speed and, presumably, all time flashed by. The 'reality' from within, therefore, was resolved by the birth of another time and another space - therefore another universe. I'm no mathematician, but even I could see a sort of bounce-renewal theory of universes, where the debris of one universe forms the start of another. The energy out is likely to be explosive. It still allows for a borrowing theory by which nothing takes a loan, and pays back, or on a loan, explodes into activity, is slightly off smooth, forms into lumps, and leaves us with lots of galaxies and others lumps, and a mortgage to pay off. It is quite a cheap mortgage and so the lunch does seem to be something of a gift. OK, I chucked in twenty quid at the Indian restaurant this week, despite our folks having been insulted by the complaints of a nearby table, but I probably ate more. That sort of thing. The complainant was definitely two dimensional.

Remember that, in our universe, where the artist needs red to account for it flying apart, even black holes will eventually die out as all energy vibrates uselessly in massive distances from each other. Such is entropy, a sort of solitary confinement of cold final existences.

Yet, instead, rather than the loan allowing all sorts of new loans in new times and spaces, via black plug-holes, the notion now is that the material that vanishes ends up on a vast canvas like a giant Rolf Harris self-portrait asking, long ago, "Can you guess what it is yet?"

As the drawing becomes revealed, the black hole vanishes, and we all get the picture, but it is on a gravity free (drawings don't fall down) canvas of two dimensions. Personally, I would argue that the black hole still recreates because everything continues holographically even if it is fundamentally two dimensions: it only appears to be three or eleven. It's like Santa coming through the sky - she exists in two dimensions only but still leave a drink. Even time is stuck, like a selection of two dimensional slides, so don't leave her up the chimney.

Except that these Japanese have not reproduced the required number of dimensions. The two dimensions only holograph into an eight dimensional sphere with two additional dimensions. So this may be so much hooey. At least it beats the Bhagavad Gita, Quran or the Bible and the nonsense you read in them; this is much more artistic and interesting and evidence/ mathematically based.

Trouble is, other than with a cat and a canvas, I don't know what you can do with this perspective. Imagine, I suppose; and I say Happy Yuletide to visitors who read this ever more occasional and pathetically hollow blog with reinterpreted rubbish like this. Well, I get bored about religion: little happens in Unitarianism and the Anglican Church has become an ethical seriously bad joke. They have been my institutional interests. We are at a black hole time for religion, where what has been swallowed up by today's secular black hole is going to come out sometime and somewhere in a new recreation. What has been, for so long, seems to be in its intellectual death-throes. Unlike when it comes to cosmology.

Saturday 7 December 2013

Pilling Spilt

Andrew Linzey (referred to in the previous post) edited, along with Richard Kirker, Gays and the Future of Anglicanism (O Books, 2005), which basically said that the Church of England is institutionally and systemically homophobic.

The Church Times this week has a remarkably swift and to the point editorial in which it, now, basically, says the same thing. So an academic book that was on the edge of the institution has, in a sense, come in a bit, while the institution remains in contradiction with itself.

It seems I might have over reported Pilling, The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, that it advocated blessings with certain understandings done by priests but without formal liturgies to actually state that the blessing was for 'stability' and 'friend-faithfulness' between a civil partnership (never mind nmarried) couple. I was stating that a blessing, with or without a liturgy, was official and representative when carried out by an ordained person as in place of a bishop and therefore of the same authority; the Church is ducking and diving by trying to do this without a liturgy, as if in some dark corner but then could be during a standard service. The priest, otherwise committed to only using formally-approved Anglican liturgies, would invent a little of his or her own for the blessing. It's sort of duplicity institutionalised.

Ah, but I could be wrong. It may not be a blessing but rather 'marks' the partnership of the gay couple. I'm not sure what the difference is, because 'marking' is also different from the position now, where some private prayers can be said by some priest or minister with the gay couple (who must be ever so grateful for the condescending ritual of privacy on offer).

I did think that the blessing was nevertheless subject to two years of talk, and so may not come about. So is this a 'marking' that may not come about?

It could be so worded: "The marking of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit." What's that then?

I wonder if a 'mark' is rather like a baptism? Oh, that has a blessing.

Pilling is spilling all over the place. It's spilt. There won't be two years of talk. It's dead in the water already (awkward mixed metaphors). Nothing will happen. When they finally ordain women as bishops (supposing they do) there will be such an institutional sigh of exhaustion that they won't want to tackle anything so controversial for a long time. The institution can't stand the further shock. There'll have to be anarchy. This one the liberals cannot win, not for ages. They may press the case, and rightly so, but they won't themselves see any change other than the diversity of anarchy set against formal denial. Live the duplicity.

Oxford-Based Animal Ethicists

There is going to be a new academic ethical assessment of the use of animals in research by a Working Group of 18 international academics from six countries under the leadership of the Revd Professor Andrew Linzey, Director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
The project is the result of collaboration between the Oxford Centre and the animal protection society, the BUAV (

The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is an independent centre founded in 2006 by its director, Professor Linzey. It is the first in the world dedicated to pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication. The Centre comprises a fellowship of more than 70 academics worldwide from a range of disciplines.

The BUAV, with a history of over 100  years, is an authority on animal testing issues and is frequently called upon by governments, media, corporations and official bodies for advice and expert opinion.

Email for more information and the full press release - including the list of the academics involved - contact (the email of the press release, the Deputy Director Clair Linzey).

One person of interest in Oxford and who was also a dedicated vegetarian and liver of the simple life was Bishop Ulrich Vernon Herford. He was from a family of Unitarian ministers and trained as one himself, but had an ecumenical vision and became an independent Catholic. I am reminded of him because of an article in November's The Unitarian about the Free Catholic movement by the Rev. Jim Corrigall. It has information in it I didn't know, and I'd want to express a few points differently, but it completely ignores the fact that Herford was in and out of the Kings Weigh House ordaining its ministers and priests. It is said that Herford never changed his theology, so remained a Unitarian Christian, although the ordainer of him in the Indian Church probably didn't realise this - neither checked with the other what exactly their ecclesiastical theologies implied.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Pilling Spilling

I'll be clear from the outset that I support the work of Changing Attitude as regards its influence on the Church of England. It's just that the Pilling Report rather suggests it is on a loser with the potential for institutional change. Maybe there will be progress in say two decades, but the Church is just as likely to bcome more sectarian. We don't know if it will keep its apparent majority of lay liberals who, nevertheless, let the conservatives set the agenda and walk all over them.

What the Pilling Report says is that after two years more conversation may result in unofficial blessings by some clergy for the stability and friendship of civil partnerships but without any authorised liturgy. In other words, after a report that accepted systemic homophobic evidence as evidence, and thus sort of embedded further such nonsense, the prospect is local, pastorally driven, nods and winks of blessings so long as wider authority is not seen as being given. My argument is that it is being given, because the priest is acting for the bishop, so that the absence of a liturgy (that might state explicitly that the blessing is for 'stability' and 'friendship' and excludes sex) is just embedded duplicity.

The difference between me and Changing Attitude is that I don't see an alternative Christianity as being an unconditional love of God through Christ. To me, Christianity represents a limited God: limited in power and ability (and thus the incarnational and self-emptying bit), limited in culture (very Greek, via the Greek) and limited in focus (Jewish first century culture; then universalising but via Greek first century culture). I read the current Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon in Truro, which only makes sense if you think one person's death in first century Palestine is the one for all time. I don't think that: there is no mechanism for it. Science demonstrates what mechanisms of transmission exist, and the rest is mental attitude, and there is no unconditional basis regarding what took place then, certainly to be contrasted with other and more deliberate self-givings that people make when faced with moral dilemmas up and down in time. And even if the mental construct of faith represented by Changing Attitude is to be applauded (which it is), it is just that and devoid of the historical method that would ground it and then why would one want to be a 'follower' of Christ, in submission to something of your own creation?

The difference is this: I think the moral and ethical dilemmas of Christianity are actually showing the impossibility of the religion: that the whole religion, and not just its Church, is wracked up with these unethical attitudes. It cannot escape prior doctrine and belief, cannot escape patriarchy, cannot escape homophobia. The religion is pre-set with these. What we are seeing instead is an ethically based unravelling of the religion equivalent of the times when the Roman Empire Chirstianity became Pagan Saxon England, or the Saxons converted to Christianity. There is a complete sea-change where the whole religion is intellectually bust and ethically finished.

Hilary Cotton (Chiar of Watch) says about finding places to use non-patriarchal liturgies. Again, I scratch my head. You're in the Church of England where Rule Number One is use and only use authorised liturgies and the occasional unliturgised blessing on a wink and a nod. And why does a feminist have a religion to principally follow a man deity? Well, perhaps a human deity is going to be one sex, or the other, or intersex, but the principle of one human deity is an odd one. Why not two: a man and a woman? There are many examples of self-giving women. Presumably the women in Watch regard all humans as evolved and, well, human and subject to the usual laws of evolution and living within your cultural backgrounds. And if there is a Christ-principle, how far are any of these folks going to ahistoricise the principle that they create in order to follow?

When you're out of it, you see the daftness of trying to wear a badge of following someone that in fact you don't follow. You instead have a set of principles of behaviour and aspiration, and despite being unable to meet them much of the time, you then fit these to many historical examples of people who tried as test cases, subject to the limitations and methods of history.

But on top of this, the Church of England does a very good job of embedding these patriarchal and homophobic attitudes into its system. Things might be better in Episcopal Scotland, but Scotland only does a nod and a wink that much more openly - it is still nodding and winking.

Friday 29 November 2013

Pulling Apart Pilling

I regard the Pilling Report (The House of Bishops Working Group on human sexuality) November 2013) as irrelevant to the lives of most gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

I'm not looking at it from the first century points of view of what cross-cultural Paul thought about homosexuals in temples or even Jesus's view. Jesus probably thought homosexual activity is what those Greeks (Gentiles) did and wasn't part of the Law; the Gentiles were second in line for the coming Kingdom anyway (which didn't), and at resurrection would be examined for ethical living, and his interest was in Jews not sinning any more. So I don't particularly care what they thought.

In any case it's a document about trying to get a Church off a hook it hangs from, whilst leaving it on the hook. It's on this basis that I look at the report. What is says is that the Bible is ambiguous regarding gay sexuality as we know it. But with a mind to Christian consensus and the Anglican Communion, clergy should be free to decide on a form of blessing for gay couples in civil partnerships and same sex marriage, but that there should not be authorised liturgies.

I don't understand the difference. In the three orders of ministry, that is with an episcopal setting, a reverend stands in situ of the bishop. What a reverend does at any altar is what the bishop would do. It is the bishop's church.

So if a reverend does a blessing for a stable relationship in a same-sex marriage or civil partnership, the implication is that the bishop agrees. This is the basis of the personal relationship within the threefold order Church.

But, in any case, if a Church document, connected to the House of Bishops, states that a priest can so bless, what is the need for an authorised liturgy?

Surely the authorised liturgy is the blessing that the priest can give. The priest and others in Anglican Holy Orders promises to restrict themselves to Anglican liturgies and, presumably, the optional right to bless a gay relationship even though, as it happens, no one has written it out.

If the 'understanding' is that a blessing does not include the sexual part of a relationship, but just the friendliness within it, or its stability as a sexual relationship (but less the sex), then this constitutes an unwritten liturgy that is nevertheless to be understood.

Thus a blessing that sounds complete and comprehensive for a partnership or marriage will not be an authorised liturgy for a clergyperson, whereas a blessing that emphasises stability and friendliness will be an authorised liturgy even if it is unwritten.

The Church may as well be clear than trying to have it both ways. Write a liturgy that emphasises stability and friendliness.

Meanwhile others will get on with writing liturgies that do include the fact that these relationships are full and complete in themselves and that this is what is being celebrated.

The Pilling Report is a report for and about gay and lesbian people, not by and with them. Come to a Unitarian minister and he or she will write the liturgy with you and it will have all the legal elements to do the partnership or marriage, and if it is a blessing after a secular service, it will still celebrate the whole relationship not aspects of it (friendship) or consequences if it (how long it may last). Anyway, nothing should happen from now other than two years worth of talk.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Fake Lecture

This is the pre-edited lecture going into my novel, given by the Right Reverend Derek Imperial, diocesan Bishop of Foss, a diocese identifed as dysfunctional and subject to a report by a working party:

There was no alternative, it was made clear: all clergy and spouses should be present at the Bishop of Foss's lecture. This obviously proved a problem for me and I could not persuade Keith to do this, a final duty. Adam didn't want to go but Peter said he would. At least it was not an empty seat. He was a lively passenger, and getting on with Kathryn very well. Why her and not Kathleen? Well, both, but Kathryn was showing interest in him.
    The lecture was not given at the Cathderal but at the University of Foss, a series of buildings all circling around a long lake and a railway station just opened along with a few others to perform mass transit on four routes from St. Matthews' Station. All we had to do now was campaign for the extension to get a rail link to Serpensea. Instead I drove to one of the university's car parks. The park and ride at the new station on the bypass was for daytime only.
    The lecture was entitled Christianity as Movement: A Linguistic and Body Approach. The Bishop of Scredington, Julian Worsley, sat on one said of Derek Imperial while John Barman, our Bishop of Bolingbroke, sat on the other side. And it wasn't properly a Church do?
    There was a lot of tedious "What I am going to say" and "What I have said was" that frustrates me. Just say it, and say it clearly enough. Say it once, but say it well.
    Christianity is nothing if not bodily, said Derke Imperial, centred around a divine-human person and a body of a Church seen to be embodied by that divine-human person. "But that is simply to say the matter formally, and is rather like the headlines."
    Fair enough, I thought. The mind is of the body and the mind makes sense through symbol, and symbol is embodied in ritual and ritual involves movement. At the heart of this is language, language by the widest definition, however.
    He went into several theories of language origin among humans, including the bow wow type theory, which is the discredited noise like the noise view, to a newer one that langauge has come from the ability to appreciate music and to represent things artistically. These were fundamental symbolic appreciation methods and about mapping the environment with more than just application talk.
    But he did wonder about this theory. He has a pet dog.
    "I can now say 'walkies' in any tone of voice and the result is the dog will jump up, gets it lead and wants to walk. It is excited. I don't need to cry walkies as I once did. Nor do I over-express it's time for your teeeee. Saying it is teatime even is enough for the mutt to go mad around his bowl."
    The point was his dog ignored all music. It had no necessity to its life. On the other hand, the dog had no grammar, no construction of sentences and no symbolic extensions. "Whereas for us, dog has enormous and lengthening meanings, even to the present use of the word 'dogging' which, I am reliably informed, means having sex with strangers usually around a collection of cars in some lonely place."
    Peter found that quite funny, although others weren't sure if or how to laugh.
    "The fact is that since Ludwig Wittgenstein and William James, expression has made reality; we build reality in the mind from collective agreements of wordy expressions."
    The bishop told us that there are language games, and he thought they varied between maths and its attempt at symbolic precision, physics which did the same but had inventive names and expressions for particles discovered and assumed, chemistry also welded itself to substances and the periodic table, biology underpinned by the evolution narrative - "And it is a narrative," said our Christian leader.
    "Religion, then is perhaps the most expressive, the most subjective and very much like art," he said, "But we try to ground it by drawing on narratives of science and history, and not always very successfully. History is very disciplined about the primary document, no matter which school of historiography then uses them, as is archaeology also evidence - but sometimes expert - driven; and science is demanding about falsifiable experiments. I'm sorry to say that too often religion sweeps its way around these uses without taking their lessons seriously."
    "We have to maintain serious work on the Jesus of history, as it has been called, the rabbi Jew who gathered leaders symbolising the thwelve tribes of Israel, who perhaps preached a coming one that may or may not have been himself transformed. We have to examine scrupulously the Easter narratives, not just for their anti-semitism, for which our locality has a sad history, but for their reliability. Would Jesus ever have been sentenced by Jews for claiming to be a messiah? No, surely not, and my view is Pilate would have taken little interest in yet another trivial trouble maker come to town. You see the problem, in that our gospels are post-Easter narratives, and all that follows follows-on. Narrative is a historical method, of course, but narrative of primary documents is located in the Early Church."
    Peter looked at me wide-eyed. I said to him, "I know."
     "But where religion is especially grounded," he said, "is in the anthropology of bodily movement, the bodily movement which supports and underpins expression. Anthropology is very clear that people who come together and exchange bind themselves as one. It is true in sex, in the economy, in conversation, and it is fundamental to the Eucharist as both expression and movement. In sex together one finds the gift of love, in the economy one finds the gift of added value, in the talk we find the richness of conversation, and in the Eucharist we make the material effort and transfer tokens for a spiritual gift, and the tokens involve eating and drinking. The tokens are insignificant in themselves, though the Catholics say they embody in all reality the Lord himself. In a way they are right," he said.
    Peter said, "And in a way it's all talk and shuffling along."
    I replied, "Yeah."
    The bishop wanted to turn to Buddhism, he said, "Not because I am a Buddhist but because it acts on the edges of language."
    It was a kind of critique of his position. "The Buddhist does not want to talk, but empty the mind of all noise, from which are gained non-distractions and therefore an end to the sticky, messy, samsara that Christians call sin."
    I wondered. Really? Is samsara what Christians call sin?
    "But we notice there are texts to guide the activity, and symbolic body stances, and to be properly positioned in front of a statue of Buddha as if that is Buddha himself. There are of course mid-way conditions and states, such as, in some traditions, helpful deities, but unlike our God Buddhist deities are temporary and of our world. And then also, look at the sutras, where language is pushed to paradox. Nirvana and samsara become one. Presumably if you desire nirvana you are still in samsara. Is it not a case to be satisfied or live along with samsara is itself a kind of nirvana of attitude?"
    "The Western equivalents to this, though less 'real', are the postmodernists and poststructuralists who say that every binary end expression contains within it the other pole. There is no purity of expression, no binary finite position."
    I thought, goodbye Trinity, goodbye Unity, it's all contradicted within each and the other.
    "Here I want to have a crack at our scientists. I mean the Al Khalilis, the Dawkinses, the Coxes and the de Sautoys who are all over the television screens. Using history to explain science is to use a narrative story; to talk in terms of wonder is to be expressive, many of the terms of particles are suggestive, and television summaries use music to evoke responses. At any level science is expressive - but I won't go as far as some to try and suggest equivalence between the science method and the religious method. Religion really is expressive, religion really is like art. What I will say is be careful, because beyond the facts we have dependent narratives, and the facts about dark matter and dark energy are creating contradictory problems deep in the narrative. Whereas religion can maintain a tradition because it knows it is a story, science has to change its narrative when the facts falsify the story. When a scientist tells me this is the fact of the matter, I'm asking what part is a fact of the matter."
    "So language matters, but what religion does is overviews via movement, via ritual, via symbolising the symbolic. Yes art does that too, but we attach to it narratives like our own post-Easter interpretation. In that expression is our God, and in that expression is the most fundamental of overviews. We should not be suprised that it is grounded in anthropology, because God is embodied. God is embodied in movement and in symbol: God as they say was, in the beginning, the Word, and that is the brilliant insight of religion."
    Hang on, he hadn't finished.
    "Let me say religion. Of course I'm grounded in the grounding of Christianity. But the word and wisdom come from Judaism, and we see use of language and bodily expression in the submission to God in Islam, and we see what we have discussed in Buddhism, and of course Hinduism is nothing if not the narratives of Gods. So I have no intention here of being exclusive: religion is that symbolic insight of our symbolic selves, but in our case we have the post-Easter narrative of a real man and claimed deity, who actually moved bodily, and used words creatively and stories himself, and of a Church we know as his body extended into our symbolic oversight. Thank you very much."
    There was quite strong applause from the three hundred probably gathered. Peter said, "Given by an atheist."
    I said to Peter, "Go on, ask him a question."
    One question from someone was how did the bishop see more precision in Christian expression and the bishop said we were, as Christians, "as the postliberals say", bound to rules of performance so precision comes in the identification of a Christian people.
    "Go on Peter. Go on, go on, go on, go on," as Mrs Doyle might hav expressed it.
    Oh brilliant. His hand went up. John Barman himself pointed across and a microphone arrived.
    "Isn't this the emperor's not very new clothes? What are you wearing? At one time, the God sent his very Son and self to save adn redeem those who God knew would be saved and redeemed - yes? Now it is all expression and human movement and what comes out of our mouths and, you're saying, our legs and arms as well."
    The bishop' answer was staggering. "I think we cannot escape what the philosophers have said, what the psychologists and social anthropologists have found. And it is quite liberating, really, because it has huge interfaith implications. And there is a real dialogue with humanists too. But we Christians are saying something else too. We are saying that it is in the body, and we are the body people, we are the body religion. It's not a oneupmanship, it's an insight."
    "It's non-realist," said Peter. "Your God and doctrine has given up reality."
    "Oh no it's not," said the bishop. "It's left the question of the real open, like the Buddhists have the real and have it in paradox. It is grounded, grounded in several places, and maybe thanks to other disciplines, but we then make our expression about bodies and do it in movement. It is real, but an expressive real, nor is it a reductionism to language pure, but an expansion through symbolism wide. I don't doubt the difficulties regarding precise doctrines as direct descriptions, but what we can do is get into the detail of these descriptions and do history-like work upon them; nevertheless, these are always post-Easter descriptions and that is what makes the difference, I think."
    "Someone else," said our suffragan bishop.
    "Smoke and mirrors," said Peter to me.
    "Brilliant," I said to him. "The emperor's not so new clothes."
    "I get all this stuff online," said Peter. "I ought to come here to study but I can't and won't afford it."
    "Quite," I said. "Our shit governments devalue education."
    There were other questions of course, like someone asking about how to relate Wittgenstein and James, and another about paradox in the trinity that gained an answer I couldn't fathom because I don't think Derek Imperial knew what he was on about. The one that isn't one, the three that could be more, the subordination that cannot be accepted, human and limited but divine. It was surely very paradoxical to the point of being nonsensical. Someone asked whether his God was personalist, and the bishop said the God encounter was indeed in the I-Thou but he wasn't himself opposed to systematic theology. People were always getting Tillich wrong, he thought, though Tillich might have been confused himself.
    But someone always has to ask a variant on the question this time, "How do you regard the expressions of the virgin birth and bodily resurrection - are they just expressions?" Here we are again, with tick-box credal Christianity. But his reply didn't take the irony in the question but ignored it.
    "Virginal conception is of course a paradoxical expression at the heart of things. It has to be divine in the sense that it is impossible as human. It comes from several sources, and particularly grounded in the Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures and thus seen as prophetic, with virginity as significant expression regarding prophetic characters in all sorts of religious settings. The narrative story in its detail is then about the special uniqueness of this person as chosen which can be examined in the textual detail in a history-like and science-like manner without involving self-deception. As for resurrection, well, yes, it has to be bodily because we are bodily, thanks fortunately to the body beliefs of the Jews in burials at that time and place, and of course affirming the material body and not just some spiritual experience becoming an affirmation of the real, the actual, and the restoration of goodness in the real and actual over time due to human effort assisting the divine plan. Again we get the significance of the post-Easter faith by examining the details of the stories of the tomb and the appearances as if history-like and science-like, in other words taking the texts at face value and without losses, as could be (due to history and science), and so mining them all for the significance of say authority in the Church, proper ritual and the development not of unitarian or arian views but the fully rounded trinitarian account."
    I said to Peter, "Did you get that?"
    He said, "What he meant was they didn't actually happen."
    I drove us home and told Adam in my bed that his apprentice ought to be treasured. He was an apprentice who put the chief sorcerer in his place.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Language of Deception

At present I'm living in the world of the imagination. Someone who's called for imagination in the arts and pure science beyond material technological needs is Rowan Williams.

I have been listening to a lecture given at Edinburgh by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. It's a series of the Gifford Lectures called Making Representations: Religious Faith and the Habits of Language and I listened to 'Lecture 1: Representing Reality'. I could follow it because I've engaged with this material before, and particularly by non-realists. There was contained within, and rather too easily accepted, I thought, the idea that language developed as a result of hearing music. Artwork too was representational, with early man, in the sense that it was highly interpretive of subject matter and not just a form of reportage. So this lecture was, as though, theology, but swept through some anthropological speculations and even left brain right (holistic) brain representations. It even had a good use of Buddhism and paradoxes, the equivalent in Christianity being (as later mentioned) where you don't know that it's one God or three.

I'm not convinced about this - yet another - origin of language speculation. Here's why. A dog has no musical insight at all. You can give it a disco beat, a rhythm, a melody, Mozart, and it is nothing but ignored noise. But if you craft certain sounds and expressions of excitement or censure, and word forms, the dog is on to what you are saying in a very basic manner, but well enough to negotiate the environment in
which the human leader of the pack otherwise chatters away. Higher animals, social animals, also have rudiments of symbolic action. My view (no one has ever asked me) is that language is based in symbolic action and human movement. It includes music: music is simply an open-ended, imprecise, symbolic system, and has certain properties of reference and refreshment.

You have to wonder what a bunch of African and Asian archbishops would have made of these analyses and speculations when they bang out literalist versions of their creed. I also wonder how the lecturer can say sensible high-end things and yet have acted the ecclesiastical authoritarian and even arm-twister during his time in office. What is the point of these speculative approaches to knowing, when they have no impact on what one does when dealing with institutions and people?

I'm currently trying to write a novel. The exercise is itself interesting, rather than seeing it as a mercenary activity. It probably relates to no obvious market of readers. It is a Church setting and in some lost corner of a renamed Lincolnshire. Few in these clergy actually believe Christianity any more, in any recognisable dogma sense. There are differences, but two, main, ordained and getting ordained characters have lost their doctrinal beliefs. One was evangelical, and still gets referred that way, and one was liberal, though the latter has some pneuematic recovery as a result of going through with the ordination to be priest. The local economy is bust too, so the locality gets along by an economy of sex, and in its distorted world the local suffragan bishop runs a secretive swingers network, and far from being progressive he is trying to recruit into it just as spies try and recruit spies - by getting people into position, by being in the right places and involved with active types but maintaining other fronts. Indeed, while the swinging goes on, and these conferences where travelling-in fat cat business people rent prostitutes during conferences, the bishop maintains a front face of standard expected morality. But the place is different, with massage parlours and the like. There's mental illness in it too, a schizophrenic (who's partnered by the bishop - you can't tell if he really cares for her or is just exploiting her), and a depressive who gets into a real sacrificial life by becoming a sex worker or prostitute. Two intelligent archaeologist twins end up being models and masseurs. A chap tries to be a magician, thus there can be a discourse on different types of magic as well as comments on the supernatural and miracles (miracles are not seen as magic tricks but literary and symbolic communal devices). Set against this theology as a form of lying is a company that checks measurements in ships and vehicles, a sort of honesty company that has its own internal department to check it too it is being honest. It is quantitative honesty, whereas the Church is qualitative dishonesty. And even it is soiled by the locality. Economic activity as utility is discussed too (the casino is about addiction, and addiction is not utility) because clearly economic activity in present times is a kind of deception (I could pursue this further). The measurement firm pulls out of the town and retreats to Harwich, its headquarters.

The novel has plot twists because the group that exposes the bishop to the media in the end agonises about taking him in to their independent liberal Catholic operation that itself becomes a front for all sorts of body activity - and the body means sex as well as the mind. In the end it's a case of meet the new boss - after all, the locality determines what the parameters are for a successful religious operation, and one that needs income. And then come more plot twists. It is like a detective story, so there is a private detective involved, but it's also about memories and friendships and even a family that was alternative and from which the main character finds herself at some distance - they reject her conformity, and she hardly conforms. There's a symbol running through of a discovered Anglo-Saxon cross, that must be Pagan but something isn't right about its discovery).

Having written it through, I'm now using novel writing software to break it up into scenes and chapters and fix characters and locations. It's like a database of characters listed and imported into scenes, and it reduces the contradictions and errors that come when the writing process involves changing ideas and new directions. Corrections derived that are needed further back are never consistently applied so mistakes enter in. I've weeded most out but I started forgetting some of the order of the scenes, and this software helps a great deal. I have new scenes I want to insert and make other additions. If I do more about the economy then it will need some other scenes in it as supporting acts.Could do some politics too, as a means to refer to the economy. Politics, after all, as anyone who voted Liberal Democrat well knows, is all about deception.

Meanwhile I have a serious and worrying external hard drive breakdown to deal with. The novel isn't there but my music files have vanished. Oh dear and it hasn't self-corrected.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Noises and No Change

Here's a funny thing. I comment less on the Church of England and Anglicanism these days and it's a lot less relevant too. I don't know whether I am leading the way, or I am just part of a trend and there's nothing original here. I fell out of it, really, because I didn't believe what it believed, but before moving I stayed visible locally while the greater body generated a sense of 'disgust' by which I wanted less and less association. I haven't been inside an Anglican church now for over two years for any reason at all.

I couldn't give an ess aich one cup of tea about GAFCON and all that, and didn't fancy even responding to it. But there has been yet another declaration of war and this time in a sort of continuum from GAFCON in Nairobi recently to the expected contents of the Pilling report through which the Church of England might at last notice couples of the same sex forming.

So here's what I think, if it is worth the effort. Justin Welby made a mistake by going and giving GAFCON the nod, because it's a mouth that is determined to bite his hand. He's a reconciler by trade, but the danger is he gives the impression of being clueless about which way the ship is sailing. He's also giving progessive types like Changing Attitude a sense that he's in favour of change. He hasn't suggested change for the future at all, only surprise about rapid change happening all around him. He's made it clear that he will continue to uphold the source of the Bible for his restrictive attitudes, and that there will be no change. He just isn't going to enforce anything in any direction, perhaps unless it's forced on him and he must then resist.

He is different from Rowan Williams because Williams had written pro-equality theology and then, when in office, stood on his head, and used a certain gravitas from his past to stand on his head while continuing with good and clever interfaith and multiculturalism speeches. But he further acted to enforce what he now stated was (narrowly) biblical, and acted to create hierarchical structures that would enforce the narrow. He was as disciplinarian one way with his own Anglicans as he was generous with outside faith and social communities. Eventually the Anglicans in England saw through the Covenant and killed it dead here, and he retired early. The new chap is rather more like Tony Blair in that one confuses him making a speech with action, and trying the big tent approach of nothing actually done. Tony Blair's only real action was to hide behind a mad bloated United States president and do his bidding here, but GAFCON isn't the power that will find Justin Welby having to bend. He just wants them 'in' rather than 'out', but then that ignores the tactics of entryism.

But this big tent gloss is all it is, because nothing will change. As blogged, I've just written a letter to The Inquirer, that it is a mistake for Unitarians to target Anglican liberals in its publicity and faith stance. Anglican liberals just don't budge in any numbers. Odd individuals leave, but that's all. They are suckers for punishment, and dissatisfaction, and the authorities know it. Rowan Williams, with his high Catholic ecclesiology and social inclusive theology, knew it, which is why he betrayed his friends and others to try to secure the institution ("Read the Ordinal" he once told the General Synod). Justin Welby is the evangelical who can afford to make nice noises, but he will revert to base. He will always revert to base, the spiritual poverty of the Alpha Course marketeers.

Evangelicals with their centres of congregational gathering will rise up "if the Church of England blesses sin", and homosexual acts are listed as sin, and blessings of gay couplings just like that cannot be assumed to be non-sexual. The authorities found it necessary to suggest the Church of England will not have a liturgy for blessing gay unions.

(I can imagine it might, however, with the ridiculous lines, "And will you promise to hold your union in friendship and free from deliberate sin as consistent with the biblical witness?" Each individual in turn responds, "I will.")

Conservative Evangelicals are already going to be doing diversionary tactics if and when bishops are 'gender free' and they find one in charge. They'll be more activist than the Anglo-Catholic retreat into tiny corners and receive their stipends while imagining they can 'flourish', rather than join the Ordinariate made available by Rowan Williams's friend.

Of course, if the Catholics and part of Evangelicals still block the road to gender free bishops, Justin Welby will be left in one hell of a mess and have to focus on intentions to try, try and try again, to chase society that is likely to blow a raspberry at the Church of England and perhaps move towards a proper, secular and multi-faith State where the Archbishop does not do the royal christenings (what a laugh that was).

Whatever, the reality is that whilst the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is a tiny schism in England of an alternative Primates Council, the dodging around of Evangelicals with the anti progressive aspect in Fulcrum and similar and the dispersed Anglican Communion means no change on the blessings front.

And no doubt the liberals will continue to moan, complain, campaign even and, basically, carry on as before.

Monday 28 October 2013

Sunday Assembly: Launching Not Sustaining

Unitarians, struggling in the UK with dwindling congregations, cannot understand how thirty or so congregations Sunday Assembly can come from nowhere and steal the thunder (or steal the drizzle) from the hard effort that makes a Unitarian congregation just tick along.

Sunday Assembly is the atheist answer to church, but it doesn't discuss God. It has uplifting pop songs providing singalongs, and uplifting readings. God isn't involved, not even discussed in the negative.

First of all, the Sunday Assembly is in take off mode.Take off is not sustainability. It's what happens when something is novel, different, a cost to set up but all go at launch. The fact is that there used to be Ethical Churches and they all died except Conway Hall in London, and that ceased to be a church of any kind. The Ethical Churches contained liturgies that were humanist in assumption, like Liverpool's strange Book of Common Prayer type material that celebrated life and effort and realised not all that happened was celebratory. I still use and adapt the material I borrowed.

I could provide a service where we all sing along to pop songs instead of hymns. But I'd want to make reference to spirituality and to traditions of insight that are religious and spiritual, even though I think God is a human construction, even with the possibility (only) of transcendence. These traditions give insight. I don't want to ignore them.

On their own, most of these narratives are pretty dead, I'll accept. I don't believe in an alternative history of the world in the sense of a fall from which we need saving. We don't need saving, nor does the world need redeeming. Saviours do not visit, guide or have messages from God. We are what we are, and it is what it is, and it will die when the sun is too big. But beyond the alternative cosmologies, there are reflections, and these traditions can contribute. These are not just museum outings either, but artefacts that are artistic today.

And I say that whilst being more of a realist than I was, about science, social science, and research. If someone discovers the Buddha wasn't like the tradition, or that there is no archaeology behind the supposed origins of Islam (until it has 'arrived' at the Middle East), then that matters and is NOT 'just another story' as the more dedicated postmoderns would insist. But religion is like art, and its researches tend to be from other disciplines, and is closer to stories and fictions. There isn't a historical or scientific method into resurrection or virgin births (and plenty against). Mythology is mythology no matter where it comes from, but myth isn't value-free and value-useless. The truth of the world includes its art.

I don't think Sunday Assembly can stay where it is. If it does these things to also have people support one another in congregations, then inevitably they as congregations will have to discuss human values and human failings. There'll have to be some explicit philosophising or even humanistic theologising. The joke that 'West Coast Unitarians [of the USA] gather to discuss their tax returns' has a comparative truth to it but isn't true.

Here's another, practical, problem. Music used and played within divine worship is not subject to copyright regarding performance. So all the music I put to CD and use, and store in the church for potential use and as a record of use, is copyright free. Nothing is ever sold, either. I'm not sure if the Sunday Assembly can claim equal divine use, that is something it specifically denies. The law is an ass on this, as no one can identify what is divine, and it ought to be congregational and reflective. But Unitarians can claim it and they, presumably, cannot.

Sunday Assembly may work. Personally, I doubt it; in the UK, Unitarianism barely works - it is about freedom of difference worshipping together, and is about the mixing of the liberal Christian, the westernised East, the religious humanist, and the romantic with the rational. Some understand its individualism, but more ask 'what's the point?' and the British don't like joining clubs. If Sunday Assembly works, then good for it, and if it doesn't then one or two may come to the Unitarians. The effect on Unitarianism by copying or taking in folk might be a touch of the charismatic and a further push towards common narratives. It wouldn't do it any harm.

Thursday 24 October 2013

Why Anglicans Stay

This is the letter composed today only to discover that the editor of The Inquirer will only pick up emails on 29 October. The letter is responding to a 12 October edition letter. I can't wait that long. Here it is; my response:

Jim Corrigall's letter arguing for the primacy of practising a recognisable Christianity for recruitment purposes (Inquirer, 10 October) wouldn't work in places where the net must be cast as widely as possible. That he refers to the General Assembly Object privileging Christianity only reminds me of the argument I made that it is retrograde and is, today, even more misleading.

He wants to appeal to discontent among liberal Anglicans. This involves a fundamental misunderstanding of association. Liberal Anglicans put up with every irritation going, some vocally, but they very rarely leave. You would think that by now they might have found an ethical tipping point, causing many to tumble away, only to find they still very largely remain. Despite sectarian trends, apparently, liberals still out number evangelicals by ten to one.

Ideologically, if anything, liberals are more likely to be Anglican.  Look at the argument often given now about the Social Trinity - the Trinity by which God has internal difference and diversity, loving relationship, perfect tolerance within, and is both other and one. This well out-liberals the straightjacket of simple unitarian theology!

But the real friction is not ideological. As the work of Dan Sperber shows, symbolism is a mood-music that does not convert when one ideologically converts. You might lose your beliefs, or change them, but you carry the symbolic actions you practised to the next place. And this leaves Anglicans cold when elsewhere. Indeed, they stay for the mood-music no matter what they believe.

The churches with rising attendances today are cathedrals. The reason is that the mood-music is intensified and enriched but the ideology is freed by anonymity. Why would an Anglican not have that?

What might attract an Anglican is a sense of disgust - that is ethical disgust with the stance of the Church as a whole. Here's the tipping point, if more than simply ideological. This is where the issue of equality and religion comes in. Yet the ethical campaigners still think that in the long run they will succeed, and that's enough to keep them too. They wobble, and then stay.

But let's be clear. People outside of that symbolic autobiography of the mood-music who empathise with the tipping point are dropping the label Christian altogether. If they are spiritual, then we might attract a minority of them, but certainly not on the basis of maintaining the label 'Christian'. The General Assembly Object should stop privileging one faith as something that ought to be upheld. It is too associated with beliefs and ethics from which many now want to distance themselves.

Sperber, D. (1975), Morton, A. L. (trans.), Rethinking Symbolism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monday 14 October 2013

Busy Typing Elsewhere

I'm aware, of course, that there has been little added here for some time. That's because there has been little to say, and I'd rather state nothing than try and make something from nothing.

However, another reason little has been added here is because I've been working on an experimental novel that has now been added to and edited down to near its end, and hopefully works again as a whole after several changes of intent. It is currently well over 96,000 words. It is religious in some themes and characters, but it's also a mixture of ideas and also is for adults only. Written in the first person, as if by a female, there are several interconnected stories at once if limited to her experiences. One is a group of one time sixth formers who get back together again after twenty years - one secular, one independent, one liberal, one evangelical. Another is thus a story about Christianity and people playing fast and loose with truth, set against a company that measures things in transport to be truly measured. In this there is the old one (from education) of qualitative-evaluation versus quantitative-assessment. Then there is the story of secrets behind the facades, and personalities that manipulate and exploit. There is an ongoing straighforward religious discussion at the very liberal end of things including magic (both religious magic and illusion magic). Then there is a simple, entertaining, romp, the sort of reading to do at bedtime. There is also a small town/ villages atmosphere and a relationship with a bigger location for business (yes, even some economics and business studies included!). There is also a discussion around theology and history (annales, narrative, postliberal, liberal). The story may work, based in a corner of a dysfunctional diocese called Foss and a woman of an idealist naturist family background already ordained as deacon and who gets ordained as a priest in the story, and later leaves for pastures independent. It may work or it may fall in between incompatible stools - too intellectual for a romp, not quite a whodunnit, too explicit for religious readership, and questions of a first person female who can remember precise conversations and whether we actually like her very much. I've spent recent editing time introducing two friends whose main function is to criticise her, except for a dramatic intervention, which makes the lead character less sympathetic.

The story is located on my website but I'm not encouraraging people to read it. If you do the story will 'run out' because the ending isn't done yet and I'm about to add another plot twist into the end narrative that exists presently only as a scaffold. You can find it simply by looking through the menus and it gets updated as a .PDF from a text only typewriter program (a blank screen and even typing noises) although soon I shall start to word process it either in Kingsoft Writer or Open Office Writer.

Meanwhile my recent service is available: harvest festival with a touch of Sukkot for Hull's liberal Jewish inclined member.

Monday 30 September 2013

Mind the Doors

Next April will be interesting down at the dole office. From then, the long term unemployed will either have to do community work or go to the Job Centre every day. Now I have been to many a Job Centre, and I wonder what the long term unemployed are going to do. Presumably they are going to stand up shoulder to shoulder and shuffle around a bit. I don't suppose that any staff will be employed as a result of this announcement, so the existing security staff will have to presumably deal with the compacted people shuffling about doing nothing but standing for the working day. There aren't enough computers, if any at all, in Job Centres, but to accommodate the numbers they'll probably have to rip out the seating and remove chairs anyway. As for others signing on (such as on the misnamed Work Programme - no work, no programme), how are they going to negotiate themselves around the crowd of long tem unemployed shuffling about as they stand up in these places shoulder to shoulder?

During the Labour years the unemployed had to work 13 weeks and then only 4 weeks for the dole. But they could never find enough places for them, which is why the Work Programme didn't have to find work for people. A charity shop I visited had 35 people waiting for a 'placement' from the dole, and these people weren't exactly volunteers. Many businesses won't want to handle people only receiving benefits. It's why the 13 weeks were reduced to 4 weeks, and on the basis of cost, when the 'Work Programme' came in, nothing. So what is the stupid idea now?

I curse the day I voted Liberal Democrat, and it won't happen again. I hope the party is effectively destroyed at the next election, and that enough is done to put the Tories out of power. They've given the nod to this stupid piece of victimisation, where the Tories always need enemies to motivate their greed politics. Unemployment is not caused by people who won't get jobs, but by an inadequate amount of economic activity: by capitalism that does not work. Of course people need assistance and help to look for available work, but they need work to look for. There are only so many occasions when someone can be told how to make a CV and how to look up web pages for job lists. But how the hell the thousands of long term unemployed are going to get into Job Centres each day baffles me: it'll be like Japanese underground trains where the staff are going to have to force the people crushed into the places through the entrance doors.


Apparently the newly signing on will also have to attend Job Centres five days a week from 9 am to 5 pm for six months. That's even more people then to bung in, to shuffle along shoulder to shoulder. There might be a better life to be had in prison, where at least there will be more space, as well as paid meals and overnight stays. The unemployed will perhaps learn what crimes lead to prison sentences so that they can avoid the community service punishment that, er, the unemployed will have to do (or shuffle up in the Job Centres).

Sunday 15 September 2013

Nigeria: Gravity Proves Economic Oppression

A leading University of Lagos postgraduate researcher, Chiltern Alloa Clack, of Oh No State, has demonstrated that the class system is proven due to the existence of gravity. Furthermore, the use of imperial measurements before metric measurements shows a class system working in Africa first on imperialist lines of foreign elites but later followed up by a class system on rational grounds as demonstrated in the origins of the metric system. Any object such as an economy produces its own forces that pull into itself and this is consistent with both Einsteinian Space-time and Newtonian object motion.

Asked to explain the difference, for your humble reporter and you the reader, the researcher said Einstein is more of a whoosh in sweep-around and Newton more like a ker-plunk into snooker pockets

On how the economy could be oppressive, the researcher showed his experiment where he took out different piles of children's bricks of varied densities and added them together in a big pile where the bricks get heavier but smaller on top, although this uses the "negativity principle" because as, he explained, attraction is larger closer to the object. "In other words, the oppressor is closely tied into running the economy as if below, but in a flipof virtuality appears to oppress from above. And like a black hole, the density rises below, as flipped about." However, the flipping can only take place "because we have a God who intervenes, like in the Bible, such as in the reverse ethic of Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father."

Chiltern Alloa Clack is expected to receive a doctorate for his work as academics at the university are very impressed with his methodology. It is pretty impressive stuff for local journalists too. Recently he claimed that it was he who did the ground work with magnets to show that homosexuality wasn't natural, but this was taken up experimentally by his colleague. He describes the groundwork that is multidisciplinary.
In physics there is what is called electrostatics, so that when you rub two gay people together they don't attract but add some gel and they do. Or one of them can be charged up erotically and the other not. It's like, if you use your biro and rub it on your hair, after rubbing, the charged one attracts in the uncharged. But if both of them are charged they don’t attract, which means that man cannot attract another man because they are the same, and a woman should not attract a woman because they are the same. Unless there is a gel. Thus physics proves gay marriage wrong. Or you can use chemistry where a woman on top of a woman will have no reaction - unless they use a gel or unbalanced electrodes. In biology the male of a fowl is called a cock. In mathematics A + B will give you B + A, and you see that there is a change. In A + B, A started the journey while in B + A, B started the journey. Commutativity obeys that a man should not marry a man and a woman should not marry a woman. If you use idempotency, it’s a reaction in mathematics where A + A = A.

Research-sharing is a feature of the University, graded A* for its collaborative work, and so another researcher is learning to count and showing further that pi is a transcendental number rather than a rational number, and yet another researcher has found that watching television in the dark not only hurts your eyes but can make you horny.

End of All Our Teathers

So the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference has opened in Glasgow. I managed to see, I think he is called, Tim Fallon speaking. Apparently this was a left of centre delivery, though all I could manage during his speech was a series of expletives.
Sarah Teather has obviously come to the end of her teather and is going to step down as MP but remain a member of the party.

Why? What does it stand for, other than a right wing appendage to one of the worst Tory governments ever in its attack on the poor? He talked about a manifesto, but people who voted Liberal Democrat on the basis of its 2010 manifesto had their votes stolen as the Liberal Democrats never had any intention of keeping any of its direction never mind policies. Sarah Teather would have more credibility if she resigned now or at least sat on the opposition benches (resigning her membership). Apparently the Liberal Democrats are on about 7% in the national polls, surely too low to sustain even loyalty votes to existing MPs.

We need an election and for the current malaise in politics to be ended and the political scene refreshed. Cameron is now a mouse as a leader of the Tories and we need a fresh direction in recognising Britain as a community of people.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Cyril Smith

Above is a picture of my late mother and the late Cyril Smith MP (from 1972). It was taken on June 22 1986 when the said man took a service and mingled with the people. About two years later he was knighted. Whilst the Unitarian publication The Inquirer for 14th September 2013 asked what would Unitarians do if a Jimmy Savile walked through the door, the Dispatches programme for Channel 4 broadcast on 12 September had reporter Liz MacKean presenting her investigation of Smith's paedophilia and that although police officers locally wanted to prosecute, Security Services, politicians and the Crown Prosecution Service (the latter in 1970) allowed Smith to continue to abuse for decades. In other words, such a person wasn't just coming through the door but was opening churches and taking services. Unlike Jimmy Savile there were pages and pages on Smith. He didn't just whack the bare behinds of boys sent to him, but went into institutional homes of boys (Cambridge House and Knowl View School) and "the fat man" had a liking for the "young and tight" and other delicacies as well as delivering punishment - some of it quite violent.

Not mentioned in the programme is Cyril Smith's connection with the asbestos industry, and he didn't even write his own speech when it came to his final one at the House of Commons defending the asbestos industry.

I have written to The Inquirer that it's not what is done about absusers straying into Unitarian churches (or any other for that matter) but that here was one who actually opened churches and preached in them and spouted an old fashioned Unitarian Christianity. His election broadcast in 1974 emphasised Christian-like values and honesty in public life.

And material (from the police!) was published locally in the Rochdale Alternative Paper, The New Statesman and in Private Eye (e.g. 1979), without Cyril Smith suing them.

The point is, of course, we were taken in; but I remember at some point asking Cyril Smith and being told he believed in One God, No Devil and twenty shillings in the pound. This isn't in my account of his service at the time, but my account shows how he could dupe everyone.

Friday 13 September 2013

So What I Think About This Is...

This relates to the previous entry, which should be read first. I have submitted this reply to the Fulcrum Forum under How We View the Bible.

You are correct, Bowman, about my view of symbols: that their meaning is to be found in the finder, in some collective dialogue however. So why would I be concerned about selectivity of texts? Because I think it is too easy to use a text out of context: like having what are called, in worship, say, 'Buddhist beatitudes' from I don't know where, that are said to be 'like the Christian ones' and often put within a context of theistic worship. I suspect that these texts, whatever they are from, are distorted and used beyond their intentions and put into a changed context. I am here recalling experience of some Unitarian worship in the past.

Whilst the Bible and New Testament has several narratives and in conflict too, and we are entitled to use them, all I am saying is to give proper place to their origins (as far as we know) and not to twist them out of original context for resuse. I want to be a bit of a careful historian and social anthropologist through time in this matter.

There is nothing I find particularly sacred. I regard Paul as something as an equalitarian radical, with much that is more authoritarian put on to him in his name by others (e.g. the later pastoral texts). He was that radical in his cultural ambivalence across from the Jewish to the Gentile, in creating a salvation faith for the Gentile and part of the escalation of Jesus's titles and status. But I am still wary of dragging out the more popular and palatable texts like 'the greatest of these is love' because it gives a warped view of Paul as a whole (I suggest) as some sort of philosopher of the good rather than a rather complicated and mixed-up person doing a task.

My view is something like this: that all documents are primary documents of something. A current schoolbook (sections) on the history of the Civil War are primary documents not of history but how we do education: facing pages, bullet points, pictures, simple statements, all reflecting lesson plans and assessments that can be quantified. In the same way, the New Testament is a primary document (somewhere buried) of the condition and beliefs of early Churches - their leadership, legitimacy, expectations, cosmos and so on, many beliefs of which are utterly strange to us today, such as say the expected (and begun) rising of dead bodies. So there is nothing particularly sacred about any of them but rather a need to act with care and to be clear when a text is being used for a consumption purpose that breaks its context. But then, well, people (not least evangelicals) do this all the time.

Thinking about This...

How Do We View the Bible? I wrote in response to the title as below. I've since been issued with a response and challenge and wondering how to respond.

Posted by: Pluralist Monday 2 September 2013 - 01:06am

I have some sympathy for those who complain about selective use of the Bible, but as I can do no other I'm careful as to how I refer to it and do so less and less. It is a variety of writings, but comes within mythology, there is very little indeed that passes the test of history. The New Testament is a document by and for early Churches, and probably in origins without long term intent in the way that the Bible became a continuous canon. In being selective I'm just as likely to use the Gospel of Thomas or others, and indeed happily use the scriptures of other faiths, again selectively, again with caution about selective use that might misrepresent other parts.

Posted by: Roger Hurding Saturday 7 September 2013 - 10:42am

Thanks for your post Pluralist. I certainly respect your use of a wide range of scriptures, including and beyond the so-called canon of Jewish and Christian sacred writings, and understand, too, your doubts about the historical veracity of much in the Bible. These are still hotly disputed areas.

For me, though, I find the metaphorical, literary and historical integrity of scholars like Ellen F Davis of Duke Divintiy School on the OT, and Tom Wright of St Andrews University on the NT, stimulating and, ultimately, convincing.

Posted by: Bowman Sunday 8 September 2013 - 05:05am

Sometime, Adrian, I hope that you will share your view of a bit of text that you find to be 'almost sacred' and how you find it to be so. Your concern about selective misrepresentation of a text surprised me into thinking that I had perhaps, despite all of your efforts, badly misunderstood what you have been trying to say all this time. Let me explain why this was such a surprise.

If you think back on our past conversations-- religions of both Jerusalem and Varanasi; the (in)dependence of ideas and worldviews; the boundaries(lessness) of canons, churches, and the Anglican Communion; the soul's (lack of) a need for community with a stable symbolic system, etc-- I have come away with the impression that you practise and propose a sort of bricollage spirituality, no better nor worse than the practitioner, but certainly entitled to the respect that we owe to any subsistent being that God has endowed with an independent existence, especially one who has really seriously tried to actually be. And I have not thought of persons with that sort of spirituality as caring much at all about a meaning subsistent in a text that is objectively discoverable by those who are not attuned to it.

C17 Quakers, for example, believed that the Truth was in the Bible over against the 'steeplehouses,' but they plainly did not believe that Oxbridge philology could find it. A fortiori in the C19-20, apart from some research by Henry Cadbury, they were almost entirely indifferent to any higher criticism of scripture. For them, the Light was within and nowhere else, and if a tradition mattered to them at all, it was that of 'seasoned' friends testifying to 'younger' friends in meetings, generation after generation.

I have read your own negations of symbols that are still quite vital to others as analogous to that, if even more radical-- to you, I thought, symbols have no integrity of their own, nor referent beyond themselves that makes them meaningful. It's always in the finder, never in the found. So I was surprised to find that you cared how a symbolic text-- even a canonical biblical text-- is represented. Sometime, when you have a chance, help me to understand this.