Continuing response

Another response to Harding’s essay by Alan-in-London. Actually, just go to his site and read responses.
Might I refer to myself as a “pragmatist?” Then, as A-in-L states below, are we Anglicans going to throw away this more pragmatic way of approaching the faith, if in fact we do approach the faith in this way?

Alan-in-London Says:
July 27th, 2006 at 7:03 am
A very interesting essay. In the end, however, I would actually question whether the ordinary person is in thrall to scientific ‘objectivism’ and methodological ’scepticism. Rather, ‘pragmatism’ rules the day, what works for them and helps them get along with life and other people. Whilst this might be galling to those who think they know the ‘truth’, it avoids the horrors of totalitarianism, political and religious. It is interesting that Polanyi recognised this ‘pragmatism’ (dislike for grand moral or political theories) in the English during the second world war, which helped save western civilisation and democracy for the world. How interesting too that it is Anglicanism – a form of English Christianity – that too could be viewed as theologically ‘pragmatic’. Are we to throw this away for some totalitarian vision of the ‘truth’?


My friend, Jon, one of the few people from my Chi Alpha days with whom I am still in contact, wrote a response to Harding’s essay I referenced in a post, yesterday. Even though he accidently posted the comment to my weblog and I am glad he did, it is still a good and interesting response. So, I am posting it here. Thanks, Jon. I will say this, however, that we need to remember that Harding is attempting to apply Polanyi’s ideas to the troubles within The Episcopal Church…

The essay was interesting, but ultimately disappointing; I think that Polanyi’s thought is caught in the same loops that he critiques. In short, (pardon my rudeness) philosophizing like this seems like just more mental masturbation about mental masturbation.
Polanyi’s thoughts are understandable given that he saw World War II close up… but could he have written about the “self-destruction of all the major European institutions” if he had lived to the present day and seen European prosperity, and powerful trends for increasing unity and peace, flower so beautifully?
Postmodernism is only “hyper-modernism” in the realms where the mind believes that the “right” knowledge equals truth or salvation. And that’s as much the core of the allure of Fundamentalism, as it is of atheism. The former, by the way, is continuing to grow and become ever more controlling and political in the US, despite the increasing diversity of religion, culture, and lifestyle in the country.

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Polanyi, “Moral Inversion” and The Episcopal Church

There is a fascinating essay by the Rev’d Dr. Leander Harding on his weblog. The title is Michael Polanyi, “Moral Inversion” and The Episcopal Church. I first came across the ideas of Polanyi in one of my Master’s classes at Kent. We were studying ideas of truth and knowledge as they related to human development, particularly among the young and even more specifically among college aged students. The idea of “tacit knowing” and how we in the West understand and categorize what “knowing” or “knowledge” really is simply grabbed me. Whether you agree or disagree with Harding’s use of Polanyi’s theories in describing some of the pressing problems of Western Christianity in general or The Episcopal Church specifically, it is an essay well worth reading! Here is the link to the essay. Hat tip to Titus1:9.
From the essay:

“Until the churches can find a way to work their way out of the false scientism and objectivism of the hyper-modernity that is called post-modernity we should expect a relentless and irrational attack on the Church’s teaching tradition from within the churches’ own intelligentsia that will be an echo of the self-destructive intellectual history of Europe. The ideologues of this attack will be cocooned in a self-reinforcing circularity of thought that will be impervious to criticism because all critiques can be dissolved in the acids of its skepticism. At the same time we should expect to see an increasing preference for power over persuasion legitimized by the conviction that for the long overdue new age of justice to come the only moral thing to do will be to play a very cruel version of hard ball. Given the history of self-destruction of all the major European institutions we should not doubt the potential destructiveness of this dynamic for church life if it is left unchallenged. I say these things in the spirit of biblical prophecy; that is as a form of prayer that it might not be so.”

On the streets: Park Slope, Brooklyn

I was walking along 5th Ave. in Park Slope yesterday in search of one of those little ironing boards. The weather was nice on a late Sunday afternoon, so there were lots of people on the street and it was easy to overhear all kinds of things. There were three boys (two black and one Hispanic) just hanging out and as I passed by I heard them talking, saying:
Boy one: How old are you?
Boy two: Eight, going on nine? (that ‘going on nine’ is VERY important to an eight year old!)
Boy one: You work?
Boy two: Yeah.
Boy one: Why do you work?
Boy two: To buy video games!!!! (Like, why else would I work, stupid!)
I was listening to a story on NPR the other day. The story topic was the decline in the percentage of Americans who visit our national parks. While the over all number of visitors has increased over the past twenty or so years, the percentage of the population visiting the parks has dramatically decreased. Why?
One ‘expert’ believed that he could trace the beginning of the decline to the rise of youth video-game use. How can the national parks compete with video-games? How can much of anything compete with video-games among young people?
Several months ago, I read a story of a company determined to create and sell ‘Christian video-games.’ An example: the Crusades! So, a video-game where good, strong, upstanding knights during the Crusades kill bad, evil Muslims as the godly knights battle to retake Jerusalem from the infidels. Nice, huh? I suspect that for these good Christian video-game creators, it is terrible for thugs to kill each other over cars or drugs or whatever, but it is glorious for Christian knights to kill Muslims. I guess consistency of belief goes out the window when it comes to video-games and our attempts to persuade non-Christian youth that we, as Christians, are in fact as cool as they are!

The Feminization of Christianity

There is a discussion going on at Titus1:9 concerning the increase in the “feminization” of the Church and American Christianity focused on an article from the United Methodist Church. Interestingly, a lot of the criticism centers on the American Evangelical praise music that seems to romanticize our relationship with God – one person referred to the music as depicting “my girlfriend Jesus.”
There are elements of misogyny in some comments, but in general it is an interesting debate and one that we should be aware of. Too many articles have appeared lately in the national media on the crisis of the American male, particularly boys. In the Church, the fact is that fewer and fewer men are participating in organized religion – at least in Christianity. What is the answer? There are probably lots of answers that do not require us to look backwards to some fictionalized “glory days,” but it will benefit us to pay attention to the social problem – even as it moves into the Church.
When the rubber hits the road, however, the only people to blame for men’s disassociation with American religion are men! We men can try to blame-shift all we want, but if we want to be real men we will have to face reality and admit that individually, each guy that stops participating in the Church does so by his own volition. Quitting is not the fault of women or romanticized worship music, as much as we may not like the music. Claiming that the fault rests with women or the feminization of the church just sounds misogynist, in my humble opinion. Just be. Or, as the very manly ‘Nike’ cajoles us to “Just do it!”
Here is a poem submitted by one of posters at Titus1:9:

re: manly Christianity – I love this part of a poem by Adrian Plass(e?)

“He said, ‘Look, I’m not asking you to spend an hour with me,
A quick salvation sandwich and a cup of sancted tea.
The cost is you, not half of you, but every single bit.
Now tell Me, will you follow Me?’ I said ‘Amen’… no, I quit.
‘I’m awfully sorry Lord,’ I said, ‘I’d like to follow You,
But I don’t think religion is a manly thing to do.’
And He said, ‘Forget religion then, and you think about my son.
And you tell me if you’re man enough to do what he has done.’
‘Are you man enough to see the need? Are you man enough to go?
Are you man enough to care for those that no one wants to know?
Are you man enough to say the things that people hate to hear,
And battle through Gethsemane in loneliness and fear?
And listen, are you man enough to stand it at the end,
The moment of betrayal by the kisses of your friend?
Are you man enough to hold your tongue? Are you man enough to cry?
And when the nails break your body, are you man enough to die,
Man enough to take the pain and wear it like a crown,
Man enough to love the world and turn it upside down?”

Modern Friendships and Isolation

A good piece in the New York Times. I talk often about the contribution of technology and busyness to hyper-individualism and the growing isolation of people in our society. Here is a contribution to the growing social debate; a debate which I think has great significance for the Church. Hat-tip to Titus1:9
July 16, 2006
The Way We Live Now:
Confidant Crisis


By now, I bet almost everybody knows somebody who has joined a social networking Web site like, with more than 90 million members, or, a college-based Web site that has become a high-school favorite, too. That means most people probably also know that “friend” is no longer just a noun, but a verb, one that entails minimal exertion: “to friend” a person involves an exchange of mouse clicks, one to request a spot on someone’s (often very lengthy) list of people granted access to his or her online profile, and a click in response to accept the petitioner. If you’re too old and busy to be logging on obsessively to this Internet social scene, you’re doubtless enmeshed in your own way, e-mailing far-flung acquaintances or anticipating the spread of free Internet telephone service.

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Mainline denominations losing impact on nation

This from an article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette article yesterday concerning mainline denominations, America’s moral compass, and the Culture Wars:

The single issue hamstringing the mainline churches is homosexuality and its place in the church. At its 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh, the United Methodist Church maintained its stance against gay ordination and same-sex blessings. Last year, it was the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The national gatherings this summer of both the Presbyterians and Episcopalians were consumed by it.
“We’ve been fighting in this ditch for 28 years and the ditch is getting deeper,” the Presbyterians’ former moderator, Marj Carpenter, of Big Spring, Texas, said in a speech at the denomination’s General Assembly last month. “It’s starting to affect our mission work, our youth ministry, and our evangelism, and I’m ready to try something else.
“Please, let’s get on with being the church, taking the gospel into the world and offering them something else other than arguments.”

I’m beginning to believe that the only honest solution to these incessant arguments and battles is a rearrangement of American Christianity. Even in the denomination that is known to be the middle-way, the Via Media, The Episcopal Church/Anglicanism is being pulled apart.
The extremes of both the liberal and conservative sides in the mainline denominations will not allow for the compromise that the middle-ground normally enforced. As the articles says below, the middle remains silent and allows the issues to be framed and debated by the extremes. It is similar to the American Culture Wars lived out in our nation’s government as extreme partisanship rules the day and the necessary element of compromise that is essential for democratic government falls by the wayside.

Derek H. Davis, dean of the college of humanities at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas and an expert in church-state relations, said part of the problem is that moderates in the mainline churches have gone silent.
“My own sense is it’s a voice that’s greatly needed in our present condition,” he said. “It tends to be a debate that’s vigorously pursued on the far ends. It makes the cultural wars in America seem more profound than they should be.
“The mainline churches have always represented this moderate middle. Without their voice, we’re not debating, we’re dividing.”
John C. Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and a professor of political science at the University of Akron, blames the churches’ divisions on the country’s deep rifts.”What we lack is a consensus on what is moral and what we should do about it,” he said. “But if history is any guide, the current warring parties — whether in the mainline churches or in the country at large — are unlikely to provide a solution.
“Quite literally, they are part of the problem.”

If the middle does not rise up to keep the extremes under control and from destroying the denominations, then the mission of the Church will never go forward and the ditch truly will become deeper and deeper, or else one side or the other will prevail and we will see the same kind of purge we witnessed when the fundamentalists gained full control of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Monday, July 17, 2006 By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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