Non-Exclusive Spirituality

Sorry I cannot be present today, due to meeting friends before Elena leaves for the University of Reading, so I have sent this contribution after talking with Ian.
On 9 September David [Rowett, Priest in Charge,] gave a sermon in which he suggested that the meaning of Mary in the Church changes over time. Her association with the Magnificat suited the progressive equalitarian 1960s, and - we heard it from David first - that she will be associated with spirituality. My critique is that, if this is so, this follows and does not lead trends, although such a change might shape the trend in some Church circles. There was a reference in the sermon to New Age spirituality and its consumerism.
Many people have made an effort to unhook spirituality from religion, almost on a simplistic basis of religion=bad spirituality=good. Religion is associated with crusty institutions, questionable ethics, authoritarianism, old-hat and detached religion, exclusivity of one sort clashing with exclusivity of another, and the stating of collective beliefs not necessarily believed personally. In contrast, spirituality has become associated with the search, individual autonomy, reasonableness, filtering out the bad from the good, personal expression and personal freedom. The cry is spirituality without religion.
I am not convinced by this separation of spirituality and religion. All spirituality is expressed according to a collection of created or inherited patterns of beliefs. The individual operates in a series of collective linguistic environments, that is carriers of meaning that are made and negotiated between groups of people through common linguistic signs. These can be quite complex, with a combination of the contemporary and ancient together, and clashing. For example there are inherited religions as sets of signs of meaning, but there are also, in the West, well embedded, this-worldy, practical understandings of causality and problem-solving. This is why an understanding of Christianity, or Islam, or Hinduism, say, varies between a post-Enlightenment culture of practical this-worldly solutions as in the West and a premodern common culture of spiritual signs, wonders, magic, and immediate expectations of happenings - interpretations made at times of personal or family stress, or ever-recurring natural disasters. These overlapping thought patterns affect each other and alter one another: spirituality takes place within their broad contexts.
How our symbolic language is used, depends on the "significant others" of the groups we join and the "general others" of the common culture. Belief in the exclusivity of the religion we may follow depends of the relative strength of the significant other of the religious group (and its self-presentation) from the general other of the common culture - if we join sects they have a high wall built against the common culture, and we are more likely to be exclusive regarding the faith held, regarding it as unique and others as towards the false. Incidentally, a sectarian mentality can exist in parts of a Church that may not have that mentality in general.
In my view the common culture in which we live undermines and argues against exclusivity in religion. Pluralism and postmodenity does give space for huge variety of creeds and credos, but it also takes away their certainty. In a time of modernism there was a clash of truths, and your truth was objectively established and their truth was asserted as objective and so was denied. Now postmodernity understands the linguistic, collective, construction of truth: a radical uncertainty that allows a creativity of beliefs and views, but at the same time takes away the ability to call them *the* truth.
The postliberal position (part of postmodenity) says thank you for the space to be who we can be as a group, thus in all this variety we can be identified as part of the drama of the Christian Gospel. On the other hand, whilst it acts as a truth, it has no foundational basis to be the Truth, at least here on earth. Nor has anyone else's working package. To some extent we are all postliberals, even liberals like me, in that we must package things up and present a coherent account of religion and spirituality.
These packages exist like dramas and stories. And how useful if the place of the story in the making of the Christian faith becomes more obvious. We see this in the "history-like" gospel accounts and the believing actions of the early Churches. A package of narratives cannot claim any exclusivity over other packages of narratives, whether they be New Age or other established religions.
This might be difficult for some Christians, for whom the Incarnation is said to be once and for all and unique, but not for other Christians, where the construction of the faith is critically examined alongside the constructions of all faiths.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful