31 July 2008

Nature Red In Tooth And Claw

In June we stayed for a week with friends in Anchorage, Alaska.  This video was filmed yesterday just 200 yards from their house.  This moose and victim/calf were hanging out in the neighborhood while we were there (wife/personal physician took the above picture of the same pair).

There Will Always Be (Catholic) England...

...unless there's no England at all. George Weigel:

In 1850, Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman wrote his fellow-Englishmen from Rome, announcing that Pius IX had restored the diocesan hierarchy in England and that he, Wiseman, would be cardinal archbishop of Westminster.

"From Out the Flaminian Gate," a pastoral letter longer on baroque rhetoric than ecumenical diplomacy, caused a perfect storm in Protestant England. Queen Victoria wondered whether she remained the sovereign. Lord John Russell, the prime minister, said he would rely on the good sense of the English people, who "looked with contempt on the mummeries of superstition." The Anglican archbishop of York warned that Rome was plotting Anglicanism's "captivity and ruin."

As things turned out, Anglicanism proved quite capable of arranging its own sad ruin. Today, Catholics (their ranks bolstered by a substantial number of Polish immigrants) are the largest number of Christian churchgoers in England. The Church of England is the Christian community to which most Englishmen know that they, and their parents and grandparents, once belonged. England's cause, and Anglicanism's, are no longer thought to be the same.

Which was once the case, and for centuries. At the level of national mythology, modern state-building in 16th century England had a premier Catholic villain: the Spanish bogeyman, Philip II, with his Armada. Perhaps more importantly in ordinary people's lives, the formation of the modern state in Tudor England went hand-in-(mailed)-glove with the state-sponsored and state-enforced demolition of traditional Catholic piety in favor of Protestant doctrine and practice, in what historian Eamon Duffy dubbed "the stripping of the altars." By 1688, with the staunchly Protestant William and Mary enthroned and James II in exile, to be an English patriot was to be Protestant. Catholicism was dangerously "other."

That the storm of controversy Nicholas Wiseman caused in 1850 is inconceivable now --- that contemporary calls for England's conversion would likely meet yawns rather than outrage --- says a lot about the land that once produced such great Christian allegorists as John Bunyan, John Milton and C.S. Lewis.

"English = Protestant" has been replaced by a new equation: "English = Multiculturally P.C." Evensong is still sung superbly in King's College chapel, Cambridge; but the psalms and canticles echo amidst the real absence. Bunyan's Pilgrim has come to an even deeper slough: not of despond, but of spiritual apathy and boredom.

Into that slough now rides Father Aidan Nichols, the distinguished English Dominican theologian. His small book, The Realm: An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England, makes a bold claim about the past and a bold wager about the future: "England is in fact inseparable from Catholicism, unimaginable without it."

Here's the whole thing. Via First Things blog.

30 July 2008

Holy Communion: The Homilies.

The "Homilies" page at the Church of the Holy Communion is just about up to date. Missing homilies belong mostly to Fr. Clarke who still scratches out his sermons with a quill pen in an obscure runic script (as above).

29 July 2008

Mannish Boy

Turns out my invincible innumeracy is just more evidence of my masculine virility:
The New York Times is determined to show that women are discriminated against in the sciences; too bad the facts say otherwise. A new study has “found that girls perform as well as boys on standardized math tests,” claims a July 25 article by Tamar Lewin—thus, the underrepresentation of women on science faculties must result from bias. Actually, the study, summarized in the July 25 issue of Science, shows something quite different: while boys’ and girls’ average scores are similar, boys outnumber girls among students in both the highest and the lowest score ranges. Either the Times is deliberately concealing the results of the study or its reporter cannot understand the most basic science reporting.
Here's the whole thing.

Blessed Wm. Wilberforce

Here's a review of a new biography of William Wilberforce, who is commemorated in the Episcopal Church's calendar tomorrow:

Wilberforce likened his conversion, only a year after his election, to wakening from a dream and "recovering the use of my reason after a delirium." The experience gave his humanitarian impulse a more particular form. The sentiment against the slave trade had grown in the late 18th century, although the wealth it generated still served to back powerful interests. When Wilberforce offered his first motion in Parliament for slave-trade abolition, in May 1787, luminaries across the political spectrum -- including Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox and Pitt himself -- spoke for him. But the House of Commons defeated the motion. (When the Commons was finally won over, the House of Lords became abolition's stumbling block.)

Full success would come only two decades later, as a result of a persistent campaign to shift public opinion, principally by showing the horrors of the slave trade while arguing that its abolition would not wreck the economy or merely benefit foreigners who would step into the market. Wilberforce guided a coalition to make the case for abolition. Mr. Hague's insider knowledge of politics -- he is himself a member of Parliament and a former leader of Britain's Conservative Party -- sharpens his analysis of Wilberforce's own campaign and deepens his admiration for its success. Winning over both public opinion and key politicians eventually allowed Wilberforce to push abolition through. Lord Grenville, as prime minister, introduced a motion in the House of Lords in 1807 that made its passage in the House of Commons a foregone conclusion.

As the debate in the Commons reached a climax, Samuel Romilly rose to give a speech that poignantly contrasted Wilberforce's victory with Napoleon Bonaparte's career. When Bonaparte seemed to have reached the summit of his ambition, he could not escape "recollection of the blood he had spilled and the oppressions he had committed." Wilberforce, by contrast, could enjoy the consciousness of having saved "so many millions of his fellow creatures." When Romilly concluded his tribute, the House of Commons rose to its feet and cheered.

Here's the whole thing.

The Osteen/Schori Axis

The Atlantic's Ross Douthat has some further thoughtful insights in relation to Jody Bottum's very fine and instructive essay "The Death of Protestant America" in the current First Things (not yet available online but lengthily excerpted below):

The Norman Vincent Peale bit, I think, is particularly telling, because it gets at something that I think is often missed about the current religious landscape: Namely, the extent to which Schori's theological premises are shared across the culture-war divide, by Christians who oppose gay marriage and abortion and voted eagerly for George W. Bush as well as by liberal Protestants who consider the contemporary GOP an abomination. Peale's heirs occupy the pulpits of what remains of the Protestant mainline, but they preach from the dais at numerous evangelical megachurches as well. The people who read Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer and The Prayer of Jabez may be more politically conservative then the people who read A Wing and a Prayer, and read certain passages of Genesis and Leviticus more literally, but the theology they're imbibing is roughly the same sort of therapeutic mush. Indeed, the big difference between the prosperity gospel that Osteen and his ilk are peddling and Schori's liberal Episcopalianism has less to do with any theological principle and more to do with what aspect of American life they want God to validate. And this difference, I suspect, has a great deal to do with social class. Osteen and Co.'s God wants us to pursue financial fulfillment because they're largely preaching to entrepreneurial, upwardly-mobile members of the middle class, whereas Schori's God wants us to pursue a more personal fulfillment - sexually, emotionally, philanthropically - because she's preaching to a demographic that, financially speaking, has already got it made. (Which, in turn, is why it isn't a surprise that as American evangelicals grow more prosperous, they're starting to discover their God's Dag Hammarskjöld side as well.)

Obviously the world of religious conservatism also includes lots of people who are invested in actual Christian orthodoxy, as opposed to the Osteen-Shori vision of God as a really powerful life coach. But the theological continuum that encompasses both Schori-style liberal Protestants and Oprah-watching, The Secret-reading spiritual seekers - call it moralistic therapeutic deism, call it gnosticism, call it the American heresy - extends way deeper into the "religious right" than a lot of people think.

Here's the rest.

28 July 2008

Sermon: Mustard Seeds & the Promise

Pentecost XI (Proper 12a)
Rom 8.26-34; Mt 13.13-13,44-49
27 July 2008
Church of the Holy Communion

+ + +

We continue this morning working our way through this middle portion of St. Matthew’s Gospel, chock full as it is with the parables of our Lord. The last two Sundays, Frs. Clarke and Sanderson, respectively, have begun their expositions with a small confession of their own sins. In keeping with the agricultural nature of the parables under consideration, Fr. Clarke let us know – we would never have guessed it ourselves – that he had “sown the seeds of laziness.” And then Fr. Sanderson allowed as how he had, from time to time and in his own small way, “sown the seeds of persnickety-ness.” You don’t say, Father. So it has seemed the obvious thing as I prepared to preach this week that I too should begin by confessing some sin or peccadillo characteristic of my own life, and so I intended to do – but honestly I haven’t been able to think of single thing! I was going to ask my wife if she had perhaps observed anything, but then I thought better.

[Actually, I forgot Fr. Clarke was to be away this morning – otherwise I would have just made a list of “The Further Sins of Fr. Clarke." But it’s just as well; we haven’t got all day!]

Actually, I know I am a sinner, “for the Bible tells me so.” And I’m even aware of what at least some of my sins are, but they are all much too cringe-inducing for public revelation. All that’s just a lead-in to saying that an understanding of the Gospel that begins by declaring that we are God’s beloved, and denies or does an end-run around the terrible fact and consequences of our individual and corporate rebellion against God’s goodness – a gospel which avoids the Cross, a gospel such as we clergy were recently subjected to by a certain visiting prelate – is something less than the Christian Gospel and is, as St. Paul told the Galatians, “no gospel at all.”[i] Our Lord and his forerunner John always began their preaching with, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

So it is important, even on a sticky July morning, that we be clear-sighted about our own sin, lest we look at the Cross, lest we eat Christ’s Body and drink his Blood, and say, “What’s the big deal? What does this have to do with me?”

So, we need sight, but we also, if I may make a fine distinction here to suit my own purpose, need vision. We need sight that sees what is, but we also need vision that can see what will one day be, what is coming, what is bubbling just beneath the surface of our present experience – we need vision of Christ’s coming Kingdom. This vision is just what he urges on us in this string of small parables we have heard this morning. Sight sees the minute mustard seed, but vision sees the greatest of all shrubs that becomes like a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

St. Paul makes much the same point in this morning’s epistle lesson from Romans: we need sight to see the present reality of our sin, but we also need vision to see the great redemption and transformation that God intends, for in everything, in every circumstance of our lives, Paul tell us, God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose; for those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

That talk of foreknowledge and predestination may raise all sorts of philosophical and theological questions for us, which I trust John Calvin and Thomas Aquinas have worked in their heavenly fellowship have by now worked out in minute detail and to their mutual satisfaction – but leave those questions aside for the moment and look at main thrust of what Paul is telling us, what he wants us to believe and understand and to use: with the fullness of his divine sovereignty and power God intends to conform his redeemed people – you and me in all our cringe-inducing sinfulness, even believe it or not the lazy and persnickety – God intends to conform us to the image of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what God is up to in everything, in and through every circumstance of our lives – the good, the bad, and the ugly. He is loving us and shaping us and sanctifying us, fitting us for eternity in the fellowship of his love.

What we need now, in the midst of the changes and chances of this life, Jesus tells us, is to develop the vision that sees beyond the tiny mustard seed to the fully formed tree. What we need now, Paul tells us, is the vision that sees beyond the current struggle with “the world, the flesh, and the Devil” to the victory of Christ wrought in each of us and among all of us and extending throughout the entire creation.[ii]

Why do we need this vision? What does it do? Well, we know. Vision of what is to be has the odd effect of working backward to transform what we experience now. This is true in simple things, and it is true in great things. I know a woman (she might be my mother-in-law) who likes to read mystery-thriller novels she borrows from the library. She likes them a great deal, except for the mysterious and thrilling parts. Often times they make her so nervous she just can’t stand it. So guess what she does. That’s right, she reads the last couple chapters first. Then, knowing who lives, who dies, and who it was who killed Mr. Boddy in the library with the candlestick, she can begin at the beginning, relax, and enjoy the plot’s twists and turns all the way through.

Now that’s a simple and maybe a silly example, but it points the way to a deeper and more complex truth, in some ways a more difficult truth, about our lives in Christ and the experience of our circumstances – good, bad, and ugly – the twists and turns of the Church’s history and our own personal histories, and shows us their true meaning.[iii]

But this transformation doesn’t happen in some saccharine, sentimental way that denies or ignores the very real pain and heartbreak we encounter in the world, still less the struggle with sin in our own hearts – but actually just the opposite. Rather than leading us to ignore or deny the hard truths of our circumstances, the vision of God’s promise – the promise to conform us to the glorious image of his Son, the promise that the tiny seed of the Gospel will grow into the hospitable tree of the Kingdom, the promise of Resurrection – the vision of God’s promise actually allows us and gives us the firm standing to be honest about our circumstances – because we stand on the solid rock of his love: He who did not spare his own Son, St. Paul reminds us, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? That is the God who has made his promise and the logic of love we are to apply to all our circumstances.

We know, then, that even in the most difficult of circumstances God is at work, and his purpose will not finally be thwarted. God has made his promise; its seed is planted in us at baptism when we are sealed with Holy Ghost and marked as Christ’s own forever; it is sealed with Body and Blood of Christ; and if God is for us, who can be against us?

[i] Gal 1.6-9; cf Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori to our diocesan clergy and Bishop Lawrence’s response: http://tinyurl.com/5mdzoo

[ii] Rom 8.19-22

[iii] In a longer sermon, I’d take the opportunity here to compare contrast these two worldviews:

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. However, nothing dispirits, and nothing seems worth while disputing. He bolts down all events, all creeds, and beliefs, and persuasions, all hard things visible and invisible, never mind how knobby; as an ostrich of potent digestion gobbles down bullets and gun flints. And as for small difficulties and worryings, prospects of sudden disaster, peril of life and limb; all these, and death itself, seem to him only sly, good-natured hits, and jolly punches in the side bestowed by the unseen and unaccountable old joker. That odd sort of wayward mood I am speaking of, comes over a man only in some time of extreme tribulation; it comes in the very midst of his earnestness, so that what just before might have seemed to him a thing most momentous, now seems but a part of the general joke. There is nothing like the perils of whaling to breed this free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy; and with it I now regarded this whole voyage of the Pequod, and the great White Whale its object. (Herman Melville in Moby Dick)


Dear friends, life is not governed by chance; it is not random. Your very existence has been willed by God, blessed and given a purpose (cf. Gen 1:28)! Life is not just a succession of events or experiences, helpful though many of them are. It is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful. It is to this end that we make our choices; it is for this that we exercise our freedom; it is in this – in truth, in goodness, and in beauty – that we find happiness and joy. Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.

Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life. Thus the “way” which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ. This is the life of the Church. (Benedict XVI at World Youth Day in Sydney, July 2008)


25 July 2008

Colbert On Lambeth


21 July 2008


The Most Rev'd Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and The Rt Rev'd Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, respectively. Via George Congar.



Michael Novak on the problem of evil in USA Today:

The New Yorker (of all magazines) gave a good number of pages early last month to a quite brilliant book reviewer, James Wood, for a long essay on why he could no longer be a Christian. Stories like his are widespread. They usually cite the natural evils that too often crash upon humans — in China a stupefying earthquake, in Burma a cyclone, elsewhere tsunami, or tornado, disease, flood, or cruel slow-working famine. They then add the evils that humans inflict upon other humans.

Virtually every family in America has suffered from painful evils, often bitterly and almost overpoweringly so: A promising young nephew in a major university killed in an auto crash; a wife, husband, or sister wasted slowly and painfully by cancer or some other affliction — drug or alcohol addiction; the Alzheimer's disease of an unrecognizing spouse; nightmares from brutalities suffered under distant dictatorial regimes.

One of the oldest accusations against God in the Bible and in every generation since has been that there is too much evil in this world for there to be a good God. The pain is so intense. The irrationality and seeming cruelty at times seem unendurable.

Of course, ceasing to be a Jew or a Christian does not wipe these evils away. They continue. They roar on. The rejection of God does not diminish evil in the world by a whit. In fact, the turn of Russia and Germany from more or less Christian regimes to boastfully atheist regimes did not lessen, but increased, the number of humans who have horribly suffered, by nearly 100 million. Even under atheist interpretations of science, the vast suffering under ferocious competition for survival, for a vastly longer era than was known, far exceeds the evils earlier generations knew.

An unusually religious friend of my daughter volunteered for a year's work among the poor of Haiti. Within weeks, she was so dismayed by the inexplicable suffering of the poor, and their defenselessness, that she abandoned her faith. It demanded too much of her.

This noble young woman's loss of faith did not lessen the poverty and pain of those she worked with. Besides, the reasons for the overwhelming poverty she encountered were not God-made but man-made. (After all, Haiti is by nature a very rich nation.) The secrets of how humans can create wealth have raised up the poor of many countries; somehow, the secrets passed Haiti by. One remedy the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did add, moreover, is to touch the heart of this compassionate young woman and many others like her, to bring remedial help and, in some cases, knowledge of how to produce economic transformation.

However . . .

Here's the whole thing, very worthwhile. See also David Bentley Hart.

17 July 2008

Sartor Plays Scarlatti

Sonata K. 9 by Domenico Scarlatti, performed by Uruguayan guitarist Marco Sartor, winner of the 2008 JoAnn Falletta International Guitar Concerto Competition.

This video was recorded at the Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston SC.

15 July 2008

N.O.W., Let Us Pray.

Jody Bottum has a long piece in the new First Things on "The Death of Protestant America". Following is the section focusing on the Episcopal Church. Not yet available online sans subscription, so why don't you subscribe?

From the beginning, Protestants in America felt some interdenominational unity simply because they were all Protestants—named by their protest against Rome. The United States never experienced a state-sponsored Catholic Church, capable of oppressing dissenters. Still, even in this country, the Protestant imagination was formed by works such as John Foxe’s 1563 Book of Martyrs, and it retained a collective image of the Reformation as a time when Protestants of every stripe were martyred for their faith by the Jesuitical priests of the Roman Antichrist.

“Universal anti-Catholic bias was brought to Jamestown in 1607 and vigorously cultivated in all the thirteen colonies,” as John Tracy Ellis wrote in his groundbreaking 1956 history, American Catholicism. Inflamed by immigration worries in the nineteenth century, that bias would break out in forms such as the Boston mob’s burning of an Ursuline convent in 1834 and the Blaine Amendments of the 1870s, which wrote into state constitutions a ban on the use of public funds by religious institutions. Even in calmer periods, the anti-Catholic foundation of Protestantism, the essential protest against Rome, helped form the peculiar national institution of mutually antagonistic churches somehow operating socially as a unity.

Social class fits in somewhere here, as well: the old cultural remnants of Mainline wealth, breeding, and assurance. The established upper classes in Protestant America—the Boston Brahmins, the Upper Tenth of New York, the inhabitants of Philadelphia’s Mainline: all the Social Register types up and down the Eastern seaboard—hardly welcomed the waves of emigrants from Catholic Europe during the nineteenth century.

The twentieth century would bring its own examples. Take, for instance, the peculiar case of James Pike, the Episcopal bishop of California in the 1960s. His fame seems to have declined in recent years. Who now remembers much about the man? Still, he deserves not to fade entirely away, for he was an all-American . . . well, an all-American something, though what, exactly, remains unclear. A churchman, certainly, and a public celebrity—but perhaps, beyond all that, a genuine cultural symbol: his moment’s perfect type and figure.

As it happens, Pike’s family was Catholic when he was born in 1913. He didn’t become an Episcopalian until after his second marriage, in 1942, while he was a government lawyer in Washington—and he didn’t enter the seminary until after his service in the Second World War, when he was already in his thirties. From that moment on, however, his rise was meteoric. By 1949 he was chair of the religion department at Columbia University and chaplain of the school. In 1952 he became dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and in 1958 he was elevated to bishop of California—all this as a convert in a church that prided itself on its old-fashioned composure and careful ­discernment.

Many in the denomination mistrusted him, but Pike was the irresistible man, the torchbearer of the time: his face in every photograph, his signature on every petition, and his blessing on every cause. He first achieved fame in the early 1950s (as fame is measured, at least, by praise from the New York Times) with his attacks on the Catholic Church and its opposition to contraception. In the later 1950s, he burnished his image in the fight against segregation. And by the mid-1960s, he seemed constantly in the news—Bishop Pike denies the virginity of Mary! Bishop Pike rejects the dogma of hell! Bishop Pike denies the Trinity!—all while announcing publicly his embrace of Gnostic mysticism and appearing on a televised séance to contact the ghost of his dead son.

In 1969 he and his third wife drove off into the wadis of the Israeli desert, where he died, dehydrated and alone, as his wife hiked ten hours back from their stranded rental car. “It was our first time in the desert,” Mrs. Pike later told the press. “We didn’t take a guide. We were very stupid about that.”

But, in truth, there was something stupid from the beginning about the charismatic and charming James Pike. Oh, he was smart enough to sound intelligent, and he was extremely savvy about the star-making power of the press. In another sense, however, he was merely ­riding his unconscious awareness of the age, discarding doctrine in the name of ethics, and he was always ­ feckless: dangerously irresponsible, ­refusing to think his way through causes and ­consequences.

“Practically every churchgoer you meet in our level of society is Episcopalian,” he wrote in a letter to his mother, urging her to join him in his move away from Catholicism. It is an astonishingly revealing line: unselfconscious, lacking any reference to faith, openly rolling together class and anti-Catholicism to form the great motive for conversion. From there to an Episcopal bishop’s throne was only a few small steps—“barely twelve years,” as Time magazine pointed out in a fawning 1958 story about Pike’s arrival at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

The path doesn’t seem much different today. The Episcopal Church used to be “larger percentagewise,” the current presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, admitted to the New York Times at the end of 2006. “But Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.” Episcopalians, she said, aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children—indeed, “it’s probably the opposite. We encourage ­people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.” Applauding her parents’ decision to leave the Catholic Church and become Episcopalians when she was nine, Bishop Schori added, “I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged.”

Schori is by no means a radical, as such things are counted these days in the Episcopal Church—the home, after all, of V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, and John Shelby Spong, the retired bishop of Newark, who has denied even the possibility of meaningful prayer. She seems, rather, a fairly typical liberal Protestant: a rentier, really, living off the income from the property her predecessors purchased, strolling at sunset along the strand as the great tide of the Mainline ebbs further out to sea.

To be saved, we need only to realize that God already loves us, just the way we are, Schori wrote in her 2006 book, A Wing and a Prayer. She’s not exactly wrong about God’s love, but, in Schori’s happy soteriology, such love demands from us no personal ­reformation, no individual guilt, no particular penance, and no precise dogma. All we have to do, to prove the redemption we already have, is support the political causes she approves. The mission of the church is to show forth God’s love by demanding inclusion and social justice. She often points to the United Nations as an example of God’s work in the world, and when she talks about the mission of the Episcopal Church, she typically identifies it with the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.

Her Yahweh, in other words, is a blend of Norman Vincent Peale and Dag Hammarskjöld. And through it all you can hear the notes of Bishop Pike—not the lyrics, perhaps, but always the melody. There’s the same cringe-making assumption of social superiority: “Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates” than the lower classes of Catholics and Mormons. For that matter, there’s the same unselfconscious declaration of superiority even to faith: We’re theologically more advanced precisely because we don’t have a theology—we have “a place where wrestling with questions” is “encouraged rather than discouraged.”

The Mainline, however, shifted to a surprising degree in the fifty years between Bishop Pike in 1958 and Bishop Schori in 2008. Pike was newsworthy precisely because he seemed contrary to type: a chaplain to the establishment who campaigned against that establishment. Schori seems instead a solid, unexceptionable instance of her type: a representative of the moods and politics of the establishment Episcopalians who elected her their presiding bishop.

Early in 1953, Pike refused an honorary degree from the Episcopalians’ seminary in Sewanee, Tennessee, because of the school’s segregation. “The Church has never regarded the civil law as the final norm for the Christian conscience,” he wrote in the noble peroration of his letter of rejection. (Although, in characteristic Pike fashion, he sent the letter to the New York Times before he sent it to Sewanee.) As it happens, the man was not far out of step with his church; even in the South, Episcopalians were moving quickly toward support for integration, and, just a few months later, the school began admitting black students. Still, it seemed—and was widely reported as—a new thing when the dean of St. John’s Cathedral denounced one of his own church’s seminaries. To create a parallel instance of ap­parent class betrayal, Bishop Schori would have to do something like take to the pages of Human Life Review to attack her congregants’ support of legalized abortion.

She’s not likely to do that, perhaps mostly because abortion offers a key measure of the changes in the social class of liberal Protestants over the past fifty years. The role of abortion, and of feminism generally, deserves its own chapter in any telling of the Mainline story. But here’s a small case study: After the attacks of September 11, 2001, I was at the Episcopalians’ National Cathedral in Washington, on a panel to discuss violence and religion. The evening began with a prayer from Jane Dixon, the cathedral’s temporary bishop, and her invocation was as revealing as any short speech could be of the concerns of the contemporary Episcopal Church.

While asking the divine gifts of wisdom for the speakers and understanding for the listeners, Bishop Dixon was vague—not merely failing to name the name of Jesus but straining to phrase all her requests in a ­passive voice to avoid even naming God: “May we be given . . . may it be granted to us . . .” When her prayer unexpectedly swerved toward abortion, however, her language suddenly snapped into hard specificity as she reminded God that “America at its best stands for the spread of rights around the world, especially the right of women to choose.” The discussion that evening, she prayed, would not turn vindictive, for we could not condemn the destruction of the World Trade Center until we remembered that “even in the United States, people have bombed abortion clinics.”

The important thing to understand here is the social shape of these issues and their uniform acceptance by a certain class. Bishop Dixon was speaking the language of Bishop Pike, and yet, at the same time, she was not shocking her listeners. She was, rather, confirming them in their settled views. Sometime after the 1960s, everyone in the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church became Bishop Pike—with the perverse effect that Pike’s ostensible rebellion turned, at last, into the norm. Formed in the victory of civil-rights activism, a new version of the social-gospel movement became the default theology of church bureaucrats in the Mainline. The churches “increasingly turned their attention to the drafting of social statements on a variety of contemporary problems,” as the religious historian Peter J. Thuesen has noted, and their statements “revealed a shared opinion among Mainline executives that the churches’ primary public role was social advocacy.”

The result is an ethical consensus unfailingly consistent with the political views and cultural mores of a particular social class—in fact, the class of professional women in the United States since the 1970s. Certainly on the question of abortion, and probably on the question of homosexuality, such ­bishops as Jane Dixon and Katharine Jefferts Schori face no serious opposition among the elite of their denomination in the United States. The Episcopal Church remains the chaplaincy of an establishment, but it is an establishment much diminished—in class, numbers, and influence—for only Pike’s heirs have stayed in the church bureaucracy, and they have no one to speak to except themselves.

H.L. Mencken is usually credited with dubbing the Episcopal Church of the 1920s “the Republican Party at prayer.” The Episcopal Church today seems hardly distinguishable from the small portion of America that is the National Organization for Women at prayer.


14 July 2008

Limping Towards Lambeth

Jordan Hylden considers Lambeth:

Nearly six hundred purple-shirted Anglican bishops will gather this week in England for the Lambeth Conference, the decennial meeting of all the bishops in the global Anglican Communion. Of course, there would have been well over eight hundred, but for the fact that the bishops of five national Anglican provinces—about a quarter of Anglican bishops overall—decided to stay home.

That’s a sadness, for the average Anglican today (as Gregory Cameron has pointed out), is a black woman in Africa, under the age of thirty, who supports three children on a salary of two dollars a day and finds the story of her life written in the pages of the Old Testament. The average Anglican represented at Lambeth is more likely a white man from New Jersey with a three-car garage who supposes that the world in which he lives is described quite well by the pages of the New York Times.

Here's the whole thing.

The Gynophobe Craptocracy

Mary Eberstadt's "new atheist" alter-ego in "Loser Letter" #8 (the best yet):
As I mentioned earlier, my personal religious belief took the usual battering by atheists and their fellow-travelers when I went off to college. What was left of it then got further blown away by my idiotosaurus boyfriend Lobo (about whom You’ll hear more in my next Letter than You ever wanted to, but it can’t be helped). So what with one thing and another, by the age of twenty-one I’d abandoned most of the religion I’d grown up with, and become what You might call a classic “cafeteria” Dull.

Actually, I would have been more accurately described as an anorexic cafeteria Dull, considering how little was left on my religious plate by then. Like any other believer in name only, I thought that I could somehow have it all, theologically speaking — You know, jettisoning whatever I didn’t like about the Loser (especially those laws about You-know-what!) and keeping whatever doctrines I “personally” approved of (i.e., the ones that sounded good and didn’t really get in my face).

But of those few things remaining things about Christianity that I did approve, I really felt more strongly than most atheists might imagine. What finally made me proud to be a Dull, what really lay beneath my unwillingness to relinquish all that nonsense, was that I thought the Loser and his followers had stood — and stood uniquely — against some of the grosser practices of Human history.

Abortion, infanticide, pedophilia, bestiality, Human sacrifice — these were things that I then thought of as somehow beneath the dignity of our Species. The fact that Judaism and Christianity had set their faces against these things was powerfully appealing to me — and not only to me, of course, but to millions of other people across the ages, too. As that Ueber-papist Elizabeth Anscombe said somewhere, it was a “known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things.”

And though I’m embarrassed to admit it now, there were probably also personal reasons for my vulnerability. Perhaps because I am a Female, for example, it wasn’t hard to peer back through time to the hills of Rome and feel creeped out by the thought of the Patria Potestas law which granted fathers a right to off any unwanted baby girls. What kind of gynophobe craptocracy does that, I used to wonder? It seemed obvi to me then, as it does to so many Dulls now, that a society in which the weakest were getting hosed so ruthlessly could use a little moral fine-tuning — and that Christianity with all its sins at least had a fork for that kind of thing.

Ditto, I was freaked about the female infanticide underway in our own time. It seemed crazy to me — then, anyway — that all this preemptive baby-killing was going on with no shout-out whatsoever from Western feminists or other progressive types. Weren’t any of them Female, too? Why weren’t they bug-eyed like me about those weird statistics from China and India and a few other places, showing that ratios of XY Chromosomes to Xx ones were getting seriously out of whack?

Euthanasia to me was another no-brainer, also for personal reasons. I’d been a patient one too many times myself! So I didn’t think it was the most brilliant idea to ask someone who’s flat on their back with enough drugs packed inside to open a pharmacy to pay attention and decide whether they want to live or die. Plus which, the whole idea of a life not worth living (Lebensunwertes Lebens, auf Deutsch!) seemed sketchy to me. When You got right down to it, I thought, having well people wipe out sick people just didn’t seem fair — not unless we were going to let both parties flip coins each time so the patient had at least a shot at telling the attendant that it was his turn to be offed instead. But nobody I knew of seemed to be advocating that.
Here's the whole thing, and the eight letters published thus far are here, with new epistles arriving on Fridays.

11 July 2008

It Goes Way On Back

Fr. Neuhaus at the annual convention of the National Right to Life Committee:
We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person—of every human person.

Against the encroaching shadows of the culture of death, against forces commanding immense power and wealth, against the perverse doctrine that a woman’s dignity depends upon her right to destroy her child, against what St. Paul calls the principalities and powers of the present time, this convention renews our resolve that we shall not weary, we shall not rest, until the culture of life is reflected in the rule of law and lived in the law of love.

It has been a long journey, and there are still miles and miles to go. Some say it started with the notorious Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 when, by what Justice Byron White called an act of raw judicial power, the Supreme Court wiped from the books of all fifty states every law protecting the unborn child. But it goes back long before that. Some say it started with the agitation for “liberalized abortion law” in the 1960s when the novel doctrine was proposed that a woman cannot be fulfilled unless she has the right to destroy her child. But it goes back long before that. It goes back to the movements for eugenics and racial and ideological cleansing of the last century.

Whether led by enlightened liberals, such as Margaret Sanger, or brutal totalitarians, whose names live in infamy, the doctrine and the practice was that some people stood in the way of progress and were therefore non-persons, living, as it was said, “lives unworthy of life.” But it goes back even before that. It goes back to the institution of slavery in which human beings were declared to be chattel property to be bought and sold and used and discarded at the whim of their masters. It goes way on back.

07 July 2008

Quote of the Day.

"Slow down while I cut the lemon."
From this fascinating bit of analysis. Posted as a seasonal compliment to the bourbon bit below. I expect I'm about the furthest thing possible from a "New Labour wide boy," but until I visited St. Lucia last year, I had never heard of putting anything other than a lime in a G&T. England and America - two nations separated by a citrus slice.


Jordan Hylden on GAFCON

The GAFCON answer to this question seems to be a revived and reinforced confessionalism, based on the Thirty-Nine Articles and the fourteen tenets of the Jerusalem Declaration. As the statement makes patently clear, the GAFCON Anglicans have little confidence that the existing structures of Anglicanism can be trusted to judge in matters of orthodoxy and Church discipline. GAFCON asked that its new fellowship of confessing Anglicans be headed by a Primates’ Council, whose function will be to “authenticate and recognize confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy, and congregations”— whether they are in full communion with Canterbury or not.

The principle is similar to that already used to justify cross-boundary interventions in the United States by the Nigerian, Rwandan, and other churches, as accepted by the 2007 primates’ meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—namely, that cross-boundary interventions are undesirable in the long run but acceptable as a temporary measure until a Communion-wide solution can be found.

In this, GAFCON has not closed off the possibility of participating in Lambeth and the other existing structures of the Anglican Communion; indeed, the Tanzanian bishops decided to attend both GAFCON and Lambeth, along with several American bishops such as Mark Lawrence of South Carolina. That means GAFCON has not quite forsworn cooperation with the rest of Anglicanism. But they do seem to be saying that if the Anglican Communion won’t discipline itself, then the GAFCON Anglicans will take care of themselves, with or without Canterbury.

These are, no doubt, strong words and forceful actions, and they have not gone without criticism from other quarters of the Anglican world. The Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, referred to GAFCON as merely the “latest emission” from those who consider themselves the only “true believers.” (In this context, one remembers the persistent complaint of African Anglicans, repeated at GAFCON, that the American and English churches all too often remain in a mindset of colonial arrogance.)

Here's the whole thing.

03 July 2008

Evocation v. Connoirsseurship

"The pleasure of knocking back bourbon lies in the plane of the aesthetic but at the opposite pole from connoisseurship. My preference for the former is or is not deplorable depending on one's value systems - that is to say, how one balances out the Epicurean virtues of cultivating one's sensory end organs with the greatest discrimination and at least cost to one's health, against the virtue of evocation of time and memory and of the recovery of self and the past from the fogged-in disoriented Western world. In Kierkegaardian terms, the use of bourbon to such an end is a kind of aestheticized religious mode of existence, whereas connoisseurship, the discriminating but single-minded stimulation of sensory end-organs, is the aesthetic of damnation.
Walker Percy, via Matthew Lickona.

Glove Work.

Normally I don't like to acknowledge even the existence of the American League, but this play from last night's Tigers-Twins game is pretty nice.


02 July 2008

"Compassionate Significance" Or "Quiet Desperation?"

A little snapshot of typical Episcopal Church self-aggrandizing (and highly mockable) pomposity:

The "historic" Episcopal church in the town where I live — it’s historic, by the way, because George Washington worshiped there — recently hung a banner on the elegant wrought-iron railings that top the brick wall around the 18th century churchyard. Suspended just above the spot where a marble slab commemorates a number of Confederate soldiers who lie there in a mass grave, the banner read: "The people of Christ Church lead lives of compassionate significance and prophetic impact. Come share the journey." Thereupon it guided bemused by-passers to the church’s website — where the lives of its devout parishioners are accounted for in somewhat more sober and conventional language.

The inflated rhetoric of advertising and public relations comes particularly oddly from a church, I think What do these sonorous phrases mean anyway? How do ordinary church-goers "lead lives of compassionate significance"? How is that different from just being compassionate, which seems quite hard enough for most of us? And then, on top of that, they are supposed to have a "prophetic impact"? Like the prophets? Which prophets? Are we to expect the Bible to be revised and expanded in order to accommodate the prophetic impact of so many of the good burghers of Alexandria, Virginia? The idea is ludicrous, and it discredits the church itself that it should allow such piffle to be promulgated in its name.

Here's the whole thing.

01 July 2008

Wordle & the Trinity.

Plugged my Trinity Sunday sermon into Wordle (click to enlarge).