Relevant?

On reading two postings by Fr Jonathan Munn on matters related to liberalism and our Anglican Catholic identity, (Revising Anglican Catholicsm and Sacramental Validity: a response to the Rev Mr Clatworthy) I discovered the website Modern Church, which seems as “single issue” about hot-button topics as those the liberals call intolerant or fundamentalist. The article by Rev. Clatworthy to which Fr Jonathan links has at some stage been taken down. That is a pity, because I would have loved to see how he would analyse and criticise Romanticism. Other articles by this gentleman seem to equate Romanticism with anti-intellectualism or fideism without quite mentioning it by name.

Update: the article in question seems to be Women bishops and valid sacraments in his personal blog. Fr Jonathan also wrote a posting in criticism of Catworthy in which he says that any commandment of God recorded in Scripture is suitable only for a time. I link to it in my response: The Relative Truth? Fr Jonathan is more courageous than I when it comes to working on Clatworthy’s reasoning and expose what may well seem to be logical sophisms or other faults related to double standards. As for the question of the Sacraments, would it not be easier to do away with Sacraments altogether – and then you can have women ministers of the word or social service or whatever, no problemo.

In his concluding paragraph, he writes:

Our minds are fuzzy about what sacraments are, what conditions are needed to make them work, what effects they have, and how we would know whether the effects have been achieved. A century ago these questions were coherently answered within a worldview which few today accept. Today we live in a society with a very different worldview. From the perspective of Christianity it is the best one western society has produced for many centuries. We do not know how long it will last, but why not make the most of it? We no longer need the strained, counter-cultural special pleading which we once needed to defend our faith. Life is full of sacramental processes. We can afford to spend less time defining them, more celebrating them.

So sacraments depend on the ambient culture, and our own is the best (!). Does he refer to the Welfare State, better health, comfort and safety – which are all non-religious concerns. Perhaps we no longer need religion at all – but he would be in need of a job! I would agree that the Sacraments are mysterious and cannot be completely explained by scholastic theology, that it is better to celebrate the Sacraments than talk about them. But, this article is about one thing and one thing only – women’s ordination.

Do we even share the same worldview? I don’t think he and I do. I am a come-out Romantic and go on Romantic Pride marches – or might do if they existed! He seems to be thoroughly secular, separated from atheism and materialism only by semantics. I can’t even imagine what kind of music or “music” he listens to or anything much about his cultural references. I obviously don’t live in his world, even if we live at the same time. I use a computer, a smartphone and go and see the doctor if I have a health problem. I have to relate to this world, but in myself, my mind and soul are elsewhere.

I agree with him about the problems in the world, the environment in particular, but his solution is obviously cultural Marxism and socialism. Priests giving up Christianity to embrace left-wing ideology are old hat. It all makes me think of French priests in the late 1940’s and early 50’s supporting a Communist revolution to atone for churchmen who had collaborated with the Nazi occupation. The ideology is tired-out and tiring.

There are some Liberal theology articles by Jonathan Clatworthy. Most of them are short and concise. The language isn’t obtuse as one might expect, but quite clear and sometimes quite compelling. I wondered whether I might not like what I found on reading Clatworthy any more than my beginning to read Nietzsche (yes, I have begun to read Human, All Too Human which is not easy reading). Perhaps Clatworthy might find Nietzsche a good idea himself, given that every idea is expressed, assimilated by other people, banalised, distorted and made into a fashion. The “herd mentality” as opposed to the lone Ubermensch destroys all meaning and inspiration.

To be honest about the three main hot-button issues, I sympathise with the earlier feminist ideas and freedom for women in relation to masculine dominance and competitiveness – but I also believe in the same freedom for men in relation to women. Homosexuality is a highly complex subject and easily manipulated by those who are both for and against it. Very little is said about friendship as understood and taught by the likes of Cicero and St Aelred of Rievaulx. Where are the limits to physical intimacy? The answer to that question will not be given by the LGBT crowd or the bible-thumpers. I might suggest a one-to-one between a person concerned with this issue and a priest he trusts. As for transsexualism, it has also become a fashion and children and adolescents are being encouraged and allowed to have surgery to make them look like the opposite sex. I am opposed to such mutilation of human bodies and it is repulsive to think about. However, I don’t see why gender models need to be set in stone. Some men are effeminate or “camp”, and I treat them with respect. Inclusion and exclusion are two emotionally-charged words. I could demand to belong to the Mothers’ Union. What would I do? Pretend to be a woman? Act in a feminine way? Change the purpose of that association into a union for both sexes – and then it has no purpose at all, even if some men like sewing, knitting and looking after children. Admit women to the priesthood, and then the priesthood ceases to be any more than a function in an elite pseudo-religious organisation whose purpose is unclear. And so it goes on.

Clatworthy is also aware of the problems of clashing dialectics and finding relevance in a “liberal” church. It really all boils down to the relationship between reason and faith, a favourite theme in the writings of Pope Benedict XVI, which I greatly admire. His attempt to harmonise and reconcile the two is obviously the right way, as with John Paul II who had to find a way to affirm the human person against the ideological backdrop of socialism and communism. But, will Clatworthy stop flogging faith in order to support reason and scientific certitude? Reading his arguments, I try to see where he is going, what is the purpose of a liberal church. Perhaps it is the notion of relevance, making the institution that is giving him a paid job able to continue to do so, by continuing to appeal to its paying customers. That sounds quite cynical, but I do wonder. Alternatively, the Church has to go the way, not of the saints who were individuals like the great and famous, but of the herd. If that is so, Christianity is in very big trouble.

Liberal theology has a positive message to offer: religious faith which is honest enough to admit that it doesn’t have all the answers but committed enough to seek them; which conducts its mission not by threats of hell or emotional manipulation, but by honestly giving reasons, listening to others and trusting that truth will prevail; which defines itself not by how it disapproves of society but by what it offers to society, a way of exploring who made us, for what purpose, and how we can all respond to our calling.

If that is what he believes, it sounds perfectly reasonable. We need to teach with kindness and respect, really nothing new since St Francis de Sales and St Charles Borromeo, two Counter-Reformation bishops who believed in Renaissance Humanism and had a genuinely pastoral attitude. You don’t need to set yourself up on an ideological pedestal to be pastoral, kind and ready to dialogue and discuss things with people. I too eschew those who threaten and manipulate to get the truth over. But that doesn’t make me accept the whole agenda lock, stock and barrel. Frankly he has not succeeded in presenting anything that is appealing and calls itself liberal.

This is quite disturbing:

How can we present our case more effectively? Recently we have heard opponents of women bishops complaining that Inclusive Church isn’t at all inclusive because it doesn’t include them. Interesting question: if you believe in inclusiveness, do you include the excluders? If you believe in toleration, do you tolerate the intolerant? In my experience most liberals are too quick to accept blame. Our first instinct is to acknowledge the sincerity of our critics. We need to do more. Liberalism, like all generous traditions, needs to defend itself against those who would abuse its generosity in order to undermine it. Even doves sometimes need to defend themselves.

It is a good question, and I admire the fellow’s honesty. It, like freedom, equality and fraternity is the paradox faced by the French revolutionaries and men like Robespierre. Not only did people have to refrain from attacking the revolutionary ideas (atheism, hatred of the Church and the aristocracy, etc.), they had to support them positively. Otherwise they were taken to the guillotine. We had the supreme hypocrisy in the Terror: tolerance except to the enemies of tolerance. It was the same with Communism, and in the present-day clash of ideologies in Europe and America about the hot-button issues, and other questions like globalism against nationalism. Who has the right to impose the prevailing “orthodoxy” and “dogma” (in the way this word is abused to mean coercion and force)?

Liberalism needs to defend itself? It strikes me that nothing can be affirmed or defended in the world of herd humanity and mobs. These (like the moral issues I mentioned above) are matters for individual thinkers, scholars and contemplatives. What I most loved about Benedict XVI was not being the Pope and dressing up, but that he appealed to people like himself to go to our books and study, to go to a church or other quiet place to pray and enter into communion with God. This is how these problems can be solved for those who seek to transcend the braying and baying of the mob. Thus, we will make progress with faith and reason, with the needs of both men and women, with questions of friendship and intimacy between persons, with gender questions and the male/female duality within each one of us.

Clatworthy is addressing himself to the mob, hoping to bring the mob to reason. Mobs cannot reason, but can only go breaking things up and killing people when some powerful psychopath tells the mob his “enemies” are bad and unworthy of life. Doesn’t this sound familiar? That is not the humanity God came to save and transfigure, but the communion of persons in the image of the Trinity. Persons produce great works of art and literature, persons are saints and elevate the believer to a new aspiration, persons are icons of God, not mobs and crowds.

The subject goes to another level. Perhaps Clatworthy in his intimate life understands this, but it is not apparent in his liberal writings.

Our first task is to make sure our case is heard more often and in more places. At the moment in most churches, in most of the church media, in most newspapers and television programmes, our voice is rarely heard at all.

I suggest that he should not aspire to get into the mass media. I personally abhor the idea of being the kind of person who gets on with journalists and TV presenters. I believe in things too, but I do not seek to modify the thinking of others. I offer ideas, but I do not seek to influence, not even in this posting. If the world wants to blow itself apart, let it just go ahead! All I will do is to say what I think – and others can give these ideas some consideration in forming their own ideas and expressing them intelligently.

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6 Responses to Relevant?

  1. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    The current ‘liberal’ government of Canada has as one of its major tenets the policy of encouraging ‘inclusiveness’: but the end result of this is so often the ‘exclusion’ of those who find aspects of this policy troubling, uncomfortable, and unacceptable. It seem that the Reverend Mr. Clatworthy would wish to impose his liberal views on those of us who disagree. For instance, the ordination of women has nothing to do with ‘women’s rights’, but everything to do with what is happening in the prayer of Consecration at the altar: if one believes in the Real Presence of Our Lord, this cannot be enacted by a woman, and has to be by the hands of a man, as Our Lord was a man in this earthly life.

    The promotion of inclusiveness has other aspects beyond the faith: this is from my homily for the past Sunday, Trinity XXIII: These two past weeks have given me an insight into things a little better: and they relate very much to the words spoken by St. Paul (Philippians 3). The first was a conversation which I had with a man from Pakistan, a taxi driver taking me to an early morning appointment in Vancouver: with all the frustrations of rush hour traffic. He told me of his father, still in the village in rural Pakistan, who goes out each day to milk his two cows, going home with the milk for the family: a simple life. He is a Moslem, not of any strong devotion: his main devotion is to the welfare of his family, for whom he must work long hours, even after living 31 years in Surrey: but one thing he said was profound: ‘I don’t feel that I belong here anymore.’

    And then I realised that this was exactly the feeling that had been in my mind: the very reason why I had been quite upset by the leaflet delivered in my mail from my local member of parliament: a leaflet which extolled the various virtuous acts of the current government! I too felt that this was not ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’ which I wanted to follow: it was not an example which I wanted to follow in my life: that would be as St. Paul writes: to ‘mark them which walk so as ye have us for an example.’ It would be a life imbued with the presence of the Holy Spirit, of God. If I was to look around me, there are but few who so walk: they are either in this parish (St. Bride), or that of St. Columba: they are my community, in company with so many more even when we are scattered and divided by the great distances of this great country. One of the most elevating values of the Provincial Synod was to realise that we are many, only understood to be so when we gather in congress: not just our church, but now in that broader company of four, and perhaps more to come!

  2. jatclat says:

    Mr WordPress informed me of this post, presumably via some algorithm that I would never understand. Thanks for the reference. It sounds as if we come at the topic from different directions, but that makes it all the more valuable to listen to each other.

    • Dear Father, Welcome to my humble blog. I probably haven’t been very kind with you considering my duty to presume your intellectual integrity and sincerity. You seem to have many thoughts in common with Bishop Spong in America. The mainstream churches are losing numbers of churchgoing faithful at an alarming rate, and we “dissident” Anglicans remain very tiny and marginal. On the surface, everyone we seem to know operates on a purely materialistic level, under financial pressure and the concern to conform to social expectations. A few are forthcoming with their desire to see beyond the inevitability of death and the evidence of a societal collapse.

      One thing the churches have done, through expediency, is to relate the Scriptures, church traditions and doctrines in a literal kind of way rather than explaining the use of allegory and symbol to appeal to all the senses and not merely the intellect. Canonical positivism is quite poisonous, especially in the RC Church. The catechism teaches facts to learn, but they are not the profound spiritual life to which many aspire.

      There is evidence about the primacy of consciousness over the organic brain, the latter being only an “interface” to our particular “frequency” in the multiverse. I think this is the kind of thing we need to be researching rather than hot-button political issues. Granted that there is life beyond bodily death, this would give us a new perspective on how we deal with the issues that concern us like the environment and an end to discrimination against certain minorities of human beings.

      Something new is needed, but without the iconoclasm against the present-day residues and revivals of the Romantic movement. You and I might find common ground on which to dialogue, between my more “contemplative” approach and your seemingly political agenda. One big stumbling block is the Establishment that is needed by many for their income and the social perks. In my little tiny Church, we only have what we make ourselves, but we are free like the early Methodists. I do believe that we will take some distance from fundamentalism and bigotry, but from another point of view to that of political ideology and the temptation to another form of intolerance and bigotry.

  3. To illustrate the point about certain writings on the wall and in the light of Robespierre’s Terreur, I came across this quote from Peter Hitchens in his new article Yes, it is about truth and freedom.

    The point is this. The total state is not content with passive obedience. In the end it isn’t even happy with public, insincere subjection. It wants active submission. In this it is like the mediaeval horrors of the Inquisition, where even those who gave in and pronounced the necessary words were treated with suspicion.

    He makes this point in the context of the hot-button issues of same-sex marriage and transgenderism. Conservative bigotry doesn’t help, and nor does this encroaching totalitarianism, or even the attraction some feel towards radical Islam. We perhaps need to stop worrying about other people and what they want to do with their lives, and cultivate our own gardens. Was there not the example of taking a beam out of our own eye in order to remove the splinter from the other person’s eye?

    I remember a James Bond film in which someone suggests that a terrorist for Bond was really a freedom fighter. Bond then makes the point that this particular freedom fighter was not interested in other people’s freedom. This is a problem we will find with liberalism when it enters that paradox of tolerance.

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    The playful thought of going “on Romantic Pride marches” strongly attracts me, while I can also think it would be fun to see what Thomas Love Peacock might have imagined them to be like (or Sue Limb, come to that – I don’t think she imagined them in The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere, of which I have sadly never had the chance to hear all or read any)…

    I have not yet followed any of the links to see (hints of) discussions of Romanticism, but saw a book today about which I wanted to know more, before purchasing, and find that the author has an English description on his website:

    https://corhermans.nl/books-and-chapters/mill-and-france/

    (I saw another book, also in Dutch, on France and Romanticism, but foolishly failed to note author and title.)

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I did buy a bargain copy of an a Dutch translation of an astonishing-looking little book by Léon Bloy, L’Âme de Napoléon (which may fit in interestingly with my finally being busy with gettign acquianted with Tolstoy’s War and Peace in translation – instead of only dramatizations).

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