Saturday, December 25, 2004

Maybe I'm a Reasserter

But then again, maybe I'm not. Well, anyway, Salty Vicar has a list of Questions for Reasserters, and I feel some sort of response is called for. I think, however, that a different sort of response is called for than an a mere list of specific replies.

Perhaps the most common failing of theologians is to look upon scriptural material as being their especial province. That is, they like to believe that everyone needs theologians in order to have a hope of getting anything out of scripture. Now, considering the condition of the writing of the NT texts, this is an utterly preposterous conceit.

And as Ponty is wont to point out, the attitude of Salty's questions tends towards the condescending. Take this one:

Augustine one said that "all truth is one." Harmonize, if you can, insights from Adam Smith, Einstein, Freud, Chomsky, and Galileo with Biblical cosmology. Explain why it makes no difference in your interpretation of scripture.

I'm with Ponty in wondering what Chomsky is doing in there; surely he political fatuosity puts paid on his cosmological imprint. One wonders whether a Rev. Salty of twenty years ago would have included Karl Marx. The hidden assumption in this is that these people have something to say about cosmology in a way that has anything to do with NT religion. It's a highly questionable assumption, especially considering the range of people cited. Let's start with Galileo (a "poster boy" choice at that): must we assume that the Evangelists or Apostles would have been shocked to learn that the earth travels in an elliptical path around the sun? I think not. It is not a given that people are so heavily invested in the commonplaces of their day, and indeed, it seems that most people accept such changes to common knowledge with aplomb.

But there's a deeper assumption: that the skepticisms of the modernists have to be taken as given. By right, claims of science do not merit this. Newton and Einstein have earned their places of honor in formulating models that withstand the assaults of years of use. Adam Smith? Well, economics is still controversial, is it not? And so is psychology-- indeed, Kinsey's "foundational" studies have attracted increasing criticism as it becomes more apparent that they are heavilty contaminated by the sin of self-justification.

Thus, it isn't proper that the modernists expect to get a pass on their presumptions. What's unreasonable about reading scripture in a, well, normal manner? Like, um, some of it is literal and some isn't and some is both?

Omnis Mundus Jocudetur Nato Salvatore

The sun has set on Christmas Day, and rather than going to bed and catching up on sleep as I should, I'm sitting here blogging.

As far as on-line talk is concerned, I think what distresses me the most for the year is the bitterness and the contempt. I pray that this bitterness be put behind us.

Merry Christmas to all who read these words.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Jerks For Jesus

Surely one of the most abiding principles of internet discourse is "Venom in the defense of my moral principles is no vice!" Here, courtesy of Fr. Jake, is a particularly mean-spirited "sermon". Well, actually, it's a church politics speech. "Poorly educated, theologically unsophisticated, [and] socially regressive" translates to "doesn't agree to the latest teachings of the liberal secular establishment", when it comes to that; the complaints about Rowan Williams are all about Cantuar failing to enact the (liberal) party line.

Now, all the tendentious teaching about what Jesus didn't say is beside the point. It's theologically unsophisticated and socially regressive (for American society, anyway), and doesn't say anything I haven't heard before and haven't rejected as bad exegesis. Heck, I feel the need for a bit of a sermon myself here:

For Christians, there is no choice between personal purity and social action. If you think that what you do in the bedroom is private and doesn't affect everyone around you: that's self-indulgent wishful thinking. If you think that leading a pure life is enough: purity also lies in how you treat others, even though whom you cannot see. Ridicule purity, ridicule charity, ridicule those who advocate either, and you're writing your own ticket to hell, along with anyone foolish enough to follow you.

But beside that, the point is in how the opponents are treated. To be blunt: a long list of cheap shots, liberally showered in contempt, shouldn't be anyone's model of an acceptable sermon. As an Anglican Christian, I'd like to think that we can actually treat our enemies with genuine human respect, and hear what they say. If what they say is wrong, let its error fall on its own lack of merit. The tantrums of the saints are not for emulation.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Reverse Triumphalism

Anyone who has followed much about this years' ECUSA crisis has surely seen a lot blog entries and comments proclaiming the death of ECUSA or Anglicanism in general. Personally, I would like to discount these. It's not because they may or may not be right, but mainly because it's been done so many times before. We get a wave of these with every new outrage or attempt to deal with the issues. Sometimes get them just because someone posts something-- anything-- about ECUSA.

In case anyone hasn't noticed: Churches don't fall quickly. It's not entirely unreasonable to date the current debacle back to 1976, with the approvals of owmen as priests and the current BCP. So check your calendars, people, because that was over twenty-eight years ago. The Windsor Report has been out less than two months; it's unreasonable to expect drastic action in so short a time.

And yet we have all the reverse triumphalist proclamations, people who I suppose fancy themselves like the dead collector in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The church isn't dead yet, so they have to hit it over the head a few times.

The fellows over at Balaam's Ass have been on this one too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Six Foot Shelf

The Vatican has (allegedly) its secret library; I have the Six Foot Shelf of Bad Religion. It features such gems as

The Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price
New World Translation of the Scriptures (by the JWs)
The Lost Years of Jesus by Elizabeth Clare Prophet
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Waite
The Desire of Ages by Ellen G. White
The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow by Constance Cumbey
Gyn/Ecology and The Wickedary by Mary Daly

...and many others. Why do I have these things? Well, partly because my wife absorbs books. But it's also because primary sources are important. If you're going to denounce something, it's more effective if you can refute it accurately. Inaccurate refutations are often enough tantamont to endorsement.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Yet Another Function of Infallibility

At some point one is certainly entitled not to rehash old arguments. I do not personally get involved in discussions of the trinity as a doctrine; there's almost no chance that anyone will present me with an argument I haven't seen before.

I count this, however, as a personal prerogative, not some doctrinal statement about my authority.

So over in Ponty's blog we get into this long thread about Mariology, and in comment #30 he says:

"#23: Your presupposition is “If the popes and Eastern patriarchs have endorsed it, it is correct.” But of course, Protestantism is practically defined by its rejection of some sort of generative infallibility among a certain class of people.

"Exactly! And that is precisely why Protestantism is incapable of holding on to the fullness of the faith in its confrontation with modernity."

Well, in a sense Catholicism has been incapable of holding on to it too, for Catholicism spawned Protestantism. Claiming infallibility is fairly effective in cutting off interminable debate of basic principles, at least internally. It does nothing at all about cutting them off externally. And in fact, it presents a tradeoff. The ultimate defense of arguments is being tested against refutation; hence, anything that curtails those tests reduces confidence in those arguments.

In practice, cutting off debate is a temptation to sin by ignoring the refutation of poor arguments. In the world at large, debate cannot be cut off, but it can be crippled by poor communication. Hence bad RC and EO doctrinal claims are refuted every day; it's just that RC and EO authorities ignore these refutations. And I mean "refuted" in a very specific and objective sense: they are found to be not valid by individuals.

As soon as one has to talk about infallibility, one is admitting that human reasoning is not all that it could be-- and not because of the limitations of reason, but because sin contaminates reasoning. It's obvious that claims to infallibility occaisions of near (if not actual) sin, due to the temptation to dress one's assertions up in supernal authority. But such assertions should not be refutable even in ordinary reasoning.

Which brings me back to the original quote. Even if the "infallible" churches are less tempted to dump basic items of faith, I do not think they are protected from obscuring these truths in a thicket of errors or extraneous claims and practices. Mariology stands as an object case: one need not look far to see places in the RC church where devotion to Mary is elevated practically to worship, and Jesus becomes an appendage.

Also, infallibility must stand on its own feet. If it is needed to justify dogmatizing certain principles, the more fundamental solution is to dogmatize them directly. The more controversial propositions infallibility is stretched to cover, the more people are encouraged to doubt the fundamentals. In that wise, Protestantism is nothing more than the acknowledgement of the real state of human judgement.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Possibly the Most Laughable Thing Spong Ever Wrote

Over in Ponty's blog the question of Spong's intellectual achievements. For my contribution, I offer a passage from Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism which is so profoundly stupid that it has brought laughter to those to whom I have read it.

Not surprisingly, Spong invests heavily in the "three-story universe" theory. Naturally, he equates this "prescientific" theory with ignorance and, well, stupidity. He doesn't say "stupid", but ultimately the ultimate cause of not being able to understand must be insufficient intelligence.

So we come to chapter 3: "The Pre-Scientific Assumptions of the Bible", and we have this choice passage on the top of p. 31:

Luke did not comprehend the vastness of space. No one in his day did. He could not have imagined space travel. Under the popularizing influence of astrophysicist Carl Sagan, we can now put the ascension into a new physiological context that reveals the inadequacy of biblical literalism. If Jesus ascended physically into the sky, and if he rose as rapidly as the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) he would not yet hav ereached the edges of our own galaxy. (emphasis mine)

Now, it isn't true that people in the period didn't understand the vastness of space. Ptolemaic astronomy, the standard theory of the time, held the earth to be essentually point-like with respect to the universe as a whole. But we do not need to lay upon apostles and evangelists the study of astronomy. Likewise, it's presumptuous to theorize about their ability to understand space travel, at least to the extent that the average viewer of Star Wars understands it. But besides the rediculous picture of Jesus jetting across the cosmos, there's the problem that Spong has the scriptural text wrong! Here's what Acts 1:9 actually says (RSV):

And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Jesus didn't appear to rise out of sight indefinitely; he only had to get as far as a passing cloud-- maybe 30,000 feet up. Even at a much more leisurely rate than an ICBM, that's not hard to achieve.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Keyboards of the Kingdom

Jason in New Hampshire has been looking at internet argument about religion for a while too, and he's not pleased with what he's seeing.

I live out at the Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox end of internet discussion, so the specifics of the disagreements have a different flavor. But the point about the "keyboards of the kingdom" is even more valid for us. Technically, only bishops can speak to Anglican or Catholic or Orthodox doctrine. When the rest of us do theology, it may be right, it may be wrong, but it isn't the church speaking. Therefore, it is always high time for us to get out of the cathedra and speak as if we were the ordinary mortals that, in fact, we are.

A Clerihew

Inspired by discussion of Spong's denuciad of John Stott, I have been moved to the challenge of writing a clerihew:

John Shelby Spong
Said that his church had it wrong
Whereas John Stott
Said that it had not.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

In the "Orwell Was Right" Department

Word comes from Ecumenical Insanity that Planned Parenthood doesn't like the Third Order Franciscans offering an abortion/contraception-free health plan to federal workers in Illinois. Now, as it turns out, according to OMB there are twelve other plans available in Illinois (not counting the nationwide plans such as Mail Carriers)so I don't think "choice" is really an issue.

This isn't PP's first foray into doublespeak-- I suspect most people have lost count by now. A quick glance at their website reveals these gems:

'Choose Life' Plates Unconstitutional: Planned Parenthood and ACLU Claim Victory for the First Amendment (preventing people from expressing their anti-abortion opinions is really a triumph for free speech and free exercise of religion)

FDA Corrupts Science with Ideology, Denies Women Essential Access to Plan B® Emergency Contraception (essential, at any rate, to embedding the practice of abortion in the culture)

Planned Parenthood Announces Return of Annual “Choice on Earth” Holiday Card (a striking act of tastelessness concerning a holiday about a birth)

and we mustn't forget statements like

Nation's Leading Reproductive Health Organization Criticizes Politically-Motivated Legislation Targeting The FDA and Early Medical Abortion Option (well, actually they are the nation's leading abortion provider)

I don't agree with the RC Church position on contraception. But I am man enough to tolerate RC men and women following the moral dictates of their church. Planned Parenthood likes to talk about extremism, but their "eye" fails when it meets a mirror.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Do Protestants Exist?

From time to time one sees statements, most typically from Eastern Orthodox respondents, as to what "Protestantism" holds. Now theoretically, I'm a Protestant, being an Episcopalian and all that. Well, you can find Anglicans who say that Anglicans aren't Protestant, and you can find others who'll claim that some Anglicans aren't Protestant. But at any rate, what's the "-ism" in "Protestantism"?

It's easy enough to find a common historical origin to protestant churches: their separation from the Roman Catholic Church. This implies but two "doctrines": that the claims of the RC church to infallible teaching are false, and that there is grace outside of the RC church. Other doctrines? Well, there is hardly any topic which does not elicit radical disagreement somewhere among some "protestants".

It's not hard to see the deeper meaning of statements as to what Protestants believe. These statements are about differentiation. Converts are particularly susceptible to making them because converts need differentiation badly; conversion, after all, involves ceasing to be of one's former group. But the urge to differentiate is at best dubious, because it tempts one to exaggerated generalizations, to the point of absurdity. There is no system in "Protestantism, not when one tries to put the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in the same bin with Wheaton College, Bob Jones University, and Episcopal Divinity School.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Law of the Stupidest Argument

Most internet discussion areas are subject, more or less, to The Law of the Stupidest Argument:

"In a discussion among strangers, the least thoughtful controversial position stated will dominate the argument."

This doesn't mean it will prevail, but subsequent discussion will tend to revolve around this position. And the actual merit of the "stupid" position is irrelevant; be it simple or simplistic, it will drive subtler and more complex positions out of the discussion.

Monday, November 01, 2004

We Kant Go On Like This

In this exchange about the epicopagans, Fr. Jake says:

"Where we differ is your assumption that you believe that 'absolute truth' can be perceived by a human being. It is your perception of the truth, as any first year philosophy student would tell you."

I'm going to object to this claim, because I think it is a rationalization of the real difference.

In looking at the differences and trying to prune away enough jargon to be able to explain it to my 11-year-old, I quickly come upon an obvious result: two straightforward statements about what the numinous is like-- and I don't need the word "numinous" to explain either of them. One side says that God has a specific nature which is adequately spelled out in the Bible, and that other deities aren't if fact really God, and that discriptions of God which disagree with the Bible are, well, wrong. To get the fundamentalist boogeyman out of here, I need to add that disclaimers about accuracy for transmission apply. I'm saying the bible is essentially accurate, not absolutely accurate.

The other side says that most religions, if not all, do describe the same divinity, but all are basically flawed because God doesn't really intervene directly in the world, is not really incarnate in a specific historic person, doesn't specify acts of worship, and doesn't have any specific name. And one can pretty much focus it all down to one question: Is the doctrine of the Virgin Birth true?

On the crucial level, there's no religious language at all. "Mary gave birth to a male child even though she had never had sex with anyone." In the ordinary sense that we judge statements of ordinary fact, this is such a statement. And it gets an ordinary answer from either side. Traditionalists say yes, pretty much everyone else says no. (Some people try to claim "it doesn't matter", but I've never found a case where this isn't either an excessively qualified "yes" or a baldly gutless "no".) From "yes", it's a short trip to "If Christ were not arisen, our faith would be in vain"; but the dissent is working from "Since Christ is not arisen,...." And furthermore, for the most part they will provide a baldly ordinary assertion that Mary was made pregnant by some ordinary human male.

In other words, I don't buy the assertion that the supposed change in paradigm is the cause of this. I think that it is the conclusion of it, because it is the resolution of the dissonance between skepticism about Catholic factual claims and commitment to a belief in the numinous.

And what's more, there's nothing novel here. One gets tired of talking about the Gnostics, but the parallels are obvious. The neo-whatever way of talking about sacred story, far from being more modern, is actually one of the oldest ways of talking about myth. Indeed, in the Graeco-Roman world it could be argued that everything we know about mythology is colored by this attitude towards it; it accounts for the decided comic-book quality of Greek myth as we have it.

And beyond that, the picture of traditionalists as unsophisticates is dubious to the point of misrepresentation. C.S.Lewis, for one, is someone whom I would count reasonably learned on the subject of reading mythological texts. And when I read Til We Have Faces I see many, many passages which address these issues.

The bottom line: "it's all perception anyway" is taking the same place in theological rationalization as "it's all relative" did for an earlier generation's capitulation to moral indifference. The first owes no more to Kant than the second does to Einstein.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Conservative Persecutors Need Weekends Too

There hasn't been anything new actually new in the Anglo-Druid story, but I suppose that this has been a blessing to the anti-conservatives, who were having a little trouble getting their RPMs up up on this at first.

But they are reporting in now about how vicious and (don't forget this part) backward we "conservatives" are. Now it's probably just me, but I don't see "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" as being a particularly conservative principle. But I guess I'm out of touch.

I'll start with the Salty Vicar. It worries me a bit when people start identifying themselves with biblical condiments, because most of the popular ones-- salt, mustard-- can render your food inedible if not downright toxic in large quantities. Anyway, it seems my inner Pharisee has been outed:

Conservatives should be careful. If they get hijacked by the intemperate, they will be revealed to be... sadly human in their mob mentality, more passionate about perversion, than enthusiastic in evangelising. I submit to you, if they had the fire of the gospel, they would seek to convert those wayward druids, rather than burn and ruin them.

I'm actually on record in a few places about this one. I'm not at all happy about the injury that seemingly must be inflicted on this couple in the course of this. But I also do not see how it can be avoided. It's not an unreasonable conclusion that the Church cannot have these two representing it as its clergy.

More to the point, Rev. Salty, what are you doing about converting them? What-- nothing at all? Come on, Rev; Mr. Rev. Melnyk has offered to communicate by e-mail.

And "mob mentality"? How about the sheer delight in ferreting out the trail which our druids have so thoroughly failed to cover up?

THen we have this from Father Jake:

Answer me honestly; if the rites these two priests developed were originally a Jewish rite, or even a Muslim or Buddhist rite, would everyone be so upset? I don't think so. Christians have a built in bias against anything Pagan. And that is what this latest flap is really all about.

Well, um, the obvious difficulty with this analogy is that what was posted on the national church website was, as Ted Olsen so helpfully pointed out, a carefully crafted Anti-Jewish rite. It almost sounds like a seminary assignment:

"Write a liturgy contravening at least the first commandment. Use ritual acts denounced by at least two OT prophets."

One can at least do something with Buddhism that isn't so determinedly perverse, and one can at least pretend that Allah and YHWH are different names for the same thing. What set people off so about this "liturgy" was how an office of the national church could have the gall/stupidity to put up instructions for comitting sins that I at least thought we got out of our systems during the Babylonian Captivity.

So I have to ask you clerics: do you have a problem with you, personally, with conducting or participating in such a rite? (Not you, Al-- I know you'ld be a "happy druid".)

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Texts From Rev. Rose

For the benefit of the assembled masses, I've collected a few links with statements from Rev. Rose that may (or may not-- your decision) bear upon the current matter. I have avoided statements from hostile sites (e.g. David Virtue).

As a prelude, here is the ENS announcement of Rev. Rose's appointment as head of Women's Ministries.

The following came from ECUSA Women's Ministries:
  • Letter to Prophetic Church Women: "Our own work is to seek to tell the truth, to find sacred space, both for worship and for our own sacred circles."

  • A Litany of Women's Power: Adapted by Rev. Margaret Rose for the Opening Liturgy for the Anglican Delegation to the UN/CSW;  February 27, 2004

The following is from Every Voice Network:
  • in article Mothers of invention: Women, power, and the church see the following: After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Rose started doing what feminist education has long advocated: monitor power-sharing at the highest levels by counting the number of women and minorities on the front pages of newspapers, noticing whether this number is equal to that of white men. "I can tell you that since then, the increase in the number of white men has been astronomical," she says. "There's a kind of power exercised in a way that's just despicable, and lying."

The following is from Covering Religion:
  • in article Gene Robinson’s Consecration Recalls the Debate on Women’s Ordination see the following: "Scripture has been used a lot to oppress people," said Rev. Margaret Rose, director of the Episcopal Women’s Ministries,which brings together leaders of women’s ministries from churches across the country. "Groups of people who hold that scripture is inherent and literal, take it and use it as a weapon."

The "Episcopagan" Flap

For the past few days the Anglican blogosphere (with some help from Christianity Today) has been clanging loudly over an explicitly pagan ritual posted at the main Episcopal Church website by the Women's Ministry office. The survey article has links to most of the places you would need to go to pick out the details of this, so I am going to skip that part and begin with a very quick analysis of the blog-forces involved.

Naturally, there have been plenty of people willing to take this as an excuse for their next rite of posturing about the Apostacy of ECUSA. They've fortunately been basically drowned out by other matters. The initial outrage over the 815 involvement in the episode was drowned out by the deliciously tabloid revelation that the origin of the offending material was a couple of Episcopal priests who had been quite indiscrete about how they mixed, um, their day and night jobs, and by the bloggish glee in thwarting their panicky attempts to cover their tracks. I'm guessing that this aspect is going to burn itself out soon because there doesn't seem to be much left to uncover. Their fate is in the hands of their bishop, where it must rest for now.

The other, more important line has been overshadowed by the gush of detail about neo-druids (and the inevitable need to keep correcting misunderstanding about the Gorsedd of Bards). Ted Olsen at CT has however been relentless in keeping the heat on the galling appearance of the offending rite under the ECUSA trademark, which is the keystone to the arch of this story. The whole thing would have blown over if the offending webpage had appeared on some other website, even with Ruppe-Melnyk's name on it.

And now that the blog-watchers at have pushed the whole thing to the surface, the liberal blogs are starting to join in. More on that in the next message.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Cassandra Prophecy Award Goes To

David Virtue, in his opening comments for the week following Gene Robinson's consecration:

"The Archbishop is hoping that a commission on homosexuality, Eames II, will resolve the problem. It won't. Eames II like Eames I on Women's Ordination proved singularly elusive. It is loaded with liberals and will satisfy no one except Western Liberal bishops and their acolytes. Those of us who know Archbishop Eames, know only too well the outcome of these commissions before they even meet. It will be Anglican fudge from first to last."

Virtuosity is one of the standard spots for reportage and linkage in Anglican-Land. Like many web types, however, David Virtue's analysis is heavily spun by his own perspective, which is radically conservative and more than a bit confrontational. The report is thoroughly Anglican, to be sure-- and Virtue ought to sit back a second and consider how much his preconceived distaste for the report derives from his personal deviance from the Anglican character. I also think that Virtue underestimates the subtlety of Rowan Williams' actions. What has become important about the report isn't anyone's opinion of it, but that fact that the radical liberals are refusing to do more than pay lip service to it-- and moreover, lip service which is quite transparently a rejection of the report.

Internet discussion of the report follows much the same pattern. A lot of conservatives are unhappy that the report didn't recommend a summary execution for Robinson and exile for the bishops who consecrated him. From outside the communion, I see additional commentary proclaiming the report as the deathknell of Anglicanism. Nothing could be further from the truth. One week later, it's becoming clear that the report has in fact laid out the battlefield so that the conservatives have been given a great victory. The radical liberals have put themselves outside the limits of the communion in their responses to the report, and question now before the communion is how much of the rest of ECUSA and the other questionable jurisdictions we stay with the vast conservative majority.

Friday, October 22, 2004

The Best (serious) Analysis of the Windsor Report

By Leander Harding in titusonenine:

"You (the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada) have been acting as though you can do anything you want without consulting the rest of the Anglican family and still consider yourselves part of the family. You cannot."

"[to the AMiA sponsors:] "Back off. You are not helping and are making a chaotic situation more chaotic."

Like the Report or loathe it, this summary of the report gives, in my opinion, the best picture of the possibilities of the months ahead. As of now, the ECUSA troublemakers are refusing to repent (or even give more than a lame "sorry you got mad" apology); Akinola seems prepared to lead the Africans away from ECUSA. Cantuar? Holding his cards close.

This summary also illustrates what's wrong with all the demands for anathemas: they aren't necessary. Sure, denuciations are a great feel-good boost to one's own sense of righteousness, but do they have any effect on the issue? Even without resort to them, the current situation is untenable and hopeless. It appears that the communion [i]will[/i] decide the sexuality issue, and it will do so in division.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

I'm Not Sure Why

I don't know why anyone in the Southern Baptist Convention thinks we care what they think of the Windsor Report.

I note especially the following: "Torn apart by divisions over an issue as volatile as homosexuality, the Lambeth Commission has released a report more concerned with polity than principle, and more concerned with hurt feelings than heretical teachings." Well, um, yeah, but since you SBC guys don't even believe in polity, what's your point? And let's not get started on how baptist polity allowed the SBC to be captured by the Fundamentalists. 'Fess up: the SBC has enough trouble over theological battles to where it doesn't ahve room to gloat over those slacker Anglicans.

The Windsor Spin

OK, so the Windsor Report on saving the Anglican communion is out, and the spin is on.

John Shelby Spong (Newark Ret.) has, of course, to weigh in, heedless of the total lack of regard anyone in the Anglican Communion has for his views anymore. Earth to The Times: perhaps next time you could ask someone with a clue-- say, Lord Carey?

Conservatives outside the communion naturally denounced the report; for instance, there's this denuciad from the Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion. To this sort of response, I can only reply, "well, um, yeah, you've already bailed out, so you've already taken the advice of the report." Or in the immortal words of Kevin Henkes, "Thank you for sharing, Victoria. Now put your head down."

The person whose opinion matters the most, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, has issued an essentially dismissive response. He and the other African bishops will be meeting next week; I can only imagine that their joint response will similarly negative. American conservative bishops and organizations also expressed disappointment with the (in their opinion) mild recommendations of the report. Various of the more moderate liberals are calling for that most modern of Anglican solutions, More Process. (Sorry, fellas: stalling isn't going to help.) Our friends at EDS have come up with this helpful guide for helping you to avoid reading the report and noticing that it's written in reasonably plain English.

And the people who caused all the trouble in the first place? They are unrepentant.

I'd like to think that the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, in issuing his statement, is simply clueless about the fact that he doesn't speak for his church anymore. Alas, I must believe that the presiding bishop is nothing more than a tool of the radical liberals. What the report asks is mostly a small thing, yet Griswold, Chane, and various other bishops and dioceses who pushed Robinson to the fore can't bring themselves to do anything that the report asks them to do.

A lot of conservatives have said that the report doesn't have any teeth (or have made cracks about dentures). I think this is incorrect. The last paragraph essentially says, "If these things can't be done, there's no hope for the communion as it stands." Therefore, Eames & Co. have in essence prepared the groundwork for the division of the communion. The important question now, as I see it, is where the divisions fall.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Jeff Walker Explains the Windsor Report

The Windsor Report Explained with extremely high-tech graphics

The One True Issue

The RC Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, has been portrayed in a New York Times interview as insisting that Catholics may not vote for a candidate who does not oppose abortion. The accuracy of this piece has been disputed; however, a transcript of the full interview has been provided by the archdiocese, and at least by my reading, this characterization of at least some of what Archbishop Chaput said is reasonable.

The point of deciding this election on the basis of abortion policy is, to me, bizarre. In the first place, the confidence that Bush will eventually be able to appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade is misplaced. Barring a major upheaval in the Senate-- which won't happen-- justice candidates who will step up to overturning that precedent will never get confirmed. To that degree, such a vote is merely symbolic.

Four years ago, such a single issue command would have been more plausible. In the current election, there are other issues. I have a hard time with the church that invented casuistry pointing to one issue as an absolute priority.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Image Takes a Hit

Some time back we found out that Keith Richards is a regular C-of-E guy, and now we have this suggestion from get

"And what about all of those Contemporary Christian Music stars at the Republican National Convention? The Democrats have real music stars and the Republicans have niche-market stars. Something tells me that this is not a fair fight, in terms of star power. But a born-again Alice Cooper gig sponsored by the Family Research Council would be cool. Don't you think?"

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Seize the Terms

It's a way of life for the combatants on obligatorily controversial topics to try and take the language away from the other side. I've already talked about that word "denomination", and soon enough I'll have to deal with "faith" and (yes) "truth".

But it's gotten worse. Or at least, funnier. It appears that some newspapers have put macros in their editing software to automatically substitute approved terms when certain no-no self-descriptive phrases turn up. Otherwise, how do you explain this choice morsel from the guys where an opera celbrating life turned into an opera opposing abortion?

The Most. Rev. Boilerplate

It was no news to me that the Most. Rev. Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, tends to send out missives that are repetitious and platitudinous. Also, obscure. Well, our good friends at have been kind enough to supply us with this Presiding Bishop Letter Generator. Use with care; the head you befuddle may be your own.

More On the Calendar

A problem with all church calendars is that, by implication, they are trying to calculate when Passover ought to be. They think that Passover should begin on the first full moon after the vernal equinox, but it doesn't work quite that way.

All of these calendars rely on the convenient fact that the lunar and solar cycles fall into sync every nineteen years (modulo some fudging about leap years). The Christian and Jewish calendars, however, focus this synchronization on different parts of the year; Judaism concerns itself with the date of Rosh Hoshanah, while Christianity, of course, is concerned with Easter. Therefore the Jewish calendar uses a system of added months, plus some other adjustments, as explained here; but the Christian calendars use a cycle of full moon dates.

Besides this basic difference in emphasis, there are three other sources of inaccuracy. The first and more obvious is the Julian offset, now at thirteen days and growing by a day three out of every four centuries. But the full moon dates aren't accurate either. Some degree of error is inevitable, but as it happens the old paschalion just gives flat-out wrong dates at times. Finally, as it happens the Gregorian calendar is a little off, so that sometimes the equinox actually falls on the 20th instead of the 21st of March.

In an attempt to get all of Christendom on the same calendar, a group met in Aleppo, Syria in 1997 and came up with a new formula. In spite of much Orthodox participation in the conference, this proposal sank like a stone.

Read This Blog

Doug LeBlanc and Terry Mattingly, two of the best religion reporters out there, have a blog together: GetReligion. It's agood starting place for discussion of the kind of religion reporting that gets done (and rather often, done badly).

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Calendar Argument

Give any Eastern Orthodox group a month or so and someone is bound to bring up the church calendar. Now, the calendar has two components: fixed feast/fast days which are tied to some civil calendar, and movable dates in the spring  which are tied to the date of Easter. The date of Easter is determined by a Paschalion, a formula which is in turn tied to the coresponding civil calendar.
Back in the bad old days BC, Julius Caesar suppressed a lot of calendar abuse by forcing the Roman civil calendar into a fixed pattern of months and leap years, in order to keep the vernal equinox on March 21st. This Julian civil calendar was inherited by the early church. One of the issues decided at the Council of Nicea was that the church should observe a fixed paschalion as determined by the church of Alexandria. Contrary to much popular opinion, the current calculation was not dictated. That formula was devised a bit later by Dionysius Exiguus (who is also responsible for our current BC/AD dates) because the church in Rome needed a mechanical calculation.
Here I need to digress a bit. Everyone "knows" that Easter falls on "the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox". The reason for this is that "the first full moon after the vernal equinox" should be the date of Passover, and Nicea decreed that Easter cannot fall on Passover. What the paschalion produces is a date for this first full moon.
The real moon isn't quite so cooperative. Both the Dionysian paschalion and the current Jewish formula follow a 19 year cycle of dates; but they don't use the same pattern and as a result there are years where there is actually another full moon between the equinox and Passover. The bigger problem with the Dionysian paschalion, of course, is that it is coupled to the Julian civil calendar. The Gregorian civil calendar was introduced to fix the drift of the calculated vernal equinox away from the real equinox; Easter as calculated in the Dionysian paschalion is in some years a month "late".
Now the Gregorian civil calendar could be accused of being a little inaccurate in that sometimes the equinox falls on the 20th instead of the 21st. Well, not exactly. See, it matters where you are. If the equinox occurs when it is noon in Japan, it is still the previous day in California.
You might think that the Dionysian and Gregorian paschalions should produce Easter dates that are either identical or are a month part, but they don't. The pattern of full moon dates isn't the same (accounting for the civil calendar difference).
A lot of people think it is a scandal that Christians can't agree on the dates of holidays, but resolving the issue has proven intractable. Catholics and Protestants have inherited the Gregorian calendar and paschalion; the Orthodox will not abandon the Dionysian paschalion unless there is uniform agreement to do so. Some Orthodox churches follow what is called the "revised Julian" calendar, which combines the Gregorian civil calendar with the Dionysian paschalion; they celebrate Christmas on December 25th (Gregorian) but celebrate Easter with the rest of Orthodoxy. This isn't really satisfactory, both politically and because the paschal season (Easter to Pentecost) falls too late in the year and thus runs into some other holidays and fast periods.
So is there hope? Tune in next time!

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Urban Legends

My contempt level goes up when people post the religious versions of urban legends. I'm willing to give a lot of leeway for stuff in the distant past. Modern tales get short shrift.

A few popular ones:

  • "They've seen the ark on Mt. Ararat in aerial photographs!" Well, no, they haven't. A quick Google will show that further investigation revealed all these sightings to be of various lava formations.

  • "Space scientists had to account for the missing day in Joshua!" Well, no, they didn't. Snopes has an entry on this one.

  • "When the Greek patriarch in Jerusalem observed Easter by the New Calendar, the Holy Fire didn't come down!" This one I did a bit of research on. Inevitably the reference is to the same account, and this account follows classic urban legend form of putting the supposed witness somewhere out of reach. Since hundreds of people would have seen this, nobody should have to rely on the word of an obscure monk at an unreachable monastery.

  • "Easter is pagan!" Well, no, it isn't. This can be traced back to a source: Bede says (or speculates) that the word "Easter" comes from the name of the goddess "Eostre". Well, modern researchers (e.g. Ronald Hutton) tend to doubt that there was any such goddess, and point out the obvious common component: the word "East". At any rate, the name for Easter in most languages is derived from "Passover" or "Pesach" (to use the Hebrew).

It's not hard to research tales like this anymore, especially if you're posting from a computer on the internet! While you're at it, you can check on the illustrations in the sermon on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Has Anyone Ever Convinced Anyone Else?

I can't stand most talk radio. Besides the fact that everyone is always shouting, it hardly seems that anyone ever really hears anything anyone else says. P.J. O'Rourke wrote a column for the Atlantic about this.

On-line religious discussion tends in the same direction, plus the side channel of out-and-out sermons. Well, I suppose there are enough disfunctional people involved who simply don't realize that there's someone at another keyboard to whom they are talking. But all too often I see messages arguing against imaginary opponents. What's the point of arguing with someone if you aren't going to argue with them?

I suspect, sadly, that a lot of the argument is actually about self-righteousness. The point seems to be not to convince anyone else, but just to have stated the Right Dogma, thereby identifying onesself as one of the Elect/Saved/whatever. I say, "Why bother?" God already knows what you believe, after all.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Battle of the Bishops - Round Two

Well, curious things have happened since my last post, and Bp. Gregory has been suspended if not removed from his office. Apparently supervision from Suzdal across a language barrier wasn't close enough.

Now the question is going to be whether fealty to Valentine through the proxy of Fr. Shishkoff will be enough. A quick look at the clergy shows the problem: it is largely a convert creation, and very many of the clerics have little history of Otrthodox experience and are relatively newly ordained. Are they any better clerics with a new bishop?

That's a major reason why Ilhoff, as Episcopal Bishop of Maryland, is not as bad a problem as would first appear. There's a great bulk of Episcopal history and tradition in the diocese, spread out among the laity and clergy; here the control issues work in favor of tradition instead of against it. The naive method of choosing on the basis of a suitable parish tends to work better here.

Meanwhile, the online participants are doing a lot of damage control. Gregory appears to have fled the scene of the crime, as it were, taking with him one of "his" clerics in a classic vagante act. Others about him have seen what side their bread is buttered on and changed their allegiance (or kept it there, depending on how you look at it). Those at a greater distance, and who are not yet really members anyway, have tended to defend Gregory. And in some respects they are bound to him because they have no way to participate in ROAC/AROC except through the agency of Gregory's long-distance recruitment.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Infallibility Considered Uninteresting

Infallibility arguments are mostly a waste of time. Oh, I suppose it's useful from a political perspective of suppressing endless battles within a denomination (do we need to hash out Arianism again? I didn't think so) but since the internet isn't an organization, infallibility on-line inevitably degenerates into a political battle over who "owns" the church (a subject I'll get to later).

When there's agreement, nobody cares about infallibility; it only matters if there is expression of doubt or outright disagreement. But in those cases it is ineffective as a defense of a line of argument. For the dissenter, the defects in the argument made are ipso facto evidence that the claim to infallibility is spurious. Thus, the recent attempts by some in the Vatican to claim that all papal bulls are ex cathedra infallible accomplish nothing except emphasize to outsiders how precarious some of them are. Most bulls which advance theological points do so through argument, and therefore are subject to the ordinary rules of rhetoric; the Vatican cannot really protect them from criticism, but can only refuse to listen.

The other point about infallibility on-line is that none of the usual respondents can actually claim it. I see no popes here, nor members of any magisterium. What we do is interpret what the (ostensible) infallible authorities say. These interpretations are not protected by infallibility by any standard.

Why I Bother

I think there are reasons to discuss religion on-line besides those I listed earlier. First, I think there is no point to an argument where one cannot be convinced that one is wrong. By this I don't mean that you cannot be convinced that you are right; but you have to take the argument seriously, and risk refutation.

Sometimes argument is called for when someone makes an argument that is utter nonsense. That's a point when I'm willing to cross denominational lines. When I'm doing that I try to stay within the confines of the denominational context in which the argument appeared. This is a hard stunt to pull off, I admit, and I do slip; some people have tried to argue that it's intrisically impossible and that I always argue as an Episcopalian. That's too strong a claim. When it comes to matters of historical fact, for instance, denomination doesn't matter.

Likewise, when people makes erroneous assertions about Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church, I feel no qualms about correcting them. Here I must qualify the notion of "error"; I don't mean disagreements between theologies, but caims about what Episcopalians are supposed to believe and the like.

I have no problems with these because getting your facts straight is intrinsically beneficial. Entering the subjective arena of theological disputation requires a different rationale. Here, I think the only reasonable purpose is to refine the quality of your own arguments by putting them to the test of argument. If you don't think they are subject to discussion (and possible refutation), then why bother? When you make inarguable arguments, you aren't really listening; listening requires understanding, and understanding risks agreement.

What's Going On

What's with the internet religious discussion anyway?

After all, religion is a Forbidden Topic in polite company. By this we can conclude that the internet is not polite company; then again, anyone who has seen all the flaming already knew that. So, is it academic discourse? No. Hardly anyone involved in such discussions is a scholar, and the discussion largely lacks scholarly apparatus.

Why are people doing it? Well, some people are clearly preaching, or relaying the preaching of others. Presumably this is supposed to gain converts, but since sermons are (mostly) boring, this tends to be largely about the poster gratifying himself that he's satisfied his evangelistic obligations, and they tend to have no interest in real conversation or discusssion.

Conversely, a lot of the atheists are plainly in it for the sheer bloody-minded entertainment value of it. It's rather like bear-baiting, and there are lots of Christian hardheads available to play the part of the bear.

Then there are all the people who want to continue the 30 Years War, or the Battle of Kosovo, or the Iconoclast Controversy, or choose-your-favorite-fight. These people do want to argue, and they are going to defeat you.

So who's left? More to come....

Sunday, June 13, 2004

The D Word

A lot of people get bent out of shape when I use the word "denomination" in reference to Eastern Orthodox churches or the Roman Catholic Church. They like to claim that they don't have denominations and that "denominations" are a Protestant thing.

Taking the dictionary definition straight up, they don't have an argument. PECUSA is a denomination, and OCA is a denomination, and ROAC is a denomination, and the Catholic Church is a surpassingly large denomination. The word denotes organizational units, and connotes a difference in "flavor". Objectively, it is almost trivial to draw lines between these groups.

So why do people protest? Because they want to slant the playing field in the direction of claiming that their (generally Eastern Orthodox or Catholic) church is a totally different kind of fish from a Protestant body. I'm not the least convinced-- not because I'm presuming that they are all parts of The One True Church, but because on an earthly level they obviously are different species of fish-- but all are fish.

In other contexts the constant battle over the word gets to be a waste of time and I fish for other words to describe the likeness of ROAC and ECUSA. Here I'm more interested in how the argument is carried forth, so I'll stick with "denomination", thank you.

Thursday, June 10, 2004


In the left corner we have The Right Reverend Robert Wilkes Ilhoff, Episcopal Bishop of Maryland. Definitely a liberal, and a bishop in a Protestant church at that; but at least he doesn't persecute his conservative parishes. He presides over one of the densest territories of the Episcopal Church, and has it's most conservative convent under his wing (though he is not of course their episcopal visitor).

And in the right corner we have His Eminence, Archbishop Gregory of Denver and Colorado. And, as it turns out, all the rest of North America too, at least in the schismatic sect to which he belongs. He is now on his fourth or fifth denomination-- I lost count. He has a history of e-mail/letter recruitment of more-or-less unattached young men, so that as it happens, of all the laymen who I know to have affiliation with his diocese, at most one of them was a member before I knew of them. Several are still not members and do not apparently have a way of attending liturgy weekly.

So, which of these men should you follow?

Wrong question!

If you believe in bishops in the first place, then the first thing you ought to know is that you don't follow a single bishop. And any group, Western or Eastern, Anglican or Russian, which is separated from its parent brings up questions of historical continuity. Reaching back to the Pedalion isn't really different from reaching back to Richard Hooker (short range) or scripture itself (long range)-- except that in a dispute between scripture and the Pedalion, I'm going to pick scripture every time.

One should not be choosing between Gregory's or Ilhoff's imperfections. And one shouldn't be defending the irrelevance of one's own bishop's imperfections, Nick. That's just rationalization.

Moving on to the denominations: of course, if you're a "one-true-church" member, then every other group has to have a fatal theological flaw. Obviously this is another avenue for rationalization, especially when one of the groups that has to be so defeated is your group's parent body. This presents an interesting puzzle: here I must be convinced strictly by the merits of the argument and not through authority, for that authority rests upon convincing me of the merits! Also, in the case of ROAC, the sins of which it accuses ROCOR happened long enough ago to where it is unclear that there is any untainted ROCOR for ROAC to descend from.

There's another choice available.....

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Seeing Eye Dog Controversy: Conclusion

A notable feature of the seeing eye dog controversy is the repeated statement that "dogs are unclean animals." Naturally, nobody can give me a clear citation to this effect, certainly not from the NT. (In this age of on-line bibles, there's no excuse for an inaccurate citation; if you use The Unbound Bible you can get it in a variety of versions, translations, and even different versions of the original text.)

There's something Levitical about this pronouncement, and indeed in other places I see Eastern Orthodox (generally men) reinventing menstrual purity laws, in direct contradiction to the council in Acts 15. And there's a rabbinical exactitude to limiting Peter's vision in Acts 10 to the purity of food. Unfortunately, taking that tack completely guts the point of the vision in the first place; after all, Peter wasn't going to eat Cornelius! The vision must be given an expansive interpretation for it to have the necessary meaning; it doesn't just mean that we can now eat pork chops.

Which brings up another point about theological "argument": maybe even most of the time, it's nothing better than rationalization. Most of the content of the seeing eye dog argument was about justifying a rule that everyone already "knew" but nobody could really cite. The message everyone should have gotten was, "maybe I don't really know this rule after all."

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Sermons Are (Mostly) Boring

Most sermons don't make the transition to the internet gracefully. Never mind that sermons are, shall we say, largely disposable. And they are made to be heard, not read, even when they are delivered by being read aloud. Sermons that rely on eccentric delivery-- or often, simple oratory-- don't tend to read well in any medium.

On the web, Sermons tend to run long. Web pages aren't a good medium for long documents, especially long documents that resist being broken up in the way that HTML was made to support. Also, to be frank, a lot of sermons tend to be not worth reading (a common problem with internet information). Given the way that sermons are originally delivered to a mostly captive audience, there isn't a lot of impetus to tip one's hand and get to the point quickly. It's pretty typical to come across sermons on the web whose first screenful gives no indication of whether they are worth reading at all. I do not give them the benefit of the doubt.

But they reach their nadir in forums and newsgroups. I never read them there, especially when the poster has a history of sermon posting. These venues are about interaction, and sermons do not, in general, invite interaction. Those who repeated post sermons are unlikely to respond to replies. I suppose the principle at work here is that they post sermons because they have nothing of their own to say.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Pawning the Purple

or, "A Bishop Reconsiders Profitability"

Nobody is is interested in a fully apostate bishop, which is to say, one who leaves his office. 'Bishop Denies Faith, Resigns" is a dog-bits-man story.

BUT "Episcopal Bishop Causes Outrage"- THAT sells books. So as long as John Shelby Spong could put "A Bishop Reconsiders" in his subtitles, he sold books; now that he's retired, nobody cares.

The Arrow of Theology

It's not like Time's arrow.

Infallibility is a dogma that nobody should need. If the arguments are good enough, they stand on their own. If they aren't then infalliblity won't help. Well, maybe it helps claims that are insufficiently justified (e.g., the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary). For claims that have counterarguments, infallibility is useless; the counterargument itself serves as proof that infallibility is falsely claimed.

Which leads to a further conclusion. It is necessary to consider the bad theology (a.k.a. heresy) as well as the good; otherwise, you can't understand the good properly, because it forms in relationship to the bad. Nicene orthodoxy makes much less sense if you don't understand Arianism and the other errors to which it is the answer. Hence, theology consists in large part of seeing the pathway through all these arguments. And it seems to me that the orthodox tradition-- not necessarily the Eastern version thereof-- demonstrates itself to be essentially correct. Most ancient heresies, when espoused by moderns, are invented anew, particularly Arianism, which the Jehovah's Witnesses reinvented.

When you look at the details, however, the picture of inevitable progress gets severely muddled. At this late hour I see a lot of "doctrine" that has severe problems when held up against the words of Jesus. It is not too much to ask that the two be consistent. To get back to the dog: Jesus never says that dogs are unclean. But he does lift up the first great commandment. Now Nick; if you used a guide dog, would you want someone to take it from you on such a pretext?

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Donning the Cassock

Just so everyone else knows: I'm not a cleric, nor a professional theologian or religious academic. I do theology the way any layman does it: reading the texts, listening to the advice of others, and thinking. By the grace of God, the voice of the Spirit is heard. Or not.

And if you believe Richard Hooker, that's the way the clerics are doing it too.

So who gets to speak for a church? Well, in episcopal polity, certainly not laymen. You have to ask a bishop, or repeat what a bishop says-- word for word. And if what the bishop says isn't firmly grounded in tradition--

Well, how do you tell that it is so grounded? Well, um, you do theology. After all, even if one bishop is just repeating something another bishop said, the predecessor has to fulfill the same test, and so forth.

So: is it actually true that in Orthodox tradition dogs are unclean animals? Well, I don't know for sure: Nick, you aren't good enough authority on your own. And even then the same problem applies to whichever bishop you end up citing. Is what he says an integral part of the tradition, or is it just a presumption or prejudice riding the genuine merit of other canons and positions?

Friday, June 04, 2004

Who Is Tom Harpur, and Why Should We Care?

It's time to pick on the liberals.

Tom Harpur, as it turns out, is a religion reporter in Canada (and sometime Anglican priest; I don't know whether he is now or not) who has apostacized into a religiosity unbounded by any actual reality. This is a guy who regards the gospels, from end to end, as fiction. Nevertheless, he holds that there is some "truth" in there somewhere.

Scholarly apparatus makes for a book that looks more legitimate, especially for a Rhodes scholar who has been taught to do it right. (There's a lot of woo-woo "scholarship" out there which betrays itself by earnestly doing it wrong.) It is also perversely comforting to those outside the scholarly compound, who then get to pat themselves on the back for avoiding the "folly to the Greeks". Underneath all the apparatus, however, these texts solve "problems" that have a totally different character from how they are presented. The issue that they solve is this: the author becomes an unbeliever in the exegesis he knew, and invests in the ridicule that is heaped upon that exegesis. So how does he keep his religion? Well, the solution, if you are into the academic world, is to bury the whole thing in a different exegesis. The unasked question, then, is "Why do you no longer believe?"

More to come...

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Seeing Eye Dog Controversy, Continued

The newsgroups were not the only forum to have a go at the Seeing Eye Dog. The notorious "Indiana List", a famously contentious listserv discussing Eastern Orthodoxy, had its chance to try the issue out. Again, there was much the same pattern.

In Eastern Orthodox forums, the issue almost immediately divides the participants into two groups: those who focus on the charity of allowing the person the use of their dog, and those who focus on the supposed rule. Elsewhere in Christianity, it isn't even an issue: Protestants and Roman Catholics can scarcely understand why the question would even be raised.

To me, the most striking part is how the supposed rule gets rationalized by those who insist on it. Now, the canon itself doesn't address dogs, but rather refers to cattle. Nonetheless, one of the arguments that always arose was that there was something intrinsically polluting about dogs per se, though the canon doesn't address that point. Then there's the starry-eyed theory about how much more loving it is to substitute congregants for the dog. Now, I know a blind man who uses a dog, and another woman who is confined to a motorized wheelchair and who has a dog for picking up dropped items and the like. I also know a blind boy who prefers to use a cane. They use these contrivances precisely because (a) relying on the inconstant grace of strangers is both degrading and unreliable, and (b) because those that do want to help often don't know how to.

The most disturbing argument I encountered was one that said that the dog "represented the lie that the blind person could see." I could go on at length about how wrong-headed this is, but I'll limit myself to the observation that this is a rationalization that is pretty far afield of the "no dogs" issue, and one which attacks the notion of guide dogs in general. In essence, to defend a specific taboo, the arguer creates a totally wrongheaded moral obligation forbidding the use of guide dogs.

More to come.....

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Seeing Eye Dog Controversy

Back in 1999, there was a post in alt.religion.christian.east-orthodox about how a Toronto priest was fined for turning away a woman who used a guide dog, claiming that the dog was not allowed in church. This sparked a huge furor which ran to something over 200 messages.

In between the clueless assertions about how the ushers (or parishioners) could substitute for the dog, and the vague assertions about how tehre was something false about using a dog at all, there was a running argument about how the canons barred animals from church, and another which asserted that dogs in particular defiled the church by their presence. I demanded at length that someone produce the canon, but no citation was made until a post was made which cited the council at Trullo as follows:

Canon LXXXVIII (ancient):

"Cattle shall not be led into the holy halls, unless the greatest necessity compels it."


"No one may drive any beast into a church except perhance a traveller, urged thereto by the greatest necessity, in default of a shed or resting place, may have turned aside into said church. For unless the beast had been taken inside, it would have perished, and he, by the loss of his beast of burden, and thus without means of continuing his journey, would be in peril of death. And we are taught that the Sabbath was made for man; wherefore also the safety and comfort of man are by all means to be placed first. But should anyone be detected without any necessity such as we have just mentioned, leading his beast into a church, if he be a cleric let him be deposed, and if a layman let
him be cut off."

The Law of Rule

Western religions have rules. And Western religions, as a rule, have two levels of rules.

One level is scripture. If you aren't a liberal, this level always was inarguable. But in general, scripture itself doesn't give enough; it is necessary to add at least one layer of interpretation. Here I'm not so much interested in doctrine, but in praxis.

In Judaism, you get midrash and other things argued out by rabbis. In Christianity, if you're in an episcopal-polity church, you get canons and other forms of tradition.

Church canons bring out the Junior Lawyer in people, particularly the kind of people who spend a lot of time on-line. They particularly get the "church tradition is immutable!" people going, because they offer a great opportunity for Defending The Faith in a really hard-nosed and impersonal manner. Best of all, in Orthodoxy (and often in Catholicism) you don't even really have to know them all that well, because the volume of them and the obscurity of many means that it's hard for people to check up on you.

That brings us to the Seeing Eye Dog Controversy....

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Don't Touch It, Mommy: It's Evil

Vagante Christian sites are one thing. Here and there you come upon unmitigated cults.

Some time back a group of us had a run-in with the minions of one "Michael Travesser", known at birth as Wayne Bent. He had a plethora of websites, all of which now claim to be closed. In earlier months they had the words of the "master" with appropriately doting (but content-free) responses from his followers. He also had a bad habit of stealing copyrighted photos from other sites.

ROAC at least makes some pretense at normality. These cultish sites are obviously nuts. Don't go there.

A Bad Example

The ROAC America website is a nice, small example of a bad denominational website. It doesn't work in Lynx; and it has a ton of stuff on it that doesn't do a thing for anyone who actually is looking for information, but which together take quite a while to download over a phone line.

When one starts looking at the options, one can see right away that this is a vagante sect, in schism from a more respectable body. We're in crypto-Orthodoxy here, so, naturally there is a list of succession given; there's also a long, crankish rant against their immediate progenitors and nearly every other substantial Orthodox body. After that, a look at their parish listing shows that their real presence is negligible.

The old version of the website was at least obvious in its pretentions. Now you have to go a level deeper.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Denomination Websites

OK, again, this shouldn't be so difficult. There are a few things which should be linked to right from the front page:

  • A parish locator

  • A directory of church organizations

  • A history

  • An indication of how this denomination is different from the others

A nice, easy-to-figure-out set of theological statements isn't bad either.

But then you get to idiocies like The Episcopal Church website. OK: first of all, the entrance wastes a huge chunk of bandwidth being totally obscure. Then when you get in, it's hard to tell what any link is. The whole thing makes it hard to find any particular information there.

Church Websites

Parishes and congregations should have websites. (Since I'm Episcopalian, I'm going to use parish for the rest of this.) But it seems to me that a lot of the sites don't understand what they are doing.

A big issue about websites in general is that they are different from advertising, and this is especially true of parish websites. As a rule, people who come looking for a church website are already aware that the parish exists. Typically they are looking for information about the parish. Therefore the crucial information should be on the front: address, phone number, service schedule, affiliation, names of principal clergy. Nobody should have to click through for any of this.

If there are going to be pictures, one should be a good shot of the exterior, and another should be a good shot of the interior. And they should be easy for the outsider to find. I see too many websites where all the pictures are of crowds of people shot at church picnics where even parishioners would have a hard time figuring out who is who.

And the sales pitch: look, if you say that you are a "community of caring people", I'm going to figure out that somebody in a position of power at the parish is more interested in appearance than reality. Nobody can tell whether you are caring over the internet, and most of them aren't in a position to find out, either. I expect all parishes to be caring, and I'm disappointed when I find one that isn't. But that's not what a church's first job is. Its first job is to do the communal worship on Sunday morning, and if I visit a parish on a trip, what I expect out of it is good worship by reasonably friendly people. Well, and a jump start if I have a dead battery in the parking lot, but that's not a high standard to meet.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Religion and the Public Life

(with apologies to Richard John Neuhaus)

Way too much of the political talk on the internet is stupid. It's stupid in that it represents nothing more than the speaker's alignment with some political camp. Too many liberal democrats refuse to admit that Bill Clinton was less than an exemplar; too many conservative Republicans can't admit that George Bush the younger has presided over a war of dubious legitimacy and scurrilous tactics.

If it's stupid when it's just politics, it's stupid squared when it comes to religion. I have no use for the secularist theory that religion can't enter into politics. I'm going to vote my religion, thank you. But you have to be a complete idiot to think that the political parties aren't using their religious hangers-on.

Instead, we see conservative groups in most bodies whose online discussions sound like a bunch of College Republicans. Come on, guys: show some independent thought! Question the president-- before his minions question you! Gee, don't you think there might be something unChristian (not to mention politically foolish) about establishing a policy of torturing captives?

Not that the liberals are an improvement. alt.religion.christian.episcopal, when it isn't being overrun by crossposts, is largely an outpost of Integrity. It's yet another example of the way that mainline churches find their morality dictated to them by the world, rather than the other way around.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

One Sign

A good sign of a vagante church is a listing of their apostolic succession!

Bullhorns For Everyone

One of the fundamentals of the internet is that it makes everyone VERY LOUD. You have to look into a site to tell the real from the bogus, the powerful from the sidelines, and the knowledgable from the blowhards. Not that you don't get clues right away. It's pretty easy to tell that The Episcopal Church website is for a real church. (It's also a lousy website, but I'll get back to that. It's also pretty easy to figure out that the ROAC-America site is for a splinter sect-- the .com suffix is a dead giveaway if nothing else.

But getting someone to throw together a decent website isn't too hard, and when you hit a forum or newsgroup the likelyhood that a lot of the most active participants are young men with too much time on their hands is not immediately evident.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Point Is

The thing is that on-line religion is only a little like church. I've been active in computer "discussion" of religion almost since there was any such discussion, and I've see a lot of craziness. Oh, and a lot of good people too, trying to swim upstream against the torrent of idiocy. I intend to talk here about this and also various other random comments about good and bad Christianity.