Following the Anglican Right's Ontology of Persons
In earlier posts I worried that ECUSA's right unwittingly imported premises of liberal individualism into its theology with various potentially bad consequences: e.g. "disenchanting" Scripture in league with secular rationality, misunderstanding the requirements for justice and the role of the Church in our meeting them. Indeed, we might see their impressively united effort to subvert episcopal authority in Connecticut as another manifestation of liberal individualism. With the pictures on the left, I allude to an older tradition, to Scotus, Aristotle, and others who recognized human persons from within a framework other than that of liberal individualism. That tradition is secure within ECUSA, despite its infatuation with Tillich, Bultmann, et al.
I. On the Right
But follow out the hypothesis (that ECUSA's right is committed to liberal individualism) a bit further. Step back and try to picture how ECUSA's right sees ECUSA's actions over the last 40 years or so. On the one hand ECUSA succeeded in desegregating itself, addressing finally a major injustice in its own history and the history of the nation--good. But then it went on, paying reparations, ordaining women, cooking up a new prayer-book, failing to sufficiently discipline bishops who flaunted the creeds, ordaining an openly gay bishop, exploring rites for blessing gay unions, etc. One step forward, and three or more steps back, yielding a clear overall trend: ECUSA is losing ground, gradually falling into the corrupt mores of the broadly secular world culture it is supposed to be resisting in the name of reconciling the world to God. That is just the sort of thing Barth warned of years ago, and we can find similar, louder clarion calls across ECUSA's right: Southern Anglican's magic crystal ball shows ECUSA sliding still further, Pontifications calls on Episcopalians to flee the insanity, Alister McGrath compares Anglican liberalism to quiescent German society enabling the Nazis in the '30s, and so on. From their point of view, too many of ECUSA's acts break its own canonical formularies; we are busy dismantling our own faith. In particular, ECUSA repeatedly subverts its own dogma in the creeds, the BCP, and the canons. Extreme measures are needed if anything tolerable is to be preserved, even if the result is schism, breaking off from ECUSA: at least some ecclesial unity with another more traditional part of the Anglican Communion might follow.
II. ECUSA's Leadership
To ECUSA's leadership, the willingness of the right to entertain schism over what the right sees as subversion of dogma is likely puzzling: the right mistakes the externals of faith for the substance of faith. That is, in the name of guarding the integrity of the faith, ECUSA's right is willing to endanger the substance of faith. The substance of faith for ECUSA's leadership, so far as I can tell, consists largely in a personal relationship with the living God mediated through the Church. The canonical formularies that the right values so highly, namely the canons, the BCP, and the creeds, are a dogmatic articulation of the relationship of faith. That dogmatic articulation is secondary or derivative, external to the substance of faith. To ECUSA's leadership, parties can disagree over just how dogma should go while retaining a shared faith: change in or differences over dogma need not imply distinct faiths. Thus, the right's willingness to entertain schism seems needless--our differences over the constitution of dogma are consistent with our remaining Episcopalian.
III. The Ontology Bit
What really worries the right? I suppose they worry (for the most part) that if intellectual assent to traditional dogmatic formulations is lost, we are left to rely on fuzzy, transient feelings. ECUSA, worries Turner, has replaced the traditional gospel with a gospel of inclusive love--this "love" being not the genuine Christian article, but something like a sloppy affection that cannot tolerate distinctions and exclusion. Thus, they might say, the stage is set in ECUSA for an unchristian moral permissiveness--indeed, for the active promulgation of sin. Behind this worry is a picture of the human person as constituted by intellect and feeling; if we cannot rely on one pole, we are left to rely on the other. That picture has the feel of dualism, of mind/body dualism, as one might find in Descartes, but which survives in other transformed iterations after him, even among his critics like Locke and Kant. That is, it is a picture at home in the modern world, dating from the 17th century.
ECUSA's leadership places great store on a relationship with God--but not a relationship like that you might find in evangelical or pentecostal denominations or congregations. In the latter, the emphasis is on emotion, on feeling, on an inward connection you can feel--and verify--viscerally. The evangelical/pentecostal wing of Christianity, so far as I can tell, buys into the picture of the human person shared by ECUSA's right: a human person is constituted by intellect and feeling.
That intellect/feeling picture reminds me of thinking from the seventeenth century and after, according to which Christianity was to be defended and articulated by appeal primarily to one or the other pole: reason or feeling. Buy into this--and you will encounter other pairs: rationalism/pietism, natural theology/fideism, Locke/Schleiermacher, Hegel/Kierkegaard, Enlightenment/Romanticism, etc--such pairs may end up structuring your thinking with myriad false dichotomies.
But according to the Episcopal Church's leadership, your relationship to God is mediated not via feeling so much as the liturgical action of your Christian community. The repetitive action is essential, not mystical feeling. Sure, feeling won't hurt, but the liturgy is what matters more, and it does not require you to persoanlly feel God--and ideally, liturgy will spread out over your daily life beyond Sunday to become a rule of life, indeed constituting a way of life. Liturgical practice aims at developing dispositions in its practitioners--what Aristotle, Aquinas, and Scotus would have called virtues, as these dispositions are meritorious. One becomes directed toward God through developing these dispositions--and they can only be developed by acting, doing the same type of thing over and over: like learning the guitar.
In a practiced Episcopalian, these dispositions become a second nature. They are not the fleeting stuff of feeling, nor are they intellectual abstractions--there is more to a human person than intellect and feeling (or mind and body). Both Plato and Aristotle recognized a part of us "between" mind and body (I was tempted to say "a via media"): the spirited part of the soul, or the irrational part that answers to reason, respectively, and it is that third part to which liturgy can appeal. Courage and humility (in H&W), or faith, hope and charity are neither merely emotional nor intellectual; we can become disposed to those virtues through litirgical praxis.
As dogmatic forms change, even as it may happen for the worse, the relationship of faith can survive because it need not be based on mere transient feeling. Rather, Christian community may be based on, and survive through, the virtuous dispositions of its members, dispositions inculcated through liturgy. Which is to say, we ought to be able to worship together despite our differences over dogma: we are the type of persons who habitually relate to the same God in hope, humility, et al. So you--yes you, make sure you go to Church.
I fear that for some on the Anglican right, such community seems unreal--lacking a picture of the human person that admits virtues and dispositions, once dogmatic forms change they can see only community based on feeling inevitably degenerating further. For all that, what seems true on the Anglican right need not actually be true. Side rather with a moral ontology admitting dispositions, and reject the dessicated picture of humanity on the Anglican right, a picture symptomatic of their entanglement with modern liberalism.