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Thursday, October 16

PRIMATES' (NON)STATEMENT:

Here is the much anticipated official statement of the Anglican primates. I must admit that it surprised even me, who have closely watched this and its derivative bodies for almost twenty years. I didn't think they'd say anything, but I'm surprised at how openly they didn't say anything.

Were I more energetic I would offer you an exegesis. Let me just say it runs to form: opening with the usual statements of fellowship and commitment to unity and then avoiding saying anything very definite at all about the problem, while claiming that everyone is really united in the basics if divided in their application, then saying that the Communion (more exactly: the Federation) may have problems in the future, which they could hardly avoid saying, and then closing by calling for the formation of a commission to study the matter.

Good grief.

Representative are the paragraphs running:

As Primates of our Communion seeking to exercise the "enhanced responsibility" entrusted to us by successive Lambeth Conferences, we re-affirm our common understanding of the centrality and authority of Scripture in determining the basis of our faith. Whilst we acknowledge a legitimate diversity of interpretation that arises in the Church, this diversity does not mean that some of us take the authority of Scripture more lightly than others. Nevertheless, each province needs to be aware of the possible effects of its interpretation of Scripture on the life of other provinces in the Communion. We commit ourselves afresh to mutual respect whilst seeking from the Lord a correct discernment of how God's Word speaks to us in our contemporary world.

We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues. We commend the report of that Conference in its entirety to all members of the Anglican Communion, valuing especially its emphasis on the need "to listen to the experience of homosexual persons, and...to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ"; and its acknowledgement of the need for ongoing study on questions of human sexuality.


Notice the fog created in the first paragraph by talking of "legitimate diversity" and then claiming that everyone takes the authority of Scripture equally seriously, finished by a generic appeal to the need to discern what Scripture requires of us today. This does not touch the problem, which is that some Anglicans deny the plain teaching of Scripture, the Federation itself reiterated at its last meeting of its bishops (the 1998 Lambeth Conference). Most of the world's Anglicans know very well what Scripture teaches us today in this matter. It is not a matter on which diversity is allowed.

And for that matter, it suggests that liberal Western Anglicans value Scripture as much as do the orthodox Africans and Asians. This seems doubtful, given what these western liberals do to it and with it, but even if the claim is true, it does not help the Anglicans in any way to settle the problem they face. If I value an axe for chopping wood and you value it for chopping up your neighbors, our mutual esteem for the noble axe is pretty well irrelevant. Especially to your neighbors.

And what, I wonder, do the primates mean by asserting the centrality of Scripture "in determining the basis of our faith"? Why only the basis? Doesn't it also determine the structure built on the basis? Is this clumsily written or do they mean to say that the moral and other instructions of Scripture are not part of the basis and therefore a matter of choice? The Episcopal Church has, after all, already affirmed the idea of a "core doctrine" that does not include any moral teaching.

And notice in the second paragraph how after reaffirming that Lambeth Conference's decision on the matter, it emphasizes the "gay friendly" lines as being "value[d] especially." Especially. That is, more than the decision's affirmation of the teaching of Scripture. As if, one has to think, this idea -- by now a platitude -- was the most important part of the decision or the part most likely to be forgotten or ignored.

The London newspaper The Daily Telegraph ran an article -- written before the statement was issued -- describing the politics of the commission.

 The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who called a two-day summit at Lambeth Palace, had feared that conservative primates would defeat his efforts to hold the Church together.

But it appeared last night that their united front was crumbling. One insider said that the conservatives no longer had majority support for their demand that the liberal American Episcopal Church be expelled for appointing Anglicanism's first openly homosexual bishop.

. . . Sources close to the conservative camp, which is led by primates in Africa, said that they had hoped to have 20 signatories backing an ultimatum they presented to Dr Williams yesterday.

This called on the Archbishop to discipline the American Episcopal Church before the planned consecration of bishop-elect Gene Robinson, a divorcee who lives with his male lover, as Bishop of New Hampshire in November.

However, it is now thought that they have secured the backing of only 16 or 17 primates, with others calling merely for a rebuke for the Episcopal Church.

It is thought that the Asian primates have proved far less enthusiastic for an immediate showdown than the Africans and, while a split could still occur, it may not be as damaging as had been initially.


I have many beloved friends who expected the primates to discipline the American Episcopal Church and even excommunicate it, from which they saw their own deliverance coming. They must be feeling very bad now, though from past experience I have the horrible feeling that some of their leaders are busy spinning this statement as a victory.


2:53 PM


Wednesday, October 15

THE TIME IS TOMORROW:

One last reminder: Our conference The Time is Near starts tomorrow evening. Those of you close enough — it's being held in Mundelein, just north of Chicago — can come for one or more sessions, for a small fee.

It looks to be a very good conference, dealing with an important subject. It is particularly important as a reflection on our call to discern the signs of the times, and not make them up. In what we called "an age of anxiety," most of us tend to find apocalypses everywhere. Besides enjoying the papers, you will get to meet and talk with lots of interesting people. You can meet the editors of the magazine and some of the other writers if you want. Or you can ignore us.

Anyway, I commend it to your attention. Listening to interesting papers beats working.


7:29 PM


CARDINAL ERROR:

In response to the letter from Cardinal Ratzinger to the Dallas meeting of Episcopal conservatives given in "What Ratzinger Said", our correspondent Prof. William Tighe corrects the cardinal's history:

I am puzzled by the very meaning of the phrase “confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ’s Gospel in England” as a description of the purpose (or purported purpose) of Pope Gregory the Great’s sending of the monk Augustine to England in 597. So far as I am aware, Christ’s Gospel had not been preached and was not being preached in England in 597, so the purpose of sending them was to begin to plant it there, among the pagan Angles and Saxons who had conquered most of what is now England from the mostly Christianized Celtic tribes over the preceding 150 years.

The dispossessed Celts, the ancestors of the Welsh and the Cornish, were Christians then, but they refused even to attempt to preach the Gospel to the “heathen barbarians” who had dispossessed them of their land. The Irish, by contrast, had begun a flourishing mission in what is today Scotland by 597, but it was not to begin to make converts in England for some 20 or 25 years after Augustine landed in Kent.

The pagan King of Kent who received Augustine and his companions, Ethelbert, had as his wife a Frankish Christian princess, Bertha, but although she had as her chaplain a bishop, no less, they had made no attempt to propagate Christianity among the natives. In the light of these facts, the significance of the phrase “confiorm and strengthen” remains a mystery.


7:24 PM


GOSPEL OF HATE:

Fr. Robert Hart sends this link to a quotation in the Washington Times, in which a Canadian writer Donald Harman Akenson writes in the Toronto Globe and Mail (their NYTimes) about the new movie, "The Gospel of John": "Gospel of Hate".

It is a bit of a shock to remember that culturally influential people really do believe things like this.


4:43 PM


BOOK SALE:

Well worth checking out: A $5.00 a book sale from Spence Publishing.


4:39 PM


WHAT AMERICANS BELIEVE:

An interesting though not suprising study of American religious beliefs, commissioned by Fox News: "More believe in God than heaven". It begins:

Fully 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, 85 percent in heaven and 82 percent in miracles, according to the latest FOX News poll. Though belief in God has remained at about the same level, belief in the devil has increased slightly over the last few years — from 63 percent in 1997 to 71 percent today.

The national poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (search), shows that about a third of Americans believe in ghosts (34 percent) and an equal number in UFOs (34 percent), and about a quarter accept things like astrology (search) (29 percent), reincarnation (search) (25 percent) and witches (24 percent).

There is a gender gap on many of these subjects. Women are more likely than men to believe in almost all topics asked about in the poll, including 12 percentage points more likely to believe in miracles and eight points more likely to trust there is a heaven. The one significant exception is UFOs, with 39 percent of men compared to 30 percent of women saying they accept the existence of unidentified flying objects.


I don't know what to make of that last figure, except to suggest that men may like odd beliefs more if they have something to do with science and technology. Ghosts are one thing, but flying saucers — all those lights! — another.

It then reports something rather interesting:

Young people are much more likely than older Americans to believe in both hell and the devil. An 86 percent majority of adults between the ages of 18 to 34 believe in hell, but that drops to 68 percent for those over age 70. Similarly, 79 percent of young people believe in the devil compared to 67 percent of the over-70 age group.

I don't know what this means, though I had the uncharitable thought that perhaps a lot of old people don't want to believe in the devil because they are afraid that if he exists, they're going to meet him. More charitably, I wonder if people over 70 tend not to believe in evil because they grew up in an expansive, optimistic time — we'd won a world war, the economic kept expanding, people were better off than their parents, society seemed (if you were white and affluent) peacefully settled. Younger people have not grown up in such a world.

But that said, I wonder if the young peoples' beliefs are also a response, but a more realistic response, to affluence. I have no way of proving this, but I wonder if the younger people's greater belief in the Devil and in Hell is a rational response to the flat, affectless, undramatic lives they lead, lives created by the astonishing affluence they enjoy. (Or suffer.) To believe in a personal evil and the possibility of damnation is to assert that their lives have meaning, that the world is a dramatic place where choices change destinies, and change them forever.

Of course, they don't always live as if they believe this, but then neither do those of us who believe what the Church teaches on these matters. But I can't think of any other good reason for them to believe in the Devil and in Hell, when the world around them has so thoroughly banished the subject.


4:36 PM


Tuesday, October 14

FATHER ABSENCE:

All children needs fathers at home; the greater the other disadvantages they suffer, the more they need fathers.

If the fathers aren’t there, what happens?

Gregory Kane in the Baltimore Sun quotes Jawanza Kunjufu:

"The greatest demon in black America is fatherlessness. The common variable for the [African-American] dropout rate, the incarceration rate and drug use is the daddy didn't stay."
Only 32 percent of black families, Kunjufu noted, have a father in the home. That's down from - and these are his figures - 90 percent in 1920 and 80 percent in 1980.
"Slavery did not destroy the black family," Kunjufu concluded.


One of the strongest arguments that abolitionists used against slavery was its deleterious effect on the black family: the marriage of slaves was not legally recognized, slave families were broken up, slave men were not respected by their women and children. Freedom meant the freedom to marry legally and to beget legitimate offspring.

Why don’t men marry? A better question is why do they marry. For most men, the reason is religious, and in our culture that means the patriarchal explicit in the Old Testament and implicit in Christianity.

But men see Christianity as feminine and feminizing, and stay away. The black pastor of a leading black church in Baltimore said that his church had given up its prison ministry in frustration. They were unable to reach the men there. If the men were at all open, it was to Islam, a militaristic, masculine religion in which women are far more subordinate than in any Christian society.


6:29 AM


Monday, October 13

WUTHNOW ON RELIGION:

Here is an interview with Robert Wuthnow you may find of interest. Wuthnow teaches sociology at Princeton and has written many books on religion in America.

I found some interesting things in the interview, and also what has always struck me as a naive belief in polls — naive for a professional sociologist, anyway. When asked about the public's apparently increasing interest in "spirituality," he said:

One of the surveys that I did about a year ago showed that 43 percent of the public said their interest in spirituality had been increasing in recent years. Only 7 percent said it had been decreasing. The rest said it had stayed about the same. That's one indicator that spirituality is just of much more interest now than it was maybe five or 10 years ago.

No, all we know for sure is that about half of the public say, when asked by a pollster, that their interest has increased. Whether their interest has actually increased, in any way that matters (praying more, for example, or making decisions about their lives with an eye to the next world) we do not know. It is perfectly possible that people may actually be less practically interested in "spirituality" (the word deserves the skeptical quotation marks) while thinking themselves more interested.

One interesting question and answer:

Q: So how religious are we, really?

A: One way to answer is to divide the public into four categories. Roughly the top quarter of the public, I would say, is very committed. They take their spiritual life very seriously, pray routinely, are active in their religious organizations, and so forth. The second quarter, and even the third quarter — the middle 50 percent of the public — is sort of religious. They're involved. They go once in a while. They pray once in a while. They believe some of the right things. They may even think it's pretty important to them, but they don't make a big commitment to it. And the remaining quarter say they're pretty much just indifferent to religion. My guess is that may not be terribly different than the way it's been for a long time.


9:58 PM


RENEWAL AND ST. THOMAS MORE:

Two events of possible interest to readers in the Pittsburgh area:

— “Renewing the Church: Essentials for ministry in our time,” a conference sponsored by Reformation and Revival Ministries. This conference will be held November 14 and 15 on the campus of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, which is up the Ohio River from the city. It will feature Dr. John Armstrong, the head of the ministry, Dr. Peter Moore, dean of the seminary, and others.

John Armstrong is, by the way, a good friend of the magazine. R&R Ministries publishes a good newsletter and journal, which readers may enjoy.

— “Christian Socrates? The apology of St. Thomas More” by Dr. James Stoner of Louisiana State University. The lecture will be given at 7:30 Wednesday evening, October 29th, at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, which is east of the city. The lecture is sponsored by the college’s Center for Economic and Policy Education. The flyer I got says to call 724.537.4597 for information.


9:43 PM


WOLFE ON BUILDINGS:

FYI, a two-part series on the "religion" of modern architecture by Tom Wolfe, which appeared in yesterday's and today's New York Times: "The Building That Isn't There," Part I and Part II. I enjoyed it.


9:21 AM


BELLOC ON ISLAM:

From an interview with the Jesuit James Schall, about the English writer Hilaire Belloc, who had warned about Islam almost 100 years ago:

The accepted doctrine today is that Islam itself is not a problem. As such, Islam is said to have no relation to world events that result in the need for defense in the West.

There are, however, something called "terrorists" who cause all the problems. Even though they have Muslim names and claim the legitimacy of what they do to be found in their religion, their origins are said to be elsewhere — where, no one is quite sure. Western ideology forbids it to take Islam's notion of itself seriously.

Belloc understood that Islam has a defined theological outlook and goal: Everyone should be Muslim. Force was useful in this goal. Belloc expected, if it ever acquired power again, that Islam would take up right where it left off after its last great territorial conquests.

He would not have been in the least surprised at Sept. 11. Nor would he be astonished to find out that the Christians in the West are quite unprepared to understand the zeal for religion and conquest that Islam had and has in its faith. Not a few Muslim leaders of today both desire and see possible, on a worldwide scale, the return to aggressive and active proselytism.


We plan to run some articles on the question “What does Islam actually teach?” We know that different religions encourage different kinds of lives, because ideas have consequences. What Islam encourages is a question hard to find answered reliably, in religious and secular circles, because so many writers write as partisans of the position that Islam is, a few small doctrinal disagreements aside, the same as Judaism and Christianity.

By the way, our senior editor Patrick Reardon is writing a review-essay on Belloc, starting with the recent biography by Joseph Pearce, Old Thunder (Ignatius) and looking at several of Belloc’s own books recently repupublished by IHS Press.


9:19 AM


WHAT RATZINGER SAID:

In the interests of ecumenical understanding, I should correct some Episcopal misunderstandings of Cardinal Ratzinger’s short letter to the Plano meeting, given in “From Rome to Plano”.

In the description of Episcopal journalist David Virtue,

the Pope sent [through Cardinal Ratzinger] a personal message to the attendees affirming their orthodoxy and faithfulness.

But the letter says nothing at all about their orthodoxy, and indeed couldn’t, since from the Catholic point of view Episcopalians are by definition not orthodox. Not fully orthodox, anyway, since they remain outside full communion with the Holy See. The promise of prayers is not the same as a stamp of approval.

Another comment, recorded on Kendall Harmon’s blogsite, TitusOneNine, begins by noting that Cardinal Ratzinger

notes that St. Augustine of Canterbury was sent to ‘confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's gospel in England.’ This quiet acknowledgement of the Church's existence in Britain prior to the involvement of the See of Rome is, it seems to me, of great significance, and bodes well for future Roman-Anglican relations post-realignment. That it comes from Cardinal Ratzinger makes it even more astonishing.”

There is a kind of Episcopalian who prides himself on interpreting Vatican statements, but almost always gets them wrong, usually by 1) reading (often with considerable ingenuity) more into them than is actually there, finding meaning in the supposed symbolism and what is supposedly said between the lines, and 2) forgetting the theology to which the writer was consciously committed. So here, I think.

Cardinal Ratzinger was not “quietly acknowledging” anything, as if he were admitting some fact hitherto denied that is prejudicial to the Catholic claims. The writer seems to mean that the cardinal admitted that the Church in England was not under papal authority till the pope sent St. Augustine, and therefore that there is some sort of English religion prior to and equal to the Catholic Church, which conservative Episcopalians can claim to represent.

No Catholic thinks the Church always spread in its first few centuries through the direct involvement of the See of Rome, but he does think those missionaries were what we now call Roman Catholics. In the case of St. Augustine going to England after Catholic missionaries had already gotten there, a Catholic would say that a father helped out his children. They went out and got the thing started and he provided the guidance and better connection to the family that they needed. He wouldn’t “quietly acknowledge” the history this priest imagines.

All the cardinal did was send his good wishes and the promise of his and the pope’s prayers for the event, including as he did so a reference to a common history. Vatican letters often do so, as a way of reminding the recipients that they and the Catholic Church already have a connection. One should not read into more than that.

Ratzinger then referred to “a unity of truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation,” which was somewhat ambiguous, given that the people he was writing to were not Catholics in others countries but members of another communion entirely. If I were to interpret this, and I don’t think I could with confidence, I’d say it was included to remind the recipients of the distance remaining.

By the way, in addition to the extensive coverage always to be found on The CaNN site, you can find more news about the meeting on the site of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. A recent e-mail from IRD mentioned two articles: “The Role of the Laity” and “What Factors Led to This Crisis?”.

And for a clear statement of the differences remaining between Catholicism and conservative Anglicanism, see ”Bishop of Durham beats the Protestant drum” from the Church of England Newsletter. In it, N. T. Wright, the Evangelical New Testament scholar,

has attacked the growing tendency of Anglicans to heed Catholic doctrine on life after death, which “can harm the Christian faith.”

The new Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Tom Wright, also asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is no closer to God than Christians who have been killed for their faith in the past week or year. . . .

At the heart of Bishop Wright’s analysis of life after death, is a profound disagreement with the notion of purgatory. . . .

“Here we must bring into play the words of Jesus about people who prefer human traditions to the Word of God.

“These human traditions are not just nice bits and pieces which it does no harm to people to believe. They affect the very centre of Christian faith.”


I'm a believer in ecumenical work — seeing as I edit a magazine whose subtitle is "a magazine of mere Christianity" — but that work must rest of a perfectly clear understanding of where everyone stands with everyone else. Misrepresenting Cardinal Ratzinger's letter does not help, while Wright's restating of Anglican doctrine does.


9:15 AM




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