Thursday, May 01, 2008

Turner's Ad hominem

It is quite shocking to see Turner--a seminary dean!--stoop to tendentious criticism ad hominem. I do not think the charges against her stick, and I have no idea what psyhcological tic moved Turner to such excremental effusions. It's as if the ACI has become an ideological, partisan mouthpiece like the American Enterprise Institute or the National Review at exactly the time it is supposed to be working with the interests of teh whole Anglican Communion in mind.

Perhaps his writing is "a sign of the times," a sign of the church dividing into factions, a sign of its members left and right taking on merely institutional personae in an effort to extend and centralize power in the name of their particular version of the Tower of Babel. Who knows? It's difficult to resist responding in kind to Turner--very difficult--but it is worthwhile to resist the degeneration of our common life into internicine strife, strife that Turner's piece seems to invite.

With that ideal in mind, one point from Turner might merit further comment: his criticism of her easter message, which you can review here. Turner's criticism seems a nearly perfect instance of the ecclesial division between the growing low-church, left-wing evangelicals and other factions. He writes,

If, in this instance, she did not know what she was saying, then one must conclude that she does not understand the central tenets of Christian belief, namely, the meaning of Christ's death and resurrection. If, however, she does understand what she is saying, she is suggesting a novelty that forces one to ask if her version of Christian belief is in fact recognizable as what Christians through the ages have believed and professed.

Notice please what I've underlined--a false dichotomy along the lines of "Either you are with me or against me," and a mortally dangerous one for Turner to take, as his employment of it panders to the reader's pride, inviting the reader to try and take up a position he or she should never take up in order to stand in judgement on the Presiding Bishop.

I assume Christian tradition is nearly unanimous in proclaiming that the Resurrection of our Savior is a mystery of faith that is impossible for us to intellectually comprehend in this life here below--and in some quarters, the beatific vision is taken to include an ongoing process of growing comprehension of such mysteries in the face-to-face presence of God: a vision for the next life, not for this life. I'd wager nobody understands what is said when the Resurrection is proclaimed--there is always much that is not understood, and probably some that is wrong.

But the fact we lack understanding does not mean we understand nothing about the Resurrection--and in particulcar our ignorance does not preclude us from referring to the event in proclamation, in preaching, in liturgy and prayer, in pastoral letters. That is why Turner's dichotomy is false: the fact one does not understand the Resurrection obviously does not mean one fails to understand anything about it. His extremism panders to the readers' pride, indulging hubris--can any reader, can Turner himself, be any but at best marginally better off than the Presiding Bishop? And--ironically--could readers really be even marginally better off and indulge in Turner's type of condemnation without inconsistency, inasmuch as he must--absurdly--insist the miracle can be comprehended by us in this life?

He goes on to say that the Presiding Bishop's Easter message is inconsistent with orthodoxy:

If, however, she does understand what she is saying, she is suggesting a novelty that forces one to ask if her version of Christian belief is in fact recognizable as what Christians through the ages have believed and professed.

I am speechless at Turner; he goes on to quote the PB, who wrote:

How can you enact the new life we know in Jesus the Christ? In other words, how can you be the sacrament, the outward and visible sign, of the grace that you know in the resurrected Christ? How can your living let others live more abundantly?

And one might have though that would have been enough for her message to be "in fact recognizable"--what is novel about procaliming the Resurrection? What is novel about living the new life we have in Jesus? What is novel about making our lives a sign of God's presence--and Jesus' presence in particular--in the world? What is novel about seeing Christian life as a life of service? About knowing grace in the Resurrection? It seems whatever the Presiding Bishop has to say will be viciously interpreted by such critics as Turner.

For instance, what seems to unhinge him is the thought that being an Easter people obligates us to live responsibly in God's creation. He writes:

This means for her that each member "consider how your daily living can be an act of greater life for other creatures." This one can do by living in a way that allows others to live more abundantly. Indeed, it is by living in this way that one fulfills the promise of TEC's baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of one's fellow creatures. Concretely, a commitment such as this means paying attention to "the food we eat, the energy we use, and the goods and foods we buy, the ways in which we travel."I note only that the significance of the resurrection of Christ is here presented in entirely moral terms.

He reads her message in the worst light he can manage, as if she were reducing the Easter message to environmentalism--that's why he uses the term "means" instead of something like "implies"--rather than saying, more reasonably it seems to me, that she sees living with a commitment to ecological resposibility as an entailment or implication of the Easter message. He seems completely blind to the disitinction--and that blindness is essential to his carping.

That is, once you replace his term "means" with "implies" you will see the Presiding Bishop is right, obviously right. On Scriptural grounds alone we are justified in taking ourselves to have moral obligations to our environment. It is not ours; we are its stewards, standing with God or in God's place--thus it seems at the beginning on the Bible, in Genesis, and at the very end, in the Book of Revelation when creation is ultimately renewed, and between, where nature is pictured as sharing in our fallen condition and finally renewed in the working out of Providence, groaning for redemption in the meantime.

But Turner bizzarely ignores Scripture, and even seems to flatter himself into believing the Doctors and Fathers of the Church share his apparent, perhaps merely occasional, ignorance. That's hard to believe, of course; he must know Scripture and tradition better than he lets on here: he simply must, right? How convenient for him, and how inconvenient for the church which must correct such distorted readings of Holy Scripture and Church history, which must try to undo the damage he does by inciting scandal and division.

However, I'd bet Turner is not alone in his criticism. What is at stake, it seems to me, is style--we've seen precious little of substance floating through Turner's piece, but what comes through is a clear, set-in-concrete difference of style.

In particular, Turner and his sympathizers seem dead set against finding any implications for environmentalist critique in the Easter message or Kerygma, whereas the Presiding Bishop and her sympathizers seem dead set in favor of finding such implications. There is a real question here about whether one of these camps is right; I think it's a no-brainer: PB Schori is right on Scripture alone, and even more obviously when one considers Scripture in conjunction what we know from science and philosophy.

Indeed, as you may know, the Episcopal Church has already set out a Catechism on creation, endorsed by Schori and even Kendall Harmon: true; they agreed on something. It's here; to see the endorsements one must look at the back cover, which can be seen if you order the text here--about $5.


At 1:56 PM, Blogger bls said...

I don't really understand why Anglicans, of all people, would be bothered by the PB not meeting with the Pope.

She is, after all, for Il Papa, nothing but a layperson, just like every other Anglican priest. Anglican orders are still "absolutely null and utterly void," void, after all, as they have been 1898 in the eyes of Rome.

This complaint is quite bizarre.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger bls said...

But you are quite right, in any case: it doesn't matter what the PB says - and it never will. It will be interpreted by the so-called "orthodox," always, in the worst possible light.

BTW, have you seen this? Another excellent example of this very same phenomenon.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the link; Enns' book, Inspiration and Incarnation, looks quite good.

It is difficult to understand why his point of view would be so threatening; I wonder whhether Anglican evangelicals would be similarly disposed to react harshly to Enns.

At 11:58 AM, Blogger Christopher said...


I might not frame things the way she does, but they don't seem outside the pale. Care for Creation is an imperative response to the Gospel. How we treat Creation says something about the Incarnation and Resurrection.

Her recent letter also doesn't seem outside the bounds.

At 4:59 PM, Blogger Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, A.S., for this and the following. The despair of the rightist enthusiasts is revealed in the poverty of their arguments, to say nothing of their fallacy. It is almost at the point of raving.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Jon said...

The one point he seems to get right is that it's problematic to reduce the Gospel to morality. While I doubt that the PB actually reduces the gospel in that way there are some both on the left and on the right who sometimes seem to come very close to doing so.


At 6:51 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


That is always a danger, perhaps: confusing the Kerygma, the Gospel proclamation, with the moral response the Gospel requires--which may well vary in particulars as the vices besetting the hearers of the Word vary.

For the PB, it seems Evangelism essentially includes moral appeal along with the proclamation of the Gospel. I'm speculating, but her basic idea might be that the Spirit operates with prevenient grace outside teh bounds of the church to prepare potential disciples to respond to their Lord's voice. They are prepared in many cases by a graced sense of conviction of sin not yet articulated. The Gospel tagged with a call to repent articulates the previously dimmed moral sense, bringing it to clarity: at that very moment one is ready to begin conversion--the seed is sown.

She is betting--it seems to me--that our special sins, the grotesque distortions we are particularly prone to, have to do primarily with Gluttony: materialistic excess in hedonistic consumption that ends up abusing creation in defiance of divine will. We already dimly know we consume too much, we waste too much, we take more than our fair share, we are emotionally addicted to materialistic pleasures and therein conceive ultimate happiness...and we already in a dim sense know better.

To hear a clear call to repent from these sins of Gluttony in the name of Jesus is to know the Shepherd's voice as authentic, and to be positioned for an authentic response.

She is patterned, therefore, after an evangelical on the left. Her critics, if I am right, are resisting her call to repent.

Witness how they talk about her easter message as if it were only concerned withy cow flatulence. But why are cow farts a problem? Because we are Gluttons--we can't help but connect our high standard of living to high consumption of beef. A rather earthy fact the PB mightwell be onto and which her critics miss.

If you read her critics who go on about bovine flatulence as trying to justify Gluttony in spite of themselves, as if her critique were some catastrophe, as if Vegetarianism or even a reduction of meat consumption were literally unthinkable, their "critique" of her Easter message appears, I dare say, in a whole new light, even in the Light.


Post a Comment

<< Home