"When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience."
This insight comes into a thoughtful and challenging piece by Michael Gerson, posted on Real Clear Politics, entitled 'The Real Scandal of Religion'. The context is the furore over "Bishop" Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust, but the article also talks about the contributions Christians have made to both the Holocaust itself and to the Rwandan genocide.
I mention all this here on Anglican Down Under not because I see Gerson's wisdom as generally worth noting, but because when we attempt to understand why so much hatred gets spilled in the Comments on Anglican blog and news sites (mostly not this one, but it doesn't get a lot of readers) it may be worth turning the quote above around.
If Anglicanism is largely free of racism and extreme nationalism, is it an infection of 'ideology' which is generating the hatred?
The relationship between 'ideology' and 'theology' can be less clear than some of us might think. Sometimes we think it a clear distinction when we nail those different to us with an 'ism' which brings non-theological material into the thinking of Christians: feminism, Marxism, Nazism (in the 1930s German church), and the like. But 'ideology' infects our theology, I suggest, when we allow one idea to stand out and to stand over our thinking and praxis as Christians, or when we wed ourselves to an 'ideal' and from that ideal judge the life of the church. Since most of the life of the church is less than ideal it is easy to judge it a failure, to fall into a mode of condemnation and thus into the hatred Gerson writes about.
The SSPX to which Bishop Richard Williamson belongs is an example of an ideologically driven group in this second sense: it deems the pre-Vatican 2, Latin-speaking liturgical life of the RC church to be ideal, and from that perspective it has judged and condemned the post-Vatican 2 life of the church. The poverty of its theology is demonstrated in its lack of appreciation of the incarnation of our Lord which means that once Latin ceased to be the universal language of the peoples of the church, liturgies in Latin ceased to be faithful responses to Christ.
But ideology crouches at the door of each and every church. When we look around us and judge the life of the church to be deficient relative to the Reformation in Calvin's Geneva or to the first outpouring of the Spirit in modern Pentecostal experience or to the way the church was in the 1960s ('the church was full every Sunday') we are beholden to ideology.
Or, when we become single 'idea' people: the key to every good future of the church is 'evangelism' or 'Bible teaching' or 'inclusiveness' or 'praying for an hour every day', or 'following the prayer book to the letter', ideology has us in its grip!