Friday, January 1, 2016

The battle of 2016

And a Happy New Year to you all, Dear Reader (sic, singular - I am expecting the plurality are at the beach NOT wasting their time on blogs).

I saw something like the title above on a Tweet recently and thought it pretty negative in late December, looking ahead to the year ahead as a "battle." But taking the title in a slightly different way, and thinking Christianly, 2016 looks like it must be reckoned with as a year of continuing fisticuffs and fierce fighting. Daesh remains to be defeated. And whether it is defeated or not, there is a battle going on re understanding of 'true Islam', how Islam is to be welcomed and accommodated (or not) in the West. Speaking of the West, culture wars in the West continue. Arguments within churches abound. In my own church arguments will continue about Christchurch cathedral in the Square and about same sex blessings (see May 2016 General Synod).

But today I want to simply draw your attention to a formidable essay by Ross Douthat on "A Crisis of Conservative Catholicism" to be published in First Things this month.

I suggest it is worth reading on two grounds.

(1) For all Christians interested in the significance of Pope Francis for 21st century Roman Catholicism, then this is a "must read."

(2) Although Douthat (as a conservative Catholic) is focused on the crisis of conservative Catholicism, it does not take much brainpower - dulled as it may be by post-Christmas recovery from overeating and New Year somnambulance by the beach - to read his magisterial offering as an account of a larger crisis in 21st century global Christianity.


Anonymous said...

A happy new year to all, and merry travels to Father Ron.

On (1), just as Francis would like his church to retreat from rigourist positions more defensible where it sets the tone for whole societies, so the conservative resistance would prefer that it maintain those positions as the counter-cultural edge of its 'new evangelism.' Personally, I am sceptical of the social scenarios of both sides. Douthat may be right that the centre-left position to which the Pope would like to fall back does not exist on the ground, even it makes theoretical sense. Meanwhile, message discipline is indeed helpful in evangelism, but it is not clear that the old lines are the right message for even convinced conservatives to offer post-Christian societies. In the quotation below, Douthat seems to concede this. It would be good to see less aspirational rhetoric from both sides and more plausible modeling of how their proposals would work on the ground.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

On (2), the wider dissensus, first a quote--

"Then there is a form of liberal Catholicism that doesn’t have a sweeping program of change for the Church, but just finds certain teachings either too challenging to live up to or too difficult to fully comprehend. This form is less a threat to orthodoxy than a necessary challenge to conservatives—a challenge to charity and generosity of spirit and also an intellectual and theological challenge. Some teachings fail to persuade or resonate because the case for them is made poorly, and needs to be reconceived and made anew. In other instances, liberal difficulties really can point the way either toward an authentic development of doctrine or a genuinely pastoral change in how the Church approaches an issue, a group, a situation."

The man is talking about sex.

And so should we all. In the C1, the belief that God had inaugurated a renewal of the creation with the Resurrection was most visibly lived out through the universalisation, if you will, of the Judaic family. This required a family reordering and sexual discipline that were for pagan society revolutionary practises. By the C21, that link has been all but lost from view.

Liberals like the Resurrection, and if they have heard of it, new creation as well, but they do not see anything new or creative about discipline that subordinates the immense power of sexuality to the family (or perhaps to God). Sex is inspiring to them; not having sex is not inspiring to them. They evade plain acknowledgment of their own convictions by talking about those of the young. But nevertheless there is something new and sometimes creative on the horizon: a generation of women is trying to define femininity wholly apart from both men and family.

Conservatives have often set the Cross in competition with the Resurrection in a way that obscures the promise of new creation altogether. When they do this, they defend sexual discipline as a matter of scriptural authority. Nobody really knows why, they imply, but the apostolic generation accomplished amazing feats of chastity and so must we. To maintain a Christian identity we must do as they did, no matter how little sense it makes to us in the (not) doing.

If these pairs of shoes do not fit, dear reader, please do not wear them. But those they do fit do not have positions that are sustainable in the Christian religion. And alas, that is most of us. Repentance on both sides is the only way forward in any of the world's divided churches.

For conservatives, the way of repentance is a well-marked road of retrieval. The older generation has been reluctant to take it, resisting the theological implications of the New Perspective on Paul or of ecumenical dialogue, but younger conservatives that I know are well on their way. For liberals, however, the way of repentance requires harder choices. Without some sort of walking back from the alienating dream of a world without men their Christianity is hollow, but like the older conservatives, they too are deeply enmeshed in a social paradigm that also demands their allegiance. It may be that a future generation of liberals will follow their Resurrection logic through to its conclusion that social justice and sexual harmony are not in competition but are deeply intertwined.

Bowman Walton