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.