Skip to comments."Doublethink" and the Church
Posted on 02/13/2006 5:41:28 PM PST by sionnsar
I have tried for a long time to understand how it is possible that our leaders talk so freely about "inclusion" but never include us. They talk feelingly concerning "pluralism" and "embrace" but there is no embrace for us.
Thus recently, someone at a conference was regaling his listeners about a recent episcopal consecration in the Pacific Northwest, and saying how wonderful it was to see every ethnicity and every gender possibility and every "identity" represented so extravagantly at the service. I raised my hand and asked, "How many theological traditionalists were present?" The speaker paused, and then said - before he had time to suppress it - "Well, uh... none."
This problem, of sloganeering in the name of an ideological push while at the same time contradicting it hugely in practice (as well as in concept) is the problem that George Orwell tagged in 1949 when he wrote his memorable book 1984. Let me quote Erich Fromm concerning Orwell's description of what is probably happening right under our noses today.
"In describing the kind of thinking which is dominant in 1984, Orwell has coined a word which has already become part of the modern vocabulary: 'doublethink.' 'Doublethink' means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them." ('Afterword' to the 1961 New American Library edition, p. 264)
George Orwell understood that the enslaving powers represented by Big Brother have learned to control the thought-reality of the people by means of doublethink. Thus the slogans on every London wall in the book say "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength." In other words, 2 and 2 equals 5.
"Doublethink" is a concept I have heard over and over again in recent years within the church. Not so long ago one of the speakers at a conference we hosted at Cathedral Church of the Advent described the key "Anglican" insight, our great contributing particularity, as the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in tension at the same time in one institution. This is the key to our thriving, went the argument. This is our unique "Anglican" gift to the world - that in the tension of opposites lies the truth. Thus the ideal parish would be one, for example, in which a pro-life activist and a pro-choice activist could be total partners simultaneously and fully in all functions of the church.
This is doublethink. It ignores what logicians call the "law of contradiction." It says that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time in the same place. Truth comes out of cancellation, in other words.
Orwell expressed it powerfully: you can control things by negating conceptually the significance of truth. Here is Fromm again: "... the concept of truth and reality which exists in 1984 is an extreme form of pragmatism in which truth becomes subordinated to the Party... Orwell shows quite clearly that in a system in which the concept of truth as an objective judgment concerning reality is abolished, anyone who is a minority of one must be convinced that he is insane." (p. 263)
Something like doublethink is probably what we are dealing with today in the church. It characterizes the belief that Christian truth is to be subordinated to Christian unity. How else could you explain the overwhelming calls for "inclusion" that go only one way? How could you explain the hypocrisy of these pleadings if it were not for a conceptual framework that absolutizes something like doublethink?
It is a problem to which I have tried to give my whole self, and heart, in recent years, and especially since the Summer of 2003. I thought I had maybe licked it in going to these people and asking them to "try a little tenderness" (O. Redding). And it shocked me - shocked me to the core, and stilled me - that we seemed to find no takers.
Very few of the "inclusion" spokesmen and spokeswomen weighed in on our behalf; and now, today, almost not one. Then recently, I encountered, personally, that triumphalism regarding the "rainbow" consecration. But it wasn't "rainbow "! I believe in "rainbow." All Christians, in principle, believe in "rainbow." But it's not rainbow. Those are just words.
Then last week, the Orwell book beckoned me from the shelf. There it was: the power of "doublethink" to exercise power, the power of "facing both ways". Yet truth is truth - that is not a neo-con idea - and there is a force to truth (Thomas Scott) that we cannot finally constrain or fence.
Here is a final quote from the master. Orwell is describing the government building called the Ministry of Love: "The Ministry of Love was the really frightening one. There were no windows in it at all. Winston had never been inside the Ministry of Love, nor within half a kilometer of it.
It was a place impossible to enter except on official business, and then only by penetrating through a maze of barbed-wire entanglements, steel doors, and hidden machine-gun nests. Even the streets leading up to its outer barriers were roamed by gorilla-faced guards in black uniforms, armed with jointed truncheons."
--The Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl is Dean and President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in AMbridge, Pennsylvania.
I keep wondering if C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" might not be some ways the better model. (I think this is near the Orthodox model...)
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