Sunday, August 05, 2007

Deconstructing the Creed

During a discussion of an interview with Bishop Gene Robinson, someone highlighted this disturbing quote from the Bishop of New Hampshire:
One day when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn’t believe, he said ‘well, when you’re in church, just say the parts of the creed you do agree with. Be silent for the others. We’re not asking you do so something against your integrity’.
Someone pointed out that Robinson's anecdote dates from many years ago. Can we be sure that this is STILL the case? Perhaps he no longer feels the same way. Fair enough - there's nothing unheard-of in having doubts and then getting over them. Many great people have done the same. So I thought I'd see if I could find some current reference to Robinson's attitude toward the Creed.

This interview is from 2005, so it's pretty up-to-date. It deals with the Creed question about as explicitly as you could ask, and starts off with the same story, in almost the exact same words:
I had an assistant chaplain there who, when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn't believe, encouraged me to just drop out when I got to a phrase that I didn't believe. And participate in however much of it I did feel comfortable with.

“And I [thought], a religion that can be that undefensive about itself is the place for me. I gradually said more and more of the Nicene Creed until I did believe it. I found [the Episcopal Church] to be this amazing community where people were not afraid to use their minds, where people were not afraid to read and believe the scriptures, and did not seem to be forcing on anyone else its own beliefs in the way that I felt the religion that I grew up with had been doing.

“By the end of my time at Sewanee, I felt a calling to the priesthood and went on to [General Theological Seminary in New York, N.Y.] from college.”
Well, that would seem to put him on the side of those who experience the 'dark night of the soul', but persevere and come through on the other side with their faith strengthened. But just when you think that everything's OK, he goes and ruins it by telling the truth:

Gunn : How much of the Nicene Creed do you believe today?

Robinson : “I believe all of it. The two things that the Episcopal Church gave me that I did not have in my former denomination were history and liturgy. One of the reasons I love all the historic creeds is that it ties me to believers who lived so many centuries ago. While I have no doubt that I might articulate the meaning of the Nicene Creed differently than would have been explained 1,000 years ago or 1,700 years ago, saying those same words connects me with this whole company of the faithful who have experienced God and believed that Jesus Christ was his very incarnation on this earth. So I love saying those ancient words because it connects me with all of those people who have been faithful throughout the years.
There's no longer a conflict, because Robinson has hit on the happy expedient of just mentally rewriting the Creed he says every Sunday, and giving his belief to that. The words now mean something quite different from what they've meant for 1600 years - what, exactly, he doesn't say, but saying words that other people have written still has a value: he is enacting the same pantomime earlier generations have done, and that "connects" him, even though it's only the physical act of pronouncing words that's the same.

When I hear the words "historic creeds" my antenna goes up, because I know of another place the word "historic" is commonly used - the 39 Articles. You know, that page or two at the back of the Prayer Book that's just there as a fossilized record of what people USED to think. Useful for history buffs, but not of much relevance to life today. Now it looks as if the Nicene Creed can take its place among the trilobites as well. That people actually still say the same words today is just a quaint custom.

Robinson doesn't go into detail about what HIS rendition of the Nicene Creed means, but this guy, also writing in 2005, gives a pretty clear picture of what sort of alchemy is involved in "believing" something you don't believe.

What this is, of course, is our old friend Mr. Deconstructionism at work. One jumps on a text like a Ferengi on a garbage scow, and then rides it to galaxies unknown. As an example of how this works, I present

DECONSTRUCTING THE CREED

We start with the first line:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth
Now, naturally we must focus on the key word of this sentence: "in".

When we think of "in", that is, the very "in-ness" of the word itself leads us to the pure interiority of thought and concept. From "in" we look "out", which brings us to the nexus - the conflict between being In and being Out.

This seemingly irreconcilable strife between two supposed opposites produces a symbiotic living in tension, which can be summed up by the eternal struggle between the Insies and the Outsies.

As we deal forensically with these terms, we draw closer to the Ur-text which produced them, i.e., the great "bellybutton" controversy, which posits that Adam did NOT have a bellybutton. Yet a closer consideration of the original text, (known among savants as "Q") would lead us to a different conclusion: the word "bellybutton" itself is a later translation of the original term, which was "navel". Now, an examination of "navel" leads inexorably to the concept of "navel-gazing", and here we come to the crux of the argument.

"Gaze" is identical in sound to "gays". Furthermore, the technical term for such a coincidence in sound is "homonym"! Therefore, the concept of homosexuality is present in the very first words of the Creed! Proving that there has never been any conflict between Christianity and anything else.

12 Comments:

Blogger Nicholodeon said...

Oh Doc!
You will drive yourself BONKERS trying to argue intelligently with those who want to intellectualise their belief.

In Russian (and Slavonic) the verb 'verit'' means to believe, and it also gives us the word 'vera' which means 'truth'.

The Nicaean Creed in the Russ Orth liturgy begins with the word 'Veruyu' which means 'I believe' and also echoes the notion of 'truth'. This connection does not appear in English.

The intellectuals who cannot suspend 'belief' doom themselves to the very limiting prison of the intellect.

And I love the path your rationalism has led you down, from 'gaze' to 'gays'. But I fear the intellectuals, like Mr. Spock, do not see the humour in anything.

Ah, carry on!

10:05 pm  
Blogger Nicholodeon said...

Vera means 'faith'. Where were my marbles at when I wrote the previous remark?

9:33 am  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

An easy mistake to make, Nick. "Vera" is "true" in Latin.

10:39 am  
Anonymous Antique said...

The Neosaint Creed

We understand our God to be as a father, advocate for a heavenly earth, and wise in the ways of all things tangible and intangible.

We understand Jesus, whom some might call the Christ, to be the foremost divine child of God, spiritual exemplar of heaven for all people, good, enlightened, true to her own understandings, born again through her baptismal covenant which binds her to the greater universal love of God by whom all good works are approved; who for humanity, and for our divinity, came down from Galilee, and filled herself with a Holy Spirit taught to her by her child councilor Mary, and when she had grown into maturity, was crucified on behalf of religious zealots under Pontius Pilate. She suffered and was buried, and the third day her disciples rose from their gloomy state of mind, and ascribed to themselves the blessings of heaven, and basked in their newfound divinity, which Jesus had made evident to them during her life. And as they went out into the cultures of this world, so shall we go out with our righteous divinity to litigate the wealthy, the segregationists, the opinionated and the exclusionists that their torment shall have no end.

And we understand the Holy Spirit to be divine love, the comforter of daughters, transgendereds and sons of God, and who also inspires the muses to teach us of our own divine nature. And we understand a holy catholic and apostolic Church to be the consensus of people from all cultures, affirmed by the democratic process and enforced through the listening process. We acknowledge our baptismal covenant to ensure we aren’t remiss in doing good works for our own sakes and for that of others and our synod. And we look for the reestablishment of world peace and prosperity in this world which we have made. Amen.

11:34 am  
Anonymous ellie m said...

"One day when I was ranting and raving about how much of the Nicene Creed I didn’t believe, he said ‘well, when you’re in church, just say the parts of the creed you do agree with."

With anyone else, I'd assume "ranting and raving" to be an exaggeration. With VGR, though...

2:44 pm  
Blogger The Bovina Bloviator said...

Captain Yips posted this one a while back. He calls it the 815 Creed.

I believe in God, the indulgent Parent of all of us, who cannot be put into a small box, and in Jesus, our Magic School Bus to the divine, who among others like Buddha and Mohammed and Martin Luther King gave us some good ideas about God, and the Holy Spirit, who makes me feel good about myself and affirms me in all my being.

And I believe in The Episcopal Church, inclusive, prophetic, and speaking truth to power, whose polity is mighty in the world and cannot be challenged, whose canons are wise and full of grace, whose diocesan borders cannot be crossed (unless the bishop denies Women their rightful, God-given, mandatory and unchallengeable right to Ministry, in which case we’re gunning for you), from which no parish can escape; I believe in one Baptism, after which I can do whatever I want, I believe in a Woman’s right to Control her Body, I believe that sexual orientation is genetically determined, I believe in recycling, low pollution vehicles, fair trade coffee, and I don’t give a fig for the resurrection of the dead. Shalom.

5:16 pm  
Blogger Kasia said...

Ouch...my head...or is that my soul?...

Dr. M, I finally saw the obnoxious David Suzuki ad about which you had previously blogged. You know, the one with "Bob" and the fridge.

You were absolutely right. It's quite as obnoxious as you'd described.

7:31 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

kasia's right - after all these versions of the Creed, I think I need to lie down in a dark room with a cold tomato compress on my forehead!

9:44 pm  
Anonymous antique said...

Sorry, ladies. Didn't mean to make heads spin and souls feint. I'd been working on the Neosaint Creed for a little over a year now, and was just waiting for one of my favorite blogs to run an entry on the lack of meaning in our creeds these days. The good Dr. was the first to broach the subject since I finished this "piece of work," so here I posted. It doesn't hurt so much if you read a paragraph at a time, then break for a jigger of, er, well, lemonade(?) between.

12:05 am  
Blogger Kasia said...

Antique,

I imagine adding the jigger of something, preferably alcoholic, also sometimes has the unintended side effect of making your version of the Creed sound almost plausible after a few reads... :-)

9:01 am  
Anonymous ellie m said...

"the Holy Spirit, who makes me feel good about myself and affirms me in all my being."

And who is even now leading us into A NEW THING (peace and blessings be upon it).

"And I believe in The Episcopal Church"

Otherwise known as TEC (peace and blessings be upon it)! Forget that ECUSA thing, never happened...

"I believe in one Baptism"

And the new liturgy's Baptismal Covenant (peace and blessings be upon it) from whence cometh all good things and before which all shall forever abase themselves.

10:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant send up of exegesis by free-association. I've been horrified by this phenomenon for quite some time.
Irenaeus also has a good one at SFiF (lexicon part II) of Rom 1:22-23 to support veganism.
The basic divide is that reappraisers think of religion is as something ancillary to their lives, meant to cheer them up or entertain them. It doesn't actually correspond to anything real.

I also love this: "a religion that can be that undefensive about itself is the place for me."
Wolf: "a pasture with cowardly, apathetic shephards is the place for me. Saves me money on the sheep costume."

9:13 am  

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