Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Love Song of Archbishop Rowan D. Prufrock

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
Rowan Williams has scuttled off to his summer break, but not before firing off a few rounds of grapeshot at the Anglican Church to keep the savages hopping. It started with his sorta, kinda, maybe-temporary guest list to the Lambeth Conference next year. It was accompanied by a letter which left things less clear than before.

Williams has mastered the art of sounding stern and focussed at the very moment he's melting into the fog like the Invisible Man. He's the Ted Baxter of Christianity: "At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion, take off glasses, look concerned!" And yesterday there was a podcast of his interview with Time magazine, which was very much in the same vein. Is there one single thing in this interview that anyone can grab onto and be sure of? Maybe the statement, "I don't like being blackmailed" - that's about the only thing I can see. For the rest...

There is only one thing more predictable than Dr. Williams trying to ride three horses at once, and that is the compulsion of conservative Anglicans to cast the runes every single time to try to divine what portents are hidden in his mystifying utterances. President Bush is called a poor communicator, but when people say that, they mean that he expresses himself in trite language, and has no ability to rise above the banal, especially when trying to discuss extraordinary or complex matters. But nobody has any doubt about what he means - his language may be feeble, but it's not confused. Williams really IS a poor communicator, because nobody is ever sure what anything he says means. Not even a politician could consistently get away with this sort of flim-flam, and normal people who wrote like this would be reprimanded or fired.

Every communication is followed by a flurry of "analyses", which usually consist of "Well, he's not saying that..." "Yes, but that doesn't mean that..." "Reading between the lines we see that..." and of course, the ever-popular "Oh, but this is written in Brit-speak; what he REALLY means is..."

Revisionists do some of this too, but conservatives are positively addicted to it, probably because they're the weaker party and are more desperate for positive auguries. They never question the conditions under which they're playing when it comes to Rowan Williams; his production of incomprehensible prose is simply accepted as if it were a physical fact of life that can't be removed. As if he spoke with a stutter, or as if his messages were coming intermittently over a static-covered line, and so portions of the text were simply missing and had to be surmised or deducted. Nobody has the guts to say, "This could mean anything or nothing. If Williams' mind is really this incoherent, then his judgment is worthless. If he deliberately writes like this in order to hide his ideas, then he's dishonest and equally worthless. Whatever the case, either he can redo this and give us a plain statement of what he means, or we'll cease to pay any attention to him."

It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow, or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
``That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.''


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The AC will end with a bang. TEC will end with a whimper.
He needs to choose a side and not blame himself for the outcome, since the two sides had irreconcilable differences anyway.

3:48 pm  
Blogger Nicholodeon said...

Very erudite. Blogging is okay but when are you going to write a book, Doc? Or have you already?

12:44 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Ohhh, Nick, I'd never have the discipline to write a book! I usually get 4/5th of the way through a big project like that, then get distracted and do something else.

1:05 pm  
Blogger The Bovina Bloviator said...

I have the same problem, Doctor. Just when think I'm getting somewhere with a project I lose interes

8:04 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He pwned Spong several years ago for his "12 theses". Let's at least give him credit for that.

9:12 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Yes he did, anon, but I wonder why he even bothered? He was great at fighting heresy on paper, but when he had a chance to do something, he's just been futile. I think maybe he would have been a good Church of England clergyman 150 years ago, when there was still so much strength in Anglicanism that it could afford a cozy haven for scholars to ruminate in their studies, and write their little formulations for the entertainment of their fellow professionals. Now it's a raw, rough age, and Anglicanism is exhausted. I wish the world were still safe for gentle academics too, but Williams is like a professor sitting in his library, fussing over his students' margins and footnotes, while a tornado has blown the roof off his house and is about to demolish the rest.

8:31 am  

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