Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Sacred Cow Tipping

Derek Olsen continues his campaign against modernist sacred cows with a pair of articles on the Virgin Birth and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary (part 1/ part 2). He and I come to different conclusions, as I (perhaps too modernist-tainted myself) have taken the interpretation that the PV is the result of excessive Marian piety. What is far more telling is that the remarks, from the beginning, have been dominated by controversy over the Virgin Birth itself.

It is a commonplace among various Catholic partisans to assert that the Protestants are all doomed to go to theological pieces because they don't have infallibility. This thread illustrates the more complicated reality and the weird power struggle behind the theology.

For example, consider this discussion of the proposal to put WEB DuBois on the ECUSA kalendar. DuBois did not, to put it mildly, have a positive opinion of the church, and his admiration for Stalin was at best delusional, at worst a defense of a mass murderer. As far as his advocacy of racial causes is concerned, I think it is a very safe bet that when November 14 rolls around we are not going to see a commemoration of Booker T., nor of the more overt religious GW Carver when his day comes up. I do not want to get too caught up in racial politics here, but the preference for the upper middle Yankee DuBois over the southern ex-slave Washington is quite telling. In any case I'm not the only one wondering why we are putting yet another non-Christian on the calendar.

Which brings me to the comments to Olsen's posts, in which I find myself engaged in a lopsided conflict with someone who is apparently some sort of Heidegger aficionado and who, along with another, prefers to refer to scripture as a "faith text", though apparently "faith text" means specifically "something we don't believe in". The resurrection is not an event, but a doctrine (which is apparently some modernist code phrase for "something the apostles just made up"). These are only more extreme examples of sentiments expressed by others; doubt apparently comes easily, but for whatever reason its proponents seem to have some trouble following through on the rejection of the gospel story.

At the same time we find another person chastising John Robison for "nitpicking" at the addition of DuBois to the kalendar. We should be feeding the hungry instead of wasting our time on such theological concerns, we are told. Of course, that one can use that juxtaposition against anything is sufficient reason not to take it seriously. But more telling is the implication in this that the nature of Christian life is essentially moral, and that matters of theology or worship can be set aside as unimportant. This perhaps also explains why at St.Gregory of Nyssa's dancing saints can include Malcolm X with his famous denunciation of Christianity as the "white man's religion", beyond the sheer radical chic of the thing. Moralistic therapeutic deism, crossed with liberal social activism, has become the theology of the those who like to see themselves as the church's ruling class.

Actually, they don't really believe that matters of theology are so unimportant as to justify simple acceptance of the tradition. They really believe that it's important for theology to express and realize their doubts. If they didn't believe that, they wouldn't keep making an issue of it, and the 1979 BCP would remain undisturbed. But instead-- and again, the form of this is quite telling-- the theology of the BCP must be altered specifically to make moral points about the place of women. But this is all OK because of this modernist doctrine that the scriptures really do not tell us anything definite and immutable. In any theological conflict, it is the (liberal) theologians who dictate what scripture says, even when a naive reading would say the opposite. Even Jesus is not immune: if he says "Father", well, we know better than the Son of God, and oh, that doesn't mean that he embodies God in any way, so his words can be set aside whenever they do not support our more enlightened principles.

This is what is going to destroy the Episcopal Church, not the fight over sexuality (though more on that anon). The persistent and increasing attempt by effective nonbelievers to control and direct the church is against the faith of the average believer in the church, who may or may not have a committed opinion on homosexuality but who more likely than not can say "born of the Virgin Mary" every Sunday without apology, and who, on low Sunday, hears the gospel account and has no trouble believing that Thomas's fingers were laid upon physical, living flesh. Having driven the evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics away, the ruling unitarians are going to run out of bogeymen; the cachet of opposing fundamentalism will pall when it turns out that fundamentalism includes, for instance, insistence on baptism. And even in sexuality the fight isn't ever really going to go away; people are going to keep their qualms in the closet, but I think it is quite safe to assume that reluctance about homosexuality is going to be with us in the church, because the spiritual authority of its clergy is so eroded by their faithlessness.

Meanwhile there is a new generation, whose members do not remember the glory days of civil rights and antiwar activism, and who do not make obeisance to mandarins of skepticism. At age fifty, I do not remember the glory days, and even in college I was impatient with the sophistry of "things no modern man can believe". Derek Olsen is a lot younger than I am-- decades younger, I would venture to guess.

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