May 17 2009

May 2009 Newsletter

Published by under Newsletters

Sea of Faith


Dunedin             May 2009


Marjorie Spittle and Andrew Meek opened up the subject of:  



A Non-Realist Church

They asked:     Is “non-realist church” an oxymoron with no future, or are there ways of doing church from a non-realist perspective? This topic seeks to explore options and possibilities which may extend from an opting completely out of any organized church (and starting your own?) to passionate guerilla tactics from within. Should be interesting! To get us thinking along these lines, the following was an extract from a presentation by Duncan Park at a Sea of Faith conference in Australia in 2000.


The Crisis of Faith

The Church can be a kind of Spiritual Health Service. Yes, literally at point of need – rather like a twelve-step programme for people who feel powerless before the mystery of life.   It can be a vehicle for the lost sheep to hitch a lift back to the ninety nine that need no repentance.  Real suffering can’t be healed by a virtual God, though. Despair, pain, grief, panic don’t respond well to abstract theories.  Healing needs people.  But, when health is restored, there is no longer any need for supernaturalist drugs. They then only produce spiritual hypochondriacs and religious junkies.

The Church can be a kind of Spiritual Education System where stories of the Christian myth can be told to children – without qualification. At six years old, a literal Father Christmas or Father God, Noah’s Ark or Jack and the Beanstalk is not a theological problem. At sixteen years, it is a mental health problem. So there must be a deliberate process, on Piaget’s model, to take children from concrete realism to adult abstract non-realism.

The Church can be a Spiritual Theatre where metaphysical drama allows the emotions full play. We don’t have to keep putting inverted commas around the script and continually remind ourselves that the actor on stage isn’t really Hamlet. We can enter unselfconsciously into an agreed dramatic reality. Of course, if anyone starts to think he really is Hamlet, it’s time for the lights to go on.

There is no need for radical Ramboes to “take out” every non-radical enterprise. If individuals want to baby-talk with the Almighty and have a big cosmic cuddle, let them.    If teenagers fall in love with Jesus and want to sing and dance a Rave-in-the-Nave, let them. And if some people want to stay romantically involved with a Mills & Boon deity, let them.  If others want the grand opera version of religion, with outrageous costumes and the whole theatrical bit, fine.

But, and it’s a big but, the Church must also allow the radical alternative.   It must also let its children grow up. It must let the healed leave the casualty ward.   It must let the actors exit stage left.   It must not withhold permission.   It is on this point that a new radical faith must be uncompromising.

This is where radicals must get political, because the religious establishment will not gracefully give permission.  Religious dependency is big business.   The princes of the church, the evangelical fat cats, the fundamentalist Mafia, will need to be faced in battle.   In this war, the Pope has many more divisions than the radicals, so those who want to liberate people from the tyranny of inferior knowledge and emotional bondage will necessarily have to employ guerilla tactics.

It will also need martyrs.   Martyrdom is not the career move it used to be – which is why most clergy have not passed on to their people what they learned at theological college.  This gets worse the further up the totem pole you go, so you can be sure a radical faith will not start at the top.    In a recent tour in the United Kingdom with Robert Funk, founder of the Jesus Seminar, I witnessed ecclesiastical and academic privileges that were worth lying for. One forgets.

No, the new Reformation will be fought at street level, as Jesus fought his reformation and radicals must fight theirs.     I believe the Church can re-mythologise.   I think the global culture will eventually force it out of the nineteenth, fifteenth and maybe even the first centuries.

It might come kicking and screaming, but I think those who love it can persuade it, especially those who are already on the far side of belief.
From the Editor:
I’ve recently been trying to arrange a trip to the astronomy observatory at Mt John, near Lake Tekapo.   [In the end, the weather has stopped us; but we’ll try again in August or September.]  Working on this has led me to ask myself why I was so keen on getting there.
Part of the answer, I know, is that I’m interested in all sorts of things to do with the world around me and, along with the geography and geology of this planet and its plants and animals, that includes the solar system and everything beyond it.
But I’m sure there’s something deeper at work – and that has to do with a need to experience wonder.   For about the first two-thirds of my life,  I was fairly satisfied with the opportunities the Church gave me in Sunday worship for awe and wonder focussed on a powerful and loving Creator God.   But that has become less and less convincing or satisfying –  partly because the picture of a Lord God Almighty or a personal Creator is less convincing,  and partly because I now consider the Church’s focus on God  –  to the almost complete exclusion of taking seriously the planet on which we live and its setting in the cosmos  – much too narrow.
So in recent years, I’ve been looking more and more deliberately for things that trigger wonder, and possibly awe, in whatever is presented to me by my five senses.   That has led me to be more sensitive and more appreciative –  to take things for granted less than I used to do.  In particular, as I’ve read about recent advances in knowledge of the universe, and of how it got to be the way it is,  I’ve found many things to wonder at, and to stand in awe of.    So, for me, a trip to the Mt John observatory promises to be much more than just a tourist outing.

Chairman: Geoff Neilson – Phone 489-6727 – Email: Geoff

Newsletter Editor: Donald Feist – Phone 476-3268 – Email: Don
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