American Insularity

I’m going to have to be daring with this article, because it is about the ignorance of very large numbers of people on matters that threaten the very notion of democracy and freedom.

I’m not insinuating anything about Michael Frost, who seems to be a well educated person, but this suggestion is frightening if you read behind the words: – If I was a CA [Continuing Anglican], I’d always start my serious ecumenical discussions with the PNCC. That would seem to be the most natural area for better formal relations in USA. In short, does nowhere else exist? Is everything to be measured against American standards? Of course, there is the Nordic Catholic Church in Europe, and that possibility may be available for some.

Our conservative British newspaper The Daily Telegraph published an article Americans surveyed: misunderstood, misrepresented or ignorant? This article reveals the extent of ignorance about the world outside (and also within) the USA in large numbers of persons.

6% do not know the date of Independence Day.

0.01% correctly identified the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment of the US Constitution (freedom of religion, free speech, free press, association, and the ability to petition government). Only 25% can name more than one of these rights.

25% do not know that the earth orbits around the sun. 6% of young Americans failed to locate the USA on a map of the world. Only about 30% could identify the UK on a map. Three years into the Irak war, only 37% could find Irak on a map. Only the same percentage would find Saudi Arabia and as few as 25% could find Israel and Iran. 70% believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks at one time. Only 58% of Americans knew anything about the Taliban, compared with 75% of British.

Americans who are not burdened with this degree of ignorance need to take an interest in other countries and those of us who live in them. I tend to agree with the opinion that Americans are not more pious than anyone else, but simply behind the times. Our European present is their future, and complacency will not avert the inevitable.

I am myself English living in Continental Europe. I have visited the USA four times. I am hardly the Modern Major General of Gilbert and Sullivan who knows everything vegetable, animal and mineral, but I am forced to believe that I belong to a very tiny elite with a reasonable knowledge of geography and world cultures. I am only a very average kind of person! All the same, I am interested in discovering other peoples and the way they live. Life is too short to travel everywhere and see them all for myself, but discovery is to me second only to breaths of air, food and drink.

I ask our educated American friends to make that much of an effort to encourage their country folk to take an interest in Christians in the UK, continental Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and everywhere else – and take them into account when offering reflections.

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4 Responses to American Insularity

  1. Michael Frost says:

    Fr. Anthony, My comment, a purely personal opinion, regarding the PNCC is just an attempt at being pragmatic and practical. (And having worshipped at both PNCC and CA churches over the decades, they seem to fit moderately well. In comparision to today’s Roman, Lutheran, and Reformed liturgies in USA, the PNCC seems to be at least moderately conservative?)

    It would be interesting to take stock of the various CA jurisdictions in USA. To see how many clergy, laity, buildings, and resources they have today and the trend over the past 35 years or so. The priest last Sunday talking about his Diocesan Synod mentioned that his jurisdiction lost one of their largest churches to the Ordinariates. And that now their largest parish has about 400+. I don’t remember if he said members or families. But regardless, here in America that is still not a large church. And most of theirs are a lot smaller. The local one has about 20 active members who are aging. It is conceiveable that without grow within a decade they would have few active members. And might have to lock the doors and turn out the lights within say 15 years? (Thankfully some growth has come their way. It may be small but it is noticeable.)

    The Church tends to do better at her mission, esp. in modern times, when she has sufficient clergy, laity, buildings, and financial resources. I think the CA bishops know this. Which may be why they pursued the Ordinariate route for so long and so seriously?

    I wish CAism all the best. But that means it has to survive down to the working parish level. In light of various realities, fiscal and otherwise, is the prognosis good? Most religious groups in USA are having their struggles. CAism certainly has had more than its fair share. We are secularizing. And it is unclear if the current under 30 demographic will continue in their parents’ footsteps regarding religion.

    Now I’ll withdraw and go back to reading…. Have to finish Keith Kyle’s magisterial work, Suez: Britain’s End of Empire in the Middle East. Then finish Kingsley Amis’ minor novel, Russian Hide & Seek. And then finish Norman Davies’ great work, White Eagle/Red Star: The Polish-Soviet War, 1919-1920, and ‘The Miracle on the Vistula’. (When will I learn not to read multiple books at the same time?)

    • I have come to believe that small is beautiful.

      The Church tends to do better at her mission, esp. in modern times, when she has sufficient clergy, laity, buildings, and financial resources. I think the CA bishops know this. Which may be why they pursued the Ordinariate route for so long and so seriously?

      It has been found that going this way has been harmful except to those who went to the Ordinariate, WR Orthodox, PNCC, etc. Those who were left behind had to fend for themselves. In truth, we are all too “odd” to fit into any kind of “big” Church without giving up everything. Perhaps God called us to do that and we failed to make the sacrifice. Perhaps God wills much more – the sacrifice of religion as Bonhöffer seemed to be getting at. For many of us, the Church siding with the powerful of this world is just too much to take.

      Perhaps God wants small churches with only our poverty and weakness to show. We are even smaller outside the USA, but we seem to be slowly building and managing very well without Ordinariates, WR Vicariates and suchlike.

      Americans are secularising. Europeans have secularised. Perhaps only through the long night will we once again see the light. That light is within each of us.

      • ed pacht says:

        ……and how healthy are the “big” churches? I seem to notice that they are currently hemorrhaging members at a bewildering rate (aside from the handful of ‘megachurches’ that seem primarily to be cannibalizing their smaller brethren. Yes, there are advantages to bigness – things that can be built, beautiful ceremonies that can be performed, and wonderful music that can’t be done otherwise – but these are at the expense of other important factors – face to face knowledge of ones brethren and sisters and all that goes with that. I hope we don’t end up with no big ‘flagship’ churches, but I hope even more fervently that we will be rid of the idea that they are the ideal that we need to reach for. They aren’t and can’t be.

        I come more and more to the conclusion that the weakness of small churches is their self-perception that small inevitably means weak. When two or three are gathered . . . . . the Lord of the Universe is with them!!!! ….and the Lord of the Universe has instructed those two or three to look beyond themselves and to spread the word, filled with the power of the Holy Ghost.

        Small is good and beautiful, and, if small stops thinking small, small is powerful, with the potential of changing the world – as did the tiny congregations of the Apostolic era.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    As a practical hsitorical question, what were the relations of the PNCC with various Anglican Provinces, from the time of the Bonn Agreement until a given Province ‘opted for WO’? Did the PNCC continue in communion with those CAs formerly of a given Province when such an ‘opting’ occurred? If not, why not? Was there reticence or refusal on a given CA side insofar as the PNCC was still in comimunion – even if or when “impaired” – with this or that Province or UU church? If so, where and when?

    What, if any, other reasons do given CA have for caution – or more – where the post-UU PNCC is concerned?

    Size (especially active membership numbers), ethnicity, and nationality, all seem properly secondary considerations, which need neither impede nor conduce, if justly appreciated as practical matters, where reciprocal scrutiny is concerned. (Or is that hopelessly ‘idealistic’?)

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