Allen reproduces a statement of principles agreed to by the conference participants, which he readily concedes are likely to give more traditional Christian thinkers a bit of heartburn:
1. The religions of the world affirm an ultimate reality which they conceive of in different ways and which both transcends the material universe and is immanent within it.
2. Whilst in itself ultimate reality is beyond the scope of complete human understanding, in its relation to humanity many claim to have experienced its presence in diverse ways, including great individuals in supreme revelatory moments that have given rise to the world’s religions, including the great world religions.
3. The great world religions, including their different and at times incompatible teachings, are as totalities of scripture, history, tradition, paradigmatic figures, rituals, creeds and forms of spirituality, authentic paths to the supreme good.
4. The world’s religions share many basic values, for example, love, compassion, justice, honesty, treating others as one wishes to be treated oneself.
5. There are however forms of religion, including some based in the great world religions, which are misused for purposes contrary to those values.
6. Each person must follow his/her conscience. Therefore the possibility of conversion is part of the human right to religious freedom.
7. In the present century the traditional assertions of an exclusive possession of absolute truth repel rather than attract many people who seek the wisdom that religions, and other explanations of the ultimate meaning of life, have to offer.
8. Hence, from a pluralist point of view it does not make sense in the contemporary world to try through missionary activities to convert the world to one’s own tradition.
9. Interreligious dialogue, as conversations among people who wish to learn and benefit from one another’s inheritance and insights, should be the normal way for religions — and ideologies — to relate to each other.
10.Within this dialogue a paramount need is for the religions to heal any historic antagonisms between them.
Allen also notes that some critics of "pluralism" embrace a more moderate stance that might be termed "inclusivism," "which allows that other religions may contain saving truths, but are “included” in the salvation won by Christ. In this view, all religious traditions ultimately converge in, and are perfected by, Christianity, even if that convergence is eschatological. Some version of this model is generally held to be implicit in the documents of the Second Vatican Council."
But here, you may well say, is the crux. What those matters are that define the theological character of unity is in itself a matter of controversy. Typically, some simply don't think that women in priestly ministry or policies about homosexual people constitute communion-breaking problems because they leave open the possibility of still recognizing a common language. But some simply do think this; for them, these are the tests of accountability - all the stronger, you could say, for being apparently marginal.
My challenge is not that the traditionalist should abandon such a position, but that they might acknowledge that we are dealing with a spectrum of matters here, on any account - as witness those (a substantial number in England and in the Communion) for whom same-sex blessings is a defining issue, but women's ordination isn't. That immediately suggests that people who share a serious view of accountability may come out in different places on some things. But what I and others who share some of my theological perspective have to take on board is that in a climate where there is felt to be a general drift from accountability and belief in the supernatural character of the Church, it may be very hard indeed to persuade some that a novel policy doesn't simply reflect an indifference to accountability.
One of the things that I understand Williams to be saying is that there may be cases where reflection on scripture and tradition in the light of new experience may lead the Church to develop teachings in ways that depart in significant ways from what was understood. But in a climate where accountability is attenuated and everything seems "up for grabs" it is hard to separate out legitimate development from surrender to the cultural zeitgeist. Something to think about.
CIVIL DISASTER? An on the ground look about how bad things have gotten in one Christian neighborhood in Iraq (thanks to Talking Points Memo for the link). Interesting discussion about U.S. General John Abizaid and his theories of urban warfare and post-war reconstruction, which were published last September in a Pentagon report and seem to have largely been borne out by subsequent events.
Obviously, some of these on the ground reports can give a distorted picture of what is happening in Iraq as a whole. But the accumulating evidence suggests, at the very least, that things are not going according to plan....
Most of us, including pro-lifers, know people who have had abortions....sisters, friends, mothers, aunts, college roommates, nieces. These women appear to be just like every other woman you know, except that they had an abortion. If you're pro-life, you believe that during that abortion, an innocent life was murderously violated. It's very hard to look at your niece, your sister, your best friend from college, and think, "Here is a woman who murderously violated the life of her own child."
But you do believe that a child was murdered. Who, then, murdered it? It must have been the abortionist.
If you can compartmentalize abortion that way--woman, passive victim; doctor, Evil Mad Man--you don't have to feel anger, disappointment, revulsion or any other strong negative feelings at any of these women that you know.
How much easier to direct all that outrage at a few abortion providers, rather than to contemplate the possibility that -- if you are in your 40s -- roughly 40% of the women in your age range slid cash across the counter to pay someone to kill their child.
Oh, and while we're on the subject, Patrick Rothwell suggests I have misunderstood how some (but not all) Evangelical Christians link the Ten Commandments to a covenantal understanding of American history, which may explain the symbolic importance of the decalog to them. His point is well taken (and interesting to boot).
PERSEVERANCE AND HOPE: The Leaven, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City has an article about Sister Janet Cashman, SCL, (above) spent two years in Haiti working at a hospital and nutrition center. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Despite the difficult economic and social conditions, Sister Cashman still found that people were able to hope: "I believe many living in those conditions are the holy people - prophets calling to us at this time, telling us that even though their conditions of life are like that, life is worth living," she said.
EDUCATION NEWS: Ave Maria University in Florida opened today, although classes aer being held in a temporary campus until the permanent campus is completed in 2006. In other education news, teachers at 22 Catholic schools may be walking the picket line after they rejected contract offer from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Tuesday.
GLASTONBURY: The Tablet has a fascinating article about the town of Glastonbury in England, which has become something of a pilgrimmage site for New Age seekers. The town has had a Christian presence since at least the 7th century, but it is Glastonbury's alleged pagan roots that have attracted many contemporary seekers. I've been there a couple of times and the description of the downtown area is spot on. The author of the article talks to Father Knox-Lecky, the pastor of St. Mary's Church:
[Fr. Knox-Lecky] says he is anxious not to appear paranoid and stresses that he does not consider most of the New Age culture of Glastonbury malevolent. “But there is a dark side to it. A lot of people are getting lost. I have seen young people come into town, bright-eyed, and within months they have a dead look in their eyes and seem to have lost their sparkle.” He admits that this could be the effect of drugs, but he believes that some New Age practices, such as Reiki – an ancient system of healing that involves the transfer of “chi” (healing energy) from one person to another to begin a process of self-healing – are dangerous.
“With some of these practices that focus on energy channels, you are pushing out the welcome mat and you don’t know what is going to come in”, he says. “From the Christian perspective, I know that there are things waiting around to use whatever they can.” He adds that what St Paul talked about in chapter 6 of Ephesians, “applies here, very much. We’re at the sharp end, in terms of spiritual warfare.”
The spiritual hunger revealed by this article is palpable. Are we being food?
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE: Interesting news brief in the Tablet about the death toll due to the heat wave in France. Many Catholic parishes reported funerals for as many people every week as are normally buried in a month. French officials have estimated that up to 10,000 people, many of them elderly, died due to the high temperatures. I found the following graf interesting:
French opposition leaders criticised the centre-right government for their slow response to the crisis, blaming the heatwave casualties on the partial shutdown of hospitals during the summer holiday. French media and clergy have tended to blame French citizens involved in the summer holiday exodus that leaves many elderly behind. Archbishop Michel Coloni of Dijon said the deaths were “a social problem” highlighting the loneliness of France’s elderly, rather than just a health issue.
I think Coloni's comments are on target. But I also wonder what those parishes who were burying so many people were doing while their elderly parishioners were sweltering in the heat. In Italy, the Community of Sant'Egidio organized visits to the elderly during the heat wave. It's possible something similar was going on in France, but the article didn't mention it.
I wonder what would have happened if the parishes had responded to the heat wave by swinging into action. What if they had organized teams to visit the elderly in their communities, bringing cold water and perhaps even an electric fan? What if the people of France could have seen the Church responding in such a fashion? What would have been the impact on the most aggressively post-Christian country in Europe? What if the Church had indeed been "living water?" Something to think about.
Lamont was a longtime critic of the racist policies of the government of Prime Minister Ian Smith. He was put on trial trial in 1976 for allowing nuns in his diocese to give medical treatment to antigovernment black guerrillas and for failing to report their whereabouts. He plead guilty, and was deported in 1977. He returned to his diocese after Rhodesia became independent and changed its name to Zimbabwe, but retired in favor of an African successor a year later.
Rest in peace, Bishop Lamont. Your spirit lives on in the men and women who continue to struggle today for a democratic Zimbabwe.
CATHOLIC-ANGLICAN RIFT: A.P. story about how the ECUSA's decision to proceed with the appointment of Gene Robinson to the office of bishop may affect ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. I think the word in the last line should be "predecessors" not "successors."