Wednesday 26 June 2013

Chadderbox on Reform's Lady Boss

Peter Levite: Linda Bode, our Chadderbox correspondent of the Church in England affairs - not actual affairs you understand - tell us the LATEST [shouting again] about what is happening.

Linda Bode: It's what has happened with Reform, the pressure group, Peter, in that they have appointed a woman to head up the body as its first full-time director.

Peter Levite: A woh what?

Linda Bode: A wo - man.

Peter Levite: Is that someone like you?

Linda Bode: Yes. I have the same bits.

Peter Levite: What's the significance of this, if there is any?

Linda Bode: Neither she nor Reform believe in female headship. Reform represents the New Puritans, the fundies, the Prots who think women cannot be bishops, cannot be priests when in charge, cannot be in charge.

Peter Levite: I can see a contradiction coming on.

Linda Bode: No, because it does mean that Reform business sessions are going to be unique.

Peter Levite: Oh, how come?

Linda Bode: The press conference at the Reform Group was not well conducted and reporters just did not know what questions to ask. But I have it on authority (ha ha) that business meetings conducted by the new full time director Sue A. Leaf will only take place in the presence of other women and little children.

Peter Levite: That's not going to get a lot of business done, if say little kids are going to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

Linda Bode: But their real boss, Tom "Dino" Rod...

Peter Levite: Is he a dinosaur then?

Linda Bode: Oh yes. Reverend Tom "Dino" Rod will have men folk in the next room and they will pass messages to and from Mrs Leaf. Anything she decides will only be a suggestion and then the Christian Taliban will sit in a circle and decide during a Pow-wow session whether to agree to anything she says.

Peter Levite: How did Tom "Dino" Rod justify such an appointment then?

Linda Bode: He said that people like her just don't grow on trees. She has a lawyer husband and he's definitely the boss in the home and church. She was introduced in a prayer meeting, and no she definitely did not lead the prayers.

Peter Levite: Apparently a mover and shaker in your institution.

Linda Bode: She sits on the General Synod and says that our God is not Parliament.

Peter Levite: But God is well established, she'd think, with deep roots, wanting the status quo.

Linda Bode: Status quo ante or the seventeenth century: in retaining and continuing discrimination, yes.

Peter Levite: That's it, cuts you see, so no more time. Got to cut the phone budget. Weather?

George Hudson: As hot as a locomotive and probably as damp in the air.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Church of England Wants to Recruit Pagans

Following the trend of Pagans joining Unitarian congregations, the Church of England has decided to get in on the act.

Ever since the incarnation of Iolo Morgannwg (Edward Williams), the Unitarian, recreated druid and historical fantasist, The Church of England hasn't wanted the Unitarians to get too far from its boundary in this arena, but only now is it making an attempt to go after the same constituency.

Comparatively recently the previous Archbishop of Canterbury joined the druidic circle of the National Eisteddfod that was the creation of Iolo Morgannwg. Now the Church is considering adding some plebs from those who like the circle dances and make references to the four elements and to various Gods and Goddesses.

As numbers of ordinary Pagan folks by their own choice are joining Unitarian congregations, the Church of England wants to do the same by setting up places of attraction. The difference is that the Church of England will create a surface Pagan environment but deliver the olde tyme religion, to convert them, whereas the Unitarian Church changes as it changes its membership.

All this follows on from Church of England Fresh Expressions, and also the ex-charismatic services that have drawn on the dance culture, other faiths, and native spirituality drawing in some intelligent young adults (called 'alternative worship' in some places).

Then there is the old one about people being spiritual but not religious. That's why Unitarians have been learning how to be more spiritual and perhaps less religious in the old formal sense, shaking off its long Puritan shadow.

The BBC Radio 4 report (1 hour 24 minutes in) for the solstice heard from a Open University lecturer, Pagan Graham Harvey who claimed that Christians find meaning in the solstice etc. when not themselves tied to a particular doctrine. Well, Unitarians are not tied to particular doctrines.

Trendy Reverend and Pagan/ New Age social science researcher Steve Hollinghurst will have a go at the window dressing. He told the BBC: "I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture."

So it would be: "almost to create a pagan church." He referred to forest churches from the forest school movement as an example - being outside with a circle of people, a fire, with chanting, prayers, and celtic feeling. It doesn't look like a standard Anglican church but it is yet "where Christ is very much in the centre." Almost is the operative word for this 'alternative [Christian] worshipper'.

The BBC report refers to a Christian who uses magic, in the form of angels card reading and more,  but one wonders how Steve Hollinghurst keeps to his Declaration of Assent where Anglican ministers are only supposed to use authorised forms of Anglican worship.

The BBC report also referred to the Church Mission Society and its training for pioneer ministers. The idea is to sell Christianity not via logical and intellectual assumptions but to feel, experience, being reflexive, drawing on meaning and value, bringing it in dialogue.

That move to feeling and reflexivity has also affected Unitarians, with a head start that religion must be personal experience. However, the big difference is that Unitarians have Paganism as one form of expression and Christianity as another, none having superiority, but all being of a wider mix that each individual can draw upon in their own personal but supported development.

At the same time Pagans like Christians can carry on in their own communities, but Pagans promote diversity within their own beliefs and this dovetails with Unitarianism.

What all this forgets is that a number of the Pagans have been attracted by the Unitarians' thoroughgoing equality and diversity of sexualities whereas the Church of England still seeks legal privileges to maintain discrimination. With all the deception in the world, the discrimination will show the reality behind the form. Plus the Church of England is out to convert: this is not the inter-religious dialogue that is consistently both within and without the Unitarians.

In the nineteenth century, with some internal conflict, the British and American Unitarians acquired a warmer more romantic and transcendentalist angle to their once rationalistic approach to religion. The more non-rational or spiritual angle prevented a slide towards a religious humanism where the religious part was hard to find. From the 1970s the spiritual side became ever more multi-faith, especially Eastern and Pagan. Much was also made of Native American spirituality and continues to provide sources of insight. Christian theology, which seems to say one thing while meaning another, has gone into comparative decline.

It's highly unlikely that the druid Arthur Pendragon would ever move to Anglicanism, but he might well take some Unitarian services!

Sunday 16 June 2013

It Always Was Change

It is possible that divine revelation comes through cultural change, especially cultural change that happens to a stream of religion, but I don't think it adds anything either at origin or later.

Like Jonathan Clatworthy, I don't believe in a fixed, one revelation for all time, Christianity. It was diverse from the beginning, and was always so, always having authorities to fix the diversity and pretend in doctrinal unity and even apostolic succession.

But then I don't believe in the original, faultless, Jesus, never mind all that happened afterwards. And all the time there has been argument between the supernatural (divine powers from on-high), the magical (humans actively working to use a selection of the closer divine powers) and reason (human decision making) in explaining Jesus and subsequent methods of knowing reality.

Jesus himself was responding to rabbinical Judaism and was one of a number of end-time preachers and healers, with a particular reverse-ethic of who would find it easier to be in the Kingdom, the purpose of his healing being the removal of demons to facilitate entry. The rich and better off seemed evidently better suited to enter a coming Kingdom (fewer demons), but not according to Jesus. All this is probable, of course, as doing history on secondary sources is notoriously difficult. The Jesus Seminar has had a go with such secondary methods, and the result is a Jesus who lacks immediacy of motive. We'd probably never heard of him in any significance had it not been for Paul's universalising of a never-met Jesus and turning him into a figure of salvation himself, a Gentile version of a Messiah he saw as in conflict with the Law once you had a messiah. Paul was a vital, cross-cultural figure.

All these things are already cultural and one layer on top of another. The more Jewish versions of Jesus's inheritance were clobbered by the edge-of-empire Romans, but we have recovered their importance; Gnosticism that pre-dated Christianity absorbed Christianity into some of its varieties and became a longer and more significant battleground. The Gnostics then and now had more time for magic, but the supernatural with tradition had its own doctrinal battles.

Originally resurrection and its bodily aspect was an argument, thus Paul's original spiritual body (like a square circle) wasn't enough, but doctrine developed for a long time with the escalation of Jesus's titles. The absence of a tomb, worship of a tomb, speculating as to its position (rather than Romans dumping the bodies) became part of the argument. The resurrection was a part of that area of Jewish belief, so Jesus was the first, and the Messiah was then all or nothing, but the Ascension and second coming are purely Christian beliefs. The ascension told early Christians why they, unlike the legitimatised leaders, and the 'congregation' of different numbers, could not meet Jesus after his death, and a second coming was the obvious consequence of a Messiah absent who had work to complete.

The gospels and New Testament allow any varieties of doctrine, including unitarian and Arian, John being the more Arian, but the doctrines escalated into Jesus Christ as eternal as the rest, including the Holy Spirit that was supposed to follow him, or God that had made him in the beginning according to John's speculations.

Then the Romans split from the Orthodox, over the primacy of Rome, and of course the German princes offered enough protection for Luther to be successful, later Calvin and a variety of Protestants in the loose Holy Roman Empire. We forget the Church in the East, the one that started outside Roman territory and went to China. That did have the Nicene view but no further; it became a magical Church emphasising the birth of Jesus as miraculous over the less important resurrection. There was the Thomas like Church into India too. Different Christian centres had different emphases from the beginning.

All this is swept away however by the change of Western thinking towards rules of evidence: of science, of doing history, of creating social science. Perhaps Christianity was its own gravedigger, but it also was resistant. We became technological, this-worldy, practical: we look for evidence and evidence works. We falsify to strengthen evidence. Yes, there are paradigms of thought that work until some detail of falsification brings them down. The point is that this was first intellectual thinking but has since become ordinary, practical thinking. People do not worship spirits in the fields for crop growth or ask God to change the weather. Chaos theory is even better understood: even evolution of plants and animals and human species too is understood as chaos in formation (because it is specific and local in every instance) that has systemic properties when interacting.

Into our belief world there is nothing wrong with virgin births and resurrections if they are poetry, but if they claim to be real then they contradict modern scientific thought, discovery, and means of collecting evidence. The basis of the mythic and poetic in religion is like having the same in art: art enriches. On the other hand, some doctrines even as poetry are harmful, and the virgin birth is harmful as it creates a ridiculous mother and virgin figure, an impossibility to follow. But then so is a prophet figure who cannot be human if he is male and without a human father.

Of course the Jesus presentation in theNew Testament is not biographical as such, but even in that he both makes a mistake (Judas) and learns (the Gentile with the distant daughter). We have no idea into Jesus and his moral condition, say in how he grew up and the whole notion of moral perfection follows that of his status. In the end, only a full-on divinity, only a full-on moral absolute, can "do" the exchange that is supposed in the atonement, itself a reflection back as soon as the belief was implied.

But atonements have no mechanical method, or any other connection, other than direct exchanges involving more or less there and then the self or the self's group. Martyrdom doesn't work whenever there are pragmatic alternatives. The whole notion that 'he died to save us all' is rather puffed up and wasn't the intention in the first place. The intention is again within that belief world, and again probably, to demonstrate to God his own self-giving to show readiness for God to bring in the new Kingdom reality, whatever was to follow on where the dead would rise. He didn't want to do it but had to do it, assuming the whole story holds up (and the whole story comes with difficulty in terms of the Judas arrangement to be paid as well as much else in the passion narratives).

That sort of belief-world has simply gone, and instead the world has carried on as before, just with different cultural overviews and different views. The gears have slipped, the chain has fallen off, and it can't be put back on again; the fact that a minority in the West now attend or understand anything consciously Christian is a reality of the gears slipping and the chain coming off.

In the West Christianity seems to be divided into the museum keepers, who look for objects of past value and retell the stories associated, and then charismatics who are as if into recreating a drug-like experience for experience's sake (to then use it as a form of evidence of reality). There are others with blinkers on who can someone inhabit a world that no longer exists, either by reading the book as was once read by mummy and daddy or by not coming out of the museum. Some go abroad and fool themselves.

Clearly Christianity, if it exists at all in the different belief world, has to be reimagined, and it will be more like appreciating a painting; or Western Religion is going to be imaginative and broad, both in awe of what we understand through science and in morality what we learn through social science. Religion is a kind of overview, about who we are as a people on a lonely planet, our birthplace and graveyard. It shifts with cultural shifts, and there will be more, but it has shifted rather decisively in recent decades. It's going to be about questions and reflections, taking steps backwards and reconstructing the view.

In fact it is through moral debates and decisions that Church leaders are becoming unhooked from the rest of us. As they opt for the old school, the old ways of believing, the old culture that is passing away, so the moral debate is becoming the way in which they are detaching themselves institutionally. The actions of Welby, Carey and so on are those of yesteryear people, who stay where they were as the world moves on. That's up to them, of course, so long as the consequence of their actions is understood and in the removal of their institutions as having any moral pre-set place in decision taking. That's if their institutions are incapable of sufficient change around them.

Thursday 13 June 2013

An Argument about the Required C of E Belief

At Fulcrum I'm insisting I have the correct interpretation of the Declaration of Assent against that of a literalist Calvinist. My opponent wants to insist by the power of his argument due to the content of the Preface that Anglican ministers are:

...stating their conviction that the Articles are true because of the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 The argument focuses on both the Preface and the Declaration, so I'll reproduce these here:


The Church of England is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church worshipping the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In the declaration you are about to make will you affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith as your inspiration and guidance under God in bringing the grace and truth of Christ to this generation and making him known to those in your care?

Declaration of Assent

I, A B, do so affirm, and accordingly declare my belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments, I will use only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.

...There is a difference between 'the Church' and the individual. The preface describes the Church of England. It asks the individual to "affirm your loyalty to this inheritance of faith" and that is deliberately put in general terms. It is the individual's "inspiration and guidance" and then the actual declaration itself makes a distinction so that:
  • you declare your belief in the faith. The vital part.
  • revealed in the scriptures. The strongest aspect.
  • described in the creeds. Where it is set out.
  • the historic formularies beat witness. Some formularies that bear witness as a whole.
The one thing the Church of England cleric MUST do and that is stick to the Church of England forms of conducting services. (And it's very often the evangelicals who bust that one rule whereas the liberals stick to the rules and swallow and profess many beliefs they do not actually hold).

When I was in the C of E and before I took over the subjects of the discussion group this chap used to introduce the articles for the pure reason of showing how ridiculous they were. I used to think that this was a waste of discussion time simply because no one was required to consent and assent to them any more.

Indeed at one time the Church of England cleric had to consent and assent to the Book of Common Prayer. That is why the Puritans, some 1700 of them, left in 1662. In 1771 Latitudinarian Theophilus Lindsey organised the Feathers Tavern petition rejected twice by parliament for relief from assenting to 39 articles. He left the Church of England to set up an Arian liturgy Church in 1774 called Unitarian. I'm not well informed about the history of changes but I believe the significant change happened in 1974 to 1976.
The brief self-description of the Church of England on its website points out that there are three traditions of the Church, evangelical, catholic and liberal and states:
What has remained constant, however, has been the Church's commitment to the faith 'uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds,' its maintenance of the traditional three fold order of ministry, and its determination to bring the grace of God to the whole nation through word and sacrament in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In other words, in Anglican-speak, what has changed is the absence of reference to the Articles as such.
...No one now has to assent to the content of the Thirty-nine articles, and I'm saying that as someone who has measured himself as being outside the belief boundaries of the Church of England at the liberal end.

Monday 10 June 2013

Humanist Religious

In response to my sermon (and service) I'm told that I can get everything I affirm from a Humanist society, but I'm not sure that is true. The humanist would regard the religious traditions as containing nothing important not covered by say ethics in philosophy. That's not quite my position, and in an answer about being positive regarding those resources I called myself a "humanist religious" reversing around the adjective and the noun. In other words, the anthropology I draw on is a religious one, and the narrative meanings tend to be the large humanist ones of the every day. The spiritual gift that comes out of exchange can be a binding of human affirmation but also that of vision and insight as discussed by Mark Tully on Something Understood (BBC Radio 4).

I'm not the non-realist that I was, but I was a pretty soft version anyway. Language isn't the be all and end all of meaning. In order of objectivity, large-scale meanings come in maths, science, social science and the arts, the 'arty-arts' being the least objective and most subjective and closest to religion. But art and music has traditions, and so does religion. Religions might try on a bit of support via history and science, but these create problems as much as support. For someone with no place for religions, I put an awful lot of effort into revising liturgies into a more humanist form.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Chucky Egg Dispute

An unholy newspaper loves it has broken out among insignificant members of the clergy after a Reverend Rammit Rabbit called the Archbishop a banker and a cooking fun teapot for upsetting him during a pathetic debate recently in the House of Cards.

In response Rev. Potato Nipple Areola, the most unlikely Communications Officer going, said it is not for such a count a Kent to call an archbishop a banker and cooking fun teapot, no matter who he is or what he said.

Not since the days when an incompetent drunk tried to lop off the head of Thomas Cromwell has such a row threatened to spill over into the realms of plotting high officials where elites compete to get their religious party an advantage.

Rev. Potato Nipple Areola said, directly, "You, sir, ah soul, are an onionist yourself, that is you peel away layer after layer and there is nothing left and not advised for the circumvented."

However, the Reverend added that this would be like seamen off a prostitute's back in terms of what the archbishop thought. He'd only be chuckling over his sterile chucky egg reading his morning paper and preparing another speech in support of the party line.

Service on Belief and Sanctuary

The Service for Sunday 9th June is ready. Last week an attender from the 1980s (like me) said after all this time he still does not know what I believe. So this is the basis of the sermon. So is my use of Seven Steps to Sanctuary, from Abbot (of Worth Abbey) Christopher Jamison's 2006 book Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. It also forms a liturgy, which might or might not gain the approval of Abbot Jamison. I only differ in that I think you can draw on the resources of more than one religion, but I agree that religions offer resources on the human condition and I am indeed sceptical of some purchased New Age approaches. The two aspects come together in what I'd call practical realism. The importance of the collective aspect is given by the hymn choices of 172, 174, 175 and 176 from Hymns for Living. I'm not the non-realist that I used to be, but I am this-worldly. The music is ready too. I like a gap of a day: it allows for pausing and panicking should there be a problem.

Thursday 6 June 2013

Latest Postings in Another Village

I am contributing from time to time at Fulcrum, and once again it seems very slow at putting up messages. So I'll put them here as well. I'm working on Unitarian liturgies and volunteered to do a service on Sunday so the link to that will appear soon with the use and creation of a liturgy based on Service 5 of 1932 and Christopher Jamieson's Finding Sanctuary (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006)

Misrepresenting Same-Sex Marriage: The Bishop of Salisbury
2 [23581] Posted by: Pluralist     Wednesday 5 June 2013 - 04:12pm

The State is representing the social consensus that marriage should be a pairing relationship and that it forms a glue in society, the basis on which families can be raised and which are now understood to exist more diversely than before.

But around the world the simplest anthropology shows no one model or marriage or even family. Attempts to find the universal family model have failed. In some places it is villages not families that raise children.

In addition, although pairing relationships are given special status, many people have extra partners either in affairs or openly.

Religions have reflected different patterns of relationships and families, including property based.

There was never one definition of marriage and there won't be. Many a man and many a woman want their partners of same or opposite sex to be exclusive to them, and so long as that happens that will be the basis of marriage.

The question is, given the State has an interest in marriage, do the religions support it or have their own basis - and if a Church disagrees with the State how can it be established?

A very brief note about "decline" in a living society
3 [23580] Posted by: Pluralist     Wednesday 5 June 2013 - 04:01pm

I think, Bowman, that you are puzzling over a matter where most people in the C of E are not. First of all there is an absence of resources, so that theology departments are closing or have become religious studies departments. They are not going to delve into theologies that do no work in the contemporary situation, where wheels go round but nothing connects. It's like people discussing the finer points of pre-Wesleyan and Wesleyan Arminianism. It has a purpose in history but not much else. I've noticed how even in my local university, whereas I did a course on contemporary theology and its social connections (in business, welfare etc.) even that has gone and now the offering is spirituality within health - where, of course, it is deemed relevant.

I would think too that theology colleges are too busy with training and they have been cut in favour of distance learning as more or more clergy become unpaid volunteers.

As for Anglican articles, the requirements of ordination are only to give a nod to Anglican historical formularies, so most Catholics and liberals in Anglicanism give them just that - and they maintain their own schools. It is now a choice to uphold the articles and even the literalness of the creeds. The relevance of theology is found in relationship to the current sociology of knowledge - are the general narratives and research resisted - and then defensively (traditionalisms) or in attack (some evangelicals), or is there a compromise, or is there a theological approach to be a part of it wholly and fully? These options reinforce the parties.

My theology is to be a part of the general sociology of knowledge, and I don't think it can be called Christian. But some think this is possible, starting with the death of God movement in the 1950s and secular theology (surprisingly with evangelical elements) and the more liberal approach derived from but not the same as JAT Robinson and The Myth of God Incarnate. And, of course, a lot of theology is simply being dropped in favour of individual diversity.

To be or not to be an Apostrophe.
1 [23585] Posted by: Pluralist     Thursday 6 June 2013 - 01:07am

Does the apostrophe add information? In most cases, for the privilege of writing over speaking, it does, and this is why it'll be kept. The Americans attempted to simplify spelling, but it was a half-hearted measure (notice the dash used). Simplifying use of the apostrophe won't work.

Theologically, I don't think there is any consequence, except in the problem of the esses. I prefer to write of: "Jesus's sayings, or those of the early Churches," whereas others prefer: "Jesus' sayings, or those of the early Churches." I don't understand the trend for the missing ess.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Another Nail in the Anglican Coffin

Andrew Goddard has yet again written one of those narrow, institutionally self-serving pieces that ends up emphasising distance between his Church and society.

I've made a response to it as follows:

The Bishop of Salisbury is probably making the best he can, quickly, of a Christian case for inclusive marriage, whereas you can get more substantial offerings in something like Gays and the Future of Anglicanism edited by Linzey and Kirker (O Books, 2005). Diarmaid MacCulloch is probably quite right that the Bible is constricting in what it says about homosexuality. But for me it is a matter of religious humanism to have gender blind marriage, and the more that someone like Andrew Goddard is successful in boxing in his Church to an exclusive position, the more he is dislodging Christianity from the general culture and the more disestablishment becomes the logical outcome.

If the Church of England will not recognise marriage complete, and will not marry all in its parish, as will soon be the position if the legislation passes, then it has no right to be established in a social sense. A Church born in the corruption of Henry VIII and the State has had social privilege ever since, and holds a bargain that it is no longer willing to keep. If it is now to choose whom it marries it should give way its establishment and, for example, clear the House of Lords of its privileged members and not be the presumed choice or State or royal occasions.

Diarmaid MacCulloch stands at a distance from Christianity, although he has kept his deacon status. He said so much on the television series he delivered a number of years ago. I'm a religious humanist and rather happy that my stance can embrace diversity and reasonable reasoning and change to traditions. Some of your bishops, however, are likely to struggle to keep the link between Church and broader society, rather than see the gap grow ever wider by the rather sterile position repeated by Andrew Goddard. Good for your institutional purity, but no good for anyone else.