In the conservatives' official statement, they said they "do not accept
that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by
the archbishop of Canterbury." They also called the current setup for
the communion, with the archbishop of Canterbury at its center, "a
One of my general rules about life and politics is that when conservatives ape the arguments of the left they really are indicating their own desperation and intellectual bankruptcy. Resorting to calling the Anglican Communion "a colonial structure" just doesn't make much sense. Having a structure of authority (such as it is) which gives pride of place, a first among equals status, to the historic center of Anglicanism -- the very place this distinctive form of Christianity comes from -- is due less to the dominating spirit of the English than simple contingency. Of course there were connections between imperialism and missionary work -- but the Africans aren't complaining about being brought Christianity. To not go through Canterbury would be, simply, to no longer be Anglican. There is a historical relationship between a certain place and a certain way of worshiping the Christian God, and the identity of "Anglican" is bound up with that relationship. Like all identities it is contingent. You can complain about it but it is what it is. Put differently, "conservative" Anglicans are complaining about what it means to be Anglican more than anything else. No one is forcing them to stay in communion with Canterbury, but they must accept that communion with Canterbury is the basic principle of being Anglican. What they don't have the right to do is unilaterally redefine their terms -- which is what they are doing. This is less about "colonialism" than about rejecting the historical development of a particular faith. Their gripe is with Anglicanism itself, not the malevolence of Rowan Williams.
I've always thought Eliot understood a real conservative truth, in "Little Gidding," when he wrote
We are born with the dead: See, they return, and bring us with them. The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree Are of equal duration. A people without history Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails On a winter's afternoon, in a secluded chapel History is now and England.
I won't go into a lengthy exegesis here, but it would be fair to say one of the great themes of the poem is the intersection of the timeless and the timely, the historical; the way some truth that transcends particularity can be nonetheless approached through the particular. It at least partly is a celebration of the contingent, that something bound by time, place, and circumstance draws us to a truth that in some way is universal. To be Anglican is to believe that the particularity of a faith born on a middling island somehow captures something true, something essential about eternity, something that is valid beyond the borders of England.
This is what the "conservative" Anglicans reject. In this, they are deeply un-conservative. They would do well to remember that truth, such as it is, can only be mediated by a tradition; indeed, that a people without history -- even fundamentalist Christians -- are not redeemed from time. What they are seeking is something altogether different from Anglicanism. Which is fine, but they could at least be honest about it.
Since, like John, I was given strict instructions to introduce myself properly; I'm an undergraduate at Yale majoring in math and philosophy -- but I've spent much of the last 4 years slaving away in the biotech industry. I get paid to sit around and think about traumatic brain injury, but in my free time I like to sit around and think about elliptic curves and Nietzsche. I occasionally blog about both subjects over here.
""In no well-regulated community, under a proper system of
police, could the Virgin feel at home, and the same thing may be said
of most other saints as well as sinners."
That has to
be the best line I've read in a long time! Of the Virgin, Adams says,
"She was imposed unanimously by all classes, because what man wanted
most in the Middle Ages was not merely law or equity, but also and
particularly favour." He gives us many examples of miracles in which
the "general rule of favour, apart from law, or the reverse of law, was
the mark of Mary's activity in human affairs." He even explains "an
entire class of her miracles, applying to the discipline of the
Church!" Concludes Adams, "The people loved Mary because she trampled
on conventions; not merely because she could do it, but because she
liked to do what shocked every well-regulated authority."
"Men were, after all, not wholly inconsequent;
their attachment to Mary rested on an instinct of self-preservation.
They knew their own peril. If there was to be a future life, Mary was
their only hope. She alone represented Love."" - The Western Confucian
I've already registered my fears that this is poorly disguised pantheism, but Graham Greene attacks much the same sentiment from an entirely different angle:
"It seemed to him for a moment that God was too accessible. There was no difficulty in approaching Him. Like a popular demagogue He was open to the least of His followers at any hour. Looking up at the cross he thought, He even suffers in public." - Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
While Greene is describing Christ, the same quarrel applies to Adams' description of Mary. It's been a long time since I read my catechism, and hopefully a better Catholic can come along and set me straight; but for now I fear that my initial impression of Mary as "gateway drug to pantheism" is being borne out.
Here's the nut of Geuss's beef with Rorty's putative American exceptionalism:
Achieving Our Country, though, represented a step too far for
me. The very idea that the United States was “special” has always
seemed to me patently absurd, and the idea that in its present, any of
its past, or any of its likely future configurations it was in any way
exemplary, a form of gross narcissistic self-deception which was not
transformed into something laudable by virtue of being embedded in a
highly sophisticated theory which purported to show that ethnocentrism
was in a philosophically deep sense unavoidable. I remain very grateful
to my Catholic upbringing and education for giving me relative immunity
to nationalism. In the 1950s, the nuns who taught me from age five to
twelve were virtually all Irish or Irish-American with sentimental
attachment to certain elements of Celtic folklore, but they made sure
to inculcate into us that the only serious human society was
the Church which was an explicitly international organization. The
mass, in the international language, Latin, was the same everywhere;
the religious orders were international. This absence of national
limitation was something very much to be cherished. “Catholica” in the
phrase “[credo in] unam, sanctam, catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam”
should, we were told, be written with a lower-case, not an upper-case,
initial because it was not in the first instance part of the proper
name of the church, but an adjective meaning “universal,” and this
universality was one of the most important “marks of the true Church.”
The Head of the Church, to be sure, and Vicar of Christ on earth, was
in fact (at that time) always an Italian, but that was for contingent
and insignificant reasons.
What has always seemed patently absurd to me -- and possibly not only because I was never educated by polylingual priests and nuns from various small European nations that never had empires -- is the very idea that there is nothing in any way unique or incomparable about the character of the United States of America relative to that of the many European states and statelets that have appeared or disappeared since the fall of the Roman Empire. At any rate, Geuss's is the more 'interesting' position, I warrant, because mine is obviously plausible and his leaves him with some explaining to do. But as the Bioethics Club, no doubt, can tell you (or Ross or Michael -- or Andrew!), taking one's Catholic faith seriously and properly dogmatically (at least when it comes to the one-true-church component) has little necessary impact on one's concept of the strangeness or relative uncategorizability and therefore the 'specialness' of the United States of America. Indeed, if you want to go there, I think the record of the John Carrolls and Orestes Brownsons of the world pretty much renders Geuss's take on US exceptionalism bunk.
Yet it also seems to me that the reason why Geuss's take on US exceptionalism is so incorrect is revealed by how correct is his take on ethnonationalist exceptionalism generally -- a position which would surely incense Geuss further, because, after all, to state that is simply to restate the basic proposition of US exceptionalism. Right? Well, not quite. Really the argument here I think is an argument about sovereignty: US exceptionalists incline to think that the sovereignty of the US is of great, sometimes even cosmic, importance, whereas the sovereignty of, say, the average random Continental state is not. At all. And here's where Geuss's Catholic spin on state sovereignty takes on its important character. Europe's main problem has been the unity of the Church and the disunity of the many States. After the Reformation, the unity of the States developed into an even more disorienting problem. Geuss is right that Protestantism contributed directly to nationalism in Europe, but it is silly to pretend that, say, Napoleon's effort to conquer Europe without disbanding and destroying the Church was not a nationalist enterprise. Europe has always had no option but to transcend nationalism through nationalism itself, which is silly to notice because critics of US exceptionalism, especially on the right, correctly charge its exponents with the desire to transcend US nationalism through US nationalism itself. Geuss appears not to grasp the subtle commonality.
The bottom line is that even if all of Europe went Catholic again, ethnonationalism would remain a bigger problem on the Continent than it did when all those Irish and Polish and Italian families intermarried over in totally unspecial America. Europe's failure to unify politically is a political problem, and the problem is that European nation-states really are less unique than the United States, yet patriots, nationalists, and chauvinists of all descriptions share some minimum interest in maintaining the sovereignty (as opposed to just some romantic idea of the 'exceptionalism') of their nation-states. Now the even deeper problem is that Europe cannot look to the Catholic model of unity for a path toward politically transcending the relatively less exceptional character of most European nation-states, because the hierarchy and absolutism of the Church cannot successfully be applied to the kind of government all those nation-states and their citizens or subjects can tolerate. Every time this has been tried it has been a calamity of epic proportions. This should be more than enough reason for even a Eurocatholic social theorist of the left to credit the US as 'special' -- it offers a lesson to Europe about how to structure a decentralized large republic and transcend the crippling ethnonationalism that has understandably made cosmopolitan ingrates out of thinkers like Geuss.
Of course a US exceptionalist would be a fool to expect Europeans to whip up a United States of Europe. But at least one European cosmopolitan in a smart tradition of them recognized that the US was a world-historically singular phenomenon that offered Europeans as a collectivity an amazing set of generalizable, transportable, and fungible practices and ideas that could heal the fraud of ethnonationalism which absolutist princely rule cemented into place. It is interesting to note that the cosmopolitans of whom I speak were either Protestants or Catholics of a particularly muted variety. What is important, to sum up, is that Geuss's Catholic contempt for ethnonationalism doesn't supply an answer to Europe's specific problem of unification, which as Geuss himself proves isn't a problem only for those who want Europe to emulate America; and the ideas box that pro-unification thinkers must repair to is the puzzle of American exceptionalism, which a Catholic could just as easily imagine as the Providential gift whereby petty secular allegiances may finally be transcended, in due ironic fashion, in Europe.
Another intimation of MacIntyro-Nietzschean fusionism, courtesy of Nicola Karras:
The only answer we have yet found to the
argument—perhaps the only answer there can ever be—is in the value of
the argument itself. Our telos can be found, if
nowhere else, in continuing our search for it. The struggle itself
towards the heights is enough to fill the heart of a man. One must
imagine the Humanities student happy.
The 'must' is doing most of the work here, followed by 'one', with 'happy' bringing up the rear. The ancient discovery that our telos is only ever recognizable as our search for it was replaced in modern times by the radically different idea that our telos is only recognizable as the history of our search. The postmodern task, if you'll permit me, is to heal this divide. We cannot and should not forget history. If we are stuck with virtue, we are also stuck with the world as the expressly historical world. But we must also recognize -- in a way to which religion, I think, is of great importance -- that fate and history are not identical, that fate is how the ancients lived in the present and history how moderns lived so awkwardly in the future.
The Christian bridge between these positions involved living wholly in the present in whole, constant anticipation of the future: a powerful premonition of the later credo (somehow both dumbed-down and tarted-up) "Become who you are." The key to striking what seems like this mystical balance between passivity and agency is the obsession of the late moderns; left postmoderns typically want it to emit from the immanent self, whereas, I reckon, right postmoderns want to note that the mystically immanent self actually has much less self there than their left opposite numbers desire; that occupying that space, not terribly mystically, are the external authorities of particular narratives, particular others, and -- are you with me? -- a particular God.
William Saletan is delighted that once we've replaced all of our blood vessels with plastic,
"it'll go a long way toward loosening our concept of ourselves as biological creatures."
actually surprisingly okay with that, so long as we don't loosen our
concept of ourselves as incarnate creatures (incarnate in the broadest
Can we move forward with the kinds of self-manipulating technologies that characterize the 'posthuman' project in such a way as to retain a shared reality of incarnate creaturehood (that is, as beings which were and are always already created)? If so, should we?
Daniel reminds me of another interesting wrinkle in what I've been considering hopefully not too cavalierly as Obama's aristocratic character:
Let’s be clear about something: Obama is a liberal Protestant, which means that by definition his
kind of Christianity is not going to mesh with mine or Alan Keyes’ or
most conservatives’, in part because his denomination emphasises the
Social Gospel and the activism associated with that, but also because
it belongs to a very different theological tradition. The unwittingly
hilarious adoption of the very literalist idea that we should not place
a period “where God has put a comma” is a perfect example of how the
UCC almost makes a dogma out of the idea of evolving, adaptable
religion. Obama has read and actually likes Reinhold Niebuhr, which I
assure you is exceedingly rare among anyone who is not genuinely
interested in Christian theology, however liberal its form. As a rule,
agnostics would not bother to read Niebuhr or, having read him, would
either become convinced atheists as a result of boredom or would become
Christians. Everyone who knows much about Obama understands that he
came to Christianity intellectually, as one might expect given his
style and personality, and this is the one place where I am most
sympathetic to Obama, because my conversion was similarly not produced
by a blinding flash or light or a tolle, lege moment, but was
the result of a gradual process of reflection, study and a slowly
dawning understanding why God became man to save us.
It's somewhat difficult to have this conversation without conjuring up some hoary stereotypes, but I do think there's something significant about Obama's intellectual Protestantism, which is what really contrasts to Keyes' Christianity and, more importantly, occupies a pretty depopulated territory. The long tradition of intellectual liberal Protestantism has sort of petered out in its own right, and intellectual conservative Protestantism oftentimes seems like a legendary unicorn. If you really want to get into the pejorative stereotypes you can whip up a picture on the Right dominated by godless Straussians and habitual holy rollers. As much as I think that's largely an absurd oversimplification, these caricatures aren't imagined at random. It's possible, I think, for conservative Protestant intellectuals to agree with Daniel that Obama's version of Christianity isn't the model while still appreciating the kind of path he took to get there.
For you, the reader, I pull down the one good link on the whole Corner. Mark Steyn:
The mainline Protestant churches have long been beyond parody. America gave us the first Episcopal minister who's also a practising Muslim.
Now Canada gives us a minister from the United Church (the merged Congregationalists, Methodist and Presbyterians) who wants
to move beyond the whole Jesus thing...
Long quotes follow from soft nihilists follow. An enervating read, actually, but far more vital than the endless posts on Rev. Wright and Hillary Clinton that surround it.
One of the few things Alexis de Tocqueville most underrated was the affinity in contemporary times between Catholicism and pantheism. I know this may be a revolting and outrageous idea, or allegation, to a fair number of friends and/or readers. But I have thought it over and have decided to move forward with it. For now I can only point you to The Immanent Frame, specifically to William Connolly's brief for pantheism (though he doesn't call it this), one of the plainest, frankest, and 'best' (yes, because it's Nietzschean) that I've seen in a while.
My main concern is that Taylor, and Catholics like him, are inclined to cede vast amounts of territory to the main thrusts and attitudes of the pantheist creed -- most importantly, the holiness ofalllove, in all its physicality, as an immanent and transcendent experience of peaceful yet powerful becoming in time -- as long as the Church and the Nicene Creed are kept intact. For at least a handful of Protestants, this amounts to something resembling worst nightmare territory. For what it's worth.