Over at StandFirm they take no prisioners. Matt Kennedy is slicing and dicing his way through the eighteenth century and on into post modern era or whatever we want to call the front edge of modernity. His essay was triggered by the delight some of us on the progressive side of the great divide took in a comment from Kant about covenants. You can read the comment HERE. I made some remarks on that HERE.
Here is what he had to say about the Episcopal Church:
"...the root of our current controversy over sexuality does not lie in the sexuality debate itself but in a wholesale contemporary departure from Christianity on the part of the Episcopal Church. This departure is pelagian in its rejection of the fall, marcionite in its exaltation of anthropologically derived “moral” criteria over and against divine revelation, and Gnostic in its embrace of new “truths” revealed only to a tiny sect of the spiritually elite."
All together now:
"Pelagian in its rejection of the fall,
marcionite in its exaltation of anthropologically derived moral criteria over against divine revelation,
Gnostic in its embrace of new truths revealed only in a tiny sect of the spiritually elite."
It sucks the air right out of the room. Yes?
Not quite. So MK then moves in for the kill:
"The rather ironic widespread receptivity of contemporary Episcopalian leaders to apparently “unalterable” 18th century principles reveals an antiquated confidence in human nature and a remarkably secular suspicion of divine revelation."
Well, not flattering myself to be a "contemporary Episcopalian leader" I was at least referenced by virtue of his hypertexting my blog as one of the various revisionist blogs. So in the end I am identified with an "antiquated confidence in human nature and a remarkably secular suspicion of divine revelation." My mother would be proud.
Well MK got it wrong. I thought the quote first lifted up by Episcopal Cafe was useful in that Kant correctly points to one of the problems of covenants as opposed, say, to constitutions or compacts or contracts, where there are built in ways to revise and correct the content. Covenants are "all or nothing" sorts of things. They are predisposed to silence any further enlightenment. I liked what Kant said, no doubt about it. But Kennedy has gone on to charge the Episcopal Church and those who are leaders in it with a nice variety of heresies with this little bit of amusement as the basis for his remarks.
Kennedy is also a bit snotty about the good guy's ownership of The Fall. Somehow he thinks that enlightenment folk have to put it aside entirely. The Fall stands on its own and those of us across the divide are not unaware of its force, and yet "the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" is, in relation to the Fall, redemptive and also enlightening.
The charge of being "marcionite" is wonderfully arcane and almost worth the price of admission. MK supposes that any enlightenment attitude toward the determination of morals requires the denial of divine revelation.
What a crock. What it requires is a willingness to see in the struggles of human communities a vehicle for divine revelation as well as a basis for social contract. Divine revelation finds its way into our hearts and into the world by the most ordinary of means: words preached, laws written, customs lived out, and on and on. It is true that many progressives and many enlightenment attitudes dismiss divine revelation and for good reason. The immoral things done in the name of religion and the divine revelation to religionists would curl the hair, just as would those done in the name of modern "enlightened" governments. But it is entirely possible to live with both enlightenment and revelation, else the words of John would have no effect. The Light comes by divine revelation, but it comes also as that which enlightens.
Sometimes we don't see the hand, we only see that the light went on.
And, then there is of course the charge of Gnosticism: that somehow any of us who think that there is a phenomenology at work in the making of a new world, or a progressive one, or one in which the Fall is not all there is, are "a tiny sect of the spiritually elite." There are all sorts of spiritual elites and they are mostly small and small minded. No doubt some enlightenment progressives are to be numbered among them. But not all, by a long shot.
Newly known truths come not by secret knowledge but by the kind of experimental knowing that is open to any and all who are willing to seek such truth.
MK is quite right to say that things are not getting better and better and all that. Cronological snobbery is just that. He is pretty much wrong about the modernest world view, which he describes and sets up as a straw man.
Perhaps MK's strangest comment is his rant that "In our present Anglican crisis, we’ve simply applied biology to rationalize perversity. " There it is: He is opposed to enlightement thinking and biology because they rationalize. Well they don't. Regular paid up people rationalize. With any luck the biologist and the enlightenment rationalist don't rationalize, they reason.
But of course what he hates is "perversity." There is nothing I can do about that. Perversity is a judgement call, of course, and the circle gets mighty small when reason gets thrown out. There are crosses waiting for all of us, and they will mostly read perversity.
Matt Kennedy says, "What might be shocking to some, though it shouldn’t be, is that men and women presuming the mantle of Christian leadership would so wholly reject both the unalterable nature of scriptural revelation and the need for such unalterable truth given our fallen natures." Well, there you have it. MK believes that he has presented an argument that shows clearly that terrible ol' Episcopalian leader types "wholly reject both the unalterable nature of scriptural revelation and the need of such unalterable truth given our fallen natures."
Perhaps Matt Kennedy would do well to take up some other line of work. Revelation is not his strong suit, nor apparently is finding it in scripture. He's got our fallen nature down about right, but then don't we all.
Meanwhile perhaps he might lighten up a bit. Gnostic, Marionite, Pelagian? Come on. If the concern is perversity just say it. Say, the leadership of the Episcopal Church is perverse. Whack away.
And, having said it, be prepared to deal with a variation on the familiar text: "...as you have charged the least of these, you have charged me."