Friday, July 17, 2009

NT Wright on the TEC decision to go ahead with ordaining persons in same-sex relationships

HT to First Thoughts for the link to this column from my favourite Anglican theologian. Now, if only he could apply the same thinking to the ordination of women...

The Americans Know This Will End in Schism:
Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace. The appeal also seriously misrepresents the notion of justice itself, not just in the Christian tradition of Augustine, Aquinas and others, but in the wider philosophical discussion from Aristotle to John Rawls. Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations

30 Comments:

At Friday, July 17, 2009 7:49:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

A very apt comment by the first commentator in the First Things blog on this issue who said that:
"One way to solve the thorny problem of restoring Christian unity is for some of the denominations to work themselves into irrelevancy, ultimately oblivion.The Anglican Communion is making good progress toward Christian unit"

 
At Friday, July 17, 2009 8:18:00 pm , Anonymous matthias said...

and further more we have the example of the Uniting Church here in Australia where it is predicted that it will cease by 2035 ,if the current rate of people leaving continues. Besides the older population there is also the fact that with the exception of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations and isolated Churches such as North Ringwood,the UCA us pretty much doctrinally in the same boat as the Episcopal Church .ICHABOD

 
At Saturday, July 18, 2009 3:22:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

Valid point Tony except i can only talk from the proddy perspective and from where i sit,i hear that the RCC-especially the charismatics , are increasing. Amongst Protestants it is pentecostals , traditional Anglicans-Low and High Church- and Baptists that seem to be increasing. For example the baptist church I have attended has grown to the point where there is discussion around where to:
church plants? or a bigger premises.

 
At Saturday, July 18, 2009 7:11:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Well, the only sort of Christianity that is increasing is the sort that stands for something - something traditionally Catholic (apparently incl. Anglo-Catholic, tho' I doubt it's growing), and I mean Traditionalist within the Church (and, in case of the SSPX, half-in and half-out of her); something traditionally Protestant (Low, Sydney-style Anglican, or 'confessional' Baptist, etc.); something new but very committed (Pentecostal)...

Fairly obviously, some groups are liberalizing themselves out of existence: the so-called mainstream or mainline Protestants, and I am tempted to say mainstream Catholics of a modernist, doubting, dissenting hue - the sort who are reflexively anti-Roman, regard anything "conservative" as sinister and suspicious (pro-lifers, natural family planning, the Rosary, relics, Gregorian chant... anything "pre-Vatican II"), and expect women priests and other desiderata to arrive in due course once Rome finally catches up to the modern world. A pity these folk don't realize that the Anglicans have already gone down this path, and it seems to bear little fruit; indeed, the logical progression (via, say, Spong) leads to nihilistic atheism.

In Tasmania, for example, current practice rates among Catholics range around 7%, of whom only a quarter are under 50. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in the typical confirmation class only a few are regular weekly Massgoers, and all too many are being pushed through the Catholic sheep-dip only because of grandma (the parents don't practice) or, worse, so as to get their child into a cheap private education in a Catholic school - this is notorious here.

It appears that within a decade there will be only 1500 at Mass Statewide, the (scattered) equivalent of three congregations, able to be served by three priests - which is lucky, given that the clergy here are fast dying off: but the problem remains not priestless, but parishionerless parishes.

 
At Sunday, July 19, 2009 7:40:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Aw, come on, Tony. You know that Old Catholics never leave. They just stop coming!

(Actually the rate of new comers to the Catholic Church in Australia is much, much greater than the rate of new comers to the UCA, even if the rate of non-participation of those raised in the community may be about the same. In any case, the figures - which I don't have at my fingertips - are a hell of a lot more hopeful for us.)

 
At Sunday, July 19, 2009 7:42:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Yep, that's true, Perry. In fact, the increasing Christain populations in the world today are Pentecostal, Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic. I do think there are real currents for unity between these four groups, but they are not the ones traditionally associated with ecumenism. It will take some time for any real authentic impulse for unity to manifest itself among them.

 
At Sunday, July 19, 2009 11:33:00 pm , Anonymous Matthias said...

And that of course includes you Schutz.

 
At Monday, July 20, 2009 8:39:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

I'll still stick to my general point Schütz and Matthias. Institutional religion has been on the decline -- again esp in the West -- since the turn of the last century (with spikes around the time of the world wars).

As for the implied notion that 'the kind of religion I follow is on the increase and the kind of religion I despise is on the wane' ... well, it's all a little too convenient, self serving and anecdotal as far as I can tell.

I was very fortunate to be in Italy recently and, as anyone would know who's been there, the place is full of amazing churches. It seemed like every one-horse village has a church that, by Australian standards, would just about rate as a cathedral. But our experience was mixed in terms of participation. One very traditional church had a congregation which was doubled when we arrived. Another, less traditional, was packed to the rafters. And vice-versa. Same here in Australia.

There really seems to be no sustained indication that the institutional model many of us grew up with is going to revive itself (short of another catastrophe-lead spike).

Most of the 'success' stories seem to have local or particular reasons for that success, eg, a dynamic pastor or a 'special interest' group or a particularly strong community. None seem to point the way to a broader 'answer' to the malaise of institutional religion.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 12:05:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

What on earth do you mean by "institutional religion", Tony? Please define.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 12:33:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

Not sure how to interpret your tone Schütz ('What on earth do you mean ...'). Is a term like 'institutional religion', in the context of this conversation, in need of a definition?

Would it help if I noted my agreement with Pere's post, esp 'The truth is that all varieties of religious belief and expression are challenged by the contemporary materialist climate'?

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 1:04:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Since this is a Catholic blog, ecumenical but from a Catholic point of view, I should have thought it obvious that church attendance, while certainly not sufficient, is a necessary part of Christian discipleship - "sine Dominico non possumus" and all that. The early Martyrs, peerless examples of true imitators of Christ, witness to this as to much else.

To go all touchy-feely and shift the goal-posts is to given in cravenly to relativism. One must avoid the temptation to think that "institutional" religion (do I detect a damning-with-faint-praise tone?) is and of itself a bad thing whose time is over, as proved by the large practical apostasy therefrom: it would hardly be sentire cum Ecclesia to think so.

A much better question, and one I think the last commenters have brought up well, is the great elephant in the room - why is it that now, and indeed for some centuries past, has religious practice and belief in the West been on the wane: is material prosperity per se corrosive of religion? (I believe Our Lord made some pertinent remarks about this...) Perhaps it was foolish of the Church in her new liturgical books to delete the advice "terrena despicere".

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4:19:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

FWIW, I would agree that it would be foolish to assume all was right in the '50's - after all, look at what came next! - and indeed it seems that much churchgoing was but keeping up appearances, rather than deep commitment, given how it was soon enough dropt.

I will also admit that Trad Mass circles tend to be rather on the small side...

Certainly, I, too, would hate anyone to think I was a "good Catholic" for going to church: no, I'm a sinner, much in need of all the help I can get - that's one big reason why I go to church (though I hope that love of God comes first as my motive).

As a wise Dominican told me, If you lose your Faith, the last thing you should do is stop saying your prayers and going to church - that's when you need to pray and go to Mass!

Another thing I learned from the O.P.'s: apparently, someone did a survey estimating the French population in the 13th C., and, from records and surviving church buildings, worked out the approximate capacity of the churches then: he came up with the surprising answer (which was also true in Protestant London in Christopher Wren's time and later) that attendance at church must have been very low, low as in at modern levels, because there would not have been room for the people to fit otherwise...

Chrysostom and others regularly berated their congregations for being lax, tardy, and unfrequent in receiving the Sacraments. It is perhaps not too jaundiced to repeat that the Church of the Martyrs was more fervent than the Great Church when all came in after the Empire went Christian...

Indeed, the smaller the group, the more likely the members are to assemble and worship - the opposite also being true...

However, on to my own question!

There have been all manner of terrible events in history: the Thirty Years' War in Germany was certainly comparable to WWI and WWII in ferocity and loss of life, for example.

Yes, growth in what was once extremely rare - atheism - is of especial interest (though I observe a private atheism combined with fulfilment of superstition and public cult was common in the Roman Empire). It is, after all, still very rare in the majority of the world.

Why should education make atheists? Perhaps it is the inculcation of scepticism since the Enlightenment (I term I detest) that is at fault.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 4:25:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

I also recall from somewhere the way the first missionaries to some parts of Brazil were utterly stumped when faced with tribes who were practically atheist - the very idea was completely astonishing to their would-be evangelists!

I have only read reference to this, but it is the only case I'm aware of that speaks of an ancient culture that is not explicitly religious.

Did anyone see the ABC report on reincarnate lamas in Bhutan last night? I have a soft spot for Buddhism, strangely enough. It struck me that, mutatis mutandis, the high rates of religious practice were comparable to England five centuries ago - replacing the prayer wheels and meditation rituals with Rosaries and Masses. What is odd today is that the West is NOT like Bhutan.

Perhaps societal cultural dislocation is to blame... what the French call anomie.

Ideas?

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 5:49:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Your point about atheists not knowing what they're missing is very true - on a parallel, it is painful seeing how the media reports on religious affairs with a slipshod ignorance that would never be tolerated in sports journalism.

I suspect much trendy stuff in education about facilitating learning is actually encouraging people to be sceptical and engage only a hermeneutic of suspicion. But you are quite right to say that the pressures, good and bad, to conform are less and less persuasive, and so there is more freedom (and licence) today than earlier.

(May I rant a moment? It amuses me how Aboriginal sacred sites and Buddhist lamas are spoken of in the media in solemn unquestioning tones, never hinting for a moment that such beliefs are not necessarily true, but Christianity is mocked and the Church held up for condemnation, if necessary by getting some tame dissenter to make sanctimonious criticisms. Rant over!)

Yes, like you I was surprised by that tale of the Brazilian indigenes, but, given that any missionary worth their salt enquired into whatever preexisting beliefs were held by the people they sought out, if only to debunk them, it seems strange but possible there really was no religion much among them.

(I recall the tale of an intrepid seventeenth or eighteenth century Jesuit who made it to Tibet, was granted his cell and even a chapel in one of the famous monasteries there, spent years learning classical Tibetan and mastering Buddhist philosophy and doctrine, then writing a scholarly confutation of Buddhism, and presenting it to the assembled monks, who complimented him on his prodigious learning while politely rejecting his tome as opposed to the Lord Buddha - whereupon he thanked them and departed for India.)

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:18:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

I should think that weekly attendace rates is a pretty handy gauge of health or otherwise of a Church on the whole. It's a pretty basic indicator of commitment.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:35:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

They’re not “practically atheistic”; according to the article “Spirits live everywhere and may even caution or lecture them at times”, and indeed “these spirits are visible to the Pirahãs”.

The fact that they don’t have a creation myth is interesting. Creation myths are very common, but they are sometimes lacking in cultures which have no sense of history, in the sense of the progress or direction of events. From the article, the Pirahãs live very much in the moment. I would guess their sense of history is of a series of infinitely repeating and overlapping cycles – the cycle of the seasons, the cycle of the generations, the cycle of the day, and so forth. But if these cycles are seen as continuing infinitely – and why should they not be? - then there is no need for a creation myth, because there is no concept of creation. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t religious.

Likewise the article tries to suggest that the Pirahã have no rituals associated with death, but they clearly do – the bury their dead as opposed to burning them, mummifying them or leaving them for scavengers.

The western mind – and perhaps particularly the secular western mind – assumes that religion is an attempt to account for human origins, and/or an attempt to deal with the harshness of life by focussing on an afterlife. If they don’t find these things, they don’t see religion. But maybe that tells us more about the western mind than it does about the nature of religion. The Pirahãs clearly have supernatural beliefs, involving sentient beings in the form of spirits with whom it is possible to have a personal relationship. How is that not religion?

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:37:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

At most, only for churches that require or expect weekly attendance as a mark of commitment. There are many which do not.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 6:44:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

I think the need for definition works both ways, David. You've moved rather smoothly from Tony's "institutional religion" to the signficantly different concept of "an institutional religion".

Tony can speak for himself, but I think most - all? - religious traditions have an institutional dimension, but that this is only one dimension. If I speak of "institutional Catholicism" you will understand that I am speaking of one particular aspect or dimension of Catholicism, and the same is true for other religious traditions.

I think Tony's point that "instititutional religion" has been on the decline for some time is a valid one - we need look only at the wide gap between religious identification and participation in religious institutions. And this seems to be true across different denominations and traditions, and also to be true for both "liberal" and "conservative" traditions within denominations. It's not an absolutely uniform trend, but it is an overwhelming one.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 7:58:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Maybe they do not strictly require it (although I have never met a committed non-Catholic Christian who thought it was okay for Christians not to go to Church every Sunday - after all, there is a commandment regarding the Lord's Day). Even if that is the case, though, a person who cannot be stuffed going to Church every Sunday is not *likely* to be very committed to the most basic Christian living.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:10:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Actually, I'd really like to know which particular doctrines of the Church you disagree with and why. I think this could aid the discussion.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:12:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Surely to just rely on a simplistic head-count is, in itself, a kind of relativism?

It does have the advantage of being an actual measurement, however, and therefore a fact.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:37:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

That’s probably very true, but one useful measure is the number of seminarians in a diocese and the one thing I think we can say for sure on that point is that it is the dioceses which are orthodox in teaching, which have increases in seminarians ...

Can we? Again, I've heard this many times but it always seems to be based on anecdote rather than hard data.

It also potentially falls into the same sort of 'wish fulfillment' and other traps that Pere warns about in terms of attendance.

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:46:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

That doesn't preclude it being interpreted in a relativistic way though Louise.

I've seen it used in this way by, for want of better terms, liberals and conservatives alike.

Numbers are use to bolster an argument ('most people take no notice of the church's rules on contraception' or 'most people in the US are now 'pro-life'') and, ironically, lack of numbers are used to bolster an argument ('the church is not in a popularity contest' or 'prophets are not popular').

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 8:48:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

I'd find that difficult to do without taking a few days off work Louise!

 
At Tuesday, July 21, 2009 9:04:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Why don't you give it a go, then. Just mention the first one that pops into your head.

 
At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 1:05:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...

I'll decline Louise because 1) I simply can't see how such a tangent would contribute to this subject and 2) It really is a big subject and I wouldn't tackle it on a blog that's not mine.

 
At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 8:51:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

I could be wrong, but I have a very strong suspicion that St Paul would disagree with you.

 
At Wednesday, July 22, 2009 8:59:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

This is in reply to Tony somewhere further up the chain.

I'm happy to go hunt *everything* down (eventually) Tony, but there's no way I'll do it if you're not going to be persuaded by *any* argument I put out there. If I could show you that there is a strong link between orthodoxy and increases in seminarians, would you be happy to accept that at least, or not? Basically, I can't be bothered engaging in any discussion where someone is determined not to give any credence to anything I say, and I find far too much of that on the ‘net.

As for +Wilson: I lived for 5 years in Adelaide and I was always rather impressed by the Archbishop. I have no reason to believe he is not orthodox in his belief. However, I know a young man who is now with the Franciscans who went to the Vocations Office in Adelaide when he first began to discern his call to the priesthood. They would meet monthly or so and sit around being invited by the “facilitator” (or whoever it was) to contemplate cushions and other such drivel. So, while I have no quarrel myself with the Archbishop, it may be the case that he needs to stick a bomb under the Vocations Office.

I’ll say this, Tony, the dissenters in the Church have been running it here in Tasmania for decades now. I think that’s largely true in most of the rest of Oz. Things have become far worse under their “care” and in any case, they are hardly Catholic in their belief, so it’s not only about numbers. I think it’s bad that so few Catholics even just come to Mass on Sundays, but a Church full of dissenters would not be any better IMO.

"We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" seems to be the bit many bishops have trouble with. I guess they nuance it.

 
At Saturday, July 25, 2009 3:06:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Hi Matthias

You’ll obviously know a great deal more about the UCA than I do, but I’ve always understood that for both historical and theological reason (a)it embraces quite a degree of diversity between different congregations, and (b) authority is quite decentralised, with each congregation enjoying a much greater degree of self-determination than would be found among the Catholics or the Anglicans. So, for instance, if a congregation did not favour gay clergy (or, for that matter, women clergy), they would always have the right not to appoint a gay or female cleric. Other congregations might do so, but that was there affair; participating in the same church organisation as those other congregations did not imply sharing their views or practices on every matter and particularly not on this one. Have I got that right?

The other thing you might be able to cast some light on; to the extent that people left because they didn’t like, e.g., the acceptance of gay clergy, was there any sense of where they were going? Did they tend to go to other, less liberal, Protestant congregations, or did they cease to practice entirely?

 
At Saturday, July 25, 2009 8:16:00 am , Anonymous Matthias said...

Those who left were going to either the Presbyterian churches nearby,Low Church Anglicans or even to Baptists. some have gone to "evangelical ' congregations of the UCA

 

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