Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Liberal Label (and those Post-Liberals)

My recent blog entry on Chadderbox characters created an interesting level of negative comment particularly because real people lead on to the characters that then get played out in interaction. They are cartoon characters when they appear, as cartooned in words as when I depict them in pictures. My pictures can be controversial because although intended to be or inevitably 'funny' they are recognisable. I also enhance certain features, and when it comes to women clergy then it is ambiguous because it is as much Carry On as trying something more sophisticated. Someone like the Rev. Hitchener has the more sophisticated cobweb-blowing approach than mine. Funnily enough, trying to draw her, she ends up either ordinary even shifty or some pasted fashion icon that is just commercial and artificial. Rachel Marszalek down the catwalk has been a lot easier, despite similarities of presentation.

Originally I was going to comment less, even not at all, on the Church of England, even via a parallel Church in England, with the retirement of the Archbishop who so annoyed me while I was trying to cut a little path within the C of E. My high point of commentary was 2007 and onward; by 2009 I was refusing communion and 2010 I was out and had had enough, with a final settlement in the Unitarians.

I can still see me having 'fun' in 2013, but I'm more at a distance. I'm at a distance too from Anglican liberals, and of course one of the problems is recognising Anglican liberals. Those who are or could be don't or won't use the term, and it is a term of abuse that no one has attempted to recapture. Well, Affirming Liberalism did, but that's like a punctured raft somewhere in Oxford with the air let out. Keith Ward is not and never was a Don Cupitt.

Anyone from the outside would have said the incumbent of my final parish was a liberal Catholic. But he had that conversation with me in which he said, "You know, I'm not a liberal."
He was not because he took the whole tradition, he said, as a spirituality, so that nothing beneficial was missed. This is indeed different from me, because I was and am selective, so I drop what is harmful nor do I observe boundaries to miss out from what is good - say in the Buddhist path - for understanding what I do. It's open source and open plan, and the furniture is selected and different styles. And crucial is an overall humanistic causal narrative about reality.

So when someone very online with comments and sermons like Lesley Crawley says she is not a liberal, I am interested in that denial of the label. (Should I now make my cartoon character, Lesley Tilgate, also claim not to be a liberal or should she be one?) Using the principle of selectivity, I applied the liberal label because of details like a recent sermon put on line (November 3rd 2012):

Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.

This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.

Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.

“If only”

She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.

And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:


Now this is not saying the resurrection is both an historical event and an event of now, which I take as consistent with 'taking the whole tradition' or indeed an objective resurrection accepted; it is a denial of the resurrection as an historic event because she said, and has recorded here, I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday and the belief is selective, like mine. I don't believe in an historical resurrection either on Easter Sunday (or, for that matter, any other time). Also important in there are the basic humanist values and the idea of the Church as bringing in the Kingdom of God, that is ethical improvement to our world.

Now I give all credit for someone ordained in the Church of England for being open and honest about this, but I have since been told that Lesley does believe in the resurrection and indeed in the virgin birth too. She also prefers to deny an interventionist God, which is essential for a virgin birth or resurrection to happen. On this matter and her stance, I now leave to her own explanations should she care to make them.

Now I do not believe in the virgin birth because I regard Jesus as a last days believing Jewish rabbi. I think it is both unhistorical and, actually, harmful because it leads to all the Mary nonsense who becomes an impossible ideal for women. If one thing stopped me being other than a bystander with Anglo-Catholicism it was my response to Mary. Yuck. Yet I like the notion of female deity. She, though, is not - she is a male deity.

I also read Colin Coward carefully, who is becoming universalist in his faith source (meant in the broader sense of universalist too) and selective and he doesn't use the word liberal either. Today there is a Facebook entry where Colin regards liberals as "woolly thinkers" in the face of the use of this label as misapplied to Rowan Williams (who is not a liberal!).

I'm as selective about the Bible as is Colin Coward. This idea that there is some reinterpretation and a true meaning behind the surface meaning won't do if the result is to contradict the basic surface meaning. You just have to reject the Bible in its harmful parts. I find the book less and less useful, personally. The New Testament is a kind of generated unreliable biographies of Jesus plus issues of the early Church according to mainly Pauline proto-orthodoxy.  So what - interesting in parts.

There are various definitions about being liberal. One is being liberal about a faith tradition. So it is being selective if within a faith tradition, and treating it lightly. A reason may be clashing with humanism and common narratives of this worldly causality (evolution, the cosmos, technology as problem-solving). Being liberal can also be constitutional, that is a belief in individualism, and so creedlessness, and then in the autonomy of institutions. This is where James Martineau arrived, and creedlessness means a faith position is subjective, and that subjectivity up against any common liturgical framework causes a collapse towards the liberal postmodern. Every stance becomes relative to any other.

Don Cupitt and followers used to deny the liberal label because liberals were compromisers and thus tarred with the same brush as their more orthodox confessors. But he was and is liberal postmodern because he accepts the power and place of common causal narratives, whether they are objective or not. He, like me, rejects those postmodernists who live in their own wonderworld of reality and then try to make it as if of its own objectivity.

For the Protestant postliberal postmodern, there's Karl Barth and the God of revelation beyond all worldly objectivity. Because there is no objective underpinning, the encounter with God as in Bible and doctrine becomes, according to Frei and Lindbeck, standards of performance like performing a role. It is a drama and only true in itself. You find the Kerygma, as with Bultmann, in the text. There is no social anthropology through time in this, it is just the Christian writings afterwards.

For the Catholic postliberal postmodern, it's a kind of restored Platonic wonderworld of alternative reality inside the bubble. Radical Orthodoxy some call it, and Rowan Williams is very close to this view. It's rather like Ultra-Orthodox Jews wishing they could go back in time and be in an easier belief time, in the Middle Ages. So they dress up, as do Catholic postmoderns. Essentially it is a fantasy, because there is a thing called research and research in science and social science will overturn the fantasy again and again. Sociology is not secular theology but grounded in research.

The Catholic postmodern position is not that of Pope Bendict. The position with him is that Greek culture is privileged and defines both the reception of the Gospel and the self-limitation of God. It is contrasted with any postmodernism and Islam's universalism, in that Greek culture is objectively receptive to the Gospel and the foundation for the Church. For him the virgin birth is true because it appeared in Greek text as of the narrower meaning from the original Hebrew 'young woman'. Thus revelation joins culture, and underpins culture, and is seen in privileged culture whre God acted to make that culture.

I make a distinction between such postliberalisms and the one actually post liberal (ie there is a liberalism of the individual and across boundaries). This is where there is collective language and meaning, and interlocking packages (including hybrids) and an openness, not a frozen view, of cultural change. I am baffled by, say, Andrew Brown's commitment to Yale/ Duke postliberalism in a liberal (Cambridge Unitarian) church. I wonder if members of his congregation become tired of him trying to work within something so restrictive (when he claims to be virtually an atheist) - having a standard of role performance and limitation of identity - that is not required in a liberal church. It's not Unitarianism as I understand it, which is a liberal view of different faiths and philosophies and not trying to be an ecumenical Christian as such.

Don Cupitt and I both gave up on the C of E at roughly the same time - well he was first. He stopped taking services I think in 1993 and gave up communicating into the new millennium and I think any attendance later on. Cupitt concluded that his critics were right all along. If I went to an Anglican service now it would be to do no more than meet friends or remind myself about what happens. I regard the C of E (like Roman Catholicism) as ethically bankrupt.

But then I'm clear by my view that I do not conform to a Christian position on key points, and therefore I am not a Christian. Perhaps the reason people who seem to be liberal refuse the label is because they can see how there are no boundaries and no end to being selective; perhaps their reluctance is because they are being paid or have a position and 2013 is definitely not the year to give up security of income.

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