Saturday, November 06, 2010

Application of Hooker to Current Dilemmas (pt IV)

I enjoy reading the Patristic fathers, but sometimes it is a draining task to attempt to explain to other people, particularly to those of extremely Post-modern thinking, about why I am so enthusiastic about "dead white guys in togas" and why I believe they have so much to speak to modern culture. I am more than happy to engage in that conversation with people, but I have to warn them in advance that it is going to be a long conversation because I have to give them a crash course in classic logic, rhetoric, and debate. Most people who grew up in the age of instant gratification, political attack ads, and the five second sound byte cannot get past the truly mind blowing notion that emotional invective in rant form is not, in fact, persuasive logic, debate, or rhetoric.

(For the record, more than one Patristic father was in fact not what modern people would consider white. Tertuillian was African. In fact, the entire Cappadocian clan would probably be assumed to be of Middle Eastern descent nowadays and screened at airports.)

All that having been said, I come now to the grist of what I believe is exciting about Richard Hooker and his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. If you get a basic grip on what Hooker is talking about when he speaks of Laws and Meta-laws, you can begin to see why I think he speaks directly to the modern troubles in Anglicanism in an easier process than applying the Patristics because you don't have to completely reinvent the wheel in explaining Classical logic and argumentation to people.

If you recall, in my previous blog entry, I discussed in more detail the rhetorical method in which Richard Hooker wrote. For Hooker, to know how something is governed, you must know its nature or what kind of a thing it is. Only when we discern what kind of thing something is, we have to discern its proper end or purpose. Hooker goes to considerable lengths to demonstrate how not properly demonstrating ends and purposes leads one to confusion and conflict.

For example, Hooker goes to great lengths to discuss some of the burning theological questions of his day like the role of Scripture and elements Anglicanism retained from Catholicism such as bishops. These are things the more Radically Reforming Protestants detested, and yet Hooker makes brilliant insights into the conflict between Calvinist Puritans and their misunderstanding of Rome and Catholic doctrines. Certain Reformers believed anything Catholic was anathema to "true Christianity" because of several failures (by all sides involved) to adequately explain that these kinds of things were, much less to try and discern their proper ends and purposes.

Such is the case, I believe, in the current mess the Anglican Communion is in over the debate about homosexuality. Confusion and conflict has occurred precisely because I believe the two major factions are operating on differing definitions of what marriage and sexuality are. The various groups in favor or opposed to the blessing of same sex unions, full inclusion, and all that want to jump to discerning the proper end or purpose of marriage and sexuality, but there has not been collective discernment as to what the nature, or "kind of a thing" in Hooker's terminology, that marriage and sexuality themselves actually are. Again, according to Hooker, if we can't understand what a thing is, then we cannot hope to discern its proper end or purpose, and if we can't demonstrate ends and purposes, we end up in conflict and confusion.

Case in point: What is the nature of marriage itself? Is marriage a sacrament (and if so, what is the nature of a sacrament?), or is marriage more along the lines of what Luther described as little more than a civic agreement for two people to live together or is it some combination thereof (i.e. what the 1979 Prayerbook catechism category of a sacramental rite? (I've never gotten a full explanation on what exactly the difference between a sacramental rite is as opposed to a sacrament.) Only when we can discern what marriage is as a "thing," can we hope to make any progress as to what Laws govern it, and only then can we hope to discern what Meta-laws are operative. (Recall that Hooker defines a meta-law as laws that direct how Laws themselves are changed or are perceived to change.)

To muddy the water even more, I believe the Church after that discussion needs to discern what "sexuality" is as a philosophical "thing," what Laws govern it, and what meta-laws apply there. That is a fairly modern term that has a million possible definitions (most of which is little more that pop culture buzz word sloganism), particularly in the wake of the 1960's sexual revolution. I think Hooker would agree that logically, if we have no base definition of what "sexuality" is as a philosophical thing or how it relates to marriage, then how can we possible begin to define or discern what is homosexuality, much less its relationship to marriage.

Again, according to Hooker, failure to arrive as a conclusive definition of first order things before jumping into discernment of second or third order things, like how a thing is governed by Laws and Meta-laws, inevitably leads to (usually irreparable) conflicts and misunderstandings. Such is the case in marriage and sexuality debates in the Anglican church. In short, if you don't build a foundation but jump right to putting up wood framing and siding, you inevitably have a house that will collapse.

Therein is why I love Richard Hooker. I believe he laid out in the 1500's a map that can save Anglicanism in the 21st century. The problem is that no one can be bothered to listen to him and we now sit in the midst of conflict that he predicted.

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