Contributions to FaithSpace: On Belief and History

Material below is a collection, not often in date order, of my contributions to Faithspace. Each text may begin some way in to the contribution, but then gaps are signified by three dots. The contributions here extract from the conversational style into something more neutral. They do not include contributions from other people unless absolutely necessary and then they are unnamed. Punctuation is altered for clarification. Extra text is in square brackets which sometimes involves a little removal of text in favour of the given alternative.

June 5 2006, 1:52 am

The birthday is the resurrection...?

...In the interests of interfaith progress here are some Bahai thoughts on Pentecost.

From SOME ANSWERED QUESTIONS by 'Abdu'l-Baha, collected and Translated by Laura Clifford Barney


Question. -- What is the manner, and what is the meaning, of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, as described in the Gospel?

Answer. -- The descent of the Holy Spirit is not like the entrance of air into man; it is an expression and a simile, rather than an exact or a literal image. No, rather it is like the entrance of the image of the sun into the mirror -- that is to say, its splendour becomes apparent in it.

After the death of Christ the disciples were troubled, and their ideas and thoughts were discordant and contradictory; later they became firm and united, and at the feast of Pentecost they gathered together and detached themselves from the things of this world. Disregarding themselves, they renounced their comfort and worldly happiness, sacrificing their body and soul to the Beloved, abandoning their houses, and becoming wanderers and homeless, even forgetting their own existence. Then they received the help of God, and the power of the Holy Spirit became manifested; the spirituality of Christ triumphed, and the love of God reigned. They were given help at that time and dispersed in different directions, teaching the Cause of God, and giving forth proofs and evidences.

So the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles means their attraction by the Christ Spirit, whereby they acquired stability and firmness. Through the spirit of the love of God they gained a new life, and they saw Christ <p107> living, helping and protecting them. They were like drops, and they became seas; they were like feeble insects, and they became majestic eagles; they were weak and became powerful. They were like mirrors facing the sun; verily, some of the light became manifest in them. <p108>
September 4 2006, 1:55 pm

"Good News" is a situation where no matter how bad something gets, the little light for the future will shine.

The historical Jesus is something of a mystery, and peculiar if we can work a story out who he may have been, but that the Christian myth picked up some vital themes about life through all their particularities. One is the model of crucifixion and resurrection, which I see as however bad something is, there is a tomorrow. It is more a statement of hope than actuality, but that is what faith is about.
September 7 2006, 11:08 pm

The ethical should come before the theological - the ethical guides the theological. The ethical changes the theological.
August 28 2006, 9:01 pm

Given that Paul experienced something he called a spiritual body, and other accounts, is there any justification to seeing the resurrection as perhaps a paranormal event?

If it is paranormal, is the resurrection at all unique? Is it a different language (of the time and place) for a similar experience?

If it is not paranormal, why is it not and different?
August 29 2006, 3:20 am

The argument goes something like this. A loved person, who has had a powerful impact on an individual, dies. Then, unexpectedly, and seemingly not in a dream, the loved one appears somewhere like at the end of the bed. The "person" seems real. Then the "person" disappears. The one who sees this has a sense of wellbeing.

This phenomena is reported from time to time. It could be psychology, it could be a waking dream, it could be a presence.

One view is that the core "event", that was turned into a religious tradition with a purpose, was that some disciples had an experience of an unexpected presence. To explain this, they used the available language of the time, that of resurrection, and the body. But this body went through walls or appeared and disappeared. The resurrection then became an event by which he visited those who had authority and, theologically speaking, the "congregation" too (the 500). ...It was not the resurrection that apparently set the apostles going in terms of Church, but Pentecost. Which is a little odd, until the revision aspect of it is considered.

...I'd say I see a considerable difference between paranormal and supernatural, but I have little time for the supernatural and, well, regard the paranormal as trifling.

The supernatural is like another space from which revelation can come, and need not involve any presence at all, though it can do by a reaching in. The paranormal is all about presence. If science explains the supernatural, it negates it, but if it explains the paranormal, it adds it (to the natural). The supernatural does not need the paranormal, nor does the paranormal need the supernatural.

I have no experience of the paranormal, but I don't dismiss it simply because it passes me by. It may need a mindset, or it may have an existence. If I am not sceptical I suspect that it is something like an echo or disturbance, that has no existence in and of itself. But this really is pushing it, and as ever most claimed paranormal is nothing at all of interest. It is the few percent that makes some sort of interest. As regards the supernatural, whilst there is some end-of-the-argument agnosticism, I rather regard it as cultural and a made up dualism.
August 30 2006, 12:58 am

I.. would say quantum physics has nothing to do with colour theory applied into the New Age or older now New Age ley lines and all of that. It is one thing built on to another and on to another. Still, if it gives some people something to live by. There is always the claim that there are special people that are more receptive, or more in touch, whether it is DSIs here or Calvinists there or born again there. It is a way of drawing a circle around the insiders and keeping out the sceptics.

It does not follow, for example, even if there are faith healers or just pure healers (and that they do work) that the chakhras viewpoint offers an explanation. Another view is chi, the force that is claimed for much in Chinese and Japanese (I believe they argue over the concept and its precise workings).

The problem is that these explanations cannot be falsified.

I've not heard a phrase like "Jesus master of the paranormal" before. The point I wanted to present is that if the resurrection was a paranormal event, and that there have been countless sightings of all kinds of loved ones after death, then the idea of resurrection being unique, heralding the messiah and start of the end, falls by the wayside. There is no uniqueness there. It is similar to those who follow an ethical Jesus, and no matter how much one claims he is the most ethical person (which cannot be sustained), it can only be a matter of degree and not a matter of uniqueness. If resurrection is one proof of messianic status, or, later, divinity, then it has to be groundbreaking, new and unique, at least a beginning of something that unfolds.

In my view the resurrection is not about the paranormal at all, but I am interested in those who pursue this view, and further is this view characteristic of a New Age Christianity or Chriistan New Age (which is the best descriptor?)? I don't know.
August 30 2006, 4:08 pm

Paul is having to reconcile a spiritual experience of some sort with the inherited language of the body. This is what accounts for his linguistic gymnastics.
August 30 2006, 5:18 pm

Well when Jesus was resurrected, no one (important) considered him to be divine, that is to say when he died he had to be messiah or nothing, but being messiah does not imply divinity. He was given divinity as a process of later reflection.

No one knows the core experience of resurrection. Paul does not describe it. What we have in the documents of the early Churches are accounts of the meaning of resurrection. The key account for me is Luke and the fact that it is all centred on a kind of "Have you got it yet?" Before they got the central point, he is unrecognised. When they get the point, their eyes are opened and see him. When they've got the point, and that central eucharist meal takes place, he's gone. This is not an account of an event, a walk, but about significance done in the style of an event.

I could be wrong on a number of points, but my bet is that this is all to do with religious significance of recognition of messiah status. If messianic then, by the beliefs of the time, resurrection had begun. What did that mean, that the first one who had died, indeed died, was resurrected? Resurrection, as discussed before, was not enough, and so there is the projection back to Pentecost, like a year zero for Christianity.

There simply is no historical data on resurrection until later, but there is theological data later, and it is the theological data that matters.
August 31 2006, 12:17 pm

The story of Thomas is to tell people to have faith, and whilst it says "this is real" it is about the fact that, for them (the early Christians) there is no bodily resurrected Jesus they can touch for evidence, and about the superiority of having faith in the beginning of the last days.

The New Testament is a primary historical document of the Early Churches, not of a biography of Jesus. It is a secondary document of the biography of Jesus, for which work has to be done to tease out history. It is unreliable on some of the sayings, which reflect early Christian belief - not his, unreliable regarding the extended passion narrative (the trial and its reasoning), the resurrection stories are not historically sound at all, there is later a clash between Luke Acts and Paul (even between Luke gospel and Luke Acts), parts of Paul are not even by Paul, there are huge sections of the early Church - the Jewish strain - missing and distorted, John's gospel goes into in some cases Greek philosophical fancy, and much of it is mundane and some of it fantastical and imaginary. They were not written as scriptures but specific to the times and places and peoples, and then there are huge chunks representing further developments that were excluded, as well as valuable early material excluded.

There is an early Christianity of people dancing and clapping and whirling around, expecting the new dawn to come, seeing signs and wonders all over the place and living in a world view of the close supernatural and miracles and explanations that come from Hebrew texts. It is not a setting for reliable history, other than the fact that some decades on the excited, waiting people wanted answers and guidance and got it through the writing down of oral stories told by these people.
September 4 2006, 1:12 pm

Chinese whispers involve random changes due to mishearing. There may be a Chinese whispers element, as in telling and copying errors, but there is theological intent. So imagine a Chinese whispers where there is also someone who introduces the point of the tale to all that everyone whispers to each other, which can be repeated at any time. So then mishearing and copying can be altered on the lines of "ah I know what he or she would have been saying" and then the tale is passed on.


The opening sentence is:

Four nails go in some chopping wood, a low price: so funny it was not burnt.

The Moderator says, This is a sentence about one aspect of buying things.

The sentence ends up:

Four girls went shopping at low prices with money that was not earnt.
August 10 2006, 1:56 am

Social construction neither includes nor excludes God, and that even God [having] a social construction does not affect whether that God is realist or non-realist, or indeed whether God exists at all in any sense.

A theologian like John Milbank may say that sociology implies a theology, but it is only because of its method. Sociology should not say it is the be all and end all - it is a perspective and analysis subject to its own limitations. But even he would have to say that people through language make concepts and act upon them, forming views, patterns, beliefs and institutions.

[There is] the difference between sociology of religion and religious sociology. The latter is Church focused (especially Roman Catholic) [and] confession[al] that uses sociological methods towards making its case or planning its activities. As such it is suspect, because of the intended bias. Sociology of religion just uses research and the research goes where it will. It is quite possible for the Church to use sociology of religion in its work, as sociology of religion does not exclude theology or belief, but neither does it imply belief. So a confessional stance is damaging as a research approach. When we did Church and People in Longhill Estate we used sociology of religion, and it was a project generated by the Church of England as part of its York Diocese based mission in the area. Sociology of religion of course involves social construction, as sociology involving individuals and their actions must. A key part here was charting people's views on God, and what God means if anything. That can be correlated with age, sex, churchgoing, experiences, other beliefs, and was. None of this has any bearing on what may or may not be the case in any confessional sense.
August 11 2006, 1:50 am

If you want to see why a family as we understand it is not universal, look at my piece on it at
and, furthermore, the fact that there may be suggested cultural similarities from one society to another is no evidence of naturalistic or God directed universalism (or that one construction is correct while others are deviant).

Of course there may a universal, revelatory, whatever, normative set up of families, or work system, or ways of entertainment, or sex, or whatever, but it is hardly the purpose of sociology to try to discern this or know it, if there is such. Sociology does sociology's job. Theology may have such a role for finding one normative pattern, but theology is itself just as likely to come to a view that there is not one normative family. ...You can make an argument for many varieties of family from Judaeo-Christianity, and that whilst Jesus forbad divorce he hardly promoted the family, and Paul had little time for marriage at all given his also end of the world and time perspective.

Why do families vary? Possibly for economic reasons, and local climate and conditions related to that. But there is never one simple answer. Once culture kicks off, it starts its own creative constructions.
August 12 2006, 2:00 am

There seems to be a loose view of "social constructivism" flying around and, somewhere within the argument, the more precise view. The latter combines sociolinguistics, phenomenology and social action (as in Weber). This view is interpretive and action creating, thus ideas and language leading to creating and understanding human institutions. These institutions are not just physical, but key ideas and culture. The loose view is humans create societies, and each is as its own.

There are sociological views that say our ideas and institutions last when they function well together, and there are others that say power is vital as determined by key economic interests at levels of technology through history. These are high level views, sociological, from above. The Berger and Luckmann position combines higher level with people meaningfully interacting - constructing from below via an interpretive process but influenced by the nature of institutions.

Instead of thinking of each person in society (for a moment), think of society in each person - coming in via the talk we use, forming meaningful concepts in our heads, and in so doing regenerating that society from our meaningful actions.

People who talk, make meaning and act in a plural society do so quite differently from one in a monolithic society. There is more space, and more anomie (alienation) in a plural society. We also learn meaning from each other, and pass it on.

Christians have had a variety of views towards the culture and society that is generated. For some, God is incarnate and in some way working out his purpose, even within the varieties of culture. For others, God is remote and absent from these relativist cultures. God appears into history, but does not guide it. Revelation is far off, and intersects. Others see the need to make human societies change to be more Godlike, and for others still such an effort is futile because they never can be.

Futhermore there are those who use the social interactive position to suggest we also create God, Church, religion, faith. It is the Feuerbach position. Others say every description of God is constructed socially, but there is somehow a real behind it. Others say the key to all this is language, you cannot get behind the sociolinguistic process. As soon as you describe what is behind, it is yet another social descriptive act.

This latter position is the one I hold. In a plural society, God may be meaningful to some people, or superfluous or meaningless. There is likely not to be agreement on what God means anyway. Christianity has a variety of explanations. For one view to be imposed would take a power that is not available: it used to be, but not anymore. When it used to be available, in monolithic times, the exercise of power was hardly necessary, in that the just about single ideology was very powerful.

How did it change? Did people suddenly think differently? Not really. You can chart a situation of geographically one faith one Church (with a few fringes and Judaism). Then there was one faith and many churches, due to the Reformation. Then there was the impact inside that greater freedom of Enlightenment. Then there were many faiths, many religious institutions and a greater space for no religion. In such a setting varieties of ideas have arisen. In a situation of no overall ideology, even secularism cannot dominate. And so there is the possibility for religion to be significant again, but not one religion, not one institution, and not as a sacred canopy. From in such pluralism the sense of objective truth is lost, and thus comes postmodernity. Everyone has their own truth to live by, but no truth can be objectively anchored. That is not to say some people cannot believe that their truth is objective - they can but it becomes very difficult to convince others.

So it is a few who think a Christian God is still working out his incarnation, still a few who think there is a divorced God of revelation, a few who think God is constructed and has no other existence, a number who could not care less, and quite a few sectarian fundamentalists.

When there was one faith and one Church it was easy to think of God as in culture and all powerful, working in history, and very difficult to think about social construction. With that gone, it is easier to think about social construction. But thinking of social construction does not imply any particular model of God, or religion, only that varieties of views can be and are held and are reflected in institutional diversity.
August 13 2006, 12:32 am

Social construction is entirely against the notion that a social change is a "natural move". The issue of natural, universal, even godly, is not within the sociological analysis. These are for other perspectives.

The issue regarding a clash with Christianity is when a sociological perspective is extended to also become a theological perspective. It can be: it can be a personal view to see (a branch of) sociology as an ideology and become a kind of secular theology, but it does not have to be at all.
August 16 2006, 1:54 am

I am reading parts of Bede's Eccelsiastical History of the English People. It makes continuous references to miracles carried out by bishops, no doubt with the Holy Spirit descended upon them, one of whom stills the waters as a boat nears from a storm. Bede is happy to speak of miracles aplenty. The point is, this is a universe of meaning, and no historian would write like it today. A similar universe of meaning coloured how the Bible was written. We have a duty, whether the Holy Spirit is on us or not, to understand how things were written.

I shall understand Jesus as an end-time prophet, of the fulfilment of Israel, a healer and prophet who had early Christian theologically meaningful miracles attributed to him, and Paul, who changed this particular Jewish preacher into a universal figure, [my understanding] aided by Gospels that write in transition to a largely Gentile set of communities who had questions and received guidance about authority and direction.
August 17 2006, 4:57 pm

I am not sure even a person who believes in revelation considers all the ideas that centre around the Jesus movement, Paul, the gospel writers, the Hellenistic tradition and the Western and Eastern Churches are lacking in the formation of ideas by humans. After all, the leading evangelical theologian, Karl Barth, made a distinction between Christian religion, for which he had little time, and revelation in an encounter. The encounter was direct, selective, piercing time and place, and within the biblical narrative but centred around the person of Christ. It was not centred around having to say each line in the Bible attributed to Jesus was actually said by Jesus, and that somehow if only you were touched properly by God you would believe it because it is true. That is not what revelation is about, trying to uphold as revelation all the constructed ideas that move through culture and happened to be in a particular formation at a particular time.

It is still possible to see, for example, a command to make disciples and baptising in a kind of salvic trinity as an expression of the early Church, and not Jesus himself, but nevertheless evidence of the impact of the revelation of Jesus upon immediate followers. It is quite possible to see the early proto-trinity as a social construction for a new situation derived from earlier Jewish ideas, and that it is made by humans, and yet is evidence of encounter and impact. It is like saying that resurrection is derived from Zoroastrianism, came into Judaism, got recreated into the last days expectation, was picked up by the likes of Qumran, John the Baptist and Jesus, and became part of the central language of Christianity, and that all this is constructed, and yet resurrection is a revelation of continued encounter and impact, even a real presence. There is a place for revelation, even when all that describes the revelation is built up from various sources and various places.

It is not either social constructionism or literalist revelation, but social construction alone, religion from below, or these AND revelation - revelation of the encounter.
August 18 2006, 1:45 am

Not sure about Theissen, who seems an oddball at times but I have no direct view. The above passage brings about a question "why" - why wandering charismatics.

Interesting watching I Clavdivs on TV, how superstitious they were and religious, how the sanity of Claudius was still matched with power and control (eg in the margins of the Middle East, picking up the Jewish myths and being concerned about them), and related to this how 60s television histories about Rome as civilised have been countered by even more recent histories that give more humanity to the Barbarians and see Rome as military, pyramidal power and corrupted.

This, of course, is all about historical construction, and there is an interesting interface between social construction as a kind of ahistorical analysis but [there is] the historical construction that takes place too that shifts about and necessarily affects the kind of analysis the sociologists do do.
August 18 2006, 5:21 pm

The nature of authority and ideas in this early Christian period follows charismatic authority and a moderated charismatic authority.

Pure charismatic authority is given to Jesus and Paul, I would suggest, each of whom gathers to their person authority to move others, and change them. Each of these commands, each of these has a power to use what went before and change it. The other apostles have a kind of moderated charisma. Allie, you mentioned James elsewhere and the importance of the family, and thus doubt about Peter as the head of the Church (I agree with you - but also we don't see Peter's Church properly either, never mind the Jewish approach of James that would have been closest to Jesus, such is the effect of Paul). Paul has charismatic authority because there is no other reason why he should be an apostle, other than his bridging communities, his organising and bringing the focus on him (with opposition generated too).

Charismatic authority is forward looking, about the present into the future, and is suited to immediate expectations (such as last days). But it is unstable as authority. As time goes on, and those last days do not happen, and authority is justified by working back to the founders, charisma gives way to tradition, which is present-past in outlook. This is what happened with forming creeds and indeed the tradition. People in charge need apostolic succession or they have to read it in the Bible. Few have authority to themselves because of who they are, and a tradition lasts because few can be pivotal.

The controversial bit comes with Churches with the next stage. Bureaucratic authority can be applied to Churches where the argument is that leadership is practical and most rational. The whole argument about ecumenism is often conducted this way. People who occupy positions are seen as doing a good job, being appraised and being cost effective. Priests and ministers are a good way to organise a church, and so is a cell system or parishes (or not, and then challenged). With Churches, however, bureaucratic authority can never quite wholly take over. I also identify bureucratic authority with those who try to keep the Churches together: those who talk about balance and keeping various wings moving in the same direction.

There are two other authority types to consider. One is systemic, which involves a whole and its parts, with a lot of devolution to its parts. Peter Rudge thinks this is the correct model for the Church, but clearly this is a theological and not a sociological judgment. I see it as people of expertise down in the system having influence on the policy making and direction of the whole rather than from the top (which is why systemic authority was created - technicians and experts often end up running a company in effect more than the office holders in the pyramid of the organisation). So I see systemic authority as the influence of theologians to alter de facto what is understood by doctrine. Because we have the academic work having been done and still being done, the understanding of core beliefs has changed, and theologians continue to write and affect understanding.

The final authority pattern is the even more liberal human relations authority, which is where groups of people together decide the direction of the body - very democratic and very liberal. This I associate with reformation movements that moved in the liberal direction, thus in particular the Unitarian and also the Quaker (awkward as "reformation" but there it is). It is congregationalist, and individualist. This also corresponds to Troeltsch's Mysticism category he identified as part of the New Testament, which does not mean mystical but means individualism. He also had Church and Sect, also seen as within the New Testament. Weber, who had Charismatic, traditional and bureaucratic, elsewhere also had Church and Sect, and it was Niebuhr who came up with denomination on the American model, but no suggestion it can be found within the New Testament as claimed for Church, Sect and Mysticism. To these we add cult which is characterised by extras and in particular dependence on transitory leadership, and a NRM is a cult form and with New Ae adds in a consumerist (ie high capitalist) element.

All these anslyses are sociological. I've mentioned how Peter Rudge combined his use of them with a theological 'ought' - which one is correct, he wondered - but my point is that each of them describes part of the Church as seen now in various theologies: charismatic authority for fundamentalism, evangelicalism, charismatics; traditional authority for many traditionalisms (including old style fundamentalisms), bueaucratic for liberal orthodox; systemic for liberal heterodox and human relations for liberals through and through. The last one must be outside or a breakaway from a broad Church, the bureaucratic authority is only about a broad Church and it is these who are now failing to hold the centre.
August 21 2006, 2:35 am

Even a high view of revelation does not prevent social construction, in fact it gives social construction plenty of room to do its work.

As for my position, it is important to stress the linguistic and meaningful in the specific understanding of social construction (Berger and Luckmann) and of course religion and any "encounter" (as in revelation) is also transmitted through the linguistic and meaningful.
July 19 2006, 11:58 am

There is a liberal postmodernism and a restricted postmodernism. Yale postliberalism is quite conservative as a postmodern position - no objective reality but there is an ecumenical doctrine position to be acted out in community that then defines it. Hans Frei did the equivalent for the Bible. More conservative still is John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy, which is a postmodern doctrinal attack on what he calls the secular theology of the social sciences and wishes to restore a form of Christendom within the postmodern bubble. Daniel Liechty's postliberalism is far more open, as indeed is the kind of position around Sea of Faith. It tends to be more open to broader philosophies and more recent in the Western tradition, and other faith insights, especially Buddhist, sometimes Pagan, and takes on board a revised and pushed further liberalism. So there are these poles even within the postmodern setting, but they aren't quite equivalent of the poles in the realist setting. There is more a debate on orthopraxy and heteropraxy in the postmodern side, as opposed to orthodoxy and heterodoxy on the objective side.
June 21 2006, 10:44 pm

Freud attempts to relate psychology to evolution, in other words to biology and hard science. This is through relating to basic instincts of an ultimately pre-human past. He also attempts to relate psychology to structure, as in structuralists, if you notice the number of binary opposites. So a displeasure builds up, sexual usually, and pleasure is its release. It is binary. There are several layers, so that a discharge of displeasure to pleasure is mental and can lead to fantasies, and therefore a real world object situation is sought in order to lessen fantasies and fulfil in a more sound manner what the fantasy would do and fail to do. Our training means we internalise the effect of the social world, and into this is a demand for real outcomes that match the trained conscience. The personality is made in the first few years of life, and this is internalised.

You can look at this scheme and it makes a sort of sense. But is it something discovered by Freud, or is it made up and a kind of scheme? First of all, personality adapts and changes all the time, and the importance of the first years is surely overstressed. How scientific is this? Secondly, why should it only be core instincts at work? There is more than just sex. It is no proof, not even use of, evolution. The details of Freudian views are highly questionable too, for example trauma buried into the unconscious when we know surely that trauma comes from what cannot be forgotten not what cannot be remembered. Freud also revised his own scheme into adding the most fundamental death instinct: the wish to escape, go into an alcoholic stupor, drugged out, end, go into loss and even suicide.

Attaching labels and looking scientific is not the same as being scientific. These labels and this scheme cannot be falsified. It is why it comes under social science - it is open to research but can't be focused in upon with the rigour of science. But it does add to understanding. In some ways it has a lot in common with theology in that it makes a kind of internal sense.

I know nothing about Melanie Klein, so I'll just comment on Freud. The structuralism of his thought is its give-away, really, where there are these label points that are passed through to do the opposite and release (at some higher level). It speaks of the thought of the time. And this is its weakness. In other words, Frued is in his scheme like one of his mental constructs. It is open to its own deconsstruction, just as much as it is a construction.

Now this for me is where there is comparison with religion, because doctrine and dogma is a construction that is open to its own deconstruction. From charismatic and eschatological origins it built up its huge castle, which makes a lot of sense to itself, but the bricks are visible and so are many points where the castle is not secure. And indeed just as castles failed any more to be defences, sometimes as if overnight, yet have become objects of beauty and of the imagination, so religion as constructions are like this too. Furthermore, you can still use Freud as a construction as a way to programme a person towards a more holistic life, and so can religion still function like this. It still produces its own sense-world and programme, so that regular worship and spiritual disciplines can have their effect (look how this is highlighted in The Monastery and currently The Convent on TV).

Science is a limited methodology of falsification and explanation through paradigms that fit the details of evidence. It moves along; it must stay close to the process. This is not Freudian psychology, which is a grand scheme and explanation within its own logic. It is thought, and symbolic, and is like religion in that it has potential for doing something through it.
June 22 2006, 10:30 pm

The danger of claiming a trauma that the patient cannot remember is the power of the analyst and the fantasy of the client, who can go on to invent accusations. It reminds me of those satanic cult scares.
June 23 2006, 2:23 pm

So the analyst comes up with a story of the client that may or may not be useful to the client based on several incomplete signs of the client.

Slightly worried about this attaching to patterns seen as normal... But I certainly think we as autobiographers do connect with repetitive patterns and coming of age ceremonies. Indeed it is possible to see all ritual patterns as ceremonies of approach and leaving, in a sense of going through life-doors. I'd go so far as to say this is what they facilitate and impress in the autobiography process.
June 26 2006, 2:41 am

Elena (wife) comes up with the joke of the psychoanalyst that repeats everything the client says, and this is the means and end of the method. My point is this - say there is a trauma that is concealed, so it is not remembered but repressed, and then the client does not know but the psychoanalyst identifies - well what? I go back to asserting that the real crucial need in talking therapy is for someone who cannot forget a dreadful experience to talk it through, and find different ways to handle it and hopefully heal the situation within. I say this whatever may or may not be hidden away in some unidentified - or misidentified - past.

A baby's or youngest toddler's ability to remember is very limited and chaotic, and building some scaffolding of cause and effect on that seems to me still to be highly questionable and doubtful. A remembering child that gets interfered with, a teenager going through angst, an adult that gets screwed up in life, these matter in being hopefully unravelled.
June 14 2006, 2:42 pm

There are different perspectives and platforms regarding feminism: Marxist feminism, radical feminism, feminism. So there are patriarchal systems, language, and then systems of oppression, ideology. It is not that these "are" but that these are analyses all of which allow for some sort of programme of change.

What this is about is equality and effective equality, not hiding behind "complimentarity" which is just a means of enforcing an inequality. We can see what complementarities exist when people are free to be and become equal. There is an argument about equality of opportunity and equality of outcome, and the latter is unlikely at the best of times (and yet if people are only ever systemically limited in achievement, then equality of outcome is a measure of equality of opportunity); in any case our economic system requires inequality and the patriarchy argument is one that it should not be an inequality made by caste, race or sex.

Religion should offer a vision of the way ahead, of what is the best, and this means, where it has influence over itself, providing the most equalitarian structures. So if it remains hierarchical, for practical and organisational reasons say (the argument of Weberian bureaucracy over tradition), then the hierarchy should not be limited by race, caste or sex. So if there are bishops or chairs of districts or moderators, they should be open to all regardless of sex (and by sex it means sexuality, gender and which sex). The Churches can offer a social gospel here.
June 17 2006, 2:12 pm

The prime theologian combining feminist and ecological theology is Sallie McFague. She speaks of the common creation story, a universe of 15 billion years old, the interconnection and a source of the appreciation of life. All her theology is arranged around models, so this is an organic view (connected not fused) sense of oneness. So another model is that this is the body of God. Then there is the christic paradigm, that living in this body of God it is radicalised by liberating, healing and inclusivity. It means getting away from anthropomorphism. We are just a planet in the corner of one galaxy. We humans are not even the centre of our tiny planet. So she comes to another model of not Father, Son and Holy Spirit but the mystery of God, its invisible face, the physicality of God, and the mediation of the invisible and visible. God is beyond all models; there is a divine incarnation and Jesus of Nazareth is paradigmatic. The vision of living in creation as stewards is eschatological and ecological. The Church exists where there ias the liberating, healing, inclusive love of the embodied God. As an institution it lives out the (vision of the) new creation in its body.

So it is all by models and paradigms, about which God is transcendent. These models are relativised, she says (192), and "the transcendence of God frees us to model God in terms of what is most significance to us." (193)

In other words, given this remains a realist, objective, theology of radical transcendence, all models are subjective, and observer based (and, I'd say, actually human centred, which contradicts her demand for moving from anthrpomorphism). When you move to a feminist-ecological theology, one about interconnectedness and not hierarchy, then models and paradigms are considerably looser than the old scheme with all its doctrinal lists.

We have models and paradigms because we construct worlds and world views, and I have to say this includes transcendence. It does not get away from this process, it is also a model. She would have to be like John Hick's ever unitarian theology above theologies, forever having to go higher and higher in transcendence and non-description, and indeed, as with the criticism of Hick, so eventually high and dry that God disappears. The most radical transcendence is disappearance: nothing can be said, nothing can be experienced (because experience is mediated through symbol), and nothing can be known or thought.

That is very Buddhist, and it is similar to the position I hold, except I say the models and paradigms never stop, and God transcendence talk is just that. I warm to Sallie McFague's theology, but it is only so far so good.

McFague, S. (1993), The Body of God: An Ecological Theology, London: SCM Press.
June 18 2006, 12:46 am

She uses models, narratives and paradigms as ways of understanding. They can connect with each other. A model is a construct that is relative, limited and aids understanding. The Trinity is a form of modelling, she revises it so that it is no loner patriarchal and hierarchical. A narrative is a story of understanding: so science has done a job that has produced what she calls the common creation story. Paradigms are current understandings of dominant understandings. Clearly she is allowing for the transcendence of God to be objective and into the body of God, the universe (without being a panetheist). Being Christian about God is paradigmatic which suggests a stronger story, current and active. It allows for other paradigms, however, and her models which I take as looser allow for other modelling.

My point is that the voluntarism of the modelling, and the implicit transience of the paradigm, and a narrative once was another narrative and will be another, means that transcendence is the only pure element.

Problem is every description of that transcendence, what makes it a "radical transcendence", is a model, paradigm or narrative. If you do anything to describe it, it starts to disappear. This is why Karl Barth's God, which was culture free, started to disappear, and was only known one way in revelation, and the focus becomes on the revelation-intersection, the biblical narrative of that intersection (then the focus) is like a drama and itself non-objective and purely self-contained in terms of this world. If God is the basis of objectivity, but God is unreachable and disappearing, and culture/ religion is just subjective, and all on earth is subjective, there is no objectivity. Thus postmodernism. The more high and dry God becomes, the more it collapses.

Now McFague's view is cultural, is modelling, but it is subjective in the face of transcendence, and so I am saying it is incomplete.

As for the other point, people may talk about the unconscious or something outside symbol and langugage, but we only know it symbolically, and even the unconscious comes through in symbolism. Again postmodernism comes along, this time through the linguistic turn in contemporary philosophy. By linguistic is meant symbolic understanding. Transcendence is itself a description and is symbolic. There is no escape.

So I warm to these models. I do think paradagm is too strong, in that what is paradigmatic for one community is not for another. For Hindus the paradigms may be Krishna, Rama, the Trimurti and so on - and I'm sure McFague would not object. A common creation story is an admission that much of relevance is outside religion altogether - and an objection is it may not be so common. Secularisation may well be another common narrative, and if so this is really challenging.

Her theology is an accommodation between modernity and tradition - and I just think the accommodation is not so easy: the reform that pushes at Christian theology is far greater.
June 12 2006, 2:45 am

Looking at God from four or more different angles, as in (I'll do my own selection) that of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the New Testament, is four ways of looking. And then they are not one, but four ways of constructing.

...The Unitarian position also often undermines itself. In the classical Unitarian position, Jesus had divinity in him, and possibly more than you or me, but then he has some divinity in him. The Arian position did recognise a subordinate created divinity as part of its scheme, but the Unitarians gave that up in order to emphasise Jesus' humanity. But even if you do emphasise humanity, divinity is only compromised not removed.

It makes as much sense therefore to use a different even if compromised language like the Trinity; however, it is loose, and also by removing objectivity some of the original Unitarian objections are met. Plus, without objectivity, the human self is recognised as the shifting, transient existence that it is. God talk is in the nature of human transience, so peculiarly there is God and human together in this active redescriptive manner.
June 12 2006, 9:08 pm

I like to take things on their own terms, and the Hebrew Bible exists as part of the Jewish faith, it is the Tanakh, and given that Jesus himself was wholly Jewish I think it is an appropriate label.

Anyway it is not the fulfilment of the Jewish scriptures from the Jewish point of view, and it is quite possible to use the myth of resurrection and, at the same time, hold to an autonomous view of the Jewish faith. It would make an odd conversation at the Council of Christians and Jews. "We are the fulfilment of the Jewish faith." "No you are not." In our quantum modelled plural world, where we have to get on, you can be both-and, and being both-and and needing the crucial observer's stance (and seeing such as existing both) alters the nature of truth, just as in quantum physics itself.

There is another both-and here too, that wants to see the Christian scriptures in their most primitive form as Jewish, and the postmodern culture that holds to sometimes contradictory viewpoints. Another [both-and] is giving a great deal to finding a purity of a historical Jesus, the strange wholly Jewish preacher and healer of urgency, and yet the essentially fictional, ever created nature of human faith.
June 13 2006, 6:52 pm

God [is] our ultimate concern and lives on and, as ultimate concern, does not share existence; so is all to do with wisdom, power and being good, is creative and preserves, which can be seen and is unseen, and is considered as one, substantial, powerful and deep, and three.

...Words are not so precise in meaning or context as to allow precision of the Anglican position. In any case, no one is asked to assent and consent to these statements any more. Puritans walked out over that one, regarding the Book of Common Prayer. The service I attended referred to historic formularies and that "nod" [to them] is enough to recognise a long tradition as well as the right to reinterpret for our times.
June 13 2006, 6:59 pm

I do not believe there is a thing called the Trinity from the beginning of time but that it was a concept that developed after the Bible period into a doctrine. There are various beliefs that include the activity of God as well as the existence of God, but movement towards emphasising difference was always countered by stressing monotheism. This includes the whole of the New Testament: the baptismal-salvation formula was not a doctrine of the Trinity but used the words that would later become fixed by Greek philosophy. We are not bound by that philosophy but perhaps should take account of how and why the baptismal formula developed after Jesus' death and in a belief in resurrection-close-by Kingdom. An economic Trinity developed in the sense of something dynamic, and if it was about salvation then and from that context it was not about something that always existed.
Apr 4 2006, 2:45 pm

All symbols are - are a form of talking, given a broader view of language. We have pre-knowledge of what they mean before they speak, because we have an insight into the culture of their meaning. This means they inevitably vary within any communication within a setting.

In this house I have a number of symbols dotted around, some apparently non-religious like a globe or a wooden figure of a human, but then there is a cross, and an Orthodox icon of the Trinity, and on the study door the 3-0 of Hinduism with Ganesh inside it, and a Seder plate representation; I have a large Buddha in the sitting room, one in the garden and a small one in the study, there is baby Krishna in the sitting room, various goblet and candleholders in rooms, and also I have a witch and an Ent (like a Green Man) in the study. I've more books than places to put them, as they are also objects as well as things to read. And I still have a religious gown.
June 8 2006, 8:07 pm

Well one of the "explanations" that Mary was a virgin was being sexually active before first menstruation and so therefore she would have appeared to be a virgin. The problem with this explanation, and I'd suggest knowing her age, is that the information is not available and is a rather a false method of explaining away. I'm not particularly interested in explaining it away, it is just superfluous and an impossibility. The explaining away bit is rather like those people who try and work out which star or comet was around to create a star of Bethlehem or whether the three wise men were Zoroastrian astrologers or not. It is not history. Bringing the God can do anything and so can do this [virgin conception] is rather like saying God, if he wanted to, can create a two wheeled tricycle. The pairs of chromosomes come from two human parents and that's it.

Genealogy is a good one. I love these programmes that show who the dad is and go up the generations, and of course we never know if the milkman was involved some way up the official chain. But at least there are records kept. There are no records here. The bishop once used the Bible geneaology and a few other calculations, and some classical events, to say how old the earth was, and he got it wrong by some five billion years. The Family Records Office doesn't use the Bible in this manner.

John Major is fifth cousin once removed (I understand) to Margaret Thatcher. Half the population is related to Bill the Conk.
June 12 2006, 2:20 am

Mary as a model is self-effacing, a model particularly to nuns, who rather than be mother of Christ become as brides of Christ.

Here is a quote from Daphne Hampson: "God is always the one who takes the initiative, while Mary is self-effacing. Catholic women who dedicate their lives in celibacy to the church are encouraged to see themselves as engaged in a life-long betrothal to the "bridegroom" who is Christ. Within Catholicism young girls are admonished to model themselves on Mary as mother and as virgin (which is impossible by definition), whereas by contrast it is open to boys to aspire to become priests and so represent Christ to the people."

Hampson, D. (1996), After Christianity, London: SCM Press, 194

So it is a whole package of relationships that the Virgin Mary represents. She quotes, for the Protestant side, the theologian Karl Barth:

It is not as though this non-willing, non-achieving, non-creative, non-sovereign, merely ready, merely receptive, virgin human being as such can have brought anything to the active God of her own, in which her adaptability to God consists." 195, from Barth, K. (1956), Church Dogmatics, I/2, The Doctrine of the Word of God, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 191-2.

As I understand it, when Barth was asked whether he thought the Virgin Birth actually happened he did not answer. So this is a terrible exegesis, the Bible like Catholic tradition uses the virgin conception as another basis for female passivity, receptivity, and giving up the self in a setting of patriarchy.

Given the deep roots of sexuality and spirituality, this is damaging. Hopefully intelligent women and intelligent men will reject the virgin birth. How much better to think of a sexually active, interested, forward looking, couple in love, producing a child who was going to become an active rabbi preaching love and inclusivity in the context of urgent need to change to his fellow Jews.

Daphne Hampson, incidentally, is a theologian who has moved away from Christianity. She remains a theist and is not a non-realist, and I once asked her after a presentation if she had any sympathy with those who had moved to Paganism with its stronger position for the female in the Godhead and its plural, network nature as God and a religion, but she wanted to retain a monotheism but rid of all the Christian patriarchy. So she moved to practising her post-Christian spirituality at the Quakers. Her theism is anti-hierarchical. I suppose my criticism of her position is that she draws from theologians who do stand in a critical relationship within Christianity, and it is that tension that produces output and so in a sense she is distancing herself from the engine that produces the criticism. She draws on Christianity as a cultural product, and calls it Western theology, as a tool of reform and yet states that liberation inside Christianity is impossible.

"The word God must refer to a dimension of reality that has always been the case. We may not in future require a grand narrative like the one we have known in Judaism and Christianity. But we shall need to find a way of speaking of that which is God." 284

I see it the other way around, and it does not need to be a grand narrative - in fact, Christianity fails as a grand narrative. But it is the inherited road system by which the God concept is derived, even if it is added to by other roads and new ones. She also upholds objectivity, but this method renders objectivity redundant. God is made by the language that produces it and its use, so God is made by having a hermeneutic of suspicion and highlighting and rejecting texts such as the virgin birth.
May 28 2006, 12:29 am

We have this this literalism about wiping out all around and who are we to question it because it is God's purpose and in the scriptures... No. Absolutely, it has to be criticised, and continuously. The Jews believed they were chosen to be holy, and carry a monotheistic message of salvation. To be chosen (or think you are as an identity) to be holy is one thing, to use that at any stage for attacking indigenous populations, or at least settled populations, is itself to be condemned. These collections of reconstructed events and reconstructions into events create a very double edged mythic history, and it must be open to criticism, out of which the ethical is to be derived. One ethical solution is relevant to Christianity - yes to be holy, but to be suffering holy rather that powerful and domineering holy, because powerful and domineering holy is not holy at all.
June 3 2006, 11:56 pm

It is quite possible to see that a biblical account is excusing genocide by giving it the approval of God while not believing in that kind of God or God at all. There is no division of logic here.

Religion has a tendency to the tribal. Two things result. One is (in the Hebrew Bible) the invention of patriarchal figures like Abraham and Moses (well, no evidence at all for Abraham, very little for Moses - but it is not the point, the point is that both are written up in a full manner to be the fathers of the faith and tribe), and the other is to create characteristics of God that give divine sanction to the said actions of the tribe.

Clearly by stripping away those claims, or at least criticising them, God is being changed.
June 1 2006, 4:11 pm

Well the whole point about the postmodern turn in theology along with all the research and careful work is that it relates to where people are and the concerns of contemporary culture rather than maintaining some sort of inward looking fantasy, much of which visibly seems to be angry and accusative and the rest. Reading here it has become very disappointing. The core is social and cultural, people based, and the tradition and reasoning is to serve.
August 29 2006, 6:55 pm

The self is too constructed and fragile and transient to be able to know what is the truth when facing different people, and we should not be too worried if different people see different faces and roles played out in the drama of life.
September 6 2006, 2:32 pm

There is, of course, no way of knowing [whether Jesus had a loving sexual relationship with someone]. We have a one time Bishop of Birmingham who pondered if he was gay, and the recent Bishop of New Jersey who thought he could have been at his own wedding, and we hear that it was standard necessity for rabbis to be married but also that it was not. A better question is, perhaps, who was Mary Magadalene (the top candidate for his closest female) and again no real idea but a bet is she was a wealthy woman who supported the troup and went around providing back up. Someone who is going to be single minded (as Jesus is possibly singular minded too, quite probably awkward to live with outside the project and the team), and maybe Mary Magdalene was with him the best that any woman could be in such an intensive project. If Jesus is setting up, he thinks, a situation to facilitate God bringing in the messianic Son of Man, then what is entering into marriage when time is short and all will change?
September 2 2006, 1:51 pm

That is creating an opposite, and either-or, which postmodernism would reject. It is not experience it values any more than rationality, but singuilar experience and one rationality.

It is not that rationality is rejected, but the claims for it that do not expose its will to power.

It is not against personal consistency, but it is going to be a broader consistency and balancing differences in a transient manner.

For example, in my case I hold two different approaches at once - a rather Arthur Marwick view of historiography, but a narrative view of religious faith, and make a connection between them - one modernist, one postmodern, both together postmodern.

I am wary of experience, and the reason is that experience is language or category moderated. We actually have very little in the way of raw, meaningful experience. We have already categorised first.
September 3 2006, 3:31 am

Postmodernity is a broad overview - we've discussed postmodernity as a condition of contemporary life and postmodernism as its ideological understanding (or even anti-ideological understanding).

There are several relationships between postmodernity and Christianity, which amounts to the intense plurality of contemporary institutions and their impact on the number of truths swirling around and sense of alienation. This in itself need not be postmodern, but becomes so when there is in addition a sense of implosion of the whole and therefore peculiar space in which to live by and rebuild your own ideological corner. We have discussed before the oddity that this can create conservative forms of religion, each to their own, little universes. We have mentioned John Milbank before, a producer of non-objective Christendom within his bubble, an odd Anglican source Christian imperialism. Of course he is aware of the power element in this, and is because of his attack on secular theology underpinning, he says, the likes of Sociology. So it is within his bubble.

A more moderate version of this, but still fixed, is postliberalism, either of ecumenical Church (it could be individual denominations too) or biblical drama. Again they are cultures within, and there is no objectivity outside of them. This is because they have rejected the objective rootedness of modern knowledge because it has proved a considerable challenge to Christian assumptions. The world has moved on. More bubbles then, and frozen ones.

Let us look that this. The neo-Calvinist Karl Barth rejected religion as cultural and the world, even trying to achieve God from a human launchpad. Such a God of revelation becomes ever higher, dryer and disappears, except when this God intersects (but never corrupts). One key intersection was the biblical drama, in its impact (Barth was no literalist or fundamentalist). Now because God is removed from the world, there is no underpinning of knowledge in the world. Therefore you kind of get touched by God in acting out, doing, the biblical drama, being absorbed in it, but it has no objective root in the world, or knowledge, or anything other. This is a form of postmodernism, even if Barth did not realise the implications of his purity. Church doctrine also can exist just as a definer of community on its own terms with no outside rooting - the days when God was the definer of Church and World have gone, as the world is obviously elsewhere.

On the other hand, those who think religion is about culture now realise that culture is multivarious to the point that there are truths, that a sense of the overall has imploded, and that we make our own truths. These include any religious and ideological. Aware of this, there can be a great deal of eclecticism. You can still pull from different places the truths you build. Liberal views of postmodernism try with failed difficulty to hold on to the idea of broad incarnation, the importance of the material, whereas the conservative view comes from an angle that had opposition to the world.

I'm a bit at the modernist boundary of postmodernism. That is, I draw from many places much of the now and try to aim for consistency between religious belief and all my other working knowledges. I am anti-supernatural (I never quite understand how postmodernists in their bubbles can go on speaking as if the supernatural carries onward). The Christianity I understand has to fuse with contemporary knowledge, knowledge that is that works, not that is. I am wary of things that exist - things work, and explanations are about what works for now. For example, modern meteorology is successful over praying to God for rain and sun not because meteorology is true (it could be superseded by higher level explanation) but because it works better in its analytical and predictive capability). I still have time for falsifiability. I still have time for fidelity to documents.

It seems to me that postmodernism has become the most significant force now for any ideology or belief, and that Christian theology has arrived at it via evangelical, even Church and liberal routes. In all these, the outcome is the re-importance of constructed narratives, stories that cross the now imploded line between fact and fiction. Unlike for the conservatives in postmodernism, these story lines are not sealed against each other. They leak into one another, just as in ages past. So our Christianity today looks a great deal like a merger with humanism (modern day evangelicals so often come across as latter day liberals and modernists) and a bigger awareness of the Pagan influence and now dialogue with effects from other faith stances.

It is not about shallowness, but about changes in thought, and the relationship between any belief and ideology and other beliefs and ideologies, and the world and its behaviour and core assumptions. If you bang on about Christianity being about truth, it still has to relate to the world either by opposition or by inclusion, it still has to decide its relationship of its knowledge with other knowledge. The issues do not go away. That is why the postmodern and postmodernist challenge is so powerful.
September 3 2006, 4:02 pm

I am going out too, soon, to my church - to engage in some postmodern understood premodern texts and artistic involvement. Good for the soul you know, a postmodern soul too. A good way to reorientate at a difficult time.
September 4 2006, 2:15 am

Postliberalism is a theological strand so called because it rejects the individualism of modernist liberal theology. Liberalism retains, just about, objectivity, but does it through the clashes of individuals searching for truth (and may not find it). [Postliberalism] rejects experience as something of an illusion. Instead it reckons that the whole objectivity thing is no more, and sees either a community defined in doctrine, by doing it, or in the biblical drama, in recalling it - telling it and being it.

Science is not based on absolute truth, but set itself up as being based on repetition and falsifiability. In other words, something is true until disproven. Nothing can be proven, only disproven. Then what is disprovable but not yet is understood within theory and this theory is a paradigm. Paradigms do indeed shift, and so the unfalsified put together may involve a whole change of understanding. This is quite a revision to objectivity as once understood. It is relative in time, and in experiment. Nothing in religion can be falsified, and religion is more like art. This is why science has no place for God, not because God is disproven (can't be falsified), but because it is an entirely different form of knowledge. These issues are philosophical.

There are many universes, in the sense that we live in our own small group, medium group and bigger group worlds. These are how we understand who we are and where we are. Universes can merge, but can also be quite isolated; but because forms of knowledge are so different, many universes of meaning reflect different forms of understanding.

I reject what sound like pseudo-scientific views of religion: when you say Christ is God, you are making a statement I would first need to understand what you mean. I'd point out that for many Christians in time and place, Christ is not divine, or that the divinity is qualified. But in any case, as a theological statement, it is open to challenge and variation. My view of God is non-objective; to say Christ is God is to crash two terms together - first I'd need to know the relationships between the historical Jesus and what you mean by Christ. Christ of faith to me is subtle in difference from God anyway, just as is different from use of a term like Holy Spirit.

John Milbank is a Cambridge theologian of some impact in that he is both postmodern and conservative. He would be well contrasted against say the now retired Cambridge Don Cupitt who was (very) postmodern and liberal (though would reject the term liberal). I regard Don Cupitt as by far the more interesting and sustainable; though really Cupitt was quite unadventurous when it came to religious practice and the two never quite fitted together. Mind you, a good postmodernist should be able to hold a certain number of conflictual ideas in creative tension.

Incarnation has different implications, and narrowly is identifying the revelation in Christ as being of God. But it goes further, because it is an affirmation of the material, as in resurrection of the body, as in body of Christ, and so on. Incarnation is contrasted with manifestation. Manifestation is the affirmation of God in and through the spiritual, such as in the Bahai view of its founder Baha'u'llah. He manifested God. Incarnation is the affirmation of God in and through the material, so that the world in its materiality is to be redeemed. This is important when it includes culture, a culture that is materialistic, especially when that materialism seems to be godless. For some, the incarnation continues even in a godless world positively, in that the sacred diffuses into secular values and our ongoing activity. For others, however, the secular is a departing from God, and God is removed, to be outside of culture and outside. Revelation becomes like a one way bullet, from an invisible God, and outside an objectivity (measured in the world) that is now so thoroughly different from cultures in the past.
September 4 2006, 9:09 pm

This thing called "the universe" - I don't know what that is. There are these (constructed) realities and those realities via different forms of understanding, and for me the idea that anything goes across them is not credible. Orthodoxy is a (to use that word again) construction of one particular line of thinking in one particular institution some time well after biblical events, and some time before the big changes towards present ways of understanding. I regard each of these as in some way normative as regards handling the whole tradition - and I am interested in handling the whole tradition rather than wearing a badge of orthodoxy. I do not wear it, and does not interest me to try to do so.

I regard "God entering human history" as a mythic statement, and it is not absolute (as nothing is): but then as a postmodernist I can be seen crawling back to the importance of such a statement: myth has an important place and is its own form of truth - myth is positive - but it is not history and is not open to historical investigation. There is no historical method for demonstrating God in human history, it is but a narrative, but then the important point is all sorts of things are narratives, but that means everything is a form of faction.

Yes there is a great deal that is consumerist and shallow in postmodern culture, as indeed there was in mass culture of modernism and indeed in supersition within traditional culture - but there is also profound insight about the nature of story and the connection between that, biography, religious faith and a tolerance of variety and, most of all, the importance of language as a determinant of experience and a connector of the individual to the whole. God is in communication. Its insight that carries on from liberal modernism is that of truths, transient and passing. We should always be about the business of building and rebuilding truths.

Liberalism is complex. For me the supreme religious liberal of the broad school was a little know theologian James Martineau, a Unitarian (who disliked the label) in Oxford but of East Anglia, who promoted the supremacy of conscience of the individual. This was the quest for truth, and religious truth, as dogma became undermined, was located in the individual's experience. This is how it remains true: it has foundation. But when that individualism implodes it tips over into something else. Now Martineau was a fairly liturgical chap, writing quite a few, and tried within this individualism to produce broad liberal Christian liturgies, reforming them along the way, and getting away from the dogmas of earlier biblical Unitarians. That interests me, because already he was seeing the function of language as symbolic, and having a broad, narrative, non-literal function. And his followers said, unlike him, this leads us to religious humanism and drawing from many faiths. Now, whereas Karl Barth was saying religion is the transient wrapping paper but the particular core is the biblical impact of revelation, the incarnation in that, Martineau said the biblical experience is just but one example of incarnation, which is wide and broad, and the key is the cultural essence of religion. Martineau is the reverse of Barth. Of the two I well prefer Martineau, but Martineau has no way to protect the truth element of this individualism, and the importance of a collective sharing via using highly symbolic language is, for me, the liberal route into postmodernism. But with postmodernism, just as he produced many liturgies, we get many forms of these cultural symbolic ways of being religious.

For me Christianity is a raft, it goes from one bank to another and does a job. It is not the truth. Its truth is opened by doing it. This is why I am a Buddhist Christian.
September 4 2006, 11:56 pm

Oh the Dalai Lama, who is not the (only) definer of Buddhism! Gosh, I mean, round here even the Tibetan Buddhists are out of sorts with the Dalai Lama. I know everyone wants to protect the boundaries of the package, but not we postmodern Westerners. No. One of the effects of postmodernism is how text as a process where reading it and doing it brings it alive is similar (if not identical with) the process of orthopraxy which is the foundation of Buddhism. In other words, you do it and it happens. Buddhism is no orthodoxy, it is (each variant) orthopraxy. Its universe comes alive as you practice. I speak as someone who has not just done some of the reading, but also attended Friends of the Western Buddhist Order meetings and Tibetan meetings in this area.

So liturgy is a kind of orthopraxy, generating its world as it is done. And then the question is why. I have a theology of the gift, drawn from social anthropology, but rather than go into that there is the soteriology or salvation scheme. It is done not because I want something eternal, but just to do it, be it, give into it and draw from it. And that is very Buddhist too.

So is the way something that can be simple can draw up a whole complexity of art and forms as aides to the process, and this happens too - after all, what is Anglo-Catholicism but a Victorian invented tradition with the most tenuous link to legitimacy by copying bits from the Middle Ages for its own purposes. Why sing impenetrable tunes and words that mean next to nothing to the outsider, that are just peculiar? My wife, knowledgable of the Orthodox (capital O), but rejecting their structure, called the Anglican Evensong "all show" (and the rare evangelical sermon "oppressive") whereas I see it as a kind of absorbing encounter. I am very strange, you know. She much prefers the plain speaking of Unitarians, whereas I think their residual modernism is cold and dead, needing so much more colour into its cheeks.

I mentioned Don Cupitt, who has at different phases been willing to describe himself as a Christian Buddhist. There is a movement of people like this - oh with plenty of humanism involved too.

Nothing is absolute, nothing will come from something out there to do something to us, when something comes from within the communication doing all kinds of things with us. Nothing is forever. The world will be finished in 50 [5? or universe in 50] billion years, the universe will end up being a distance between everything by which time will break down. Humans will be gone long before then, and probably other species of humans too. Everything is transient, nothing is forever. Buddhists are clever because, in Western terms, they are realists about the one thing that nothing is forever and that everything ends in a kind of philosophical merger, where samsara and nirvana are one, which is beyond.

So Christianity is a raft, at least the river underneath illustrates it to me. What is Christianity anyway - is it that Son of Man before his death, the non-divine messiah of the first believers, the subordinate Christ of Paul and early believers, the raising of divinity and the arguments of centuries, the Greek logic inspired puzzles of trinity and combined natures (if combined they are?), the Protestant illusions of getting back to an imagined beginning (when we know otherwise) via selective scriptures, or the Protestant liberals of Victoriana after Darwin, or the people who now look at religion as text and art and process? These are not all the same, but we are aware of every paradigm shift (to nick a term) and human variety of being religious, and those who look for absolutes in all this changing environment. I don't create an either/ or regarding orthodoxy, as there are too many shades of colour, and orthodoxy is but a moment.

I think we need a theology for this period in which we live, and it will be something like Buddhism in its soteriology and in its rejection of the supernatural. The jigsaw puzzle can be rearranged, but it does change the look of the picture. But then the picture has changed often.

I think I have missed Hardeep Singh Kohil (a Sikh, obviously, a beautifully crafted faith) looking at the Scientologists. See his conclusion if in time.
September 5 2006, 7:22 pm

I am not interested in protecting the boundary of a package, but this is what I see others doing and they call it truth. Best of luck to them. I see these things as truths in a postmodern sense, as do others, and the walls between the packages are moveable, as they have been through the ages.

Buddhist heresies - well, it all depends who you are and who you look at. Many Buddhists of one school do not define other schools as heresies, but they often have a good spat at those like them who are departed from their fold (a bit like when the SDP broke from Labour, who came in for much more noise than the Conservatives or then Liberals). Heresy is a function of having an orthodoxy. There is plenty of good argument between Buddhists, such as what is cultural and what is essential. It cannot be said that Western Buddhism is only a partial Buddhism. The WBO/ FWBO was started by a man ordained in both Hinayana and Mahanyana traditions (some dispute about a Mahayana ordination line further up) but the Buddhism is quite clear.

Of course an absolute statement introduces relativity - but such is language and I'm happy to relativise that. Is this not what Baudrillard was saying, when things start to implode?

That something may be incompatible with somethng else does not necessarily imply rejection of all but one or postmodernism, there is the Isiah Berlin type position of clashing truths, a liberal-modernist position.
August 24 2006, 4:05 pm

The analogies above I find clumsy at very best, and the illogicality of the (doctrine of the) Trinity keep all these analogies as clumsy.

Away from that, the Hebrew Bible has always understood God as having functions and actions, such as the place of wisdom and the place of action or dynamic. When names for functions looked like being polytheist, monotheism was stressed again. The earliest form of what became a Greek logical trinity arose from these activities in the salvation scheme around being baptised. The Holy Spirit was an activity and quality of activity, the dynamic.

The language of Holy Trinity is still used by many Unitarians, and I think it is faithful to the more early use - it means identifying the dynamic activity of God through this name. Of course for contemporary Unitarians it does not have the same supernaturalism or immediacy of expectation as it did in that very different first century culture.

I use it when considering anything that is active, such as reading religious text that comes alive. The coming alive is the essential element, and this is what the ancients identified. Nowadays the world is more practically secular, but even then a text must come alive and must motivate, and it is this relationship of the other and the self (or group) activing in response that draws on this religious language. Because religious text and activity is pretty much always dynamic, the Holy Spirit understanding may be the most important. Religion is about motivation and doing, after all. In difference, God language is about the relevance of the religious in the talk we do - for many it has no relevance but in setting out a symbolic reflective framework God is in that, but must come alive, so to speak, in the activity of doing religion.
August 26 2006, 12:23 am

There is a strand of Christianity called Christian Agnosticism, and from memory I'm thinking of Alfred North Whitehead. In general it has given way to more definite liberal and radical strands - liberality with less doubt.
August 27 2006, 4:33 pm

You know, here is a person of huge importance in religious and Christian thought, who was a mathematician, scientist, who wrote a defence of theism, who paved the way for process theology and the idea of change as part of the activity in theism, who stated that there are no whole truths... He tried to bring thought together, to fit different jigsaw pieces together and he was holistic in outlook.
August 19 2006, 12:59 am

[The] God of the gaps then [is] a bad principle for doing theology as gaps tend to get filled...

A black hole absorbs material into it, and there is nothing from it other than effects at its event horizon: thus everything in it is lost, and is all gone. Now time in there gets to a full stop, and so the rule book does not function. Does this need God in there in order to be a black hole and for everything to go? No. So neither does there need to be a God for appearance, as a matter of principle.
June 22 2006, 10:18 pm

It is possible to evangelise through listening and conversation. It treats the other person as worth hearing, and they may have the influence.
July 12 2006, 4:48 pm

I wonder how the first women church leaders (as via Paul) caught the bug and passed it on [that is, evangelism]? Well many were in their sacred canopy of signs and wonders. Some of the hostility to over forceful evangelism today comes from the indifferent or even hostile culture in which it exists, that people can live a life without all this holy stuff being forced on the street or at the front door.

I'm moved to think of China today, where there has been a change in political culture so that, although there is no political opposition, there is increasing space to just get on and make money. At some point some Communist Party nerk pronouncing on some point will become an irrelevant irritant to getting on with life, whereas they used to be part and parcel of life, even an oppressive one.

In an indifferent or even hostile climate to people forcing their views, the best approach is simply to be, and to converse as and when.
July 17 2006, 2:39 pm

Given that the Gospels, as documents of the early Church, are quite capable of putting words into Jesus' mouth, I am more than suspicious of biblical literalists who want to tell others and me to "deny" who Jesus said he is. But it is a nonsense anyway because we are capable within the usual probabilities of making a reasonable attempt at knowing who Jesus is.
July 17 2006, 4:14 pm

As I said elsewhere, the argument comes down to [some people] turning scriptures and the like into a set of rules. The Church (at a certain point) chose the scriptures, the scriptures get interpreted for its choice texts and then... Obey.

Well the Church is a living, continuing entity which includes all kinds of believers and theologians. It sees the texts that are canonical in various ways. It includes recovered texts from elsewhere worthy of study and inclusion, in a discerning manner. Scriptures are not literalistic books of rules, and they'd hardly work if they were.

The Church view is that there are historical formularies which are not required to be taken in every word literally, formularies which themselves contain a combination of symbolic and literal language for everyone, and there is no instruction in how to understand these words symbolically or otherwise and no agreement where the literal starts or the symbolic ends.
July 17 2006, 5:33 pm

It is now well established that the gospel writers, relating to their communities, who were not writing texts for all time but specifically, wrote in an additive manner to answer points in the community by putting the words on the lips of Jesus. These are varied theological documents that are written in biographical style. The people who make the rather obvious point (as it derives from the differences between the gospels) are Christians. ...It has long been establisehd that the Christ of faith is at some difference from the Jesus of history, and this is by Christians who understand the difference.
July 18 2006, 1:27 am

The claim or alternatives are again after the event, post resurrection faith, not pre, so the claim about Jesus is not at the time. However, even if it was made by him, he was within a supernaturalist culture in which certain categories made sense, the culture of which has gone. What might sound then like a lie [mad, bad or God] begins instead to be a mistake, but it is not a mistake because everyone thinks it is a legitimate category. In any case, it is "none of the above", because of the writing process that makes the claim. If Jesus identified himself with the messiah, it was very late in the day, under the stress of that expected Kingdom, in which what he did was part and parcel of bringing in the kingdom. But the messiah is what comes with that coming in of the kingdom. It is still a transformed human helper of God, of course, not the divinity that started to become the belief some time after his death and some time after the establishment of resurrection belief. Christians may well identify with the Lordship of Christ, but it is still worth considering how that identification came about.
July 18 2006, 1:35 am

The anti-semitism of the New Testament and since has made Jews a difficult group to join Christianity and, at the same time, conversion has been done to escape from the Jewish identity. After all, a set of believers claimed a particular Jew who had lived was the messiah, and most Jews said no, and it has become a dividing line.
July 19 2006, 1:45 am

It is what people find meaningful that interests me, and I tend not to divide people off. There are more than 57 varieties and they can all come in. I'm not playing a game of excluding.
July 20 2006, 1:44 pm

I don't draw lines of exclusion. If people call themselves Christian, if they use Christian resources as part of their outlook, then that's enough for me as far as the label is concerned. I'm well aware of the notion of "Believing without Belonging", a kind of nominal Christianity (but not always: not belonging is not the same as not being serious about one's faith), and certainly I cannot exclude those who are believing and belonging. Not long ago I referred to the Bishop of Lincoln, about whom [* was] happy to lump along with ... "religious liberals" and exclude from being Christian. Given his dedication and commitment, and of people like him, this boundary drawing and excluding might be called "nasty" - as it is you who is doing the excluding and labelling against the will of others. You then cite the view of another Bishop (Rochester) as if that is evidence, when it is just an opinion. You cite the Evangelical Alliance, which is just another opinion that suits it and not others. [Excluding] the Modern Churchpeople's Union, which in every writing and stance is Christian, [is something] I do not.
July 20 2006, 5:49 pm

Believing in the use of the word Christian and Christian resources as important. Believing in is not the same as believing about. It is not a tick box approach, as in "Tick the boxes. Do you pass the test? Are you in or out?"
July 20 2006, 9:06 pm

[On the identity of "Christian":] Living in the resurrection life... is a theological concept, or identifying with ethical teachings of Jesus, or identifying with that community and its offshoots that identifies with Christianity. There are a variety of identities and uses. It's valuing the New Testament, valuing the witnessing of the churches. It is to use the name Christian, to perhaps do something in identification with the community like worshipping. It is, therefore, believing in this stream and strand, and its resources, not believing this or that about whatever. It is about people who do and are with.
June 3 2006, 11:04 pm

Self help is a phenomena that comes from the stressful nature of lives and the notion that there is choice. I don't think it is related to sin, or like it, but rather incapability. Buddhist meditation classes attract people because it is a form of self help and seems to be psychologically literate. Speaking of sin simply does not relate in the same way. It seems obsessive and condemning, and the evidence must include anyone reading many of these threads recently. People see a difference between assistance and help that values their sense of personhood rather than sin and guilt that diminishes.
June 4 2006, 8:48 pm

This business of did you ever receive the Holy Spirit and if you didn't I'm one up on you... And then of course the person had probably used that language and interpreted that experience but finds it inappropriate now. This is like a phrase, "Did you once receive the magic spell?" It reduces religion to the in out club of the magic spell.

Quite a nice chap who was trying to propose to me the poverty of the Alpha Course... he kept coming up with points and arguments that were unsustainable, and had to consider back each and everything he had said. And these were somehow evidence that he had been touched, or received the magic spell. It is just a form of one upmanship, as if on receiving the magic spell you can say things.

The resurrection may have a theological truth when you are "touched" by the Holy Spirit, as indeed the two statements go together, but whether you are touched by it or not makes it no more or less accessible to a video camera if one could have been transported back in time. It does not alter the nature of the history at that time. History, however, is not time travel, but methodology, needs historiography, and there is not a method of history that will demonstrate or otherwise the resurrection. It is not accessible to historical methods and therefore is not an historical event. What is accessible to historical methods is the primary documentation of the gospels, give or take all the translations, and they are about church communities already "touched by the Holy Spirit" and beleiving in resurrection. Beyond this you cannot get.

So whether you are touched, thumped, or hammered by the Holy Spirit, makes not a jot of difference to history.
June 4 2006, 8:55 pm

Historically Jesus did not die for anything. He was arrested and executed. People do not die for a reason when they rely on someone else who has the death penalty for causing a disturbance.

Theologically you can make of it what you will. I suspect Jesus saw his death in terms of the extreme suffering necessary for the Son of Man for him to be coming in order that Israel achieves its fruition and the Kingdom of God comes. What Christians make of it - well partly about good over bad. But this is rather drawn out in terms of time, and rather a lot of bad before the good (and how to meaure them?). Jesus may have seen it as the hope to end all sinfulness and agonies and bring everything to a conclusion. Well it didn't happen, did it? Life went on.
June 4 2006, 9:31 pm

[Mad, bad or good...:] Jesus was not a liar, and we should not regard the gospels as reporting his words but being the words of communities who were looking ahead and expecting a return. Paul was the first ahistorical user of Jesus for the crucifixion resurrection salvation scheme, and into this package come the framing of the gospels. History is a very difficult task, finding the historical Jesus is far from simplistic.

Jesus was probably wrong, in that the rapid coming of the kingdom did not happen. That is not making him a liar but someone who lived under a profound belief in a highly supernatural culture.
June 4 2006, 9:39 pm

The other point. If you use the word "come" [Jesus came] and confuse it with history, then it all starts to look a bit tied in knots from the start. Jesus no more "came" than I came. How he became the one in his family to be a travelling rabbi we simply do not know. He obviously was a marginal member but charismatic, and met up with the likes of essenes and the rest.

Theologically he "came" because of the message and presence and what was made of it all after his death. ...The belief in messiah from the documents can be dated only after his death. That is the key point. The whole of the New Testament is a stance from a crucifixion resurrection perspective and is from the future using the past in order to look forward. The gospels are not biographies. There may be a good collection of ethical sayings and some events, but they are written up, placed, added to, framed and projected from the stance of after his death and in communities.
June 5 2006, 12:52 am

The prosperity of a religion or otherwise has nothing to do with its core truth. Islam for example must be wrong that all the prophets delivered the same message from God and wrote these down, but they were corrupted, that Jesus of Nazareth was raised but did not die, and that he will return on the last day. Islam is a highly successful religion and, in this country, arguably going to overtake Christianity in terms of activism. It is nothing to do with its truth.

Furthermore, people are being persecuted who are Christians today, and who are Buddhists (Tibet), and who are Bahais (Iran) amongst many. They all are clinging on to what is precious to them, and identifies who they are. Sure, each demonstrates a truth. But the ability to withstand persecution is not evidence of truth. Otherwise you have to have a different theory of the truth. Remember that there are places where Christianity died out. It died out in China before the missionaries came back: it was only rediscovered through the scrolls left at the end of the Silk Road. Survival is not the same as truth, neither is prosperity, neither is the ability to withstand persecution. The Unitarians were persecuted by the loss of Turkish power near Transylvania, the rise of Roman power through Austria-Hungary had a massive go at persecuting them, where they all but destroyed them in Hungary and persecuted them in Transylvania. They hung on, and now have recovered. It must be true then. It contains truths, but then so do they all.

Any statement about Jesus is always hedged with the little known about him. I did not say it was a politico-human kingdom at all, but indeed was a place where people would be angels. It would have been a fundamental change and end of time as known, end of everything as known - but life carried on. Nor did he promise something in people's hearts and that's it.

Of course the ideas predate Jesus, come from parts of the Hebrew Bible, and the Essenes too. ...Did I state that Jesus was an innovator of major ideas? Not at all. Was Paul the last? No, far from it - the ideas have been repeated since over and over again. Go to Karbala in 1844 for a very good example of what it is like to be excited and charismatic about the last days. I mention this only because I know something about it (the birth of the Babi-Bahai faiths) and it is a direct line from those Jewish ideas and indeed from the Zoroastrian (resurrection and all that). There were many like Paul, ...they were all over the place around 70CE. I have read large chunks of Gerbern Oegema's rather difficult book, The Anointed and His People: Messianic Expectations from the Maccabees to Bar Kochba, Sheffield Academic Press (1998). It is a book about texts, closely argued, and it is opinion forming, but not the only one I have read.

As for biographies, and first hand accounts, much work has been done to show that the level of polish in them has removed that first hand account nature of the gospels. This is what is remarkable about them. This is from 'form criticism'. They really have been incredibly moulded into their purposes (plural, but each one was about answering contemporary questions of communities, expressing authority as coming from Christ, showing the way ahead). So little is given of the Jewish perspective - Peter's Church - and it is all stamped with Paul's influence.

When people do biographies of Lloyd George even today, they sift through historical documents and archives and stay as close to sources as they can. When they then create a narrative and demonstrate opinion, it comes off those sources. This is not how the gospels were done, or even Luke on the early Church. The gospels have a view, they then look back at Jesus fragments that exist (stories already told in the contemporary) and select into Hebrew Bible texts. One point I made in Eschatology is that they do not primarily select the texts that are messianic and eschatological, and use them, but select any passage that fits with their contemporary view of the coming end. They do this not as history (which is unavailable anyway, and they were not critical historians either because that is a recent concept - Josephus even is a rough sort of historian for present eyes) but to promote the expectation in the community, and identify the Christ.

The difference could be something on the lines of doing a history of the tropical storms hitting America with the damage of last year to New Orleans, and looking at them from the point of view of the coming end of the world and the return of the saviour. Whilst there will be all number of closely written metereological reports, and all manner of gossip, the selection of material would be to promote the right thinking, who has rightly said this and can say in the future, and what is coming. Something like that. For an example, watch Revelation TV where everything that can be thrown into the pot from tsunamis to terrorism all suggests the same thing, plus bringing on that bloke who tells us that the Grand Canyon was formed by a big flood.

Is the Church the earthly embodiment of his Kingdom? Really? I think there is a separation between an in between and the delayed final Kingdom. The whole idea of the eucharist is to taste the Kingdom, so to speak, but its nearness is not its reality. It is more like a holding station. Pity it is not more like a Kingdom of angels and the like, the glorious vision.
June 5 2006, 1:13 am

[About] God within, as in the Quaker use. For me, it still carries that kind of residual objective theism, God as thing, object. I know it gets rid of all kinds of difficulties of God as person and creating and directing (but does not exclude them). For some Quakers, it is little more than a metaphor shift. One of the transitory stages of God belief is the metaphor shift from height to depth. John Robinson did this in Honest to God (a kind of pop theology but still more than some give credit for), but substituting depth for height and it did have consequences for such as prayer. Robinson later did a book called Exploration into God (and I never managed to get my own - but it is a book that followed on from the metaphor shift). For Quakers the God within is consistent with their silence and speaking without preparation.

I don't find the God within useful. For one thing, I find it still consistent with subjectivity and God. In other words, it is still (just about) playing with the realism that has God as subjective (and again isn't inconsistent with being objective). I've come to the view that God is in and through communication. It is beyond [dualistic] notions of objective and subjective. It is about the performance of speech and symbol of all kinds where there is this reflection on the whole of life or on that part which deals with motivation, community, right behaviours, self-criticism (including collective), values and ethics. It is where these are channelled through religious traditions, and the insights they have built up, as well as what can be criticised in them.

This is why, myself, I can go to the Anglican Church, which is a liturgical tradition and brings forth various meanings formed at different times in the past. It also means focussing upon a human life lived and all the reflections and actions that led on to, and how these are done. It is known as postliberal in theology, where a drama is revealed through use and produces its truth in this context. It is not objective, but not subjective either.
Today, 4:52 pm

[On reincarnation:] Just supposing that there is an entity that can transfer from person to person, or to and from animal (and it does not need a God to decide, or a God at all - as Hindu and Buddhist beliefs are main religions that include reincarnation/ rebirth), why would this entity freed of body, space and time stay within present confines [of the Earth] given the vastness of the universe, the elasticity and strangeness of time, and the possibility of multiple dimensions? I am fairly convinced that reincarnation is a parochial belief, and that almost all (but never quite all) claims to a past life usually turn out to be fanciful and a stretched possibility.
August 12 2006, 2:07 am

Revelation? ...Elena (back from Russia) and I were having conversation with the priest and wife in their garden, in which there were moments of revelation, that is points of reflection as ever, the kinds of things mentioned afterwards in the continuing conversation between the two of us.

There is no 'out there' involved in this but a kind of working out in process.
July 16 2006, 8:12 pm

The worst form of teaching is the lecture. Of all methods, it is the least involving and the least remembered. It is perhaps the oldest method. Churches: do they keep up with this understanding? Another example is the weather forecast on TV - how often have you watched it and when done you do not know what they have said? As it happens I have relied on lectures in the past and did learn to listen myself, and I find the priest where I go rather agreeable in what he says, though I thought today he was weak when it came to understanding power.
September 30 2006, 2:27 pm

[On Intelligent Design and its promotion by fundamentalists:] It is essentially political and ideological: it is not about having this in churches as such or being pure to biblical literalism, but getting this into the public realm as in schools. It is also an American agenda to end the division of State and Church, and is one means of doing it.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about evolution, partly due to the language used that misrepresents it. For example, recently there was this news about a small skull of an early human that will have been, the report said, adapting to use the climate change conditions of east Africa. This misunderstands the process. The process is that species at various times have a number of varieties and also tendencies to variation. One variation was more two legged than others, and in jungle conditions that variety had no advantage and even may have died out only to come about in other varieties. However, when the climate changed in the rift valley, that variety having come about had advantage over others. It does not learn, or adapt, it just does. Anything a creature does learn, has to be learnt every generation. There is not a system of adding knowledge into the genes that adds as if by layer cake each time. All that happens is capability. The recent finding of small ancient remains of people off Indonesia, related to homo erectus, was not because they adapted by getting smaller, but that the smaller ones were able to use resources better in that island setting. Same with the miniature elephants there. Islands are well known places for fast change, because the rate of dying out is so rapid in such an intense environment. The survivors are few, and the ones that must be right to get on. Populations go very low, and in this case the little people were the ones that survived through, and thus a fast rate of change. And this must have happened too in Africa.

Today humans are successful and hardly alter, and even carry their apparent defectives collectively (it is evolutionarily advantageous to carry unsuccessful members in a collective, in case there is a rapid change of conditions and suddenly they are the most capable in the new situation). We have one human species left only, whereas once there were many. Even features that were useful for [specific] parts of the world are now mixing as we move around the globe at speed. Should at some time the environment become decimated, then we would see much more rapid alteration along with a population crash.
2 October 2006, 2:44 pm

Steve Jones was discussing some time back the fact that evolution can be observed, among bird life where species are emerging in forest conditions from the varieties that exist. Again, intense environmental situations force change through acute survival conditions.

...There is a gap between ID and biblical literalism, but, ...if inerrancy includes symbolic readings and interpretations, ...even I might regard the Bible as inerrant. But I don't think I do! It is just the wrong way to go about it: the Bible has a regulative function. It is not a requirement of Christianity to regard the Bible as inerrant (but then that's a different discussion as to what are apparent requirements of Christianity).
2 October 2006, 3:26 pm

How is poetry or story inerrant? How can you put a label about truth or error against something that is essentially art? This is just the ridiculous nature of modernist literalism. It does not understand how language works as symbol. Nor does it understand the different kinds of historiography that exist when wanting to call something history.
September 29 2006, 2:18 pm

I take the view that there is no outsideness to the symbolic world in which we live and which we negotiate. There are paradigms of thinking, such as the intellectually dominant one of secular-humanism now and the ordinary, practical, this worldly method which ordinary people apply to everyday lives. But this is not to be confused with objectivity. For a long time social science has dealt in objectivity just as much has theology; social science does it from a perspective of systems and economic foundations (for example) just as theology has invested objectivity in a God known either through philosophy, revelation or natural theology. But these are all to be seen as passing by, as once important and then collapsing, to be visited only by their supporters.

The opposite of objectivity is subjectivity, but subjectivity is as much being lost when objectivity dies. One goes with the other. The clumsy term non-realism has been used as an alternative.

I'm reading Cupitt's The Old Creed and The New, which was published in July 2006. He has now abandoned "non-realism" as applied to Christianity. His argument is that his critics were right to see Christianity, as represented in the old creed, as a philosophical construction of its own in entirety, and that it was not possible (as he thought) to produce a non-realist version of it. Instead, now, he prefers a practical, simple, new creed of living life to the full and will say he "practises Christianity" rather than using the label by which to be boxed in of "I am a Christian". He argues later about Christianity offering, patchily, a set of still useful resources.

My view is that his new position is as awkward as the previous one, though no one is ever consistent. I haven't read it all yet, but there are already particular religious questions in my mind that are not tackled, such as (which is my theology) the whole business of exchange - of giving of oneself in order to receive something greater. There is indeed the use of resources of a tradition in order to do this, and for me this is eucharistic, as a reflection on the whole of life doing an exchange that reflects upon other exchanges we do (in economics, in conversation, in sex, in friendship). This scheme - mine - is not an objective system and maybe there is still room for the non-realist label, awkward as it is.

Many of Cupitt's arguments - despite his sweeping method and speeding through points that others would unpick - stand up. My reflection is that these are principally cultural and not philosophical arguments. There is a philosophy for every culture. There is not a philosophical determinism here (not that he says there is) or just a transition of ideas, but rather actual social changes and cultural transitions. It is this that drives theological change, including intelligent reactionary change (such as exhibited by Karl Barth or even Karl Rahner). But Cupitt's quest for purity and simplicity does not get over the conundrum that religion is inevitably ancient in formation and language, that it conserves rather than advances (due to repetition) and that a new understanding of religion is creative with the old. Some forms that appear to be old are invented traditions: the issue then is why they [have to] appear to be old, or have a history, even if that history is rather more recent than it appears. Take for this either the Oxford Movement which was Victoriania writ large, not Mediaevalism, or indeed neo-Paganism which is pure reinvention. Unitarianism was far from contemporary with its present forms, and its myth of continued essential truth only emphasised the age and weariness of its minimalised concepts used in worship.

The argument though [by Cupitt] about transience and absence of objectivity, that Western inheritance from the Greeks, sticks, as an effective working paradigm. Religion is now about being creative, artistic, imaginative, even with a lot that is old, or appears to be.
September 29 2006, 3:34 pm

[It] is somewhat misleading... that somehow objectivity is the world of facts and that subjectivity is feeling. Furthermore, in social science research, it is the individual impression that matters. For example, there might be a set of crime statistics but people give the feeling of experiencing rising crime. This is as much an important finding as the statistics, and tells a great deal about the organisation of social life and its impression. Many a closed question to establish a "fact" turns out to be loaded by social scientific impressions at the point of design, and so is only answering a partial hypothesis, whereas an answer that comes from an open question to express feelings opens up social facts that perhaps the researcher had not determined.

On its own terms, I would have thought that a feeling situation would have more impact on purchase than some apparent objectivity: after all what does branding relate to and its marketing, other than to generate a feeling behind an identity, much as it might rely on regular standards produced by the manufacturer. Utility (in economics) is at root psychological, and utility is turned into an "objective" value in economics but is at root based on impression.

Anyway, let's suppose we take this division into feeling and facts: what impact would this have on religion? I suggest very little, that religious narrative is feeling loaded (on this basis) and about the impact of story. The non-realist stuff I was on about is all about that intertwining of apparent fact and feeling, so that everything becomes a kind of faction, and seemlessly.
September 30 2006, 2:39 pm

If objectivity is lost, does subjectivity continue? Well no, because one is set up as a binary opposite of the other. The other aspect of subjectivity is individualism, or at least small groups, a perspective from below. But how does the larger collective work if everything is subjective? There are still the instruments of the larger collective, such as economic markets, institutions of large scale, law, and most of all language. These, that once presented an "objective reality" now operate as a collective form of this remaining subjectivity, which come into the apparent subjective realm to guide and shape it. And it just isn't - it is rather a negotiation between the individual, the small group and the collective.

Let's take an analogy. Suppose we have two opposites of Mutually Assured Destruction and unilateral nuclear disarmament to keep the peace. Suppose the conditions for MAD disappear, because there is no longer the perceived immediate enemy armed to the teeth? Then MAD dies away, but so does the thing not immediately affected, unilateral nuclear disarmament. Yes, an individual country can disarm, but it neither has the impact, or purpose or rationale of the original unilateral nuclear disarmament. The concept has gone. And this is rather like seeing subjectivity continue when objectivity has gone - it does not continue with anything like the same meaning or purpose or impact.
Today, 3:44 am

Anything can be imagined, and indeed the argument I use to undermine binary opposites, as a fiction, does not take away those binary opposites as a strategy of language. There may be objectivity, but we are stuck with our imaginative concepts, and never get outside of them. If there is such, we cannot demonstrate it with any finality. But we go on using the language. What Derrida showed was that these opposites have something of the other side in them, that objectivity contains subjectivity and subjectivity contains objectivity - and if so they are undermined.

I grant a difference of understanding between doing science, doing art and doing religion. Science and falsifiability gives an impression of objecitivty, but repeatability of an experiment does not mean objectivity. The theory that an experiment of not falsifying something is said to support may or may not actually support it, but it may support very little at all, plus many outcomes are observer dependent. Religion can never offer falsifiability and is more like art - art is about impression, preference, cultural traditions. If subjectivity is all there is for religion, then subjectivity breaks down itself (because subjectivity only makes full sense against its apparent opposite). I just think subjectivity does not tell us much if we continue to use it, because individuals have preferences but the parameters and pre-understanding are delivered by collectively held concepts that we learn.

Is a statement like Donald Baillie's "God was in Christ" an objective statement? I don't see how it can be. These are loaded conceptual terms all based on culturally made meanings. On the other hand, they are not subjective in terms of pure individualism and pure opinion and choice, as they are delivered to us as collective concepts. They haven't the support to be objective, and yet to be only subjective is inadequate. So it has to be about what is available when these opposites are gone, to be negotiated as meaningful and meaningless.

The critical realist hangs on to objectivity, somewhere unknown, but the guarantee seems to be slipping away. I am not a critical realist in religion at all. In religion critical realism is beyond the reach, and that we are purely dealing in symbolic forms. In science I can see critical realism being possible, but only just - the question of whether transient regularities are realist even when observer dependent and hypothesis connected. Possibly.
September 30 2006, 8:17 pm

The argument Dawkins makes... about science is standard, and needs making. When pressed, Dawkins view about religion mellows to include the importance of culture and reflection. I often feel that no one has ever asked him the right questions regarding religious faith, or put the entirety of the religious options. Much of what he says about religion I agree with, but he only speaks of some religion and not, with any depth at all, about all of it and the work theologians have done and the implications of much of contemporary theology.
October 1 2006, 4:41 pm

Dawkins has shown some warmth towards Deism and what it was trying to achieve; as far as I know he has never tackled non-realism (I can stand in need of correction) and religious construction (never mind critical realism) - I suspect he might be dismissive if it threatens some aspects of scientific realism. So I'd like to see the debate at a different level, especially one where religion and science have shared philosophical questions. Deism offered order and clarity in the world, but much religion is about disorder and the transient, and coming to terms with it.
2 October 2006, 3:54 pm

There is no material of any use about Paul trying to oust Roman rule. Paul can be seen as a bridgehead figure, compromising with Roman rule. There is material to say that he was no persecutor of Christians, but rather engaged them in good argument as a rabbinical figure might. What he did was change his mind from Law to salvation by God's sole worker - but coming on board involved a price of seeing the Law not as a means of salvation but as a way of containing sin. The key to it may be that Paul believes in the last days, and that in his encounter with Christians he saw this as a last days cult with which he could not only agree but transform into his wider world, via this huge alteration. He will have encountered these Jewish Christian believers in the synagogues and about, for whom Jesus was a particular Jewish messiah figure, and in a sense he subverted that and made it into something more, and with some success. But in doing this he encountered much opposition, and he kept having to justify himself. He belittles other apostles and promotes himself. He universalises what was a paticular Jewish movement, and the gospels follow on from this with not a little anti-semitism in continuing movement from the original. Paul must be decisive because there was Greek influence in the later Hebrew Bible, and indeed the Greek writing of it, but Christianity acquires a much different character, a universalised end time movement based around the man he never knew but figure of crucifixion and resurrection that could survive the fact that it was not an end time.
3 October 2006, 1:11 pm

We don't know about Paul's experience, because it was a culture of signs and wonders all over the place, and such a difference in interpreting and analysing and adding experiences in the story telling. The big mistake made is that somehow these folks were like us, sifting the evidence and ruling out what was unlikely and making careful statements. These people added and made a good story, partly because in making a good story they were as if creating the event.

Does he describe the resurrection appearance? In one way no, and they are not described because, of course, they are theological - it is interpretation with, even before, the event. He says it is identical as that with Peter and others - so that is a theological statement isn't it? What is it that is identical - well, Jesus is dead, that's it, then Jesus is present, they don't get it and see him so they he gives a sign and they understand what it is all about, he is recognised and he is gone. This is so interpretive, about people "seeing" the way forward, and one wonders whether it is about realisation with the miracle added on for good measure, for authority. But here is spiritual experience, and in it is this directive, changing, presence, a big impact. Paul is setting his experience, whatever it was, and it can't be extracted from the interpretation, within that of the other leaders. He says, he appeared also to me, and Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Rather an odd question in 1 Corinthians 9. Well has he? And if he did, how?

Jerome Murphy O'Conner puts it that Paul, who had believed Jesus was dead, was now convinced Jesus "continued to exist on another plane of being" (24). Paul's language is that of resurrection, but the encounter was spiritual, and of course there is a conflict there. Paul is expecting all to come to a final end, people asking him why, with the resurrection begun, people are still dying.

This theologian wrote Paul His Story Oxford University Press (2004). It makes an accessible story of Paul like a history, and why the title is His Story. He makes the point that Paul will have been in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' crucifixion, and it would not have interested Paul at all. Then there is E. P. Saunders Paul in Oxford University Press' Past Masters series and that was 1991. But there is a lot about. Another important method is the probabilities of what Paul did and did not write that is in the New Testament, so that the pastoral epistles are not by him but represent later ideas put in Paul's name. The other important point is that Paul sets the ball rolling towards Hellenism, that Paul excludes the importance of Jewish Christianity, and that whilst Paul does not raise Jesus' status to divinity or God, he nevertheless put it on that road which the Jewish Christians had no reason to do - a messiah did not imply divinity. Paul puts the messianic figure into the Greek world and makes Jesus a crucifixion-resurrectiion salvation figure, in addition to the majestic character that will represent and appear heading God's changes.
3 October 2006

Gosh you have to be rich these days to get hold of so many books: I've just been looking at another Cambrdge one, the Companion to Postmodern Theology and all its categories. Its overall descriptions has a piece about postliberal theology and Yale being a theology journalism invention and it not having a theological programme. Oh well.

Back to topic. This business of Paul the persecutor and why he isn't - much. So here we are in a land of violent rule, of easy deaths either through the authorities, poverty or disease. Violence is common. Question: did Paul as Saul kill anyone? Did he torture anyone? No? Did he arrange for anyone to be killed or tortured? Paul does not say, and furthermore Acts saying he was in Jerusalem doing this persecution is contradicted by Galatians (trip to Arabia and returns to Damascus). E. P. Saunders puts it that one thing Paul might have been doing is going to synagogues and saying to leaders that those Jews who worship Jesus as messiah should receive 39 lashes, the severest punishment they could do, something Paul went on to receive himself. The issue here is Sadducee order (for the Romans) getting people to do the keeping the messianic Jews in check; whereas the leader of the pharisees Gamaliel was quite tolerant. Another question is whether Paul goes in for hyperbole. Yes? We do have to be careful about Paul's rhetoric. He is likely to have conducted himself in abrasive and assertive argument with the messianic Jews, because through them he received second hand knowledge of the Jesus crucified, and he will have used argument (as pharisees did) that they were contradicting themselves about the Law and that he could have said they were making other Jews second class. When he flipped to the other side, so to speak, he promoted the Christians, but there was a price to pay as regards the Law (now a supressor of sin, not a means of salvation) - and to that extent he was consistent.
4 October 2006, 1:00 pm

These are the questions... precisely the biblical theologians have been working with for a long time, and there are various answers.

The present pope gave a lecture recently (that one) in which he said the medium of Greek language and culture was an essential part of the revelation of Christianity to the Church. Gosh, I'm reading Don Cupitt who is saying pretty much the same, overturning his view of some time now, that there cannot be a demythologised Christianity out of that cultural framework (and thus now he goes for a practical Buddhist informed religious humanism). Now the problem here is that if the Greek culture is essential, that it says something about God, and the Pope says you can't get behind it to a historical Jesus, what of the historical Jesus? He was not of Greek culture, he was wholly within Jewish thought processes and beliefs of the time. If we are wrong, and he is well educated (it is possible) and has Greek speech as well as Aramaic (no evidence in the clues within the Gospels), he shows no interest in this wider thought world at all. Paul does, because Paul clearly bridges both thought worlds.

So what about ruining a good story. The Greek is a cultural transmitter, but so is the Jewish. What is the Jewish (Christian) revelation then for the Christian gospels? Is it that the last days were upon us, that sins were what made people die and be ill, and removing demons made them ethically good as well as in good health, and were prepared for this immediate reality? What is all that about? Well it is a good motivator for ethical beliefs, and Jesus' vision of this immediate kingdom was highly ethical and rather a reversal of the common view of well being. Paul also shared in this end time stuff, but he made extra of the salvation side of Christ as a died and resurrected figure. Paul is the more complex figure, here (than Jesus), because of how so much gets joined together.

As I see it, the Jewish framework - the general Judaism and the eschatological Judaism (they well overlap but the difference is the urgency) - is a good story, and the Greek framework is a good story, and the doctrinal developments are a good story, and the East-West, Renaissance, Reformation, liberalisms and so on are all good stories. Where is the revelation, at which part and point? Generally? A bit here and a bit there? This point over that point? For me, the argument about revelation and where it might be found is a dead argument. It is all story. One novel becomes another.

As it happens, I live within the present story, like you do. This is the one where we look at weather forecasters for the weather and satellites, and charts, and not wonder (as not so long back) what God is doing with the harvest via his control of the weather. We think practically. We know that we will die, not because we have sinned, but because cells have a lifespan and won't regenerate. We know the sun has been around five billion years and will be around for another 5 billion years, and that's it for this globe. We also have different philosophies than the Greek, and we have no sacred canopy because, despite the big story, people live in lots of little stories of their own and their institutions. This is such a huge change. And it is why we see the differences between Paul and Jesus, or between one timescale and another, and are more self-aware.
4 October, 5:06 pm

What Paul does is universalise the faith, makes it possible to reach out and last, and because there is the view that he didn't write this but did write that, then sifting through he turns out to be something of a revolutionary. Who mentioned the Paul as the first Christian feminist? Why not? There were women leaders that he recognised and worked with. There has always been a view about Paul as a dodgy character and even misogynist. He was certainly complex, of bumping from one oppositional position to another as organiser and promoter, and there is this hyperbole and self-promotion. He is flawed. He was consistent, I think, about people who believed the Messiah had arrived and the Law, through both phases of his life, and probably why some Jewish Christians retained the opposition to him. But he can be quite a source of inspiration, because he does make some very profound points: "the greatest of these is love", for example.
Wednesday October 4, 8:42 pm

There is no need to rely on Renan. Acts has it that Paul received a bright light that left him temporarily blinded. In 1 Corinthians he says he saw the Risen Lord, not a bright light. In Galatians it was "God revealed his son to me". Whichever it was, bright light or otherwise, he called this resurrection experience, but it obviously was not a body as resurrection. So which one was it then? Renan made the mistake of explaining away, and I don't. I take the view that these folks spoke in terms of signs and wonders, ascribed miracles to prophets, as normal and even obligatory and as part of the point for going ahead into the future. It is theologised from the very point of whatever event. Whatever Paul experienced, in his head or external (there is even a theory of a nearby earthquake - why bother with that?) he interpreted it as resurrection.

Official pubications and apologists can say what they like. I like to think according to what there is, and what can be discerned. Official views are not privileged; they have no more force than any other that discerns.

It is not a fault that Paul is shown to be very human, with all kinds of failings, as well as being remarkable and to have been such a thinker, worker out of the message, and organiser.

[There has been the issue of whether] commentators, theologians and the like are Church approved or not, whether the documents come from the Church or not, and you require them to be approved and of the Church. I don't mind. For me they can be and they don't need to be. I just read what they say, others say, look for myself, take a judgment. However, dogma for the sake of it, whether it is ... of the Church, or a crude literalism, that ignores the processes of writing [into] what became scripture, is uninteresting.
July 14 2006, 8:11 pm

When your life is a walk, it is the walk itself that is interesting. The final destination is the end at the end anyway, so enjoy the walk. ...There are many people who are not particularly doing anything regarding faith or asking ultimate (or significant) questions and just get on with life.
July 15 2006, 3:41 am

We have brains and we make conversation. People come in and out of faith, change ideas about what God is, associate with one group at one time and move across to another.

When you look forward, the life you have is going to be to some extent unpredictable, like the snooker game so many moves ahead. When you look back, it seems to have a pattern that can be read into it. That is where the meaning of God can be found, in the narrative so far. This God is not a string puller, around which we are passive recepients. We build our lives within social institutions, subject to power, via negotiations, with options available that change. It is not some dreamscape devoid of restraints, hard choices and life options where the decision about which road to take at the junction is ours, or made by other people.
July 16 2006, 2:29 am

...We shall get nowhere with an ancient religion in this day if we are going to spiritualise everything that has a perfectly sensible explanation. Let's see the value of faith in this life, and not some running away to a set of words which have quite a different context.

I might be non-realist in sympathy but I am not a fantasist. I'm aware of the narrative basis of life, but it is not a runaway fiction.

What is an incarnate religion and faith? It is in the nuts and bolts of the common stories of this secular life, explanations that work: I watched part of a film tonight of a woman driving her car in Iran, with the different passengers there including I realised her son of a divorced father. The sheer ordinariness of life and comparison with ours came through, in this world; the business of living came through. There were references to prayers, but it was all the same old stuff in the here and now.
October 4 2006, 12:51 am

I do not equate loving with agreeing with a point of view. I equate it as good manners, as not rubbishing the other person as a personality, as seeing experience where it lies, in seeing training and education as important.

I am not interested in majority views (I doubt your view is the majority one, it is fuzzier and more open than that), nor interested in official lines (which, in any case, are both stated and unstated), not towing the line. I am interested in freedom to explore, in finding out, following things where they lead, using Christian resources, being involved and even absorbed in forms of Christian worship, staying open to texts of many kinds, playing light with given frameworks, and giving religion an edge. What I believe next week may be different from this week. Let people have the space to find their own way, given that most people find life's experiences quite difficult and wouldn't mind a bit of space and calm for their moments of reflection. They don't need to be told what to believe all the time like some dead checklist, but to have the resources of the traditions made available. And they need to be treated by respect - churches and palces of religious gathering (including virtual ones) are places to uphold people's humanity and travelling, not put them down, rule them out, dismiss them, or exclude them from the club.
October 5 2006, 8:20 pm

I concede regulative functions of identity to Church traditions and scriptures in general, but open to critical investigation.
Saturday October 7 2006, 2:11 pm

Right, so a God does not exist that does these terrible things, and there is a whole load of myth around unfortunate and wicked events, myth linked with tribalism. But there is extractable myth here, and qualities that Lizzie highlights can be engaged with as part of being reflective.

Read the Bible as thought forms of ancient people, and see in all of that an ethical struggle, and extract the ethical struggle. The Bible is not a historical record just as it is not a book of science.

If you say that God caused the holocaust, it would be a truly devillish thing, as would standing by during the holocaust - so you draw your own conclusions. Either God, to be ethical, has to be wholly reunderstood, or a similar God is the author of the misery of the world.
Saturday October 7 2006, 1:58 pm

[ ]

Well Dawkins is very interesting, and much to agree with. The question is his view of "truth" and if Bishops Spong and Holloway are stimulating (passages reproduced) then what does that suggest? I particularly enjoy material now from Richard Holloway, and yes Spong but less so. Dawkins does have spiritual appreciation, clearly, and it is a case of moving on from there, and the purpose and value of texts, of meeting, of ancient language, and what role does myth have with a different view of truth?
Saturday October 7 2006, 2:14 pm

>The perception is, that since God is love, He will not allow anything to happen to an individual that will cause them life-changing sorrow.<

So how are we to understand the holocaust?


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful