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.