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The Anglican Showdown

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The 38 primates of the Anglican Communion have gathered in Tanzania to tackle the rift between traditionalists and progressives that is shaking the religion at its very foundations. Almost certainly, it will end in rupture; there is no middle-ground — a point the African primates have emphasized by refusing to even attend if the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori is present.

As Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who leads the US traditionalist group, told The Christian Science Monitor: "There really is a very significant battle for the soul as to whether Christianity stands where it has always stood or goes in a different direction," he says. "We are on the side that is always dominant in history though we may be a minority in Western churches."

The Anglican dispute arises from the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, followed 2-years later by the selection of Katharine Schori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church; both are forbidden by the traditional understanding of Biblical teachings.  Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary notes that the issue is, in fact, something different: "The meeting is a last-ditch effort to avoid a total meltdown in the communion over the issue of homosexuality. Of course, the deeper issue is biblical authority — and many of the bishops attending the meeting are only too aware of this fact."

Precisely so, and a point I've made many times over the past few years. Traditionalists say the the Bible is perfect in every particular, and a rejection of any of its teachings is error; progressives point toward conspicuous errors in Biblical cosmology — that the sun revolves around the earth, for instance — and argue that some Biblical teachings reflect time-bound ignorance and must be interpreted anew.

Complicating matters is the humdrum political reality that Christianity is growing only in the hungry, uneducated Global South.

 

Christianity is no longer a Western religion; it is an African and Asian religion. Its political power, and Christianity's future, rest with the traditionally-minded, conservative African bishops. Fifteen million of the world's 77 million Anglicans are in Nigeria alone.

They will never compromise with the liberal Western churchmen; indeed, they couldn't if they wanted to, because African culture reviles both homosexuality and female authority, and they would face an insurrection in their own pews if they did.

The Anglican Communion is in schism, in all but name, and this meeting will not change that. The Nigerians won't back down. Nor will Western progressives who, in addition to their different view of Biblical interpretation, won't much like the prospect of accepting direction from superstitious blacks they once regarded as savages and to whom they once sent missionaries.

Religions, churches, clubs … they all come and go. The fate of the Anglican Communion per se doesn't interest me. The dispute is interesting because it encapsulates the greater dispute throughout the world. Science has created a world in which the Old Religions are uncomfortable, and they are in rebellion everywhere. The "showdown" is, at the last, between Faith and Reason.

Generally, Reason wins such disputes because it gives people things they like: cheap goods, better health and longer lives – and meat without the aggravation of getting close and killing the animal with a spear. The one time that Reason lost, or was at least forced underground, is known to us today as the Dark Ages.

On the night of July 10, 1954, a supernova erupted in the constellation Taurus. It was noted by astronomers in China, in Arabia, in Alaska, in Arizona and in the South Pacific. But there is no record of it in Europe. As James Michener noted in his novel Space: "From Italy to Moscow, from the Urals to Ireland, nobody saw it. At least, they made no mention of it. They lived through one of the Earth’s most magnificent spectacles and nobody bothered even to note the fact in any parchment, or speculate upon it in any manuscript. We know the event took place, for with a telescope tonight we can see the remnants of the supernova hiding in Taurus, but we have searched every library in the western world without finding a single shred of evidence that the learned people of Europe even bothered to notice what was happening about them."

The supernova was seen and noted throughout the world, except for that part of the world ruled from Rome by the Catholic Church. To see or not to see: that's the choice.

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About Bob Felton

  • Aku

    “On the night of July 10, 1954.”

    “The supernova was seen and noted throughout the world, except for that part of the world ruled from Rome by the Catholic Church.”

    Heh, is your date wrong? That whole paragraph does no jive if it really was 1954. I’ll assume you are talking about 954 instead.

    With that said, I find your analysis simplistic:

    1. “Faith” and “Reason” are not diametric opposites, but forces that are really independent of each other. It is possible to have reasonable people of faith, and people who are faithless who are absolutely unreasonable.

    2. The Dark Ages were not “Dark” because of religion, but rather there were such because of incessant war, wave after wave of Viking Invasions and raids, and the general loss of knowledge from the Greco-Roman period that followed from the fall of Rome and the before mentioned chaos.

    In fact, the fraction of Greco-Roman knowledge that was preserved in Europe was most often located in Monasteries, homes of the supposed enemies of “reason” whatever you mean by that.

    3. Which leads us to what I think is the most likely reason a record of the nova was not found in Europe, problems in textual transmission.

    I can not speak for the American references, but I know the Middle East and China at that time were more or less stable politically, peaceful, when compared to Europe, and China, at least had a government bureau dedicated to astronomy.

    In China, changes in the heavens were given as signs of Heaven favor or displeasure (oops there is faith again), and the reconfirming or withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven. These records were important to later astronomers and thus were recopied and passed down to guide future investigations of the heavens. Extraordinary observations, like the nova, were also kept in Official Imperial Chronicles, again, passed down through different dynasties. The early invention of printing in China probably further proliferated this knowledge so there were enough copies of it to avoid any kind of destruction.

    Europe, on the other hand, torn constantly by war had a much higher chance of destroying manuscripts and knowledge. Also, there was no particular method or reason behind most transmissions of non-religious texts. If, for example, a monk in charge of recopying old texts was more interested in agriculture, rather than astronomy, he would most likely ignore notes on astronomy. The centralized bureaucracies of China, and to a lesser extent, the middle east, made recopying of texts more standardized.

  • http://www.civilcommotion.com Bob Felton

    Whoops; that was 1054.

    You are advancing the NOMa argument, that faith and reason are non-overlapping magisteriums, or provinces of knowledge. They are not; they are concerned with the same provinces continuously, e.g., Origins. Faith claims as its basis for knowledge “I read it in an old, honored book.” Reason claims to apprehend reality by recourse to testable, reproducible fact.

    You can’t possibly mean seriously to say that “The Irish Saved Civilization” but there is no record of the great supernova — not even recorded and preserved by those Irish monks — because of war. Why is there no Irish record, then, when they managed to hide and save the ancient texts?

    There is no record because none was made.

  • Aku

    Bob,

    You theory would hold up if all reasonable people were non-Religious, and all religious people were completely unreasonable. Depart from theory and enter into reality. People possess seemingly contradictory notions all the time (fact), which implies that these do, in practice move in different spheres of knowledge.

    In fact if you test your statement against your definition of reasonable:

    “Reason claims to apprehend reality by recourse to testable, reproducible fact.”

    Test the definitions you made, and they conform in no sense to reality.

    “You can’t possibly mean seriously to say that “The Irish Saved Civilization” but there is no record of the great supernova — not even recorded and preserved by those Irish monks — because of war. Why is there no Irish record, then, when they managed to hide and save the ancient texts?”

    Try showing me where I am historically wrong, instead of using barbs to try to string together a case. I’ll quote myself since you obviously did not read me (I don’t blame you my post was a bit long).

    “Also, there was no particular method or reason behind most transmissions of non-religious texts. If, for example, a monk in charge of recopying old texts was more interested in agriculture, rather than astronomy, he would most likely ignore notes on astronomy. The centralized bureaucracies of China, and to a lesser extent, the middle east, made recopying of texts more standardized.”

    If, what you said was true and religion and mystical belief caused the retardation of science in the West. Why did it have the exact opposite effect in China? After all the skies were observed to measure Heaven’s favor or lack thereof, not for any kind of scientific reason.

    “There is no record because none was made.”

    My point is not that a record did exist, but there are many explanations for why it does not now. Saying it is one and not the other without evidence, based on your own ideas of theories of religion and society, is dishonest.

    I do not know if such a record ever existed and neither do you. At least you could be honest about it.

  • Baronius

    Aku – nice going. I’ve found that most moderns can’t understand the singularity of truth. As Aquinas and a lot of other people said, if there is one truth, then every means of understanding the truth will point to the same place. This is the historical foundation of reason. It’s what inspired the great thinkers. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures pursued truth through reason, revelation, and observation. Bob says in his article that he’s made a certain point repeatedly over the years; I wish he’d consider this point that I’ve made repeatedly.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Here’s a truth or two the faithists struggle to accept:-

    1. There is zero eveidence to support the conjecture that gods exist.

    2. The bible was written by people and it is a work of fiction.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Look kids,

    Take some advice from an “elder brother in faith.” After all, the Torah, Writings and Prophetic books (Tana”kh) you all claim to believe in about US and OUR relationship with G-d and the Land of Israel.

    First of all, there is no way to prove the existence of G-d. None at all. You can twist reason into a pretzel and stand like an onion, with your head in the ground and your feet freezing in the night. It won’t work.

    The reason is that in order to prove that G-d exists, you need to construct an experiment that can be repeated. If G-d exists, He has to agree to be part of the experiment. If G-d agrees to be part of the experiment, you no longer need the experiment, because you are aware of G-d, and you have proved Him. The appropriate analogy is like a cell on a fingernail trying to prove the existence of the entire arm.

    Therefore, you cannot “prove” the Divine authorship of the Torah (I leave you Christians to wallow about arguing over who wrote and mistranslated which books of the NT, and I’ll take on faith (bitaHón) that YeHezkél wrote the book of Ezekiel, for example).

    Having said all this, one can construct a working hypothesis that allows for the existence of G-d using quantum physics and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Also using quantum physics as applied to cosmology, and the earth’s geological record of fossils, you can develop a coherent working hypothesis as to why the Torah describes the Creation in Six Days, even though it is clear from the scientific evidence that the universe is about 15 billion years old, and that life appeared immediately in the oldest rock samples and evolved.

    In addition from the archaeological evidence proving the events in the Torah, one can infer the Divine authorship of it.

    In the final analysis, that is as far as science can go. The final “proof” is not scientific – it comes from “bitaHón” which is the Hebrew for belief in something without proof, and without it having occurred in the past.

    Dante’s Commedia Divina gives the perfect example of this concept. Reason can examine Hell, but it takes Faith to understand Heaven.

    Oh yeah – the Irish did not save civilization. They brew good whiskey, though.

    Carry on, guys. It’s fun watching you argue…

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Ruvy: in the world of delirious religious psychobabble, this meaningless phrase from you is a classic!

    The reason is that in order to prove that G-d exists, you need to construct an experiment that can be repeated. If G-d exists, He has to agree to be part of the experiment. If G-d agrees to be part of the experiment, you no longer need the experiment, because you are aware of G-d, and you have proved Him. The appropriate analogy is like a cell on a fingernail trying to prove the existence of the entire arm.

    I especially enjoy the part where you reckon that this invisible superbeing has to agree to be part of the experiment. That one phrase alone shows you to be so far down the road of delusion as to have lost the reason to think straight. Sadly that makes both the spiritual and the mundane worlds beyond your understanding.

    You can construct alll the working hypotheses you want, but if you can’t think straight it doesn’t mean anything.

    For example, just because there may be some archaeological evidence that conforms with events described in the Torah doesn’t prove anything about its claimed non-human authorship. How you leap from there to inferring divine authorship – or what that means – is beyond me.

    Everything else you say is a weird conflation of stubborn dogma and the weird inability to confront the supernatural doublespeak you deploy and defeats any attempt at rational engagement.

    Before you leap off the spiritual deep end, let me remind you that I’m in favour of the idea of the existence of god(s) and, any time they care to manifest in our known universe, I’ll be one of the people in the front row. Given the evidence however, I’ll have to file that concept away in the drawer marked “If Only”.

    A saner spirituality may recognise that we are all this universe’s creations, that we have far more in common than divides us and that there are more pressing needs, secular and spiritual, to attend to than your egocentric obsessions. Maybe.

    Yours in sorrow not in anger…

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I haven’t leapt off any deep ends, Chris. But, obviously, you have.

    I’ve merely pointed out why it is impossible to “prove” the existence of G-d. I haven’t claimed anything beyond the possibility of constructing a working hypothesis that allows for the possibility of G-d, something that others HAVE done, and I’ve stated that this is as far as science can go. Having done so, I’ve stopped there.

    Do you have a problem with someone who recognizes the limits of what science can do, and who asserts that you cannot go further without faith? Must we all adhere to your empty view of the universe? Is this your version of freedom of conscience? If so, you have the makings of a very nasty tyrant in you, Chris. I’m grateful that you do not seem interested in politics or power.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    No, Ruvy, you made one of the classic circular arguments beloved of faithists in general. The only reason it is impossible to prove the existence of something is when it doesn’t exist in the first place.

    And you have gone much further than construct a “working hypothesis”, you simply make stuff up – or unthinkingly repeat the words of others.

    I have no problem at all in recognizing the limits of what science can explain but, yes, I do have a big problem with your assertion that you cannot go further without faith. Faith after all requires the acceptance of the very facts in dispute. That’s a total cop out and an affront to human intellectual dignity.

    You then make the entirely false presumption that my view of the universe is empty. That’s doubly false because you already know that is not my view from previous exchanges we’ve had.

    Then you turn to making the argument about freedom of conscience. Again, I have in no way attempted to prevent you believing anything. However, that doesn’t mean I have to accept your empty assertions just because you make them. There’s nothing tyrannical about that at all.

    Indeed, the fact that you have to turn to such naked intellectual dishonesty bears ample witness to the paucity of your argument. Nasty tactics indeed but repelled by truth and honesty.

  • Baronius

    Chris and Bob, if you ever get the chance, read “Six Great Ideas” by Mortimer Adler. Idea #1 is Truth. I think it’ll clear up some misconceptions you have, or at least get you started.

  • STM

    I am already living in a country where the split exists. It is already tangible. There are now two types of Anglicans in this country: those who favour the conservative evangelical approach to Christianity and those who want to keep the anglo-Catholic liturgical style of worship (and even there there are two disparate groups). The latter supports the ordination or women and many progressive notions of worship, but is paradoxically highly conservative in its way of worship.

    From outside Australia, add to the mix the progressives in the Anglican communion, particularly among the Episcopalians in the US, and the split is complete.

    There are now former Anglican priests around the world who have joined the Catholic faith – the only married Catholic priests.

    The Anglican communion no longer really exists as a single entity … the problem being that the hierarchy – seen as progressive centuries ago when it decided to be democratic by leaving its running to the bishops rather than a single, unifying head of the Church (a role only nominally fulfilled by the Archbishop of Canterbury) – can’t agree on anything without splintering into little interest groups.

    But what can you expect from a Church that split from Rome because a king wanted to keep marrying new wives, and chopping off the heads of those he’d finished with?

    Sir Thomas More saw the truth of it all along

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Baronius: rather than referring us to some book, save us time and tell us what you’re trying to hint at.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    STM: Isn’t it odd to see these faithists arguing amongst themselves like this? What greater proof could we ask for that religion is a human construct based around the false premise that gods actually exist..?

  • STM

    ‘Tis odd indeed … especially as Christianity as a faith is based around some simple precepts: the practise of forgiveness, compassion for your fellow human beings, and the exercise of mercy and unconditional love.

    Hard for all us human beings to do, and unfortunately it’s been corrupted (a bit) along the way …

    And how that all fitted in with dirty Henry’s libido is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he was taking the unconditional love bit a tad too far.

  • Baronius

    Chris, maybe you’re the greatest, most open-minded guy in the world. I’ve just never had a fruitful conversation with someone who made the comments you do. I’m always surprised at how many concessions, or wavers, can take place in a religious debate, but it never seems to happen when someone sees faith and reason as opposed. So I’m doing something against my nature: I’m suggesting a book that might change your understanding of faith and reason, and walking away.

    I just hope it’s the right book! Adler has written a lot on the subject. I’ve heard that Stanley Jaki covers it well, too. And most of my thinking on every subject has been influenced by G.K. Chesterton; I think he explores the topic in “Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox”.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Baronius: Funnily enough, I’ve never had a fruitful conversation with someone whose mind is blinded by dogma. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s discussing politics with, say, Dave Nalle, or discussing religion with you or Ruvy. The lot of you already know what you think. By way of contrast, I know how to think and love to find the truth of a matter, regardless of what that truth may be.