Skip to comments.Requiem for a Sentiment
Posted on 10/04/2005 6:12:24 PM PDT by sionnsar
A few weeks ago, I wrote an essay for this blog entitled Fugitives, which ended with this:
In the end, I fiind it impossible to maintain some sort of remote fascination with the collapse of ECUSA. Rather, when confronted with the awesome destructive power of an ideology run amuck, I grow silent, like students and tourists when confronted with the reality of death under Mount Vesuvius rather than bare descriptions on a page or one more program on the History Channel. Then I wonder. I have no wish to be the Pliny the Elder of ECUSA, much less caught in some sort of ecclesiastical garden of the fugitives. Where are the life boats now? And if we escape, abandoning those things that have grown dear to us over a lifetimechurches, friends, family memorials, et ceterashall we ever return?
The piece garnered more than the usual three or four comments and was even quoted over on Pontifications (thanks, Al). Several wondered when I would jump off the good (bad?) ship ECUSA.
Well, to date I have not jumped. That is, I am still a member of a parish in ECUSA, albeit a pretty conservative one (we still use the 1928 Prayer Book). There are several reasons for this, not all of which I am willing to put out into the public domain. I have in general tried to steer clear of the where should I go? genre of agonized musing because I must then either bare my soul in ways that I find uncomfortable or enter into a kind of polemic (Eight Reasons Why I Am Not a Roman Catholic, The Trouble with Eastern Orthodoxy, The Seven Deadly Sins of Methodism, et cetera) that pits me against friends whose choices I respect too much to quarrel over.
One reason I have stayed is that Anglicanism in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular, has been my home all of my life, and I am loathe to abandon it in the face of the present crisis, the spiritual Katrina that has hit with such fury my particular neighborhood in the City of God. I can identify with those who stayed in New Orleans out of choice rather than ignorance, at least up to a point. Some clever psychologist once invented a personality test based on who is your favorite Beatle (answer in my case: George). Similarly, Anglicans have long had a test for determining what sort of churchman you are: where would you go if you had to leave? Protestant? Catholic? Orthodox? Shortly before he died, the late Stephen Neill wrote an essay (that I cannot now lay my hands on) in which he pondered this question. However, what he found most interesting in the exercise was not his answer (Methodist) but his own very deep reluctance to even consider itand I understand completely.
I mention this particular sentiment because, while it is by no means the most (or even a very) important reason for remaining an Anglican, at least not for me, it has been I believe just about the only thing holding ECUSA together for awhile now (along with the pension fund) and it is worth a benediction before we bid it farewell.
Many of the apologies for Anglicanism I have seen, both recently and over the years, have waxed romantic over Anglican diversity. This has usually annoyed me, since (a) the term is question-begging (surely there are limits to anyones tolerance), and (b) I regard diversity as a virtue much like sincerity: on the one hand, it is better to be sincere than insincere, but on the other, Hitler was sincere. Yet it must be said that the particular kind of diversity one finds in Anglicanism, created as much or more by its peculiar history as out of any deliberate theological stance, has its charms, as does the willingness to accept it. This is probably closely bound up, at least in America, with WASP culture, and the decline of that culture is certainly implicated in some way in the decline of ECUSA. My Russian-American wife has observed on many occasions a tendency among her in-laws towards the reserve, the emotional irony, that she finds maddening but which is typical of Anglo-Saxon culture. We are the race who declared that religion and politics were unsuitable topics for dinner conversation. Anglicans, forced by circumstance to contain so many parties within their church, have not so much made a virtue out of historical necessity as they have used it as an opportunity to practice their horror of public passion and to celebrate their own good taste in avoiding it. It is common nowadays for those contemplating a departure from Anglicanism to mention John Henry Newman; but really, the characteristic Anglican reject is John Wesley, concerning whose enthusiasm Bishop Joseph Butler once declared that the pretending to extraordinary revelations and gifts of the Holy Ghost was a horrid thinga very horrid thing. Not for us the language of St Athanasius, who dubbed his opponents Ariomaniacs. We are averse to intense conviction in matters that have historically divided Christendom, preferring to label all such as adiaphora, things indifferent, and thus to regard the tolerance of the various streams within Anglicanism as a strength rather than a weakness. And at least at times I think it has been. Such an attitude can easily be little more than a kind of spiritual snobbery, but calm, politeness, irony, all these have their places. As well, it is worth remembering just how hard it is, even unhealthy, to maintain a white-hot passion about anything over any stretch of time. There is a lot to be said for the quieter religious emotions. However, it is hard to sustain a church whose prevailing sentiment is a self-congratulatory lack of certainty.
Its not that the mix of high and low, evangelical and anglo-catholic, resulted in any great theological creativity due to the much overworked idea of tension, although I suppose at times it may have. Rather, it made our church fun, even delightfully eccentric in a manner that seemed, if at times annoying, nevertheless often joyful in an odd kind of way. Where else would little old ladies come to church dressed in the colors of the liturgical season? Where else would children believe that Gladly the Cross Id Bear was a hymn about a saintly beast with poor eyesightyou know, Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear? The late Urban Holmes once wrote that every church had its own ethos
or flavor, and that Anglicanisms was dottiness. He believed that was, on the whole, a good thing, and I think I know what he meant. It is probably not an accident that English culture is known for having a higher than usual tolerance for eccentricity; after all, the same people that bequeathed to the world the Authorized Version and the Book of Common Prayer also gave us Gilbert and Sullivan, Monty Python, and Auberon Waugh. Taking oneself too seriously has long been an unspoken sin for Anglicans.
Unfortunately, the downside of eccentricity and not taking oneself too seriously is that you can too easily end up not taking seriously things that you really shouldlike God. As well, it leaves you prey to those who do take themselves seriously. In the case of the Current Unpleasantness (gay rights and its attendant issues and personalities), one of the most unAnglican aspects of this whole affair has been the degree to which the revisionists have been so deadly serious, cloaking their heated rhetoric in the language of human rights, et cetera. Perhaps its just me, but they seem so, well, joyless in their steely determination to alter the very moral fabric of Christianity. Part of our problem has been the unwillingness of the orthodox (for lack of a better word) to take their rhetoric at face value (Oh come now, surely theyre not serious) until it was too late.
As I said, this reserve, this insistence on politeness in the face of clashing certitudes, this conversion of convictions into humor and eccentricity, has its charms. It even has a good bit of value. But in the end, it is not much more than a sentiment, and when one mans conviction that homosexuality is morally neutral crashes on the rock of anothers grasp of biblical moral clarity, appeals to such a sentiment are worse than useless. Which is why these days so many bishops in ECUSA seem to rely on the dubious application of canon law. They have abandoned Scripture and the Prayer Book and now, to their horror, have discovered that the provinces of the Global South dont share the WASP mentality but are full instead of horrid Wesleyan enthusiasts with Athanasian accents. All thats left them is a sort of ecclesiastical force majeure that may compel obedience but cannot command respect.
So farewell, patient irony. Adieu, soft spoken humor, the gentle chuckle of the arched eyebrow over a glass of sherry. So long, the laugh over a beer at some liturgical faux-pas. Along with endowments, trusts, and the pension fund, you were the last bit of glue holding ECUSA together. Perhaps, when the lawsuits are settled and the schisms are finalized, you will reappear. I hope so. Until then, however, I will miss you. But these are days of passionate intensity where you have no place.
Opus for a sentiment.
The author may be unconscious of this, but he is actially declaring the futility of empty religion, and that it is no substitute to having an intimate relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. You can only become a Christian when you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour.
(Probably some Anglicans will shudder at this point and say "This is evangelical theology!". Sorry, but it is what the Word of God says)
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