Wednesday, February 08, 2006

father paul zahl again nails it: ecusa hypocrisy & the death of grammar

I have tried for a long time to understand how it is possible that our leaders talk so freely about "inclusion" but never include us. They talk feelingly concerning "pluralism" and "embrace" but there is no embrace for us.

Thus recently, someone at a conference was regaling his listeners about a recent episcopal consecration in the Pacific Northwest, and saying how wonderful it was to see every ethnicity and every gender possibility and every "identity" represented so extravagantly at the service. I raised my hand and asked, "How many theological traditionalists were present?" The speaker paused, and then said – before he had time to suppress it – "Well, uh... none."

Read the whole thing at Fr. Zahl's blog.

Note Fr. Zahl's having devoted the last few years simply to trying to get the opposition to show a little tenderness, to be generous and charitable. I remember when he came to BDS in 2003 (?) and preached at a community Eucharist. His sermon was an exhortation to that very thing. And I also remember how the loudest advocates of "radical inclusivity" were the same ones who mounted a protest at Fr. Zahl's very presence on campus. It wasn't his message that they objected to being proclaimed on campus: it was him. I remember them saying so quite straightforwardly. We had to have an anger-management session before he came. People were, according to one student, "mad and sad" that he had been invited because, in the words of another student, "he is against who certain people are." ("Who certain people are" was spoken with a kind of emotional gravity, as though vocally italicized. I remember it very clearly.) I also recall very clearly the consensus of my classmates expressed in a colloquium that the opponents of the ordination of women should no longer be tolerated in the Episcopal Church. It was time for them to go. Only the inclusive should be included. That's what "radical inclusivity" is taken to mean.

Of course its nonsense. It is a grossly hypocritical inconsistency. But no one can bear having that pointed out. It is always someone else who is a hypocrite. Never me. But this is ECUSA's new religion. One is often told about the mystical wonder of "holding [mutually exclusive] things in tension." This is understood to be the essence of Anglicanism. It is actually thought that the apex of Anglican virtue is Incoherence. And perhaps they're right. But if so, Anglicanism is doomed to die.

The principle embraced by the Radical Inclusivists -- that mutual exclusivities must be held in tension, that this is the meaning of Anglican (and Christian) Inclusion -- is Satanic. It is a denial of the condition of possibility of human language and of human life. The connection between life and language was not invented by Wittgenstein. Its in Genesis.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2.7)

Which immediately precedes

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. (Genesis 2.19)

The divine breath of life, in virtue of which men are living souls is the grammar of human language. The Naming of the Beasts is impossible until man is animated by the Spirit breathed into him by God (in Hebrew "breath" and "spirit" are the same word). And at bottom of human language, likewise, is the relationship of opposition and distinction, what is often expressed as the Principle of Non-Contradiction or the Law of the Excluded Middle, a scholastic formulation of which is
eadem est scientia oppositorum. One and the same is the knoweldge of opposites. It is from this principle that we are able to differentiate, one thing from another, and ourselves from l'autre. It is this principle that is the basis for the fundamental recognition of our being distinct from God -- and it was rage against this principle that manifested itself in Lucifer's non serviam.

It is this kind of spiritual angst that one sees in the power of ECUSA's hypocrisy and incoherence: rage that unnames the beasts by sucking the spirit of life from man, and reducing him to the dust of the earth. It killeth. It seeks to take the Spirit of God out of the waters of baptism, rendering the matter of creation chaotic, formless, and void, by a childish insistence that God's spirit not brood over these waters of our autonomy. This petulant rage undermining life and language denies the basis of obedience to God's command "thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."

Nietzsche dreamed of murdering God by these means. In Twilight of the Idols he says "'Reason' in language — oh, what an old deceptive female she is! I am afraid we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar." ECUSA is losing its faith in grammar. Its dream is an incoherent one. Inclusion through exclusion, and monotonous diversity. In
The Gay Science, Nietzsche tells of a Madman who announces the death of God.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him -- you and I. All of us are his murderers.... Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us?.... Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent?.... What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?"


Garland said...

I'm inclined to think that you have a particularly virulent and angry brand of postmodernism floating around up there in New Haven. Perhaps it is because you are at a divinty school. Or perhaps it is also because you are at a vaunted academic institution which still manages to attract large numbers en masse. Down here it's largely more cordial and genuinely "open minded" (or so I am inclined to think--but I defy anyone to contradict me!), but then again, I don't think art history is not quite the flashpoint for most people as religion or politics are. In art history, those things sort of float below the surface where people manage to leave them.

But as to the content of your actual post, the notion that Christianity reinforces the notion of opposites (e.g. good and evil) as being the underlying forces int he universe is most clearly refuted in my mind by CS Lewis (I believe it's in the introduction to the Screwtape Letters, but I could be wrong). God is the great good, who is greater than any evil; the devil is merely a perverter of good. Still, it would seem that the misunderstanding of that notion and the continued belief in a world of oppositions (creeping in I would suspect from eastern philosophy) might lead certain peoples to insist on its centrality to their misunderstanding of Christianity. It would indeed be Satanic insofar as it waters down Christianity so much as to denature it and nullify its sacramental core.

As for Nietzsche, I confess I have not read him (The Birth of Tragedy has been quitely gathering dust on my shelf for years). But, it strikes me that the passage you quote cuts both ways, as much a parody of the scientific world view which would deny God a place in the universe, while still clinging to notions of absolutes and universals which make the same universe intelligible. If God is a way of giving meaning to the totality of existence, then anything that contributes to a meaningful existence (grammar, for instance) is residual of God. We won't have finally gotten away from God until we can extirpate every last iota of meaningfulness from the world. But who wants that? Not even Nietzsche, I would imagine.

(And as a parting shot/side note, I would offer that is this the same sort of pessimism that we see coming out of the Middle East these days? Suicide bombers seem redolent of this Nietzschean notion that the meaninglessness of existence is only realized in self annihilation.

father wb said...


No, no. Its not about opposites being the underlying forces in the universe, in the Christian scheme. Rather is it about the the *knowledge* of opposites, an awareness of the relation of opposition, being a fundamental (the most fundamental?) precondition of human language. I'm not suggesting that good and evil are forever opposed and warring with each other for control of the cosmos. Mine is a much more modest claim: that in order to speak (and therefore in order to live) you must be able to grasp what it is for a thing to be x and for a thing to be not-x. E.g. green and not-green, blessed and not-blessed, growing and not-growing, inclusive and not-inclusive.

Not any particular one of these oppositions, but awareness of the relationship between ALL of them (which I am calling "opposition") is necessary condition of human speaking and human living. If you can't tell the difference between "true" and "false" or "subject" and "object." If there is not a grammar governing language that presupposes a particular account of these kinds of relationships, then we will not be able to live in the world.

What I am saying is that the rhetoric of ECUSA and ECUSA's actions (which amount to the same thing) belie a particular account of relationships of opposition. How else could you champion "radical inclusion" and at the same time seek to drive thousands of people out of your church?

ECUSA, in short, is pulling the grammatical rug out from underneath itself. It is leaving itself with no basis for making normative determinations -- the sort of normative determinations that are necessary to speak coherently, and indeed to live within the domain of space and time. Insofar as ECUSA is chiseling away at THIS foundation, I believe, it is in opposition to the Spirit of life that God breathed into man, which pericopetically (to coin a term) in Genesis are seen to undergird Adam's naming of the beasts, the primary mythological deployment of language.

Garland said...

I hear you, and can only say that perhaps it was the late hour at which I wrote my response which clouded my thoughts...and yet, I am still impelled to at least partially sustain my initial response.

But let me take another tack: I think your use of "oppositions" and the "x and not-x" model causes me some concern. With this you perpetuate a dialectical understanding of reality which I am convinced far oversimplifies things. I would be content if you would use the even more modest term "difference" rather than "opposition." That something is not something else does not make those two things opposites, merely unlikes or non-identicals. Then you could simply say that the ECUSA is distorting the identificatory role of language which we use (quite successfully) to distinguish between things in the world and which allows us to contextualize meanings within the world. Since they deny the function of language, then of course, incoherency will follow. Language will, for them, no longer be an adequate means to describe reality.

I could keep going on this topic, but I am already out of my depth and late for an appointment, so I must off.

father wb said...

Oh TGA, you are a postmodernist. "Contextualize meanings"?! Goodness.

But I think I (we) can out-postmodern the postmodernists by fleshing out the silence in which God, in the Christian scheme, dwells. But that's only fleshed-out practically, in the Eschaton.

For now, this side of the Eschaton, we are left with human language, and the grammar that underpins it. This grammar is built on certain relationships, among which, most fundamentally, is what I am calling the relation of opposition. Postmodernists and Episcopalian blowhards can rail against these relationships all they want, but the very railing in which they engage presumes the relation of opposition. Otherwise, in what sense are they "railing" rather than "not-railing"? As soon as the opposition (or the law of the excluded middle or whatever) is removed, the ability to complain about it disappears too. As well as the ability to speak and to think.

Garland said...

I might very well be a post-modernist--which by the way, is not something I bear lightly or easily. But in suggesting that I am, you have touched a very specific nerve.

Still, I don't see how saying that meaningfulness exists "on this side of the Eschaton" as you put it in something other than context is at all siding with the ECUSA. For the record, if I have been at all unclear about this, I am against it as much as you are, although it certainly touches me less than it does you.

I also think that our "contexts" which enable meaning--the most fundamental one being the created order itself--our flesh, time ,space, all those things--is God's great mercy to us and his particular joy is in our finiteness and particularness. At its best it is expressed in our wonderment and our innocence at his inexplicability and power. At its worst--and this is where the ECUSA people go wrong--it is expressed in pride where we deny the infinitude and absoluteness of God based on our ability to comprehend.

Insofar as post-modernism upholds a sort of "reasonable doubt" about the kind of things we can say and believe about reality, I think it allows a large degree of humility.

What I am concerned with is not in saying absolutes do not exist and all is relative (which I think you are partially accusing me of) but rather that those absolutes exist somewhat (but not entirely) outside of the realm of our experience. Therefore, we have revealed truth in the form of the scriptures and the church to be our guide. This is all well and good. But even with these, do we not still see these absolutes "through a glass, darkly"?

All this touches me more closely than I can say. What is true about the world must often be taken on faith, which provides a ground of being for all other statements about reality. But I think that we must be careful and exceptionally humble about what sort of statements we can make even then. Only because, horrendous things have been perpetrated in the name of faith and despite the surety of some that they will avoid such failings, I still see them at risk for the same.

Garland said...

While still holding onto what I said about a fundamental humility which can be one of the benefits of at least considering the claims of post-modernity, I agree that there is a disconnect between the statements which post-modernism makes about the world and what they actually believe about them.

In its most insidious state, it works for the very things it claims to be against. Just as you point out in your repeated examples of ECUSA hijinks.

But if you consider it as a critique of the Enlightenment/modernist thought, then you have to admit (or at least I hope that you would) there is some validity within that. But how do we get beyond these "ideologies" (for lack of a better word) when they are so embedded in our cultural thinking? I would like to very much, but we cannot do so without addressing them to some extent on their own terms. And how do we get beyond them without simply setting up another "ideology"?

I think it definitely happens through the Sacraments and through the Church, through faith in short. But even then, I see people using faith to make the wrong sorts of claims [obligatory, IMHO].

father wb said...

There is (kind of) something in their critiques. I mean, there was *something* to Nietzsche's critiques of enlightenmentism (?!). But that something was not what he thought. It landed him (and secular postmodernists alike, imho, as you say) seemingly in the abyss of hellfire. Hopefully not, but his critique is insidious because it isn't founded in love.

The analogous Christian critique (as in the Pseudo-Denys and his heirs) doesn't slide off the precipice into the abyss because it climbs up the ladder of language before throwing it away. Nietzsche, and his heirs, just walk up to the ladder and throw it away without bothering to climb it.

The fact is that all that language DOES work. At least we act like it does, when we go around doing stuff every day... or at least when we go around doing stuff outside the halls of the academy. Language only starts to sputter and fart, in the ways postmodernists insist it does, when they are sitting around reading papers to each other in universities, or when they are examining a bit of literature, or staring at a piece of art. When they order a hamburger or pay a parking ticket or do their laundry or drive their car or wash their dog, language seems to work just fine for them.

All I'm saying is: why the double standard? Either quit going around in life using the system of signification you insist disappears into a cloud of difference and deferral (i.e. curse God and die), or get cracking on some constructive academic something-or-other. But for God's sake, quit talking so much about how you can talk about anything (or what is the same thing, about how a great huge diversity of voices, saying different, mutually exclusive things, is so meaningful).

[Not 'you' of course -- but the bogeys of my academic paranoia. I'm developing a black list!]

Garland said...

Again, I agree, and yet, why does it seem that we are talking past each other?

The problem with postmodernism (and in fact, it is implicit in the name) is that it retains many of the assumptions--assumptions which it posits as conclusions--that modernism is founded upon while rejecting modernism's means. For instance, if we consider that one of the basic features of Englightenment thought is to deny or severely limit the existence of God and the validity of faith, replacing them instead with an incredible confidence in human reason, when we turn to post-modernism we see the critique of this radical confidence in reason but not a critique of the Englightenment's more basic claims regarding God and faith. This is indeed throwing away the ladder while simultaneously stepping out into the void. This is I believe the absurdity that Nietzsche seemed to recognize, but one for which he offered no solution.

The problem seems to lie in what is often termed "historicism"--which here I mean in the sense that history is moving forward, or in this case degenerating. Systems of thought for the historicist can only be replaced or superceded by others but once history has "outworn" them they cannot be recovered. Obviously, neither you nor I think that this is true, because then we wouldn't be Christians and we certainly would have no stock in our received faith.

But can I say, without sanctioning the "innovations" of "progressives" in the Church, that this faith must be taken hold of anew every generation? Because we may find Aquinas helpful does not make Aquinas in anyway binding or even fully applicable to today's world. Perhaps I should say that we must continually reconsider how Aquinas--as an example--must be understood and applied, acknowledging that not all previous generations' understanding necessarily holds.

But I am getting out of my depth again, since I am not a philosopher and not a theologian. You, being both, hold all the cards in this discussion. Perhaps if we reframed it in terms of aesthetics I could offer something.

Anonymous said...

WB£ et al.,

Boy, you really went on a rant there; grist for the mill. And, forgive me, I’ve not read all of your interactions above. But, I have two thoughts.

First, I think that pointing out the inconsistencies between one's theological affirmations (in this case inclusivity) and one's actions (non-inclusivity) can only be so helpful. The latter says little about the validity of the former. Surely the thing at issue is not whether the 'includers' really include in fact, but whether there is some notion of 'inclusivity' that is coherent – or at least not incoherent. Or, stated differently, the ad hominem argument is beneath us. That is why I find Zahl’s appeal for inclusion so distasteful – it takes the place of philosophically rigorous argument.

I do think, however, that any notion of 'loving embrace' that presupposes ideological agreement is incoherent - and if I read you rightly, this is what you are criticizing. And, if I remember correctly, that’s precisely the kind of liberalism characteristic of BDS and its environs. Liberalism can tolerate anything, except the thing that calls its foundational presuppositions into question. That is why it cannot stand moral conservatism. But, here the great strength of rooting the Christian notion of 'embrace' in Christ's redemptive work comes into high relief. Christ's love is precisely that reality which embraces all that stands in opposition to it. The nature of God's inclusive love (and therefore the blue-print for our love) is to accept the ‘other’ (i.e. sin, 'violence,' 'contradiction' and negation) into himself. That is what the cross reveals. Contrary to the liberal position, suffering, not ideological agreement, is the only real ground for accepting the 'other'. To embrace the other requires accepting the consequences of the other’s sin as one’s own; and to ‘embrace’ is to abandon one’s own rights on behalf of the one who opposes us. It is to say: “forgive them Father for they do not know what they do”. So much for the 'have my cake and eat it too' argument of liberal Christianity. But let's get beyond all this non-sense about who is oppressing who. It is pointless.

Second, I wonder if the Anglican idea described by both PZ and WB - that the victory of Christian faith is its ability to, at once, affirm contradictory propositions - is not some queer brand of Hegelian metaphysics seeped into modern Episcopal theology. I fear the notion that 'truth' is negotiated in the overcoming of anti-theticals still has currency in some quarters. That’s what Zahl is identifying in his Orwellian invocation of ‘double-speak.’ But, I think, contra Zahl that the philosophical position latent in much Anglican reflection is more subtle and sophisticated than he probably gives it credit for – and I think Orwell was likely thinking of something far more sinister than the ECUSA could muster.

So let me make a suggestion. As it turns out, Hegelian soteriology is (broadly) Gnostic. And, that is exactly the thing that ‘body-loving liberals’ can't stand. They want to secure the value and validity of the body and its passions against any view that the Spirit/other-worldly is more, better, higher, etc. Gnostic soteriology is anti-body. So there is a wonderful irony: the corner-stone of the ECUSA liberal position (the notion of Hegelian dialectics) cuts against its most prized claim (body/passions = good). Beautiful!

Also, let me take this chance to say: Come to England!


texanglican said...

Just out of curiosity, does the Rev. Zahl prefer to be referred to as "Father"? I would have thought that the author of "The Protestant Face of Anglicanism" would not approve! Interesting.

MM said...

Fr. and T, Ive been counting on you two remaining lifelong friends... and Fr. WB, you take my breath away.

The thing to do is to like people- most of them are just great. They are probably trying to be pious without too much pain. Most of us have enormous chips on our shoulders, blinders on our eyes, oozing sores on our hearts, all tending to the sin that so EASILY besets us. The thing to do is to talk to people. One should try to be very cute when doing so- this works quite well for me. Then they will think you are innocuous, and will allow you to try to care for them in a reasonable way. Then you calmly point out they "they" ought not point their fingers at "those people" when discursively appropriate, because its mean.

And if we cant say something nice, sometimes- sometimes- we shouldnt say anything at all.

mmbx said...

MM, you make my heart shine like the sun!! But we don't want to get too gooey for these boys.

father wb said...


I've always called him "Father" in person, though I'm pretty sure he doesn't prefer it (but who knows?). Referring to him in the third person, casually, I usually call him "PZ." I'm not sure what he prefers.

Frank --

I don't think its that complicated. Remember that the Anglican theological patrimony is robustly orthodox. Only with the quasi-deism of, e.g., Coleridge that something like a Gnostic turn manifests itself -- but these broadchurchmen only emerged in the late 18th century, and their influence has, honestly, been negligible. Though perhaps there's something recognizably hegelian in the social projects of, e.g., Temple, Gore, et alia. (Those sorts, along with people like Philips Brooks and maybe even William Porcher Dubose seem to have more currency among the Episcopal intelligentsia these days.)

Whatever the ROOT of the problem, the problem itself is that theological liberals today seem to have selected the absurd (in the logical sense enumerated at the outset) inclusivity as the apex and sine qua non of theology and practice. But a house built on inclusivity in this sense, is a house divided against itself (as is painfully obvious in ECUSA these days).