Report of meeting, 14 November 2007

We met on 14 November at David Lambourn's house. Present were Michael Bennett, John Challenor, Paul Graham, John Howard (with thanks for his Desert Island Poems), David Lambourn and Stephen Williams.

Michael was attending his first meeting (and his first encounter with SoF) having recently moved away from a long-term involvement with evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity and wanting to see if SOF offers a way of making sense of that journey. We left our provisional programme for the evening to hear about Michael's story and to share bits of our own journeys and explorations. For those of us old enough to remember it was a pleasant opportunity to reminisce about the sixties!

We recognised that the move away from traditional religious ideas was more than just an intellectual exercise. If reason and evidence were sufficient, then we could simply share our discoveries and others would be persuaded. In fact, giving up long held orthodoxies can be painful and it is often easier to try and accommodate different ideas within the orthodox system than to think radically; similarly, we embark on the process as much because of our discomfort with the tradition as because we have been exposed to some telling new argument. Traditions are held in place by social ties of family and friendship, and leaving those shared assumptions behind can put what had seemed secure friendships under strain.

Despite its claims to objective certainty and authority, evangelical fundamentalism relies on customarily accepted interpretations. It remains, however, preoccupied with text and with the verbal formulation of belief rather than the notion of right action (as, to be fair, do many other forms of Christianity and, yes, we even find it in SoF). Following the meeting, I was prompted to reread God is No More and found the Pelzes saying something similar: "The very fact that the Church has a dogma...has encouraged us to put concepts in the place of living experience".

David illustrated this by reference to the gospel story of the woman of bad reputation anointing Jesus. Despite the determination of orthodox Christianity to interpret it as a demonstration of Jesus as forgiver of sins, a straightforward reading of the story makes clear that the woman is already forgiven through her own loving action. Once we started thinking about it we quickly found other examples of the same principle. What matters (another Pelzian idea) is our openness to the unexpected and our responsiveness to what we find there.

Michael asked about ideas for future reading, which was one of the things that took us back to the sixties, the period when radical theology moved out of academe, but we were also able to suggest more recent books including key Cupitt works, with "The Sea of Faith" now available on DVD in its original form. Our next meeting is already arranged for Thursday 10 January 2008 at 1930 at David Lambourn's house, 28 Frederick Road, Edgbaston. The topic will be that originally planned for tonight: "The Good Life" based on the talks reprinted from this year's conference. The meeting after that will be on Wednesday 20 February.

Stephen Williams (Convenor)