Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Primates and Politics

Earlier today, the Episcopal Church (the offshoot of the Church of England in America), meeting in its triennial general convention, elected the Bishop of Nevada to be the Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church USA, to serve for nine years. Three years ago, the church made history, and many enemies, by electing an openly gay man in a committed relationship, Gene Robinson, to be the Bishop of New Hampshire. The Nevada Bishop's sexuality is not the issue. It's her sex. Jeffert Schori becomes the first female primate in the Anglican communion. Thirty years ago, the Episcopal church began ordaining women. Today, the Anglican churches in Canada, USA, and New Zealand ordain women as priests and bishops.

Conservatives within the church hate this. For those, this is the theological equivalent of throwing gas on an open flame. It may seem a trivial issue to most, in part because mainline protestant churches are not sexy and rarely on TV. Imagine if the Catholics made a woman pope. That's how big this is. It exposes a deep cultural chasm.

It also makes you reflect on what it means that, outside of reform Jews and a few Christian churches, women are systematically shut out of religious authority in virtually every place in the world. Women's liberation in the late 20th century was just the beginning. Steps, such as that taken by my fellow Christians at the general convention in Ohio, part of the journey for women to be treated as full human beings, are always met by anger, fear, and hatred from conservatives. That hatred, fear, and anger is what defines them as conservative, as I see it. Expect to see that anger spill over the airwaves and the net in the coming days and weeks.

I suppose the issue I want to raise is that the culture wars in America are not, as Pat Buchanan described them, between secular humanists on the one hand, and the faithful and traditionalists on the other. Rather, there are two very different views of humanity in contest, with religion and atheism on both sides, although in varying proportions. Indeed, the issue for me is that while religious fundamentalists dominate the latter, the truth is that the divide is not religious/secular, but liberal/reactionary. Progressives, both religious and secular, believe in human rights, peace, inclusion, tolerance, and speaking truth to power. Reactionaries believe in order, tradition, and the rightness of existing power relationships. I hope all liberals, including many among the Citizens hostile to religion, might look on this new Primate (yes, it's a funny name) and appreciate anew that the problems we face as society will not be solved by attacking and destroying religion -- ask the Chinese or Russians, but by confronting tyranny.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it "When we look at modern man we have to face the fact that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance, we've learned to fly the air like birds, we've learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven't learned to walk the earth as brothers and sisters."


Dr. Strangelove said...

I think the election of Jeffert Schori says, as powerfully as the Episcopal Church can say it, that women are full members of their community--that women are just as good as men. It will be fun to watch conservatives try to attack this nomination without seeming sexist. (Already we see nervous conservatives trying to say that it is not her gender alone, but her support for Gene Robinson that is the "real" issue.)

LTG is right that the struggle between liberal and conservative values is not a division between atheists and believers. And I agree that a major schism that many religions--Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc.--have undergone in the past two hundred years is between those who believe religion should be "fundamental" to society, and those that believe religion should be a matter of "faith"--a split between those who believe religion should be a matter of state policy rather than personal committment. As LTG has remarked before, fundamentalists of all stripes seem to have more in common with each other than with ordinary people of their respective faiths.

I think all of us at The Citizens believe that fundamentalists, regardless of religion, are a threat to peace, community, and democracy in general. But I think all of us also recognize that many people of faith are among democracy's greatest supporters. LTG remarks that, "the problems we face as society will not be solved by attacking and destroying religion..." and while of course I agree, I don't think any Citizen--even those of us who are not religious--has suggested that destroying religion would fix our society's problems. None of us are that naive.

But LTG's note is not groundless. There are some of us (well, me, at least) who feel that the reason fundamentalism arises from so many religions is due to a defect common to all religious thinking (namely, an abandonment of reason in the search for truth.) Non-religious philosophies may share the same defect also (e.g. Marxism, a lot of New Age crap). I do not believe that stamping out religion will fix anything. But because of the "defect" I mentioned, I suspect that fundamentalism will persist so long as religion does. That is why sometimes, when frustrated, I take aim at the whole enchilada, even though I know it is unfair to those who are genuine people of faith.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it would fix the world's problems to destroy spirituality but organized religion may be another question. Furthermore, I see little positive role to be played by "primates" of any kind. While the Episcopal Church is clearly trying to address some of the most dysfunctional attributes of "churches" everywhere, they still are fundamentally based on two dangerous ideas: First, that the rights of individuals are subservient to the will of "God." And second, that the nature of "God's Will" is "mysterious" and known only to a self appointed minority of society who's interpretation has been institutionalized. The Episcopaleans are an improvement in that they're willing to accept an increasingly inclusive range of people into their little club - conditional on agreement with certain doctrinal principles of course.

The near universal misogyny of organized religions (again the Episcopaleans are a notable and welcome exception) is a great example of what I'm talking about.

Jefferson was right when he argued that religion (as opposed to spirituality - which I hold is largely distinct) is fundamentally opposed to the principles of democracy and liberty. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

To be fair, the Episcopalians really aren't a very organized religion at all :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, we're organized all right. That's what we do best (next to the Lutherans, of course). 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

There's a scene in "Chicken Run" where the farmer Mr. Tweedy tries to convince his (evil) wife that the chickens are "organized" and she insists it's all in his head. "They are NOT organized!" she yells.

The camera then cuts to a squabbling bunch of chickens who cannot bring their meeting to order. I was thinking of the tumultous conventions and infighting in the Anglican Communion (and thinking of that scene) when I remarked that Episcopalians were not organized. I should have been more clear, I suppose.

But I just love that scene in Chicken Run.

Anonymous said...

There's no tumult. That's my point. Episcopalians are nothing if not organized and polite. As my priest used to say, "We Episcopalians have been accused of everything - except bad taste." A joke, but on point. If you saw video of the conventions, you wouldn't find anything but cordiality and order. And it's a very organized church in terms of bureaucracy and all that.

The disorganization you refer to is, in my view, a healthy exchange of ideas, something I treasure more than top-down edicts. Let's not confuse being organized with conformity or obedience.


// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

We're very organized. For instance, the cabinets of my Altar Guild would make any survivalist with a penchant for liturgical toys quite proud.

As a woman who was brought up in a chuch with no bar to female clergy, I was happy with the idea of women preachers, but had no real examples. The pastor, the associate pastor, and most of the power brokers in my childhood church were men.

So I'm just plain delighted that the head of the Episcopal Church in America is a woman.

-Seventh Sisiter 

// posted by Anonymous