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.