All that is Anglican vanishes into air

At bottom, the “culture war” is a war between subjectivism and realism: does the world we experience get its order and significance from human thoughts, feelings, intentions and actions, so by choosing our thoughts and actions properly we can bring about a new Creation, or is it what it is largely without regard to those things, so we should recognize its nature and adjust ourselves to it? The point pops up everywhere, but I was especially struck by a couple of things I ran into in connection with the current druidical turn in the Episcopal church:

  • The comment of a liberal Episcopal priest that liberals have a “nurturing” God while conservatives have a “punishing” one. It seems to me that behind that comment is a view that everything is a matter of relationships among subjective perceptions and desires. From that perspective, the idea that God and the moral order are real, and we can do serious wrong with serious consequences, becomes indistinguishable from the idea that God is punishing rather than nurturing us. It’s as if “hot stove” is just a game mother and child are playing, so when child touches stove it doesn’t hurt unless mother decides to make it hurt as a punishment.
  • Excepts from an essay by Rowan Williams, then an academic and now the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, in which he criticizes conservatives who “legalize” a term like “sexual fidelity,” when sexual bonds can lead to spiritual transformation outside of marriage:

    “The realities of our experience in looking for such possibilities suggest pretty clearly that an absolute declaration that every sexual partnership must conform to the pattern of commitment or else have the nature of sin and nothing else is unreal and silly … more damage is done … by the insistence on a fantasy version of heterosexual marriage as the solitary ideal.”

    Morality with regard to sex is thus to be elicited from the individual’s experience in his path of self-transformation, rather than from contemplation of the nature of sexual experience, the personal and social consequences of various possible understandings, or the experience of whole peoples summed up in their traditions. Objectivity is to be radically downplayed in connection with a side of human life notoriously difficult for any of us to get a grip on.

Not surprisingly, I much prefer the right-wing perspective. A world that has truly been created and made real, in which we make real decisions that have real consequences, strikes me as a much more worthwhile place than an eternal kindergarden in which everything can be summed up simply as nurture. Also, the kindergarten theory seems an amazingly bad description of the world we see around us.

As for Williams, he’s right that it’s silly to say every sexually sinful act is sin and nothing else, just as it’s silly to say every murderous act is sin and nothing else. The economy of the human soul is much more complicated than that. A murder can be both a murder and a means of redemption. Still, the least you can say about an intelligent and learned man who asserts, in defiance of the unequivocal judgment of the tradition he claims to interpret, that sexual traditionalism is more damaging than sexual liberation, is that he has very bad judgment and shouldn’t be head of a world-wide religious communion with tens of millions of members.

6 thoughts on “All that is Anglican vanishes into air”

  1. All that is angly can vanish…
    The priest’s goofy comment is right out of George Lakoff’s false— heck, duplicitous— dichotomy between “strict fathers” and “nurturing parents”. Of course, any father worth his salt is both in turn. Either one alone leads to screwed-up kids.

    It’s just more of the strutting and preening behavior of white progressives who love to convince themselves of their moral superiority to tradition-bearers or anyone else who disagrees with their worldview.

    And yes, I did say “white”— after many years of observation, I’ve concluded that this game of moral oneupmanship is like red hair, in that it’s almost totally absent in people of other races.

    • At least we’ll be able to say no one did it to us …
      Mr. Cæsar is of course completely right. But look at it this way—if we white-Euro Christians go under, in a sense we’ll have the satisfaction of having done it to ourselves. No one—no one on earth—could have done it to us. C’mon, guys—this calls for a show of pride … Stick those chests out! (Hey when things are looking this bleak you’ve gotta scrounge up whatever you can that’s even remotely positive, no? …)

      “If a tree falls and an expert doesn’t hear it, is there a sound?” Yes, the sweetest, most melodious sound in all creation: the sound of entropy being brought clanking, screeching, grinding to a halt.

      • “It’s the end of the world as we know it”
        Fred, is the sky always falling? Was there a time when the sky wasn’t falling?

        • Turnabout’s the right place to ask that question: it did a poll
          Mystr. Str. (is that you, Dave Fiore?) asks (5:24pm) if there’ve been times when the sky wasn’t falling. Yes of course—tons of ’em, going right back through history. Here’s Turnabout’s very, very, very partial list. There’ve been scads more than this, obviously—but these few will get you started. Study these epochs and try to see in what ways each of their set-ups was better than the modern totalitarian leftist hegemony we’ve lived under these thirty years.

          “If a tree falls and an expert doesn’t hear it, is there a sound?” Yes, the sweetest, most melodious sound in all creation: the sound of entropy being brought clanking, screeching, grinding to a halt.

  2. punishing God etc
    Thank you for the link – I think that liberals and conservatives can agree that actions have consequences. But the mother can do two things when the child touches the stove: “see, the stove’s hot, you stupid child, that’s what you get” or, alternately, the mother can say, poor thing, how’s your finger, get some ice water and do what mothers naturally do.

    I would also hesitate quoting anything from the Archbishop without reading the entire essay. Obviously, I suppose liberals can then take his sayings as a way of justifying licentiousness, but that would be a willfull misinterpretation of what the Archbishop is saying. What he is talking about is the character of sexual relationships, which, at least from my own observation, do not often seem to obey the neat rules that we’ve laid down. I think that if you were to read the Archbishop from start to finish, you’d have a more charitable reading than the partisans at GetReligion.

    • Punishing gods and archbishops
      A problem with comparing the mother/child situation with the God/man situation is that mother didn’t make the stove, the human body, the laws of nature, the possibility of human pain and so on. God did. So it’s possible to understand mother as purely nurturing in a way that’s not possible for God.

      In and of itself, nurture does not contain a reality principle. That’s one reason God is understood as infinitely just as well as infinitely merciful, and fear of God is understood as the beginning of wisdom. If you don’t accept the need for a reality principle, or you don’t really see God as creator of all that is, those understandings take on the appearance of belief in a punishing god.

      As to Rowan Williams and his comments, I would imagine he believes in some sort of complex nuanced sexual morality that can’t be reduced to rules rather than in licentiousness. One specific point I had in mind is that someone who thinks that has too weak a grasp of human nature and the nature of human society to lead tens of millions of people. Another is that contemplation of particular instances is all very well but it’s not sufficient as a way of understanding what things are.

      It’s true I haven’t read everything Williams said but it has to be possible to point to patterns in public life without knowing everything about each of the examples.

      Rem tene, verba sequentur.

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