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.


Jonathan Clatworthy said...

Pluralist, you're addressing important questions but the way you relate to them makes me feel I understand why you abandon Anglicanism for Unitarianism, and then as soon as you settle into it you want to count yourself as not a Christian at all.
Paternalistic God, all those anti-gay rules, why bother? I come at it with more of a historical perspective. Christianity is always changing, and a good thing too. Countless committed sincere Christians have told me you can't be a Christian unless you believe the Bible is God's Word, every statement infallible and to be taken literally. In which case there were no Christians before the 16th Century. Others condemn as unchristian those who don't accept what the Council of Chalcedon laid down - in which case there were precious few Christians before 451. The first leader of the Church in Jerusalem was James, Jesus' brother, who according to scholars didn't think he was divine (but then, who could possibly think his big brother was divine? Too many memories!) Anglicanism is changing. That's normal, and so it should be

Byron said...

Well said, Jonathan, well said.

Why must Christianity's origins be forever binding? As Jonathan says, orthodoxy developed over time. What can change once can change again.