Monday, May 02, 2005

He didn't stop talking quite soon enough

I've been saying for several years, even before the Robinson brouhaha, that I couldn't imagine why progressives wanted to stay in the Anglican Communion in the first place. Finally, came the day the Robinsonites crossed the Rubicon, and from that moment on I've felt that ECUSA's behavior has consistentently, unrelentingly and patently the behavior of persons who in their hearts want to break away, and are indeed acting in such a way as to force the Communion to expel them, but who want to bring all this about in such a way that they can reassure themselves that it's not their fault. This is of course highly uncharitable of me, but then the alternative has been to assume that progressives are really, really, really stupid, which doesn't seem particularly charitable either. The best I've been able to do is to try to remain relatively agnostic about what is going through the ECUSAn mind, and to hope that their motives are good and their tactics merely ill-considered.

But if a progressive were to simply stand up and say, "Look, we don't buy the conservative BS, and we aren't going to live by it, and if the Anglican Communion expects us to live their way then they can kiss our, um, relationship good-bye and we'll go our separate ways" -- now that's something I can respect. I disagree with ECUSA's Therapist perspective and don't think it's compatible with the Gospel, but hey, an honest disagreement is always preferable either to hypocricy or to stupidity. If I can get along with my Muslim friends then I can certainly put up with progressive Episcopalians -- as long as they, like my Muslim friends, don't try to make me pretend we follow the same religion, and as long as they don't try to take the money I give to God's service and employ it for goals of which I don't think God approves. In short, I have long felt that if we would just abandon the hypocritical pretense that we're a family, we might actually discover that we can be friends.

So I was glad to see James Bradberry come along with this little piece, in which he is refreshingly up-front about his disdain for the Communion. The piece opens with the words, "A colleague asks what smooth word we would use while the rest of the world calls our departure from the Anglican fellowship 'excommunication.' That is easy to answer. ECUSA would not be excommunicated; it would be liberated."

Now that is exactly what I have thought for years is the inevitable conclusion of the progressive logic, and why any progressive would want to stay constrained by the likes of the Primates of the Global South has always been beyond me. So I gave the Judge a hearty "Amen" on that one. If the core beliefs of the progressives are true, then the sooner they get out of the Anglican Communion the better off they'll be.

The Judge wanders on for a while with the standard progressive catchphrases, of course, which isn't likely to impress the average conservative. But I don't have a problem with that; they are progressive catchphrases because progressives think they are true (despite their oft-expressed belief that there is no absolute truth in religion), and we conservatives have our own cliches for much the same reason.

I mean, I know most conservatives aren't going to find the Judge's piece impressive, and that they'll have plenty of things in it to complain about. Sure, when the Judge says that he "cannot imagine being part of a denomination that is deal with controversy," he of course really means he can't imagine being part of a denomination that takes any action on controversial positions that is not in line with his preconceptions. ECUSA dealt with the controversy by consecrating Robinson; and now the Anglican Communion is dealing with the controversy by drawing a line. What the Judge actually objects to, is precisely the fact that the Anglican Communion is dealing with the controversy -- namely, by telling ECUSA there are lines that she cannot cross. So, sure, his phrasing shows a lack of rigor in his thought. But I would still maintain that his basic point is valid: I quite agree that he will never be comfortable in a denomination that takes action on the politically incorrect side of any controversy, and that's mostly what he's trying to say.

Again, it is very typically vague, progressive language to talk about how "embrac[ing] change as our understanding of God evolves" is (if I understand the Judge correctly) "an essential element of every faith, if it is to grow." The characteristic unquestioned assumptions and stylistic faults are all there, of course. There's the Therapist conception of "faith" as something only loosely, if at all, related to factuality. There's the scrupulous care to make sure that starkly decisive resolutions such as, "we think the Church has been evil, wrong and homophobic for two thousand years and by God it stops here," are expressed soothingly as, "we think faith must embrace change as our understanding evolves" (note that the Judge admits up front that his train of thought started with a discussion over what euphemism progressives could use in place of the precisely accurate "excommunication"). There's the unquestioned assumption that "change" and "growth" are axiomatically good things, where the implicitly harmless connotations of the mild word "change" are expected to hold even when "change" is extended to the point of flat contradiction and open schism, and where the carefully peaceful word "growth" is defined vaguely and progressively and as broadly as the ocean blue, so that complete abandonment of the fundamental axioms of the Faith can still be called "growth" as if it were an organic flowering of an orchardful of cherry blossoms rather than a lopping down of the orchard to make room for a Gap store. Yes, Virginia, progressives do talk, and yes, when they do, they usually sound like the Judge. I'll grant that.

Yet still, mushy and flabby as the language is, it all still seems to be an honest opinion freely expressed, and that's something I can admire. And what's more, it all does go to establish the Judge's point, which is that progressives aren't likely to miss the hidebound old Anglican Communion very much once they get a taste of life without the ol' dinosaurs...and that point, I think, is entirely valid.

But then, just when all is looking well and congratulations seem to be in order, Judge Bradbury apparently decides he wanted to make sure we don't fully rule out the Stupid Progressive Theory. As he's wrapping up, he tosses in the following Deep Thought:

...if we must [leave the Communion], we will be sorely missed, frequently imitated and acknowledged, and often asked for help. Our presence will be felt, and our example admired.

Let us set aside my suspicion that the Judge really means that the progressives' absence, rather than their presence, will be felt, and therefore let us assume that in this little nugget he has said exactly what he believes and exactly what he wished to say. Either he means, "We will be sorely missed, etc., by unfortunate progressives left stranded in conservative provinces," in which case he is simply uttering the truism that those who agree with him, will be on his side. Or else he means, "The conservatives will wish we were still around and they'll discover how much they liked and admired and needed us."

If the latter is the case, then I certainly can't accuse him of uttering a truism. Au contraire, the only adjective adequate for such a conviction would be "delusional." If that really is what the Judge means by this astonishing sentence, then even if we know nothing else about him, we can be confident of at least this one thing: he does not even begin to understand the perspective of those with whom he disagrees. And you don't have to buy my theory about how the ECUSA schism is fundamentally about Religion-as-Therapy vs. Religion-as-Truth to perceive the Judge's utter cluelessness.

Now, given the clarity with which the Primates and the rest of the orthodox Anglican community within and without North America have spoken to the issue over the last several years, this would seem to imply that the Judge is deaf and illiterate. All in all, that would be a very disappointing ending to a quite encouraging beginning. So we will hope that the problem is merely that I'm not smart enough to figure out what he was trying to say in that last bit, and we'll just set it aside and leave it out of consideration.

And where that leaves us is this: with all due regard to the criticisms we conservatives could level at the Judge's piece, I still maintain that we ought to congratulate him on some refreshingly straight talk and thank him in all sincerity for his honesty and openness. I'm pretty sure I disagree with the Judge's basic beliefs and assumptions about religion, to the point where I doubt there's any meaningful sense in which he and I practice the same religion, any more than I and my Muslim friend Najmeddine and my Jewish friend Gail practice the same religion. But I can disagree with a person and still find them admirable. So, Judge, here's a sincere tip of the hat to you for your candour.



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