Comments: the week's opinions

There's some nice articles here. One thing (that also relates to a pondering from Rowan Williams' speech posted on TA on the 7th is a concern about fragmentation of structures). I wondered if some of the issue is the foreman being upset that the Tower of Babel threatens to be dismantled.

I spent some time contemplating whether that was a bad thing, as I have contemplating the ramifications of living in a pluralistic world and cohabitating with secular structures.

There is a niceness to clean edges, lines of authority, knowing from whom to seek help (or blame) when things go wrong or one is frightened. But that authority can easily become power for power's sake.

I think we need to be exploring models that foster diversity and encourage co-operation. One ripple is that "first past the post" election methods lead to the best power-broker "leading" their constituents. But the problem is that the leader then typically does not represent the majority of the constituents (two or more similar candidates can "split" the vote so that the mutual enemy who sticks to one leader ends up in the office). In countries such as Australia, there is a thing called preferential voting. So if I vote for a green party, and they don't get up, my preference can then be assigned to either labour or liberal (depending on who I think will do the best job in the next period in office). In the first past the post strategy, my green vote would become a non vote.

The benefits of preferential voting is that I can place my green vote (knowing it has no hope of winning) but flagging that I care about the environment, and when the polls come in, all the leaders register that a signficant portion of the community care about the environment and it becomes an issue worthy of the government and parties addressing.

The shift to preferential voting also encourages people to think more in terms of flotillas than battle ships. Building alliances, talking to others, working out how to co-operate with others to form a joint government. It forces people to be civilized. It makes it harder for corrupt merchants to take control of the government and then hijack the infrastructure and policies to the deteriment of both its own citizens and those overseas. It slows down war mongerers and handicaps hate mongerers (e.g Satan would find this battle harder because he can not put his ego aside to cooperate with others).

Similarly, a monolithic tower is as vulnerable as a monoculture farm. The right virus and the whole crop is lost. Permaculturalists have an advantage, because it is likely that they will have more than one kind of crop in the ground, and if one dies to the virus, then there will be other crops that are likely to be able to cope with the new conditions. Again, this relies on being able to cope with diversity, sharing and satisfactorily meeting differing needs for the benefit of the whole pasture.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Saturday, 8 July 2006 at 8:27pm BST


This comment is aimed at you, as you seem to have some interest in engaging the primary issues; however, others may respond as well.

Here goes . . . I find Theo Hobson's article extremely interesting because he seems to assume that liberalism can NEVER go too far. Thus, whatever liberalism seeks MUST always be compatible with Christianity, Catholicism and Anglicanism. This is interesting to me as it mirrors my observations regarding the approach of liberals in general.

So, is this a viable assumption? RW speaks of the AC being tripolar with liberal, anglo-catholic and "evangelical" poles. Taking only the "evangelical" pole as an example, it is quite clear to me that evangelicalism can go too far.

Evangelicalism is rooted in sola fide, and this is good. In fact, it is very, very good. However, as some "evangelicals" emphasize this good they tend to de-emphasize the sacraments and the ancient anglican/catholic orders of the Church. They go beyond merely being "low" church to being un-Anglican and un-Catholic in their practices. (At least in my opinion).

Sydney, despite having many extremely good qualities, provides an example of the problems that can arise from this tendency. In a word, even though Evangelicalism begins with something good, it can and has been taken too far in the wrong direction.

Thus, the question--can liberalism go too far? Can it also begin with something "good", i.e., ideals of liberality and egalitarianism, and take them too far? If not, why is liberalism exempt from a problem that can beset the other poles of Anglicanism? If so, what are the limits--when and where is liberalism taken too far?


Posted by Steven at Sunday, 9 July 2006 at 2:28am BST

Nice try.

The Gospel is rooted in Mutuality, but Calvinism is rooted in crowd control, in power, in the Authority of the pastor (don't ask him anything, because he hasn't got any answers - he will only tell you that your wanting to know is not "faith").

There's my answer, for what it's worth.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Sunday, 9 July 2006 at 9:17am BST


Hmmm. I don't think you answered any question I asked. Even then, I think you got it dead wrong.

However, the question remains: Can one be too liberal to be an Anglican? The issue is whether liberalism, like the other poles of Anglicanism, has lines beyond which it becomes something inimical to the Catholic and Anglican faith.

If a liberal can say yes--liberalism can exceed the bounds of the Anglican and Catholic faith, there is room for debate about where those lines should be drawn. And, there may even be some hope of saving the communion. If not, there is no room for debate. Discussion and "listening" are (as they have been so far) utterly pointless, and we are (as most of us have already assumed) in a situation where our best course of action is to try and part gracefully.


Posted by Steven at Sunday, 9 July 2006 at 7:37pm BST


Anything can go too far. Humans have a tendency to think that if a little is good, then even more is better.

On an individual level we see issues of extremism in, say, anorexia or marathon runners who waste away their body. On a spiritual level, people can become obsessed with purifying their bodies to the point they become hate their bodies, or with punishing the sinner or unworthy to the point organising Klu Klux Klan lynch mobs, or with bringing people into heaven "now" so they commit mass murder/suicide e.g. Jonestown. This is a recent Torah that explores this concept further:

My fears for liberalism is that people who want to be gentle in their love find it hard to put up boundaries. (e.g. not speaking out against Satanism or other forms of Baal worship where peoples' bodies or souls are violated by others in the name of religion). My concern for the puritans is that their need for discipline means they end up orphaning or widowing the "unworthies" (unfair legislation is an example, where some people become non-citizens in terms of legal rights that others take for granted).

People might criticise me for tolerating sodomy, and if it is rape then I despise it (humans and angels might rape, but God does not). However, between two mutually consenting adults? That is more difficult, because the reality is that being human means struggling with inadequacies and I don't know of a single relationship that does not have some kind of tension and area that could be refined as it has an element of abuse. Successful relationships acknowledge that the parties will sometimes cross the line, and make allowances and forgive, provided the party does not stay on the extreme for too long or go too far. The Old Testament treatment was also a compassionate judgment, at that time there was no surgery for people with torn anuses and it was more merciful for them to die quickly than the other way. Further, by having such a harsh punishment, it kept some who had only a passing curiosity away from this practice (it still left the hard-core male homosexuals in a very invidious corner). In these times we can transplant hearts, provide colonscopies, grow organs (bladders) in bowls of fluid, so we can surgically fix anyone who is damaged.

I have thought long and deeply about the issues of extremism (whether that be excessive control or excessive laxity). The only solution is to have a diverse and vibrant culture with genuine open dialogue. People who need to build clearly defined boundaries to feel safe can congregate with like-minded souls and advocate their position. In a diverse pluralistic society, outsiders can monitor to make sure they do not become abusive e.g. child protection, anti-bullying, anti-corruption legislation and being prepared to invoke it. Similarly, the faith or ethical movements can monitor the governments and providers of infrastructure to ensure that the core needs of society are being fairly met without crossing the line of dehumanising people for the sake of a quick profit.

In a healthy society, we understand that there are core needs: food, water, shelter, to be loved and to love. How well those things are provided and shared reflects the vibrancy of the current generation and the viability for the generations to come. Where it is done well, the faiths, culture, science and commerce flourish. Where it is done badly, faiths, culture and science are distorted and elements suppressed, and commerce becomes a monster rather than a conduit. Money, like water and Spirit, should never be allowed to flow unchecked. It can be an incredibly destructive force. But well moderated, it nurtures the fabric of society.

All of this can be supported with biblical passages. One of the liberals frustrations are blinkered conservatives who only recognise a small fraction of the bible and try to act as if the other quoted passages don't exist. (I actually witnessed one online discussion where they seriously started discussing removing offensive passages (the ones I was quoting)).

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Sunday, 9 July 2006 at 11:22pm BST

Goran says, "The Gospel is rooted in Mutuality"
Do you mean "The Gospel" as described in the Bible or some ideas you have cobbled together which suit you?

Cherly - from what you say, I think you would have told Jesus not to be so hard on the Pharisees when he called them "children of the devil" and you might have told him to be more inclusive when he said "nobody comes to the Father except by me" and you probably would have told him to relax and not go to the cross when he was struggling in Gethsemane because we now tolerate liberal views on his death...

Posted by NP at Monday, 10 July 2006 at 1:14pm BST


Thank you for actually trying to answer the question. I note that most of your response goes far beyond the question, but that's everyone's perogative on a board of this type. However, other than saying generally that extremism is possible in any direction (and is to be avoided) and that (so far as I can tell) any type of sex between consenting adults is OK from a liberal perspective, I'm still not sure where you are drawing the liberal line, much less the Anglican/Catholic line.

Based on the foregoing, my assumption is that you would say that forced sex or sex involving minors is not OK from a liberal perspective. So, I know what a good liberal would disapprove of as a liberal (and there were no surprises there). Does this mean that the line of liberal approval is, for you, necessarily and inevitably the same as the line for Anglican/Catholic/Christian approval?

Part of what I'm looking for is some recognition that behaviors that may pass muster with a particular philosophy/ideology such as liberalism may not pass muster from a particular religious standpoint. (I acknowledge that the same is, by the way, true of conservativism taken as a philosophy/ideology). Note, also, I am not asking you to say that anything that you've given liberal approval to does not pass muster from an Anglican/Catholic/Christian perspective. I'm only interesting in some acknowledgement from a liberal somewhere that the lines drawn by liberalism are not necessarily or inevitably the same as those drawn--justifiably--from an Anglican/Catholic/Christian perspective. What lines are justifiably drawn from that perspective is another issue, and we may disagree.

However, what seems (at least to me) to be the general liberal assumption that the two are necessarily identical baffles me. This is where I seek clarification.


Posted by Steven at Monday, 10 July 2006 at 1:31pm BST

Actually, Jesus might have given "hard love" to the Pharisees, but his sacrifice covered their sins as much as the man on the cross. God rebukes those that he loves, that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees so much proves how much he loved them. Love is giving people what they need, which is not always the same as what they want.

Steven, on your wanting specific lines, I am not the person to give that to you. I represent no faction and have no entanglement in any of the political manouverings of any particular church.

God happened to plant me in an Anglican church, which happened to be in Sydney. What follows came from being where God had planted me (I have learnt to trust that God knows what He is doing and to play the balls as he throws them).

My participation in this debate is not about a particular faction winning ascendancy. The debate is useful because it articulates some of the dynamics, tensions, and conflicting needs that any established religious institution need to be aware of and accommodating if they are to be healthy and in proper relationship with God. By having this debate, other churches and faiths can look on with interest and contemplate how to get their own house in order (and I would not be surprised that a few would be breathing a sigh of relief that God initially planted me in an Anglican church rather than one of their own).

The issues of power and intimidation, providing wise counsel to state leaders versus being bought by the state, respecting creation, providing hospitality to the alien and the outcast, caring for the fatherless and afflicted are lessons that apply to any and all people that aspire to be working for God (or some "higher good").

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 10 July 2006 at 5:09pm BST


That was as neat and flowery a dodge as I've ever read, and I've seen some pretty fancy rhetorical footwork in my day. So, my quest remains unanswered . . . the quest for a single liberal that will (even if only for themselves personally) admit that there may be a line beyond which liberalism (without exceeding its own standards of "extremeness") is no longer consonant with the standards of Christianity, Catholicism, and/or Anglicanism.


Posted by Steven at Monday, 10 July 2006 at 9:37pm BST

Steven --

Simon may well squelch me for being too off topic (& he has the right!) but it seems to me that you have framed the question inappropriately -- "liberalism" is a methodology -- as such it cannot be too "extreme" -- it may be inappropriately applied, but that is the fault of the person applying it rather than of the methodology itself.

And to dredge up the famous quotation from John Stuart Mill, "Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives. I thought this too self evident to require comment."

Posted by Prior Aelred at Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 1:47am BST

Cheryl says, "Actually, Jesus might have given "hard love" to the Pharisees, but his sacrifice covered their sins as much as the man on the cross."

Really? Have a look, for just one example, at John 3:36 Jesus says "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

I still think you have made up your own "liberal" Jesus because he certainly did not agree with your statement - this is what is so sad about "liberalism": it is not recognisable from the words of Christ.....I agree that all his words (including about social justice etc) must be taken into account. Let's not ignore what he (and the Spirit in the rest of the Bible) says.......because Jesus says there will be consequences (even if some bishops say he was wrong)

Posted by NP at Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 7:17am BST


There is a line at which liberalism is no longer consonant with the espoused standards of Christianity, Catholocism and/or Anglicanism. It is the same line as Jesus saw between the Pharisees and Judaism. Namely, when a priestly caste/faction becomes so enmeshed in preserving its theological authority and ingratiating itself with the powers that be that it becomes blind to its own hypocrisy and corruption. The line can be drawn when any branch (liberal, catholic, evangelical, or anglican) loses sight of the intent of the Book of Truth and becomes a husk deprived of the heart and consciousness of Jesus.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 8:53am BST

Dear Steven,

Calvinism rejects the Sacraments of the Church, Calvinism rejects the Christology of the Church, Calvinism rejects the ecclesiology of the Church, indeed the Church as such.

How about that for "consonant with the standards of Christianity, Catholicism, and/or Anglicanism"?

Steven, if you truly want to ask a question, you need to be somewhat more specific, not to appear trying to "frame" some poor sodder ;=)

Your "question" is false and misleading, only meant to let you throw your very much un-defined "consonant with standards of Christianity, Catholicism, and/or Anglicanism" at people.

Sorry, but having the experiences I do from the place I grew up, I don't fall for such tricks.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 9:15am BST

Thanks Goran. It has been a joy to see you contribute to this site.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 11 July 2006 at 7:57pm BST

Having finally seen Steven's comment and this discussion, I hope I am not too late to answer his question.

It seems to me that Steven is making a fundamental error. It is one that, in my experience, any person attached to a radical movement can make. This would include persons who wrongly call themselves "liberal" as well as persons who wrongly call themselves "conservative."

I myself have most often seen this error committed by so-called vulgar Marxists who have absorbed a bit of postmodern thinking, but it is increasingly common among the radical right wing in the United States, whose anti-Enlightenment perspectivism can be traced back with some credibility to de Maistre.

The error is to assume that such things as institutions, procedures, methodologies, or what might in general be called the "rules of the game" are mere epiphenomena. What is fundamental in this erroneous view are positions. The "rules of the game" are merely expressive of, and thus always biased toward, one or another of the positions and biased against all the rest. There are no neutral rules; there are only "liberal" and "conservative" rules. If the rules are working in favor of one's own faction, they are good rules; otherwise they must be changed if they cannot be ignored with impunity.

Prior Aelred is right: liberalism is a methodology, not a position or set of positions. It is consitutive of a methodology that it must abide by the "rules of the game," even when these rules force it to give up a position. Thus scientific method, wrongly lambasted by the radical right wing for its inability to reach certainty in truth, and by the radical left wing for its mere "formalism," is a methodology which requires its adherents to give up a claim if the method used to test it gives a negative result, even if to do so will force changes or adjustments in their position overall.

I have made an ethical choice to be a liberal and am thus prepared to give up aspects of my positions when the "rules of the game" rule against me. It has become fairly clear, however, that there are many in the radical right wing of the Episcopal Church who do not care about the "rules of the game"; if they don't like a particular decision, they change the rules, and if they don't like a particular authority, they go shopping for a new one. Some among the liberals in the Church might be tempted to imitate them in this, but I hope they do not.

Posted by Charlotte at Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 5:34am BST

I don't care much for philosophy of any kind, but I have noticed the constant changing of the rules (and the dishonest translations)...


Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Thursday, 13 July 2006 at 3:56pm BST
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