Sunday, September 17, 2006

a non sequitur from IRNS

If you agree that the escalating tensions in the Anglican Communion have something more to to with ecclesiology and especially authority, the series taking shape over at rathernot might be of special interest--though it is too early to say where he will go. Regardless, reflections on his topic should be welcome in our communion, especially when he gets around (if he does) to discussing biblical authority and the place of Scripture in the church.

This little bit caught my eye:

Nevertheless, a recognition of authority—or rather, in the case of a revealed religion, an agreed upon theology of authority—is certainly essential before it can be exercised. So before anyone gets around to wielding authority, it would be a good idea to clear up just what we Anglicans have supposed it is and see if we need to make any adjustments.

The tone in context seems to carry a touch of levity, so I am unsure whether it is fitting to invest this bit with authority, as if it expresses considered reflection. But suppose it does; it seems wrong, and the error, if error it be, is rather interesting.

If your hopes rest on some kind of classical liberal epistemology of optimism (yes I am still amazed at the distinguishged company Hayek keeps of late), the project in the quote might well make good sense. Lacking "complete certainty" about God's thought on authority, we might still look forward to "the plain sense" of "a definitive self-disclosure of God’s intention" about authority expressed in Scripture etc etc. Well and good, say.

But do we need the theology before authority can be exercised? No, or we would not have had a church, and there would be nothing relevant going on which we could have reflected in producing our theology of authority. But if authority gets exercised for a while, a long while indeed as the case may be, without there being a theology of any significant sort behind it, in what sense do we really need such a theology? A very fast and loose sense of "need" I should think. Indeed, one might be forgiven for thinking the project otiose.

However, as the Anglican Communion begins to centralize and sharpen the tools and implements of its institutional structure in the name of some kind of vision of catholicity or "affectionate fellowship," it needs some set of principles, some developed theology of authority that we can agree to, or at least recognize as tacit or implicit in the tradition of Anglican practices of exercising authority. The alternative? An unprincipled pow-wow of the in-group, a nightmare vision of Schmitt's political theology in action--well, a nightmare for a few: at least those on the outside serving to constitute the "in" identity via enforced exclusion. Consider those unfortunate few homosexiuals or their advoctates in Nigeria and Uganda and wherever else the Anglican Communion does its rent-seeking. Sounds like a principal-agent problem to me.

OK, OK--let's call it. The theology appropriate to authority in the Anglican Communion is already out there, and not just in Schmitt and Girard, but in classical liberal public choice economics. The evolving power dynamic in the AC explicitly jettisons truth for unity--absurd indeed if you think these convertible, as I do. Indeed, in sundering them, we lose goodness and beauty as well, leaving elements of the power calculus in public choice theory appropriate concepts for analysis by analogical extension. They are trying to force something after all, implying the Anglican Communion seeking a unity beyond its truth is profoundly against nature. But that won't keep many people who should know better from getting their hands dirty with it all. True, some labor in making the analogical extensions explicit is called for, but that labor is rather different from what IRNS calls for: philology of all things. That kind of labor sounds like it will likely yield something merely ideological, a bit of false-consciousness.

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