A preposterous title written by a tired blogger. Not much sleep last night with the odd thing whizzing round in my mind in the early hours. So a composite post here before returning to the business of the Methodist Council.
The blogger known as Archbishop Cranmer (also known as His Grace) has been in correspondence with someone he thinks is Professor Dawkins about Dawkins piece on Pat Robertson. Basically, Dawkins suggests that all Christians should really believe what Pat Robertson says because he really does believe in Christianity and if we don't agree then we are not proper Christians. A whole host of people have been blogging on this one. His Grace used some pretty strong language to criticise this approach and Dawkins came back at him. His Grace then hits back with an at times sophisticated reply about Christian theology, hermeneutics and diversity.
It does seem to that Professor Dawkins thinks that all Christians have to think the same. Indeed, some of the comments to His Grace's post show a common attack on Christians from the Dawkins stable - that division amongst Christians is a sign that Christianity is a pack of lies. Apparently, if it were the truth we would all be in 100% agreement with one another.
That's interesting as a statement of epistemology. How do we know what the truth is? His Grace ends the blog post with a provocative suggestion that the shoulders upon which Dawkins is standing belong not to the giants of science but to the medieval alchemists. Kuhn has shown that science (and others have suggested everything) moves in paradigmatic shifts. So science has progressed in leaps and bounds of disagreement, not agreement. It is not as though the scientific world is agreed on every aspect of everything scientific. You only need to spend some time with the science postgrads at Durham to hear of their exploratory investigations about this or the other. Paradigms shift and need to in order for proper progress to be made. Indeed, one might suggest that this is simply knowledge adopting an evolutionary stance - developing, evolving, changing with the times. Christianity probably evolves as well. Not that the whole thing loses its sense of identity - if Christianity evolves is maintains its identity as Christianity - but it slightly shifts to mould into the host culture. It becomes incarnate like its saviour - adapted to make best headway in that culture and to maximise its effectiveness.
I wonder whether Christianity might be going through a kind of mini-evolution in its encounter with the digital. An immersion into postmodernity (or late modernism or whatever you want to call it) and the digital takes a person away from the culture of the majority of the church, whatever church that might be - not that it takes us away from people's work lives or even social lives because enough church people use digital media every working day - but for work and pleasure not for church. My experience over the weekend was miles away from my experience of rural Methodism in the villages of the Peak. The interactivity which we are able to achieve in CODEC meetings, the power of bringing people together over the net, the ability to intercommunicate is a powerful tool which some people just don't and won't get because actually their lives, our lives, revolve in a different culture and a different paradigm. The problem is the liminality between the two. As an officer of the church and the director of research for CODEC, I have to straddle the gap between different cultures - speaking the language of both and feeling the tension between both.
I think that the digital environment will increasingly change the church and its governance patterns and ways of being. Faith and Order has already moved a lot of its work into the virtual by conducting business over email and a web-based forum. We are encouraging groups to meet online rather than face to face - although recognising the need for humans to meet in person on occasions. We send reports to one another and use track changes or google docs to amend items and maintain a joint identity as both a real body (a physical network) as well as a virtual identity. I think that those who set up this network showed a real pioneering zeal which offers a good model for a preliminary engagement with the digital. Preliminary because there are so many more possibilities that we just haven't thought about because we still have one foot firmly planted in the Old World.
The problem of course is that straddling the gap can be a painful experience. We need more people to be willing to cross the gap both ways. We actually need some of the hotheads from the digital world to stop putting crass comments on leaders' websites. We need some of the leaders (am I one?) to embrace the digital more and more and spend some time thinking or reading 'We Think" or "Here Comes Everyone" or "Born Digital" or "I Avatar" or something! And as Kuhn suggests, the pressure will gradually build until the paradigm shift happens. But at the beginning of that shift, there is always loss - pioneers will be ranked among the insane, conservatives will be said to be stuck in mud, papers will be lost. But if Kuhn is right the only response is for pioneers to dust themselves down and get on with the work.