Wednesday, February 16, 2022

A gospel obsession

From my sidebar:

"Fundamentally the Gospel is obsessed with the idea of the unity of human society.


I think Masure is correct and also provocative (i.e. provokes us to think about the meaning of the Good News).

But it is a challenge, is it not, to agree with Masure and to work on unity?

Ukraine v Russia: in the swirl of anxiety about how this conflict may play out, let's not forget significant, embarrassing conflict in various churches in Ukraine and Russia which seems to owe more to nationalism than to "gospel-ism".

In our own Blessed Isles, where a challenging protest is playing out on the grounds of our Parliament. The protest's main message is that the Government should cease mandating vaccinations, but there is other messaging, and some of it is unsavoury (e.g. calling for lynchings of politicians and media) and some of it false (e.g. expressions of various misinformations re vaccinations, politicians involvement in global conspiracies).

While most of our country is united in wanting the protest to end, the protest is a reminder that we are not a united in our fight against Covid.

And, let's not forget, there is division in our churches (including Anglican churches) over vaccinations.

How do we achieve unity in church and in society in this age of pandemic and misinformation, of necessary collective action and concern for individual well-being?



Mark Murphy said...

My feeling is the protesters desperately want to be heard, to be listened to, that they feel completely excluded and scape-goated by mainstream society, media, and government.

And it is true that the media have only become interested in them the more loud, aggressive, and radical that they have become.

The more they are excluded, the more extreme they become.

As Christians, we know about scapegoating and exclusion - as Anglicans, about finding a middle way between extremes.

I would love it if someone in our church offered to mediate between protesters and politicians, or just sit down and talk with them kanohi ki te kanohi.

Can I be a bit simplistic and provocative: misinformation is the domain of the machine, dialogue the domain of the cross ...


Anonymous said...

"...they FEEL completely excluded...The more they ARE excluded..."

Is the "exclusion" real or not? If real, from what are they excluded and how?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
In NZ a number of professions/trades require vaccination to continue in employment (or to obtain a new employment position): so, some have been literally excluded from their employment, albeit via their choice to not be vaccinated).

There are events, including some church services (depending on a choice church leaders make) which are "Vaccine Pass" only events.

It is not possible to enter cafes and restaurants without Vaccine Passes.

It is possible to enter ordinary shops, medical centres, and takeaway food outlets without a Vaccine Pass.

Anonymous said...

Here up yonder, Peter,

We are hearing only about the protesters in Ottawa and the American money allegedly funding the crisis there. So I cannot say anything at all about the protesters in the Blessed Isles, where even the protests are surely better than elsewhere.


Some protests are about urgent facts; others about viral fictions. Under similar signs, they differ in kind. Each attracts its sort of protesters and serves their sort of agenda.


The mechanism of *civic* unity has been puzzling me since 2009. In that year, congressional debates about Federal subsidies for health insurance were heckled from the sidelines by some who objected that, if everyone could get medical treatment, then they would no longer be free citizens. They passionately believed in that cause --> effect relationship, but I could not see it at all, so I began to investigate it.


In principle, modern *states* have territorial monopolies on forcible coercion, and their constitutional institutions are erected to keep that beast in a cage. Many think of *democracy* as the practice of restraining the local beast with lots of voting open to nearly everyone within reach of its claws. From one venerable but secular point of view, (a) those who obey the law, vote, and pay taxes own the state, and (b) owning the local state is the only qualification for membership in the local society.

But meanwhile the *societies* on modern territories have organised themselves around incentives for individuals to *opt in* to heights of mobility, education, and self-discipline that were rare several generations ago. Those who do this join an organic society of willing competitors and collaborators who collectively manage myriad virtuous cycles and reap their benefits, whether profits or prizes.

They are either the only or by far the largest society within the borders of their beast. Unsurprisingly, state-supported institutions beyond the minimal warriors and police, courts and hangmen, etc tend to serve their virtuous cycles by forecasting the weather, funding research, educating children, maintaining parks and museums, etc. After building their lives and families around that work, those who *opt in* believe that they have bought that service, fair and square.

So in my land, and maybe in yours, one who stays out of jail, pays taxes, and votes but who also *opts out* of all of those years of self-fashioning has a surprising and dismaying status-- he is a citizen who does own the state but does not quite belong to his society. The beast of state owes him his constitutional rights; urbane society owes him nothing at all.

Inequality of wealth is not quite the problem. There is government assistance for the indigent, but as it does not make one a regular contributor to the common good, it still does not make one a full participant in society. There are opt-outs who resent their social status keenly but do have resources and jobs that pay well. Indeed, a few billionaires fund their insurgency out of deeply-held libertarian convictions.

The populist momentum here up yonder has been prompted by this status anxiety. Issues related to it come and go, and a few proposals addressing it have been filed. But nothing in our politics, neither rhetoric nor policy, has addressed the paradoxical outrage of citizens who feel free only when they opt out of the majority society, but then have no status in it when they do.


Christian reflection on that outrage is well-resourced and finds several openings. But for today, I will stop here.


Mark Murphy said...

Dear BW

Yes, the exclusion is real for the reasons Peter has detailed. And together it all adds up to a feeling of being excluded from society. This is what also makes Vaccine Pass only church services so painful - it adds to that sense of being unworthy, unclean, not good enough, which breeds hostility and shame - and why I feel so glad when I see churches offering non vaccine pass services.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Peter, for your swift reply at 10:56.

To explore social conflicts around Covid, I usually start with a military invasion analogy. If any king has welcomed lethal invaders to his country and thereafter encouraged his individual subjects to obey either his own government or the invaders' as they chose, I have never heard of him. Most will concede that the liberty of a country is more than the sum of all its individuals' liberties, and that to defend this total liberty an invaded state may justly compel even private persons to undertake even dangerous actions. The analogy: what a state may do to defend public liberty from an invasion it may also do to defend public health from a pandemic.

Where is the flaw? There is an obvious one: persons willing to infect others are less like the invaded than like quislings or invaders.

Kindly note that even war has some rules. An invaded state can and may make some concession to loyal individuals who have a conscientious scruple against bearing arms. During the Civil War here, oft-invaded Virginia gave an alternate post to my great-great-grandfather who could show that he had always been a Christian pacifist. So similarly, one could imagine that persons with long-standing religious objections to vaccines could be assigned an alternate regimen to accommodate their beliefs and protect the public health.

What one wants to hear is a reasoned defense of the thought that a person who will not avoid endangering others has a right to their company that they must tolerate. Personally, my mind is still open, but I have not yet heard such a defense attempted.

Here up yonder, surveys of the unvaccinated have shown that the vast majority have not struggled through a hard moral dilemma about vaccines but have simply skipped an inconvenience they've heard vague, bad things about. After a long period of relative order, stability, peace, and prosperity, few today have been faced with a truly costly duty to their country. Which makes it all the more heartening that so many more in so many places have done the right thing.


Peter Carrell said...

In partial response to Mark and Bowman's latest:

There does seem to be either a tension or a gap in understanding between:

1. The unvaccinated yearning to be able to gather with the vaccinated, both as an endorsement of the right to choose and as an expression of inclusion rather than exclusion; and

2. The vaccinated's concerns that the unvaccinated do not seem to recognise the risk their unvaccinated state poses to the vaccinated (should it turn out that the unvaccinated are infected).

The lack of understanding (it seems to me) is that while the vaccinated can get the virus, there is less change of doing so because of being vaccinated and greater chance of doing so because of being unvaccinated (and of being with an unvaccinated person or persons). Thus the expression of the right to be unvaccinated in the presence of the vaccinated is simultaneously the expression of the right to pose a greater risk to the health of others than if vaccinated.

Mark Murphy said...

I feel us drifting away from the initial thrust of this post, which was around how the gospel is not just concerned but "obsessed" with the unity of society.

I wonder who 'Masure' is (my machine doesn't seem to know). I also like how my 40 years of Christian life hasn't equipped me to recognize the meaning of this question....I am enjoying pondering it, but if you have some more formed responses Peter I'd like to hear them.

On the same subject if vaccines, it was really working as a therapist to clients who were choosing not to vaccinate that shifted my thinking. I discovered that the people I worked with who were choosing not to vaccinate, or pausing to think further, were responsible, health conscious, loving people, much the same way that actually knowing, loving, and being alongside gay people changed me in a way that theory never did.

In the process, doing my own research, I came to understand that our new COVID vaccines are complex: they seem to work very effectively at reducing severe disease but have only minimal (and rapidly waning) efficacy against transmission of delta and omicron. I came to see that the idea that unvaccinated people pose significant health risks to others is just not supported by research - it's more of a piece of political discourse . The coercion of mandates and the exclusion of certificates does not protect the public greatly, though it does make us feel better about ourselves (that we're the good, acceptable ones), and gives society a ready made scapegoat on which to displace our fury and shame.

The down side, coming back to Masure's quote, of course, is that the unity of society is severely disrupted. It doesn't need to be this way. Denmark have achieved high vaccination rates without major societal disruption by simply allowing a negative RAT test in place of a vaccine passport.

Is think Anglicans are often obsessed with the idea of the unity of human society...I can see that, somewhat, as the energy behind the Elizabethan Settlement....
I'm still mulling this...



Father Ron said...

Speaking of freedom; I wonder if the non-vaccination group would accept that hospitals might refuse them treatment if they caught COVID? For, instance, would the rejectors of Vaccines consider the Government unfair for refusing to treat them having a disease for which the government had offered the possibility of immunity by vaccination?

Freedom for personal actions always has a concomitant responsibility for everyone's good.

Peter Carrell said...

Eugene Masure was a French theologian. He is hard to find on the internet. I think the quote on my sidebar is a quote from someone else quoting him - De Lubac?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Mark
I understand Masure to be saying that the Gospel is about God in Christ breaking down every barrier to human unity and healing every division in human society. First, of course, through reconciling humanity to God; then commanding that we forgive one another as we have been forgiven; and to love everyone, including our enemies. Conversely, where division in humanity occurs, the Gospel has not yet completed its work.

I like what you are saying about vaccination and unvaccination and appreciate that it comes from careful listening to thoughtful people. I am not sure that I agree with what they are saying.

I do think there is a need for some review of how things are panning out here, including some hypothetical situations, like if there were more RATs available earlier then we might have been able to ask for Vaccine Passes or recent RAT tests before entry.

Finally, at least for now, I am concerned that how the situation has turned out, we are not united as a nation.

Mark Murphy said...

Thank you for your lucid exposition, Peter. There it is: Christianity in a nutshell. I find that really helpful and succinct.

My mulling has taken me to reflect on how this unity/reunifying happens, as it were, through sacramental life - through participation in the rhythms of Christian liturgy and prayer.

Technically - as my nine year old is fond of saying - "technically" not all these elements are 'sacraments'. But that's what they feel like to me, in practice.

Might scripture, prayer, and song be sacraments of language?

Lighted candles as sacraments of the element of fire?

I realize the risks debasing the idea of sacrament, applying it to everything. Perhaps it's not that everything is sacraments, but that sacraments transform us and therefore our encounter with everything, including, hopefully, each other.

Rowan Williams once said that when we partake of sacraments, afterwards we feel transformed. Something of the 'action of God' breaks open (in our experience) in 'the stuff of the world'. It's not that we now start worshipping water, bread, and wine, and only see God at work in these elements, but that we start to encounter a divine, more-than presence, a mystery that can never be fully explained, here, here, and here - in the ordinary stuff of the world around us...and indeed within our embodied selves too

Receiving the gospel this way, it feels, works to restore my unity with creation.

It is painful to think of unvaccinated people being excluded from this embodiment - this reunifying of the collective body - that happens, at best, in our liturgy together. I'm sure we are all united on that.


Anonymous said...

Greetings all.

If you think that things down there are truly at a crisis point, I will simply have to trust you on that. But from here up yonder, I have not glimpsed anything out of the ordinary but the virus.

Liberal states suppose that individuals have rights, and that governments act only to secure those rights. There are marginal disagreements-- progressive taxation, social insurance, immigration, etc-- but that paradigm remains the basis on which governments like ours use force to secure public safety and sanitation.

It has a natural weakness: liberal states demand so little of their citizens most of the time, that some will always disobey valid orders in the extraordinary times of war, natural disaster, and pandemic. Whether they understand or not, most who disobey do so because obedience is a habit and they have not formed it.

Full stop. They may also be deceived or confused by malignant media. Or they may belong to groups that have long distrusted government. They could be agitators for libertarian revolution or for Trumpy populism or incoherently both. But the simplest explanation for disobedience is that we are governed under a paradigm that trades away some emergency efficiency to get a lot of everyday freedom. For that reason, even people much like ourselves find it hard to take a command seriously.

Anonymous said...

Some would try to move those last slackers with a better understanding of the facts. However emergencies by definition have uncertain facts and fast-changing conditions. The populace will never be adequately informed, and even informed people notoriously overestimate their understanding of the facts they know. Collective need does not perfectly fit the desires of well-informed persons. Urging that sceptics obey a given order because it is the best of all possible orders is not realistic, not strictly relevant, and validates anarchy.

Therefore, others would fine or restrict the stubborn to compel them to recognise that orders are orders. So, in Paris, gendarmes were deployed to check the papers of those on the streets. Mild but inescapable coercion works on most people most of the time. It greatly simplifies the management of critical resources. But habits are not formed overnight. Orders and rules can awaken bullies in those who enforce them. Emergencies can last longer than enforced compliance.

Proponents of these two responses disagree more on sentiment than reality. Richard Hooker famously derived the authority of magistrates from the reality that conditions change faster than our mindsets can do. In an emergency, a government has the inherent duty and authority to do what works where it is. Even as it gets some things wrong, a coordinated response is better than anarchy.

"I understand Masure to be saying that the Gospel is about God in Christ breaking down every barrier to human unity and healing every division in human society. First, of course, through reconciling humanity to God; then commanding that we forgive one another as we have been forgiven; and to love everyone, including our enemies. Conversely, where division in humanity occurs, the Gospel has not yet completed its work." Yes!

It can be very interesting that the negligent come more from some groups than others. Here up yonder, blacks died of the first wave of the virus far out of proportion to their numbers. Because of a well-known and tragic history in which too often *public = white*, somewhat fewer of them trust public warnings or obey public rules. This distrust is reflected in most ordinary health habits as well.

Recognising that, this country's medical institutions should earn the trust that they have never really had. With stakes so high, churches have an obvious mission to work for reconciliation here, but they are far more segregated than providers of healthcare. As with the wider scandal of Christian disunity, we need deeper prayer and bolder action here.

So during a crisis, Romans xiii 1; after it, Colossians i 15-20.

In addition to the ubiquitous plague, we've had wildfires, hurricanes, rising murder rates, an attempted coup, and even a mild cyber-war up here. But did you know that, statistically speaking, North America is overdue for a major earthquake and a volcanic eruption as well? Interesting days ahead.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to think of this in terms of the current vaccination pass etc, but I would be interested also in your reflections on how this accords with the decision of the Anglican church to split itself along ethnic lines.

Unity? or Division? Equality? or are "some pigs more equal than others".

It never seemed to me to reflect "neither Jew nor Greek .." but then I am no theologian so would appreciate help to understand this decision.

Father Ron said...

I believe, Dear Bishop Peter, that 'The Gospel is obsessed with much more than the unity of all humanity' - it is concerned with the Unity of ALL things - en Christo! That unity brings together all that is on earth and in the heavenly realm - including 'those who have gone before us with the sign of Faith' - the Saints, whom Mother Church believes are 'now in the Presence of God' are part and parcel of the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, and the Church Triumphant. We are all one in Christ! This Fact, I believe, has motivated today's bit of wisdom from the Bishop of Rome:


“It is always thanks to the communion of saints that we feel that the men and women saints who are our patrons — because of the name we bear, for example, because of the Church to which we belong, because of the place where we live, and so on, as well as through personal devotion — are close to us. And this is the trust that must always animate us in turning to them at decisive moments in our lives. It is not some kind of magic, it is not superstition, it is devotion to the saints. It is simply talking to a brother, a sister, who is in the presence of God, who has led a righteous life, a holy life, an exemplary life, and is now in the presence of God. And I talk to this brother, to this sister, and ask for their intercession for the needs that I have.”

Diana and I need their (and your) prayers for us in a time of transition - when we are preparing to move into the Essie Summers Retirement complex here in Christchurch - for a stress-free sale of our house and the reduction of a lifetime's clutter.

Peace and all Joy to ALL.

Father Ron said...

re 'Anonymous at 8.27 am' - some of us at Synods in ACANZP were, like you currently; wondering about the wisdom of seeming separation of our Church into the '3 Tikanga' model which became our 'new identity' some years ago now in the Anglican Church in these Pacific Islands.

However, the people most affected by the apparent dissonance they felt to be oppressive for them in the Institution, our Māori and Pasifika congregations were all a willing party to the new 3-tikanga model of relationship. This means, surely, that their own mana was taken into account as members of the Body of Christ in these Islands.

Whatever we Pakeha members might this of the apparent 'segregation' that has been a natural outcome of our decision to enter into a separate system of Church government; it is surely important for us to recognise the longing of our Māori and Pacifica people to secure their distinctive insights into 'Being Church' in these Islands.

I'm pretty sure that Pope Francis is keen for all Catholics to retain their own specific identities within the Roman Catholic Church. He seems to value 'Unity in Diversity' - which I have always understood to be a classical Anglican position.

"Inclusive Church" is one of my own longings for Christian solidarity. This means an authentic representation of the great variety of human beings that God has created.

Father Ron said...

Further to my previous comment on this thread re the decentralization of Church government; I notice today's comment on an R.C. website the following observative of the desire of Pope Francis for the localization of Church government:

"VATICAN CITY — Saying he wanted to promote a "healthy decentralization" of some aspects of church life, Pope Francis made several changes to church law, granting greater authority to individual bishops, bishops' conferences and synods of bishops of the Eastern Catholic churches.

The changes, the pope said, should "foster a sense of collegiality and the pastoral responsibility" of bishops and religious superiors who are closest to the matters being decided and therefore have a better understanding of what is appropriate.

Pope Francis' amendments to both the Code of Canon Law of the Latin-rite church and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches were published by the Vatican Feb. 15, the day they were to go into effect.

The modifications, the pope said, "reflect even more the shared and plural universality of the church," which includes many legitimate differences, but preserves its unity in communion with the pope.

At the same time, he wrote, the changes "encourage a more rapid efficacy of the pastoral action of governance by the local authority, which is facilitated by its very proximity to the persons and situations which require it."

In Anglican terms, although there is no central role of papal jurisdiction, in ACANZP, we now have responsibility given to separate areas of the Church - within the concentricity, in Aotearoa/New Zealand/Pacifica - of each of its constituent parts.

Mark Murphy said...

Dear Peter and readers,

In light of the present invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and of Putin's status as the most... what's the right word?....visually 'Christian' of modern Russian leaders,I once again feel completely dumbfounded by the question: how does someone go to church one day and war the next? Our Christian history has surely prepared me for this issue, and yet I still feel dumbfounded.

I no longer imagine people just 'use' religion for political ends, that is a reactive charicature, but are in fact deeply motivated, consoled, and justified by their spiritual beliefs. In other words, we should take Putin's much vaunted Christian faith seriously. He is a member of the body of Christ, as much as we might revile from that baptismal reality.

And I imagine his Christian beliefs are involved in the present invasion of Russia.

Peter, can you expand in your earlier comment here:

"...let's not forget significant, embarrassing conflict in various churches in Ukraine and Russia which seems to owe more to nationalism than to "gospel-ism"."



Peter Carrell said...

Dear Mark
This article (by a knowledgeable English cleric) is pretty much on the money re your comment and your request.

Mark Murphy said...

Thank you, Peter, that is an insightful article which I'll be forwarding to friends.

For anyone who is interested, I find this a very helpful introduction to the church-state dilemma:

Thinking of all those suffering in Ukraine,


Anonymous said...

"...we should take Putin's much vaunted Christian faith seriously. He is a member of the body of Christ, as much as we might resile from that baptismal reality. And I imagine his Christian beliefs are involved in the present invasion of [Ukraine]."

Yes, he is and they are. Situating Putin in the galaxy of ways of being a Christian can pay off in a clearer sense of where we have located ourselves.

As a Christian, Putin is ethnophylitic, imperialist, and absolutist by role, and traditionalist and anti-liberal by conviction. Any Russian Orthodox president would probably suppose that there are several national Bodies of Christ, that God blesses the use of force to defend or extend them, and that his duty to kill for the state is absolute. Nor is Putin unusual for his time and place in further believing that tradition has intrinsic authority, and that democracy disintegrates societies. Although our leaders have occasionally sounded notes from these themes, Franco's Spain was the last similar regime in the West.

Anonymous said...

In Orthodox dogmatics, ethnophylitism is a defined heresy. Nevertheless, the several nations that modeled themselves on "the New Rome, Constantinople" are unintelligible apart from the idea that each is a microcosm and successor of the old dyarchy of emperors and patriarchs. If you cross the Adriatic and travel east, you will find this thread linking every Christian national identity in the Balkans and around the Black Sea.

Western publics tend to identify all nations with their borders after 1945. A modern approach, and so a tidy one, but a strange one on the ground of messy places-- Eastern Europe, Western Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa-- where ethnicities have endured many centuries amid shifting and cross-cutting borders. The tidiness is irrelevant to Putin who, even if he were an ardent modern and liberal anti-imperialist, would still have a Christian-ish duty to defend all the colonies of Russians that Soviets founded in the Near Abroad.

But Putin is an imperialist. Internally, Russia, like the United States, is self-defined by a past conquest and occupation of territory. Ukraine does not need Russia, but Russia without Ukraine is somewhat like an America without the Virginia of Washington, Madison, Jefferson, etc.

Externally, in what some historians of eastern lands have called the Byzantine Commonwealth, Moscow has sometimes been seen as the organic successor to Constantinople, as Constantinople was itself the successor to Rome. In its churchly variant, this idea lies behind the perennial tensions between the patriarchs of the largest and the most senior of the Orthodox sees. And readers here will remember the stately variant: Russia has asserted a certain diplomatic primacy in such Slavic lands as Yugoslavia and in the old Byzantine province of Syria.

Absolutism is less an ideology than a stage of political development in which a peaceful and legitimate succession of chief executives is unlikely. Like the czars before him, Putin sees himself in a Byzantine imperium that has been called "autocracy qualified by a right of revolution." So long as he could keep the army, the senate, the people, and the church on his side, an emperor was omnipotent and apt to use his power ruthlessly to keep it. But if the army grumbled too loudly, the senate kept its distance, and the people were shouting in the streets, the patriarch would anoint his successor. Since Gibbon, we have used the word "byzantine" for an opaque yet disruptive politics of obsequiousness and intrigue, surveillance and conspiracy, assassination and revolt. Franco was fascist; Putin is byzantine.


What sort of Christians are we who critique Putin's ethnophylitism, imperialism, and absolutism? Mostly, we trust and defend modern practices and institutions that are under the suspicion, and sometimes the bitter opposition, of others. We had readied ourselves to defend the imagination-stretching bits of our faith from dull rationalists, but are startled to instead find ourselves defending our compromises with modernity to Christians who cannot believe in them. At present, they are clearer and more passionate than we are.


Peter Carrell said...

John Schindler also:

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, I think Francis's mild decentralisation of the RCC will eventually strengthen bishops and invigorate dioceses. Overcentralisation has suppressed local initiative (eg in disciplining clergy) and heightened local polarisation (among ultramontanists with support in the curia but not so much in their local churches).

Meanwhile, Peter, we see a lot of jolly discussion here up yonder about *synodality*. That is the buzzword here for the ethos that Francis has been urging on bishops' conferences and diocesan synods. In his view, for example, a proper synod is not partisan like a national parliament, does not make laws for the Body, etc.

Is it possible that a global Catholic conversation about the ethos in which synods make sense could nudge Anglican synods away from some misunderstandings and excesses? I hope so.