Thursday, August 14, 2014

Anglicanism and ISIS: a response to critics

I wasn't surprised that my post on Anglicanism and Islamic extremism caused a reaction. It seems, I particular, that a bunch of Anglican readers didn't like their 16th century predecessors being compared with Islamic militants, even if favourably.

Such comparisons, sadly for them, are inevitable: it is the New Atheists' bread and butter. (Eg Richard Dawkins: 'Religion causes wars.') What we, theists, need to do, as I've done in more than one post, is to try to demonstrate that the problem in the Middle East is not 'religion'. Perhaps my Anglican friends would rather stick their heads in the sand about this issue. But my approach has been to point out specific theological, sociological and political issues which are at work, and which we can see at work in other times and places where there was religious violence.

My post neither condemned nor justified the religious policies of Anglicans or indeed Catholics in the 16th century, or earlier or later. That's a separate question. That it happened, however: that's undeniable. To condemn ISIS and pretend we've never had any such problems of intolerance in nice cosy Europe is... What is it? I wonder if it is evidence of bigotry.

Ah, bigotry, bigot: what useful words. The way they are tossed about may make one think that anyone can use them of anyone, and thereby win the argument without further ado. But it is not so. Political Correctness has strict rules. Before you can claim the high ground, you have to 'check your privilege'. This means that a person from a culture historically oppressive to others can never cry 'bigot' against a person from a culture which has historically been oppressed by others. That's why it is so difficult for the PC brigade to criticise ISIS. And why Anglicans - of all people - are going to get nowhere crying 'bigot' against attempts to set the ISIS phenomenon into a wider historical context, which puts Anglicanism in a bad light. Tough, guys: if you disagree you are going to have to use reasoned argument.

Let's have another look at those pesky arguments.

Anglicanism in the 16th century tried directly to suppress not just preaching but private practice and belief.

The point is that it is not something which was going on in every persecution, nor has it been the policy of every Muslim government. If you look at the people burnt under Mary Tudor, they are activists: they preached, and they sometimes engaged in direct action like disrupting services, desecrating the Blessed Sacrament, or attacking priests. Ok, I'm sure we can all agree that they should have been allowed to attack priests with impunity yada yada, that's not the point. These sorts of people, sometimes with identical views, were flogged, put in stocks, imprisoned, fined, and occasionally executed under Protestant rulers. But the Protestants, especially Elizabeth Tudor, also imprisoned and executed people who were quietly practicing their religion in private. The family of Bl Thomas Belson were imprisoned after a search of their house revealed - horror of horrors - a copy of Dante's Divine Comedy. Priests were executed when a breviary, a pyx, or holy oils were found on them. It was an offence to own a rosary. There is a distinction to be made here. If it makes you uncomfortable, dear reader, then that may be a good thing.

Anglicanism was forced into more extreme positions by the existence of more extreme groups.

This is more of an plea of mitigation for early Anglicanism than anything else, but if readers are determined to be offended, that's their business I suppose. Puritans were annoyed that Charles I stopped signing the death warrants of captured Catholic priests - his Catholic queen stopped him. This wasn't the only cause of the Civil War, of course, but it didn't help. When the King lost his grip on power his hot Protestant enemies got through the backlog of imprisoned priests with wonderful speed. Later, the 1662 Prayer Book contained more than a dozen revisions to make it more acceptable to Puritans. I don't exactly blame them for attempting some kind of national reconciliation after the Civil War. But it didn't succeed.

Anglicanism has become the milk-and-water stuff we know and love today as a result of the areligious social elite which evolved under its watch.

This is just an historical observation: deny it who can. Would I rather they were still torturing Catholics to death, as they did to St Nicholas Owen? No, I would not. I don't, therefore, think this was entirely a change for the worse. To observe that it happened, therefore, should not be offensive to anyone. Again, to say that the theological content of mainstream Anglicanism has lost some of its sharp corners and hard edges is not exactly controversial.

Why it happened is a matter of considerable historical and on-going interest and importance, and the parallel with Islam is, I think, helpful to those who want to understand, and not just to shout 'bigot' from the sidelines. The long and the short of it is that a religion which regards the cultural endeavours of the elite (and come to that, of folk culture as well) as morally dubious, is going to have a tough time hanging on to that elite.

It doesn't follow that the religion is wrong, of course. There's a parallel here with the Old Testament, where in the time of the Kings the elite was sucked towards religious syncretism. Again, the elite today is attracted strongly to the position of accepting all kinds of sexual immorality, and abortion, as perfectly ok. In these cases religious authorities have to dig in their heels and resist.

What has happened in Protestant countries is that, having tried to reject too much, they have ended up rejecting too little. There is a parallel with Islam here too, though in the case of Islam the reaction to the ensuing decadence has been stronger. Other factors are at work here as well, to explain that.

And of course the Catholic Church has not succeeded in resisting secularision in historically Catholic counties. We need another explanation for that. Anyone who is paying attention on this blog will be aware that I am a Traditional Catholic, and there is a Traditional Catholic angle on this process; I will I expect go into that in a future post. Catholic secularisation is not, however, identical to Protestant, Islamic, or Jewish secularisation: the nature of the religion at the start of the process makes a difference. As always, we need to make distinctions.

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  1. "Bigot"! Probably my least favourite word! One of the things I learned at University is that it's usually the least tolerant who cry "bigot".

  2. The 1662 BCP made concessions to the Puritans? That isn't the impression I get from reading it and comparing it to the 1552. For instance the 1662 restores the 1548 vestment rubric (although in practise it was ignored), which have raised a puritan's blood pressure to bursting point.

  3. Your readers might like : and:

  4. This is a really interesting argument and it's a subtle one. The critics clearly misunderstood what you were saying.

  5. Is perhaps the main difference between militant (16th C) Anglicanism and Islam, the fact that the Koran is being used to justify spreading the Religion by the Sword? That this is the pattern of their Prophet?

    Anglicanism certainly started out as a Catholic split, for political reasons, and degraded into Protestantism quickly : but Protestantism isn't an inheritantly violent religion.

    Either way, I'm glad both religions have a propensity towards liberalism and being non-Militant. Sola Scriptura out of context in both religions could, however, lead to bloodshed (especially in Israel).

    What isn't so clear is what is useful about criticising later Anglicanism, in that it is so Hetetogenous, and now seems to be bringing forth incredibly holy priests and faithful (Bl JH Newman - what did he have to say regarding Anglicanism? I'm not sure the full extent) including the Ordinariate.

    Meanwhile Muslims everywhere, although silent publically, follow a completely different brand of religion. They certainly can put me to shame with their prayer discipline and holistic cultural approach to their religion, and they assert that the Militant Muslims are the ones who don't even bother going to Mosque.

    Arguments are all very well, but the practical realities, and how Grace works in people's hearts, is certainly something to give us Hope in God for the situation in the middle East. Many of the Christians there are demonstrating, with their lives, the sacrificial heart of Jesus. The Oratory collected over £3000 from generous donationa at Mass this Sunday, for Aid to the Church in Need, and I hope your readers are also moved to action.

  6. I am sure some have noticed this already but almost all who criticized Dr. Shaw in the previous thread seemed to subscribe to some form of indifferentism. Their entire argumentation was based on the idea that "IF the Catholic Church did that, why is it wrong for Anglicans to do that?".

    That entire question presupposes that Catholicism is as special as Anglicanism. But that is an error because one of them is right and the other is wrong. The true Church has certain rights and privileges that a false or distorted faith does not have.

    So in reality, Islam and Anglicanism have one important thing in common: they are both distortions of the true faith. Anglicans carry relatively more guilt because they are baptized Christians who obstinately hold to errors/heresy.

    In a way, I think Dr. Shaw's last article was perhaps somewhat redundant to that extent. It should be held as true by any Catholic that any belief system that is a distortion of the true faith can and will ultimately lead to evil. The error might be abandoning of reason, rejecting the Papacy or denying the divinity of Christ. All of them will lead to evil in society.

    What has happened lately since Vatican II is that most people doubt the truth that heresy and error leads ultimately to evil. The new belief is that heresy and error will lead people to the same place that Catholicism leads because they have things in common with the Catholic faith. As far as I can tell, that is a lie.

    Today, the persecutors of the Catholics might be Islam. Tomorrow, it can very well be Protestant, Buddhist (already is the case in some countries) or Atheists. Our job should be to reject those errors and get them in to the Catholic Church.

    1. It's God's job to "get then into the Church" as Bl Newman clearly acknowledged. Perhaps he became a Catholic in spite of Anglicanism, as I'm sure you'd assert. But I doubt that Newman considered never having had Faith which was leading to the Church. I am not a religious scholar, and am happy to stand corrected; but you cannot judge individual souls on the Religion they're in (not least myself!!) so it's one thing to look at the tenets of a religion, doctrine, and truth ; it is quite another thing to know how people will behave. What the question Dr Shaw is addressing, is perhaps the sum total of a cultural movement away from Catholic Truth, and the consequences it can have on the macroscopic level. That, to me, is far more interesting than just reading the Religious Rule Books, and predicting what will happen.

    2. T-C, you wrote: "Anglicans carry relatively more guilt because they are baptized Christians who obstinately hold to errors/heresy."

      I do not think it is right to assert that they hold to their errors and heresies "obstinately". I would think it more likely that the great majority of them hold to their heresies because of ignorance. They are ignorant of Scripture, ignorant of the Fathers and the definition of doctrine and ignorant of Ecclesiastical History. True knowledge of all these things is only really possible from within the context of the family of faith which gave birth to them i.e. the Catholic Church. To all who are outside the family, the deposit of faith will always be a closed book to some extent.

      One could not, therefore, accuse them of obstinate or contumacious persistence in heresy without the ability to read their hearts which, needless to say, only God can do. That is not to say that it is wrong to point out their errors and heresies for what they are, but it is wrong to apportion subjective guilt to those who hold them.

    3. @Matthew Doyle, @Deacon Augustine,

      What you are speaking of here is the matter of subjective culpability. An individual may commit an act of murder but have no subjective culpability. That does not however automatically mean that he is not objectively culpable and that his action was not evil.

      Same goes for the Anglican faith. It is objectively speaking a distortion. Those who hold on to that faith even when they are told it is an error is also objectively speaking in heresy.

      To speak of whether or not one is doing so out of some ignorance of Church fathers or something else is therefore not really relevant for making decisions. One always decides based on objective culpability. Just as it is not our place to deem someone subjectively culpable, it is not our place to decide that one is NOT subjectively culpable as well. We simply operate on the level of objective culpability.

      This is the reason why the Church did not wonder whether Luther had extraneous circumstances that lead him to obstinately hold on to heresy. Or whether Arians, Donatists, and so forth had such subjective problems. I am pretty sure Luther was convinced of his heresy just as much as Anglicans today are convinced of theirs. That doesn't vindicate either of them, speaking in terms of objective culpability, of their ignorance and their refusal to acknowledge that they have no actual reason to feel certain of their truth.

      Are they going to go to hell for it? We do not know for sure. All we do know is that we should only care about objective culpability. And so, we must act to bring them in to the Church.

      As for your comment on Newman David, I think my key point I wanted to stress was that all errors and heresies ultimately lead to evil. Specific individual goods may come out of it of course but that is not the desirable means to bring about good.

      To elaborate, if we take something as purely evil as the holocaust, I am sure there were some saints that came to be because of seeing the evil of man and seeing the need for God. Does that mean that they became those people because of the holocaust? Not really. Did it benefit them in someway? Sure. Is such an experience therefore desirable and to be encouraged? NO!

    4. Of course we act on the basis of objective culpability, but by using the word "obstinately" to apply to all Anglicans generally, it was your good self who introduced subjective culpability into the equation.

    5. @Deacon Augustine,

      Aah, your comment is rather surprising.

      First, let us run with your assertion. If you were under the impression that "obstinate" is a matter of subjective culpability, then all we have to base our decision on is whether they hold to error. That much is objectively known to be true about all those who identify as Anglican.

      So in any case, the right thing to do is to get them to the Catholic Church. It is a true fact that they are objectively in error and therefore will likely fall in to deeper error rather than get out of it by themselves.

      Second, I am not sure why you thought obstinately requires a judgement on subjective culpability. It first requires that one objectively observe whether the truth has been proclaimed to them repeatedly. That is objectively verifiable. Second, it requires that one see whether there is a change in the Anglican position. That too is objectively verifiable.

      Since the answer to both above is NO, every Anglican in general is obstinately holding to heresy. So our duty is to make sure every Anglican (well every non-Catholic to be precise) is converted to the true Catholic faith before they die.

      Whether or not the obstinacy is due to some family trouble, a bad experience, artistic preference, moral incompatibility or anything else is irrelevant. As long as they hold to error, the final fruits will be evil. Or are you denying that error leads to more grave error/evils?

    6. Anonymous1:25 am

      Yes, the element of "obstinacy" can be submitted to an objective test.

  7. My main problem after all the 'Brooh-ha-ha' is in the fact that Dr Shaw entitles his blog 'LMS Chairman'. I have no real objection to Dr Shaw spouting off his PERSONAL ideas (however much I may dislike them) but I do have a problem in his titling his blog 'LMS Chairman'. This gives the impression (although his disclaimer states that they are his PERSONAL opinions) that his opinions may be read as those of the LMS. I would like clear & public acknowledgement that nothing said in this blog may be attributed to the LMS. No doubt the simplest & clearest way to achieve this is to rename his blog along the lines of 'Thoughts from Oxford' or something similar.
    Most LMS members are, I hope, interested largely in the provision of the EF of Holy Mass in as wide a geographical area as possible without being restricted to out-of-the-way churches & chapels at sometimes weird hours. The ideal would be an EF Mass in every parish every Sunday but I don't see that comparing ISIS (or should it now be IS) with Anglicanism is going to help achieve that.

  8. David
    Dr Shaw has done an excellent job of challenging us to think! He is the LMS Chairman and I have no problem with the blog title. If people cannot read the disclaimer... well what is the point of even trying to have a discussion. If the LMS members have a problem with Dr Shaw's views the AGM would be a good place to start.

    In the 1950's we had a Latin Mass in every parish, and look where we are now! The provision of the Latin Mass is only part of the solution to the Church's problems, it is the current ideas and the thinking behind them that are rotten and need to change. Without a change there is no future.

    It is very sad that some people have views about the Crusades and the Reformation that are not backed up by Historical facts, but this is the fault of the BBC among others. It is exceedingly uncharitable to allow these errors to be unchallenged, by the light of historical fact.

    I should also mention that I am not a member of the LMS, but having seen the excellent progress made by the LMS under the chairmanship of Dr Shaw, I have been thinking about joining, well thanks to these blog posts and comments, I am finally going to join TODAY. I will be at the AGM next year to give my support.

  9. "Anglicanism in the 16th century tried directly to suppress not just preaching but private practice and belief."

    Being a student of mid-period Tudor history, I thought this was a fairly obvious point, even as it seemed to be missed by the folks protesting with the word "Smithfield!" on their virtual lips.

    Yes, Smithfield existed; dozens of Protestant leaders were executed there, by all accounts, even if you set aside the exaggerations and florid indignations of Foxe. It's a tu quoque rebuttal, and while that might have a certain value, it's a rebuttal to an argument that Dr. Shaw was not making.

    The point is not that the early Anglicans were repressive, or that they were violently, even lethally so; it was a hard and intolerant age, and repressive measures by churches were common on both sides of the Tiber, or Channel, or pick-your-metaphorical-body-of-water. The point, rather, is that the Marian repression, such as it was, had much more limited aims than did the Anglican repressions of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth - just as the Marian Catholic restoration under Cardinal Pole was a good deal more moderate and limited in scope than most observers (especially the Whiggish sorts) have credited, as Eamon Duffy has rightly pointed out. Those targeted for punishment by Mary's government were the leaders, the activists, as Dr. Shaw points out; but the sort of intrusive efforts, common under the Protestant Tudors, to record who went to services and punish those who did not, to invade homes in search of religious paraphernalia, did not happen in any official form under Mary. Adversions to the Spanish Inquisition are really not on point here. One might argue that Mary Tudor's government might have expanded to such efforts had it last long enough, but this strikes me as pure speculation; and after all Edward VI's reign was of similar brevity yet lost no time in invading homes. Likewise, for all of Elizabeth I's protests that she had no desire to make windows into men's souls, the anti-Catholic repressions of her government betrayed such claims, even well before the excommunication of Pius V.

    None of which is necessarily a defense of what happened at Smithfield, which most Catholic observers have long since regarded as regrettable, even in the bad old days of the Tridentine era, even if some of its victims, such as Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer, were distinctly unsympathetic as a result of their own zealous efforts to execute Catholics when they were in the saddle.

  10. Anonymous9:27 am

    Thank you, Athelstane.for clarification . Well put, imho.

  11. Anonymous10:14 pm

    Hi All, I must have a unique position having been born in a country which is neither protestant nor catholic by culture rather both equally; and more so now secular, and whose own (european) history is less than 250 years old. I by God's design was born into a protestant family and Baptised into the Family of God in an Anglican Church, had my birth father stuck around it would more likely have been a Catholic Church. My beloved Aunty married a Catholic and has since attended and been actively involved in Catholic Mass and Schools.

    Dr Shaw I have no qualms re my Anglican heritage in acknowledging politics, sociological influences and power play a role in what is often deemed 'religious wars'. Nor that persecuting people for practising their faith in private, historical or otherwise is unjustified, whether committed by Anglican's or the ISIS.

    I do get confused though over the use of the word heresy and bigot. As well as referring to Anglican's as being a different religion. It is my understanding as a Christian that all who worship and follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour are of one family?

    The heresies T-C points out "The error might be abandoning of reason, rejecting the Papacy or denying the divinity of Christ". I see no abandoning of reason in my belief, actually I have studied scripture, the history of the Old Testament, other religions at tertiary level. All churches I have attended rather than deny the divinity of Christ believe he was indeed the Son of God, and it is through his divine conception and death on the cross and ascension into heaven that we are saved. I am afraid I do not acknowledge the authority of the papacy so you can call me on that one if you wish. For I maintain no other source of ultimate authority as the mediator between man and God than Christ Himself. I hope I am not milk and water for I disagree with abortion, the secularisation of Christ as just a 'good person', and the denial of the resurrection.

    As for history I do not hold all of protestant past was without some benefits. I truly appreciate the bible being available in the language of all people rather than just Latin. Hopefully some Catholics feel likewise. A indigenous Maori girl in New Zealand who read this book many year ago, read it also to her tribe. When she was killed by an enemy tribe, her Father forgave them. Having not heard of such a Way before the enemy tribe also became Christians and contributed greatly to the gospel here in NZ.

    As for Islam and Christianity as I have pointed out before there are many differences. I recommend "Seeking Allah Finding Jesus" a book by a former Muslim who is now a Christian Apologist; he has an extensive knowledge of the different Islam sects and christianity. Despite any similarities you may offer through historical analysis the foundations of the faith are distinctly different - most notable one follows Mohammad one Jesus Christ.

    And T-C as for putting myself into your hands whether or not I will go to hell for not being seen as being a part of the 'True' Church I maintain there is only one church whose founder and head is Christ; I rather put myself into the hands of Him who is the Way the Truth and the Life, who judges justly.