Unmoored Freedom is No Freedom – A Reflection on the 4th of July | Community in Mission

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To most modern minds, freedom is a very detached concept; it is an abstraction of sorts, a free-floating power unmoored from any limits or defining standards.

“Freedom today is often viewed as personal and self-referential, with little consideration as to how one’s ‘freedom’ might affect that of someone else. A healthy sense of the common good suffers mightily in a world of deeply conflicting personal freedoms.”

Source: Unmoored Freedom is No Freedom – A Reflection on the 4th of July | Community in Mission

Cogent thoughts on freedom, limitation, and the folly of trying to create (or maintain) culture without cultus.

“Obviously, the word cultus is at the heart of the word culture. In Latin, a cultus is something for which we care or about which we are concerned; it is something of worth, something considered valuable. It describes the most central, fundamental values of a group. In later Latin, cultus came to describe the worth or value we attribute to God, who is our truest goal.

“Remove the cultus from culture and you get the breakdown we are seeing today. While pluralism and diversity have value, they must exist within a framework that is shared and agreed upon. Otherwise pluralism and diversity are unmoored and become like ships crashing about in a stormy bay.

“In order for a culture to exist, there must be a shared cultus, a shared focus on what is good, true, beautiful, and sacred. Our modern experiment shows the failure of trying to have a culture without this.”

There are just a few excerpts; the entire article is well worth reading. Here is a bit more, a quote from (Roman Catholic) Bishop Robert Barron:

“The setting aside of God can take place both explicitly (as in the musings of the atheists) or implicitly (as in so much of the secular world where “practical” atheism holds sway). In either case the result is a shutting down of the natural human drive toward the transcendent and, even more dangerously, the elevation of self-determining freedom to a position of unchallenged primacy…

“On the typically modern reading, truth is construed as an enemy to freedom—which explains precisely why we find such a hostility to truth in the contemporary culture. Indeed, anyone who claims to have the truth—especially in regard to moral matters—is automatically accused of arrogance and intolerance.

“Society will be restored to balance and sanity, (Pope) Benedict (XVI) argued, only when the natural link between freedom and truth — especially the Truth which is God — is reestablished. … Behind all our arguments about particular moral and political issues is a fundamental argument about the centrality of God” [Vibrant Paradoxes, pp. 217-218].

Indeed. At root, much of the trouble we are facing today, as a society, can be traced to the Enlightenment project of topping God as the center and pinnacle of our musings, striving, and contemplation, and the Good, the True, and the Beautiful – the pursuit of which lead us to God, as their Source and culmination – as the desirable goals of a human life well-lived – and replacing both Him and them with the deification of unaided human reason (*), and later, emotion and self-gratification.

Lacking that solid anchor and reference point, is it any wonder that we have become “like ships crashing about in a stormy bay”?

 


 

* Human reason is indeed one of the most precious gifts of our benevolent Creator, an extremely valuable human faculty. But because we are finite, limited, mortal human beings, our human reason is also finite, limited, and mortal. It is not intended, nor is it possible, to function alone, unaided by what the Anglican tradition names as Scripture and Tradition.

That is to say, the revelation of God as revealed in Scripture, Nature, and Antiquity: the latter referring to the theological and philosophical insights of those who have come before, especially those which are clearly part of the Great Tradition of Christianity, into which certain of the great Classical philosophers – such as Plato and Aristotle – have been incorporated, because they have foreshadowed it, because their thought illuminates, explicates, or complements parts of it, or all of the above).

To function and flourish properly, human reason also requires the water and fertilizer of not only Divine revelation (as shown through the Scriptures), but prayer – both personal and extemporaneous, and liturgical, through what the Anglican tradition calls “Common Prayer” – and the sacraments. As this essay points out,

“Freedom can only exist in a healthy and productive way when it is in reference to the truth — and truth is rooted in God and what He has revealed in creation, Sacred Scripture, and Tradition. This is the cultus necessary for every culture. True and healthy freedom is the capacity to obey God. Anything that departs from this necessary framework is a deformed freedom, on its way to chaos and slavery.”

To be effective, therefore, and to be whole persons, in a right relationship to God and to one another – to be truly free, in other words, both personally and in the context of our social organization – we need not just reason, but sanctified reason. Even at that, we sometimes (often) fall short! Without it, we are indeed “ships crashing about in a stormy bay,” with little or no hope of reaching a safe harbor.

 


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Happy Easter! A holy and blessed Feast of the Resurrection to all my Christian readers!

Easter – Empty Tomb

“Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, for he has risen, as he said.”

Luke 24:5b, Matthew 28:6

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Cor. v. 7.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him.For in  that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Rom. vi. 9.

Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For  since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead.For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. – 1 Cor. xv. 20.

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

A Theist and an Atheist Walk into a Bar . . . | ORBITER

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“What I’ve always wanted to do as a philosopher,” [theistic philosopher Alvin] Plantinga said, “is defend a Christian way of thinking about things and argue that to be a Christian is not to be irrational or senseless or silly. It’s certainly not a unanimous view among philosophers that you can reasonably be a Christian; but that’s now one perfectly sensible view in the neighborhood.”

Source: A Theist and an Atheist Walk into a Bar . . . | ORBITER

For those of us who are Christians, there is nothing remotely irrational, senseless, or silly about belief in God; indeed, it is disbelief in God that is senseless and silly. But unfortunately, philosophy and religion have been on largely divergent paths for the last several centuries. As a result, many philosophers have been reluctant or flatly unwilling to seriously consider the perspectives of theologians, while as Plantinga points out, “Certain kinds of evangelical Christians thought philosophy was a bad idea.”

That is unfortunate, impoverishing both realms.

So, I am very glad to learn of this gentleman who seems to have been able to, at least to some degree, bridge the chasm between contemporary philosophy and theology. But at the same time, I also have to chuckle slightly at the idea that his thoughts – at least as expressed in this short article, I have not delved into his works – are novel discoveries, particularly when it comes to the problem of evil.

If contemporary philosophers have truly believed that the existence of evil nullifies the possibility for the existence of a good God, then I am disheartened to see how far philosophy has fallen.

Plantinga’s solution – which may be compressed (at least as expressed in the linked article) as the realization that true freedom must of necessity include the ability to choose evil; if God had created us such that we would always choose good, automatically, then we would not have free will at all – is something that I got out of reading Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae (“The Consolation of Philosophy,” c. 524 AD) while I was in college.

Nonetheless, I’m glad he has apparently been able to make this ancient and key concept comprehensible and at least somewhat acceptable to today’s philosophical “establishment.”

Regarding his assertion (with which, of course, I agree) that belief in God is not irrational, he points out that

“a very common attitude among those who don’t believe in God is mistaken. That attitude goes like this: ‘I don’t know whether or not there really is such a person as God… but I do know the belief in God is irrational.’”

To which my response would be, if you don’t know whether or not God exists – if the existence of God cannot be conclusively proven, as it cannot, then neither can it be conclusively dis-proven – then how can you say belief in God is irrational? If there’s even the slightest chance that He may exist, and it turns out that He does, then disbelief in Him would be the irrational course of action! Saying that belief in the existence of God is irrational, without being able to conclusively disprove the existence of God, is itself irrational.

Which I think is what Plantinga is trying to say. He goes on to add,

“My argument, very simply, is that if theism is true, then in all likelihood God would make his presence known to us human beings. And if this is so, then it would make sense to think of God as creating us in such a way that there is an innate tendency to believe in him, or at least to have some sort of inkling of his existence.”

Which is another way of saying something that I have said on many occasions, and in a number of fora: that the human religious impulse comes from God, and leads to God. That is why – although I am a Christian and a Christian cleric, and believe that the Christian revelation is the most true and complete revelation of God humans have been vouchsafed by their creator – I also believe that elements of truth may be found in many (indeed most, if not all) religions.

If we are, as the Scriptures inform us, created in the image of God, then we simply cannot (assuming our intellectual faculties are intact) avoiding knowing at least something about God, and / or at least have a yearning to connect with our ultimate Source. We can (having free will, since God wishes us to search for and choose Him freely, not through compulsion) ignore or suppress both the knowledge and the yearning, but that does not mean it’s not there.

As I have also said before – including in this blog – I have respect for an honest agnosticism, as there is so much we do not and cannot know about God. But I find flat-out atheism – which is asserting as an incontestable truth-claim the idea that God does not exist – to be rather absurd and even silly, since there is no way to conclusively disprove the existence of a God powerful enough to create the totality of the Cosmos.

In contrast, as Plantinga points out,

“many philosophers have argued that belief in God is indeed, irrational; and of course if it is irrational, we ought not to accept it. They think as follows: it would clearly be irrational to believe in God if there were not good evidence for the existence of God . . .

“Now what I’ve argued, in a nutshell, is this. First of all, that there are some pretty good arguments for theism, for the existence of God. More important, though, what I’ve argued is that if belief in God is true—if there really is such a person as God—then belief in God is not irrational.”

Indeed! Needless to say, I agree. At any rate, Plantinga seems like a very interesting fellow, and I look forward to hopefully having a chance to read some of his writings in the relatively near future.

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, 1626 | For All the Saints

A devoted scholar, hard-working and accurate, and a master of fifteen languages, Lancelot Andrewes was renowned for his learning and for his preaching, and was a seminal influence on the development of a distinctive reformed Catholic theology in the Church of England.

Source: Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, 1626 | For All the Saints

A man whose memory I hold in the highest esteem!
 
“Andrewes was one of the principal influences in the formation of a distinctly Reformed Catholic Anglican theology, which in reaction to the rigidity of the Puritanism of his time, he insisted should be moderate in tone and catholic in content and perspective. Convinced that true theology must be built on sound learning, he cultivated the friendship of such divines as Richard Hooker and George Herbert, as well as of scholars from abroad…
 
“Andrewes held a high doctrine of the Eucharist, emphasizing that in the sacrament we receive the true Body and Blood of Christ, and he consistently used sacrificial language of the rite. He desired the Church of England to express its liturgy in ordered ceremonial and in his own chapel used the mixed chalice (wine and water), incense, and altar-lights (candles).”
 
He is also the man responsible for perhaps the clearest and most concise description of the doctrinal standards held by classical Anglicanism:
 
“One canon [of Scripture] reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

 

Cardinal Burke: Christians and Muslims Do Not Worship The Same God

Source: Cardinal Burke: Christians and Muslims Do Not Worship The Same God

While unfortunately the current Pope, Francis, may be off the deep end in some respects, some of his Cardinals are pretty based! Here is Cardinal Burke:

“I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshipping the same God, because the God of Islam is a governor,” he said.  “In other words, fundamentally Islam is, Sharia is their law, and that law, which comes from Allah, must dominate every man eventually.”

Now it is true that, in the Old Testament, God is sometimes referred to as “our Governor”: for example, “O LORD our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world…” (Psalm 8, verses 1a and 9).

But that is not His primary or key identity, even in the OT – and even in Psalm 8, where God is celebrated primarily as Creator, and it is “man” (e.g., humankind), not a particular religion, which God has given “dominion of the works of thy hands” – and it is certainly not in the New Testament:

“And it’s not a law that’s founded on love,” said Burke.  “To say that we all believe in love is simply not correct.” 

“And while our experience with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world,” he said.  

“Whereas, in the Christian faith we’re taught that by the development of right reason, by sound metaphysics, and then that which leads to faith and to the light and strength that’s given by faith, we make our contribution to society also in terms of its governance,” he said.

This is a fundamental contrast: when St. Peter wrote “Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king” (1 Peter 2:17), as is the tagline of this blog, or earlier in the same chapter, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” ( the “King” (Emperor) was a pagan Roman.

Likewise St. Paul, who wrote, in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good.

But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.”

Was writing of the secular powers – which again, in his day, meant the pagan Roman Empire. He is echoing, in that last verse, the words of Our Lord Himself, who said, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17, Luke 20:25). He also stated, quite emphatically, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Thus it could be said that some essential degree of separation of Church and State is built into the very structure of Christianity. But there is no “render unto Caesar” in Islam; the Caliph is the Caesar! There is no “separation of mosque and state” in the ideology of Mohammed.

To return the words of Cardinal Burke,

“the Church makes no pretense that it’s to govern the world, [he stated]. But rather that [its role is] to inspire and assist those who govern the world to act justly and rightly toward the citizens.”

In other words, Christianity is to provide “leaven in the loaf,” offering moral guidance but not governing: Christianity is not to be a theocracy, not until the Final Coming of Our Lord. And at that point, it will not be the Church which governs, but God Himself!

While this is not the only distinction between Christianity and Islam – the latter also has no doctrine of “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39 et alii), still less “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Matthew 5:44), a point to which Cardinal Burke also alludes in his comments (“it’s not a law that’s founded on love… to say that we all believe in love is simply not correct”)  – it is nonetheless a vital distinction, and important to point out.

With such dramatic differences in understanding, both of God and of our proper relationships with God and one another – including human authorities – it is indeed difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the god Moslems worship is not the same God as the One – in Trinity of Persons and Unity of Substance, the Creator of Creation, and the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ – worshiped by Christians.

Or if they are attempting to worship the same God – for the Christian God is not one god among many, but the God! – then they are doing it wrongly. Dangerously wrongly, for the sake of their own souls, and the well-being of this world of ours!

What does “Christ the King” mean for us?

Christ the King - stained glass

This question is rhetorical, intended to incite pondering – and possibly prayer – rather than discussion, necessarily, and certainly rather than debate. That said, here it is:

We speak of Jesus as “Lord” and “King” – indeed, in the stirring words of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” drawn from the words of Holy Scripture, “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords”! Indeed, to be more theologically accurate, the High King of Heaven is God the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three Persons.

But what does that mean, what can it mean, to someone living in a Constitutionally democratic, representative Republic, for whom kingship is resolutely foreign (and often, quite misunderstood), and whose only experience of “aristocracy” is the mutant form represented by the economic elite (the “1%”) and the stars of the sports and entertainment industries?

Here is a reflection on monarchy, by a person I consider a good friend though I have yet to meet him in person, Ryan Hunter. He writes:

“I believe, and thousands of years of history have shown, that a man or woman instructed from youth in the art of government, a person who is trained from childhood to see their rule as a sacred duty, a solemn service, and a public stewardship rather than an earned right, governs more benignly, sincerely, capably, and nobly than someone who has either taken power through brute force, violent revolution, or contested elections. Democratic elections are an extraordinary thing in that they propose that, upon being elected, a politician who has previously been partisan, divisive, and factious will somehow, almost magically, cease to be partisan, divisive, and factious upon taking office. I believe it is the very height of naivete to believe that a popularly elected, partisan politician can somehow serve as a supra-political, unifying figure.”

Yet it is that “popularly elected, partisan politician” who we as Americans know (all too well!), while we are basically ignorant – at least from personal experience – of “a person who is trained from childhood to see their rule as a sacred duty, a solemn service, and a public stewardship rather than an earned right.” How, I wonder, does this lack of person, experiential knowledge effect our understanding of the Christian faith?

Both of my degrees deal with the medieval era – my B.A. in Medieval Studies, specifically; my Master of Theological Studies in History of Christianity: Early and Medieval Christianity, heavily so. I have been immersed, avocationally, in the Middle Ages since childhood, drinking deeply at the well of those who did have a personal, experiential understanding of kingship. Yet even my knowledge and experience is at second- and third-hand. What of those who have not had even so much as that?

I wonder how many of the eccentricities that seem to plague American Christianity – from the inane “prosperity Gospel” to seeing Jesus as primarily our “friend,” our “personal [read: individualistic] savior,” rather than our Sovereign Lord, our King in the full sense of that word, with the Body of Christ, His Church, as the community over which He exercises His lordship, and ourselves as members of that community – can be traced to this lack of full, personal, experiential understanding of kingship and lordship?

Protestantism, at least in America, is so intermingled with individualism and democracy that I am not sure it can ever be fully separated from these concepts. Even in Europe, the Enlightenment followed on so closely to the Renaissance and Reformation that they effectively form a continuum, philosophically. And I wonder if that does not have a profound – and possibly negative – effect on how we read and understand both the Holy Scriptures, and also other foundational documents of our faith.

As I say, something to be pondered, prayed over, and perhaps, discussed… gently. 😉

What Catholics Lost When They Started Tearing Down Their Great Altars

If the grand altars are at their core outward signs of inward devotion, what does it say about plain altars that more resemble a table than a temple?

Source: What Catholics Lost When They Started Tearing Down Their Great Altars

I am an Anglican, and a member of a fairly “low-church” continuing (traditional) Anglican jurisdiction. But I find a lot to agree with in this essay! Christianity is an Incarnational (and therefore embodied) religion. Therefore, aesthetics – and the incorporation (there’s that body thing again… corpus) of all the senses and the whole physical person, not just the mind, heart, and spirit, into the liturgy – matter.

Get too simplistic, too “Protestant,” and you are beginning to get too close to a form of quasi-Gnostic devaluation of the physical, the material, in favor of the spiritual and intellectual.

And that can lead to a devaluation – however unintentional and subconscious – not only of God’s proclamation that the things He created are good (however marred by human sin), but of the Incarnation itself, in which Jesus the Christ, the Incarnate Word of the Father, indissolubly joined Himself to matter in His own person.

Sure, it’s possible to get too gaudy, and too focused on the external (material) elements of the faith. I am very well aware of that. As in most other areas of life, a balance is called for. But we should never forget the definition of a sacrament: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Without the outward and visible, are we losing important markers pointing toward the inward and spiritual?

Our Lord Jesus Christ was unique in being fully God and fully Man. But we humans, made in the image of God, comprise a spiritual nature which is nonetheless incarnate (the word means “enfleshed”) in a physical, sensory body, living in a physical, sensory world. We neglect either of these aspects, the physical or the spiritual, at our peril.

The design of churches is one – only one, but an important one – aspect of this. As this essay points out,

The physical design of old churches was meant to dictate several things: ornate artwork on the walls, domes, and arches was meant to pull the eye upward and spark meditation on the divine mysteries, the altarpiece was placed in the apse to orient the congregation properly, and incense was meant to draw together and sanctify the individual properties into one event. That sort of order and hierarchy has been misplaced and is often focused inward, not upward… it is important to remember that how a building is designed is integral to its function.

And the function of a church building is, or should be, to orient the congregation toward God. Not toward itself (or ourselves), not toward the priest: toward God. And the design of the building, including any artistic elaborations – and of course, the liturgy itself – should lead the eyes, the other senses, and through them, the heart, mind, and spirit of the worshipers, God-ward. If that is not happening, something is missing.

And all too often, in today’s churches, it seems that something is indeed missing.

That is not to say that magnificent, ornate altars are guaranteed to focus the attention and lift the spirit of worshipers toward God, or that simple, plain ones cannot do the same. And the same is true of church interiors generally. But generally speaking, we devote time, attention, energy, and yes, money on what is important to us. That is simple human nature.

So, where is our focus? What does the construction of our churches – and of our liturgies – tell us about that focus? I can’t begin to provide a definitive answer to that question; it varies with each church, each congregation, each minister. But it’s something worth thinking about!