by Adrian Worsfold

"If it looks like a creed, sounds like a creed and smells like a creed, then it is a creed."

So says Duncan Park in "Is this a creed I see before me?" (Sea of Faith, July 2001, 48) who is referring to those ten hypotheses which their author, David Boulton, claims are just that: hypotheses, or propositions in order to provoke and nothing else.

Within the rhetoric, Duncan Park gave three main objections to the hypotheses: they are dull and uninspiring; they are of the modernism that led to Wagner, Nietzsche, Hitler and Stalin; and they try to narrow down a group that should be a welcoming space for spiritual anarchists rather than a movement.

Well I'll have my take on the hypotheses, then I shall state why this accuser is doing the same as the accused, and then I shall suggest ways to something different and then what is probably more important anyway.

First of all, are they hypotheses or a creed? I shall apply my deconstructionist method of cut down extracts, starting with the preamble:

...will ever tell. This naturally holds good...
the hypotheses that follow...

  1. All... are
  2. We may speak... but do so in the understanding... made it all up
  3. We may speak... but we do so do so in the understanding
  4. This is no less true
  5. to elevate... is dangerous
  6. That is our commitment
  7. We are believers
  8. is incomplete and delusory unless... False religion...
  9. It is for... not the... it demands
  10. We lay no claim...; we made it

So my deconstructionist method demonstrates that whilst overtly they claim to be hypotheses, the force of the language makes them anything but. I read creeds.

The next question is always, there a power game in the text here? Well these statements attack and crowd out competitors before they get going by a kind of pre-emptive logic-power. They are political statements out to score a goal. And I have not speculated here on the author's intentions as my deconstructionist technique only accepts the text.

(Aha! But his deconstruction may respond I *am* stating author intention of a power game! You decide, Big Brother.)

Duncan Park's text "Is this a creed I see before me?" is deliberately OTT, perhaps to avoid the charge of being boring. It attacks the credal basis but states (more extracts - this is the methodology!):

So "Is this a creed I see before me?" is indeed, itself. It is doing the same again as those hypotheses! It is this, it is not that...

Let me suggest a plural alternative, that Sea of Faith is a clarion call to humanists as well; it is continuous with modernism as well as being discontinuous (which is a central debate about postmodernism); it is a place and a space, it is an ideology as well as a therapy; it creates insiders as well as wants outsiders; and some want and need positions, as there is a mission statement which some want to develop...

Why have hypotheses? Isn't an undefined mission statement enough? Then let that go where it will. If we want statements of an organisation, then let them consciously be polyphonic, polyvocal. Let us make a hundred statements that describe the concerns of the constituency, and let's broaden them out a bit too. Let the statements contradict themselves, so that they cannot perform a "closure" function as both the hypotheses and criticism do.

But, actually, let's move on too.

Sea of Faith's institutional base, "tradition", is relational to a set of churches and onward to religions and humanism. It comes also from a massively Platonised interpetation of Christianity (by Don Cupitt - his accusation is really a mirror on his own narrow obsession, what others call "a straw man"), turning Christianity into a monarchic monster that it may have been at one point in its history, but is piffle now institutionally. Still, such echoes continue even though the specific arguments are clapped out, and the inheritance gets transferred and regurgiated. The only thing going for Don's main argument is these churches seem unable to change any foundation texts, but what would they be if they did, and half the Sea of Faith folks on the payroll wouldn't change the foundation texts either. One wonders what they want.

For some, Sea of Faith is going to be nothing but a place for griping about churches and religions to which they retain loyalty but whose historically inherited language echoes keep poking them in the eye.

Then another Sea of Faith group, like modernists, want to clean up the scripts. So do I, to avoid misunderstandings with those museum echoes, but then in my liturgies I go into postmodern flowery symbolisms that mimic spiritual sounds that seem to satisfy. So for some, Sea of Faith offers a space to perhaps do something spiritually different.

But there is a further development. Starting with echo that "Christianity is a monarchy", we can start attacking institutions and situations where there is the equivalent of the divine right of kings or TINA (There Is No Alternative).

When Tony Blair tells us not only are those anti capitalist protesters violent but very wrong, because free trade is good for us, or that privatisation "delivers", we can say, "But we are losing control over the destiny of these economic forces which only exist by the rules which were humanly created anyway." Or if we go into the European Union further, we lose democratic accountability, and if we withdraw, we reinforce our chronic, archaic, centralised state of subjects and patronage. We need power back and change.

Small groups like Sea of Faith can join the growing noise that says that the situation is getting out of control. We join others to say we want back our liberty, democracy and self-determination.

However, a word of caution. Sea of Faith is a liberal non-credal body, and this needs additional effort (not hypotheses!) in order to keep things open. And I'm afraid liberalism is always quite conservative, because of the slow speed or reverse gear of some. Furthermore, the radicals want ownership and more definition (like the hypotheses) and liberals want openness, and, wasting time, one faction criticises the other (the sort of thing that excites people in every organisation).

People will argue with one another, and about seemingly narrow micro-organisational stuff, because (unfortunately) it is at this level that we have control over our lives and not in the big arena where we are losing it.

Yet it is in the bigger arena where the issues count most critically, and one task for Sea of Faith is to articulate that we made these rules, and we want them changed towards access and control, for liberty, plurality and self-determination in community.

Submitted to Sea of Faith Magazine and printed with a link to this page