Monday, May 30, 2011

Kath holicism and Reduction

Diarmaid McCulloch describes himself as a "candid friend of Christianity". He can't describe himself as a Christian because, according to his History of Christianity, he doesn't see how The Bible is any different from any other book, and that, when subjected to the same scholarly scrutiny as any other book, it doesn't really possess any obvious power over humanity.


His television programme was certainly a fascinating hurtle through the complicated life of the Church. The final programme, as is natural, asked about the future of Christianity in the face of all that attacks it: the ruling authority of the Church is attacked by the revolutionaries; the moral authority of the Church is attacked by the ethicists like Voltaire; the veracity of The Bible is attacked by Science and the rational approach made by Spinoza, Strauss and the German schools of theology and philosophy in the 19th Century. These attacks continue.


It is true that the Church seems to be rather beleaguered at the moment with loud scientific skeptics, and the media who are out to make a cheap story. Every time Pasch or Christmass come round, there's always a programme about "the Truth behind the Myth" or "one woman's fib that got a bit out of control". Most of this is opinion based on speculation - the Christian needs to arm himself with the facts.


The Church has to be concerned with the Truth. Sometimes, Truth be told, it has not presented that Truth very clearly. One can certainly see that in the Crusades or in the Inquisitions and in the way it has allowed its condemnation of sin spill over into condemning people. Though it has to be remembered that these were the products of their time, that doesn't justify these actions. There is no particular time in the History of Mankind, past, present or future in which Jesus Christ would ever approve of the murder of innocents in His Name, nor would He ever allow the abuse of children to be covered up as it has in recent years.


The fact of the matter is that people seem to misunderstand what the Church really is. Indeed many people's rejection of God is because they believe that the Church is so corrupt. That's a bit like not believing in the existence of Mr and Mrs Hitler senior because of the antics of their son Adolph.


The Church is made up of sinners. I cannot personally comment on the state of my fellow human beings, but I know that I am a sinner. I am also sure that there are other sinners within the Church because there is a prayer of Confession asking for God's forgiveness for misdeeds and bad intentions. That this prayer is said at all Masses even by bishops, archbishops and the Pope himself indicates that there is sin within the Church and that it is widespread irrespective of position. We can therefore conclude that the Church is comprised of sinful human beings. Thus Church members cannot honestly be better than anyone else. However, our sinfulness does not negate the message of the Gospel, that Christ is the way to salvation. This makes the Incarnation of Christ even more meaningful in that here we have God who is willing to be made man in order to be with human beings.


The Church is the sum of many parts. Its authority to be seeking the Truth comes from Divine Revelation through Scripture, Tradition and Reason, not three separate entities but all inextricably bound together. While it is possible to attack each of these sources individually, the fact that the Church still remains despite major attacks on its existence is evidence that it is greater that the sum of its parts. It is a Catholic Church - a Church that is a whole unit. In the reductionism of modern society - the statement and restatement of "...is nothing but..." - the idea of a holistic view of a body such as the Church is alien. This is a Church that seeks to be united with itself, uniting itself past, present and future along the lines of the Eternal Truth of God.


The Church believes itself to exist in three places at once - here, "Purgatory " and Eternity. I have placed the word "Purgatory" in inverted commas on the grounds that the Bible supports the existence of an intermediate space between this world and Heaven, and that it is a space of purification. The nature of this space is contested. Again, we have a problem with the Catholicism of the Church - it is in these three states simultaneously. The word "is" becomes a problem because it has a tense (namely present) and Eternity exists without Time. To say the Church contains all Truth is a belief in the infallibility of the Church. In asserting this belief, the believer is saying that from the Eternal viewpoint, there is not a point in Time where the Church has taught any other doctrine than the Truth of God and Jesus Christ. Any statements of Infallibility can only be made from an Eternal viewpoint since no one living knows the future. If the Church believes itself to possess all Truth then it must be clear that it is speaking Eternally and not at any specific point in Time. Believers have Faith in what the Church teaches with regard to its Salvation.

This belief in the Eternity of the Church binds believers, thus making Christianity a religion in the proper sense of the word. The Truth does not change because it is eternal. While many facets can be revealed through the ages, this doesn't mean that Truth changes. The Church may only hold the entire Truth in its Kath-holicism, not at a particular instant of Time because this is another instance of reduction.

Likewise the sacraments too can either be considered in their Kath-holist sense or reduced to their component parts. This latter produces precisely the tensions between believers in the Real Presence depending on the way that they view the transformation of Bread and Wine into Body and Blood. What matters most is that Bread and Wine ar brought forward at the Offertory and following the Eucharistic Prayer, the recipient says "Amen" affirming that he receives the Body and Blood of Christ.

If the Church wishes to move forward into the future then it must hold to its past and Tradition with tenacity but with humility, acknowledging its failures; affirm its present as a body of fallen human beings with the possibility of salvation in corporate union yet not presuming to have all the answers to all questions; and look to the future in hope knowing that God does not contradict Himself and that the Church will continue to exist in order to bring the love of God into the World.

21 comments:

Nicholas Jackson said...

That's a bit like not believing in the existence of Mr and Mrs Hitler senior because of the antics of their son Adolph.

I don't think this is a good analogy at all. The Church makes various unsupported, literally ex cathedra statements about the way human beings should live their lives. If that Church, and in particular the people who have made those commandments, then (as has regularly happened throughout the last several hundred years) turns out to be malicious and corrupt, I really don't think you can blame anyone for questioning at least some of the teachings in question, even the ones about the existence of God (or at least the particular image of God promoted by the Church).

On the other hand, I doubt very much that even the most ardent opponent of the Nazis questioned the existence of Alois Hitler (who, by the way, was a thoroughly unpleasant man himself) and Klara Polzl. They and the rest of us are, however, entirely justified in saying "given that a large proportion of the policies of the National Socialist Party were so utterly evil, perhaps we shouldn't attach very much credence to any of the other things they said".

Warwickensis said...

That's a bit like not believing in the existence of Mr and Mrs Hitler senior because of the antics of their son Adolph.

I don't think this is a good analogy at all. The Church makes various unsupported, literally ex cathedra statements about the way human beings should live their lives.


Incorrect. The Church makes statements about how Christians should live their lives. If you choose not to be a Christian, then whatever the Church says is immaterial.

Besides, I did say “a bit like”.

If that Church, and in particular the people who have made those commandments, then (as has regularly happened throughout the last several hundred years) turns out to be malicious and corrupt, I really don't think you can blame anyone for questioning at least some of the teachings in question, even the ones about the existence of God (or at least the particular image of God promoted by the Church).

I’m interested by your statement about the Church being “malicious and corrupt”. If you’re going to make a statement like this, I’d like to know the evidence for your condemnation or else you’ve made an ex cathedra statement about the way human beings should live their lives. Note, I’m not talking about the individuals in the Church - individual Popes, Pratriarchs, Priests or Presbyters – or particular movements in the Church – such as those particular Southern Baptists who hate folk of an African descent, or the Crusaders - I’m talking about the Church as a whole as you seem to be doing, though I may have got that wrong. Are you condemning the whole because of the actions of a part? I am, I hope, a member of the Church. If the Church is malicious and corrupt, does that automatically make me malicious and corrupt? Does it make the God of this Church malicious and corrupt? Does it make the God of this Church non-existent?

I’m sure that the actions of a malicious and corrupt member of the Church would cause one to doubt the existence of God, but it doesn’t prove His non-existence as many claim it does (such as those who take Christopher Hitchins’ arguments too far). It’s not a sufficient reductio ad absurdam

The Church believes that those Commandments came from God. It also believes in the concept of sin and evil. It also believes that it is incredibly difficult for humanity to hold to the Commandments of God. This makes the sacrifice of Christ necessary in order to give us a chance (and it is a very good chance) to meet God. The Church has the failure of humanity built into it, into its heart, and yet still it hears the voice of God - indeed, it is that voice which often highlights the failure of great swathes of its membership.

On the other hand, I doubt very much that even the most ardent opponent of the Nazis questioned the existence of Alois Hitler (who, by the way, was a thoroughly unpleasant man himself) and Klara Polzl. They and the rest of us are, however, entirely justified in saying "given that a large proportion of the policies of the National Socialist Party were so utterly evil, perhaps we shouldn't attach very much credence to any of the other things they said".

I repeat, I said “a bit like”. However the argument still stands because we’re not talking about people who would not question the existence of Alois Hitler and Klara Polzl. Their existence can be affirmed in other ways, mainly by induction (i.e. every human being has a mother and a father) or by empirical evidence (the knowledge that Alois Hitler was a ”thoroughly unpleasant man himself”). I’m talking about people who do deny (not doubt) the existence of one being because of the actions of its progeny which have some measure of free-will independently from the wishes of their creator.

Nicholas Jackson said...

The Church makes statements about how Christians should live their lives. If you choose not to be a Christian, then whatever the Church says is immaterial.

I'm not convinced that this is a distinction that the Church itself makes, though. Certainly there have been times throughout history where people attempting not to be Christian have met with very unpleasant consequences. And surely one of the central policies of the Church is that Christianity is the one true way, and that everybody should become a Christian and behave in the way it tells them to.

Are you condemning the whole because of the actions of a part?

I happily acknowledge that there are many, many individual members of the Roman Catholic Church who are good, decent, compassionate and wise people, who through their efforts and actions make the world a better place - and indeed I have been privileged to meet some of them. But I have come to the conclusion that, collectively, the RCC is not a net force for good in the world, and the bulk of the blame for that must be laid at the door of the people in charge.

The Church of England I have more respect for - it's certainly not perfect but in general its leaders seem to be at least trying to do the right thing.

Does it make the God of this Church non-existent?

I do agree that it doesn't follow that the corruptness of (parts of) the Church disproves the existence of God.

I can, however, sympathise with someone who, disillusioned by some of the collective behaviour of the Church might find their faith waning somewhat. It's not perhaps an entirely logical response, but faith isn't required to be logical.

Warwickensis said...

The Church makes statements about how Christians should live their lives. If you choose not to be a Christian, then whatever the Church says is immaterial.

I'm not convinced that this is a distinction that the Church itself makes, though. Certainly there have been times throughout history where people attempting not to be Christian have met with very unpleasant consequences. And surely one of the central policies of the Church is that Christianity is the one true way, and that everybody should become a Christian and behave in the way it tells them to.


This is certainly something the Church has had to learn the hard way, but it has learned it. The fact of the matter is that although Christ is the only true way to salvation (and how one interprets that is debated), one should be free to choose not to believe this. Christians should be obedient to God, just as you are obedient to your doubt in God and the implications that this makes. If one goes to the doctor to be cured, then one has a choice about whether or not to apply that treatment.

God requires us, not only to be obedient to our bishops and priests but also to the secular authorities set over us. Our obedience is designed to produce a more coherent society both with those who believe and those who do not. St Benedict tells his monks that they should be obedient to each other. Far from telling people what to do arbitrarily, the Church is promulgating a system which we believe is from God and would protect and nurture the individuals within the place of a loving Society. Now, while that may not be perfect, there are mechanisms for dealing with that imperfection.

Are you condemning the whole because of the actions of a part?

I happily acknowledge that there are many, many individual members of the Roman Catholic Church who are good, decent, compassionate and wise people, who through their efforts and actions make the world a better place - and indeed I have been privileged to meet some of them. But I have come to the conclusion that, collectively, the RCC is not a net force for good in the world, and the bulk of the blame for that must be laid at the door of the people in charge.


And yet, you don’t seem to support this statement. If there are many, many decent members of the RCC then aren’t they contributing to a net force for good? Where is the net force for good being stymied? Is this peculiar to the RCC?

I will certainly agree that some leaders have been awful. I think of Popes like Stephen who put the corpse of his predecessor on trial. I think of Leo X using indulgences to provide the revenue necessary to do building work in the Vatican. The RCC’s handling of the Reformation was terrible, but then the Reformers weren’t much better. However that was a product of its time. Pope Leo’s Bull nullifying Anglican Orders has caused a big problem for relationships between the RCC and the Anglican Church, but the Anglican Church has exacerbated this friction by ordaining women.

However, is there evidence that the RCC is not learning from its mistakes? Q.v apologies to the Jews, the abused, the acceptance of Gallileo’s work. Are these mistakes matters of faith or of politics?

Warwickensis said...

The Church of England I have more respect for - it's certainly not perfect but in general its leaders seem to be at least trying to do the right thing.

What are its leaders doing that’s so great? They are inherently divided among themselves and the Archbishop isn’t entirely leading by example as he swings to one side then to another. Then again, he has an unenviable task trying to lead a church that doesn’t really know what it believes. The Church of England hierarchy claims to be inclusive and that this is a defining aspect of its existence. Why, then, is it deliberately engineering the departure of those who cannot in conscience accept its innovations? It certainly isn’t perfect but it isn’t at all clear that its heart is in the right place because there isn’t a definable heart. I speak from much experience here.

Does it make the God of this Church non-existent?

I do agree that it doesn't follow that the corruptness of (parts of) the Church disproves the existence of God.

I can, however, sympathise with someone who, disillusioned by some of the collective behaviour of the Church might find their faith waning somewhat. It's not perhaps an entirely logical response, but faith isn't required to be logical.


I agree with this, because I’ve been there. I still keep coming back because it seems to me that the Church really does represent the best of a fallen humanity. We continue to sin, and sin badly, despite what we preach because we are human. We have a way of trying to improve ourselves; we see what the rules are and try to apply them, trusting in a forgiving God not to weigh our merits but to pardon our offences and to purify what we do so that it may yield some good fruit. I agree that the image that the church of now puts out is not supported by its actions. The point is that God is on our side but He calls the shots and we cannot presume that our actions are entirely His will.

“All things work for good for those who love God” says St Paul - this doesn’t stop us from getting a Divine smack on the arse when we’ve got it wrong. If the Church were to try and go it alone, then it would certainly crumble and be a foul objectionable thing. I don’t believe it is alone, nor has it ever sought to be, despite the pride and presumption of men.

Faith is not completely logical because it does require the odd leap. Logic may be infallible, but it doesn’t have all the answers – it doesn’t eve provide the means to all answers, as you know. As I’ve tried to say in the original post. The Church possesses the Truth, but in Time it is not yet perfected in the same way that Jesus Himself was not perfected until His Crucifixion. However, logic remains a means of discerning the truth from Scripture and Tradition. I’m still an Anglican, so believe in the truth being found in Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

Nicholas Jackson said...

Far from telling people what to do arbitrarily, the Church is promulgating a system which we believe is from God and would protect and nurture the individuals within the place of a loving Society.

Well, rather than "a system", the Church is actually promulgating many different, mutually conflicting systems: some parts of the Church believe that women can be priests and bishops, while some others regard this as the worst sort of heresy; some Christians see no problem with homosexuality, others have a considerably more mediaeval viewpoint on the matter; some people believe that come the day of judgement (which might have been a couple of weeks ago, but is now apparently scheduled for later in the year) the faithful will physically rise up into the sky to be with God (although what happens when they reach the upper edge of the atmosphere has never been clear to me), while many others don't; there are many, many other examples.

Is it reasonable that the will (and a non-evidence-based will, to boot) of a minority be unduly imposed on the rest of us? You complain that you've been pushed out of the CofE because your views on the ordination of women ran contrary to those of most of your fellows, and you resented having their views foisted upon you, but when the Church interferes in politics (which its various factions do all the time both in the UK and elsewhere in the world) then it's doing the same thing to the rest of us.

And even if it were reasonable for this to happen (and the main point of the modern secularism movement is that it's not) then which particular one of these mutually-incompatible doctrinal systems should we submit to?

Nicholas Jackson said...

If there are many, many decent members of the RCC then aren’t they contributing to a net force for good?

There are many, many good people in the RCC, people who are genuinely trying to make the world a better place (and in many cases succeeding admirably). But over the last few years I've come to doubt whether their sterling efforts are outweighing the utterly reprehensible actions of some of their fellows and hierarchical superiors.

Where is the net force for good being stymied?

The leadership, quite simply. You mention the case of Pope Stephen VI putting the corpse of his predecessor Formosus on trial, and Leo X's nice little trade in indulgences, but all of that pales into insignificance when compared with the conspiracy, throughout the world and over several decades, to cover up colossal numbers of cases of child abuse. That apparently none of the people involved seem to have asked themselves questions like "is this a morally acceptable way to behave?" or "is it right that the reputation and political interests of the Church hierarchy be placed higher than the interests of vulnerable children?" gives me grave doubts about the overall moral status of the entire organisation. Yes, the Pope publicly apologised and the Church has paid some monetary compensation to the victims, but for me that was rather undermined by the way the RCC's press officers simultaneously blamed the whole thing on media bias, and loudly objected when the police started investigating. I find it difficult to understand how someone with a conscience would feel comfortable being part of an organisation like that.

However, is there evidence that the RCC is not learning from its mistakes?

I don't see any evidence that it is learning from its mistakes. During the Pope's "state visit" to the UK last year, he and some of his aides made a number of calculated and provocative remarks. This is not the way you should behave when you're a guest in someone else's country.

(I really didn't mean this to turn into a rant about the failings of the major Christian denominations, by the way, and I'm sorry if you find some of my views uncomfortable - I'll stop saying them to you if you'd prefer. I just started out trying to point out why someone who had become disillusioned with the Church might reasonably question everything it had told them, and it sort of spiralled into a bit of a diatribe.)

Nicholas Jackson said...

What are its leaders doing that’s so great? They are inherently divided among themselves and the Archbishop isn’t entirely leading by example as he swings to one side then to another.

They seem to be at least trying to make the world a better place, whether it's trying to preserve some form of relevant spirituality and moral sense in the modern world, or attempting to curb the less tolerant excesses of some bits of the Anglican communion. You deride Archbishop Williams for swinging from one side to another, but to me it looks more like he's trying to find a compromise that's acceptable to as many people as possible. It's a doomed effort, obviously, but he deserves respect for trying.

The Church of England hierarchy claims to be inclusive and that this is a defining aspect of its existence. Why, then, is it deliberately engineering the departure of those who cannot in conscience accept its innovations?

This is one of those mutually-incompatible things that I mentioned in one of my other comments. You believe, firmly and completely, without any doubt, that women can't be priests or bishops. Other people in the CofE believe, equally firmly, that they can. These are irreconcilable beliefs: there is no way of keeping both groups of people happy at the same time, and some sort of conflict is inevitable in this sort of situation.

What if you'd got your way and ordination of women had been voted down, revoked, and generally done away with? There are a lot of other people throughout the CofE and the wider Anglican communion who would have regarded that as completely unacceptable, and many of them would have felt (as you do) that they are being persecuted, sidelined, and that their departure was being deliberately engineered.

I've tried quite hard over the last year or so to understand your theological objections to the ordination of women, and I just can't. The arguments are so rarefied, so detailed (and at times so apparently contradictory) that I've been unable to make head or tail of them. I therefore can't bring myself to condemn any of your fellow Christians if they don't understand or don't agree with your arguments.

Warwickensis said...

Well, rather than "a system", the Church is actually promulgating many different, mutually conflicting systems: some parts of the Church believe that women can be priests and bishops, while some others regard this as the worst sort of heresy; some Christians see no problem with homosexuality, others have a considerably more mediaeval viewpoint on the matter; some people believe that come the day of judgement (which might have been a couple of weeks ago, but is now apparently scheduled for later in the year) the faithful will physically rise up into the sky to be with God (although what happens when they reach the upper edge of the atmosphere has never been clear to me), while many others don't; there are many, many other examples.

I agree with you much here. There are many strident voices which are promoting all kinds of rubbish. This is why I subscribe to a system of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, the tenets of Anglican (and much Roman Catholic and Orthodox) belief. None of these groups has prescribed any official doctrine on when the end occurs. Even within these groups, there are nutcases, but in order to assess what’s being put forward, a reasonable Christian will be critical, return to the Scriptures and the Church Fathers. Camping’s ideas were not views expressed by the whole Church. I cannot comment or pass judgement on Protestant beliefs which come from “personal” interpretations of the Bible. Christianity is not about mindlessly committing to any old belief, but to engage sensibly with that belief. All dogmata are not equal.

Warwickensis said...

Is it reasonable that the will (and a non-evidence-based will, to boot) of a minority be unduly imposed on the rest of us?

Where’s the evidence that empiricism is sufficient to understand reality? Where is the Church asking for its views to be imposed on everybody? In those places, what’s the indigenous culture?

Warwickensis said...

You complain that you've been pushed out of the CofE because your views on the ordination of women ran contrary to those of most of your fellows, and you resented having their views foisted upon you, but when the Church interferes in politics (which its various factions do all the time both in the UK and elsewhere in the world) then it's doing the same thing to the rest of us.

In this country, the time the Church has gone up against politics has been to fight to hold Her beliefs. The Equality Bill prevents Roman Catholics Adoption Agencies from keeping to their conscience and regarding homosexuality as not being conducive to raising children. For me, the women “priests” issue is a visible symptom of a deeper erosion of Christian belief at the heart of the CofE. It represents a move away from Scripture, Tradition and Reason. In this case, the prevailing modern philosophy (spilling into the church from modern secularism) is being forced upon everybody. I have been told by a CofE Bishop that if I receive Communion in a parish that has not passed the resolutions which inhibit the ministry of women, then I have no grounds to object to the ministry of women. This is what caused me to leave.

The future proposal is for the resolutions to be scrapped with the presence of women “bishops” which will mean that all members of the CofE will have no grounds to object to such a ministry, when they do. Already opponents to this are preparing ecclesial ghettos. Some, like me, are leaving for a more coherent and reasonable expression of Christianity.

Warwickensis said...

There are many, many good people in the RCC, people who are genuinely trying to make the world a better place (and in many cases succeeding admirably). But over the last few years I've come to doubt whether their sterling efforts are outweighing the utterly reprehensible actions of some of their fellows and hierarchical superiors.

So why do you weigh the actions of the superiors more than the obvious good done by the ones who are actually doing good? In Christianity, we are told that the one who wants to be greatest should work to become the least. The folk who are in the public eye all the time are not always the best advocates and time usually uncovers ulterior motives. But are their statements defining the position of the whole church? The teaching of the Church outweighs the personal utterances of the hierarchy except, as most Roman Catholics believe, under certain conditions when the Pope can speak ex cathedra. Even then, what he says has already been established. As an Anglican, I have difficulties with this, though I am trying very much to see where my difficulties lie. As soon as I find out, I’ll blog.

Warwickensis said...

Where is the net force for good being stymied?

The leadership, quite simply. You mention the case of Pope Stephen VI putting the corpse of his predecessor Formosus on trial, and Leo X's nice little trade in indulgences, but all of that pales into insignificance when compared with the conspiracy, throughout the world and over several decades, to cover up colossal numbers of cases of child abuse. That apparently none of the people involved seem to have asked themselves questions like "is this a morally acceptable way to behave?" or "is it right that the reputation and political interests of the Church hierarchy be placed higher than the interests of vulnerable children?" gives me grave doubts about the overall moral status of the entire organisation. Yes, the Pope publicly apologised and the Church has paid some monetary compensation to the victims, but for me that was rather undermined by the way the RCC's press officers simultaneously blamed the whole thing on media bias, and loudly objected when the police started investigating. I find it difficult to understand how someone with a conscience would feel comfortable being part of an organisation like that.

This is interesting. Can you justify the adjective “colossal”? How does this compare with the amount of child abuse that has taken place in the world, in the “developed” world, in the Protestant churches, in secular organisations? How many priestly child abusers are there?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2010/mar/11/catholic-abuse-priests

Of course, the fact is that absolutely, unequivocally no child abuse should happen anywhere and one child being abused in the Church is one too many. However, I am more convinced by an institution that recognises that it has fallen badly, that has been publicly humiliated – and rightly so – by the actions of its members and seeks to get back to the message that it proclaims. That message has not changed, indeed it shows that we are all fallible in our actions and fall short – obscenely short – of the gospel we preach. The organisation was seen to have fallen by its own standards. That surely shows something of how precious the standards and teaching of the Church actually are.

Warwickensis said...

I don't see any evidence that it is learning from its mistakes. During the Pope's "state visit" to the UK last year, he and some of his aides made a number of calculated and provocative remarks. This is not the way you should behave when you're a guest in someone else's country.
Again, the way these were reported are not helpful, but they do belie the strength of feeling that the Pope and his advisors have of the way that we perceive strident atheism affecting us. The Pope’s experiences of Nazi Germany have allowed him to see how a genuine desire for a reasonable secular society resulted in something unimaginably horrible. Most, if not all, of the blame for that lies at the feet of Hitler and his cronies who systematically destroyed all dissent and opposition. The Pope is experienced enough to see some parallels in an England with its Equality Bill, Parliament interfering in theological issues and the strident vilification (not just counter-argument but insult, slander and hatred) as well as calls to oust religion from schools, colleges and universities, remove religious symbols from the workplace (all Crosses and Crucifixes as far as I am aware). Just as the secular world forced the Church to take a good, hard, look at its actions over Child Abuse in the light of its own teaching, so the secular world needs the dissent of the Church to challenge preconceived ideas.

The “Third World” comment was uncalled for, but the Cardinal involved did pull out.

I really didn't mean this to turn into a rant about the failings of the major Christian denominations, by the way, and I'm sorry if you find some of my views uncomfortable - I'll stop saying them to you if you'd prefer. I just started out trying to point out why someone who had become disillusioned with the Church might reasonably question everything it had told them, and it sort of spiralled into a bit of a diatribe.

It’s always good to hear genuine, kind-hearted, reasoned and reasonable objections to the Christian Faith, because, as I intimate above, the Church needs to listen and listen well rather than just preach. The times where it has failed to live up to its own standards are the times when it has stopped listening. All good preaching comes from listening anyway. I’m not uncomfortable in the slightest with what you say. I just hope you’ll help me to understand your position better which is why I ask these questions which I do not mean to be at all snarky in tone. Apologies if I have, I’ve been on the defensive a lot in recent years.

Warwickensis said...

What are its leaders doing that’s so great? They are inherently divided among themselves and the Archbishop isn’t entirely leading by example as he swings to one side then to another.

They seem to be at least trying to make the world a better place, whether it's trying to preserve some form of relevant spirituality and moral sense in the modern world, or attempting to curb the less tolerant excesses of some bits of the Anglican communion. You deride Archbishop Williams for swinging from one side to another, but to me it looks more like he's trying to find a compromise that's acceptable to as many people as possible. It's a doomed effort, obviously, but he deserves respect for trying.

I’m sorry. I honestly don’t see how you claim that Anglicans are trying to make the world a better place institutionally, but Roman Catholics are only doing so in dribs and drabs away from the hierarchy that you object to. Anglicanism is an inherently divided church and is claiming that it is not – that is dishonesty. I question your uses of the word “better” and “tolerant” – what do they mean in this context? Are you confusing “tolerant” with “acceptance”? I fail to see how a compromise can be reached between someone who holds to the Catholic creeds and another who does not believe in the Virgin birth. All Anglicans are expected to sign up to the Creeds and yet most of them do so with their fingers crossed behind their backs. That’s dishonesty. I fail to see how an organisation announces that it is tolerant and yet fails to tolerate groups within the Church who have sound theological objections to aspect of that tolerance. “We don’t tolerate intolerance!” More dishonesty. Yes, there has been dishonesty in the RCC which has been found out and judged according to the same moral code that the RCC preach. The Anglican Church has been changing what it believes to the extent that you do not know whether the priest in front of you actually believes in God.

Warwickensis said...

The Church of England hierarchy claims to be inclusive and that this is a defining aspect of its existence. Why, then, is it deliberately engineering the departure of those who cannot in conscience accept its innovations?

This is one of those mutually-incompatible things that I mentioned in one of my other comments. You believe, firmly and completely, without any doubt, that women can't be priests or bishops. Other people in the CofE believe, equally firmly, that they can. These are irreconcilable beliefs: there is no way of keeping both groups of people happy at the same time, and some sort of conflict is inevitable in this sort of situation.

What if you'd got your way and ordination of women had been voted down, revoked, and generally done away with? There are a lot of other people throughout the CofE and the wider Anglican communion who would have regarded that as completely unacceptable, and many of them would have felt (as you do) that they are being persecuted, sidelined, and that their departure was being deliberately engineered.

I've tried quite hard over the last year or so to understand your theological objections to the ordination of women, and I just can't. The arguments are so rarefied, so detailed (and at times so apparently contradictory) that I've been unable to make head or tail of them. I therefore can't bring myself to condemn any of your fellow Christians if they don't understand or don't agree with your arguments.

Warwickensis said...

Apparently Contradictory? Where? Show me! Even if they are apparent contradictions, I need to know where they are. I do not condemn women priests as non-Christian. I will accept them as a respectable and learned Christian as I would accept a Baptist minister of either sex. God forbid that I have condemned anyone! If I have, then I will take it to my confession.

I always have doubts, but I have seen no evidence for me, or for the Church for that matter to change its position on established doctrine and established morals. This is the key – the Anglican Church has changed its position, doctrine and morals. There is never been an objection to male priests. There would be nothing to object to: the priest would definitely be a priest. However, to change the rules arbitrarily brings in doubt and a greater doubt than can be handled. People who want change must justify that change properly. There are examples of this with recent views on the filioque clause in the Nicene Creed which has caused much division. Likewise, the Roman Catholic ban on ecumenism has been changed by the Second Vatican Council. There have been good changes because there has been a reason to change. I cannot answer “what if “questions when it requires changing the past – no-one can. All I can say is that the official position held by the Church would have continued in conjunction with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and perhaps there would be a greater coherence of Christian teaching in that occasion than there is now.

I suspect that you cannot make head nor tail of my arguments because my worldview is markedly different from yours – we are coming from two different directions with two different biases and holding two different systems of moral value. I accept that, just as I accept that the CofE claims that women can be priests. Considering that there are those who want my worldview obliterated (read Fr Clatworthy’s articles which I examine), you’ll appreciate that I’m not going to take that lying down. If you will help me to understand where your difficulties lie, I will try to address them as carefully as I can. Do you think that this is more due to an agnostic-Christian dichotomy rather than the Catholic-Protestant dichotomy of the women priests issue?

Nonetheless, thanks so very much for taking the time and trouble to make these comments, Nick. They are properly challenging, most stimulating, thought provoking and very helpful to me as an individual.

edpacht1 said...

I've just read this whole discussion, and have noticed, as Warwickensis observed, that there are two different world-views being expressed, and that both are firmly and solidly based upon faith propositions. Neither worldview can be empirically established by observation and logic alone. Now, Warwickensis, as a believing Christian, will agree with this statement. He and I begin with a faith proposition (one that appears logical to our limited minds, but cannot be precisely proven) -- that there is One God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, whose message and presence is continued in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church down to this very day. This is at the core of our faith, of our life, even of our approach to politics and to science, and especially to our view of ethics and morality. That doesn't always mean a static situation. We also believe in inquiry, in questions, in the possibility that some aspects of our thinking may actually not be in accord with divine revelation, but this examination and judgment is always in the context of the core values of our faith.

Nicholas, similarly, (and I doubt he'll like me saying so) lives and thinks by faith, though he does not ascribe it to divine revelation. He can make certain statements in an authoritative and judgmental manner, and declare condemnations based on what he sees to be right, but cannot prove. It would appear that his faith lies in the reliability of human observation and logic, and in certain moral/ethical instincts. At any rate, efforts to prove his positions empirically are no more successful than mine to prove the Catholic Faith. In both cases there are underlying assumptions that cannot be proven.

edpacht1 said...

Warwickensis made this comment

... the veracity of The Bible is attacked by Science and the rational approach ...

Well, I think that somewhat misses the mark. As I see it, Science is not actually a body of knowledge, but a way of asking questions. The state of scientific knowledge at any juncture is that of a body of provisional assumptions, that seem to be correct in the light of what is known so far. It is central to real science that all these assumptions, including even the most basic and established ones, MUST be continually questioned with the view that they may turn out to be inadequate or maybe even wrong. Thus science is no real challenge to the faith. Questions may be asked in a scientific manner at any time and the way of understanding may indeed change in some aspects (it has in the past). It isn't possible in a fully scientific way of examining, to prove either a God-dependent universe, or one in which God is irrelevant.

On moral issues, I note that Warwickensis takes certain historic Catholic positions as authoritative, as do I. On the other hand, I note that Nicholas takes certain moral/ethical positions as absolute, undebatable, and fixed enough that others can be condemned or derided for disagreeing. I'm not sure where this absolute conviction comes from in a non-believer, but it is certainly no less a matter of his personal faith than is ours.

ed pacht

Nicholas Jackson said...

Nicholas, similarly, (and I doubt he'll like me saying so) lives and thinks by faith, though he does not ascribe it to divine revelation.

I'm not sure I'd quite put it like that, but I wouldn't say you're completely wrong.

We live in a complex (not to mention awe-inspiring and majestic) universe, and we must each find some way of making sense of enough of it to get through our lives. For me, I've found that the empirical, evidence-based approach has worked pretty well in almost all cases over the past thirty-odd years, so I tend to use it as my default, at least in circumstances where one can be sufficiently objective.

A lot of nonsense has been written or spoken about the empirical, scientific method over the years, but essentially what it boils down to is "looking carefully at what actually happens in the real world, and being prepared to modify your model of reality in accordance with those observations". I've always rather liked Ian Stewart's remark that "science is the best defence against believing what we want to".

You and Warwickensis have clearly adopted an approach to dealing with the world, primarily based on the scripture and doctrine of (one of the denominations of) Christianity, and that's up to you. I don't personally subscribe to that viewpoint myself, because it's never sounded at all plausible to me, but if it works for you, and doesn't conflict unduly with my life then that's ok.

Where a lot of the problems seem to occur is where the non-evidence-based faith approach conflicts with the evidence-based approach on the other one's home ground. So I think Richard Dawkins' attempt to debunk the "God Hypothesis" using the scientific method is rather missing the point, as is the ongoing insistence of homeopaths, creationists, rapture-enthusiasts and astrologers that they're still right, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

I do think that public policy should be rooted in objective reality where possible, so while I understand that equality legislation designed to prevent discrimination against certain groups of people might cause problems for organisations who believe that some of those groups should be discriminated against in certain circumstances, I think that the good points generally outweigh the bad. I'm not sure there's an easy answer to this, and it's inevitable that there will be some problems along the way, as we stumble our way towards a more tolerant society.

Is my broadly empirical approach a kind of faith? Perhaps on some level it is, although I'm not convinced it's entirely sensible to stretch the definition of "faith" and "belief" that far. (Someone else I know maintains that theism is functionally equivalent to having a personal moral code, so since I have one of those (because I'm not a sociopath) I must therefore believe in a god of some sort. He tends to go in for that kind of rhetorical goalpost-moving a lot, though, which is why I tend not to talk to him very much these days.)

Nicholas Jackson said...

I should clarify at this point that I consider myself to be very much an agnostic: although on an everyday basis I tend to adopt an evidence-based approach to reality, I'm not willing to rule out the possibility that there isn't at least something else in heaven and earth undreamt of in that particular philosophy. There are large swathes of mainstream Christian doctrine that I definitely don't believe, but I accept that there may well be some core of truth there, and am willing to modify my internal model of the world in the light of further information. At the moment, however, the jury is still out (or has perhaps returned an open or "not proven" verdict). (Being an agnostic is interesting: both theists and atheists have tried to convince me that I'm really one of them in denial, and that agnosticism isn't a valid position.)

On the other hand, I note that Nicholas takes certain moral/ethical positions as absolute, undebatable, and fixed enough that others can be condemned or derided for disagreeing. I'm not sure where this absolute conviction comes from in a non-believer, but it is certainly no less a matter of his personal faith than is ours.

I suppose that some of my moral views are fairly absolute, although many of those relate to issues of consent, and the protection of vulnerable people. So, murder, genocide, theft, assault, rape, child abuse and so forth are wrong because they occur when one person imposes their will on another, possibly vulnerable person against the latter's consent. There are numerous other things that some mainstream Christian denominations denounce but which I don't really have a problem with (but might not personally want to do myself): things that consenting adults might choose to do in private. I have a sense of compassion, so it saddens me when people do things to harm themselves or each other, but at some point I think you have to let people make their own mistakes from time to time. Generally speaking, I've found the maxim "your rights begin where mine end" to be a fairly useful one.

Again, I don't claim that my personal moral code is in any way definitive, objective or canonical, it's just what seems to work best for me, and which I think would result in a stable, just and compassionate society if everybody behaved that way (this latter is essentially Kant's "categorical imperative").

Perhaps again it's a kind of point of faith. On the other hand, just because I'm not a card-carrying "believer" of a recognised religion doesn't mean that I can't have a firm sense of personal morality. Some of the most ethical and honest people I know are atheists, and some of the most dishonest and amoral people I've met have been devout theists of some sort.