Monday, April 24, 2017

(Backup) The Roots of the Crisis (cont.)

Dreher treats the momentous changes that unravelled the sacramental universe of the Medieval model. Renaissance and Reformation shifted focus to humanistic areas and shattered authority. The rising political nation states and empires brought new pressures to bear. The Scientific Revolution may have been led by professing Christians but the "grounding lay undeniably in nominalism." Science worked in practical ways and the mathematisation of nature brought a new approach. "The natural world was to be taken no longer as something to be contemplated as in any way an icon of the divine, but rather as something to be understood and manipulated by the will of humankind for its own sake." 
Philosophers continued the fragmentation. Descartes inverted the medieval approach to knowledge, putting the Self as the reference point for knowledge. The Enlightenment was "an attempt . . . to find a common basis outside religion for determining moral truth.". 
 It was a decisive break with the Christian legacy of the West. Deism now became the forming theology. Spiritual and secular are to be separate realms. 
This worked while many people were still Christian or church- goers. Enlightenment morality depended on the virtue of a moral and religious people. There was still "a strong shared idea of the Good and a shared definition of virtue."
The swing of the pendulum came in the romantic movement's exaltation of emotion, freedom and individualism. This was a reaction against rationalism but not a return to faith.
Atheism in the 19 th century was real but kept in check by vigorous revivals and religious fervour. The secular elites pursued a secular revolution that introduced reformist and essentially secular thinking into established institutions. The early 20th century pushed religion further to the edges of life. 
I can't help feeling that the world wide traumas of Wars and economic chaos in the 20th century worked to delay the unravelling of Western values. People held on to traditions in the face of barbarism and suffering. But post war Western society saw further unravelling of the Western tradition. Dreher relies on Philip Rieff's analysis of the advent of Psychological Man in the 60's and Charles Taylor's insights. The triumph of Eros marks our time. Desire expressed as the assertion of individuality is the underlying world view. Thus same-sex marriage is asserted on the basis of love and desire, disconnected with any relation to biological embodiment.  Dreher notes: "The Romantic ideal of the self-created man finds its fulfilment in the newest vanguards of the Sexual Revolution, transgendered people. They refuse to be bound by biology and have behind them an elite movement teaching new generations that gender is whatever the choosing individual wants it to be.  . . Transgenderism is the logical next step, after which will come the deconstruction of any obstructions, in law or custom, to freely chosen polygamous arrangements."  
This new concept of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life (citing a US Supreme Court Justice). 
So the West loosened its grasp on God as Creator and Lord, and now has arrived at a unravelling of human bonds with our bodies. The autonomous Self rules now, a god its own right. There is no ordered creation to which our desires must submit. Dreher: "The West has lost the golden thread that binds us to God, Creation, and each other. . . . We have been loosed, but we do not know how to bind." 

So how does the Christian church, carrier of a very different world-view, respond, even to preserve itself in this corrosive sea that seeps into us? " We who still hold the golden thread lossely in our hands must seize it more tightly and cling to it for future generations, or it will be torn from our grasp." 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Roots of the Crisis

Rod Dreher turns in chap 2 of The Benedict Option to examine how the unravelling of the West's spiritual and moral consensus came about. " We are living with the consequences of ideas accepted many generations ago, and as a result of those decisions we are losing our religion."
He reminds us that religion provides the system of beliefs and practices that hold a community together. In the West it is Christianity that has provided this whole system, so that moral habits and social structures generated by belief kept going even when the underlying faith was abandoned. But eventually the flowers die on the cut root. The process is accelearating now, and the church is struggling to hold the younger generations because they are formed by this embracing culture that erodes faith. 

Owing a debt to Charles Taylor's analysis, Dreher notes five landmark events over seven centuries that has undermined its foundation faith. There are many forces and developments at work, but his survey is stimulating and in accord with other historians of culture. It is a long road from as a sacramental  experience of life in the Middle Ages to the emptied world of naturalism today. 
Dreher lists 
1. The loss of belief in the integral connection between God and creation (between transcendent and material realities) in the fourteenth century;
2. The collapse of religious unity and authority in the sixteenth century Reformation.
3. The eighteenth century Enlightenment that placed Reason in place of religion and privatised religious fai.
4. The Industrial revolution (1760-1840) and the growth of capitalism in 19th and 20th centuries.
5. The sexual revolution from 1960 to present.

It is hard for us to grasp a sacramental view of life and the universe. It was undergirded by metaphysical realism- the principle that all things exist and have a God-given essential nature independent of human thought. All things aware grounded in God. "Realism holds that the essence of a thing is built into its existence by God, and its ultimate meaning is guaranteed by this connection to the transcendent order." (27)  It was the British monk William of Ockham who cut down the mighty tree of metaphysical realism. He ascribed meaning to God's will. Thus was born (again) the idea of nominalism - that objects have no intrinsic meaning, only meaning assigned to them. Ockham defended God's sovereignty at the cost of separating nature from the divine realm in itself; only by revelation could we grasp meaning. 
Dreher observes that this noinalism made the modern world possible. Nature was studied in itself and a new emphasis on empiricism and naturalism was born. War and world-wide plagues disturbed the life of Europe. The defeat of metaphysical realism used in a new dynamic phase.

This analysis is not novel to Rod Dreher, but it does remind me that most of us today are by instinct nominalists. A side-issue is worth considering: whether metaphysical realism was discredited or simply replaced. Still, we are witnessing in current sexual  identity politics, an intense nominalise about the nature of human identity say as gendered. The natural embodied self is not a given, has no transcendent reality; the desiring self within decides what meaning one gives and how the body is used. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Benedict Option

I've started to read Rod Dreher's book The Benedict Option after hearing much about it and following his blog. So here is the first nstalment of my reactions.
Dreher's thesis is that the church in the West is facing a cultural rejection of the world-view and anthropology derived from Christianity. This is getting antagonistic and intolerant. The church in USA is weak in its ability to resist the worldliness and has lost the culture war. Allowing for his American context, the situation in Australia is comparable. The push for same sex marriage is a dramatic marker  because it was unthinkable and absurd until very recently but opponents now are labelled bigots etc. A new gender anthropology is being aggressively pushed in Australian schools. So society hasn't been "christian' for a long time, but laws and values have tracked the biblical norms. Now marriage is being radically redefined and laws will enforce it. 
Dreher picks up the example of Benedict who founded a new kind of Christian community to preserve the faith and civilisation in the unravelling days of the Roman Empire. Dreher thinks that Western Christians would be wise to gear themselves for a strategic withdrawal.
Is he exaggerating? I don't think so. We've known for a long time that we are in a post-Christian society. The pressures are more felt now as the pillars of the West are being knocked over. He is concerned about how the church can preserve itself with an onslaught of different values.


Friday, January 1, 2016

The Two Choices

Genesis 2 puts before us the great two choices of life in relation to God: the gift of life with God (fellowship) symbolised in 'the tree of life', and the condition of life (obedience to God) symbolised in 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' which I understand to be the right to decide what is good and evil- a right that is God's and not ours. 
The people of God faced this choice all the time and so do we. If I want to have real life - abundant life - it must be found in God and with God, on the condition of walking with God in his ways. I see here the gift of grace and the response of obedience - both essential to fellowship with God and the fullness of life now and forever. The great temptation is to decide to play 'God' and make one's own decision about good and evil.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Genesis 1:27

I'm starting again to read through the Bible in a year. So Genesis 1, the beginnings of creation and God's order. In 1:26-27 we learn about Gid's basic order of humankind, created to bear the image of God in the complementary duality of mal and female. 
The progressive Western mindset rejects God and does not want to see God's image anywhere, so it is not surprising that there is such a push to deny the complementary nature of humanity as male and female - in the same sex marriage agenda and the new inner gender diversity. But still the created order unavoidable - to be fruitful as sub creators of human lives l, there is no other way than to unite the male and the female. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Thoughts about the Deconstruction of Marriage currently underway

The recent US Supreme Court's decision to rule in favour of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage moves the sexual revolution's unravelling of conjugal marriage to a new stage. The full assessment of the consequences of this will be seen as years pass. It is certainly a redefinition of marriage, not just an inclusion of same sex unions in the existing institution. For those who already hold the romantic concept of marriage, it is an obvious step and they can't see any rational reason to oppose it- concluding that opposition must be prejudice and driven by bigotry.
On the view that marriage is essentially a conjugal union, these legalisation steps mean the  deconstruction of marriage. Ross Douthat sums up the threshold: "If marriage can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage. Marriage inevitably loses its power."
This will not be the end of this road; the logic of the revisionist case entails more permutations. The U.S. Chief Justice in dissent pointed out some of these. 

I wonder whether all the rainbow bandwagon people right now realise the implications of their sympathising. 
I remember reading at university the Marxist theorists that advocated a new front for the revolution in the West given the receding hope of political revolution - to conduct a 'long march through the institutions'. Their idea was to undermine the West by corrupting and subverting its culture. Starting with sexual progressivism, they are now captured the sanctuary of marriage in jurisdictions like the US. 

As Douthat says in his NYTimes article, the next step will be to come after the social conservatives, and crush dissent through anti-discrimination actions. The mechanisms are in place. It is not just legal sanction that is on view now, but social endorsement. There is a new sexual orthodoxy taking control and dissent is portrayed as pernicious and prejudiced. 

If my government decides to change the legal view of marriage, so be it. I will stick with my adherence to the conjugal view, which has a long history and is in sync with nature and biology. Wisdom, love and courage will be needed in a new social climate. 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Centred Anglicanism: A Proposal about Anglican Identity

In my part of the Anglican world, we have been talking about our identity as a Diocese, which raises the issue of how the various streams of tradition in our Church can live and work together. Here is my proposal for a constructive way forward, beyond the tribalism that has been so marked. These views are my own.

Centred Anglicanism: A Proposal
Tribalization, Toleration  or Integration
1.       The Anglican Church has within its life a number of traditions: Anglo-Catholicism; Liberal; Evangelical; Charismatic. These have flowed in dynamic ways through our church’s history, growing stronger or weaker on occasions; blending some times (e.g. liberal catholic Anglicans, and evangelical charismatic Anglicans), while at other times operating tribally, excluding each other or marginalising the other kinds.
2.       There is a tendency for like to attract like and for ecclesiastical traditions to protect a dominant tradition. Sydney Diocese defines itself in a number of ways to preserve its characteristic evangelical character, as do other Australian dioceses too. Dioceses will tolerate a limited presence of the disfavoured tradition in their midst, but limits to expansion will be in place, whatever words are spoken about valuing and learning from the minority traditions.
3.       In this context, magnified by distance, history, Diocesan boundaries, church law and polarizing issues, the Australian Anglican Church is seriously tribalized. “Broad Anglicanism” has disappeared. Bishop Tom Frame has lamented the loss of consensus Anglicanism, claiming that this situation is imperilling the survival and mission of the Anglican Church of Australia.[1]
4.       The tribalization of the four traditions of Anglicanism means that they are not able to balance and enrich one another. More importantly, they are prevented from moderating one another. We have seen our own version of the ‘Delta Effect’ of church history noted by Richard Lovelace.[2] As the main channel of church history proceeds forward, streams break away over some issue, leaving behind much with them. These in turn have later tributaries and when other breaks occur, the face of the church resembles not a mighty strong river of God but a shallow, weak, dispersed delta of eccentric creeks.
The Delta effect happens within the main traditions too, which become fragmented through splits and divergent influences. Thus Anglo-Catholicism has split into traditionalists and liberal catholics: so too has the evangelical tradition branched into conservatives, liberal evangelicals and charismatic evangelicals. Those in the branches of the church delta can find themselves far away in practice and thought from others.
5.       Sometimes minority traditions have been ejected by the dominant group. The removal of 2000 Church of England Puritans by tests of conscience in 1662 stands out. They were not able to train their clergy in their own tradition for several centuries. Most of the time, marginalization is carried out by appointment policy and cultural segregation. We have a new set of tests to apply to the consciences of clergy applicants to ensure we preserve our purity. The schisms of church history have usually weakened the church.
6.       This fragmentation brings weakness within Anglicanism. The particular gifts and moderating influence of the traditions enrich the whole. What happens to the Anglican Church in any Diocese when evangelicalism is expelled or marginalised? You end with a church that loses the gift of evangelism and the strong Biblical base that is necessary for renewal. Tom Frame considers what would happen if the evangelical tradition were to be removed from the Anglican Church of Australia: “Without the Evangelical witness, the Anglican Church would lose its distinctive character and eventually resemble the liberal Protestant churches whose demise is only a matter of time.”[3]
7.       As the tribal traditions within Anglicanism separate, they become self-referencing and develop like Galapagos island animals. Isolated from a living interdependence with other traditions, the tribes become more extreme and eccentric versions of themselves. My problem with the labels is that they focus our minds on the boundaries and definitional limits. “Catholic” is in opposition to “Evangelical”; “Charismatic” is in opposition to “Evangelical”. The evangelical tradition in which I was nurtured ruled out some of the Biblical gifts of the Spirit, teaching that they had ceased. I was warned off any contaminating contact with charismatics and there was explicit teaching against this tradition. Each party has its circumcision issue or boundary markers. These function to exclude others and protect the group. The history of the Anglican Church of Australia in the past 30 years is the sad story of fragmentation.
8.       The tribal use of the terms “liberal”, “evangelical”, “catholic” is apparent on closer consideration. Evangelicals are also catholics in the historic sense. Catholic Anglicans should hold to the gospel and the apostolic faith. The usage is defined by the edges, not the centre. If we say that a Diocese is a catholic Diocese, members of the evangelical tradition will hear the clear message that they are a minority. One ordination candidate of evangelical tradition was asked by a fellow ordinand what he was doing in this Diocese, since it is a liberal catholic one.
9.       The four streams of Anglicanism can be viewed as each giving slightly different emphasis to the four sources of authority in God: the Institution, the Book, the Inner Light/Spirit and human Reason.  But most members of these traditions would hold to the value of all four bases of belief. For example, Anglican Evangelicalism has a distinguished valued emphasis on scholarship, and Reason. It is at the unbalanced extremes of each tradition that you get the stereotypical difficulties of integration: the crazy charismatic,[4] the ultra-liberal who has lost hold of Biblical faith; the fundamentalist with narrow Biblicism. Richard Hooker’s famous threefold sources of authority are usually found in the main Anglican traditions, even if the balance is struck in different degrees.
10.   I believe that a way forward is to focus on the centre, not the periphery. I call it “Centred Anglicanism”. The centre will be the core of classical Christianity as held by most Anglicans. Thus, the work of Christ for our salvation would be non-negotiable, even if the nature of the atonement is understood differently. In Centred Anglicanism there will be an atoning work of Christ.
11.   Centred Anglicanism has a good claim to embody the Anglican essence.  The Anglican Church has its roots in the classic Christianity of the Scriptures and the Creeds, which is the basis for church growth seen around the world. We have a rich tradition of worship in the sacramental and sensory mode. From our Reformation heritage we have the evangelical strength of Biblical teaching and gospel proclamation. Out of the Wesley Anglican revival came the roots of modern rediscovery of the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in the renewal tradition. Charismatic renewal has been active in world-wide Anglicanism for decades. Centred Anglicanism will keep the sacramental worship alive by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It will value reason and Biblical teaching, worship as well as evangelism.
12.   The NCD Trinitarian compass has similarities to this vision of Centred Anglicanism. The NCD concept explains the different emphases in the Christian Church as representing an aspect of God’s being and purposes as experienced by us.
·         The Green dimension represents the rational, reflective aspect of life as seen in God’s Creation. Churches and individuals can focus on society, the world, on science, knowledge, art and politics. Here we are encountering God as Creator.
·         The Red dimension places revelation and redemption in the focus. The truth of God, commitment to God and the proclamation of the Word of God are emphasised. Here we encounter God as the Redeemer, Jesus.
·         The Blue dimension emphasizes the dynamic presence of God the Holy Spirit in transformation and power. Here we are experiencing God the Holy Spirit.
13.   The problem for Anglicans is that we have so lost the centre and the genetic diversity of Centred Anglicanism through selected breeding and segregation, that we no longer understand what it could look like in practice. It is not enough to say that we value and learn from the other traditions. In Centred Anglicanism we will find ways to integrate the strengths in a deeper, natural way. A Centred Anglican Diocese will not be like a mosaic where most of the tiles have a dominant colour, with a few different colours found here and there, for effect and the appearance of diversity. Rather it will be like a hologram, a moving picture with depth,  created by the blending and interaction of different colours.

[1] Tom Frame, A House Divided? p. 30
[2] Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, (IVP, 1979), 322.
[3] Tom Frame, above, p.96.
[4] See Julia Dunn, Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community. (2010)