Friday, September 05, 2008

Chesterton on Lambeth '09

He wasn't writing about last month's Lambeth Conference, of course; he was writing a hundred years ago about the decay of English institutions, particularly of Parliament. He traced this decay to something built in at the root: the English tendency to accept and even nourish paradoxes and "anomalies", thinking that somehow their own native genius will permit them to square circles, fit square pegs into round holes, have their cake and eat it too - name your favourite cliché, it all comes down to making something inherently unworkable work.

Chesterton was right to see that the old fiddles and fudges were no longer working, but an interesting question was why they ever worked in the first place. I think they worked for awhile because they didn't really matter - they worked because the people using them were united and devoted to something outside themselves. They could use any tool and make it work. That was no longer the case by the early 20th century, and the same decline is now visible in the Anglican Church and it's offshoots.

One shouldn't be surprised, as the Anglican Church exported the roots that would eventually destroy it along with the plant when it spread abroad. And now the same tendency to try to "get away with" incoherent, contradictory ideas is as visible in the Church as it was in Parliament in Chesterton's day.

This was the paragraph I came across that inspired these little reflections; he was talking about the sly little manoeuvres that those adept at parliamentary procedures could implement to block their opponents from acting on or even discussing uncomfortable subjects:
This intellectually lawless element in our Constitution has recently been growing more and more dangerous; it has the danger of every lawless thing, that at last it becomes mean. Men are no longer careless of their irrational system because it enables them to do the right thing. They are now very careful of their irrational system because (when deeply studied and dexterously applied) it enables them to do the wrong thing. A strong case of this is the increasing use of the quite absurd and atrocious fiction commonly called the blocking motion. Jones wants to move something; Brown does not want to move anything. But Brown can stop Jones from saying what he wants to say by the power and importance of the thing which he, Brown, does not want to say. This is indecent in its folly; it would not be endured for an instant in any meeting of ordinary Zulus. (Interesting turn of phrase! - ed.)

I think it's pretty obvious that this is the state of play in the COE, as witness by the Herculean labours of Rowan Williams to deploy his authority to deliberately thwart any attempt to deal with the problems that more than 2/3 of his church wanted alleviated. And it's also obvious, and will become more obvious, in TEC, as was made evident by the shameless attempt to bulldoze punitive sanctions against Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin. The mere fact that the CYA campaign that immediately started in the wake of this ham-fisted exercise in brutalism relied heavily on the opinion of "The Parliamentarian" shows how degenerate the church government has become. The name of the game now is to get one's own way at all costs; in such an atmosphere, weasels who can squeeze through little holes and bendy tunnels are highly prized and relied upon, and we can expect to see them further magnified into persons of importance at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting later in September.

1 Comments:

Blogger Allen Lewis said...

"...in such an atmosphere, weasels who can squeeze through little holes and bendy tunnels are highly prized and relied upon, and we can expect to see them further magnified into persons of importance at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting later in September."

I think they ought to rename it to the House of Weasels. It would definitely be a more honest name. I have not thought of a new name for the House of Deputies yet.

7:20 pm  

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