Sunday, October 25, 2009

Backward in Fear?

Having an extra hour on a Sunday morning gives time to think about what we do - on Sundays, for sure, though not exclusively - when we go to church. Having spent yesterday with a former Moderator of the kirk (great crack, Andy - and a great lunch), having listened, interminably, to the news on the car radio about the defecting Anglicans who are tempted by Rome, and having been Sponged the previous day, I'm feeling particularly turbulent this morning. There. I just asked Mr B how watching the Forward in Faith* people on the telly (somehow even more disturbing) made him feel, and I've just summed up my own reaction: turbulence just about does it.

The rotten thing is that much of what these people (no women priests, certainly no women bishops, no openly gay men) do in their religious practices used to be attractive to me. I still love really good music, incense, order - but I abhor the smugness, the "I'm a man and I'm ordained and you, my dear, are not in my league at all when it comes to the worship of God" underlay, the willing piety of the permed ladies, the self-righteousness. And on this grey Sunday morning I contemplate the essentially man-made edifice that is the church and I despair. I despair partly because I know that all my non-Christian or non-church friends and rellies probably think that what was on the news yesterday was my church and either despise or pity me for it.

But thankfully, it is not my church. My church still has a way to go before it sorts out the Christ-like response to gay Christians, gay church people, the gay ordained; it has yet to elect a woman as bishop though there is no legal barrier to such an election; my church tends to be anything but smug though there are pockets of undeniable smuggery. Personally, I'm on a wee crusade to remove the words "us men" from the Creed as said by the celebrant in Holy T (they don't say it in Southwark Cathedral, I note); Mr B is working to remove the dire hymns of the past from our repertoire (leaving us, it has to be said, with a very small selection that meet any sort of criteria at all); I look forward to this morning's sermon from a lay woman that will disturb and challenge in the light of the week's news.

But there is much to be done before we shake off the bigoted and the entrenched. And yesterday's news, as far as I'm concerned, is good news. Let's wave them off to the diluted form of Rome to which the Holy Father invites them. God speed, folks, God speed.

*Or, if you like, Backward in Fear.


  1. Indeed. When they said: 'one in seven may go to Rome.' I thought 'if one in seven C of E priests is a misogynist, no wonder it is in the mess it is. And the very very worst thing is others perhaps thinking we somehow think like that.

    Good article by MacCulloch today.

  2. Remember +Martin and his sandcastles!

  3. The clock change meant that I heard 'Sunday' on Radio 4 - an interesting discussion on the Vatican's 'invitation':

    We always said simply 'us' at St M's Cathedral in Glasgow and I seem to remember our blue books were printed thus or am I deceived in this?

  4. Hmm, yes. From what I read of it, it seems to be a voluntary way out - can choose to go to Rome if they want. Saves a lot of stress, I guess.

    Doesn't do much for "affirming diversity", though, if those who don't really believe that go away leaving those are diverse behind. And one does occasionally despair of the appearances of the part of the church that sees itself as "outwith society" and yet is *really* merely a product of its cultures, forcibly distorted and pickled since around AD30(0) :( How does the fresh theology of Spong and Borg and co stand a chance against the weight of oppressiveness?

    There is hope as long as Mr B retains Immortal, invisible (yay for St Denio - I've so grown into that hymn) and abandons Thy hand O Lord hath guided, right? :)

  5. Great point, Tim - and dead right about the hymns! Actually, there's another post in hymns, I think ...

  6. I'm yet to be convinced that Spong and Borg's theology is actually new. When I heard MB at a Provincial conference in St Andrews I thought "Shouldn't someone tell them this is RJ Campbell's New Theology from 1911 and Bishop Charles Gore CR flattened it in about 1912?" There then followed a war that made the progressive assumptions of Liberal Theology look a bit inadequate and led to Karl Barth. Ultimately, Progressive Theology has to grapple seriously with the horrible reality of human sin and destructiveness and I wonder if Spong and Borg have?

  7. I'm sure Spong and Borg have dealt with humanity, sin and destructiveness on their travels. I vaguely recall Spong coming up with a more precise understanding of sin (drat, forgotten!) and the Borg I'm reading atm (on Paul) is currently talking about human violence as an aspect of "normalcy of the human condition" (what I'd call "conventional establishment thinking", which in a domination-system such as the Roman Empire meant pseudo-peace coming about from conquest, whereas Christian peace comes through fair distributive justice).

    I'd hope their theology is not new, of course - I said I found it fresh - Borg in particular takes the approach of studying a Biblical figure (Amos or Paul) and seeing what they taught, normally in radical terms, when you look at their authentic voice.

    It's perhaps a (sad) reflection on what society and the church are becoming that I see progressive theology as a thin strand in an increasingly turbulent conservative-belief system.

  8. Go on Chris - do you have a favoured hymn list then, and what factors go into making a hymn good or bad?

  9. Stop tempting me - I'm trying to write a sermon! I shall blog about this in the next coupla days - promise. I'm enjoying your comments, though. :-)

  10. So "normalcy of the human condition" = sin. That's fine - can a narrative alone effect a change radical enough to change history? I suppose my take is very much that I don't buy the whole liberal Hegelian shtick and remain essentially Augustinian in my theology. It takes the paradigm and history shattering power of the Incarnation to break the cycle of human failure. And that to my mind suggests that the Incarnation is more than a narrative it is an ongoing event!

    And I'm off for a curry!

  11. Well, normalcy is implicated in sin. I wouldn't trust my reading to say that's "=".

    `Hegelian schtick' as in ? I'll have to read up more on that to see.

    I'd think I'd agree that Incarnation should be seen without the "the" - it is an ongoing thing, like creation - immanence and transcendence are all-time features of God. I'm not sure I share your angle on "it takes", though. That's where it gets a bit complicated and pluralism gets questioned...

    Mine's a pizza ;)

  12. I'm being imprecise. "normalcy of the human condidtion" includes but does not = sin! That would be too BCP longer confession for words.

    My beef with Hegelianism starts from a definition: "being is not a static concept according to Hegel, as Aristotle supposed it was. It is essentially dynamic, because it tends by its very nature to pass over into nothing, and then to return to itself in the higher concept, becoming. For Aristotle, there was nothing more certain than that being equaled being, or, in other words, that being is identical with itself, that everything is what it is. Hegel does not deny this; but, he adds, it is equally certain that being tends to become its opposite, nothing, and that both are united in the concept becoming. For instance, the truth about this table, for Aristotle, is that it is a table. For Hegel, the equally important truth is that it was a tree, and it "will be" ashes. The whole truth, for Hegel, is that the tree became a table and will become ashes. Thus, becoming, not being, is the highest expression of reality. It is also the highest expression of thought because then only do we attain the fullest knowledge of a thing when we know what it was, what it is, and what it will be-in a word, when we know the history of its development"

    It's all about process "becoming, not being, is the highest expression of reality" and I doubt that. The highest expression of reality is the end of the process, not the process itself. That's the approach of: "It matters not who won or lost but how you play the game" - which is a thought best left in the sermon on hairy and smooth so memorably preached by Alan Bennett in Beyond the Fringe.

    And maybe I need to read up on the Scottish Common Sense school of philosopy!

  13. See, that discussion of being sounds like philosophy to me (unsurprisingly enough). You don't say how the idea of "being" maps onto God.

    Perhaps semi-relevantly, I'm aware of:
    a) a prior philosophical discussion whether God, being "perfect", could change between states because anything else would be less than perfect (or not)
    b) the phrase (via Tillich?) "Ground of Being" as a description or facet of God.

  14. Spong mentioned the "ground of being" idea last week. Interestingly, he reacted quite fiercely when a woman in the audience tried to attribute it to him - not by pointing out again that it was Tillich, but by demanding that she was clear in her mind that he didn't altogether subscribe to it. At least, that's what I took from the exchange.

  15. "Ground of being" is a reasonable description of a facet of God (Alpha and Omega and all that) but God changing? That is a somewhat odd idea. There is a Biblical stream that is clear that God can (and does) change her/his mind, but the essential nature of God - surely that is fixed? Unless of course you are suggesting that the Trinitarian God is in a permanent state of flux because of the ongoing internal and eternal dynamic - in which case you are actually very close to the Hegelian ideal of process being as if not more important than final product.

  16. Chris: one of the Spongs I read a while ago went to some length to knock the conventional doctrine of the Trinity, substituting the suspiciously tripartite "Ground of Being, source of Light and source of Love" in its place... So that's a variant on Tillich he espousesd at the time, at least.

  17. frdougal: by `prior philosophical discussion' I was alluding to ancient Greek philosophers. Having read the idea as stated ("can God change between states if God is meant to be perfect?") it seems a rather arbitrary and detached question.

    I'm not sure what to make of the rest though. My understanding of God is perhaps rather conceptual, yet a viable one of God's descriptors is "transcendent", so if one aspect we see of God (eg "God's mind") is apparently changeable, there's no way to tell if a further one does not (your "essential nature"), and vice-versa. And so the question will remain undecided and not wholly appropriate.