Thursday, April 28, 2005

Oolon Coluphid and the Anglicans

Richard John Neuhaus has another Oolon Coluphid moment in his latest Rome Diary entry. Now, he's been declaring Anglicanism dead for years, a practice he admits irritates some of us:

"But the immediate question here is whether, as correspondents allege, I am habitually scornful of the Anglican communion."

Well, he has been not only scornful; he has tended to assume a tone which I can only describe as smart-aleck. Yes, it's entertaining to harp on the latest "epatez les orthodoxes" escapades of John Shelby Spong, but after a while the sheer irrelevance of his "faith" to the average Episcopalian is grating.

Also grating are Neuhaus's references to Newman, whose example he followed after a fashion (in Neuhaus's case, the conversion was from being a Lutheran Pastor). Newman left; Keble did not. And indeed, if the threatened disintegration of ECUSA takes place (and with the public statements of the various parties, this seems assured) the supply of Anglican converts may dry up, as traditionalists may no longer have anyone to flee.

But in any case, we are obviously in media res. The story of Anglicanism is not only not over, it is approaching a crisis which, one way or the other, will change its character forever. Neuhaus doesn't know the end of the story, nor does anyone else on earth.

And while I'm at it: the comments on the princely wedding were tacky. I can only imagine that the issues of Prince Charles' sins would be, for Rowan Cantuar, a matter for the confessional, and not properly the subject of public discussion.

(a tip of the tippet to titusonenine for bringing this to my attention)

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Blogs in the Sacred Grove of Dead Trees

The story of the Revs. Melnyk has gotten a bit hard on the brain of late, as Rev. William Melnyk, having repented of his Druidism, has more recently recanted his repentance, and even more recently repented of his recantation of his repentance. Confused? So am I.

What's interesting about this is how this whole saga has largely been played out as an internet affair, with the MSM serving largely as a footnote. So now the Philadelphia Inquirer has weighed in with the latest change of heart, and as the GetReligion guys have pointed out, they've got the basic story utterly wrong.

What I find curious is the emphasis on the "conservative watchdog groups". Frankly, I think that Christianity Today practically qualifies as MSM, but the fact is that us bloggers quite gleefully chased all this down because it was fun and because the Forces Of Evil were so flagrantly incompetent in covering their tracks. Everything one needed to know was out there, if one were only to look for it. Somehow a pretty straight recounting of what we found (and I was one of the researchers, I'll confess to that) has gotten turned into a fairly vague and inaccurate expression of conservative opinion. It seems that it's OK for the Inquirer to pretty much ignore a story in its own backyard (its first article on the issue wasn't published until November 5th, eleven days after the story hit the web) but not OK for the rest of us to pursue the story on our own.

Will the Inquirer print a correction? Stay tuned....

The Excluded Middle

Thomas Bushnell has a blog entry about the unhappy fate of moderate positions on a certain class of social issues. To some degree I agree with what he says, but I think the subject needs deeper consideration.

Beneath his argument is a certain moral analogy: that issues of race, gender, and sexuality are, with regards to equity, essentially similar. I'd call this a conservative viewpoint in the sense that the primary contending positions have given answers in each of these three issues that assume this similarity. Bad guys said they were similar in that each issue was determined by essential differences in race/gender/sexuality; good guys said they were the same in being determined by essential equality.

For race, the equality position won. But this position has continued to be dogged by actual inequality in outcome, leading to more social problems to be fixed. This in turn has led to more radical solutions. So now the conservative position is that the law does enough now and there is nothing more to be done, the radical liberal positions vary but include such notions as reparations, and there is a quite assorted middle which thinks that the current structure of rights and laws is mostly OK but which considers a wide variety of activity or leeser modifications. (The old conservative position is now reactionary, and in practice isn't expressible in public anymore.)

The situation for gender is more extreme. The "bad" inequity positions have never been quashed, and since physical differences are more than skin deep, it has been harder to get people to agree that they don't matter. In the mass of different views it's a bit arbitrary to pick out a middle, but on one end might cite certain religiously derived views limiting women to the household, and on the other radical feminists who like to entertain the notion of parthenogenesis. There is a lot of room between these positions, and perhaps the center is to be found in the acceptance of the larger principle that employment should derive from actual ability and nothing else; that net differences between men and women should be accepted; and that the basic physical differences between the sexes prevent utter equality and that therefore some other standard of equity has to be proposed.

What strikes me about the difference between these "moderates" and those in Bushnell's examples is that the field of their "moderation" is different. Bushnell's "moderates" are compromisers; these moderates need not be.

That presents a problem with regards to same-sex marriage because there are really two questions involved. One is the metaphysical discussion of marriage, and this does indeed tend to bar a middle ground. The other, however, is the relationship between marriage and the state, and this is very much contested and allows plenty of room for a range of opinion. To help confuse matters further, in the USA this relationship requires compromise. One cannot keep "covenant" away from "law", not unless one is willing to completely bar the law from recognizing any kind of legal obligation arising out of a marriage. That would be an extremely radical position, of interest only to domineering, wife-dumping men. Thus, whatever position eventually prevails will be, on some level, a compromise.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Culture From APLM

That's the Associated Parishes for Liturgy and Mission, a sixty year old group associated with ECUSA which started out as a body for liturgical renewal. Well, they seem to have branched out.

It's not up on their website yet, but in The Witness there is a statement from their April 2005 meeting in Estes Park CO. It's all about homosexuality, and while some of it makes cogent comments, some of it walks right into Christ and Culture problematic theology.

Consider this passage:

It is no coincidence that most of the bishops and provinces of the Anglican Communion who oppose the ordination of homosexual persons, or the blessing of their faithful relationships, are opponents of the ordination of women and the welcoming of infants at the eucharistic table as soon as they are baptized. All of these practices upset the hegemony of men in the church, and are painful for those who cling to privilege and power. No one likes to relinquish power, and it is never easy.

That curious word: hegemony. To someone of my age, someone who paid any attention to this stuff in college, it sets off an alarm. It's the language of the politicized radical chic of a quarter-century ago. Now, GC and the people who formulate positions for it-- people like the members of APLM, as it happens-- are in the hegemony business, if anyone in the church is. It also seems to me that I hear an certain frustration that they can't extend their hegemony over, say, Anglican churches in Nigeria.

But more of an issue is this language in its totally secular usage. It was, after all, the preferred language of radical feminism. In that context, it was never accurate. Individual men do not gain hegemony simply by being male; individual women are not utterly barred from power over men simply by being female. This language was always subject to the criticism that it legitimized institutional elitism, because it was indifferent to the actual differences in power among actual men and women.

In being imported into theological language, this business about giving up power was added to it. This added a note of hypocrisy to the whole endeavor, because the acts of those who espoused this line of thinking, when it came to General Convention, was not only very much to wield power, but also to spread alarm about the danger of the opposition getting power back!

Likewise, the various struggles over parishes which have hit the papers over the years have largely been about demonstrations of episcopal hegemony as exercised by liberal bishops. In the Diocese of Washington, for example, the issue was Jane Dixon's instance on a show of her power in forcing visitations upon parishes. She even said as much.

Now, I don't like the Donatist edge to this either. For better or worse, Vickie Gene Robinson is a bishop. He may be a bad bishop, and a scandal, but for me he's not on the same level of scandal as Spong. Nevertheless the conclusion of the statement borders on the disengenuous. The problem is that the theological innovators are determined to use the power structures of ECUSA to advance their positions, whether or not the rest of the communion objects. Being cut off from the rest of the communion is the natural result of this. (I think their invocation of the Donatists is overstated, BTW: I see no sign that the communion is broken any worse than it is broken between ECUSA and the Catholic church.)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Liberal" and "Conservative" Considered Problematic

Fairly early on in this series of exchanges, Thomas Bushnell clarified an entry on his blog with the following response:

"They claim to be conserving church over and against culture, when actually they are trying to conserve older culture against change."

Well, I don't think so. The word "conserve" here is the problem.

For one thing, we're a bit out of date with the terminology. Within the last year the one party has taken to calling themselves "reasserters" and has labelled the other side "revisionists". This is still not really acceptable because they've stuck the opposition with a pejorative, but at least they've put some distance between the current conflict and the French Revolution. And these labels do get at what the one side perceives as the fundamental issue.

At this very late date there's almost nothing to "conserve" about conservative culture. I'm just barely old enough to remember-- somewhat-- how the late '60s changed everything. What I do remember, and what I see looking back at materials of the time, is that there was most definitely a liberal establishment (see "the Johnson administration") and that for the most part both it and whatever there was of a conservative establishment were remade to the point of destruction in the turmoil of 1968 and subsequent years.

As far as cultural conservatism is concerned, there is plainly a nostalgia for an image of, oh, a certain vague picture of late '40s-mid '50s society. But race doesn't figure actively in this picture-- for that they jump directly to 1968, and at that point they become the radicals and the "liberals" become the cultural conservatives.

What we call political conservatives today are a creation of the middle '70s. By that point the dogma of liberal progress was firmly in place, and it remains the centerpiece of that party. "Liberal" and "conservative" simply remain in place as position labels from, oh, about 1933, but it would be idiotic to ascribe the liberal or conservative positions of the former era to present-day "liberals" and "conservatives".

All camps want to "conserve" their own values. The label is not a substitute for the actual positions.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The G Word

I'm suprised find I've never made an entry here about the issue of church names, because it's one of the basic issues of dealing with, um, Catholic/Orthodox (or Roman/Eastern) ecclesiology. The marketing strategy of these names is obvious and when these names are taken at face value one has to be fanatically careful about maintaining a distinction between "Catholic" and "catholic", and then beating everyone else about the head and ears to maintain it as well. The alternative-- finding other names for the bodies-- just never worked out, and at least one can fall back on the position that the legal names for the bodies in question have a certain standing.

With regards to sexual orientation the problem is much, much worse. Even the phrase "sexual orientation" has problem presuppositions built into it.

Historically the self-terminology for what these days I think I'm supposed to call blacks has been heavily driven by the co-option of these terms into racial epithets. As a result one can date black institutions by their names. With words like "gay" the situation is more complex. Bushnell is wrong if he thinks that the word is neutral; kids around here use it as a pejorative. I'm also a bit surprised that the semiotics of seizing the epithets of persecutors and claiming them as one's own are being ignored. It's an interesting technique, and whether it will succeed in the long run will be interesting to see. In the meantime, it puts a curious color on the way "queer" keeps popping up in his discourse, and on the threat to label me a "breeder".

This last term is an unabashed pejorative. "Straight" people don't use it as a self-description-- at least, nobody I know does. "Queer"? I don't use that word either-- at all. As with "gay", the word is so contaminated with the subtext of sexual deviancy, flaunted or decried, that its denotation is useless. What's odd is this objection to the phrase "homosexual men". It's hard for me to understand the assertion that this is a pejorative, when I specifically chose it in an effort to escape connotation. The message I read from this is that I am not to be allowed that escape.

Well, maybe. At any rate, whether or not this is being a distraction, I'm tired of fighting it. As long as you're willing to sign off that I mean no pejoration by it, you can be "gay" if you want.

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Thomas Bushnell has made another blog entry concerning the "Christ and Culture" discussion. Now, much of the tone of what he writes invites objection, notably the phrase "the queers are taking over". If want to say it for yourself, do so; don't even vaguely imply that I said anything like it.

As far as Louie Crews' seat on the Executive Council, the entry borders on disingenuity. You can check his church resume for yourself, but the picture I read from it-- and I first encountered him almost twenty years ago-- is that of a prominent and influential member of the church establishment. When I see Todd Wetzel or James Staunton or Jack Iker on the executive council, I'll be much more impressed by its balance. As it is, prominent liberals are represented, and prominent conservatives are not. It's hard for me to believe that anyone who pays any attention to ECUSA politics can deny the significance of seating one of Integrity's founders on the EC.

And that suspicion brings me to the main point. Theology as rationalization is all over the place; if one's opponents are doing it (and they often enough are) then onesself (or at least one's allies) are probably doing it too. Talking about motivations is always a dangerous opening for rationalization.

I'm not utterly convinced that the conservatives are that reactionary; I personally don't feel any moral nostalgia for a 1956 in which my parents had been married for one year. I can understand the longing for a "return" to a public culture was more directly informed by a "Christian" perspective, whether or not the image of that culture is historically accurate. Conversely, the language of enlightenment humanism is constantly on the lips of the liberals, but the Christianity of this language is at least debatable.

And "cultural"? Well, of course; one of the things that people use to draw lines around cultures and subcultures is shared values. And one of the chief of these is differentiation from those outside the subculture. My experience of theological discussion in general is that issues of inclusion and differentiation contaminate such discussion very heavily. I'm either supposed to see the liberal side as controlled by their unwillingness to accept traditionalist theological principles, or I'm supposed to see the conservative side as controlled by their theological principles. As far as I think I am applying theological principles, I don't get either side, so I personally have to believe this way of differentiating the sides is just not where the discussion is coming from.

The Standard Arguments

In the on-going "blog vs. blog" discussion I'm having with Thomas Bushnell, he's done one of the standard things one sees on "liberal" side: replace "homosexual" with "negro". Personally, I think it would have been a lot more apt to replace it with "Latino" or "Mexican"; after all, I live in the middle of the negro/Afro-American/black problem, and my father is from North Carolina. Somehow I have to doubt that New Mexico and California offer quite the same perspective.

Be that as it may, this is an old mode of argument. SO-- d'ya think someone might have formulated an answer by now? Of course they have! But Has anyone ever convinced anyone else? It hardly seems so.

The obvious answer is that race is a very poor analogue for homosexuality. Even leaving aside the important issue of nature vs. behavior, the reality of class structure is utterly different. Washington DC (and for that matter the area as a whole) has a very visible black underclass; but it also has a black upper class. The black underclass is extremely segregated, but then, so are latinos and for that matter poor whites. Do male homosexuals mostly live in a similar underclass? If they do, it's not very visible.

Even running the clock back forty years, it's hard for me to see the parallel-- and I should point out that forty years ago I was in Montessori school. I've never attended a segregated school in my life.

Surely I'm not the first person to make these observations. It bugs me that discussion of these issues all too often takes the form of trading ritual arguments. The similarity of race and sexuality is a corollary, not a lemma, but it seems that we never get to confronting this.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

That "Christ and Culture" Thing

Thomas Bushnell is none too happy with Richard Kew's thesis on denial. He specifically focuses on the issue of "culture" in his condemnation.

I see in this an error of reification. There's a sociological tendency to talk about Culture as a coherent organism, but this image is false, and the way that people talk about it indicates the falsehood.

At the moment it's easier to talk about this by looking at the liberal side, using everyone's favorite test case: homosexual men. What does the culture say about this? Well, obviously it's going to depend on who you ask. Once the Leviticus-quoters on the one hand and the homosexual lobby on the other are removed from the picture, I suspect that there remains a very large party which has a gut aversion, and a somewhat smaller but still large party which may or may not disapprove but has a "live and let live" attitude.

Looking at the Episcopal Church, it's hard not to miss the connection between the homosexual lobby and the church administration. (For instance, Louie Crew holds an Executive Council seat.) Widening out a bit further, it's pretty clear that they travel within a subculture in which subscription to the righteousness of homosexuality is a unquestioned and indeed unquestionable presupposition. Does this drive theology? In my opinion, it does.

Bushnell's implicit identification of church theological conservatives with American political conservatives is very much more problematic. Within the Episcopal Church itself that identification is mostly false. They simply don't travel within the same subculture. Indeed, one of the most obvious elements of the condemnation of fundamentalists is the streak of sheer snobbery that runs through it, a snobbery that accurately reflects class differences between the two subcultures. All of this shows up all over the internet. Good upper middle class people "affirm" male homosexuality; bad middle-middles (including especially social-climbing businesspeople who dare to think that their money means something) are "homophobes" (and there's clearly a condescending class difference manifest in that faux clinicalism).

When I look at Louie Crew, I see a person of some privilege, and I see someone who presumes to direct the course of the "culture". (As a matter of record: he taught at the same private boarding school that I attended.) What I'm hearing, very loudly, is the complaint that the "culture" refuses to follow where they lead. Its very much the complaint of an establishment that is in denial about its right to lead.

Does the Olive in the Martini Break the Lenten Fast?

What with all the inane posturing about theology out there it's nice to come upon some actual application. You should read Waiter Rant anyway, but particularly this story about Hamburgers and God.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Richard Kew on Denial

YOu can see this at titusonenine, or at the Kew Continuum.

I can only add that so much of the theological discussion on the net falls right into this. People spend endless hours, for instance, arguing for the ecclessiastical sovreignty of this or that church or bishop, as though any such talk was going to influence the actual, very real divisions. Creationists waste disk space thinking that they can show that evolution is unscientific. And to crown it all, infallibility seems to be omnipresent.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Trackback.... Must have trackback....

I've switched over to Haloscan in order to get trackback for this blog. Unfortunately it means that, for now, the older comments aren't visible. I'm going to see if I can overcome this problem.

Update: OK, the old comments seem to be there after all. Hmmmm. Now if I can make sure the trackback is working right....