The "always" of liberalism
An interesting sideline to the summer meltdown of the Episcopal Church has been the way language itself has been pressed into combat. It isn’t just the attempt by both sides to get “their” terminology adopted: “reappraisers”, “reasserters”, “enduring”, “innovating” – take your pick. Like the terminology of the abortion fight, each side struggles against any word that seems to give the enemy an advantage, and refuses to acknowledge the other viewpoint even to the extent of allowing people to describe themselves.
More interesting to me is the way language already in use is being conscripted in this battle. Katherine Jefferts-Schori started things off with her controversial blood-sweat-and-afterbirth sermon on June 21. When the inevitable outrage sprang up in conservative circles, she blandly announced that this was "straight-down-the-middle orthodox thinking,” This managed to doubly antagonize her opponents: not only were they shocked by the initial image, they were then informed that their shock stemmed from ignorance of the standard repertoire of their own religion. In the past, it would have been enough to intone “Julian of Norwich” to silence objections, but no longer. The Internet not only allowed anyone who wanted to do research and discover just how minor and obscure the original source was, it also reassured objectors that they were not alone.
Of course, this assertion of the impeccable pedigree of liberal fancies manages to trot along comfortably with a mania for the “new things” that the Holy Spirit is perpetually doing. But it is interesting that for once, “newness” is not a selling point, and this time the liberals are taking pains to lay claim to the long heritage of Anglicanism for all their innovations, at least in public. Thus, we no longer hear much about how benighted our ancestors were, with their all-male priesthood and their disdain for sodomy. Instead, we are told that having female priests and bishops is no big deal at all – why, in the first century, there were female deacons and that means that nobody would have ever objected to making a woman the head of the church. Nor is brazen homosexuality something to be rejected; homosexuals have always been priests, it’s just that now they don’t have to hide it. Nothing new, though.
The one thing that is genuinely not new is this liberal tactic of trying to tranquillize and lull to sleep the opposition by pretending that this is just “business as usual”. I’ve heard it all my life, to explain away any particularly glaring depravity that makes the Brave New World of liberalism look shabby. Promiscuity? Abortion? Child abuse? An increasingly crude and vulgar public culture? Oh, nothing to worry about – it’s ALWAYS been like this. It’s just that now we have better statistics.
A sign of the detachment from reality afflicting liberals in the Episcopal Church is their increasing tendency to try to redefine words to suit themselves. Thus, the liberal wife of a liberal bishop in
It is worth asking why liberals feel compelled to put on this clumsy charade, especially as it fools no one. Of course, they could be doing it just to be annoying. But I think there is a deeper impulse at work. In Orwell’s ‘1984’ language and history were rewritten not just to clean up contradictions, but to render subversive thoughts literally unthinkable. It only works in a totalitarian society, where the individual has no independent access to information, and the widespread communication and access to information provided by the Internet quickly sabotages this attempt to control the debate. But the totalitarian impulse is not far from the surface in the Left; we see it erupting almost daily now, in demands to force compliance at almost any price from dissidents. The attempt to wrest words from conservatives is an attempt not only to silence their annoying protests, but to make protest itself impossible by locking away the very language that could articulate it.
Thus, Christians have ALWAYS thought of Jesus as feminine; women have ALWAYS been rulers and governors in the Church; homosexuality has ALWAYS been innocent; and