Friday, February 03, 2017

On Being the Principal Minister

From Peter Robinson, UECNA bishop and old on-line friend:
I really do not want to be prescriptive about ceremonial, but I do think we need to keep two ideas before us. Firstly, we are Anglicans, not wannabe anything elses. Secondly, the function of worship is to offer glory and praise to God, so every time we approach the altar or the reading desk we need to remember "I must decrease; He must increase!" That means that the church's ceremonial should minimize the individuality of the priest, and take him into the liturgy as an integral part thereof as the 'minister' and not the focus of public worship. For this reason I object in the strongest terms to the westward facing position at communion, and to the practice of individualizing or omitting the accustomed vestments. The minister should stand at the Lord's Table or the reading desk not as Pastor Bob or Fr. Jim, but as just another minister of Word and Sacrament.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

I'll Take the BCP Behind the Curtain, Monty

So the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music is offering us four options for going forward on BCP revision:
  • Revise Book of Common Prayer
  • Create Book(s) of Alternative Services, and leave the BCP 1979 alone
  • More talking, listening, researching, and discerning
  • Deepening our relationship with the 1979 BCP
They also offer a "technical fixes" option which could go with any of the other four.

If you've read many of my BCP revision posts, you can guess that I prefer the fourth option: no revision yet. The current book needs some revision, but limited, and revision only. We already, in the form of Enriching Our Worship, have the second option, and it has been a major problem, both in terms of commonality and in what those alternate rites say. New rites (e.g. the trial same-sex blessing rite) have consistently taken precisely what is problematic about EOW as a starting point, and there was a large outcry when revision was announced of people who saw the process as specifically to legitimize if not impose these deviations; I was one of them. So the first option is undesirable, and the second option, legitimizing the current mess, is undesirable.

And more talking? Well, they didn't say "dialogue", which as we all know tends to mean "We know better than you on this topic and we’re going to have a ‘dialogue’ until you see the error of your ways and agree with me at which point our dialogue will be done." But setting the terms of the talking is crucial and problematic. Already we have Matthew S. C. Olver saying "I think it is important to acknowledge at the beginning of this piece that Christians must take seriously the concerns raised by feminist theologians" and "Related to this more experiential concern is the basic Christian theological claim that God is neither a man nor a woman, neither male nor female." OK, well, I do not agree to the second, which is not to say that I disagree, but simply that the issue is debatable. In the first place, if this is going to be "basic" for a Protestant, it has to be attested directly from scripture. And while I am certainly open to be corrected about this, I am not aware of such attestation; the principle appears to arise out of neo-Platonic idealism about God. Furthermore, the problem is not as a rule language concerning the Godhead, but about the three Persons. There the whole thing starts to come apart very quickly when the words "male" and "female" are pinned down, because given current sexuality doctrine there is nothing one can say about the words as genders that affords any objective truth, and without something objective to anchor them on, treating the names as rhetorical figures devolves into meaninglessness.

The bigger issue, however, is the demand to engage feminist theology. I'm plenty happy to engage it, but when I start complaining about its category errors, left and right, things are surely headed off into Dialogue. The tendency in these "dialogues" is to exclude me because I am male, and therefore (if I dissent) a troglodyte who has to be instructed (that is, lectured and then dismissed). It's hugely problematic that the many people who accept women as priests but who have problems with radfem talk about God are largely ignored, and the attitude from the SCLM up to now has been that EOW is the starting point for everything new. EOW is also our local source for the pro omnis error, which they don't mention; but it also represents a step away from Protestant principles.

I suppose there needs to be talking all right, but it needs to be about more fundamental principles than feminism or universalism. The biggest issue is our institutional hypocrisy about theology as a whole. We have creeds, which we stand up and say "on Sundays and Major Feasts", and then our clerics deny that we believe them. We affirm the church's teaching that communion is only for the baptized, and then advertise in all too many parishes that "all are welcome to partake." We promulgate a church position on abortion that has been reaffirmed several times over now, and nobody would dare to teach it on a Sunday. On the one hand, we get subjected to controversial deviations as if there was consensus to do so; on the other, we get subjected to deviations when there is stated consensus that they are deviant and not to be done. Trying to work out a new prayer book in these circumstances is a huge problem because this sort of behavior makes it a bad-faith effort.

that's why I'm in favor of sticking with the last option. I think there is plenty to fix in the current book, but I don't see how we can go about that until, to be really blunt about it, the progressive side starts playing fair.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Designing the Beloved

Kara Slade, in The Living Church, has written a fascinating and thoughtful reflection on robotics and sexuality which does not flinch from the difficulties of the subject, and especially the hubris hidden in the topic.

Let us start with this observation: "In Levy’s presentation, the language deployed to describe the ideal robotic spouse was inadvertently telling: ' All of the following qualities and many more are likely to be achievable in software within a few decades. Your robot will be patient, kind, protective, loving, trusting, truthful, persevering, respectful, uncomplaining, complimentary, pleasant to talk to, and sharing your sense of humor.' Suffice it to say for now that this statement reveals quite a bit about the priorities of the author, and very little about the task of technologically approximating any existing human woman." Or to put in in other words: the robot is to be giving out on the one hand and undemanding on the other. So that word, "love": this describes not something to be loved, certainly not the subject of agape. It is instead something to take "love" from.

And that takes us to something that Slade does not touch upon. She does remark upon the endless optimism of AI futurists that the human mind can be simulated, but it is, after all, 2017 and not 1976, the year that Joseph Weizenbaum's Computer Power and Human Reason was published. Weizenbaum was shocked to discover that many people were willing to treat interaction with the manifestly stupid ELIZA program which he had constructed as if it were interaction with a real person. The lesson I see in this is that the Turing Test (conversation with a computer being indistinguishable from that with a human) is in practice not successful, because people aren't good at it. Weizenbaum went on to attack the whole notion of external behavior as a proxy for the interior life of the mind, and this is particularly pointed in a situation where that internal life really seems, in the end, to be unwelcome.

After all, the terms of Levy's ideal are frankly servile, and it is a short distance from serving to simply being used. One senses from all the emphasis on sexual companionship that these futurists have no problem with the idea of a robotic sex toy which cannot be raped because refusal has been edited out of its humanity. It one telling footnote, Slade remarks that "While writing in this field gestures toward both male and female robotic lovers, the predominant assumption is clearly centered on the idea of a robotic woman," and I imagine that feminist analysis of this would be unsparing. She remarks on the degree to which various alienations seem to drive the quest for the robotic companion, but there is the irony: if it were possible to fully emulate the humanity of a real woman, it does not seem (in the minds of these would-be Pygmalions) desirable to do so. This she does note, but I would go further: not only would they not desire it, but I believe that they would on one level fail to see that something was missing. That is, they would see that some "undesirable" impulses were absent, but they would fail to grasp that they had obtained a less-than-human, because all of these "faults" arise out of the will.

So here we are, right back in our own Eden, but we don't have to worry about Eve taking the fruit because she lacks the independence to do so. I am thus irresistibly reminded of the creation of the dwarves by Aulë in the Quenta Silmarillion. Ilúvatar sees how the dwarf fathers were created outside of his one, true creation, and he challenges Aulë's deviation from the divine plan; but when Aulë moves to destroy them, they quail, showing that they have been given life and wills of their own. I imagine our ideal companion robots putting up no such defense, and indeed one can imagine a robot who has specifically been created to be tortured (as I believe at least one SF write must have already depicted). And thus the alienation is complete: its creators put off from real human congress, the ideal robot companion is made a perversion of humanity, specifically so that it can be used and abused without qualm. We may not be able to give it a soul, but we will surely see to it that it does not accidentally get one. So much of robot mythology fantasizes that they may exceed our humanity and displace us, but here it seems that in our relationships with them, they may exceed our humanity because we diminish theirs— and with that, our own.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On Naming the President in Prayer

Let it be said first of all that a quick glance through the BCP shows there is little expectation that the president be payed for by name. Of the seven forms for the prayers in the eucharist, only two (Rite I and Form V) even offer an option for naming him; neither does Prayer 19 ("For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority") among the miscellany in the back. (A correspondent informs me that the Great Litany does expect the name to be used.)

And yet. Consider the following miscellaneous prayers:

  • 6. For our Enemies
  • 26. For those who suffer for the sake of Conscience
  • 28. In Times of Conflict
And consider what we pray for concerning our president: "Grant [him] and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear." If we pray so for a president whose policies we support, how much more so for one whose views we deplore?

In the midst of the upcoming elevation of the despicable Donald Trump, we thus have the following missive from the rector of that bastion of liberal churchmanship, All Saints Pasadena: "I have made the change to remove the president’s name (while continuing to pray for him by title) and beginning to pray for the president-elect (though not by name)." The excuse he gives for this is that "[his] name is literally a trauma trigger to some people – particularly women and people who, because of his words and actions, he represents an active danger to health and safety." OK, well, that is nonsense. First of all, I don't think it is really true; I have too many overly dramatic (which is to say perfectly normal) elderly southern female relatives to take that seriously. Again, I say, I join with those who oppose him, most of his platform, and the culture of greed, amorality, and self-service which he represents. But just upon hearing his name? Take some Buck-u-uppo, for crying out loud. Or perhaps our clergy should follow the example of the priest who slaps his gibbering fellow passenger in Airport. Catering to such drama-mongering is just bad all around.

But in any case, this concern provides a convenient excuse for a political snub of the president-elect. All Saints has dabbled in politics quite a bit over the years, to the point of attracting some federal interest back in 2004. And I suppose, on one level, that casuistry obligates them to do so, even though they are very often wrong. But this simply comes across as petty.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Numbers: 2015

Things have been a bit mad here, and thus the naysayers have beaten me to the punch in announcing yet another 3%+ loss in Average Sunday Attendance, so let's go to the ten year numbers! Yes, we've got'em here, at least for membership and ASA.

Things are made a bit difficult with the merger of Quincy into Chicago, but as it turns out, counting all 1139 attendees in 2005 as lost is not going to be the worst number here, not by a long shot. Ignoring them, the big losers by percentage are (as anyone can guess; put your hand down, Mr. Virtue, and give someone else a chance) Ft. Worth, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh, ranging from 71.2% to 80.7% losses. The next three big losers were all in Province 9. The worst domestic diocese that didn't split was Western New York, at 41.8%; the only non-losers were Haiti, Puerto Rico, Nevada, Central Ecuador, Taiwan, and Littoral Ecuador, which makes Nevada the only positive note among domestic dioceses. The ASA percentage loss for the church as a whole, 26.1%, is close enough to the median as to not matter.

And if those numbers are bad, the absolute losses are in many respects worse. The median diocese in 2005 had an ASA of approximately 5200, and three of the five splitters were well above that, with South Carolina in the top quintile. Now one of them is gone, three of them are in the bottom quintile, and only (again) South Carolina somewhat above that, as losing over three quarters of the diocese still left a sizeable remainder. Meanwhile, the next largest loser was Virginia, at 9083 fewer people no longer attending church in the diocese; that's a third of 2005 attendance, more or less. Well, there is not a whole lot of pattern to the losing dioceses, except that if you look at it by province there's Four (the South), there's Eight (the far west), and then there's everywhere else. Province Two looks OK until you take out Haiti, which is large and atypical in almost every way; with Haiti out, provincial losses jump from 23% to 27%.

Right now I don't feel like digging though ten years of Red Books to add up the various inputs and outputs, but my sense is that the shift from when I last did that for 2007 numbers is not that huge. What I found back then was that the numbers suggested (but did not prove) that the primary source of losses was middle-aged people leaving. That is certainly what happened in five dioceses. And recall this old chart:

Extending the graph to the right isn't going to change much; the jump from holding our own to losing 2-3% a year in 2002-2003 hasn't been undone.

The Crusty Old Dean has some discussion of this, some realistic (I think his prediction of 400K ASA in a decade is pretty accurate) and some not. It's important to a lot of people to dismiss theology as a factor, but I don't see how the supposed stability of the Unitarians has much weight in this: after all, everyone has expected doctrinal spinelessness from them since, oh, 1785. Everyone knows which people, in their not-already-round-the-bend parish, are holding on for dear life, hoping that they die or move before the next rector trashes things. The universal reaction to setting the revision machinery in motion, except for the hyper-progressives, was "oh hell," because everyone can see that the point of revision is to force Enriching Our Worship on the church as a whole.

But anyway, there are other numbers this time, perhaps more depressing. We have numbers on active priests in domestic dioceses by age, which show (as a previous analysis showed) that our clerics are old: the average age over the whole church is 59, and the numbers in some dioceses are far worse. Looking at the map below, you can see that the dioceses with older priests tend to lie in the west, while the dioceses with younger priests tend to lie along the Mississippi; the exceptions tend to include large urban areas.

If equal numbers of priests were ordained at every age, the average age of priests would be about 55. This is unrealistic on the high end because (one suspects) few bishops are willing to ordain someone who can only serve a few years, and because many priests will die or retire before the canonical limit of 72. But the numbers show that in most dioceses there are few young priests. San Joaquin has no priests under 45; Delaware, with 45 active priests, is the largest of six dioceses with but a single priest in this age group. Nationally, 15% of active priests are under 45. More striking are the numbers in the 65 and up range. In thirteen dioceses at least half the priests are in this age group, the most extreme being Eastern Oregon with 71%. These dioceses tend to be smaller and more rural; they show up as an intense red in the map.

It says something that, the other categories being broken out by decade, there's no "under 35" category. And indeed, a chart showing the number by age, with each bar proportional in area to the percentage of the whole, shows how lopsided things are:

This distribution is almost consistent with taking the "equal ordinations at every age" scenario and raising the minimum age to 35, which indeed produces a mean age of 59. But the clergy compensation report adds some interesting detail, for it does break out the 35-and-under numbers, and furthermore, it only counts full-time clergy, which constitute 69% of the total. Of the part-timers, 74% are 65 or older, and they constitute 69% or those in that age group, and 23% of all active priests. This report shows full time priests under 35 at 4%, and a little math shows that if all 43 part-time under-45 priests were in the younger group, this group would constitute 4.5% of all priests.

OK, so our priests are old, and our old priests are largely part-timers. But here we have another table breaking out active priests according to employment status. Here we see wild differences between dioceses. At one extreme we have Dallas, in which 80% of priests serve a single parish full-time, and at the other we have Northern Michigan, in which 91% of its priests are non-stipendiary, and which has no parish served by its own full-time priest. Nationally 55% of active priests serve a single parish full time, another 27% serve one parish fill time, 6% serve multiple parishes, and 13% are non-stipendiary, but this is an inadequate picture of how parishes are served, because there are many parishes which are served by retirees, and many large parishes have multiple full time priests (and indeed in a few dioceses there are more full time priests serving single parishes than there are parishes). What is more surprising is that the differential between male and female priests in full time positions varies a great deal. Nationally half the women and 57% of the men are in full time positions, but there are many dioceses where the women are more likely to be full time, and there isn't a lot of pattern to this: Eau Claire has few full-time positions but 50% of its female priests are in such positions, while in New Jersey, where 60% of the priests are full time, 80% of the women in the diocese occupy such positions. (Mind you, this works out that there are only two active women in Eau Claire.)

So, does this add up to anything? On one level, it's hard to say. We don't have statistics for what the priesthood looked like in 1905 or 1925 or 1955, but it's a reasonably safe bet that it was younger (and of course all-male and mostly white), and that a far smaller proportion of it was part-time. It goes without saying that its members were more likely to hold orthodox theological views, never mind traditional views on sexuality. But in terms of numbers, there's no arguing that things were not better then; the failure of growth would not be seen until the mid 1960s. As a universal, national Anglican church, we are failing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Prescient Screwtape

Or at least his amanuensis: Tom Nichols on how C. S. Lewis anticipated our culture of treason. And it goes beyond that. I was pleased to see that public pressure (or at least the president-elect's ability to read the public) caused congress to recant its evisceration of its ethic review processes. But consider this passage:
Angry people, confused by not enough education and too much information, or unwilling to face their own poor choices in life, or bearing vague grudges about the forces that always seem to deprive them of the right job, or mate, or status among their peers, cheer on a Snowden or a Manning as a kind of self-actualizing exercise.

They’re happy that someone’s finally sticking it to the Man, or the system, or the Coca-Cola Corporation, or whomever they resent for not giving them a round of applause every morning just for getting dressed without help.

I can’t say I’m certain why this is happening. Some of it, I think, is from years of marination in an American culture that once celebrated excellence, self-reliance, and success, and now demands more “democratic” values like “equality” (meaning mediocrity), “community” (meaning conformity), and “education” (meaning pissing away a few years studying the deep works of Jay-Z at Georgetown). Add to this a therapeutic obsession with never “demeaning” others, and you have the alchemic makings of an explosion of insecurity and anger.

And is this not how the presidential election was decided?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Marked With the Name

Give praise, you servants of the LORD;
praise the Name of the LORD.
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,
from this time forth for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down
let the Name of the LORD be praised.

Today we observe a holiday of varied names, New Years Day notwithstanding. In old prayer books it was forthrightly titled the Feast of the Circumcision, as that rite is prescribed for the eighth day of a Jewish boy's life. Nowadays, perhaps, we are shy of such a messy, fleshly observance, and we remember it chiefly as day on which Jesus was named; in the Roman Rite they observe the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But today I will start from that older name.

Now the covenant of circumcision is not the covenant made at Sinai; no, it goes all the way back to Abram, and indeed was made on the day when God named him Abraham, meaning “father of many”. Circumcision is the mark of the men of Israel: to be uncircumcised was to be cut off from God's people. And thus Jesus, like every Jewish boy, was so marked in his flesh and given his name, the name of Salvation—for that is what “Jesus” means.

Thus, through the rest of the New Testament, we hear appeals to that name: “in My name”, “for My name's sake”, “because of My name” says Jesus, and then, in the Acts, we read of the disciples healing in the name of Jesus Christ. What does it signify? It means authority, to the demons; it is a vexation, to the authorities; it yields power, in the hands of the apostles; and it is identity, to the people of the Cross. We are baptized in a holy name, the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Spirit, the name of the Lord, the Almighty; it is this baptism which is our circumcision, which marks us as Christ's own forever. The members of the Church, the body of Christ, are known to the world as Christians; we are his, and we go into the world in his name.

This name alone are we given for salvation, and no other, as Peter preached. At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow; in the end of days, all shall know him as the only Son of God, the righteous judge of all souls. The Name of Jesus signifies what we proclaim before every baptism: “There is one Body and one Spirit, one hope in God's call to us; one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.” The Christian faith is not a philosophy; it is not a merely advice for arranging one's life. It is reliance on the one man in whom God has been realized and through whom the divine plan is made manifest.

Moses had to ask for God's name, and that name is so hallowed that no Jew will say it, or even, outside the synagogue, say “LORD” in its place. But we have a name which, though also sacred, we may say without fear, indeed in triumph. There is no shame in the name of Jesus, though the world deride it and ridicule those who proclaim it. No, in this name there is life and light, and therefore in assurance of our salvation, let us turn to the altar and proclaim the faith of the apostles, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.