Friday, November 04, 2005

The War of Northern Aggression

In the effort to see ECUSA's current travail as a pastoral problem, rather than primarily as an occasion for theological debate, how far should one go back into history? At least to the time of Reconstruction following the American Civil War. Having spent time growing up in rural western Massachusetts, I have some sense of the old Union: I went to HS at Gateway Regional, named for its place on the Underground Railroad; I've seen secret rooms for hiding fugitive slaves in old houses in Northampton; I've heard the old folks sing old songs about Sherman marching through Georgia and trampling the grapes of wrath; pages missing from Boothe's diary were supposedly found in an attic in my hometown of Worthington. Still, I suspect my experience was nothing like the experience of the presence of the Civil War in the life of a young man growing up in the South, black or white.

I propose the analogy: the Global South is to the West as the American South is to the North. As with any analogy, the comparison breaks down--for instance, the Global South has no ideology that I am aware of that can compare with the American South's "southern agrarianism". But my hope is to illuminate facts that might have been lost otherwise.

Namely: both the global and American south were crushed in violent conflict by force from a technologically and economically superior opponent; both were subsequently exploited by those who crushed them; both lost contact with what was an older, native way of life. That is not to say that their older ways were permissible or preferable to what came after, nota bene. I'm not here to pull a "Genovese." And for both, the tables recently have turned somewhat. The American South, which as a cultural entity extends almost to Philly and out into CA, has become a seat of economic and political power--likewise for our global confreres. Their narratives have some overlap, perhaps enough for a common understanding:
"the North and the West are the enemies, a wicked Other which must be reigned in, an Other whose defeat is unfinished business left by ancestors as a duty to posterity. Surely the victories of that Other should not be read as springing from God's favor-that simply could not be. The North/West is decadent, wealthy, parasitic, casuistic, skeptical, sophisticated and inscrutable. We in the souths are Other to the North/West, and so are not complicit in their immoral culture." The analogy makes some sense of why the two souths so readily joined as of late in common cause within the AC; they have discovered, perhaps without fully conscious awareness, that their stories run into the same stream.

And there is truth to their stories. The North/West really did bring with its hegemony an exploitative socio-economic order; each south might well have experienced the imposition of that alien order as colonialism. For some in the American south, even the civil rights movement of the '60s may smack of a kind of colonialist imposition, the Other from the outside stepping in univited to exercise Power.

But irony of ironies: the new found power of the souths springs from the old North/West. The old, exploitative North/West grew tired of the tension with its own people, and sought out more subservient laborers in the souths: a condition of the souths becoming seats of economic power. And furthermore, the souths use the power, received from the North/West, to undermine those within the North/West who struggle against the North/West's exploitation. I.e. the global south makes common cause with southern conservatives to undermine northern liberals., leaving liberals wondering "What? We liberals and the global south have so many common interests; why attack us for differences over women and homosexuality? Why make common cause with those who have no serious interest in the interests we share?"

Surely theological conviction explains this unlikely common cause in part, at least. Left wing North/West theology comes bearing an offensive stamp, the face of affluence and leisure, exhibiting the skepticism and sophistication the souths came to distrust. The souths have had no time to think under such conditions of affluent leisure--common cause with the Anglican left comes with a steep price: accepting an imposed second-class status (e.g. think of the believers' reaction to the Scopes Monkey Trial, a reaction that birthed a forceful American fundamentalism--also a reaction that typified Hegel's Unhappy Consciousness, if you recall the fundies' Darbyism).

Perhaps the Snopeses have taken over in the souths--explaining why the North/West's economic interests found such fertile soil there. Anyhow, I infer:

(1) More theology in the North/West style will not move enough southern hearts.

(2) The underlying problem is one of justice; one should not expect church region Y to cooperate with church region X, when X exploits Y. Or: injustice pollutes worship. And: justice requires more than equalizing the place of gays in ECUSA's ministry.

(3) Therapy-style solutions, addressing southern anger at exploitation, which smack of North/West-speak, will not get far (as w/ (1)). Again, therapy alone may leave the underlying injustice unaddressed.

(4) We are dealing with a kind of false-consciousness in the souths, a la Thrasymachus in Republic I. Southern Anglicans believe they are being just by obeying the rules, when in fact they are merely serving ruling interests.

There is enormous potential for destruction here. The souths, operating from within a false consciousness about biblical interpretation et al are ready to go into schism, while neither therapy nor theology can dislodge the false consciousness. What to do?


At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't suppose North and South would consider adopting a dialogic model, one committed to the practice of some sort of Habermasian communicative rationality? (Right. Thought so. Oh well, just a thought...)

But that isn't really what I wanted to ask. I wanted to know whether you and/or Malebranchiste plan to attend the Florida Philosophical Association conference next week at UCF-Cocoa Beach. If so, see you there.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Yes, we'll be at the FPA, barring an act of God, or something dramatic with out baby daughter, Anne-Marie.

The Anglican listening process would tacitly impose an ethics of discourse, a la Habermas, if it were tried--perhaps this is what the "global south" et al want to avoid by evading dialogue.

Very interesting idea though.

At 12:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd agree: the "listening process" is an invitation to engage in very Habermasian sorts of activities, and there's something about that process itself which is actively rejected by the Anglican right.

A correlative point: my issues with the AAC/ Network don't really have much to do with their conservativism (if that is the right word for it) on sexuality issues. What I find difficult to stomach is that the AAC/Network, at least in my experience, is not straightforward about its goals, practices economies of the truth, engages in deceptive and misleading communications, and seems to want to foreclose discussion and argument, whether on the doctrine or the discipline of the Church. I'd say that much of what we take to be the Global South is a projection of the AAC/Network's, or perhaps better, a fiction constructed by the AAC/Network as a screen for its own activities.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Closed said...


I think you are correct on this matter in many ways. Most of my family hails from the South, having migrated to Oregon following the War of Northern Aggression, and there's still a sting there even yet. Now granted, as you mention, with regard to the South, not all felt the sting the same way, nor do our sisters and brothers in the Global South today.

What I suggest is that ECUSA get very clear about relinquishing privilege. Undoing the thirst for vengeance by undoing it within ourselves by the grace of G-d--the prerequisite for such praxis.

Where this fails of course is for those who are gay in the Souths. Worship there is also polluted by injustice, but to raise this up will take more than shouting "unjust" at our Southern brothers and sisters. Deep down theologically there is a righteous/sinner dichotomy at work here, a dichotomy we are all prone to, but one nonetheless that is not orthodox in terms of Original Sin.

I wrote of my thoughts on Windsor yesterday, which asks us to do just that with regard to queer folk, but perhaps we need an expanded or second response that begins to release our dominant economic status for solidarity as well? An amazing time to be church if we actually began being so catholic.

This would also foster the listening/discernment process and begin to restitch bonds of affection. I'm not as familiar with Habermas as I should be, knowing just bits of his thought on the public sphere and democracy. Could you post on this. I suspect that in addition to this we need to consider models of listening found in Quaker traditions. There's some great work there. After all this is not just about rationality in terms of logic, but rationality in terms of intuition.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I agree--the networks' means are disturbing; their secretiveness, their duplicity, et al seem hostile, strange for a people, the ECUSA, in communion with each other.

On the other hand, their theology bothers me as well. Not that they have just one theology--right-wing anglo-catholics and evangelicals have much to debate. Rather, I see them as wrapped up in bad philosophy, poor thinking: e.g they adopt narrative theology without a sufficiently critical hermeneutics. Who wouldn't like to see a more cogent, and a more open and honest, Anglican right?

At 5:32 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the kind word.

And I mean to agree with you that ECUSA should get clearer about "relinquishing privilege." Someone should be thinking about just how to do this--should we start at the parish level with a notion of radical stewardship aimed at relinquishing privilege and providing some sort of example/witness to the surrounding secular community?

I think so, but that would require training for the laity at the parish level about how to manage finances, planning for economic security without affluence, and contributing as congregations so as to maximize political effect (something like a radical Crown Ministries?)

My point: such stewardship is entirely possible.


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