Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Big Tent Collapses
More briefly, on the quasi-collapse of the Episcopal Church, I ask why people leave the Episcopal Church for more conservative groups--not only or primarily break-away "continuing Anglican" outfits, but non-Anglican evangelical churches, the RC Church and Orthodox churches?
The explanation one always hears is that these people are social conservatives who object to the liberal policies of the Episcopal Church and other mainline churches. But is this really true for all, or even for the majority? Could it possibly be that what they're after is religion--a commitment by the church to belief in the supernatural, a program to get members in touch with it, and moral support for religious belief in a world where it's increasingly socially unacceptable?
I'd bet that for lots the conservative moral and social agenda to which these churches are committed is a don't-care for many people. These churches unabashedly offer religion and lots of people are prepared to get on board with the conservative agendas as a concommitant--or at least sign on and ignore them. I might too, but I just cannot accept the conservative agenda as a don't-care. I might if I were male because the nub for me is the commitment to understanding gender as theologically or metaphysically relevant. I can't no way no how buy that and, when I've contemplated trying in order to affiliate with a church that was religiously congenial it slams me as a reducio of religious belief: if Christianity, real Christianity with real theistic metaphysics, entails that men and women are in some deep metaphysical sense different, then I cannot buy Christianity.
Conservatives are on the whole patronizing jerks about this. They respond by saying either (1) that I don't understand that difference doesn't mean inequality or that (2) if I'm not willing to accept the "hard sayings" which invariably concern sex and gender, I'm not sincerely religious--I'm just interested in, as one formerly Episcopalian Orthodox priest put it, haberdashery. But that's untrue--about me and about others who cannot buy into their program.
(1) It isn't inequality to which I object but la difference as such--the idea that men and women are in some deep way different or ought to play different roles, even if those roles were genuinely equal. (2) It isn't that the "hard sayings" are hard in the sense that they would prevent me from living the life I want to life or doing the things I want to do. They are just plain unbelievable and, when I've tried out the mental gymnastics it would take to generate belief in these hard sayings it invariably strikes me that believing the fundamental religious claims takes mental gymnastics and may be equally implausible. Reducio.
There may be virtue in doing things that are hard to do, that take self-sacrifice, but there's no virtue in believing things that are hard to believe. What is peculiarly offensive about religious conservatives is the assumption that believing seven impossible things before breakfast is virtuous and that anyone who balks at that is just an aesthete playing games, dabbling in liturgy, without any serious religious commitment.