Saturday, July 30, 2005

Reasserting the Argument for Gay Marriage

In May I posted a biblical argument for gay marriage here; it may be time to reassert it. It isn't really ECUSA's argument--ECUSA might disavow it, ironically, as its own reasoning at Nottingham (it seems to me) worked within the rather different parameters set out in Holmes and Westerhoff's "Christian Believing." And despite my conservative premises, the right won't take it in either, I fear. My argument is an orphan, and still young; nevertheless, don't hold back. I'm truly curious about what sort of criticism it can gather. Sometimes Blake is right: opposition is true friendship.

I. The Big Picture Sketched (still working this out)
The telos served in sex is the eschatological union of humanity and God, our ultimate satisfaction, of which sex is a merest foretaste. The union of sex is an, alas, defective imitation of our union with God in the world to come. Not that our union with God must be sexual--we can only see through the glass darkly on the point of what constitutes blessedness. But blessedness eminently contains the satisfactions we aim at in sex; God willing, we will not miss the sexual praxis we leave behind, and we will recognize in our life with God what we were after here below all along.

But that foretaste is immensely important in this state; in the service of Christ it is more a help to the Church's ministry of reconciliation than Paul appreciated; set against the service of Christ, it is just as damaging and withering as Paul said. As with the unity of the divine nature, the sexual unity of which human nature is capable is productive--most dramatically in the case of conception, where the transient sexual union of parents can produce, with God's help, another person. But that unity can be productive in other ways that serve Christ. In any sexual activity, fidelity to Christ or our relationship with God is the measure by which its moral qualilty is determined--that does not imply divine command theory so much as imply, for instance, that any sexual act turning us away from God is morally wrong.

[There's clearly alot of work to do here--my apologies. Feel free to critique what's here anyhow. I assume that (a) chastity is universally obligatory; if in addition (b) sex is permitted only within marriage, and (c) marriage may be only heterosexual, it seems to follow that all homosexual activity is forbidden. This type of argument is familiar on the right, and I confess to holding (a) and (b)--thus I must do something with (c).]

II. The Argument Itself
I'll first set out the steps, and then talk briefly about each one:
1. Christ was resurrected in the flesh, and will exist in the world to come.
2. In the world to come, members of the Church will be resurrected, male and female, in the flesh.
3. In the world to come, the members of the Church will bear a new real, reciprocal relation to Christ; call it R.
4. Here below, marriage should be modeled on R.
5. R obtains between males: for instance, Christ and each blessed male.
6. As R obtains between males, and marriage is to be modeled on R, marriage may obtain between males.

(1) and (2) need resurrected bodies to have a sex (the term "gender" is heavily contested), at least male or female. If you think therfe is no resurrection, or that we will be resurrected sexless with smooth spots, my reasoning won't work for you.

(3) is tricky--you may or may not think of the Church as a ghostly entity over and above its members. Regardless of where you stand on the Church as an entity per se, all I need is for its members each to bear R to Christ, and Christ to them. R is not just metaphorical; there is a concrete, real side to it as well.

(4) is from Paul in Ephesians: R is normative for marriage here below. We are to imitate now in our married lives the relation of Christ to the Church in the world to come. This is an instance of what I mentioned in (I) above about our relationship to Christ being the measure of sexual morality here below.

(5) is trivial.

(6) doesn't rest on drawing an analogy. Rather, given that R holds between males, nothing obstructs marriage holding between males: in the kind of union marriage imitates, its paradigm, our union with Christ in the world to come, male (Christ) is united to male (believer). Marriage here below that does not permit male to be joined to male falls short of what it should be in yet another way. That is, "falling short" is inevitable in imitation, but to willfully fall further short than necessary is perverse.

Note that (1) to (5) are all traditional and biblically based premises; you don't need to bring in much outside contemporary philosophy to get them from the text. Indeed, in other contexts, I believe many on the Anglican right would assent to each of (1) to (5) individually with a yawn and move on to something more controversial. But that is the strength of the argument--it provides a more productive ground on which to argue, since it is ground both sides can share.

Please note also, R is not marriage--I presume there is no marriage in heaven. R is not marriage, but that after which marriage is to be modeled.

Fire away, in a constructive way, of course.

Long Addendum: Under what conditions would I concede this argument is sunk? If there is some feature F of R that precludes homosexual marriage, but permits the union of a male to Christ in the world to come. Being a bit of a cognitive voluntarist, and having already commited myself to a side in the debate, I don't trust my intuitions about R--maybe there is such a feature F despite my convictions to the contrary.

Why wouldn't citing Genesis, Leviticus or Romans do the trick? I'm going to interpret those passages and others like them to be consistent with what I want to say about R; interpretation of such passages can be controlled by the ideas of texts prior in importance for the sake of the argument, e.g. Ephesians.

Well then, you might ask, whence F? Say something about the Christian meaning of marriage, tell a biblical story, such that while it does not beg the question (at least, not in any obvious way), it implies for some reason homosexual marriage is to be ruled out.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Deconstructing Bishop Iker

Whatever else you think of being an Episcopalian, it certainly isn't boring. Take a recent article over at The Living Church Foundation interviewing Fort Worth's Bishop Iker, who today (July 27) signed a letter promising--incredibly--a presentment against Bishop Smith for inhibiting Rev. Hansen.

In the interview, Bishop Iker laughs, seeming at ease, even off the cuff, unguarded--enough perhaps to tell us something reliable about how he pictures his role in relation to the Connecticut Six Affair. A couple bits caught my attention (I've added the italics):

[I] We are willing to pay the consequences. If [Bishop Smith] continues to turn up the heat, we are going to respond. It is sad to see those who claim to be liberal behaving like fascists when someone disagrees with them.

[II] Our appeal [a separate issue--he alludes to Fort Worth's appeal to the Panel of Reference] illustrates the hypocrisy of the Episcopal Church when they say that they honor all theological views. That simply isn’t true.

[III] I have brought our concerns to the Archbishop of Canterbury on more than one occasion previously. One of the problems in the Episcopal Church right now is that there is no independent court system. The same goes for the Anglican Communion. We have previously had no means to appeal beyond our Province.

Pretty heady stuff; what to make of it all? I'm interested in seeing what Iker really thinks of ECUSA. He connects the Episcopal Church with: (a) phony liberalism; (b) occasional fascism; (c) the hypocrisy of favoring some theological views when claiming no favoritism; and (d) a biased, unfair court system.

It seems to me Bishop Iker associates (a) with (c): genuine liberalism treats all theological views equally, showing no favoritism. The "middle term" here might be "tolerance"--genuine liberalism is tolerant of competing points of view. Why? Ultimately, it is up to individuals to follow their consciences when choosing religious beliefs; liberals are loathe to impose on conscience from outside in matters of faith. Faith, like the free-market, operates best when free of planned interference from above. Points (a) and (c) connect with (d)--the Episcopal Church, on the liberal model, owes its constituents an unbiased court, just as government in the free market system owes the players a fair referee.

Is Bishop Iker himself a genuine liberal? Does he see himself that way? Note how his rhetoric, consciously or not, sets him outside "the Episcopal Church" as other to it. According to Bishop Iker, the Episcopal Church had claimed to be liberal--this is a tacit assumption of his criticism. That doesn't mean Bp. Iker would class himaself as a liberal, pining for ECUSA to join him--indeed, it follows Bp. Iker saw himself as other than a genuine liberal. The tantalizing question--just how is Bp. Iker outside genuine liberalism? Where would he step away--treating all theological views equally, tolerance, permitting guidance by conscience, freedom from planned interference from above, providing an unbiased court, or some combination of these? Inquiring minds want to know.

ECUSA's claim of liberalism--for Bp. Iker--turned out to be phony: ECUSA's "liberalism" isn't genuine.

ECUSA and Bp. Iker are thus, as it turns out, both other to or outside of genuine liberalism. Where does that place ECUSA? According to (b)--in the camp of fascism. The problem with ECUSA isn't so much the phoniness of its claim, but the intolerance, the imposition on conscience, the planned interference from above, etc. These constitute fascism in Bp. Iker's conceptual framework.

But now recall that ECUSA and Bp. Iker are both, according to Bp. Iker's own formulations, outside genuine liberalism. If that merits ECUSA the name "fascist" what name does it merit Bp. Iker?

It hurts operating within Bp. Iker's cramped conceptual framework, no? But it alarmed me to see where deconstructing Bp. Iker--using his own frame--leads. So far as I can tell, Bp. Iker doesn't think of himself as a, well, you know what--that might be a very well kept secret, provided we have indeed touched on a conceptual frame in which he is at home. After all, the framework used might be incoherent or inconvenient without the user consciously recognizing it--I think that's what we have here. But so what: meaning is not just "in the head." The framework may be incoherent without his realizing it; his passionate embrace of that framework in its incoherence is yet another instance of Postmodernism, a phenomenon on the Anglican right I've mentioned before. Bp. Iker, and perhaps that segment of the Anglican right that shares his framework, is caught in a degenerating dialectic.

I'm not suggesting Bp. Iker's conceptual framework is "a destiny": liberalism or fascism (fascism under one of various descriptions) is a false dichotomy. For the Episcopal Church to occupy either spot would mean something like the gates of Hell have prevailed against it. Indeed, I don't think ECUSA has ever been genuinely liberal in Bp.Iker's sense: but that does not mean it is fascist. ECUSA occupies an alternative he has neglected, an alternative not about to collapse (God willing) into either disjunct haunting Bp. Iker.

Monday, July 25, 2005

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.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Radiating Disaster Triumphant (e.g. Rom. 1:26-7)

The headline above is an allusion to one of my favorite books, Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment. They identify a kind of rationality actively "disenchanting" the world so that, the hope goes, humans may develop the ability to predict and control their environment, both natural and social. Disenchantment proceeds in part by ruling that only natural facts, accessible to the senses, occur--e.g. what cannot be observed, say miracles and spirits, is to be ruled out and discounted from our understanding of the world. But the Enlightenment project, they claim, inevitably, and catastrophically, backfires: the fully disenchanted world "radiates disaster triumphant."

Right-wing ways of reading the Bible are ironic in this light. On the one hand, many winger-ECUSAns seem intent on reading the Bible so as to preserve the sovereignty of God and God's place in claiming our obedience. They take the resurrection of Christ, his divinity, the dogma of the Trinity and other elements of dogma out of Chalcedon to be genuine truths. Good and laudable: I applaud. But on the other hand, they read the Bible as if it yields up plain facts of meaning: such and such a text plainly read means X, and any attempt to read it as meaning something else, say Y, is twisting the text and perverse. Not good--there are no plain facts of meaning in the Bible. It is not a collection of propositions from which dogma may be constructed. The winger hermeneutic kills the Bible as canon.

Insisting on plain facts of meaning, winger-ECUSAns carry the Enlightenment project of Disenchantment to the Bible. What was a text for Christian liturgy, a text of Christian myth and ritual, gets wrenched out of that context to serve a different function. In our heated contests, impatience and partisan zeal lead too many to read the Bible as containing strings of propositional dogma rather than myth. The text is read so as to be demythologized; its symbolic, liturgical function in the Christian community begins to fade.

Take ECUSA's recent debate over homosexuality and the text of Romans 1:26-27 [26] For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, [27] and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
This bit of Scripture gets cited (e.g. in True Union in the Body available over at ACI) as self-evidently implying all homosexuality whatever, and by implication gay marriage, is forbidden: isn't it clear on its face?
To feel the pull of that temptation, so powerful, continuous and relentless it might even feel like a gravitational field pulling you in, is to feel the pull of Disenchantment--you treat the text as a repository of propositional dogma. But the text alone, such as it is, is not doing that to you; you feel the semantic gravity from already being embedded in and reading from the point of view of a particular ways of life--and not an innocent way of life either, but a way of life, if I may wax theological, subject to and complicit with a destructive Power.

Step back for a moment and recall that at Romans 1:26-27 Paul is in the middle of setting out a mythical history: he isn't doing scholarly historical criticism or interpretation. And the mythical history he writes is for a church audience--it's neither neutral nor acontextual. Before drawing dogmatic conclusions from the text we need to know more than its grammatical sense (supposing, for the sake of argument, the work of "lower criticism" is done and secure here, so that there is a reasonably definite grammatical sense to which we may refer), pace D. Virtue. For instance, Is the text qualified by some other passage in Romans in a way not evident on its face here? Is it qualified by a passage elsewhere in Scripture outside Romans? Is the meaning of the passage is to be identified with what was going on "in the head" of Paul? Or is there a meaning of the passage fully and finally under his conscious control? In other words, to take the last question for instance, even if he intended to forbid any homosexual activity whatever in that passage, that might not be the dominant or best meaning of the passage, should God intend something else by the passage. And maybe God intends for us to argue with Paul there--like Abraham arguing with YHWH.

I am tempted to think many winger-ECUSAns read the Romans 1:26-7 for its grammatical sense, aiming to capture Paul's intended meaning there, as if there were a "plain fact of meaning" to be encountered and appropriated. When they do that, they are embedding their reading-praxis in a world of make-believe, the world of Enlightenment rationality. That is what I mean by Disenchantment. But they might ask me in response, if the text of Romans 1:26-7 is indeed so unsettled, how can we determine its meaning at all? That, I would say in reply, is a task to be performed within the Church, retaining the place of the Biblical text in the liturgy, as part of the Church's myth and ritual. And we might not settle on one meaning for all time--interpretating the will of God is risky, even dangerous, but we have no morally available choice but to remain engaged.

I doubt many winger ECUSAns see themselves as Disenchanting the Bible or as carrying water for Enlightenment rationality--i.e. deep in league with the cohort of liberalism corroding Christianity over the long term in the West, and now all over the globe. They might cry out "Canonical criticism! Childs!" or "Narrative theology! Frei!"; winger practice betrays these cries as mere rationalization. We are told we should merely observe the plain facts of meaning in the Bible, which in turn report what cannot be observed, e.g. miracles and spirits. Their tolerance, nay--passion for this contradiction identifies them as Postmoderns in spite of themselves, i.e. standing around at the last stop for the train of Enlightenment rationality. As ECUSA and perhaps even the AC prepare to fracture, it seems in the name of fidelity to Christian tradition, Christian tradition is already lost.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Christian Believing, Ch.s 7-8

In these final chapters, Westerhoff and Holmes flesh out the "final core" of Christian belief--their word for it, which I resist, is "style". Committment to the final core of belief constitutes a "style of belief". Christian belief emerges from an ongoing, loving relationship with a divine person, Christ. The relationship is fundamental; although belief cannot help but condition our experience of Christ, those conditioning beliefs remain open to revision within limits based on our experience. That is, God can always break into our experience in such a way as to call certain of our beliefs about him into question.

I. On Westerhoff and Holmes
God chose Christ to reconcile the world to him--yet our understanding of Christ is always "clothed" in terms and concepts taken from our culture. Thus the New Testament witnesses to Christ in varied ways, each within the coordinates of a distinct cultural setting: (1) the Palestinian-Jewish Jesus, the risen Messiah who will return to judge all; (2) the Hellenistic-Jewish Jesus, the risen Messiah who now rules from heaven until his return; (3) the Gentile, Greek Jesus, the incarnate preexistent Son of God now ruling from heaven until his return.

Though (1), (2) and (3) are different, even contrary, beliefs, the authors claim they are consistent with the same faith. That is, I infer, people with contrary beliefs about the nature of Christ might nevertheless have an ongoing, loving, personal relationship to the same divine Person. Still, the Gentile Greek view won out in time--Christians learned to see the God of Scripture in Greek terms, as immutable and absolutely simple, "overwhelming" the God of Jewish culture. Recently, Christians have questioned the Greek understanding of God--is a divine person best understood as incapable of emotion? As outside of time?

The "Christ of faith" is beyond human culture; we should not be surprised to find our relationship with Christ resists and even subverts its cultural "accomodation" in dogma. The possibility of such resistance and subversion entails we should be willing to accept correction in our beliefs and practice. That is not to say everything is up for grabs--our experience of Christ remains consistent in promising the fulfillment of a future order, the Kingdom, wherein death is overcome through personal, bodily survival in resurrection. For Westerhoff and Holmes, this expectation of eternal life with Christ in the Kingdom seems part of the "final core". Such a moral order and fulfillment constitute a "criterion" by which we judge Christian belief. As the criterion cannot be demonstrated here below, our faith is a risk. We are committed to a "final core" of belief without "final assurance" that it is true.

Westerhoff and Holmes' "final core" is rather minimal, consistent with mutually repugnant elaborations--what one might call "pluriform belief" (not the authors' phrase) at a time or over time. Diverse or changing beliefs are consistent with the survival of the relationship of faith, and even with committment to a "final core" of doctrine. What is important: the change and diversity should be guided by the relationship of Christians to God. Thus "morality evolves" from the relationship with God, an "experience of God in our hearts" through which God "has a claim" on us, obligating us to respond.

The enemy of this relationship is the modern world's secularism, a pervasive way of life implying that there is nothing beyond the world of the senses, that God makes no self-disclosure to us in revelation, and that we may attain fulfillment through use of the world of our senses. Secularism either altogether eliminates the sacred, or implies that the sacred is "utterly hidden" from us.

II. Reflections
Westerhoff and Holmes exhibit an encouraging optimism about the same faith surviving in opposed pluralities of belief. At least in some philosophy of language, successful reference does not require descriptive veracity: we succeeded in referring to water for untold centuries before learning how to distinguish H2O from XYZ--and even while believing water was not H2O, but an element. Likewise, might we succeed at referring to God and Christ in our discourse and practice, even while entertaining false beliefs about them? If so, Anglican comprehensiveness stands on sturdy legs. Inasmuch as God wishes to be worshipped in truth, what matters more than holding to the earliest beliefs is retaining the humility to be open to correction and to change when corrected. What this openness requires is steadfast love for God; the ongoing personal relationship, faith, is fundamental.

It goes almost without saying that the late Anglican fashion for confession runs counter to the sentiments of Christian Believing. In Westerhoff and Holmes' terms, insofar as new confessions add beliefs on to the minimal final core, they run the risk of creating an obstinate attachment to falsehoods that might resist correction from our relationship with God. That is, the fashion for confession risks cultivating vices, pride sufficient to turn a deaf ear to God's claim on us, and cowardice that shrinks from obligatory change.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Taking Your Pick

Here's a problem that I wrote about earlier in comments to Titusonenine (6/19/05). ECUSA's right wing (e.g. over at the Anglican Communion Institute) from time to time argues by appealing to the "plain sense"of Scripture or some equivalent. The idea seems to be that Scripture is transparent. No fancy philosophy is needed to interpret Scripture--in fact, bringing philosophy in is suspect on its face. For ECUSA's right wing, Scripture alone is authoritative and sufficient unto itself.

But that can't be quite everything--surely right-wing ECUSAns would assent to the Nicene Creed, affirming in effect the Council of Chalcedon's christology and the Creeds' view of the Trinity? In fact, if you polled them, I bet most would date the beginning of their misgivings with ECUSA to Pike's questioning creedal dogma in the 60's (or Robinson's Honest to God, or Hick's Myth of God Incarnate).

But committment to the Creeds sits uneasily with committment to Scripture alone as authoritative. Why? The Creeds assume the framework of Greek metaphysics, a framework not at home in Scripture. Scripture does not lay out a system of metaphysics like that of Aristotle, or Plotinus, or Philo. Any attempt to derive the Creeds from Scripture would take as premises extra-Biblical assumptions from Greek metaphysics. Keeping to Scripture alone as authoritative calls the Creeds and our committment to them into question. On the other hand, calling for confession of the Creeds implies the Bible is not authoritative alone. Indeed, given committment to the Creeds, it follows rather that Scripture interpreted through philosophy that cannot be found in Scripture is authoritative.

When ECUSA's leadership interprets Scripture by bringing in premises that cannot be found in Scripture, it is doing the same type of thing right-wing ECUSAns do when they confess the Creeds--both sides find that Scripture alone is an insufficient authority. Right-wing ECUSAns find Scripture insufficient when it comes to explaining the nature of Christ of the Trinity. ECUSA's leadership finds it insufficient to articulate our moral obligations to homosexuals. Thus, it will not do to appeal to the "plain sense" of Scripture--given how both sides already read Scripture, to invoke "plain sense" readings is inconsistent, an instance of special-pleading.

ECUSA's leadership could, thus, say to the right wing: Take your pick. If you preclude gay activism by appealing to Scripture alone as authoritative, you lose the Creeds. But then, if you want to keep the Creeds, you lose the appeal to Scripture alone as authoritative. In effect, given the soundness of ECUSA's argument from extra-Biblical premises, keeping the Creeds implies accepting gay activism. At the very least, the argument should shift away from the so-called "plain sense" of Scripture to the extra-Biblical premises.