Thursday, February 28, 2008

Episcopal sacra-mince

The hotest Episcopal scene
Is a bishop we call Vicky Gene
But when he lays on his hands
To his new confirmands
Does his chrism cantain vaseline?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Can Lambeth be seized by the orthodox?

Well, that's the real question, isn't it?

Actually, I think it isn't the real question at all. It is a distraction from the real question.

If we ask if this Lambeth can be hijacked for orthodoxy the way everything good and decent in this church has been hijacked time and time again by the heretics then we are faced with a simple practical political calculation. Of course this calculation has much to do with the level of optimism one is ready to sustain when considering the potential for success in this venture. But my experience has been that there has been a surfeit of optimism about defeating the liberals in their relentless assault upon the Faith. It seems to me that some optimists are simply not willing to see the facts as they are but insist upon reading them in the most optimistic, by which I mean fanciful, light possible. Since Jesus calls us to count the costs before undertaking some great task there can be no room for approaches which misrepresent the facts.

Now some may counter: “Aren't you opposing optimism with pessimism or even cynicism? After all, with God all things are possible.”

Far be it from me, as one who believes in the Resurrection, to limit my actions based upon what I understand to be possible on my part. I have often trumpeted the example of Gideon against arguments that those leaving TEC or Lambeth are draining the strength from the orthodox fight within TEC or within the Anglican Communion. This is the central thrust of Bishop Wright. The conservative defectors are dividing the conservative side just like Teddy Roosevelt divided the Republican forces with his Bull Moose Party. But this is as much a strategic calculation as those who say the fight is hopeless and already lost. The argument is not an illogical one, if worldly logic is all that is counted. But the force of the Gideon example is that worldly calculations should not be the crucial factor in deciding whether this or that venture will be successful. It is rather meant to strengthen the faith of those already tasked with a seemingly impossible mission.

However, the omnipotence of God should not become a license do anything. God can indeed do all things. But that He can do all these does not mean that He will do them. God could indeed cause me to float in the air. Does that mean that I should defy gravity and jump off a building to show my faith and God's power? (I seem to remember a biblical story about something like this) No. Only lunatics and snake handlers (possibly the same thing) operate by that theologic. God could convert the hearts of all those in 815 and the ACC and give conservatives the control of the Communion. Well, He could. But is it likely, based upon how He has acted throughout the last 1900 years of church history that He will break precedent and act in a way He has never acted before?

I believe a dispassionate examination of the evidence will give small hope for turning TEC around and a little less than even odds that ABC and Lambeth will do anything to effectively deal with the rampant apostasy in the Communion. It may be possible, with a determined unified show of force on the conservatives' part, to wrest the agenda of this Lambeth away from the revisionist aparatchiks ensconced in ACC, but I wouldn't put much money on that bet.

But let us assume that even the small odds of success are not there. Let us say that there is no way short of the Second Coming that anything will turn Lambeth into a vehicle for addressing TEC's abuses, let alone disciplining it to bring it back in line with biblical teachings, or at least with what the last Lambeth Conference claimed it believed. Such an assumption might lead one to conclude that going to there would be a waste of time because it won't accomplish anything. If there is no real chance for success why bother? Would that not be throwing good money after bad, in a sense?

But this flows from the wrong way of looking at things. It is starting with the wrong question. Rather than deciding what is the right course of action by seeing which course will be successful, which will “work”, Christians should instead decide which course is right regardless of whether we think there is any chance of it working. Ethics are governed not by the considerations of the possible and impossible or of the probable and improbable. It is dictated by the knowledge of right and wrong. Christianity especially is not a “practical” or pragmatic religion, not when what is practical is defined by our limited human knowledge of what we think can or needs to be achieved.

Before the Resurrection Jesus' death on the cross could well have been looked at as a failure. What did He accomplish by challenging the religious authorities in Jerusalem except a violent death? But the wisdom of God is built upon the foundation of victory through defeat, life through death. Consider John the Baptist. Could he not have spent his time more profitable supporting Jesus' ministry than challenging the moral habits of a powerful king? What did he accomplish? He certainly failed to turn Herod around and only wound up getting killed himself. Look at Paul. Was he successful in his attempt to win over the Jews in Jerusalem? There is little evidence of it. He certainly failed trying to convince Herod Agrippa and Festus. Was he wasting his breath?
No. It was right to make his witness regardless of the evident success or failure of the endeavor, for the witness itself has a benefit of its own.

The Christian principle of being a witness is, I believe, a strong argument for all conservative leaders going to Lambeth and making a stand, even if they know it will be their last one. I believe I am not simply imposing an idea and dressing it up as a moral imperative based solely upon my own authority. It seems to me we can see a clear Dominical ethic revealed in Scripture in Jesus' commands for dealing with sin in the church. Mt 18:15-17

If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

What is important to see here is that the sinning brother is confronted openly in the church. Before you can break fellowship with him he must at last be dealt with openly before the whole church. Once you have gone that far you can be done with him if he refuses to repent, but you must go that far. This is not just for his sake but for yours and for the sake of the church. By going the distance to the final level before cutting ourselves off we proclaim the importance of our fellowship in Christ. It is not lightly dissolved. Christians are not to take the easy way out.

Yet taking the easy way is a very common temptation for us, and I speak from my own experience. How often have we failed to confront an erring brother, not because we have forgiven him but because we doubt any good will come of it. He won't repent, we think, perhaps based upon plenty of past experience, and so we write him off. We “let sleeping dogs lie”, and buy ourselves some peace, but at the expense of fellowship. What we have settled for is a less Christian and less honest relationship because we are reluctant to suffer the risk of pain in the honest confrontation. Again, I speak for myself first and foremost. Even in the area of witnessing for Christ it is too easy to hold back for fear of an assumed negative reaction. Why preach if people don't want to hear it? This is cowardice and sin, no denying it. It is sin, though not because we are denying the possibility of God accomplishing what we think impossible. There is that, of course. But it is also sin because we are called to bear witness regardless of whether that witness will be “successful” or not. Maybe the only success is that a stand was taken and a witness made.

Back to the issue at hand; personally I believe that the Canterbury based Communion is broken, the rules are stacked and the game rigged and that there is no way on earth the Lambeth conference is going to address, let alone solve the issues that have been ripping the Communion apart. If there is to be a healing for the Communion it will have to come from outside Canterbury and the ACC. The AC will have to be rebuilt from the outside. I could be wrong, but that isn't the point. The point is that despite this pessimistic, but realistic (as opposed to rose colored) outlook, I still think that our orthodox leaders should go to Lambeth. They should go not with the thoughts of capturing Lambeth and of capturing the Anglican Communion but of confronting it. Since the Communion is something of worth its structure are important. That importance means that if we are going to reject them as fatally flawed we owe it to them and to ourselves to make a public announcement of that at the highest level possible.

Now I know some will be thinking, “What is there to announce? It's all over the internet what this Archbishop thinks and what that Archbishop has said about this and that.” That is true. But these things have not been said at the highest level of the church of which we are all a part. What is the forum for Anglicans to make a statement before the entire Communion? It is not a Synod meeting of a local Province. It is where the entire Communion is officially gathered in its greatest numbers. Lambeth is the only contender for that title. For ++Akinola to make a pronouncement from Nigeria is, as far as the Communion goes, no more than for me to privately tell Bob that I have this grievance against him. At most it is to bring another brother into the picture to confront Bob. But I am commanded to go farther. I must make my case before the church. So likewise I believe that our voice should be made at Lambeth if only to say “This game is over”.
This is the price of Christian community. If there is any hope for a non-Canterbury centered Anglicanism it will only be if we take the communion nature of the Communion more seriously than has been done by those who have done what they pleased and those who have looked the other way. This cannot be done if we start out by paying so little heed to the nature of community when it seems difficult or pointless.

Practical questions:

1) What kind of witness needs to be made at Lambeth? Is it necessary to attend all three meaningless weeks of this silly affair?

I don't think more than a day, maybe two or three, would be required. Coming with the express intention of only making a statement and then leaving would also have the beneficial effect of getting the attention of the rest. It would be like one who, while all the other sheep dutifully take their place at tables so that the meeting can progress, insists on standing in the doorway. The impression should be to come as a visible sign of contention and disagreement. If this causes the rest to decide to address the real issues instead of playing parlor games, all the better. If they refuse to heed the no time need be wasted. A swift exit can be made, making the witness all the more potent. The stand will have been made, which can only be done by going.

2)What about the expense, if many leaders are also going to GAFCON?

I Think there is money enough among all the orthodox in America, Canada, Australia and England to pay the fares of the global south bishops. But even if this becomes a real obstacle it isn't necessary for all bishops to go. Even the Pope never went to any of the universally accepted Councils but he sent a legate. The Primates can well represent their churches, and key representatives of the orthodox from within unorthodox Provinces can be selected. If we are not depending upon outvoting the heretics, but simply confronting them, then it doesn't matter if we aren't there in the greatest numbers. But our chief leaders should be.

Skipping Lambeth is no light matter. It may only be an invention of less than a century and a half in age, but the Communion itself is really little older. The Communion is a new and very fragile thing, and it is breaking apart. If it is to be reforged it must be done carefully, and honorably, and honor has been a thing greatly lacking in the present system, a system that a boycott of Lambeth is implicitly rejecting.

Complex Stupidity

The problem with academics is that they often don't know how stupid they really are. They can dress up rampant foolishness in sophisticated verbiage and nuanced constructions such that it will gain the fealty of the great mass of intellectophiles (a term if not already existent I am coining to signify those who so desire to be included in the great ranks of intellectuals that they habitually dress naked emperors out of class loyalty) while the more humble “non”-intellectuals will see through the obvious idiocy even if they can't explain its deficiency in a form acceptable to the ivory tower Magisterium. What the common man sees clearly the “intellectual” is unable to see because he has obscured his vision with needless complexity, the very purpose of which, whether intended or not, seems to be only to present a foolish idea with the image of a credible argument by the sheer mass of its verbiage and mental gymnastics. It is rather like walking into a maze and thinking you have traversed a great distance in it when you have really only ended up a few feet away in another tortuous passage. There is no progression. A smarter man would have walked around the maze, recognizing it for what it was.

Case in point: Rowan Williams' blithering idiocy regarding the inevitability of sharia law. The idea that any portion of this monstrosity of Islam could be permitted on a voluntary basis only shows that Williams has not thought out clearly at all what sharia law is or what is the very nature of Law in a civil society. In ant civilization there can be only one supreme law. All other relationships must be, from a political point of view, inferior and subordinate, and the form of this subordination is directed not by the inferior but by the superior. One cannot have a system that makes the woman inferior to the man with severe restrictions of liberty tolerated under a modern Western legal system which grants equality to the women, unless such inequality is freely accepted by the woman and constantly remains freely accepted. But this would make of the “lesser” legal system nothing more than an individually chosen relationship. Sharia could not be binding in any way because it can be allowed no force to bind. Only the common law of the land can bind. Otherwise there is no common law and hence no common land, no common wealth.

But such an arrangement is exactly what sharia does not permit of itself. It is not a set of principles expressing a cultural variation of a common humanity. Sharia represents itself as the very expression of the law of Allah, a law which is meant to be implemented in human society. Sharia cannot be modified to fit the frameworks of a Western civilization. Sharia is the “natural” law of an entirely different civilization, one which repudiates the legitimacy of all other civilizations. One might as well try to integrate republicanism into a monarchical system. Or one might try too sustain a democratic republic birthed in the recognition of human equality while tolerating the enslavement of a class of men. It doesn't work and civil war is the inevitable result if the attempt is persisted.

Many of the initial defenses of William's statements concerning sharia have taken the standard intellectophile approach. Williams is simply “too smart” for many of us plebes to understand his complexity. “Thinking”, some say, “is hard work”, and we should be thankful we have a leader willing to undertake the enterprise.

Yes, well, this is the very problem. Thinking may be harder than not thinking, but thinking stupidly or half assed is easier than thinking things clearly and thinking them through. It is one thing to “raise the question”. That is the east part. Offering thoughts that productively guide us to a conclusion on the issue is the real hard work that many of our pointy headed intellects seem to eschew. William's may be credited for seeing the difficulties of the relationship of law and religious groups in secular and multicultural society. But beyond raising the issue what has he done to hint at a solution? If there is any direction that his raw and hastily and imperfectly informed comments it is only toward that conclusion which he is distancing himself from now because of the vast negative reaction it is receiving.

If we are to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn't mean what a simple and unnuanced reading of his comments indicate, that he was merely seeking to “open up some of these wider matters” and “tease out some of the broader issues” then he is to be blamed for speaking as if he was saying something definitive when in fact he wasn't. Secondly he is to be blamed for not speaking definitively, for not giving some definitive answer. What is his position as chief cleric in the land if it is not to give concrete guidance? What is the good of opening the issue of the futility of modern life, say for a teenager, if you don't go on to direct him toward something meaningful that will keep him from blowing his brains out? Thirdly Williams is to be blamed for speaking before he has thoroughly informed himself on the matter.

The simple and easily demonstrated matter is that Williams doesn't know what the hell he is talking about when it comes to Islam and sharia. He seems to assume that Islam allows for a “dual identity” of citizen and believer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Islam is a coherent traditional religion in which the politics of the state and its religion are inseparable. Islam is meant to be a spiritual as well as worldly religion. In fact, it is far more intent on being worldly than it is otherworldly. Islam must rule the world, according to its prophet and all his disciples who follow him. This is quite distinct from the Christian witness that the kingdom of this world is fleeting and will pass away. It is the kingdom of heaven, which exists now in heaven in perfection, which will come to reign upon the earth after earthly kingdoms pass away. This picture of the two kingdoms, or two cities, allows for the kind of duality that Williams seems to think possible under Islam but in reality Islam recognizes no two kingdoms. The two realms that do exist in Islamic thought are the two houses, the House of Islam, the dar al-Islam, and the House of War, the dar al-Harb. The latter is wherever Islam is not the ordering principle of society. Williams has been listening too much to liberal Muslims or Muslim apologists smarter than he who know how to tell him what he wants to hear. Muslims only possess this duality, this enlightened idea of religious toleration when they aren't ruling. Williams only demonstrates that he doesn't get around much in the Muslim world or simply doesn't open his eyes. He might as well be defending the Third Reich by saying that Auschwitz was an abuse of Nazism's purer principles.

What is equally bad about Rowan's musing is that in simply seeking to raise a serious issue he unreflectively assumes things he should rather question. He takes it as a given that Britain will not or cannot maintain Christendom and that a multicultural society is inevitable. Let us leave the question of why he does not think a Christian culture can or ought to be defended. What seems remarkable is that it does not occur to him to question the very establishment of a church in a nation no longer dedicated to the faith that church is supposed to proclaim. If Britain is no longer to be a Christian nation, whose laws should all be based upon Christian morality, should the ABC not call for the State to be utterly neutral toward religion and treat it as an irrelevancy in regard to the law? Would this not free him to be freer in preaching Christ and Christian morality and less shackled to defend the politics of multiculturalism and trying to figure how to make discontented Muslims happy? Rather, he should be trying to make Muslims become Christian.

When he defends giving sharia space in order to give freedom to Christians in the realm of abortion and adoption, allowing Christian hospitals not to be forced to perform abortions and Christian adoption agencies not to have to place children with gay couples, why does he not instead question the authority of the State in making rules in this regard. Instead of champoning for more freedom for all he fights for freedom of one group to oppress another. Braindead and shameless. That Anglicanism's chief cleric can't see what an atheist like Christopher Hitchens sees is bad enough. That so many of Anglicanism's illuminatti line up to defend his droolings as being marks of a superior intellect is worse.