A number of people have asked me to describe simply what postmodernism in religion means.

A starting point might in fact be architecture. Modernism in architecture was a kind of pure concrete minimalism. Supposed to be beautiful in simplicity, many called it brutal. So came postmodernism, which draws on all kinds of historical styles which we recognise but, seeing as the past cannot be recreated, they tend to be jumbled up and in modern materials. We can also see that modernism in art was something of a failure for similar reasons.

I suggest that modernism in religion has been the same failure. The mission of liberalism to find a kernel of truth within the clutter, whether carried out by Unitarians wanting a simple Christianity or others has been a failure too. This reductionism of religion leaves us unsatisfied, as one belief after another gets stripped away. Then some get frustrated, and the last few beliefs get defended to the point of militancy. If not beliefs then certain worship practices. Unitarianism can get very conservative.

The alternative to demythologising and reductionism is remythologising. This means being self aware that we work within the world of language - but to build. You do not stop deconstructing language, however, as you build.

Deconstructing? Imagine this sentence: William Jefferson Hague wears a blue baseball cap. One way of deconstructing is to alter the order. The baseball cap wears a Hague blue William Jefferson. It now tells us that a symbol of American culture in his own hue of Tory blue dominates William Jefferson, who sounds like an American President. We see additional meaning and sub-meanings. This process can go on and on, and vary words and word sounds. Religious language can be opened up to penetrating meanings. So all language functions as one dictionary definition flows to another.

Thus we notice that on this basis a Unitarian Christian is no better off than a trinitarian Christian; indeed she may be worse off as there becomes less in the way of religious terms to work with. Of course the problem is when either religious kind treats language as dogmatic and truth giving. The Unitarian claims to be less dogmatic. This may well be true but congregations still need to express a collective religious language which can marginalise individuals. If people think their language truth bearing, it becomes another dogma. The alternative is a museum like liturgy representing a lost era where so many people disbelieve so much of it already as truth representing that the process can go on...

The question for a postmodernist is not whether it is true, but does it work. Does the religious language used tie in with the rest of the narratives that make up the way we think? My own view is none of the Christian based versions do anymore as packages: the best is a Western Buddhist approach that is non-credal about beliefs but can draw upon the full resources of a religious tradition.

Adrian Worsfold