Avignon in Rome?

In history, there have been many times when there was such a mess in the Church that there were two or more Popes on the go at any one time. There are lists of universally recognised Popes and those called anti-popes. A few left the historian in some degree of confusion.

Is the Pope really the Pope? This question has usually been asked, since the death of Pius XII in 1958, by traditionalist Roman Catholics called sedevacantists. They are not all agreed about which of the line of Popes beginning with John XXIII to Francis are false or why in theological or canonical terms. The general theory is that John XXIII was a Modernist and a Freemason, and therefore could not be elected Pope validly. If this is so, the Cardinals since the consistories of after October 1958 are all bogus. Theoretically, the sedevacantists could get together and elect their own Pope. Some extremely marginal groups of “conclavists” have tried it.  The results are without any credibility whatsoever.

Sedevacantism would be the logical way of solving the cognitive dissonance between Ultramontanist infallibilism and the reality of the modern Church which has embraced positions it previous condemned as heretical such as religious liberty and ecumenism. Unfortunately, when taken to the extreme of its logic, it leads to a fairly similar situation as that of the “Petite Eglise” of the Deux-Sèvres and the Raskol in seventeenth-century Russia.

Since the election of Pope Francis in March 2013 with the previous Pope still alive, living in the Vatican and wearing a white cassock, there have been doubts as to the reality or validity of Benedict XVI’s abdication. Ratzinger himself has affirmed that he intended to step down to allow the election of his successor. Fair enough, the Pope is Bishop of Rome and has a primacy of honour over the college of bishops of his Church – but such an idea contradicts the quasi-divine image of the Papacy cultivated by Boniface VIII, Pius IX and others. One would think that doubts would be allayed, but questions do continue to be asked by men who are embarrassingly mainstream.

This came up at the end of last month: “Two Popes”: Has the Papacy become a Diarchy?. It raises new questions, given the fact that Benedict XVI did not give up the Papacy entirely to retire to a monastery (or some other form of private life) and never be seen again in public. The argument is disturbing: if there is ambiguity in the abdication of Benedict XVI, he is still the Pope and Francis was invalidly elected in canonical terms.

The question doesn’t concern me, since I am no longer a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but we as Anglicans do insert the names of the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch in the Canon of the Mass because we pray for the visible human unity of the Church that is already One ontologically and sacramentally. We would like to get the name right – una cum famulo tuo papa nostro Benedicto – as I was used to before March last year or – una cum famulo tuo papa nostro Francisco – as I say now, still having to remind myself of the change!

I would appreciate comments on the Vittorio Messori article. I keep an open mind.

Update: Article on this subject by Fr John Hunwicke Two Popes?!?

Obviously it wasn’t my posting that suggested the idea of two Popes. I am inclined to accept the mainstream position: Benedict XVI abdicated and Francis was validly elected. There is no reason to believe that this act of abdication was in any way ambiguous or extracted by force. One important point Fr Hunwicke makes is:

A second reason why it is wrong is that it appears to create a new sacramental order within the Catholic Church, with a ‘character’ indelibly and irrevocably marked upon the soul of a man who has once been Pope. There is no such order, and it is heretical to say or to imply that there is. The sacramental orders in the Church of Christ are those of Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon. A pope is simply the Bishop of Rome, and a pope emeritus is a Bishop who was once Bishop of Rome and now is so no longer*.

The Papacy is simply an ecclesiastical office like any other (Archbishop of Cologne, Parish Priest of Trifouillé-les-Saucisses, etc.). It might have been better had Bishop Ratzinger been appointed to a titular see and perhaps return to his status as a Cardinal. But, those are only externals.

The difference for us Anglicans is that life just goes on.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Avignon in Rome?

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Do you know whether there is a (reliable) English version of Professor Violi’s study, referred to and quoted from by Vittorio Messori?

    Knowing very little, I do not see why Pope Benedict’s decision need be evaluated differently from that of Pope St. Celestine V.

    Does one’s relation to “munus” depend on one’s formulation of “renunciation”?

    Insofar as ‘Roman Pontiff’ is distnguished from any and all other ‘Ponitifici’ (including – other – ‘Patriarchs’), can there not simply be a (sub-)class of ‘Pontifici Emeriti’ consisting solely of ‘Popes’ as there is a more general class of ‘Pontifici [=Episcopi] Emeriti’?

    • There’s a lot of scholastic speculation about the Pope to try to make him stand out from all other bishops. The Pope is a bishop (with a primacy of honour like the eastern Patriarchs), but a bishop. A bishop can be translated and removed, or he can resign from office. Perhaps this whole thing between Benedict and Francis is one practical lesson to demonstrate the folly of Utramontanist pope-deification.

      As far as I am concerned, despite unfortunate appearances, Benedict XVI is out and Francis is in. Either that or one should follow “classical” sedevacantism – what a tangled web they weave!

  2. Dale says:

    Since the Pope’s Infallibility is a “personal and incommunical charism” (Catholic Encyclopedia) does this mean that now the Roman Church has two infallible Popes? Can one resign from infallibility? The theological implications are quite confusing. What is their infallibility disagrees with one another?

    • I seems an academic point because no Pope is infallible, and this situation just shows the Papacy demythologised. I suspect that Benedict XVI and Francis are together in this. Vatican I is dead!

      • Dale says:

        Be careful Father! Although we both may agree on this, most (many) Roman Catholics will not!

        Although, there is a new-song-and-dance to distance the modern Roman Church from the actual documents of Vatican I and the Pope’s personal infallibility. One can perhaps attribute this to an expanded understanding of Newman’s evolution of doctrine theory (loved by the modernists). But then, is any doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church stable? It seems that not only can ancient rites be changed at a whim, so can the Faith itself.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, As regards your thought about “But then, is any doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church stable?”, I think the answer is clearly yes. The RCC has only 2 doctrines:

        First Doctrine: The faith is whatever the Bishop of Rome says it is.

        Second Doctrine: See first doctrine.

      • Evagrius says:

        Unlike Orthodoxy, Mr Frost, where there is only one doctrine, which is kept locked in a box in a monastery on Mt Athos, and believed and taught by nobody at all.

        Of course, there are many boxes containing many doctrines, all over Athos and beyond, so telling which is the true gnosis…

      • Dale says:

        Michael and Evagrius: you’re both right!

  3. Patricius says:

    The Christian Faith will not see unity until the Papacy is cast down. If that day comes, and we pray it comes soon, then let Orthodox and Latin Christian hold hands and dance around the pope’s cadaver.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    In the third book of his Laws, Richard Hooker nicely (in the older and more modern sense of that adverb) sketches how much “unity” not only the “Christian Faith” but the “visible Church” already sees, while in the Preface he notes what a “greater inconvenience it bred” when each of various particular reformed churches each “endeavoured to be certain degrees more removed from conformity with the church of Rome, than the rest before had been”. In a later marginal note not weighed or polished for publication, he observes, “Two things there are which greatly trouble these later times: one that the Church of Rome cannot, another that Geneva will not erre.” That, in effect, both the details of proclamation of infallibility on the one hand (whether with reference to Rome or other Churches), and on the other a pretended willingness to test all and reject the erroneous that is so often anything but put into practice (whether by Geneva, Canterbury, or numerous of their scions – among others) can equally hamstring, is something still greatly troubling these even (by 400 years) later times.

  5. Stephen K says:

    I was rather shocked by the imagery of a papal cadaver, but also perturbed by the glee accompanying its evocation. No, I’m not naive about our human tendencies nor am I better, but I’m an irenicist at heart. And I think, given that this is a Catholic blog, or an Anglo-Catholic one, which is to say in the end, Catholic, only not Roman although influenced strongly by it, that it is strikes a somewhat discordant note to jump over the popes however flawed they and their underpinning are. For it seems to me that having a pope is a very Catholic kind of thing to have, or want or to end up with despite oneself. Or do I mean it is a very Roman thing to have etc? Here is another topic that begs us to examine what it is we are talking about when we speak or pretend or attempt or occupy ourselves in identifying what in religion moves us and why one thing rather than another draws us – time and time again we speak of ‘Catholicism’ – and we sometimes mean Romanism and sometimes mean something deeper that is in Romanism but perhaps not purely. But is it purer in English Anglicanism, that is English Catholicism, in its papal and non papal varieties? Is it and in what is it to be found in Eastern Christianity, the Orthodox, about whom it might be asked, how are they ‘more orthodox’ than anyone else? Yet, some elements seem to transcend all this motley crew on Father Anthony’s ship of castaways. Were we to arrive on a religious equivalent of Gilligan’s Island, what would we share? What would we agree on that we thought “Catholic”? I guess Papal Infallibility is out, and Vatican I, and Apostolicae Curae, and gosh! a host of things: perhaps 7 sacraments – e.g. I saw a BBC documentary the other night that said matrimony was only elevated to the level of sacrament in about 1200 AD – (is that right?) – perhaps transubstantiation as opposed to say, consubstantiation – perhaps…..well you get the picture. But I suspect that when it all boiled down we’d all say we have to have certain types or styles of prayers, incense and bells in worship, some kind of liturgical vestment, the notion of a liturgical priesthood – i.e. for liturgy if not for anything else – the concept of a shepherd (Bishop) over a community, and the human and spiritual (however defined) value of remembering the dead in prayer, and valuing the ancients. Thus, this elusive thing called ‘Catholic’ is not to be found in any particular doctrine, but in a particular flavour of religious practice. It would, thus, be entirely possible to have a very un-Catholic religion complete with Latin or Church Slavonic and hierarchies and a pope at the head of the community – but if it had none of these things but a form that fostered the love of beauty (ikons, stained glass) and sensual, earthy, tangible symbolisms – candle-lighting; litany-mantra-repetition, colour coding (black and violet and red etc), love of nature (i.e. other life), contemplativeness, acceptance of one’s sinfulness (i.e. virtue lies in loving despite sin, not in being sinless) etc.

    Now I’ve set out what I am increasingly sensing is the real soul or essence of Catholicism. I’m thinking it may exist or appear in a Roman, Englishman, Continental or Byzantine, but then again, maybe that displays a cultural bias in that perhaps Catholicism is a Western manifestation of what Byzantines might prefer to call something else. But my point is that for the purposes of Christian religiosity, there may essentially two kinds of approach – a Catholic one and an unCatholic one – Neither is more right than the other, they represent two modalities of the human spirit. One can try to blend both but a natural centrifugality may eventually hurl one to one or the other. In other words we have a right-brain and a left-brain religiosity. I am thinking that Catholicism is right brain with a bit of left – and that the other is mostly left-brain. I feel Romanism – like the Romans of old and the Latin language itself – is mostly left-brain with a bit of decorative right – or alternatively, it has had different periods where the right and left brains have had greater or lesser dominance. Or, considering the characteristics of peasant Roman Catholicism – see the Continent for example – maybe the dichotomy lies in the fact that Roman Catholicism in the souls and lives of the uneducated is Catholic, and right brain, but the Roman Catholicism of the educated and semi-educated tends towards unCatholic and left-brain.

    Now, you must forgive the limitations of labels here: I do not mean to impugn any of us here. We all have some religious education – what I am saying though is that because we ARE educated somewhat, we cannot help but be influenced by the kinds of analytical approach our education has invested us with: we stray into esotericisms, theories, pinhead disputes, judgmentalisms, snobbery, criticality – all far removed from what I think is the root of Jesus’ message and the enigma of his life and death. Ironically, then, here we are, somehow drawn together in this dialogue about “Catholic” religion and spirituality but often revealing how unCatholic we may be (i.e. if my analysis is correct).

    All this is by way of preamble to what I think can be usefully said on this papal subject. In the Roman Catholic world, the Pope stands for what the Bible might mean in another world. Each religiosity will create an anchor of some kind. It is, I suggest, very basic and traditional – and not particularly or exclusively Roman – nay, indeed, it is positively Oriental – to place the anchor in a despot or archon or emperor. The Pope is exactly that, and he is that because of the intentional power he receives from the emotional or psychological loyalty of many cradle or convert Romans. His power and authority are of course theoretically ephemeral – in that the arguments for the papacy are spurious or unworthy – but they are for all practical purposes very real so long as millions of people accord them to him.

    And this leads me to say that this is the paradox – it is easy enough to see of another’s ‘spiritual reality’ that it is intentional and a house of psychological cards – but less easy, if not impossible, to see that one’s own is no different. We want and intend that the sacraments are objectively real – and they are so long as we believe them – but however much we argue and assert the metaphysical world beyond our senses, the fact is we cannot guarantee that the moment we cease to believe in it it will exist. The Pope is, under his cassock, simply a 77 year old man. He would cease to be Pope if everyone or nearly all people ceased believing he was the Pope: that seems to be the case with just about most human investitures. Divine right of kings only persuaded so long as people did not question it. But everything – and we too – are all vulnerable to the little boy’s cry that the king wears no clothes.

    Having said all that, let me conclude that those journalists or commentators who are stirring up a faux-mystere in this Francis-Benedict scenario are barking up a wrong tree: the reality I believe is that no-one – except a few anti-Francisards within the traditionalist movement of the RC church – seriously thinks Benedict shares the Papacy: Francis is the Pope, and Benedict is a retiree, no matter what clothes he wears. It does not even matter whether Benedict imagines himself to be a co-Pope or not: RCs in the main would not countenance such a thing. The anti-Pope examples do not support the hypothesis. There, some people thought Pope X was Pope – and others thought Pope Y was. But no RC ever thought there could ever be more than one true Pope at any one time. [But, as we know, the sedevacantists think there can be less!]

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. The way we relate to churches will depend very much on our own level of spiritual development from the literal and legal to the freedom of the spirit.

      Yes, I am strongly influenced by Roman Catholicism (15 years leaves an impression) but the various marks left by personal experience and reading confirmed my inability to relate to that aspect of institutional Catholicism that depends on people’s immaturity and being as the most rudimentary levels of spiritual development. From the first moment in the RC Church I remained an Anglican in terms of aesthetics and ethnics. The English Catholic is not very different from the French Catholic just across the Channel – the Gallican has always been more sensitive to the local situation than to some “totalitarian” vision of the Church. The King and the Bishops came before the Pope. That being said, the average eighteenth-century French prince-bishop was certainly more of a despot than the Pope who was so far away. There lies the origin of modern Romantic Ultramontanism.

      Nevertheless, many of us, who are not formally a part of the Roman Catholic Church, view the Pope as a kind of western “Ecumenical Patriarch”, a symbol of unity descended from the ministry of St Peter, both of Rome and Antioch. We non-Roman Catholics would willingly attribute a primacy of honour to the Pope as to the Patriarch of Constantinople and the other major Orthodox synods. We refuse any attribute of doctrinal infallibility outside the Ecumenical Council or any notion of primacy of jurisdiction. It is the traditional position of the Orthodox, the Old Catholics (dissident minority from Vatican I) and we Anglicans. The Pope to us is a little like the Queen of England, a constitutional monarchy with the symbolism of national unity, but with the actual governing being done according to principles of subsidiarity.

      Yet, some elements seem to transcend all this motley crew on Father Anthony’s ship of castaways. Were we to arrive on a religious equivalent of Gilligan’s Island, what would we share?

      I am brought to think of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. I spent an evening with the young man in London who speculated on papal cadavers. The evening was pleasant but these reflections are but signs of our fallen humanity, and they go down like lead balloons. It seems to go no further than that for me, but his provocative manner is likely to do him more harm and alienate friends.

      I suppose my vision of Catholicism is something of a romantic pastiche. We live in our times, a period that is particularly unfavourable to spirituality and beauty, a true reign of quantity and the power of money. We can’t get away from it. We either forsake what we love and bow the knee to Mammon, or we have the courage to sail against the tide and persevere with it, having determination, character and guts. It’s easier if you are a priest – you set up a chapel and just get on with it. The layman’s lot is that much more tricky. You go to a church you can relate to or you don’t go to church.

      What is the essence of being Catholic. For some it would be being in a proper canonical situation with your local parish and diocese, and through them with the Roman Curia and the Pope. For others, it would be the Romantic notion of religion – not intellectual but the complete human experience of the sacramental communion between what we understand to be “this world” and the Reality that subsists outside our normal experience.

      I ask myself whether I am too pessimistic or influenced by my own scars and battle wounds. I try to understand others as they express their convictions and their understanding of the current situation. Could I just change my point of view and find that our own historical period is no different from others? Are we still in history, or is it all over and we wait for the consummatio saeculi? I remain is a great deal of confusion, but I am grateful for one solid anchor I have – my Anglican Catholic bishop and my fellow clergy. Intellectually, the situation in Rome is not so difficult. Popes can abdicate or resign like any other bishop, the successor is the Pope and the abdicated Pope is not. However, it is not a situation to which I can relate, and I am definitively alienated from that Church. The bonds of affection I once had are broken.

      Archbishop Hepworth brought me to consider reconciling. Yes, if I were part of the package (as he told me I would be), but no if I had to negotiate with those who already told me years before that I was beyond forgiveness in terms of remaining a cleric. In 2011 and 2012 and thereabouts, it was still the reign of law and its use by men in whom I could not discern the will of Christ. All that left me with a notion of priestly vocation in tatters, and with a need to redefine many things. With the TAC, I saw the whole thing through as when I was a working guest at Triors Abbey in 1996-97. I was where I didn’t belong.

      I have the honour of not having applied to Rome for anything and not having received any communication from them. Whether Archbishop Hepworth sent my papers to Rome is his affair. I suspect he did not.

      Many of us do well to take a deep breath and rebalance our own lives. I recommend getting out into nature, whether on water or land, in the mountains or in the forests. We have work to do on our fallen selves, work to do on our memories and weaknesses, rediscovery of our true selves generally from about our early adolescence. Many of us have been seriously scarred by our experience with churches and manipulative authorities. Our own error was to go to the wrong people and the wrong places. The institutional Church has no care for its own “rubbish” and “plethora of human dross” that it has deliberately wasted. We find the parallel in secular society with homeless and destitute people. All we can do is move on and find our niche when it is something to which we can relate.

      That seems more important than the chimera of an institutional Church that no longer has any credibility for the critical mind.

    • Stephen K says:

      Are we still in history or is it all over and we must wait for the end of the world?

      My own view is that we are still in history. We generally entertain the conceit that we are in the end times but our imaginations cannot really cope with more than about two thousand years. Yet in the scheme of the world, if I remember Arthur Mee (in the Children’s Encyclopaedia) correctly, we are standing in the last tick of the clock on 31 December. Almost none of us will be remembered past a generation or two of our own family. Life is ultimately a continuous present, a constantly-generating moment of crisis, of energy, of action: it is something of a luxury to take time out to analyse and systematise what others have done and why, although it appears also inevitable and natural because what we think has happened and why informs our action and thinking, and so it goes.

      My own view is that if modern man no longer accepts physical miracles of the alchemic kind – water into wine; bread and fishes into a banquet; human pregnancy and birth without a sperm – and so on, then insisting shrilly on these things as a condition of truth and virtue is a spectacular demonstration of silliness as well as lack of proportion. That is, it is not freely choosing to believe such things that is silly and misconceived, but insisting on them.

      Of course it works in reverse to some degree. The point is that a significant element that appears in different aspects of institutional Roman Catholicism – and I’m sure in other places – is the dependence on immaturity of which you speak. But amongst other aspects of it and many people one can find good things and a desire to be mature.

      If I had to pinpoint the one thing that bedevils the RC Church and taints or undermines many of the things that its officials at many levels do, and is the source of that hard drive flaw to which you referred in another post, it is the wrongful idea about the visibility of the Church. Yes of course the ‘Church’ is visible, but is it not seen only in and through the spirit, not through a camera? Its visibility can hardly be conterminous with the perimeter of its cathedrals and hierarchy and baptismal rolls but with the energy of the good and love that is felt by the needful and weak. It is thus not always visible or not necessarily in the same place at all times. I wonder what would have happened had, at the second Vatican Council, they proclaimed that all men and women of good will who earnestly desire the divine kingdom of love, justice and the ways of peace are members of the “Church”; instead of retaining, essentially, a commitment to formal sectarianism.

      The way I see it, Father, you have nothing to defend yourself over or justify. Beatus vir qui in via honesta ambulat!

      • ed pacht says:

        Stephen, I’m afraid I find your paragraph beginning “My own view is that if modern man no longer accepts…” to be as strident as the insistence you are taking exception to. The insistence of “modern man” that such “alchemic” miracles cannot occur is at least as superstitious as the expectation of finding miracles behind every bush. St. Paul, in speaking of the resurrection of the dead, ran into a similar strident derision from the self-appointed ‘authorities’ of Hellenic culture. Is it really so that what is ‘modern’ or fits ‘modern’ standards of rationality or believability is of necessity what is really so? Every previous age seems to have believed that of its own standards — the problem being that the next age comes to have very different expectations. If there is one thing a truly scientific mind will assert, it is that current theories and observations will be shown to be either inadequate or wrong in the course of time. There is indeed room in a thoughtful and scientific mind for the realization that there is more to reality than is contained in our philosophies. My thinking is not constrained by what “modern man no longer accepts” — nor, I believe, should it be.

      • I don’t think Stephen’s use of this expression was anything more than a rhetorical device to convey the idea that mysteries of faith have to be put over in a different way for people who are hyper-critical than in other periods of history. I don’t think he means that mysteries, miracles, etc. can’t be believed by modern man.

        Also, we in our time are extremely diverse culturally. Some of us tend to be more sceptical and others more motivated to look beyond the material world for the meaning of life.

        I agree that we cannot be shrill and insistent in putting over Christian doctrines. Indeed, people are brought to faith much better by experience of love and beauty.

      • ed pacht says:

        Indeed. It has been said that “you are the only Bible most people will ever read.” Whatever the message we intend to project, our way of projecting probably communicates more than our logic. Shrillness or apparent shrillness on any side of any argument/discussion does nothing to communicate truth, beauty, or mercy. My own tendency is to be overly shrill in attempting to communicate exactly this necessary restraint. Lord, help us to talk with each other and not at.

      • Patricius says:

        …in via honestatis?

      • Stephen K says:

        Are you suggesting, Patricius, that my meaning of ‘honest’ (i.e. true, undeceiving) with its connotation of ‘sincere’ would have been more correctly expressed by the noun? In your opinion, is there a difference between the adjective and the noun, for this purpose? They both appear to relate to this meaning. To be truthful, I did not stop to ask this but there is a certain rhythm and style – and lexical choice – in religious Latin (and the old Vulgate psalter) that once in one’s head never leaves and which I must say I like. [I frankly admit that, though I periodically (now more rarely) pick up some Horace, Catullus, Tibullus or the easier prose writers and render a translation, it is always the kind of task that, though it gives me a pleasure in achievement, requires me to ‘roll up my sleeves” with “conscious determination”. I am not a Latin scholar with a Miltonian or Thomas More-like facility but just someone who appreciates the music of poetry and language and whose ‘left-brain’ compels me, after revelling in their sounds, to prise apart religious Latin and university Greek to “under-stand” them better.]

        There is another reason why I might have preferred via honesta over via honestatis: I may have been thinking in English and unconsciously adopted a natural and simpler English manner that often avoids abstracting qualities. I am aware that one cannot be too doctrinaire over this, but ‘a way of honesty’ sounds airier-fairier than ‘an honest way’ – which sounds grounded, in-the-earth, rather like the way I imagine a Sussex farmer might say it, rather than the way we might hear it from an Andrew Marvell.

        Sorry, this is an indulgent digression – in a way – from the post. (But then again, maybe not, if we are saying that a deep Catholic way of life and religion is rooted in language, music, rhythms, sounds, smells, colour etc!) But always happy to discuss these things.

    • Stephen K says:

      Yes, ed. Father is correct. I was not asserting that modern man could not believe in physical miracles but was trying to suggest that if he did not then it was folly to make that the sine qua non and the criteria of exclusion from the Church (where brotherly love and all those other things are supposed to be the hallmark). A principal point I was hoping to propose/test before you and the other panel was my idea about the significance of the RC concept of “visibility” on its entire sacramental economy and pastorality. I remember this concept being emphasised as the “key difference” (i.e. between the RC Church and Protestants) at the seminary. (An irony is that it is not only the RC Church that may identify itself by a physical visibility. It seems to me that a far more constructive approach is to say that ‘the Church’ is not an institution at all but a positive energy of love, faith and compassionate justice, and that people include and exclude themselves from it as they live in those things or not. You are absolutely right, ed: one should not be constrained by whatever “the rest” – whether modern or ancient man – do or think, but accept that an egotism of our own convictions is as effective a padlock on the door to the kingdom as any other wilfulness. Ed, I think you and I agree more than my own words probably encourage you to think, and I have learnt much from you and your approach over the course of our exchanges.

      • ed pacht says:

        I’ve just come from a conversation much like many I’ve experience in the past several decades in which I was informed that anyone who would hold to traditional dogmas like miracles or the statements in the Creeds is, in effect, a bad person. I pretty much held my tongue other than stating that I am such a person.

        My point is that I am just as excluded, and have known that I am so excluded, from a full part in that world as they may be from the church. It’s the way it is. That shouldn’t produce rancor (though many Fundies and Traddies and militant atheists may approach it with rancor), nor should it seem strange. Two opposed worldviews do not blend well together in one body — a house divided against itself cannot stand. Frankly, I do not know why someone who denies the possibility of miracles or of the cardinal points of the Creeds would want to be part of a church founded upon those principles, nor can I fathom why such a church would want to make such a person a part of itself.

        Does that mean such a person and I cannot have a loving friendship, or that we cannot learn much from one another? Far from it.

        I’ve learned a great deal from Buddhism, from some strains of Hinduism, from some Native American spirituality, and from quantum mechanics, among many other sources, which has helped me to process my Christianity. I’m not a Buddhist, nor an occultist, nor a scientific atheist, and have no desire to be a part of any of those worlds, nor do they have much desire for me to be among them — unless I can conform my thinking to theirs. The reverse is also true. There is a difference, and, though each can learn from the other, the radical difference of worldview makes for an impossible melding.

        A church as broad and indistinct as you seem to desire is not one I’d find it worthwhile to join, any more than I’d join a church that required of me commitments I couldn’t accept.

        As to visibility, the church is eminently visible as a local fellowship and becomes a bit less so as structure replaces face-to-face contact. As in all things there is a balance, and the balance point is seldom easy to perceive.

        Yes, my brother, I do believe we approach each other rather closely, but in the fine tuning, well, not quite the same… ‘Nuff for now.

      • Stephen K says:

        Ed, thank you for your reply. Of course you and I do not agree on many things, and for what it’s worth, it doesn’t matter that we might not agree on many things, except where a core spirit or approach is concerned. You are always reminding us about balance or openness and in my own way so am I. You’re a man of a non-violent spirit and I respect and respond to that.

        Let me take up one thing you said, and try to tease out what I’m getting at a little further. You said you wouldn’t want to join the kind of broad and indistinct Church I seem to desire. Well, that’s precisely the point: I am not proposing a broad and indistinct Church that is capable of being “joined” at all. What I am proposing is that the Church is not to be conceived of as a thing but action. Not a noun but a verb We do or not. When we act so there is “Church” – when we act un-so there is not “Church”. It is not a case of joining but whether we enact or give birth to such force. I am proposing that we cease the vocabulary of joining as if we can be card-carrying members whatever we do.

        It all sounds idealistic and impractical, I hear some say. Airy-fairy, wishy-washy perhaps. But, no, I think it just approaches things in a different modality. Our traditional or customary ways of speaking about the Church – as a thing, or club – does not seem to be breaking through the encrusted ways of behaving and thinking. Did Jesus desire a completely radical (ex radice) way of being? I’m led to think he did. I am intrigued by the notion that I have to think differently before I can act differently. I don’t deny that for many practical purposes we are going to congregate together with like-thinking minds and hearts. But perhaps we just have to jettison, mentally, all thoughts of the Church as anything that can be possessed by any of us, and that it only exists or not according to our action.

        I hope I don’t annoy you, ed. I don’t mean to do so.

      • I think a lot of this is cultural. I am quite taken aback by American religion, being English and living in Continental Europe. Americans may be conservative or liberal, but debate religion and take an interest in it. Europeans (Australians too?) see religion as something of an embarrassment and are uneasy faced with the accusation that religion is harmful and should be discouraged like tobacco or food that makes you fat.

        I could go to America and would probably find an ACC diocese that would appoint me to a full-time ministry in a parish with a church, rectory, stipend and pension. In England, our Bishop has to earn his own living and our parishes (as distinct from missions) only have handfuls of faithful. There is barely enough money to pay the overheads – no question of full-time ministry. We all have to earn our living or live on a retirement pension from past employment. Conclusion: American Continuing Anglicanism is an institutional Church just like any other entity “as visible as the Republic of Venice” as Robert Bellarmine put it. Everywhere else, our Church is the sacramental life for “two or three gathered together” in Christ’s name and with a less than minimum institution.

        I do believe that all American Christians should spend a substantial amount of time in England and Continental Europe to know that a different situation exists. This would enable many to have a more nuanced judgement.

      • Stephen K says:

        Father, I think there’s a lot in what you say about cultural difference. What follows is purely my personal impression and sense, but I would say that for many Australians religion is an embarrassment in the public forum. For many Australians – and I think it is overwhelmingly the mainstream culture that religion is a personal thing. Now of course there are also those who are filled with evangelical zeal or who are the more rampant and pugnacious of the ‘traddies’ who seem to think ‘putting it out there’ is good, but I don’t think I’m far off the mark in saying that most Australians are – and have been historically – very careful about how and when and with whom they talk about religion in general or their own religion in particular. Bearing in mind of course that in Australia statistics appear to show that around 80-85% of people (more or less) do not attend religious services regularly or at all.

        Like all generalisations, this cultural psychology can be qualified or vary by demographics and history, but there is often something of a cringe when a politician displays their religion. Yet, that is not to say that many Australians will be completely uninterested in religious things or not talk about them; it is more a case that most do not like “religion-in-your-face”. Door-knocking Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons have a particularly hard time I’d say. In Australia it is usually the evangelical Protestants and young charismatics who most “embarrass”. Whether through complacency, blissful ignorance or instinctive good sense, most Roman Catholics and Anglicans don’t and haven’t, in our history, aggressively proselytised. Those of us who respond to religion confine our enthusiasms in the privacy of our preferred peers and friends. Like what I’m doing!

      • ed pacht says:

        Actually, I’m not sure the cultural differences are all that sharp, except that in the US we certainly appear to have a larger contingent of the vociferous and ridiculous. Perhaps one reason for the loud noise on the ‘conservative’ side is that they do indeed represent a largely despised and ridiculed minority. It is only because of the level of volume that their visible influence is so strong. The average American is quite embarrassed to speak of religion and one can know someone for years without ever having real indication of his/her religious thinking.

        When religion IS discussed, it becomes very obvious that historically orthodox thinking has become thoroughly unfashionable. Even those who could fairly be described as fundamentalist can surprise one by how much of non-Christian religious philosophy they have absorbed and how little their thought is scripturally grounded. You see, I was a pastor in such a milieu for a quarter-century, and never ceased to be amazed by this.

        In short, the appearance of America’s domination by ‘Christian conservatives’ is, in my opinion, a mere appearance and the noisemakers are dying out, though fighting hard as they do. I really think we are far more like ‘post-Christian’ Europe than like so-called emerging nations.

        Fr. Chadwick, I think your view of continuing Anglicanism in the US is a bit on the rosy side. We do indeed have some parishes with full-time clergy, mine being one of them, but the overwhelming majority of our congregations (whether called parish or mission – the distinction means little here) do not, and most do not own buildings. You would have little trouble finding a place to minister if you could make your own living, as there is a shortage of clergy who are willing to be bivocational, but you would likely have as hard a time finding a paying parish here as you would there. We have an oversupply of inactive clergy who desire such a post.

  6. Dale says:

    I am not too certain that there is indeed that much difference between the situation in North America and that of England…other than a difference in time. Not too long ago, in the 19th century, England was noticeably religious. England had not only the Anglo-Catholic Movement but a very strong and politically active Evangelical Movement as well. It is indeed interesting to note that British Victorians were not only actively religious but also politically/religiously motivated as well; and many of the more forward looking political changes effected by Parliament were originally religious in inspiration. The fairly recent growth in British anti-religious sentiment is perhaps only a generation away from today’s more religious American expressions. Once again, I will tie this into not the growth of scientific thought or socialism (which was very much an Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic movement in its early inception) but a reaction to the Great War.

    Robert Graves in his autobiography about the War, “Goodbye to All That,” makes several references to his Welsh troops singing hymns as they marched to battle and death; but in Sassoon, in his autobiography on the war years, “Siegfried’s Journey: 1916-1920,” makes several disparaging remarks about war-time Anglican religion and its open support for the slaughter of a whole generation and is very dismissive (although in later years he converted to Roman Catholicism). The United States only participated in this war for a very short time and lost “only” about 120,000 men juxtaposed to the millions lost by Britain and France. But the end result was that religion, especially the state supported churches, very much lost popular support during and after the War; the churches lost all moral authority and by supporting the status quo of the War effort, and in the end, lost the support of the people. This rejection of religion gathered momentum and the intellectual classes especially found very little positive about religion of any type blaming much of the world’s ill upon faith in general; conveniently forgetting that most of the mass murder of the 20th century was committed for political and not religious motives.

    Soon, I believe, the United States, following Canada’s lead, will be just as uninterested in religion as is general in western Europe (although the American South-land may hold out a bit longer…but even there, the Southern Baptists, one of America’s largest denominations, are quickly losing ground as well). Quebec, with a religious practice only a few years ago on level with Ireland of the 50’s is now virtually unchurched; this is the future.

    • Thank you, Dale, for this most thoughtful comment. In a certain way, the world ended a hundred years ago with one long Great War, beginning in 1914 with a kind of temporary truce from 1918 to 1939 (earlier if you count the rise of Hitler from 1933). In 1945 the enemy just changed face – as many Nazis just turned coat and went to the USA and the Soviet Union. Perhaps the Great War was more or less over with the Fall of the Berlin Wall in December 1989.

      It is to the extent that the Church supported the powers that gave it the most money and political clout that people reacted against the hypocrisy and lost belief in God. That is obvious here in France, where many people believe that a lot of bishops collaborated with Jerry.

      I sympathise with all those people (mostly dead now) who have been wounded in this way. The only antidote is not apologetics and aggressive marketing, but uncompromising holiness. The Church must once again live the asceticism of being underground and just barely surviving. Then perhaps Christ’s voice might be heard again. I understand Bonhöffer and many others who understand that the Church must accept punishment and humiliation, a time of lowly penance – and then begin again like a man being released from prison.

    • Michael Frost says:

      Dale, Sadly, I think you’re correct about America just being behind the times. Where Europe was 15 years ago, Canada is now, and we will be in 15 more years. We see the rapid decline in religion in various American regions. Starting with California, Vermont, NY, Mass., Illinois, Washington state, etc.

      However, I do think the long-term sociological, demographic, and economic data show a strong correlation to a rise in median family economic wealth/income to a decline in religious intensity and participation. That started in the upper classes in Europe. We see that in the upper classes in nearly every religion around the world (think oil sheik ). And then as wealth spreads outward and downward, we see the middle classes impacted. And eventually the welfare state provides enough to our “poor” that they live so well (with more material wealth than ancient kings and emperors could only dream of: flushing toilets, microwaves, TVs, DVDs, DVRs, cellphones, PC, internet, high tech casinos, huge malls and retail outlets, fast food, etc.). Who thinks of or thanks God when man has too much of his wants statisfied? We live in an instant gratification world built on debt. And for those who think too much, there are always all the drugs being pushed on modern man to treat his mind and body.

      I also think a strong case can be made that the rise of the scientific age has presented a challenge to religion in regard to answering the big questions and providing meaning in the daily lives of individuals. The rise of Christianity during the Roman Empire was tied to a real sense that Christianity brought something big and better into the lives of ordinary people. They took care of each other. They helped raise families. They fought plague, pestilence, famine, and disease together. It started from the lower socio-economic groups and slowly worked it way up over time. And the new religion made more real sense when compared to the obvious falsity of the pagan system, that pretty much no one took seriously as a real attempt to explain the origins of the universe or man’s place in it. Julian the Apostate, the last pagan Emperor, saw this and tried to make paganism relevant but it was too late. People could “believe” in Christianity because it both made sense of the universe and made better the lives of individuals. Today modern man places his faith in science. To extend his life. To answer his questions. Even if it means saying there is no greater ultimate good and that we’re just a random accident in a cold, uncaring universe. Commercialism and materialism fill in the philosophical void. Who cares about eternity when you can worry about consuming goods and services? Having a good time. For as long as you can. Hell, isn’t 70 the new 50? With a push to make 90 the new 70?

      Maybe a potential solution is for the Church to focus on reminding Christians of the goodness, beauty, and truth of a simple life? Not keeping up with the Joneses or collecting toys, but building strong families, being happy in your personal life, and having a sense of serving a greater good while knowing that eternity awaits? This may be why I am so sickened and saddened by the rise in America of the heretical “prosperity Gospel” that has Jesus Christ working for Adam Smith to keep Wall Street and business happy in a consumerist society that only worries about consumption!

      • Dale says:

        Hello Michael, only just now read your very interesting comment (I have finally finished grading late essays); I agree and do not agree with your idea that wealth in some manner is one of the major demarcations between religious belief and non-belief. In 19th century Europe, one of my fields of study, especially in Germany and France, it was the working-class proletariat that became the first class disillusioned with the institutional Church; effectively, the middle and upper-middle classes remained entrenched and loyal to the Church, the same classes that so strongly supported the Great War. The rural peasantry remained, because of tradition, attached to a mostly folk Catholicism.

        We can see the Roman Catholic Church, more so than most Continental Protestants, attempting to lure the disaffected proletariat back to religion with such banal feast as “St Joseph the Worker”: all failed.

        Interestingly in pre-Revolutionary Russia the same historical movement was in effect; the middle-classes and peasantry remained solidly loyal to both the Russian Church and monarchy, but a growing proletariat was becoming increasingly anti-religious and anti-monarchist. Often forgotten is that before the Revolution and the major dislocations of the Great War the Russian Church was planning a major council to consider liturgical changes and other issues in an attempt to appeal to the working classes; Fr Gregoryi Gapon, an infamous Russian Orthodox priest who demanded major social and religious changes was not an isolated individual before the Revolution, and millions did support the pro-Communist Living Church of Russia after the Revolution.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Dale, It is an interesting area of study. We can watch it play out in places like Africa, Asia, Canada, and C. & S. America. As Quebec advanced after WW II, look at the decline in the RCC. Same for Ireland. Same for Poland. All 3 are textbook cases. Look at nations like Chile and Argentina. South Africa. And Costa Rica.

        I would opine that the Enlightenment hit the European intellectuals and upper classes well before 19th century. Just look at the mess that is Anglicanism in the 18th century. Latitudinarianism. And Deism in USA. Rise of Unitarians. All favored by those with higher income and wealth. Thomas Jefferson a great example. Just look at his “Bible”.

        Even in France and Germany, the upper classes and intellectuals may have payed some lip service to religion, but like the ancient pagans intellectuals in the 1st-2nd centuries AD, they didn’t really believe. Look at the behavior of the French monarchy and Cardinal Richelieu in the 17th century. They saved the Lutheran and Reformed Churches. Forget which French king it was who said Paris was worth a few masses.

        After the American and French Revolutions, and esp. the Revolution of 1848, there was a rise in secular ideologies that could appeal to the masses. And the continuation of the Industrial Revolution ate into the faith of the formerly agrarian masses who were crowded into cities. See the rise of the Victorian Eras attempts to address these sorts of social problems.

      • ed pacht says:

        “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

        Were the rich that He talked about irreligious? Or did they parade their religiosity and their faith? I recall something about announcing ones offering with a trumpet. Just what was the religion that the upper classes in France held so firmly? Was it one of the love of Jesus and of ones neighbor, or was it, perhaps, a justification for their high status?

        It is most certainly possible for a wealthy person to be a true worshiper of God and to devote his wealth to His service (and there have been many examples of just this), but it is so very common for prosperity to breed a commitment to prosperity — to the acquisition of more and more and more. I think a nation that becomes wealthy becomes a nation that can afford to put the material things first, and surely and exorably drifts away from a real faith. Additionally, it certainly appears that holding an appearance of religion while oppressing others has little chance of raising an appreciation of religion among the oppressed — just what one sees in the French and Russian proltariates — and (I think) just what one would have seen in the English proletariat absent a Wesley.

      • Stephen K says:

        Michael, I don’t mean to come across in any hostile manner. I just want to make a point. It distresses me when I hear or read anything that I think patronises or misrepresents the character of people who are not in comfortable or reasonable circumstance. What do you mean by putting “poor” in inverted commas? Are you suggesting that because many people have flushing toilets or TVs that they are not poor? That they are richer and better off than ancient kings?

        Where do I start? Why are increasingly so many self-professing Christians demonising the welfare state (which, incidentally, exists nowhere in pure state)? Over in the States, the RC hierarchy and their disciples have waged a war against Obamacare for reasons I think are misplaced at best, or spurious and disgraceful at worst.

        The welfare state concept was based on its own etymology: the ‘well-being” of its citizens. It was based on (1) the realistic recognition that people who have generally work and act to protect what they have against any who do not; and (2) that a society, like a chain, is only as strong as its weakest link.

        I don’t expect to win any arguments about politico-economic issues – at least not on any blogsite inhabited by people who want traditional liturgy and theology: unfortunately the alignment of religious traditionalism with Republican/Tory/Action Francaise and other establishmentarianist (aka ‘right-wing’) politics is so strong and extensive. But I feel I should raise anything but a white flag. Here, in Australia, following the proposed economic policy programme of a new neo-conservative government that translates into a punishment of the “poor” to whom you allude, many people are finally waking up to realise just what it is they may lose in the process. Humaneness is not yet, quite, dead in Australia.

        There is still a road to tread however. Only this morning, at the local village shop, I jokingly remarked to the shopkeeper who had commented on how cold it was, “That’ll teach you not to go barefeet on a frosty morning!” (Of course he wasn’t). He replied: “You know I had X and her daughter here this morning and all they had was a T-shirt and barefeet?” “Really?” I replied. “How could they stand it? Don’t they have clothes?” “No”, he countered, “they’re just dole-ies, and uneducated”.

        Great. That’s where it stands in the mindset of so many Christians. If you’re on the dole, you have no excuses.

        I can tell you, looking for a job costs time and money. Proving to social security you have been looking for a job costs more time and money. Try the supermarket. Buying quality (i.e. nutritional or palatable) food costs money. They put on special the fruit that is ready to go off. The dollar bargains are starch and carbohydrates. Try the housing rental market. The only places you can get for less than $150 dollars a week are to be found in villages like mine where there are no jobs. If you are lucky enough – or young enough – to get a job in a town, you need a car to get there. Petrol, at around $A50 a tank, takes out another 20% of your weekly payment but you probably need three tanks to fill if you work 5 days a week. Virtually nothing for everything else. In fact there are places right across the country where it is not viable to have a job, just for survival’s sake.

        The only way to survive debt and opprobrium free on the dole – where there is no hope of a job – is to confine yourself to a single room no-one can rent for more or wants, eat pasta three times a day, use no electricity, use the toilets in the local park, have no-one dependent on you (no hope of companionship, love or sex etc) and get your clothes in the op-shop. Or, more ominously, turn to crime, which is a short-term solution because most people are either not smart enough to survive and prosper as criminals or get chewed up as victims by tougher criminals or the state. So why do people have TVs? Or drink? Etc. etc. Because we are not robots, but human. Because we cannot isolate ourselves for too long without mental breakdown. Because……Michael, I don’t have to list them all.

        But I’m not just focused on the bottom. The spectrum of poverty is a wide and deceptive and insidious one: one more thing or less puts you into a different class or self-perception. I have known what it is to be on the dole and I know now what it is to be educated and in a job but at the mercy of neo-con economic governments that effectively want a return to the rule – as Jack London would have put it in The Call of the Wild – of fang and claw. I, like many others, am not free. I live in dread: that the axe will fall at the whim of someone’s rationalist morality. I see my children struggling against the odds the in-group impose and perpetuate. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs holds true: our basic need, after food and air is security. All else builds on that.

        Of course there are people who cheat and exploit others or the system. But unless you lasso everyone in the system you are being unfair to the many who struggle in honesty. If the poor should be grateful they have a flushing toilet, the rich should be positively ashamed at having three or more bathrooms. The middle should toss a coin. Here in Australia, we have a mining tycoon who resents Australian workers for not accepting $2 a day. Ancient kings didn’t dream of flushing toilets or TVs but had considerably more control of their lives – however short – and the pleasures of table, palace and harem to boot.

        There is no question that there are people who do not have even drinking water or sanitation or food – but when politicians of a certain stripe suggest that the poor in their own countries should be grateful they have a TV, all I say is, “remember the 14th July”.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, Rest assured I doubt I could find any offense at anything you say. You’re normally pretty irenic. I like that. So no offense taken. None whatsoever.

        Once we talk in the world of economics were are in the of prudential judgment. Not dogma. So reasonable Christians can disagree.

        If memory of recent issues of The Economist (of London) serve me, thinking the minimum wage in Australia is now the world’s 2nd highest, at about $16/hour when turned into American currency? Federal minimum wage in USA is $7.25. Quite the disparity. Though sad for you that Toyota and other automakers are now pulling the plug on the production of cars in your nation. By about 2017 I’m thinking your entire domestic auto industry will be gone? I remember the “hot” Fords and Holdens from the early 1970s!

        Do keep in mind that here in America one of the biggest public health problems is obesity amongst our poor. Who, in say medieval times, would’ve thought that being poor would lead to obesity?

        And do keep in mind that here in America our official statistics on poverty specifically exclude government transfers. So someone is “poor” in America who gets “free” Section 8 government housing, “free” Medicaid medical insurance, “free” food stamps, etc. All of this “income” is not counted. Could you live pretty well if the government gave you a place to live, fed you, and paid for your medical coverage? Oddly, when you add up the value of these benefits, you find that the average “poor” person starts off with “benefits” in the neighborhood in excess of $30,000 American. Given that our 40 hour work week equates to 2080 work hours annually, that means the average “poor” person has a “wage” of over $14 an hour ($30,000/2080=$14.42), which is nearly twice our minimum wage. Which is below your minimum wage. Oh well, I guess the poor are better off in Australia? But America’s “poor” aren’t doing too bad, either.

        And I haven’t even talked about our earned income tax credit for the working “poor”. That is another topic entirely.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, I forgot to mention that here in America one of the biggest macro-economic, public policy problems is the dramatic decline in our labor force participation rate. A 3% or so decline might not seem like much, but when your population is over 300,000,000 we’re talking about millions of people (a majority male) who have willingly opted out of working. At the same time, our disability rolls are skyrocketing. I think the system technically is to go actuarially broke in next couple years. Though, thankfully, we are healthier than ever and living far longer. Go figure. But that is the welfare state. Does it make sense to work when you can “earn” nearly as much or more not doing so?

        Theologically, I would argue that the mentality of the welfare state is flawed. It fails to account for original sin. And man’s sinful nature. So government benefits drive out work. And government benefits drive out families. (Our rates of out-of-wedlock births are also skyrocketing amongst all races. Benefits are designed to accrue to unmarried mothers with young children.)

        I suspect we may diverge politically. I’m more of a PM Howard thinker, but I would’ve voted for PM Abbot. I’m certainly not ALP material. Though not sure if I’d be Liberal or National. I do love your elections and your bizarre electoral system. Where voting is legally mandatory and those who don’t are fined! I avidly read ABC and the AEC during election times. Try explaining how someone wins a Senate seat! 🙂

      • Stephen K says:

        Michael, I’m glad we’re still on speaking terms (seriously!). Just let me say this, though. I am well aware that there are service entitlements that notionally supplement social cash payments, but accessing them invariably costs money as well and/or fail to reach many – homelessness, domestic stress and health issues are flow-ons. How many people have bad teeth because they can’t access dental care or won’t? I am also well aware that there are complicated economic and psychological matrices involved in the system. But whether we call the poor those who have no job and/or who qualify for notional $14 per hour benefits or those with a job earning $7 per hour, the fact remains that one way or another both groups can and will find material survival a worry and their circumstances and character get “apostraphised”. I don’t deny room for prudential analysis – I’m engaged in it here, right now. But an approach that continually points to how much worse off someone else is, rather than continually trying to see how much better one could or should be, seems to me to be an ingredient in keeping everyone in their place at their expense!

        Oh well, I know this problem will not be resolved here. I even accept I don’t have every answer. But we should never underestimate the fragility of religion and theology’s appeal when one’s belly is growling and people in the church look down upon one.

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, I do think that 1st Worlders talking about poverty, real poverty, is almost an abstract exercise. We don’t live in the 19th century any more. We’re both in highly developed industrialized modern nations.

        I think I’ve only seen real poverty once in my life. I lived in the Republic of the Philippines in 1990-1991. At Clark AB. When I was in USAF. The things I saw regarding poverty still haunt me. I was a young officer with my newly wife, who became pregnant. We went to Manila and saw the huge garbage dump where people live sorting thru mountains of trash. On base at my house I hired a maid and a gardener. They were married. I tried to get to know them. I paid them very well, far more than the average because it didn’t seem right that they’d work for so little and I couldn’t imagine someone being my wage slave. He wouldn’t use my house’s restroom, out of some odd sense of social sensibility. Even though I implored him. I’ve never forgotten that at Christmas I wanted to give him a gift he could use. He wanted an English dictionary so his young daughter could better learn English. Due to various laws and controls, I bought a nice one on base and then had to “smuggle” it off base to give to him. He was so happy when I gave it to him. I pray his daughter made good use of it. My wife was about 8 months pregnant and we were walking along the main drag. A barker saw us and invited us into the world famous Nipa Hut. Where there were live sex shows. All my peers talked about it. And even all the officers and their wives went. So my wife and I went. I saw what those girls did to make a living. I had to order a young airman to report to his dorm manager that a girl he’d met, likely for sex, had tried to kill herself in his room. She had slashed her wrists and was bleeding out. He didn’t think that was his problem. He just didn’t understand how bad that reflected on him, the USAF, and America in a foreign land. No wonder they wanted us out? I was there when a 7.7 earthquake killed thousands because contractors cut corners on building codes. The buildings literally shook themselves apart and came down on people. My Orthodox chaplain told me what it was like in the aftermath to see a human being literally splatted like a bug, being crushed in an instant. I was there when a volcano and a typhoon devastated our region, leaving tens of thousands destitute. I had to abandon the country and leave all my possessions behind. I didn’t get them for about 9 months. And I was lucky. I saw the face of real poverty. And wept. But thanked God it wasn’t me.

        And I’ve never forgotten those wonderful Aussies who flew in in their C-130s. With their oh-so-practical jungle uniforms and wide brimmed jungle hats. I envied them. Our uniforms were designed for USA and Europe. They knew how to dress in the tropics. And the first thing they rolled out the back of the transport was…a pallet of Foster’s lager.

      • Stephen K says:

        Michael, just read your follow-up posting – it’s a no-brainer we’d vote for different parties! Your comment about the Australian Senate election system was interesting. The tricky part appears to be twofold: first, the fact that a candidate’s surplus (i.e. exceeding the quota) votes are distributed to all other candidates according to a proportional value calculation; and second, though most people appear to vote for a party group preference by ticking a single box at the top of the ballot paper, some (like myself) choose to indicate every single individual preference of our own choice by ticking every box at the bottom of the ballot paper. What I didn’t know was that the system had a technical name “Inclusive Gregory”! That sounds rather cool! Here’s a reference http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_Australia

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, As for the Australian Senate, I pay close attention to the AEC calculations during each election. Anglo-sphere elections are a hobby of mine (UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Wish I could remember the longest set of page calculations for an Aussie Senate seat I’ve seen in say the past decade. I want to say I’ve seen at least one that had over 80 pages of calculations.

        And don’t even get me started on some of your House seats. I just pulled out my own notes from the 2007 election. Followed it for weeks on line after the election day. “My” Liberal/Nationals lost but it was amazing weeks after the election to see the final results for Qld/Flynn, WA/Swan, Vic/McEwen, Qld/Bowman, and Qld/Herbert. “We” won 4 of these 5 closest seats. Vote difference down to single digit out of nearly 100,000 cast.

        Though I will readily admit Canadian and UK 1st-past-the-post systems are easiest to understand and, usually, quickest to be decided.

      • Stephen K says:

        Michael, I’ve just read your third posting. Look, it sounds like you’ve seen some horrific examples of poverty. I don’t impugn your experience. But I don’t want to engage in an exercise of one-upmanship of experience, or poverty Poker – you know, show me someone in the situations you describe and I’ll raise you a dirt floor and cardboard box etc. You and I may belong to a First-World circumstance here right now but if we cannot engage in the subject of the “Third World”, then who’s going to do it? Isn’t that the essence of the saying that to him who has more, more will be expected? Don’t we have a moral obligation to use whatever we have – whether material, emotional or spiritual riches – to help others in need? I worry about this. Okay, so we can argue about how that best works, how we best do that. There are many claims on whatever we DO have, or are. But the discussion is a necessary element in doing anything about it. After all, we can choose to try to empathise or globalise our thoughts and feelings or confine ourselves to reading Phantom comics!

      • Michael Frost says:

        Stephen K, I certainly agree with you when you write: “Okay, so we can argue about how that best works, how we best do that.”

        At the macroeconomic level, we’re talking politics, not religion. And that involves prudential judgments by voters and politicians. So in Australia, you may be ALP and I may be Liberal. In USA, I may be Republican and you may be Democrat. In UK, I may be Tory and you may be Labour. We vote according to how we best believe the party and its leaders will effectuate our desired outcomes, advancing national security and prosperity. In most nations there is usually a viable left wing and right wing political alternative. They view the world differently. And tend to alternate in power over time due to the vagaries of politics and fickle voters. And good and decent Christians can be on both sides of this political divide.

        Of course, at the microeconomic level we as Christians are called to help our fellow man. Each of us chooses how best to do that. We can give of our time, talents, or treasure. To churches, charity groups, education groups, etc. And we work to build and promote strong families, churches, and local communities.

      • ed pacht says:

        to both Michael and Stephen:

        ….good and decent Christians can be on both sides of this political divide. That is certainly true. Christians can differ dramatically in how, politically, we can work for the objectives our Faith gives us.

        There are good and compassionate people on both right and left. There are reasons for some to look for strong governmental intervention in an attempt to meet some of these perceived needs, and there are reasons for serious distrust of governments. Governments are capable of doing a lot to help when there is a need. Some problems, like Katrina, are just too big to be addressed in any other way. Others, well, I speak for myself … I am retired, and was never able to put anything aside for retirement. Thus all I have to live on is Social Security, with a bit of a boost from having subsidized rent, and rather limited medical help from government programs. Withy this help I survive. Without it, who knows … One of the reasons I retired when I did was that, hard as I tried, I could not find steady work and relied heavily on Unemployment. I live poor, but in moderate comfort, and I am certainly grateful for the aid I receive. I wouldn’t make it without a safety net.

        That said, I do have a high distrust of government and its workings, and tend to me more Conservative than not.

        To come to the point. Ideology, any ideology, in the sense of a dogmatically driven program of action, is inimical to the way of Christ. We are instructed to love and to give, whether the objects of our loving and giving are worthy or not. While we were yet sinners, Christ loved us and gave Himself for us. We don’t find Jesus or the Apostles rejecting the poor because they hadn’t done enough to help themselves. We do find sinners being forgiven first, and then told to sin no more. We find strong statements on the difficulty of the rich entering the Kingdom, but we do find an open invitation there.

        Now, get me right — I don’t believe what I’m about to say applies to the intent of either of you, but I am going to remark upon the appearances of some of what you’ve said, and upon how much those statements remind me of people on both sides whose intent I do question. Michael, you manage to sound contemptuous of the poor. I don’t believe that to be your actual attitude, but it requires an effort for me not to hear it. Stephen, your statements tend to show a negativity toward the rich, and I have trouble seeing beyond that to what you are really saying.

        As Christians we are bound to show mercy, compassion, and unconditional love, though it remains true that we are always far from those goals. We are not bound to specific means of reaching toward those goals, but merely to do our best (with God’s help) in this imperfect world. As in everything else, I am convinced that we need balance in the way we treat these and similar issues. We won’t get it entirely right, and we won’t always agree with one another, but we MUST have the same goal.

        I think you two are far closer in your hearts than the words I’ve seen would indicate. Can we all pull together to seek ways to fulfill the will of Christ for Christians in this world?

      • Stephen K says:

        Yes, we can! (as President Obama once said). Thank you, ed, for your gentle reprimand and reminder. How slippery the paths on which you set the wicked; you make them slide to destruction (Ps 72). We must guard lest we sharpen our tongues like swords, and aim bitter words like arrows. Make us know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart (Ps 89).

        By the way, my second baptismal name is Michael. The archangel has a special interest in both of us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s