Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Open Society and the right to be cruel in public discourse

Outside of the realm of saints and Scriptural heroes, one of the people I admire most is Karl Popper, giant philosopher of the 20th century who, as it happens, taught right here in Christchurch for a few years, safe from the reach of Hitler. I believe that it was while here that he wrote The Open Society and its Enemies. My own introduction to Popperian thought came when an undergraduate studying the Philosophy of Science. Popper's distinctive contribution to the Philosophy of Science (in The Logic of Scientific Discovery) was coherent with his contribution to political philosphy: knowledge advances through criticism

In the realm of society, life flourishes where freedom to advance ideas, debate, critique and thus improve them is unconstrained. Whether the enemy of such an 'open society' is Plato or Marx or Hitler matters little. The enemy needs dispatching in order that the quest for truth is unimpeded.

In the realm of science, research flourishes when it is recognised that we advance towards the truth by subjecting all theories and hypotheses to testing. The strongest theories are those which are the consequence of their predecessors having been falsified. Where we cannot (yet) falsify a  theory we cannot assert we have arrived at the truth but we can be confident we are closer to it. Allied with this approach is the fruitful idea (even in theology and biblical studies) that if we have a proposed theory for which no one can suggest a test which might lead to its falsification, then it is of dubious value. (In respect of Easter, to give a theological instance, the 'theory' that it doesn't matter whether the body of Jesus remains in the tomb or not, may sound comforting, but it offers no advance towards truth, because it can never be falsified. A singular advantage of the 'theory' that the resurrection means the tomb is empty is that it is potentially testable: locate the remains of Jesus in the tomb and the resurrection of Jesus is falsified.) 'Open science' like 'open society' encourages testing of ideas.

Thus one reason I like blogging and going to Synods (!) is that both are forums which encourage 'open society' in the church. The life of the church flourishes where people are free to think, to debate, to advance ideas in order for them to be subject to critique so that they are improved. As a Popperian I have no problem here, or in Synod, with being told I am wrong. GOOD! My ideas then have an opportunity for improvement as they are revised in the light of their being found wanting.

But the commitment to an 'open society' does mean that people are free to say objectionable things, even cruel things. Today, one example of this, is a quite nasty assertion being made by one of the leaders of the campaign to restore our cathedral. Mark Belton, according to our Press, is claiming our Church Property Trustees acted arrogantly and recklessly in committing insurance funds for the permanent cathedral to the building of the temporary cathedral. I find this an 'arrogant and reckless' charge: arrogance is the presumption that we know all there is to know about a situation; reckless is proceeding without care for the damage that might be caused. Our Trustees are good people, considerate, careful and wise. Whether they made the right decision or not, there is no basis for saying they acted arrogantly and recklessly: but Mark Belton implies he knows otherwise and has the right to assert false charges which impugn their character. He does himself, and his cause a disservice. We will make progress on the journey to a new or renewed cathedral through debate which tests ideas in order to improve them, not through cruel, ungrounded assertions about the character of decision-makers.

Incidentally, the Press itself is somewhat reckless. Its headline is 'Call for Trustees to Pay Back Cathedral Funds.' Now, maybe I am not reading carefully enough, but (to be fair as I can be to Mark Belton) that call is not being made by Mark Belton.

But all is not unwell within the Press. There is an excellent opinion piece within it, by David Killick, not yet linkable. He astutely puts his finger on concerns I (and, it would appear to me, others) have about the designs, especially Design 3 (the new, fresh design).

I am still pondering my questions about this design. In the meantime, as part of an open society pursuing truth through making claims and subjecting them to examination, may I send you back to Bosco Peters' post on the designs, which he updated yesterday with his own variation on D3. An update which offers greater flexibility, intimacy, scope for hospitality, and centrality of font. I like it. As a Popperian  I ask, as we test it out, can we improve on it?


mike greenslade said...

Good points Peter. It is interesting to read your assessment of Mark Belton. The capacity to project our own failings and blind spots on to others is very common. Often, the critic reveals more of him/herself than they realise.

liturgy said...

Thanks Peter,

you are quite right. Andrew Allan-Johns already improved on my sketch IMO by suggesting a level above the gathering space.

I was intrigued in the Press Perspective piece at the suggestion of a "modern exterior and a traditional interior". That, from my perspective, is what Option 3 is currently offering. And I don't think the 19th century format of the interior can offer what we need in a 21st century church.

Easter Season Blessings


Anonymous said...

I remember as an undergraduate discovering 'The Open Society' deep in the bowels of the university library and spening the afternoon enraptured in it, though I probably then scarcely knew Plato from Pluto. Since then, I've always kept Popper high in my esteem and an Ace card against totalitarians, of whom I met a few in later years (mainly Marxists but also atheists).
I read Bosco's post with interest, and without going into details, see it as affirming my maxim of interior design: 'Don't bolt anything down' - just make sure the lighting, plumbing, heating, omputer and sound system and projection facilities are up to the job, and as flexible as they can be for a place that will be used for weekly worship but also lectures, Christian education, concerts, films, conferences, balls, wedding receptions etc - as we do in our church now, following reorganisation. I can't imagine preaching now without my giant powerpoints! No time is spent now tidying away hymnbooks nas service books because we don't have any.
If I was being sly (me genoito!), even learn from St Andrew's Sydney, where they wheel in the communion table! A certain kind of ecclesiasticalarchitect enjoys designing pulpits, ambos (whatever they are) and the rest (and getting the commission)but they're not needed in a place with good sound.
In that spirit, it even makes sense to maintain a traditional exterior if everything else inside is as modern as can be (but not like an airport lounge).


Bryden Black said...

Congratulations Peter on your highlighting Popperian philosophy of science.

As demonstrated by Tom Torrance († 2007), so with Popper, theologians have nothing to fear from genuine science - only from technocrats and pseudo/mass populist scientists! All truth is God’s truth. Yet that’s also the trouble - for us postmodern ‘captives’ at least, for whom the very notion of ‘truth’ is now seemingly suspect. We are indeed “most to be pitied”: desirous of the latest fruits of science and technology - indeed, addicted to them, as consumers! - yet desirous also of a ‘split universe’, where we can still ‘believe’ whatever we seemingly fancy - well; that’s my opinion!

There’s one more thing to learn from Popper re cathedral designs/concepts, which is embedded in the very title you quote: The Open Society, with the stress on the word “open”. Martin, and Bosco, I sense have it right: we need to be as flexible as possible, as open as possible, as spacious as possible. That’s why I am personally adamant the foot-print has to change: IT WREAKS A PARTICULAR THEOLOGY, one that closes down many an option and is far from “open”, funneling us necessarily one way.

PS. May I naughtily recommend Steve Fuller’s Kuhn vs. Popper: The Struggle for the Soul of Science (2003). Brilliant, and required reading, frankly, as is The Open Society itself as well.

Anonymous said...

I have a lot of respect for Popper and 'The Open Society' but I think in the end he misunderstood the long term effects of democracy on genuine freedom. Universal suffrage and majoritarianism are always in the long run destructive of real liberty and responsible government.

Or to put it another way, give everyone the "right" to vote and the people will always vote for bread and circuses.

Bryden Black said...

A dose of Popperian logic would not go amiss:

Bryden Black said...

Hi Shawn - and others who wish to pursue his line. May I endorse most seriously Os Guiness, A Free People's Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (2012). While addressing firstly the founding of US's freedom from England (winning freedom), then secondly their Constitution (ordering freedom), its primary focus, which is applicable to the entire West and notably NZ, addresses sustaining freedom: what's needed and what is not actually happening towards this end. An impressive complement to Popper. Dwarves our problems with any cathedral rebuild ... And provokes further "convictions" ...!

Anonymous said...

That was just plain appalling nonsense from the Bishop of Washington. How do these people manage to get elected???

It confirms my view that TEC is a lost cause, and the faster we severe ties with it and recognize ACNA the better.

Anonymous said...

Shawn, you may know that as an Austrian Jew, Popper had come to NZ to escape the Nazis, and he retained a lifelong hatred of totalitarianism of both left and right, which he believed had the same roots in Hegel and Plato. Like many people of the 1940s, he believed that democracy and untrammeled free speech and the exchange of ideas were the chief remedy against tyranny. But I don't know if he ever made up his mind about the existence of God as the foundation of knowledge and ethics (as well as being), as Christians must. You raise an important question about universal suffrage and majoritarianism. It is sobering to recall that Athenian democracy ended in the chaos of the Peloponnesian Wars, while our own adventures in "democracy" have become highly problematic in an age of mass (mis-) communications vast bureaucracies and professional politicians/demagogues - comparable ills that afflicted Athens in the 5th century BC. To which I would add: what good is the right to vote if banks and multinationals run the world and citizens censor their own speech? Democracy by itself is never enough: you need a virtuous republic as well which guarantees the Four Freedoms and breaks down all power blocks, economic as well as political.

Father Ron Smith said...

"It confirms my view that TEC is a lost cause, and the faster we severe ties with it and recognize ACNA the better." (?)

This comment could never have appeared on the excellent U.K. Anglican site 'Thinking Anglicans'.

For the commenter's information; ACANZP is 'in communion with' TEC - not his ACNA. One cannot see this situation changing in the near future. ACANZP flows with the Anglican mainstream - not the euphemistically named 'Mainstream' - known as 'Slipstream' to some in our Church.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
It is difficult to be in fellowship with bishops who deny that the bodily resurrection of our Lord took place.

If many more TEC bishops 'come out' in this way it won't be long before I will be moving a motion in our Synod to begin a move to get our General Synod to signal we are no longer in fellowship with TEC. (I accept it would then be another step to seek our GS to formally agree to be in fellowship with ACNA).

Anyway if and when I move my motion in our Synod I will be making it clear that those voting against it will be explicitly signalling their acceptance that the bodily resurrection of our Lord doesn't much matter!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron,

My statement on TEC, while controversial perhaps, nevertheless contained not one shred of ad hominem, not one iota of personal abuse. So if Thinking Anglicans is censoring opinions which are not ad hominem but merely different opinions, then how does that make them "excellent"?

I thought Liberals were in favour of freedom of speech?

I am aware of who we were currently in communion with, but that does not mean anything if one of our communion partners is no longer creedally orthodox. At the very least it requires that we debate the serious issue of whether or not we can be in communion with a church that denies the creeds and the resurrection.

Now of course it is totally open to debate as to whether or not we are at that point with TEC. I have heard enough from a number of TEC Bishops over the last few years to believe that we are, or at least very close to it. Others may disagree, but that is the nature of free speech and open debate.

I am saddened that a major Anglican blog may be trying to restrict legitimate free speech and censor differing opinions. There is nothing liberal about that. I find it a very scary example of totalitarian thinking.

I have no idea what "flows" and "slipstreams" have to do with Christian ecclessiology or creedal orthodoxy. Every priest in the Anglican Communion takes an oath to believe, teach and defend the creeds. They are not optional no matter what Anglican tribe we belong to.

The Christian Gospel is founded upon the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Metaphors about new life and rebirth are fine, but without the historical resurrection they are just paganism. Bishops in our Church have taken an oath to uphold the historical resurrection of our Saviour. By dint of that oath, and I would think as a matter of integrity and honor, they cannot teach anything contrary to that.

So all in all while I understand that you disagree I cannot for the life of me understand why you objected to my opinion being posted in the first place. Do you believe in free speech and open debate?

Does Thinking Anglicans?

Father Ron Smith said...

Oh dear, Peter. I have to challenge your assertion (above) that TEC Bishops are all in denial over the bodily Resurrection of Christ!

Your so obvious alliance with Shawn on this notion of solidarity with ACNA seems just a wee bit disloyal to our Church in ACANZP, which does not officially recognise ACNA - in common, I might say, with the rest of the Anglican Communion (except GAFCON - which has chosen to ignore the 'Instruments of Communion', and which, seemingly is about to sever itself more clearly from ACC with its meeting in Kenya later this year). Will you be joining them?

I do wonder if your acknowledged affinity with ACNA ought to raise alarm signals within our diocese - about your putative alliance with GAFCON - which element is shaping up to separate out from the rest of us? This would not bode well for your teaching role in the diocese.

Also, I suspect that, if you were to bring your motion to sever our fraternal connection with TEC, to our ACANZP General Synod, you would be voted out of order in doing so.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I did not assert that all TEC bishops are in denial etc.

I asserted that were more to head in this direction then I would be prompted to move a motion at our Synod. Implied was the implication that only if I could secure the agreement of our Synod would I head off to GS seeking their agreement.

As a teacher of theology and trainer of clergy in the Diocese I am not at all ashamed, embarrassed or hesitant to express the view that denial of the bodily resurrection of our Lord constitutes a grave danger to continuing fellowship, even in the ever-wide Anglican church. Nor am I hesitant or embarrassed to associate that concern with depreciation of an Anglican church which gives safe harbour to such deniers and with appreciation of an Anglican church which makes no bones (bad pun!) about fostering orthodox belief in the bodily resurrection of our Lord.

Are you an affirmer or a denier of the bodily resurrection of our Lord? And if the former, noting that you have a blog, are you prepared to publicly challenge Anglican bishops who deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord is a matter which matters?

A final question, do you understand that in North America there might be many Anglicans who are sick and tired of finding their bishops deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord?

mike greenslade said...

"if and when I move my motion in our Synod I will be making it clear that those voting against it will be explicitly signalling their acceptance that the bodily resurrection of our Lord doesn't much matter!" (PC)

Are you sure, Peter? There could be any number of other good reasons for them to dismiss your motion, if and when you move it. Telling people what their vote means is a good way of losing credibility.

Peter Carrell said...

My motion would be so cunningly worded, Mike, that that would be the only possible reason for disagreeing with it :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, you have asked me a leading question - about my belief in the 'bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ'. I did not think I would have to assure you that I - as a believer in the physical presence of Jesus in the Sacred Elements of the Eucharist - attach the same credibility to the physical, bodily Resurrection of OLJC. For a true catholic, these two go together.

What theologians are still having to deal with is the deeper meaning of 'bodily' - in connection with the resurrection appearances of Jesus. I don't need to tell you the significance of the fact that even his own disciples (not to mention Mary Magdalene) did not immediately recognise the physical body of Jesus as that of the person they were familiar with in his mortal life-time. What 'sort' of body, then was this that appeared to them? It seems that it had more to do with his characteristic loving (physically identifiable) actions towards them that eventually led them to recognise Jesus.

For instance, for Mary Magdalene; by the way in which he called her by name: "Mary". For the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, when he 'broke the bread'. Many greater theologians than you and I are still pondering on this great mystery of bodily resurrection.

What does that all have to say about the recognisably physical body of Jesus after his death? We are dealing here with a mystical and puzzling reality; about what is meant by the Resurrection of Jesus.

You may have first hand experience of it, but I have only the Gospel accounts and the words of St. Paul to guide me. The same might be said about the 'true Presence of Jesus' in the Eucharist. There are some evangelicals among us who have problems with that understanding of the eternal Presence of Jesus in the consecrated Bread and Wine.

"Here, we see through a glass darkly - then we shall see him face to face".

"Faith", may I remind you, is the substance of 'sight unseen', not that which is immediately tangible. This is what Jesus said to Thomas, when he told him: Blest, rather, are those whose have not seen and yet believe. I have not seen the scientifically physical 'Presence' of Jesus in the consecrated Elements of the Mass, and yet, I do believe that He is therein. I have not seen the Risen Christ, but I do believe, with generations of the Church, that: -

He is Risen, Alleluia. He is risen indeed, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I do not actually doubt your own belief on the matter.
Nor do I have a problem with theological exploration of the mystery of the resurrection as you well express in your comment. The questions you draw attention to are important.

However I think the Bishop of Washington recently went beyond the point of questions about the nature of appearances of the risen Lord to denying a core element of the gospel witness, that the tomb was empty and that emptiness matters to the general sense of the combined NT witness, that the body of Jesus was raised, but, indeed, to a new and strange-to-us resurrection body.

Anonymous said...

The issue of how we understand the exact nature of Christ's ressurection body is not the same thing as denying the historical resurrection itself. But, we still must affirm that it was physical, because the tomb was empty.

The Bishop of Washington said that the issue of a real historical resurrection was not important, that it did not matter if the tomb was not empty.

That is not orthodoxy by any standard, and such a view should disqualify a person from any leadership position in the Church.

MichaelA said...

"Your so obvious alliance with Shawn on this notion of solidarity with ACNA seems just a wee bit disloyal to our Church in ACANZP, which does not officially recognise ACNA - in common, I might say, with the rest of the Anglican Communion"

Well, in common with less than half the rest of the Anglican Communion - lets be accurate, Father Ron!

In any case, so what? Recognition has to start somewhere. Are you suggesting that there should never have been any ordination of women because there was a point only a few decades ago where no province did it? The same methods that led to the ordination of women may also be used to lead to the recognition of ACNA. Its only a matter of time.

"(except GAFCON - which has chosen to ignore the 'Instruments of Communion', and which, seemingly is about to sever itself more clearly from ACC with its meeting in Kenya later this year)."

Actually the vast majority of the Anglican Communion ignore "the Instruments of Communion" whenever they are inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord and Apostles. And what is all this about "sever itself from ACC (the Anglican Consultative Council)"? That simply has no meaning. If you meant "sever itself from the AC (Anglican Communion)", then that has never been Gafcon's strategy and you know it.

"I do wonder if your acknowledged affinity with ACNA ought to raise alarm signals within our diocese - about your putative alliance with GAFCON - which element is shaping up to separate out from the rest of us? This would not bode well for your teaching role in the diocese."

My, my, is this a threat? Could Father Ron be showing the same spirit which led to over 100 priests and bishops being deposed from TEC in 2006-2007 (note the year - this was well before the split that led to the formation of ACNA) because they weren't liberal enough? I have always said that as soon as liberals get into power, they drop their liberalism and become the oppressors. A straw in the wind from Father Ron?

Also, Gafcon is not "shaping up to separate out from the rest of us"- you know that Father Ron because it is your constant complaint on various blogs - you WISH they would separate out, but they have signalled clearly that they won't be doing so, much to your chagrin!

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Peter, for your acceptance of my orthodox belief in Jesus' Resurrection from the dead.

However, there is no codicil of any Creed that we must 'believe in the Empty Tomb'. There is, however, the requirement to believe in the Resurrection of Christ.

So, the Bishop of Washington may not be erring against credal faith. This is quite important as a distinction for 'right belief'.

The important thing, surely, about the Empty Tomb, is that this was the experience of both the Women and the Disciples. We cannot testify to the Empty Tomb, we can only assent to their experience of it - as mediated through Scripture.

I, though, have no problem in believing the Tomb to have been empty. Such is my faith.

mike greenslade said...

Ok - the Baldrick strategy. I like it.

And it is good to see we have again returned to "It's life Jim, but not as we know it". New and strange is always marketable.

Anonymous said...

"However, there is no codicil of any Creed that we must 'believe in the Empty Tomb'. There is, however, the requirement to believe in the Resurrection of Christ.

So, the Bishop of Washington may not be erring against credal faith. This is quite important as a distinction for 'right belief'."

No it's not. This is simply incoherent nonsense, along with a misunderstanding of Bultmann. 'The third day he rose again from the dead / He ascended into heaven' means his crucified body left the tomb and left the earth. Don't fall into the trap of defending your mates (because you agree with their views on homosexuality or abortion) when they are proclaiming ignorance and/or heresy. This same bishop also said 'we don't know when Jesus became God.'
The Apostles' Creed is simply a highly condensed summary of catechetical teaching for baptizands. It says nothing about the Eucharist, for example.

Anonymous said...

If the Bishop of Washington thinks that at some point Christ became God, and if she rejects the empty tomb, which IS orthodoxy, then she is not remotely within the bounds of orthodoxy, ANY version of it, Eastern, Roman or Anglican, and she should never have been ordained let alone made a Bishop.

Martin is right. Liberalism has no core of orthodox doctrine. It's only core is politics, it's only "orthodoxy" is cultural Marxism. So long as leaders are in favour of homosexuality, abortion and socialism, then they can spout any old doctrinal nonsense, including denying the Creeds, which this Bishop has effectively done, and it
apparently does not matter to their followers.

With all it's talk of "Mother God", unlimited sexual freedom, abortion (the sacrifice of children to Liberalism's idol of "choice") and socialism, parts of TEC look more like the Marxist-Leninist branch of a Pagan fertility cult than anything remotely orthodox and Christian.

Father Ron Smith said...

Where is our moderator, now? Bye-byes after Synod?

Anonymous said...

GAFCON, or more accurately the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is a renewal movement within the church. It has not nor ever has any intentions of separating from the Angkican Communion. I have yet to see a shred of evidence from any source that this is so.

Why then is the claim being made?

And since when is it "disloyality" to be supportive of the FCA?

These claims are totally bogus.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
Which part of which statement above is untrue or unfair?

As far as I can tell (to give one instance of what might have catalysed your comment), parts of TEC do resemble what is described above.

(Parts of other Anglican churches can bear similar description. It may have been unfair to pick on TEC!)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
Don't use the word 'sick' in the way you have used it in a comment I will not publish because of its presence there as one objectionable word in an otherwise reasonable response to Shawn's comment.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Shawn,
Your comment re TEC is marginal. I think I understand the background to each aspect of the case you make, but put together in that way, I think I would struggle to identify the particular part or parts of TEC of which that would be a reasonable description both in terms of content and tone.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

Fair enough, though I have no trouble identifying both those specific parts of TEC ( and for that matter other parts of the AC ) and specific individuals that fit that description clearly to me. But for the sake of lowering the heat I will refrain from repeating that description in further posts.