We, individual human beings, on different continents, in different cultures and in various communities of faith, are living with dramatically different paradigms, worldviews and attitudes towards the fundamentals of human life and behaviour. Religious and secular values look to be irreconcilable between so many parts of the human global community – Israel and Palestine, Islam and Christianity, Old World and Global South, and thousands of others, global and local.
The conflicts between such diverse worldviews have a look of insanity about them, madness that lead conflict and injustice. For example, if Goodluck Jonathan, the Nigerian President, signs the anti-gay marriage bill into law, a civil partnered British politician or Anglican priest, or a married lesbian or gay North American politician, priest or minister, could be arrested on arrival in Nigeria, tried and imprisoned for up to 10 years. More likely they would be refused a visa if they revealed their relationship status on the application form.
The seemingly irreconcilable paradigms reveal themselves in the difference between the world view of Changing Attitude and the Bishop of Salisbury about equal marriage on one side and the world view of Andrew Goddard writing for Fulcrum and the faith leaders who wrote yesterday to The Telegraph on the other. The division is marked by radical differences over what we think God’s attitude to homosexuality and equal marriage is. For some their worldview is based on Biblical texts and interpretation, tradition and historic and authoritative Christian formularies. For others . . .
For others . . . how to explain this? There is, you see, another, equally dramatic paradigm difference, between the world views of individual people and sets of people in various countries and communities and the world view of the set who take to themselves the label orthodox Christians.
This paradigm difference underlies our differences over gender and human sexuality. It renders incomprehensible not just the apparently irreconcilable differences in Christian theology and teaching but the entire worldview on which our ideas are based. Our emotional attachment to what we experience to be true and authentic, which in my case is an emotional attachment to what might be called ‘the new paradigm’.
Within the new paradigm, God, creation, evolution and human life and values look radically different from lives lived within the mindset of those holding to the older, ‘traditional’ paradigm. Within the new paradigm there is profound awareness of the ways in which modern theories of creation, evolution and quantum physics have transformed the landscape of our lives and imagination. We live in a universe that is in a process of coming to be, a dynamic, changing, expanding universe. This barely impinges on Christian ministry, worship, preaching and teaching at either the national or the local, parish church level.
As Ilia Delio says in The Emergent Christ, this new cosmic story is thoroughly dynamic, and if we are to have a credible theology of God in this universe, it must begin with this dynamic story of the universe. Evolution shows us that change is integral to new life. It is integral to Christian life, of course, the patter of life rooted in Christ, but the ruling paradigm of Christianity continues to be conformity to law and text, despite St Paul’s radical teaching about grace.
I and many of my colleagues and friends live with an awareness of God (and are living a pattern of Christian life inspired by and infused with this awareness) which sees creation not as a static world but as a relationship between the dynamic being of God and a world in process of coming to be. The openness of the cosmos to what is new, its capacity to leap forward, the emergence of intelligent beings, all direct our imagination to an energised vision of the divine presence empowering the whole cosmic process. The whole creation, with humanity as its growing tip, emerges from an evolutionary process, exists in evolution, and develops through convergence and complexity.
Now, I know that for many conservative Christians this probably looks incomprehensible or heretical and is no longer what they would classify as Christian according to their worldview. John Haught in his book Deeper than Darwin, says that for the most part, theologians still think and write almost as though Darwin, Einstein and Hubble never existed. The natural world and its evolution remain distant from dominant theological interest. He says evolution requires a revolution in our thoughts about God because the whole cosmic process is narrative to the core.
A gulf has opened between Christian faith informed by an evolutionary, creative dynamic and a faith over-attached to the historic formularies of the Church and a reading of the Bible uninformed by evolving Biblical interpretation – revisionist in conservative-speak.
Many of us immersed in the new paradigm are also contemplatives, people for whom silence, awareness, depth, emotions, the body, intuition and the practice of the presence of God are the essence of our prayerfulness and Christian life. Such people tend not to become bishops. If the Church is fortunate and wise, some might become DDOs or Canons or Deans of cathedrals, and possibly Archdeacons. Contemplatives are not entirely absent among the bishops of the Church of England but contemplative trust and vision is not influencing or infusing the mindset of the House of Bishops. More influential to the mindset of the Church is the absence of contemplative, evolutionary, creative wisdom.
In the House of Lords debate on the Equal Marriage bill tomorrow and Tuesday the bishops will align their voices to others of a reactionary mindset in the Upper House who will oppose the bill with dire warnings of the effect same-sex marriage will have on heterosexual marriage and how God decreed in Genesis how marriage is to be understood.
It will be up to other peers, some Christian, some Moslem, some gay, many agnostic or atheist, to articulate a new paradigm vision of creation in which the qualities of love, fidelity and relationship are to be valued above all else, irrespective of gender. These are the values of God revealed in creation and evolution and by the wisdom and life of Jesus of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus.