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Mainstream Christianity today

I remember the beauty of Anglican worship when I first encountered it, and I used to attend an Episcopalian church, so like others I’ve been watching with horrified fascination the continuing devolution of the Episcopal Church. So here are some comments on Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori’s investiture sermon as presiding bishop of what is now TEC (“The Episcopal Church”):

  • From the sermon and other statements it appears that putting aside poetic language Dr. Schori’s religion is a matter of working together to eliminate social divisions and gross material evils like poverty and disease. Today, it seems, that means signing on to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. So far as I can tell there’s nothing else there. Creeds and so on from her standpoint are just distractions in comparison with “mission”, which means development goals.
  • Her religion is therefore in substance a matter of (i) setting up a management structure for the whole world, which will ensure order, stability, prosperity, economic redistribution and egalitarian social reform, and (ii) inducing people to accept and support the structure, and give up loyalties, aversions and expectations that interfere with it. The latter point strikes me as totalitarian, since it involves comprehensive suppression of basic qualities that put us in touch with things outside any possible management structure and so make us human.
  • Apart from PC, religion seems to have nothing to do with the substance of people’s lives. The ideal, which “today … there is a concrete possibility of making … reality,” is a “community” in which “everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board … that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses … where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed.” The point seems to be that nobody has to change in any basic way or indeed do much of anything, it would be intolerant and exclusive to expect such a thing, as long as they’re PC. Since the community has be truly global, it must include and fully accept all modes of life, all religions and all infidelties, at least to the extent they accept and support community ideals of prosperity, security, equality and mutual acceptance. From an individual point of view it all works automatically, so what the individual treats as the point of life is irrelevant to Christian mission except as an object of automatic approbation.
  • Sounds like a lobotomized socialist hellhole to me. Even if I’m wrong about that, and it’s going to be as wonderful as Dr. Schori thinks, it’s not clear to me why it’s going to make anyone get up and go to church on Sunday or indeed do much of anything. The active factor in the system is going to be the universal administrative structure rather than the individual soul. So why not just pursue my own private amusements, as long as I’m properly shocked by bigotry and vote correctly?
  • A pet peeve: like others, Dr. Schori repeatedly uses words from the Biblical languages in public addresses. One of the words she used in her sermon (hodos, Greek for “way”) is extremely obscure and was used gratuitously and without explanation. So far as I can tell, the general point of the obtrusive learning is that no one has understood any of this stuff since antiquity if then, and the meaning is inaccessible except to modern scholars, so ordinary people have to be told what it’s really all about and should accept what’s said and be grateful for it, especially when it contradicts everything they’ve always believed. It’s a great maneuver for someone who wants to rewrite spiritual and moral reality, and that’s the way it’s used. I remember one Bible study class I used to go to years ago in which the guy running the class always insisted our interpretations were wrong, because the verb was in the aorist tense, so it meant something else that only he knew about. It turned out he was preying on teenaged boys in the congregation. Q.E.D.

It’s worth noting that there’s doesn’t seem to be anything particularly bad about Dr. Schori personally. The only thing bad I know about her, apart from her views, is a bit of resume padding. Her religious views are the problem. They are the self-deification of our ruling classes—salvation through expertise and public administration, with the people doing as they’re told and liking it—and as such are completely natural for anyone who identifies with those classes once transcendent faith has been abandoned. If the Catholics didn’t have an international organization and a Pope they’d be the same way, at least in the West, and a lot of them are that way anyway.

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Liberalism is degenerating into the dialectical materialism of Marx. Liberal Christianity, which is just a churchy club for political liberals, is (unsurprisingly) entirely focused on the material world.

Thus, when confronted with Castro’s Cuba, the liberal Protestant must weigh such material goods as government-supplied health care against such trifles as the imprisonment and brutal torture of those who try to hand out Bibles on the street corner or practice the Christian faith in other overt ways. This is an easy trade-off to make for the liberal Protestant. The result is the spectacle of the National Council of Churches providing one of their corporate jets to transport Elian Gonzalez back to slavery in Cuba.

Maybe not dirt exactly, but something:

  • Evidence of lack of filial piety, not to mention lack of respect for the religious convictions of others. See the comment by James A. Altena: she wouldn’t even give her old mom a proper burial in accordance with her mom’s Orthodox convictions.
  • Burning as a metaphor for “sanitiz[ing] the fields and get[ting] rid of the stubble … clean[ing] the fields of that which cannot survive in God’s dream of shalom.” It’s apparently a metaphor for voting out the Republicans. Also, the sermon has more on “Shalom” as this-worldly physical welfare and technocratic social unity.

To all appearances she lacks the imagination to understand what people are getting at whose views differ from her own. Nor is she inclined to fudge disputes, since she thinks she’s perfectly able to identify the hand of God active here and now. Looks like TEC is going to have some problems.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Some think Schori’s embrace of the MDG is a con to create a false dichotomy for Episcopalians: either embrace repentance and the forgiveness of Christ, OR embrace ministry to the poor.
Because ministry to the poor is more “fundamental,” we may neglect repentance and the forgiveness of Christ.

http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=5527

Gary Hommedieu, a Canon in Orlando, has this to say about this rhetorical device, used repeatedly by Schori:

“In the present argument over sexuality, we are invited to choose liberating the captive over living a life of biblical sexual morality. As if this weren’t a strange enough dichotomy, it leads to another even more strange: if we are intent on liberating the captive, then our fornication becomes good and right in the eyes of God.

One of the greatest displays of the false dichotomy is that of Millennium Goals. You’ve probably guessed the logic by now: Millennium Goals (and all the good they stand for) is more “fundamental” to the needs of the suffering people than biblical morality. Therefore anyone who argues against the church’s innovations in sexual morality seeks to minimize, if not oppose, the intentions implied by Millennium Goals.

This particular point was neatly handled by the CAPA Primates a year ago:

“We recognize the strategy employed by Episcopal Church and certain Communion bodies to substitute talk of Millennium Development Goals for the truth of Scripture. These choices are false alternatives….” (“The Road to Lambeth”; Primates of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA), February 2006).

For the sake of my present argument, what the CAPA Primates reacted to was the attempt by the Episcopal Church to swindle the rest of the Communion through the clever use of a false dichotomy. They rejected such a bogus formulation of Christian truth: it’s NOT either practice biblical morality OR feed the poor. In the Bible it’s BOTH AND.

Perhaps the greatest illustration of the false dichotomy is one of the most recent. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in a recent interview in USA Today that she saw “two strands of faith”, one “concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent… The more gracious strand is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward.”

There’s a mouthful for you; the new Lady Primate is “more gracious” than the Christ who died for our sins.

Once again, by this logic those who preach Christ “and him crucified” avoid looking forward, reject joy and blessings, etc. etc. Like a Chinese menu, choose from column A or column B: either Jesus’ atonement for sin or joy, blessings, a way forward, etc. As for me and my house, says the good Lady, we choose Millennium Goals…

These are false alternatives. No one was more forward looking than St. Paul, who was made a “new creature” by Christ, who sought to “know nothing at all but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Thus he could “do all things through him who loved me.” There is column A and B together, as they always are when orthodox Christianity is practiced faithfully.”

You wrote:

“The latter point strikes me as totalitarian, since it involves comprehensive suppression of basic qualities that put us in touch with things outside any possible management structure and so make us human. “

“Sounds like a lobotomized socialist hellhole to me.”

Why is it that feminism—supposedly formulated to liberate women and open the world to a unique contribution, which would become transparent once women occupied “positions of power”—continues to serve up substitute Lenins?

This has happened so many times, in so many forums, that I’ve given up on it.