Monday, March 31, 2014

The Next Problem Bishop

I held out hope in the whole Gene Robinson consecration debacle that perhaps at least the question could be confined to the Donatist question of his presumed sexual sins rather than having to confront idiosyncrasies of his theology. Well, now he is retired, and I have heard the news that he is now to have a column at The Daily Beast. And I have found out, via Bryan Owen and Peter Carrell, that Robinson's opening column makes some quite problematic statements:
God is infinite, and it comes as no surprise to me that there have developed, over time, many credible and faithful approaches to understanding God. In the end, no religion holds a lock on the reality of God. Each religion grasps only a part of the infinite God and offers insight into God’s reality, and we would do well to exercise a good measure of humility in claiming we know God’s will. Better to begin each pronouncement we make about God with “In my experience…” or “From my perspective…” or simply “For me….” At the end of the day, no matter how much we believe we know God’s will, we must acknowledge that each of us is only doing the best she/he can.
Well, Lewis said something similar, and yet utterly different. I don't accept this "blind scholars and the elephant" theory of religion and theology; to the degree that other religions may have something to say that is "valid" (i.e., accurate), that validation can only come from comparison with the Christian revelation. To try to assemble the "parts" of God each religion grasps is to construct an idol, the inevitable outcome of such syncretism. In Robinson's case he will, if unknowingly, make God in the image of upper middle class liberal American mores.

Likewise, his plea for subjectivism is against everything the New Testament teaches, and never mind the Torah. I say this over and over again: anamnesis is central to Christian theology and ecclesiology. The Mystery of Faith that we state on a Sunday is not three personal experiences or perspectives: it is three statements of the reality of Christ's salvific acts. We are not here to preach what we feel; we are here to remember what Jesus did, and to tell all the world about it.

But instead, we get the dreary, routine (and I will presume political) moralism which has been part and parcel of liberal Anglicanism for decades, buttressed with the platitudes of American religiosity. I sense that the retired bishop can do no more for his church than reassure a certain class of "seekers" (especially the "spiritual but not religious" set and the followers of moralistic therapeutic deism) that the faded religion of American Episcopalianism is no threat to their anemic faith.

But to stand up each Sunday and profess the tenets of the Creed: that would be a quite different matter. But at this point it seems safe to say that those tenets are not going to get play in the bishop's columns.

1 comment:

AAK said...

I don't know whether you've ever seen the PBS series Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?, which is based on and follows the undergraduate course of the same name taught by Michael Sandel at Harvard. It is all about philosophy and moral decision making; I daresay it would interest you.

I mention it here because there's a moment in one of the episodes where Sandel confronts a student who is wishy-washy in his answer to some question.

Sandel: Do you think Bentham is wrong to add up the collective happiness?
Student: I don't think he's wrong, but I think murder's murder in any case.
Sandel: Yeah, well then Bentham has to be wrong! If you're right; he's wrong!
Student: Okay, then he's wrong.
Sandel: Alright! Thank you; well done.

This has remained with me, as what Sandel is doing is pushing through a particular kind of intellectual rot in our contemporary American life:

We believe that all ideas are created equal. Except in the world of academia, whose debates we believe to be silly and removed from our everyday lives, ideas are not to be discussed, advocated for, or condemned. As Jamie Whyte points out, our correct saying that everyone is entitled to his opinion is deployed in the defense of the incorrect notion that everyone is entitled to have his opinion be right.

This is exactly the kind of nonsense that Bishop Robinson is propagating in his column, and it dearly afflicts our mission in the Church, as you say.

If the creeds are true, and Jesus was and is and is indeed to come, then a lot of the other stuff out there must be wrong, or at least incomplete. If you're right, as Sandel pointed out, he has to be wrong. Two conflicting statements cannot both be true at the same time, just because we don't wish to offend. Up is not down, no matter how unpleasant we may find the reality.

This is a debate from which we shy away in our pulpits and our classes. This is to the detriment of the faith, a so much of the debate needed in church is not between Christianity and Islam, or Hindu, or some other religion, but between Christianity and the various idols of rank secularism and market capitalism, which do not now nor ever will make us either happy or whole.

You're exactly right about the co-opting of theology by upper middle class liberal American mores, a particularly vile precinct where nothing matters save our sense of how wonderful we are. It is a place whose only tenet is that all will be well if we people just smile on our brother; let us love one another, right now.

As Dr. Evil said, there's nothing more pathetic than an aging hipster.

Especially when he wears a clerical collar.