Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hypotheses on the Schism

In a sense, the slow-motion train wreck of Fort Worth et al. finally separating from the Episcopal Church is to be welcomed. After the ruins are restored to some new order, Separatists and Loyalists may be able to settle back into more worthy tasks befitting Christians than bickering bitterly and ceaselessly among themselves; myriad backburner issues may at last get the attention they deserve but have of late been denied. Even so, it seems likely to me that this schism, even when "complete" a year or so down the road, will offer neither closure nor catharsis. These are my fears then: likely so far as I can tell, but perhaps avoidable somehow:

I. The bickering will not end.

[a]Too many conservatives sympathetic to the separatists' cause will remain in TEC, and will prove too tempting to the separated. The newly separated will then begin to appeal to them through new interest groups: not the AAC or ACN or CAPA or the current whatnot, but new XYZ groups--a fresh serving of schismatic alphabet soup.

[b] The separated have their own internal conflicts, and will not have achieved the requisite unity among themselves at the time of separation a year or so from now. Having gained some measure of unity through opposition to TEC, they will return again and again to this theme--and that will require ongoing bitter rebuke in an endless stream of detritus flowing nonstop through the internet cloaca.

[c] The separated have bigger plans then mere unity among themselves; they want to be in the AC as a province, and to kick TEC out of the AC as a province. They have not given up these plans--separation is merely stage one. Performing the Provincial Two-Step will take years--even decades--of well-funded, high-decibel bitterness at an international level. The funding and the shouting will be there in good supply.

It takes two to bicker. Is there a creative way for Loyalists to unilaterally stop bickering? What would that look like on the national, diocesan, and congregational levels? What should it look like?

II. TEC will continue to slowy contract in the U.S.
Sure, TEC could turn that around, as we have the Message and a target audience very well-suited to hear the way we have received the Gospel. But that is not where we are putting our energy. That is not where the funds are going. TEC has been suckered into taking "the Global South's" Provincial Two-Step seriously enough to waste an enormous amount of time and energy on it. That is--in my opinion--a big mistake. Why?

[a] When there's a shouting match in front of the store, people will be disinclined to come in. They won't have the time or energy to figure it all out and to see what is going on--they'll move away from the margins to somewhere else: not in all cases, but in enough cases that we should be worried.

[b]When there is a shouting match, the message doesn't come through. Our target audience won't be able to hear it clearly. For example, think of how most younger Americans--many of which see nothing wrong with homosexual couples--see TEC in the midst of this mess. It is not clear where we stand when our crisis management in the HOB tends toward carefully parsed compromise that will inevitable seem to those on the outside to be self-serving equivocation. Sure, it really is not equivocation, but it sure is self-serving nonetheless.

[c] The fact there is still--after four years--a shouting match that is getting worse and worse serves the Separatist cause. It is in their interest to see TEC continue to be distracted from Mission and to continue to contract while being preoccupied with a never-ending "crisis" increasingly manufactured by the separatists themselves.

As a recent AC report made clear, we have at least a dozen sympathetic friends in the AC. Can they handle the issue of whether we get kicked out and whether Separatists everywhere should be rewarded for their schismatic efforts with a shiny new province? Can we form an intentional community in the AC to balance the continual poisonous, negative hype from the GS with something more constructive and postive--and less isolating for the Episcopal Church?

III. The Instruments of Union will Continue to Centralize their Power
Flip our tedious Anglo-drama on its head and ask cui bono? You might think first of Duncan and Minns, Nigeria and upper-class, right-wing Episco-america. In a sense, sure--but they might well be paying a high moral price through the means employed. Who else?

The instruments of union, of course. The whole Windsor Process as it has actually played out, the entire Covenant solution, the Communion-wide response to this crisis tends toward a resolution in centralized institutional power. You might say: both sides are being played against each other to the end of desacralized administration. To a double or triple irony: (1) the apparatus is already manifestly dysfunctional; and we're going to trust it with this?; (2) neither side actually intends this outcome primarily and no indiviual "bigplayer" seems to want it as an end in itself; (3) some of the right-wing prime movers in this mess would despise the "more bureaucracy" answer in any other context--with excellent, well-articulated reason too (see Tullock, Buchanan, Hayek et al).

But this type of centralization in the service of Power serves no merely human person, I'd guess. Here the church is caught up in culture to its detriment--the same "reason of state" interest can be viewed operating with great success in secular society, and especially in our own post-9/11 United States. This secular movement is fueled by discourse around sex and the practice of confession--it's as if we are trapped in a half-conscious, neurotic repetition in spite of ourselves: caught in a frantic St. Vitus' dance. But from the outside, from the outside: view it from the outside.

Ultimately, it serves nothing. Must we continue to partake in it?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Go Ahead: Five Short Questions for Critics of the ABC

First, is the Iraq war a just war? Explain your answer briefly.

Second, if the Iraq war is not a just war, should participants in its violent acts be barred from the Eucharist under the rubric banning notorious sinners from the Altar? Note, the second question could be answered Yes even if the first were answered Yes.

We might ask third, even if the Iraq war were just, should participants in its violent acts be barred from the Eucharist under the relevant rubric?

Fourth, if participants in the violent acts of the Iraq war were to be barred from the Eucharist, what impact should that have on our preaching and liturgy?

At the least, one might say preachers--Right wing or Left wing--should already be Crystal Clear about their answers, especially in front of their congregations. How many have spoken in the open to such grave issues? Surely there is a great need whatever the preacher's view may happen to be, as even my narrow focus on liturgy might show.

More: it might well be that congregations arrive at troubling wide notions of "participant", or decide that a special Mass for participants is required in the interests of reconciliation. But that leads to a final question:

If a Mass were carried out for participants, what kind of repentance would be called for?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Homo Sacer

This is not the U.S.--it's Canada this time: Vancouver. But this type of thing is extremely important, as it could easily have happened here, and has come to pass plenty of times in our recent past, so that it is slowly, inexorably becoming a fact of life, normal.

Here are the particulars: a Polish guy emigrating to Canada without speaking any English lands in the airport where he planned to meet his mother strightaway but gets stuck for 10 hours; he panics, throws a small table at the glass partition where he is stuck, but attracts the police; he gets tazed twice and dies on the spot. Ah--but the whole thing is being filmed by a nearby civilian, he hands over the tape to the cops, who at first refuse to return it. But now the thing is public; here is the BBC site.

Hideous, you'll agree.

It struck me as a poignant confirmation of Agamben's homo sacer thesis--from 1998 (i.e. years before 9/11). The thesis? The concentration camp, a space where extralegal atrocity is readily accessible and ready to hand, is potentially anywhere in the fabric of everyday life, where before the camp was localized behind barbed wire and guard towers.

I am not sure the police in the case will be prosecuted; if they are, that would show Canada tending to eliminate that kind of space from the fabric of its normal life. Good. Even so, the fact a decision has to be made about the case post factum, and in this case seems to be made without a clear conception of what is at stake, shows how dangerous our situation is: in the name of state interest, we are backing ourselves into an unprecedented position of subjection to political power. Sure, it might "make better sense" in the wake of 9/11, but can we back away from such subjection at any time after 9/11 when already such subjection is becoming routine?

"So what?" you say: "All that crap doesn't concern me. Why should I give a damn? I'm busy."

(1)Well now, get your Girard on; Agamben's sort of tendency confirms portions of Girard's thinking about the scapegoat, the Cross and satan. Looking for something to preach on Veterans' Day, or Independence day, or during Advent? Do you really want to "hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other"?

(2)Get your Foucault on, from the first volume of his History of Sexuality where he discusses biopolitics; Agamben builds on Foucault. It seems to me advocates of GC2003 could only cherry-pick from Foucault for "support". There isn't any solace there for anyone thinking of homo- or heterosexuality as authentic aspects of one's genuine self, where the task of liberation theology should be to expunge irrational repression from ecclesial institutions, say.

From a Foucault-informed point of view, the social construction of homosexuality as a discrete concept is old news, and even beside the main point; rather, GC2003 and associated drama in the Anglican Communion are symptoms of an extension of state power similar to that in evidence when police get to taze an innocent foreigner to death. Liberation may be a good thing, but it is played out against a backdrop of subjection to and penetration by political power left entirely intact--and even strengthened--by the movement to liberate.

Where to go with Agamben, Girard, Foucault? At the very least, we might get an initial impression of something potentially very big and very bad emerging in the "life of the christianist West" which seems rather different from the other bad things we might have expected to emerge, and of whose final shape we can only as yet scarcely imagine: some new, satanic, iron form of human degradation eventually destined--as all things opposing the Kingdom--to accompany those already consigned to the dustbin of history. But what exactly will emerge in the near term? How will all this develop?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Million Dead Iraqis?

Last I checked, it was probably only 650,000 or so; here is a rather under-reported study claiming the number is somewhat higher, around 1,200,000, or most likely between 733,158 and 1,446,063. One can stroll through some relevant data here and here; the older Lancet study is here. If the more recent report is accurate, the dead would exceed those from the Rwandan genocide.

At some point we ought to be concerned--perhaps even a little more concerned than it seems we already are.

Is there a number at which one's potentiality for receiving Communion would be affected?