The Christian Condition

Encounter - 24 June 2007

Is Christianity a rival, an ally or a coping mechanism in the post-modern empire? Anglican Bishop Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, addressed this question in front of Melbourne Anglicans and he was joined in the discusion by Rev Dr Andrew McGowan, Director of Trinity College Theological School, University of Melbourne. Encounter presents an edited version of the discussion.
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This transcript was typed from a recording of the program. The ABC cannot guarantee its complete accuracy because of the possibility of mishearing and occasional difficulty in identifying speakers.

Margaret Coffey: On ABC Radio National time for Encounter. Tom Wright: I love talking about postmodernity and I worry that it is a big turn-off for a lot of people. but I am aware that certainly where I live there and I suspect that where a lot of you live there is a general sense that things ain't what they used to be culturally, socially ethically etc but it is hard to pin down, it is hard to put a label on it and many people certainly my age, late fifties, and perhaps that age and older, are tempted just to say well apres moi la deluge, I'll let it all wash by, I'll enjoy just where I am, and living life the way I live it, even if some funny things seem to be going on elsewhere... Unfortunately I think life is too urgent for that right now. Since September 11, since all sorts of things that have happened, the Iraq War and all sorts of other dangerous noises that are going on in our world, it has become urgently necessary to be able to address where are we in our culture, where are we going, what does the Christian Gospel have to say about that, if anything, how do we navigate our way into this nervous thing we call the 21st century. Margaret Coffey: Hello I'm Margaret Coffey and that was N. T. Wright, leading Anglican scholar and Bishop of Durham, during a recent visit to Australia. It's a good moment for an Encounter about post modernism: early June saw the death of the American philosopher Richard Rorty who could well be regarded as one of the philosophical creators of what Bishop Tom Wright calls 'the post modern empire'. Truth was one of Rorty's themes and today's program essentially takes up with the notion of Truth at work in the minds of Christians in the post modern context. It presents a discussion with Melbourne Anglicans featuring Bishop Tom Wright alongside Trinity College

where are we going with that. Postmodernity says. And to cut a long story short 9/11 happens and the postmodern moment. they put the discussion topic in these terms: Master of Ceremonies: So we're here to think about Christianity in a postmodern empire: rival. that's the postmodern thing. And what about that great enlightenment ego . I remember sitting there in my living room. who says. so we now know 'the truth' and our science enables us to discover the facts. . When I am playing jazz I am trying to play the truth of who I really am. It's bound up with questions about politics and justice and the kinds of communities people want to live in (questions that interested Richard Rorty too).the deconstruction of that story that says we are the people of progress and enlightenment. That's postmodernity.. So something about progress. watching it on tele. To begin with. And within that there was a view of evil that said basically we have got evil sussed .I am the master of my fate and the captain of my soul? Well. to coin a phrase from Isaiah. so you know the truth and that will set us free. therefore we know who we are. we are the masters of our fate. we're going to have better education and we'll teach the whole world tolerance and that will be all fine. but as we were sitting there I thought this is actually what postmodernity is all about . Margaret Coffey: They are questions Bishop Tom Wright will canvas down the track. everything that went before us is superstition. your righteousness is like filthy rags. We have the obligation to go and take our Enlightenment into the rest of the world. just a very brief word about modernism and empire.. 9/11. You are actually a shifting mass of floating signifiers. your truth claims are in fact power claims. only they are not just narratives. as you will find. you discover that you are not a fixed unalterable essence.it is all to do with superstition and folly of that sort and now that we have got better drains..based Rev Dr Andrew McGowan. ah. the scientific facts. something about who we are. and better housing. they are aeroplanes and buildings. if there is such a thing. but first he defines the terms of the discussion: Tom Wright: First. Therefore Empire is not only a possibility but an obligation. And actually. the future of the Church isn't an esoteric subject. Tom Wright: Does the church collude with the post-modern empire. therefore we have got a right to take over the world. when you say you know the facts. does it challenge it. . They were addressing the future of the Church in Australia but. when you look in the mirror if you are a postmodernist. something about facts. One great narrative collides with another great narrative. we are the captains of our souls. There is a wonderful quote from the jazz musician Charlie Mingus. By modernism I mean that philosophical and cultural entity which came to birth more or less in the Western world in the18th century particularly with the great dream of progress . The trouble is I am changing all the time. ah.the big story the big narrative of progress: we have now arrived in the modern world. ally or coping mechanism.

Theologically speaking. was arrogant. the Christian Gospel. The bad news from the post modern point of view is that post modernity can critique empire but it can't actually do anything to stop it. granted the angry Muslim reaction. my government is passing new laws about new moralities. Modernity thought it had banished evil by act of parliament. has something to do with echoing and sharing the appropriate parts of the post modern critique of empire. he says. This world is not my home. that will make it better won't it. Life he says is more complicated than that. Bishop Wright wants to make it plain it doesn't mean going back to modernism.Now the point about empire in that context is this. We have got to grapple with what that means. And in any case is it realistic to imagine that . all those years of Derrida. what are we going to do. Where does Christianity come in in all of this? Of course it is easy to hide. Coming through post modernity and out the other side . That is not a biblical world view. I really do believe that the role of post modernity in the strange providence of God has been to preach the doctrine of the fall to arrogant modernity. As an historian. was power hungry. Bishop of Durham. the Enlightenment dream. I was making a speech on freedom of speech in the House of Lords and part of the issue is. let's go and drop some bombs on it. granted the fact that my country. I am just a-passing through.we do not have the freedom of speech we once did. Jesus talked about the kingdom of God coming on earth as in heaven. Post modernity has tried to critique empire for I think good reasons. tolerance is a thin unsatisfying parody of the Christian doctrine of love. We had wars of religion in the 16th and 17th century so then the Enlightenment invented tolerance and that means that I can stand on this side of the street and take my hat off to you on that side of the street and vice versa . actually it is all a mess and the only thing left to do is to play in the shadow of the falling tower blocks. granted those Danish cartoons. Why do they bomb Iraq? Because the politicians are living out of a modernist dream which says. Tom Wright: Let me put it like this. he is grateful to modernism for the historical questions it reminded the Church about Jesus. We have got to agree that a great deal of the old imperial project. oh I tell you. we had thought we had banished it. inventing new moralities and then enforcing them as though we are living in a police state . Where are we going with all that for goodness sake? It is not enough to go back to modernism and say the name of the game is tolerance. But then Christianity. Lyotard and Foucault and we have still got George Bush. Margaret Coffey: Anglican theologian and historian Tom Wright. No. our job. To put it crudely. is not simply about the doctrine of the Fall. was self-serving. And therefore I think as Christians. All the sound and fury in Harvard and Yale and other wonderful places on the north east Atlantic coast full of postmodern thinkers and they still bomb Iraq. Post modernity says no. for goodness sake.we don't have to actually engage with one another. It is about coming through and out the other side.what does that mean? Well. my job. Good Lord there is some evil out there. was money seeking. We have got to say with St Paul that Jesus is Lord so Caesar isn't.

art and music. "Two Days. dance and poetry and all the rest.we could go and knock on Osama bin Laden's door and say now come on. tolerance. As you'll hear. our calling is to come through post modernity and out the other side . culturally. Anglican theologian Tom Wright. And also. I don't think he is going to listen. that's what we need. No.the post modern empire doesn't do that. we will go and colonise it and then we will run it . it isn't that God did something flaky for Jesus because he especially liked him. Andrew McGowan.the modernist empire is there is a piece of territory. It sits in an office somewhere in Washington or Singapore or Tokyo or wherever. So. his co-panellist. ways of hearing the pain of the world and holding that pain in the presence of the God who does new creation. Black Box BBM1057 Margaret Coffey: Bishop Wright was speaking during a discussion organised by Melbourne Anglicans about the relationship between Christianity and post modernity: was Christianity a rival. But as Christians. No. I have no idea. you know perfectly well that Voltaire and Rousseau and all that. post modern empire is a very complicated thing clearly. Music Paul Honey. but you leave them out of the account when you get to the serious business. I don't have a crystal ball. How do we say that word yes? It is about new creation. are ways of celebrating the beauty of creation and cocking a snoot at all the signs of destruction in the world. presses buttons on the screen and makes things happen in other parts of the world which are politically run by somebody else but are economically run by the powerbrokers who stand in the background somewhere. Applause Margaret Coffey: You're with ABC Radio National's Encounter. because the Christian Gospel is about hearing the word which says no and believing it and then learning how to say the word yes after that.into a new world for which there is no name at the moment. historically. Andrew. puts more stress on Christianity and post modernity as allies. and the post modern empire . while the world rolled on the same way. it's about new creation beginning in Jesus and continuing and those who follow Jesus being its agents as well as its beneficiaries. comp. Artemis Sinfonia. I don't know where this is going. be a good chap. So much modernism treated the arts simply as the pretty bits around the edge. socially. I do believe that the calling of the Church when faced with the kind of late modern and then post modern empire that we now have is to hear the post-modern word which says no to all the arrogance that has gone before and to find the way of living and painting and singing and preaching and teaching the word that says yes. on post modernity and the Christian response to what he defines as the post modern empire. over to you. Dr . starting now. Nine Lives". One of the ways we are to do that is actually through art and music. New Creation. an ally or merely a coping mechanism in the post modern empire? Bishop Wright's argument backs Christianity as both ally and rival to post modernity.

Andrew McGowan. But I suggest that there is an important distinction to draw between acknowledgment of the instability of meaning and complete relativism. And yet there are some common threads and I would like to suggest that some of the common threads may be worth our spinning a bit more of a yarn with. One of them is of course the suspicion of absolute truth claims. post modernism I would rather reserve for as it were the collection of self conscious intellectual practices and tendencies. Post modernism as a self conscious sort of set of tendencies doesn't have a unique single coherent voice. It depends on context. as opposed to post modernity. that has already been mentioned. It is not the same to say that meaning shifts in the encounter between the text and the reader as to say for instance as some do that the reader constructs meaning completely. But post modernism. But I actually want to sit on one for most of what I want to say and that is the notion of Christianity and the post modern as allies. Margaret Coffey: Andrew McGowan .who will go on to say both positive and negative things about Christianity and the post modern as allies. language. Andrew McGowan: The Bible may indeed have a place in our tradition which . That way it will be easier to see just how readily post modernism and Christianity might be allies.rival. and about which he says hard thinking must be done. even though they overlap. and the consequent suggestion that the meaning of speech. Andrew McGowan says. the impressive list of French and other thinkers that you heard in the first presentation. It is as much defined as you already heard by what it is a reaction to. if a Christian takes that insight of post modernism into the relationship between the stability of meaning and its context and apply it to the Bible. I think that of the alternatives that were given to us in the topic today . Andrew McGowan: I think I would like to use post modernism and post modernity in slightly different ways.McGowan is Director of the Theological School of Trinity College in Melbourne. Margaret Coffey: And so. he has discovered a seriously useful tool for thinking. For my purposes I think it would be helpful to say that post modernity is the sum total of actually existing cultural and social phenomena which lead us to this position of uncertainty and doubt and who knows what's true and what's up and what's down. ally and coping mechanism .one could say without falling into abject post modernity that all three could be true and on the other hand none might be as well. Meaning is thus not completely stable. But first he wants to define the terms of the discussion a little differently. Andrew McGowan: I want to make a claim for the validity or usefulness of post modernism that might just inch a little bit beyond Bishop Tom's very striking acknowledgment of the role for postmodernism as preaching the fall to modernity. discourse or a story is not inseparable from the speaker and the hearer and from their interaction. as it were.

I mean specifically that we have to ask much more seriously how the discourses and practices of power that characterise contemporary Christianity might be said . There must be something qualitatively different about how Christianity understands power and understands the world other than saying we're right and everybody else is wrong. But the suspicion that post modernism displays towards all attempts to create a grand theory that explains everything else is perhaps a useful ally in that process of Christian story telling. It is partly also because the context has changed and we see different things as a result in the different circumstances we find ourselves. but simply want to be rivals as it were. That would be one way of putting it at least. I don't think that the Church has quite earned the right to play the Prophet to a post modern empire.might be said . Margaret Coffey: On ABC Radio National you're with Encounter . even about the nature of God . For one thing there is a certain affinity between the post modern suspicion of absolute truth claims and the many and varied ways in which Christian theology at its best I think insists on the provisional character of human truth claims. So systems and structures that claim completeness and order and comprehensiveness are to be viewed with suspicion and perhaps I would like to suggest that ecclesiastical systems and theological systems need to be subject to that critique as well. and what post modernism suggests. or Calvin or Aquinas. We can't simply say that the claim of the church to have a story that explains and relativises all other stories makes us exempt from a searching examination of how we use power in service of that story or whatever vestige of it we have left. seriously enough to apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to the church and its practice relative to this empire of post modernity.to pay little more than to pay lip service to any alternative configuration of power presented in the Cross. The fact that our interpretation of key texts including say Pauline texts has shifted over 2000 years isn't just because Tom Wright is a better scholar than Augustine.is unique and sovereign but that does not mean that biblical meaning exists in our own understanding of it in a completely stable way. I am uncomfortable with the notion of Christianity as a rival in the sense of a competing power claim over and against others.and a discussion of the relationship between Christianity and the post modern .from the polemic against idolatry. So I think we must take what Bishop Tom has said seriously. even if it has an inescapable responsibility to do so. And even though in a sense I think we would agree that Christianity has something to say that is very critical about post modernity. of course not just a Christian theological theme but one which remains real in Christianity. Christians will of course want to continue to tell a particular story which I think we will want to claim explains all other stories. And I think that post modernism gives us some tools to actually think about that phenomenon in a more serious way than may have been the case in the past. both in its subtle cultural manifestations and in also its blunt political forms. I am not just referring here to the paradoxical reality of the Church and its members as both sinner and sanctified. through to the theology of the Cross.

an empire he locates within the Anglican Church itself. The Christianity or Christianities which are emerging in the post modern reality are often as true to the nature of the Empire as they are strident in claiming they are not part of it. and consumer . So fresh expressions of church as they are now being called are inevitably I think characteristically post modern. One might even claim that the most dynamic and successful churches of our time are often taking the Cross and sometimes even Tom Wright's powerful paradoxical articulation of the Cross and then turning it into a part of the ideological content of a quest for power driven by numbers. Is Christianity a rival. but he is about to take a negative turn. Rather I want to move on to the subtler thing about how post modernity is as it were creating a sort of church which it can be quite comfortable with because it is so market driven and so consumer oriented. They are on the other hand producing self serving and extremely crass forms of life which are going under the name of church and that is almost of necessity for the existing needs of the consumer is what drives this diversity of Christian expression. but often linked to a particularly strident and dogmatic Calvinism that maintains what are inevitably very modern sensibilities about truth. They are on the one hand producing creative and interesting and authentic worship and service and witness.empire. sought to form members in a common set of cultural practices which is what I believe the ancient church did. He finds a role for Christianity as rival to the post modern empire . to note the way Christianity in some of its guises adopts too readily the tools proffered by post modernism. The very diversity of these Christianities which are coming into existence in our own time may in some ways seem to be their saving grace for they are so different they can't be all making the same mistakes. an ally or a coping mechanism? Rev Dr Andrew McGowan has so far opted for ally. however badly and however incompletely it understood it. Andrew McGowan: Now in suggesting such a critique of contemporary Christianity I must say that I am not speaking primarily of the Christianity of cathedrals and choirs which with all due respect to its practitioners and advocates of whom I am one some of the time is rapidly passing in to the place of interesting cultural undercurrent or quirky counter cultural nostalgia. not always. We are seeing almost inevitably Christianities that provide for the preexisting and pre-conceived demands of prospective consumers rather than the Church which. by conventional notions of success. I leave reluctantly to one side the indications in Australia of the emergence now really and not just in our paranoid fantasies of a genuine powerful religious right that is actually impacting voting patterns and the results of elections but I believe this is now part of our reality. The Bible is presented as absolute although of course interpreted in a very specific and sometimes I think quite idiosyncratic way and this defensive biblicism is linked to a startling indifference to the concrete elements of ritual and other practice apart from a form of conservative personal morality. It seems to me that in Australian Anglicanism in particular this very fluid and consumer focused approach to church growth and to fresh expressions of church is often.

This is not nearly rival enough even where it presents itself as rival. 35-45 which is Jesus response to James and John about power and so on. Margaret Coffey: The first question goes to the idea of Truth .and both the difficulty and necessity of claiming truth. though I basically agree with almost everything he has said. without actually bothering about whether there are truth claims to be made at a different level. But the Church must have a distinctive account of life. This is indeed accidental coping mechanism.turnover. And this is one of the responses I wanted to make to Andrew. But I mean this picks up with what Andrew was saying about the way in which certain ways of doing and being church actually collude with that deconstructive reality. That is what 9/11 was all about . The Christian answer may actually lie in a refusal to engage in rivalry . that the Church has got a big story to tell but the moment when the Church tells that story as even an implicit power story it deconstructs itself around Mark 10. Is this rivalry? What I fear is that the most stridently dogmatic forms of emergent Christianity are saying exactly what the empire needs them to say even when they are not specifically advocating the agenda of the hard Right. If there is a line drawn in the sand and you get shot if you cross it.whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.actually the reassertion of one truth at the expense of another truth. By claims to a certainty that wraps a kind of moral and theological conservatism indifferently in a whole range of different cultural forms. so we will do whatever is necessary to make that person feel good and then they may go on coming to church and that will be nice too.. There has been some very stimulating and provocative material from both of our speakers and it is open to you to ask some questions. Tom Wright: The idea of a truth which is true for me but not necessarily true for you is actually a Western luxury. that the church has tended to say this person in this context needs to have their spirituality sorted out." . and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. whatever. Rivalry I've said again I am not sure is what we need. I think this is just the kind of ideology that the empire needs or wants. Margaret Coffey: Jesus' response to James and John in the Gospel of Mark deconstructs power in the line: ". they need comfort. and instead the church has to learn painfully to live its story as a love story not as a power story. then however much you may say that is your truth and this is mine you are still dead at the end of the day.for what would the power of the Cross be in quests for power? Applause Margaret Coffey: Rev Dr Andrew McGowan Master of Ceremonies: Well thank you very much. To that extent there are no post modernists on the West Bank. they need fresh peace and hope and joy in their life.

is actually whether or not we believe in the Church.Tom Wright: That is absolutely central to what we are about. Question: What's happening it seems to me particularly in Australia.read bluntly this is a question about Hillsong style Anglicanism. must be part of what a new authenticity would involve. whose real identity is yet to be revealed but which actually exists and which really matters. is that we are being coopted into a post modern period where I think as you said Andrew there is a comfortable role for the church on the sidelines. where relationships are turned into you know commodities. and very often its directed to what the Anglican Church itself looks like on the inside . And that will be one of the things which is inherently counter cultural in that emerging reality where individuals are interchangeable.I am not trying to poo poo that . But the position of the person who acts with charity is in good orthodox Christian tradition going back to Augustine certainly at least is the authentic position of interpretation of scripture. within the Church. I believe that the Church is an actually existing historical community which exists in a fragmented and an incomplete form. if not to say in so many words. which is on about similar agendas about prosperity. So I think that the existence of the church not in a backward looking way but with a genuine historical sense of where we have come from and a hope about where we are going is part of the answer to that question at least. . Andrew McGowan: It seems to me that one of the fundamental questions that I was sort of trying to point to. that it isn't just a matter of getting your brain clear enough and accumulating enough knowledge to be able to interpret. Margaret Coffey: That question of authenticity keeps coming back. So I think the way in which practice actually forms part of the context for how we might come to an authentic proclamation of Christianity even in a world which doesn't want to listen part of the time. rather than about salvation. And I think that one of the things that we actually have to do even as we experiment with new forms of community and network and connecting as Christians which I think is necessary .I think we have to be ready to make a radical commitment to that actually existing community of people. I am wondering if you could both comment on what you see as some of the options for the Church in this context because I think here in Australia we are going to increasingly face a market driven. corporatised church. And when I say I believe in the Church I don't just mean that I believe in agreeing with other people who agree with me and am prepared to have a degree of fellowship with them on the basis of agreement. Andrew McGowan: It does seem to me that another sort of characteristically post modern but not uniquely post modern move is really to pose the question of the ethics of readership so to speak. where we network rather than relate and love. privatised.

I see it as a deeply puzzling cultural sign. 'Our interpretation of history goes like this .that's why Niebuhr wrote that book Christ and Culture. the German Christians. we got it. I don't see too many people actually doing it. fragmentary and yet vital entity which is going forward whether we like it or not and the point that I was trying to make is that there are ways of being Christian which are about creating fresh forms for tomorrow in a way which could be deeply compelling and attractive to people. this is it. you might well think that.I agree with Andrew . Here's the new reality. They don't realise they are colluding with post modernity but what a lot of those songs are doing is taking little fragments of Christian piety and devotion and dropping them in as though that makes a story which it doesn't.' And frankly. said. The problem comes as we know from much of our past and the horrible example of course is the 1930s which we can all knock because none of us want to be there when the Deutsche Christians.is a historical incomplete. very post modern charismatic choruses which are all the rage at the moment. There's nobody else much out there trying to lead the way through post modernity and out the other side.the Church is actually doing that and that sends a signal. that creates hermeneutic space within which it makes more sense to say I believe in the Father.S. But the good news is that the Christian Gospel at its best and with wise leadership has always been able to do new things and come up with new poetry and new art and who would have thought in the 17th century that a young man called Johann Sebastian Bach would emerge who would write music that would teach half of Europe to sing about Jesus? There may be whole new things waiting to happen and we have to pray and work for them. teaching literacy skills and running credit unions for people whose finances are just so appalling that you couldn't believe it . And so they had this very strong theology of we must find out what God is doing in history and do it with him. When the Church gets its act together and actually does the love story . J. and that led them right into the trap and it was Barth and Bonhoeffer and the others who said no.I've got some wonderful parishes in my diocese where they are doing some extraordinary things on the street with programs for children who are either homeless or single parents and the parents have disappeared or whatever. the son and the Holy Spirit than simply some of the very. Music Bach. Some philosophers are saying that is what we need to do.that God has raised up Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to be the means of salvation for not only Germany but a much wider swathe of the human race.Tom Wright: To pick up something Andrew said and partly to respond to you: it is inevitable I think that the church chameleon like will take on some at least of the colouring of its surroundings and that isn't a bad thing because unless you take an extremely dualist view you may well want to say that the living God is present and active in different cultural movements etc. new model humanity. So that the Church . to map out different ways of relating and we got to keep on revisiting that map and reapplying it to different bits of our culture. Cantata 147 "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben" . if you'd lived through the Depression in the 1920s. And that's one of the key wrestling points we have .

Choir of King's College. I'm not an artist and I am not even an art historian but I am a very keen musician and that is the angle on beauty that I am coming from. Another question! . and Rev Dr Andrew McGowan. Very interesting! And Isaiah says oh no it isn't because I am lost . He is one who celebrates the astonishing goodness of life in a way which isn't tacky or twee. not the abandonment of it. Andrew McGowan: I was struck by your comments about beauty near the end and I have a suspicion that we tend to think that beauty may itself be a means to an end which is perhaps an awful thing. and then Isaiah 11 has this wonderful Messianic picture of the wolf lying down with the lamb and the peace and justice.. he is a Christian but it is not kind of flaunted. I mean beauty can be a means to an end and I don't think actually that is necessarily a bad thing. I think of the poetry of the Irishman Micheal O Siadhail. He is a wonderful poet. very beautiful stunning world and that if we don't celebrate and enjoy that we are actually thumbing our nose at the Creator.and to the edited version of a discussion held in Melbourne about the relationship of Christianity to post modernity. I have unclean lips and my people have unclean lips and we're under judgment.it is part of the work of new creation. Cambridge. the whole earth is full of his glory. it is the transformation of the old. and brutalism if you and somehow we need to find ways of saying no there is this thing called new creation which is like the resurrection. Here's Andrew McGowan putting a question to Tom Wright about the place of beauty in the Christian response to both modernism and post-modernism. The trouble is that when it comes to aesthetics our culture has oscillated between sentimentalism. Now that again is an image of indescribable beauty and glory and we live in the tension of the one and the other and it seems to me that when we appreciate beauty and when we create beauty this is not simply a means to a different end . Holy is the Lord. Yes. Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Margaret Coffey: Bishop Tom Wright . Bishop of Durham. I wonder whether you really think beauty has not only an inherent power but perhaps also power to change church or people. Director of the Trinity College Theological School in Melbourne. cond Sir David Willcocks EMI 7243 5 86052 2 8 Margaret Coffey: You're listening to Encounter on ABC Radio National .net. Holy. whatever? Would you expand? Tom Wright: Absolutely. And yet the paradox is that we live between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11 by which I mean that the seraphim in Isaiah 6 sing Holy. But I just believe that God has created a very. recognising enhancing and enabling other people to recognise and appreciate and enjoy where we are between Isaiah 6 and Isaiah 11 and as such to do some cultural leadership. and then it says the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. So there is a tension there. Speakers included Anglican theologian Tom Wright.au together with the transcript of this Encounter. and you can find information about the poet Micheal O Siadhail on abc. kitsch if you like.

I was born in 1964 so I'm right on the fence of the modernist and the post modernists so I have had a really difficult time of life trying to work out what I think. what is lived out with conviction and with openness rather than what is cobbled together in an attempt to make things attractive to people. We have to go beyond that. rightly or wrongly. to engage with people and so on. What I see as the pluses though. My anxiety about authenticity is that a lot of its mileage comes out of existentialism and the danger with existentialism is that it can become narcissistic. as long as I can satisfy myself that I am discovering who I really am and being true to that. then that will be OK. that the unsuccessful ones are the places where people have said the numbers are going down. I think that it is interesting when you go around for instance let's take different churches and the ways in which they manage to be welcoming. what can we do to make it more relevant. The sort of stuff that I read as you obviously had about the sorts of values and ways of approaching reality which are supposed to characterise the Gen Xs and the Gen Ys and the boomers and so forth.Question: I'm the tail end of the baby boomers. Andrew McGowan: That is obviously a big question. won't it. right across the spectrum you see very successful and very unsuccessful attempts at that and my suspicion is. That would be my theological gut feeling about what the difference ought to be. So to start with authentic discipleship first and foremost rather than to treat mission as really just shorthand for dealing with our crisis about the fact that we are losing the level of influence that we are used to having in society. I think that much of that literature suggests that those people who come after us are more concerned with authenticity than with relevance and what may be most relevant to them will actually be what is most authentic. Tom Wright: I basically agree with what Andrew has said. I tend to suspect myself that the question of relevance while understandable and indeed necessary is probably the wrong one at least to begin with. that won't do. what are we going to do about that. we are not getting young people in. If you live in the Middle East for a few years you discover no. where we can celebrate actually. sorry. because there are plenty of different authenticities and they are bombing and killing one another. is that under high modernism we had this terrible split between what used to be called evangelism and what . Here is my question: what can pre 64ers that are part of the institutionalised church that many Australians don't want to be part of what can we learn from the post modernist approach to life so that we can embrace that and be a relevant faith and body of people? Margaret Coffey: Andrew McGowan's answer puts relevance on a back burner and brings that notion of authenticity to the fore again. that as long as I'm authentic. And I suspect that the successful ones are those who are saying Jesus has called us to be an effective faith community with a mission and ministry in this community we want to reach people and we want to show them who Jesus is.

found it terribly embarrassing to talk [about ]. But the great news is that in the middle of that the Christian Church does believe that an encounter. And while they might seem to be aimed at people with dark faces and black beards who go to dodgy prayer meetings. Question: I'm the 1941 vintage. those of us who did believe that we were aware of the living presence of God. woman or child and that we actually do have traditions which enable us to start to explore that and enhance that. And I think now we have learnt that that is counter productive and that again is something to celebrate from a Christian point of view. those of us who did pray. I remember when I was at school there was no language to talk about that with my friends except language which was cringe worthy and made people sort of look away and which they hadn't come into the room. taking away the presumption of innocence and so on. and that seems to be linked with draconian industrial . I mean I do know some modernist businessmen who really did believe that the way to get things done was to walk down the hall and yell at people. in fact we were really alerted when a white middle class American peace activist was summarily arrested and thrown out of this country: it seemed to send a signal. that it is not just self serving. it seems to me though post modernity make that harder by being so eclectic as to disengage with all the great traditions. it is just the joke is they don't think they are going to find it in church and sometimes sadly they are right. Likewise. Margaret Coffey: Now to a question that makes explicit the politics of Christianity's relationship with post modernity. it also opens the possibility that we can re engage in fresh ways and think outside the box. and I'd like to just ask you whether the Church in one of its dimensions needs to see itself becoming a community of resistance to empire. this isn't just aimed at particular people. And now today everyone wants spirituality. it is not just me being authentic. In modernity.used to be called social justice or something like that and one of the things modernism has done has put all the chess pieces back on the board and say let's not sweep half of them away. a personal encounter with the living God is a real possibility for any man. suspension of habeas corpus. Thank God for that. It gets a response from both Andrew McGowan and Tom Wright. it is not just narcissistic.I am caricaturing . personal relationships were very much at a discount and if you were running a business in modernity you didn't actually think too hard about . Likewise in relationships. the aesthetic dilemma within modernism. with beauty. I was born in Dublin because the Germans were bombing Belfast at the time. it is potentially aide at anybody and any association that empire doesn't like including perhaps groups like this. that having grown up under high modernism. We have anti-terrorism laws which I gather are modelled on British anti-terrorism laws which take away some of the fundamental I suppose modern human rights in terms of arbitrary imprisonment. And another thing is the area of spirituality. let's see how they all fit together. But you have got to get through and out the other side. it is actually engaging with the wider world.whether you were being nice to people.

there was a friend of mine. but this business of oh dear there is an emergency. ethnic and for that matter religious groups which raises of course a different set of difficulties and we are going to try and make connections with them. I think that is one of the signs of hope I want to acknowledge but I would like to see more. that is a very. I wouldn't want to give them too many brownie points but I am still happy that even some of the church leaders that I disagree with about some of the things I have been talking about already have nonetheless made some relatively solid statements about things like that. you know. One of the signs of hope in my country is that the so-called house churches that have long since outgrown their houses and now meet in cinemas and enormous great purpose built structures. Bishop Tom Wright: I agree with that. he's a parish priest in Hackney. And how can the churches critique that? Before the Iraq war. right we've got to suspend everything including thousand year old things like habeas corpus and so on. Perhaps we are not making enough of it. We are going to make friends with refugees and migrants. The anti-terrorism laws are an extremely bad idea but we have been locking people up and throwing the key away n the basis of skin colour. in my country I am glad to say now they are absolutely up for it and very keen to be working with all these issues. even though I am not sure how well we are doing. So how do we form communities of resistance? Another reason I chose that third example. very dangerous place to be. So we are going to do something differently. And I think there are actually lots of parish communities where people are actually forming little support groups for refugees and migrants. I don't know whether it is late modern or post modern or whatever. in the light of the fact that most people don't seem to care? Andrew McGowan: The first thing I would like to do is to add Australia's policies and practices with regard to immigration to this. we're going to seek the local community groups from other. I had a friend visiting recently from South Australia who is part of a parish community which isn't exactly the wild left wing of the Anglican Church or anything else but what we might call 'decent middle class people with solid values' who realise there is something badly wrong with that sort of thing.relations laws. Those things are what give m e hope that you know the grass roots people do have a basic sense of well we're not sure what we'd do if we were Mr Howard either but we know what is wrong about that. just . and he and all his parishioners used to go around with lapel badges with a question mark. I am aware of lots of people in the churches who really are concerned about that and who are actually doing things about it. whereas 30 or 40 years ago that tradition would very really have had very little if anything to do with issues of justice within society. mental illness and various other things for months and years now and I think it is one of the true indications of a moral crisis in Australia to be honest. one of the rough areas in central east London. I think that is happening. Perhaps their modern assumptions gave them good instincts for stuff like that. How do we creatively respond to this.

And my reading of the current debate within the gay community itself is that the constructivists are winning. but between the essentialists and the constructivists. All other moral bets are off and it's the unseemly scramble for the moral high ground of victim hood. just to get back to the substantive question. Question: I was just wondering how much you think the current so-called crisis within the Anglican Communion might be reflective of different responses to post modernism/modernism.well by its original framers . in many contexts and for many purposes. what this word koinonia. Margaret Coffey: And finally a question that takes an inevitable turn. over against the post modernists who say this is a construction and I chose when I get up this morning or when I go to bed tonight to behave in a certain way and that doesn't constitute my essence because I am not an essentialist and that is where most post modernists are. We have to think now at the meta level. One of the other things is you know this notion of human rights is essentially a modernist construct. we are people who think we need to question whether we are going in the right direction and we don't know that we have got the answers but we are questioners. with all that muddle. like tolerance itself. We have not been this way .in other words. That is a rotten way to have a Christian ethical discussion. oh my goodness.so that the modern. that is those who are basically modernist in their pro gay views who say that some people simply are .a question mark and people would of course say what is that about? And they'd say. post modern shift within the gay community itself means that it is very hard to know when you are having a debate where you are standing. the divisions within Anglicanism that have emerged more strongly since its United States arm named as bishop a man who lives in a homosexual relationship. to have any sort of sensible discussion in any kind synod. The trouble is a lot of the debate within the church is set up on the essentialist model which is why people talk about justice and human rights and so on which only actually makes any sense if you take and essentialist viewpoint . And frankly when you try. it is a nightmare. what it actually means. because to some extent maybe you could argue that it is? Tom Wright: Let me just say this: one of the big divides in the present debate is not between as it were pro gay and anti gay.are homosexual and that is their essence. The trouble is when you then take it and apply it in areas which it was never intended to be applied . where we are in the Anglican Communion is in a new situation . Having said all that.anyone can appeal to their human rights because within post modernity the only moral high ground that is left is that I am a bigger victim than you.it is not just that we have another fight about another issue. towards what shorthand calls the Anglican crisis . There are ways we can do that. communion. not about the gay issue but about how we do church. It comes to us from the Enlightenment and it has been hugely useful.

Martin Baker. Dr N. Nine Lives". Black Box BBM1057 James Macmillan. He was joined by Rev Dr Andrew McGowan in a discussion with Melbourne Anglicans about the nature of the relationship between Christianity and post modernity. Westminster Cathedral Choir. organ.wikipedia. comp.org/hollandwinter2004. "insofar as I have one.au/theological_school/about/staff The Bishop of Durham.Self-Creation and Social Solidarity in Richard Rorty's Secular Eschatology" by Scott Holland Producer Margaret Coffey .org/wiki/Richard_Rorty http://www. any millennium now.edu.au/religion and locating Encounter and you'll also find there a range of links and information about the speakers. hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience. communication would be domination-free.ntwrightpage. PARTICIPANTS Rev Dr Andrew McGowan http://www. is bound up with the hope that someday.before. class and caste would be unknown." An unholy pragmatist's sense of communion perhaps. Master of Music.htm "The Coming Only Is Sacred . Artemis Sinfonia. And since this Encounter is by way of acknowledgement of the death in early June of the American philosopher Richard Rorty let me quote him: My sense of the holy. Andrew Reid. Wright http://www. T.crosscurrents. "Two Days.unimelb.com/commentary.osiadhail. Margaret Coffey: Bishop Tom Wright." wrote Rorty. I'm Margaret Coffey. You can find the transcript of this program by going to abc. Bishop of Durham and one of Anglicanism's best known contemporary theologians.com/ MUSIC Paul Honey. comp. "Mass". my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law. said Rorty. Hyperion CDA67219 REFERENCES Micheal O Siadhail Globe (Bloodaxe Books.net.trinity. and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate." In this society. Tarset 2007) http://www.html Richard Rorty http://en. Technical production by Richard Girvan.

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