Monday, July 06, 2009

VIII The Seven Devils of Women's Ordination, or, She Who Lie Down With Dogs Catch Fleas


Clericalism is rife because theological education makes it so. Clericalism follows the fault line of the split that took place in the 17th century between ‘academic’ theology and practical training (the latter being much despised). The split continues to this day. Academic theology in its present form, long waltzing with the ‘dying bride of German rationalism’ is, now, with her, at the end. [31] In England the trends leading towards the death of theology are summarised by the work of Richard Swinburne. The irony of this situation is that many of the breakthroughs in understanding language (the so-called post-modern movement) were begun by logical positivists, yet while language studies have not only flourished but also given us new and better tools for studying mystical texts, the heirs of the positivists, confined to abstract mind games and linearity, have reached reductio ad absurdum. As Neils Bohr said to Albert Einstein, ‘You are not thinking, you are merely being logical.’

We live in a multivalent and interrelated world, something the ancients well understood. The message of the Gospels is conveyed in paradoxes. Paradoxes are not botched premises that need dismantling and explaining. They are descriptors: they describe something empirical that cannot be described any other way, and it is only by going through the gates of paradox that the empirical will be discovered. [32] To think using the tools of paradox is much more difficult than mere linearity. It is not that logic is abandoned, for in the thought-clusters of this multivalent universe descriptive logic becomes much more precise, in part because a multivalent universe is not being forced into univalence.

Academic theology is the last bastion of a kind of scientism that scientists, in the wake of Einstein, Heisenberg, Bell and Bohm, have long since abandoned. Indeed, science is itself primarily a language. [33] Theology is not done in a vacuum: every statement has psycho-spiritual, moral and sociological nuances.

Yet from all appearances, Church of England ordinands have far to little formal training in pastoral care. What there is often appears to be regarded as merely ‘doing time’. They do not seem to learn how to connect real life and theory/theology—to American eyes, a typical example of the ‘minds cut off from bodies’ syndrome. Their training does not appear to include basic counselling skills. There seems to be no equivalent to the obligatory Clinical Pastoral Education [34] mandatory for ordinands in virtually all denominations in the USA, in addition to field work placements in each of three years of theological education. There appears to be no process by which ordinands can learn how their own problems might affect their work with others. Rather, ordinands seem to be taught how to hide these problems under the veneer of a clerical mask. The sort of education American ordinands receive hasn’t made an obvious difference in the fate of American churches (although it has improved the quality of ministry), but it gives them less excuse.

However, even laudable programmes have a way of being co-opted into and compromised by clericalism. An American friend writes, ‘CPE [is] turning into another power ploy instead of the adventure in self-awareness it was supposed to be and formation contradictions—like theological students being required to have a spiritual director who is registered with the Dean of that the training people can write to the director about problems they see in the student. Talk about boundary violations!’

To the outsider, impressions of ordinands’ public conversations and behaviour range from the comical to the revolting. There was the day that two were seated across the aisle on the London bus. That peculiarly smug, priggish, slightly fatuous expression of complacency and privilege I associate with Anglo-Catholicism was already firmly imprinted on their faces. They were ostentatiously reading breviaries. Their ridiculous behaviour might be dismissed as children’s play if the consequences of clericalism were not so deadly; clergy have a way of not growing up. Another day I overheard a conversation between two presumptive high-fliers who were complaining about the amount of time they had to ‘waste’ putting up with people in their field work parishes. And there are those with the agendas from whom I cannot run fast enough, with their fixed smiles and closed minds. These are subjective impressions, the sort of impressions the non-churchgoer might have, however unrepresentative they may be; but then, I was asked to write a subjective paper, and I am not alone in this perspective.


[31] Of many such declarations, see the Oxford University Sermon by Graham Ward, 7 November, 1993: ‘...It is not sufficient for theology to go on pretending that the culture and society we live in is the same as Matthew Arnold’s. It isn’t. Theology can no longer continue it honed for its use in modernity...a series of correlations between God and the world. Apologetics can only function on the assumption of shared values between theology, culture and society. But postmodernity is the recognition that there are no shared values, no common roots. Meaning is not shared, it is constructed and contingent. So the study of theology, if it is ever going to speak and resonate again in contemporary society, has to change; and change radically.... its increasing irrelevance is in fact part of the reason for its decline among colleges in this University.’

[32] See The Paradox of Intention and the works on apophasis cited above.

[33] See Inventing Reality: Physics as Language by Bruce Gregory, New York: Wiley, 1990.

[34] A three-month internship spent in a hospital where as much or more is learnt by ordinands about themselves as how to meet the spiritual needs of the sick and dying.


Anonymous dFish said...

Another stinging commentary. I was eating sweet pulvoron when suddenly i was coughing when i read about CPE. Hmmm.I have 9 units, albeit unemployed and discriminated because i don't have the necessary professional credentials yet, on top of being a layperson, to become a hospital chaplain. Yes, even if fairly speaking, i can think and am compassionate enough to do pastoral care work.
I am not totally bent towards the emotional euphoria of the American version of evangelicalism. But clearly it is one response to the highly rational approach to the practicability of theology that the theological academe, Catholics on top included,have been espousing with an elitist mantle. As many preachers would always cannonball from their pulpit; there are so many undigested theology these days. But then again, the Catholic tradition has partly sustained this paradoxical attitude towards "theological mysteries" even if sacramentally, because partly also, the Lutheran legacy has set the soil for the growth of logical positivism (Richard Tarnas has this interesting thesis - The Passion of the Western Mind). Protestantism and the literalism of the scientific positivists are not that hard to divorce from each other.

2:04 am, July 07, 2009  

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