Monday, September 06, 2010

What do we mean by "God"?

Here Archbishop Williams speaks with Richard Dawkins, making the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Virgin birth sound like "poetic language"--which is not, I gather, how he would have wanted to come across after being edited. "Nature opening up to its own depths" can be understood in other ways, but would Williams agree with Dawkins that the Church is committed to it as a "statement of fact" that is true or else false? Just what did Williams mean to say?

Some (see the comments) have responded to Dawkins on God by saying, or agreeing with the saying that "I don't believe in the God that Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in, either." OK, fine, but then what God are we talking about? Is there a consensus among the faithful or are we each stumbling in the divine darkness? As with Williams, an important part of the content of the faith, referred to in the Quadrilateral and in the Creeds, seems to be read in a new way; in just what way is it being read?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

On Paul Jones

Paul Jones, I think we can all agree, was right to oppose American involvement in World War I in 1917, and the HoB was gravely mistaken in calling, as a result, for his resignation. If you seek the causes of WWI, you will likely dig up a standard list fairly near the surface: a system of alliances, competition among imperialist powers for a greater slice of the economic pie, et cetera. But the catastrophic bloodletting, the unprecedented violence, the sheer magnitude of death and injury, were grotesquely out of proportion to the causes; WWI is a paradigm case of wasted life, young men charging into machine gun fire for nothing: human wreckage. Alas, in 1918 he was alone in being pressured to resign for his anti-war stand.

Between now and then we do not seem to have learned very much about war. The current Iraq War--or whatever that obscenity is now that, mirabile dictu, combat operations (or is that "combat operations"?) have ceased--is another case of a war fought for nothing, a war whose evil is grotesquely out of proportion to its justification. I have heard it said that around the time of the first Iraq War, soon after the fall of the Eastern bloc, quite apart from the accidental doctrine of the preemptive strike that featured later under Bush II, the Rubicon had been crossed; we would live under an international political and economic "order" based on a magnitude of death and destruction that can only come from war.

As far as I can tell, opposition from churches, from Christendom as a whole, has had no effect on that order, or just about as much effect as the witness of Bishop Jones. Perhaps it might have had an effect; one may imagine some anti-war movement of a size and intensity commanding political power sufficient to have prevented the war or forced a withdrawal. I am not so sure though; I am not sure the anti-war movement had much an effect on the conduct of the Vietnam War, especially after Kent State. Moreover, actual Christianity as a whole has been disproportionately quiet on the Iraq wars--and the Afganistan war; it's hard to picture such a fractured, self-obsessed body rousing itself to anything so immediately significant and controversial.

Do we have anything cogent to say about war? Why would a serious person whose time is scarce pay any attention to anything any Christian church has to say about the Iraq wars, or any war for that matter? I am tempted to fall back on a Papal this or an NCC that, but come on. That stuff hits with a thud, as well it should; people take churchbabble about as seriously as Rowan Williams takes his piece on the body's grace. It seems a case could be made for a rather sad a priori: most any given church will either be firmly on the side of those profitting from the carnage, as the Episcopal Church was in the time of Paul Jones, or it will be near to the last to arrive at skepticism or disapproval, if it is, or once it has become, common sense. As an aside, I wonder how far such an a priori could be applied, suitably modified, to other hot issues. Such wonder is not idle, inasmuch as people inferring unreliablity from that a priori may well feel justified in extending skepticism to the Gospel, or to whatever the churches seem to be saying these days about Jesus. And who can blame them? You should know the smell of bullshit is going to travel.

It is difficult to prise a simple lesson from the witness of Bishop Jones, except to say that in spite of the HoB's error then, and the torpor of the churches now, his witness was right and good, in spite of his being alone, and such a witness would be right and good today as well, whatever would befall the churches.