Sea of Faith - SoF for short - had its small beginnings in the 1980s, in the wake of a BBC television series which examined the decline of institutional religion and asked what might replace it in our complex postmodern world, where the certainties of scriptures, clerical hierarchies and supernatural underpinnings no longer make sense. The Network, like the TV series, borrowed its name from Matthew Arnold's classic 19th century poem 'Dover Beach' which famously likened the decline of organised religion to the outgoing tide of the "sea of faith".
SoF recognises that a huge and fundamental shift has taken place in the last thirty years: a shift not only in what we believe but in how we believe. We have entered a time of unprecedented thinking and rethinking, building and rebuilding, in which beliefs about belief are shaken as never before. We are exposed to other cultures, other paradigms, other religions, other politics, other ways of making art, other ways of doing science, other ways of building moral and ethical frameworks. We can no longer convince ourselves, let alone others, that our religion story is the "true" one, or that our political "ism" is the "correct" one - and we marvel that our culture ever had the arrogance to make such plainly nonsensical assumptions. In this sense, Sea of Faith embraces postmodernity and is postmodernist.
SoF neither abandons the many faith traditions nor seeks to create yet another competing sect. Its members are to be found in the parish church and the synagogue, in the Quaker meeting, and at the Catholic mass, as well as in all the varieties of secular life. But they know their religious practices and "truths", like everyone else's, are socially constructed, made by human communities and not laid down by gods or ghosts or denizens of a supernatural realm. So, since faith systems were man-made, created to fill certain needs at particular times in specific places, we know we can remake them for our needs, our times, our place. We can ordain gays - or abolish the priesthood: create "green" rituals - or abandon ritual: make God female - or re-fashion him/her as the symbol or imaged incarnation of wholly human values such as mercy, pity, peace and love. We see that even if the churches are crumbling, religious expression, alongside the arts, remains a valid means of rejoicing and mourning, celebrating and imagining, and firing-up the inspiration required to remake ourselves and our society. In this sense, Sea of Faith is religious.
SoF is often identified with what commentators on postmodernity call the "linguistic turn" in philosophy: the growing consensus that ideas - including religious ideas such as "God" and "heaven" - cannot be understood apart from the language systems that created them. Where religious conservatives find the linguistic turn threatening and heretical (because it undermines notions of reality and subverts comforting certainties), Sea of Faith thinkers like Don Cupitt, Stephen Mitchell and Jude Bullock have joined with the linguistic philosophers in celebrating the liberating effects of the twentieth century's revolutionary understanding of "the word made flesh." In this sense, Sea of Faith is philosophically "nonrealist".
SoF acknowledges that no truths in the world arrive untouched by human hand. Truths are made within human culture and language. Ideas, beliefs, faiths: we made them all up - not, of course, as isolated individuals or lone craftsmen, but as communities, groups, collectives, cultures. So SoF proclaims its mission: "To explore and promote religious faith as a human creation." In this sense, Sea of Faith is humanist.
And like the human whole itself, SoF is heart as well as head, imagination and reason in inseparable embrace. It is not a society of academics, nor a mere refuge for those who have mislaid their faith. It is a creative adventure. We may not be entirely sure where we're going, but we are having a great time getting there!