We humans are combinations of library-keeping culture and biology, trapped in our individual bodies, and so the task of religion now is to use an overview of life to come to terms with our own death. The centre of such reflection is not only our consciousness but being aware of our own consciousness in a way that we presume most other animals are not. As descendants of group-apes, we do this together and we have our language to do it. Language and symbol is the key to this and it is clear that young humans learn the grammar of language faster than it is taught.
In terms of symbol and language, I am not an equal-sheet across-all postmodernist, because we don’t make it all up. Science and social science research delivers answers we do not like, and history has various schools but important rules about primary documents. But religion is none of these, but more like art, so that asking what is a good, guiding, approach to religion is like asking what makes a good painting. Postmodernism comes into its own with religion.
I have tried Christianity and Buddhism, and prefer Western secularised versions of both. In terms of Buddhism, this means a practical path of doing, but the doing for me is in a church setting. Christianity is a bit more complex. The first book in the New Testament is 1 Thessalonians and Mark comes some way down the line: they are all Pauline and Greek affected to some degree and later reflect a battle between spirit and matter, including key beliefs.
So the mistaken last days Jewish rabbi who pointed from himself to the action of a highly supernaturalist God became the salvation figure of the early communities of Gentiles as well as the Messiah in waiting for the few Jews who joined up and were destroyed by the Romans.
Human beings evolved. They are not born of virgins and when they die brain death is rapid and irreversible. There is no final miracle in Christianity. Jesus was an interesting reverse-ethics teacher in the conext of the last days, but those ethics are available more directly.We simply don’t have the history to judge Jesus’s moral insight: but it seems he was initially rude to Gentiles in his focus on Jews and some animals received demons. As an orthodox Jew he will have been busy at the Temple with animal sacrifices and debated with Pharisee rabbis on the spirit of the Law.
But that is for then and we live now. After Paul’s effect on Christianity, now religious humanism is further more universal and kinder to animals (even in a food chain). Ecology is our last days concern.
I tried to be a postmodern Christian in a friendly Anglican parish, but could not do it. I stopped taking communion, said progressively less, and finally made a complete switch to the Unitarians where the denomination, despite being tiny, is broad in argument and on the whole more ethical thanks to it being egalitarian, liberal and democratic.
In a service, words and music enhance the purpose of living and reflect upon extinction. They ask the individual to say sorry, be thankful, welcome your neighbour and enemy and to think afresh. It is an overview, a joining of the dots, rather like transcendence.
Adrian was one of the first people I encountered online, when I set up this website. I was fascinated by his sketches of his fellow bloggers and those professionally involved in religion. And then I began to read his blog, Pluralist Speaks. He always says something to make me think, and his opinions are never of the ready-made, out-of-a-box sort. He couldn’t write in clichés if he tried.
The short version of his biography is: Website creator; critical examiner of social sciences and theology, religious liberal, ‘terror blogger’.
Thank-you, Adrian, for starting us off on what I hope will be a series of blog posts by people from different theological backgrounds and none on ‘What I Believe’. I am grateful to Chris Fewings for the idea.
Both illustrations are from Adrian’s website and the copyright remains of course with him. Adrian allowed me to copy them here to illustrate his post.