Thursday, June 15, 2017

Moving forward by staying still

"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."
"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!" (from Though the Looking Glass and what Alice found there, by Lewis Carroll)

One of the the problems that the Church has to address is how it relates to the findings of Science. We live in an age where the tenets of Christianity are thought to be challenged by scientific findings. The big challenge has been the Evolution of the Species versus the account of the Creation of the World in Genesis. There have been three approaches:

1) deny the truth of Science and accept the Biblical account;
2) deny the truth of the Bible and accept the findings of Science;
3) realise the truths that the Bible reveals and that Science discerns are different in nature.

As a matter of fact, many of the Church Fathers did not think that the account of the Creation in Genesis needed to be literal such as St Cyprian, St Justin Martyr, St Clement of Alexandria and Origen. Yet there are many who thought that Genesis was true to the exclusion of Science such as St Basil, St John Damascene, and St Ambrose. This does mark a trend in the Church that has existed from its beginning. there are those who believe that philosophy has a place in Christian thought such as St Justin Martyr and St Anselm, and there are those who do not such as Lactantius, Tertullian, and (to an extent) St Bernard of Clairvaux.

This is the key idea that the Church wrestles with - the nature of human reason within Christian Doctrine. Fr Richard Hooker speaks of the union of Scripture, Tradition and a Right Reason, i.e. a Reason that is has its roots in Scripture and Tradition. Notice, please, nowhere does Fr Hooker ever mention the three-legged stool. That is a myth. He likes it more to a rope of three cords. Still better is the analogy of three rocks, one on top of another: Scripture first, Church Fathers next, then Right Reason on top and thus based solely on both.

It is good that there are these tow positions represented in the Church as each serves as checks and balances on the other. The path to God is a mixture of apophatic and kataphatic spiritualities in tension whereby what we perceive with our senses is both affirmed and denied in order to spur us onward. There is a time for both.

The problem is whether the Church is now merely reactive to human development or part of the creative process whereby humanity participates in its Creation with God. We participate in our salvation effectively by becoming the person that Our Lord Jesus can save in love. Love requires consent, and thus we have to agree to our growth and transformation in Christ that we may indeed become like Him. We are shaped by our deeds and experiences: the more we allow Our Lord to influence those deeds and experiences, the more we approach the real us. This is a process which is given to us by the gift of faith and aided actively at every step by the Triune Godhead. This is why we pray "may the Divine assistance be with us always."

To those who stand outside Christianity, they will see the Church as being largely reactive to the events of Science. What is the Church's response to the Higgs boson whose existence may be responsible for the Big Bang? What is the Church's response to stem cell research which is responsible for many of the drugs such as Warfarin? What about organ donation et c?

It is clear in a traditional church, such as the ACC, that a pro-life stance has massive implications upon what the Church can accept as being an ethics within Science. We have a rigid pro-life stance: life begins at conception and must be preserved as far as possible until death is clear. Essentially, we have to err on the side that a human being is alive until incontrovertible evidence shows otherwise. In this line of thinking, the death of the brain stem is not enough to establish death to the extent that organs can be harvested for transplant. Likewise, T-cells extracted from human embryos is viewed in the same way as vivisection on other human beings. This is problematic because organ donation and stem cell research are preserving people's lives. We in the ACC would say that the means does not justify the ends.

The runaway train problem does demonstrate this well.

In the situation of organ donation: this is very similar to the pushing of the fat man off a bridge. Although Science defines a person as being dead if the brain stem is dead, the Church says that we cannot be sure and that our duty is to follow the morally safer path. We work from different parameters. Many interesting discussions can be found in this edition of Touchstone Magazine. It is also interesting to note that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church do support organ donation. Most Anglican Catholics would agree in principle if it could be demonstrated that the donor really is dead. On the other hand does the one holding a donor card act in a way that demonstrates a desire for self-sacrifice to allow another to live? This is a big debate and it is difficult to find clear answers.

Again, what we see here is the Church reacting to the world, scurrying to the Bible and the Fathers to discern the moral position. Modernists scurry to Church Authority in order to find an interpretation that matches their morality, and that's a problem.

An end-of-life issue such as organ donation, abortion or euthanasia usually contains an emotive weight. Both sides of the arguments will use the phrase "How would you feel if...?" The question is, are feelings relevant? In cold, brute force philosophy, no. Organ donation benefits the greater good in an unemotional Utilitarian philosophy. In an unemotional pro-life philosophy, the argument would be: one's own danger of impending death is no reason to cause certainly the death of the donor who is potentially dead.

That's what happens when we take the emotion out of the equation. That doesn't mean we take Love out of the equation, as Love is not an emotion.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that like modern politics (Trump or Clinton, anyone?) we are given the choice between two wrong answers and either choice stirs a sense of injustice being done and thus a sense of indignation which is perceived to be righteous by one party and rebellious by another. Perhaps, the Church can do with being creative rather than reactive in these situations.

If the Church is to keep its mind on things that are Heavenly then it needs to bring the joy of Heaven into matters of life and death. Cold hard logic and philosophy will only cause arguments which are unconvincing to the other party precisely because we are arguing in the sphere of earthly human reason. Perhaps, the Church must recognises that, actually, there is no blanket piece of reasoning that will cover every eventuality. If the Church recognises anything, it will be that life on earth is grossly unfair. If there is no God, then there is no reason why life shouldn't be anything other than filled with pain, injustice, intolerance and death. Indeed, without God, getting terminal cancer is not evil - it is just how things are. It is because we react at a visceral level to our loved ones getting terminal cancer that perhaps there is a deeper sense of worth within us that the world can ever give, and if that worth is beyond the world's capacity perhaps it is of God.

It is the presence of the Church in matters of life and death to present that worth of humanity to those who find themselves conflicted. People will often make the wrong choice, indeed the morally wrong choice. The Church will proclaim, "No Abortion! No Euthanasia." A child will get aborted. A man will go to Switzerland and be euthanised. And the Church will scream "NO!" in tears and rage, crying out to God for the innocent life that has been ended immorally. And what will God do?

Well, that's what we have to leave in the hands of God. We have to. It has always been the Church's role to care for the souls of all human beings. We have to stand in the moral mess suffering with the innocent in order that the suffering of the innocent finds sanctification through the means that the Church possesses to sanctify. We have that authority to sanctify given from God. What we don't do is batter sinners and the innocent alike with earthly reasoning even if it is Right Reason. We see that this does indeed drive people away from Christ.

The Church does need to re-develop its creative capacity not only to react to developments in Science and other forms of human progress, but also to present what is Heavenly to beings of earthly mind. It is the role of the Church to suffer for that bringing Heaven to Earth just as Our Lord suffers for the same thing and accomplishes it through His death.

Moral dilemmas produce dichotomies, but morality is Earthly thought if we do not learn to approach it from above for that's where the Church's creative capacities lie. The fundamental worth of every human being comes from God. If we wish to convince the world that abortion denies the worth of both mother and child, then we have to make sure that we ourselves are capable of discerning the worth of people in particular and not in a theoretical text.

The Church does not need to change doctrine by one iota to embrace hard moral issues. She has the capacity to move humanity forward towards God without making the changes that modernists demand under the false assumption that the prevailing morality is where you start: they assume the thing they try to prove. The Church needs to be what God intends the Church to be: standing with the woman caught in adultery, giving her hope of true and glorious life and then telling her to go and sin no more so that she continue towards that true and glorious life.

If Christ joins Heaven and Earth for us sinners in the Mass, then surely the Church can draw strength from that for all others who dwell in sin and the shadow of Death. Let us never, ever despair of the mercy of God. Let us never, ever make anyone else despair of the mercy of God.

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