Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Identify yourself!

Homily preached at Eltham College on 26th February 2008.

What’s the difference
between a geek and a nerd?

It would be really interesting
to see the job-descriptions
that separate these two subcultures.

Is a nerd
a geek that specialises in computers,
or is a geek
a nerd which has a greater sphere
of expertise over and above
information technology?

And where does the boffin fit into all this?

It’s an important problem
– we teachers have to get
the terminology right.

After all we don’t want to call you
a dweeb, dork or galoot
if the cap really doesn’t fit.

What about Emos and Goths?

What’s the difference between them?

You can understand
the elderly teacher’s concern.

He thinks that an Emo
is an overexcited glove puppet
that molests people.

What separates a Goth from being an Emo?


The Goth image is reasonably distinctive.

There’s the dyed black hair,
white make-up and eyeliner,
the black clothes
together with a penchant
for Marilyn Manson,
Black Ice or the Cure!

It’s interesting that you can see
a horde of Goths wandering down the street,
all looking identical,
like a bunch of clinically depressed penguins
all speaking in the same monotone
– “I am an individual.”

How can you fit so closely
in a crowd and expect
to be called an individual?

Surely an individual
is one who stands out from a crowd,
like a Goth with
flowing blond curls,
rosy cheeks
and a toothpaste smile
like a reject from
“Any dream will do.”

“But,” you cry,
“Goths don’t have blond hair and smiles.

You might just as well
have a triangle with four vertices.

It’s impossible!”

So just how does a Goth
express his individuality?


To those of us who are not Goths,
it may come as a complete surprise
to know that every Goth matters.

They are individuals,
just as you are individuals.

They still have unique thoughts,
ideas, plans, joys and sorrows.

We cannot accuse Goths of being the same
any more than
we can describe Westlife songs
from being the same
despite the fact that they are all
instantly forgettable
so that they register
the impression that
they are all identical.

What makes Goths appear the same
is that they strive for a common identity.

Do you do the same?


It’s fair to say that it’s something we all do.

We seek out people
of like minds and similar dispositions.

Why? – because we are social animals.

We are designed to forge relationships,
to share common experiences
and ultimately to find company
in which we can feel at home.

Even if we’re not especially social,
we nonetheless have a need
for a close-knit group of friends
around us whom we can trust.

“No man is an island, entire of itself.”

It is said that our social groups define us,
but to what extent is it true?

Are you defined by your social group?


What does that really mean?

Well, you might be black.

But does that word “black” sum you up?

Of course it doesn’t!

Indeed, the word “black”
only becomes racist
if it’s used to somehow sum people up
-to deny them an identity.

That’s how insults work.

“Jamaican” might narrow the field a little further,
but “Jamaican” still doesn’t
sum you up
any more than English
Or Ethiopian.

You’re more than that.

Can you,
with all your human complexity
be summed up
by a collection of adjectives?

Can even your name pick you out of a crowd?
Doubtful, especially if your name is John Smith.

The Queen certainly stands out from a crowd.


How can a little old lady stand out so far?

It’s because of the identity that we give her.

As monarch
she stands for Great Britain,
she gives a focus
to our national identity.

She’s not German as some people think.

like her father
and grandfather
and great-grandfather,
was born in this country.

The whole British constitution
is inveigled with her standing
for the whole British Nation.
Her identity as monarch only exists
because we, as her subjects,
choose to recognise that identity.

In recognising her identity as Queen
do we recognise our identity of being British.

For Catholics,
there is the person of the Pope,
who is called the Vicar of Christ.

The word “vicar” literally means “stand-in.”

Catholics hold the Pope
to embody the identity
of Our Lord Himself
through a long line of successors
to the first Pope, St Peter.

Again, the idea that a man
has this identity hinges
on whether others accept this identity.

What about us?

We are not Royal Blood.

Nor are we clad, at the moment,
in the robes of cardinals
so we do not have these identities.

How, then, is who we are
truly defined?


Our identities as human beings
are largely defined by our interactions
with other people.

We learn more about our own identity
by being social animals.

If we want to be
generous and likeable people
then we have to work at being
generous and likeable people
through clear and visible acts
of decency,
kindness and generosity.

It is only through
loving our neighbours
that we can truly learn to love ourselves,
and you don’t have to be a Christian
to see that this is true.


To sum up a human being with
a mere collection of adjectives
is a true insult
and dehumanising.

There is always an extent
to which each human being has an identity
which is unknowable to everyone.

Christians would say
that is the identity with which God created us,
and the same identity
which Our Lord took paints
to identify Himself with us.

Who are you?

How will you come to know your
true identity better?

Another new blog

Here is a new blog by one of my newer friends from Anglo-Catholic Central,
Father Deacon David Straw.

He makes some insightful thoughts and reflections which I do recommend.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Commenting Cuniculi

It occurs to me that I'm discriminating against non-bloggers by disallowing anonymous postings.

I have now enabled "anonymous" postings but I feel rather uncomfortable that someone can just leave a message and not claim ownership of that message. I will therefore only publish a comment if

a) the comment is reasonable, respectable and polite;
b) you leave a name or ID to which subsequent comments can refer.

I will not publish comments otherwise.

Mean, ain't I?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Does Christianity disprove the MBTI?

I've been thinking about this MBTI and its tendencies to pigeonhole people. It might work heuristically, but from a Christian point of view it is an issue of concern, particularly with the ways that people (especially corporations) use it. Consider the following question:

What is the Lord's personality type?

After all, He is fully human. If He is fully human then He must have a personality type. If He has a personality type then there must be one personailty type that is better than others, that has a pre-eminence amongst personality types, that is the one that must be adhered to if we are to follow Him. Can we believe that (roughly) one sixteenth of the world's population has a head start in being closer to God because they all share the same personality attributes?

Okay, this may seem a little petty. Christ was male; one half of the world's population is male; does that make men preferable to women? Well, I might believe, being a member of the Catholic Church, that women cannot be ordained but that doesn't mean that I hold the idea that women are in anyway inferior in their humanity to men.

Christ was Jewish, but that doesn't mean that the Jewish people are in any way superior (or inferior for that matter) to others. Christ probably had a beard (unless the earliest Icons of a beardless Christ are accurate), so does that mean that the hirsute are preferred?

We are not saved by anything other than the love of God which is utterly disinterested in who we are. However, the question is interesting because we are to respond to God's love in order to open ourselves to become more like God. If Christ has a personality type according to Jung, then this shows monothelitism cannot be correct, since this would mean that God Himself has a specific personality type which is describable in Human terms.

So the MBTI, if correct, has its uses in refuting 7th century heresies. However, it still rankles with me that there should be a personality type more capable of perfection than another. Describing a personality is more defining of an individual than a specifying race/sex/hairiness. This begs the question, are we human beings defined as individuals by our personalities?

If we are then MBTI shows that there is a better personality to have because it is empirically capable of producing a perfect human personality. If there is no best MBTI, then we would need sixteen perfect humans to demonstrate to a recalcitrant humanity how each of us is to live.

MBTI exists by comparing one human being with another and measuring just a few aspects of how their personality interacts with the world around. However, Christ tells us to deny self, to deny the pursuit of self-discovery as a means to realise one's being in a transient and faddish world, but rather to seek our true being and self-knowledge in the service of God.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Calculating the Cost of Infallibility II: Fogey forces the fence.

Well, first a thank you to Young Fogey who has forced my hand on this issue. I do need to think about it because it is a central and difficult claim that is made by the Holy See. Am I an Anglican Papalist if I do not accept the Infallibility of the Pope?

I confess that I find it difficult. Infallibility means that when you ask for the Truth in a matter, the correct answer is always given, like the calculator I describe below. Thus Papal Infallibility means that when a question arises about the truth of doctrine, the Pope is capable of uttering that truth without error.

I don't see that as much of a problem. The Church is infallible, and there must be a way for that infallibility to be expressed definitively. It makes sense then that the definitive and united voice of that infallibility should be the head of the Church, the successor to St Peter. I accept it because I accept the Holy See as being the One True Church. I am therfore bound by the teachings of the Church. This does not mean that I do not have doubts and difficulties with what she teaches - I am only human, despite what my pupils may say!

So why am I vacillating as usual?

To be honest, the source of my indecision lies in my Anglican scepticism. Non-Papal Anglicanism and the Orthodox churches do not accept this doctrine of Infallibility, and Anglicanism is very much a part of me. As I intimate below, it is the conditions of Infallibility that perplex me. If Anglican Orders are null and void then clearly Papal Infallibility works because (as Young Fogey comments) members of the Anglican Church are still members of the One True Church but not as a corporation, rather as individuals, thus Rome does not have to consult Canterbury in order to establish whether a doctrine has been truly established by the Church and thus may be Infallibly pronounced. If Anglican Orders are not null and void then there is a problem. And quite where do the Orthodox Churches whose orders are recognised fit in?

On the real face of it, the practicality of Papal Infallibility is not problematic. There have only been two Infallible statements, both concerning the nature of Our Lady, namely the Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, neither of which cause major problems with in Roman and Easter relations, and I suspect that the majority of Anglican Catholics (or Catholic Anglicans) may only really disagree with them on the grounds that they were Infallibly pronounced. Another cause for me to doubt is the authentic faith and theological integrity of the Protestant Catholics like Fr. Hart, who ask difficult and challenging questions, and challenge the claims of Roman Dogma.

It is only the idea of Infallibility that is irksome, that one Bishop has a precedence over the rest. I would certainly be more comfortable if there were twelve Patriarchs each holding a See founded, like Rome, by one holding a direct succession to one of the original Twelve which held council and then Infallible statements uttered by their chief, the successor of St Peter. However, the Church doesn't exist to make me comfortable, but rather to ensure that I keep awake and thinking.

So critics of Anglican Papalism will say "Aha, you hold to Papal Infallibility. That means unless you secede immediately, you are in mortal sin." I have already confessed my need for Rome. I am repenting, meaning that I am turning around and making my way there, dragging behind me the entirety of my Anglican tradition which remains utterly valid in the faith, and possesses an integrity that Rome needs. It is heavy and my progress will be slow, and like an ant trying to make off with the Shroud of Turin singlehandedly, I'm going to have a tough time. But confess, repent, and be absolved, that is the Catholic formula for reconciliation which I believe I am following.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Calculating the cost of Infallibility

Situation A: Your calculator has a missing digit, the number 9. The number does come up on the display rather well, but you can't press 9 to bring it up because the button isn't there. You can make any calculation you like still, and the calculator will still give you the right answer. You might just have to store 8+1 in the memory or something like that. It works perfectly well. It tells the full truth, to all intents and purposes it is intact, but clearly there is something missing.

Question 1: is the 9 key necessary?
Question 2: is the calculator complete?

Situation B: Your calculator has all its keys intact, all the digits, all the operations including the mysterious button marked "!" (Perhaps you know what that's for.) However, the 9 key offends you in some way. Perhaps it's sticky or squeaks or calls you "big nose" every time you press it. Perhaps it offends you to the extent that you refuse to use it. The calculator is absolutely complete. Again, it will do any calculation you give it. Again, perhaps you've even stored 8+1 into its memory so that you do not have to press that disgusting 9 button. It is a working calculator and gives the true answer.

Question 1: is this calculator any different from a calculator without a 9 button?
Question 2: how infallible is a calculator when there is an objection as to which buttons can be pressed?

It's this last question which intrigues me here. A calculator is always reliable - it is the operator who is not. The calculator will only ever answer truthfully the question it is asked, but if you ask the wrong question, then the answer the calculator gives you will be of no use, and indeed misleading. If one then has an objection as to how that calculator is to be used then that will limit both the questions that can be asked and the interpretation of the result.

Now consider:

(From the First Vatican Council,)we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when:in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.

There's an issue here that bugs me. Is there an equation of church and christianity here or not?

As an Orthodox Anglican, am I part of the Church? I know that the Holy See regards me as a Christian from paragraph 818 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, the same paragraph suggests that I am not regarded as a member of the Church, but a "brother in the Lord". It looks rather ambiguous to me. If the (Orthodox) Anglican Church is Christian and included within the Holy See then the Holy Father is indeed our teacher and shepherd and thus his infallible statements apply to us, but then are we excluded from Communion because there is no uniform acceptance of the Infallibility (not authority) of the Pope? That was not why the Schism happened, and Infallibility has only been expressed since Vatican I. So why are we excluded from Communion?

If we are excommunicate then we are not part of the Body of Christ, i.e. the Church. But then we cannot be Christians, because a Christian necessarily belongs to the Church. However, the Catechism calls us Christians, so are we in the Church?

If we are in the Church, then the Pope is not infallible because that is not what the Anglican Church or the Orthodox churches have accepted following the Vincentian Canon.

If we are not in the Church, but are Christians (though how that works escapes me) then the Pope cannot make Infallible statements which apply to all Christians because they only apply to the Church according to the statement of the first Vatican Council.

If we are not Christians, then Rome contradicts herself in her own Catechism.

The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is indeed infallible. It is only when we start to disregard parts of it because they offend us that the answers to our search become distorted and lose coherence, just like taking umbrage against the number 9 on the calculator. If the Pope is infallible (I certainly accept his authority, but I have yet to be convinced of infallibility) then he can only be so when he regards the (Orthodox) Anglican Church and the Orthodox Church as part of his consideration as and when he makes infallible pronouncements. There have been only two which I consider within my conscience to be very much the correct doctrine. That's not private judgement, Cardinal Newman spoke very highly of the importance of the individual conscience.

Infallibility of the Pope after consultation?