Saturday, December 17, 2005

Examining "Claiming Our Anglican Identity," Pt. II (Revised a Tad Away from Mere Technicalities)

I wish to move slowly through Claiming; so much is awry with it, one hopes never to see its like again. There are better ways to make a case.

For instance, Claiming makes much of the claim that ECUSA and the ACC have acted against a universal consensus in permitting the blessing of gay unions. Yet, on this question of blessing gay unions, where a province and diocese of the AC have already acted from reasoned dissent, it seems merely analytic that consensus on the question has fallen apart; one can only claim consensus by excluding the dissenters and ignoring the possibility that others within the AC could join them in the future.

But it is a simple matter of integrity to admit that an ancient consensus has failed; if it is to be restored, it will need a defense and someone will have to make a case on its behalf. Thus, appeals like that to the "common wisdom of mankind" (12) or to an "Anglicanism" that "for its part has voiced its universal commitment" seem viciously stupid from our authors--there is no such community of wisdom in reality; that is why a case must be made today, now. To go through with making such appeals argues either a lack of integrity (making them while knowing better) or a shocking neglect of education (not seeing anything to worry about); either way the presence of such appeals raises urgent questions about whether constructive discourse on the question can take place. E.g. do our "partners" in dialogue have any commitment to discovering a Truth that would call their attachments into question, that would call them to repent? Perhaps what we need first is not dialogue, but a way to come to the moral conditions necessary for dialogue.

I. Our well-meaning authors: Archbishops, Canons, and Priests
Our well-meaning authors claim The Episcopal Church U.S.A. has taken official actions that contradict Holy Scripture.... (1); this is the most significant claim in their principal indictment of ECUSA on p. 1. Their term, "contradict," is very strong--it implies ECUSA's actions are logically inconsistent with Scripture. There is, they imply, no way to render the two mutually compatible. If the truth of their claim can be reasonably doubted, or even called into question, the rest of their indictment will fall in due course.

IA: Reasonable Doubt via Inconsistency
What would "reasonable doubt" look like? Ideally, suppose we have an interpretation of Scripture, X, that our authors agree with, or are committed to, and ECUSA's actions are compatible with X. Such an ideal case would be "fatal" to their argument--we would have shown that their argument is itself inconsistent, and they would be obliged to restate it de novo. Personally, I think they would in fact agree to premises that--unknown to them--imply the permissibility of gay marriage. In effect, I think that their case is incoherent:

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.

Suppose the authors were to somehow succeed in exonerating their consistency; there remains a problem. Note that my premise set, (1)-(5) above--call it S1, requires refutation, provided my case is prima facie coherent. Thus, they cannot rightly claim to know the truth of the matter without qualification; there remains for them argumentative work.

Furthermore, who is to say there is no second such premise set, Y, yet to be discovered? Surely given the actual X, extrapolation to Y is reasonable, even trivial.

Hence, I will lay my X-type reading aside, with the warning that the possibility--nay the actuality--of such readings should have been sufficient to render the authors more circumspect about the cogency their claims, and especially about what they were prepared to do--foment schism--in the name of those claims. Their evident choice to proceed without epistemic humility carries manifest consequences of the utmost gravity.

IB: reasonable Doubt via Conflict Over Interpretation
Oh well; let us take another case, one that we might well find come to pass. Suppose there is a reading of Scripture, call it "Z", which is correct--so far as the scholarly community knows, and ECUSA's actions are compatible with Z.

Even the possession of an Z-type reading would cause me to look critically at our authors' claim to contradiction--if ECUSA has an Z-type reading, our authors should take pains to overturn it. The very existence of an Z-type reading would make their claim of contradiction at least temporarily suspect--at least until they had finished overturning it.

Now note, the burden of proof is rather high for our authors; I take it as trivial that there are a variety of Z-type readings around (Countryman, Furnish, Lance, Siker, Bailey, Helminiak, and there are others).

But you will look in vain throughout Claiming for scholarly engagement with these Z-type readings. Our authors claim Scripture teaches that the only divinely appropriate context for sexual relations is in the marriage between a man and a woman.... without qualification (2). And so, homosexual acts...contradict God's will for human creation (2).

They do not here, and do not anywhere else, explicitly acknowledge that there is actual legitimate difference of opinion over what Scripture teaches here. In Section III, where our authors explain how ECUSA justified its actions, they acknowledge no X or Z-type readings, saying "[m]ost" readings of Scripture that differ from theirs are vague and carefully ignore the unified and integrated witness of Scripture of the matter of marriage, chastity, and sexuality.
"Most"? You mean, good authors, that there is at least one differing reading that is precise and doesn't ignore the unified witness of Scripture? Well, why aren't we talking about that reading or readings? Who knows. They proceed by arguing against what by their own admission (sc. "Most"!) are mere strawmen, as if that accomplishes something significant. Quite to the contrary, I contend it establishes an unwillingness to make a case, a disappointing intellectual enervation. And no wonder--to acknowledge coherent opposition would be to acknowledge that the question is live, unsettled, and that perhaps--just maybe--our good authors are reasonably thought wrong.

II. Table slamming Scripture citations
Go and see how our good authors do biblical theology when it really counts; read pages 3-6. Hilarious, not. Remember the high standing of those resposible for this scribbling. They are still out there in power, still "making contributions." I will stick for the moment to calling attention to the appearance of the myth of plain meaning in their reading of Scripture. I note this for those who thought such luminaries in the Anglican right as Radner and Turner were above such foolery--my friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, take it and read, read it and weep:

The clear Scriptural teaching on this topic is generally accepted by most biblical scholars.... (5)

*The clarity of the Scriptural witness is always underlined, but not as existing in a vacuum of individual acts of interpretation. (6)

Rather Scripture's clear meaning is given through the accountability of interpretation to that teaching that is 'delivered' apostolically. (6)

To hear Scripture's plain meaning requires.... (7) [And then we are treated to my next topic, a genuine horror, a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for establishing the plain meaning of Scripture.]

The quote marked "*" insinuates something very important--our authors see themselves as operating outside modern individualism, variously attributed--wrongly I believe--to Descartes, insofar as they interpret Scripture from within the canon or the narrative of the Church community. Scriptural clarity appears not to the scholar as individual with a neutral standpoint, but only from within the view of a committed community. That's a clever move in the right direction, but it fails. Homework assignment: why so?


At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scoty, I suspect you're saying something really important here (actually, I'm sure you are: your critique of COAI's "plain meaning" is worth the price of admission! ;-p)

. . . but don't you think you could re-write it (esp. the "I1-I3" parts?) to make it, well, more "plain"? ;-/

[Little too reminded of long-forgotten math classes...]

At 9:13 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Sorry about all that--a little of my analytic training started to show and muddy the waters.

The idea with the I1/I3 stuff: there are plausible, intellectually respectable readings of Scripture available on which the acts of GC2003 are perfectly consistent with Scripture. Yet "Claiming" ignores this fact to push their tendentious claim of GC2003 being in contradiction with Scripture. How dishonest, how irresponsible!

Having "poisoned the well" what way back into common civility is there for a Radner? A Turner?


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