Legend has it that more than a thousand years ago King Canute of England sat on the seashore ordering the incoming tide to recede. His intention was to demonstrate to the courtiers that the relentless progress of the tide could not be stopped. The legend has often been interpreted in reverse to suggest Canute really thought he had the power to stem the tide. Using this reverse interpretation I dub Canada’s largest Protestant denomination “The United Church of Canute”.
The U.C.of Canute apparently believes it can hold back the tide of intellectual progress.
I have sounded off on this before but a few days ago my fears were confirmed when The Toronto Star reported that the United Church was about to defrock – fire – it’s “atheist” minister, Rev. Gretta Vosper.
The heresy investigation of Ms Vosper has been underway for quite some time but I gather that the actual deed of firing has not yet quite taken place. I write this in haste because there may still be time for sanity to click in. Not that I believe my opinion can have any effect. (Obligatory Smiley face here).
Granted, Ms Vosper – aw shucks, her whole congregation calls her Gretta , so Gretta it is — anyway, she, an ordained minister of the U.C.of C., labels herself on her website as an “atheist”. Shocking as this may appear, in my opinion (and this, being a personal blog, is certainly opinion) Gretta’s chief transgression was audacious honesty. “Audacious” as in thrusting a stick into an ecclesiastic hornet’s nest and “honesty” in applying a label to herself that could equally apply to many of her ordained peers. Aye, there’s the rub.
The duo of Star reporters quite accurately said that Gretta “…does not believe in an interventionist, supernatural God.” They were absolutely correct and Gretta has said so in her books. I am with her on that. Moreover, to not believe in a manipulative God pre-ordaining our lives or readjusting them by whim or by favour is not a denial of the possibility of a Creator — a First Cause. Gretta simply doesn’t go there. Nor do I. The great 19th century American humanist and orator, Robert Ingersoll, put it rather well -– “…since nobody knows, all should be permitted to have their opinions, and my opinion is that nobody knows.”
Christian theologs like to go on about the Trinity – the Father Son and Holy Ghost mantra. It is a charming concept and throughout the ages has made for much convoluted philosophical interpretation from many an esoteric pulpit. But to the practical layperson it really boils down to the concept of two Gods – the Creator and the Manipulator. God Part 1 and God Part 2.
God Part 1 is no problem. In it’s own “Song of Faith” the United Church proclaims that “God is Holy Mystery,/beyond complete knowledge,/above perfect description.” I have never read or heard Gretta deny God Part 1. Indeed she appears to me to be deeply aware of the many mysteries, including love compassion and empathy, that are at the core of human life. The Star reporters themselves said that rather than preaching about the supernatural, Gretta “… preaches instead about love, kindness and human connection.”
To me it is obvious that there is Atheism Part 1 and Atheism Part 2. Gretta is being charged with Part 2, a charge that I fervently believe could be laid at the door of a vast number of ministers of various denominations and certainly could be applied to a myriad of us common folk. If you don’t believe me about the ministers, dive into the Clergy Project, of which Gretta is a board member. And no wonder. In this age of accelerating scientific probing, dissecting, discovery and understanding of the secrets of the universe it requires a well closed mind to cling to many of the beliefs held by our ancestors.
The concept of an all-powerful tinkering God is an old belief that Gretta repudiates. In the arcane world of theology she is not alone.
Let me elaborate.
Recently I was appalled and then swiftly intrigued by the belated realization that Queen’s University no longer has a Theological College. A degree from that college used to be one of the major doorways into a United Church pulpit! And academically Queen’s and all its colleges has always been highly esteemed so, I wondered, what’s going on?
I discovered that just last year the Queen’s “Theological College” morphed into a “School of Religion”. As such it offers a wide spectrum of courses about the world’s major religions and confers both graduate and post-graduate degrees. But as of late last year the School of Religion offers no courses on “Theology”.
Theology is a big tent but at its core it is the study of God — just as Geology is the study of the earth’s physical substance and Psychology is the study of the human mind. If one does not believe in the existence of earth or mind one would not likely wish to acquire a degree in studying either of them. And indeed the College’s own explanation for dropping courses in Theology is lack of enrollment. But those other courses, studying religions, not God, are apparently doing well. And so they should do. Religion in all its forms should be exceptionally well studied these days. But it appears to me that Queen’s may have abandoned God Part2 and is leaving God Part 1 to the Science faculty. If an institution such as a major university can move forward like this can an institution such as a major church not do the same?
We expect our best universities to be progressive, to open minds, to explore ahead and to peer into the future, so while Queen’s, a highly esteemed and progressive university, has apparently abandoned a belief in God Part 2, the U.C. of C. has apparently abandoned Queen’s. The university is no longer listed as one of the academic gateways into a U.C. of C. pulpit.
And yet the very foundation of Gretta’s free thinking was laid in the lecture halls of the United Church’s old Theological College at Queen’s University. Paradox upon paradox, is the church now repudiating what it once taught – that the truth will make us free?
If the church defrocks Gretta and thereby refuses to be nudged into the future then surely the United Church of Canute has its feet trapped in the rising tide.