Onward Christian Soldiers: Did I Just Wake Up in 1096???
It's funny how events are open to interpretation. Actually, it's a good thing that events are open to interpretation, or most of us in academia, journalism, and the blogosphere would have nothing to talk about.
Take, for example, another stellar column from the New York Times' resident nematode: Ross Douthat.
Douthat's topic today is Pope Benedict's invitation for Anglicans to forget all that Henry VIII bad blood, Spanish Armada, GunPowder Plot, Civil War crap and come on back home, back into the loving arms of Mother Church.
Those of us who have been watching the Anglican Church, led by its Archibishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has, in recent years, expressed support both for ordaining gays and women, view this as a (en)cynical move.
The Pope, who, at this point, won't even allow believing Catholics to wear condoms to prevent HIV infection, is sticking his fingers where they're not wanted. He is, in effect, offering to those who have been offended by their Church's decision to elevate gays and women to full personhood, to leave and enjoy the benefit(ce)s of Catholicism.
In yesterday's Guardian, several members of the St. Augustine's Anglican Parish expressed their "bi-curiosity" to perhaps go back to being Catholics. (Or would they be converting at this point? At what point does a schism become a new religion?)Anyway, to hear them tell it:
And the impact of the announcement is beginning to dawn on rank and file members of the Church of England. "I've been a member of this congregation for years and this is exciting news, it's really hopeful for us," said Rachel Graham, a parishioner at St Augustine's in Kilburn. "We appreciate that we are able to have worshipful integrity here. When this church was built there was a hope for unity with Rome. We're not here by mistake."
It was too early to make a decision about the pope's decree – which would allow Anglicans to move to the Catholic church, but keep their own liturgy and married priests – she said. The Vatican has released no further details about the decree, an apostolic constitution, but its very existence has given Graham and other parishioners plenty to think about."We hope we can all come together and be looked after by the bishop of Rome." Graham, a mother of five, is not in a minority at Saint Augustine's. Before the general synod meeting in July 2008 – "when it all went wrong", she said, and the Church of England's governing body threw out all concession to traditionalists – a petition was circulated among the parish's female members objecting to the introduction of women bishops. Only four did not sign.
"My problem with women [clergy] is that they don't understand it's not about discrimination, but the church," Graham said. "They take offence at being seen as not good enough, but there's no tradition of women in the priesthood. There's nothing in scripture. It's not reasonable that women stand as priests." There were many other roles that women could play in the life of the church, she added.
Her friend and fellow parishioner Cecilia Anim also spoke of her support for the pope's initiative. "It reaffirms our belief that the holy father is putting us in the direction we want to go in to keep the sacrament sacred."
"We're sending man to the moon, but you can't change God's word or the Bible. Jesus chose 12 men as his apostles."
But Douthat, who wouldn't recognize homophobia or misogyny if it tugged on his beard, has an entirely different interpretation. For him, Pope Benedict is Churchill.
Which makes Rowan Williams Neville Chamberlain.
(Can the Right please get some new whipping boys? Hasn't Neville been kicked around enough?)
But in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam.Here Catholicism and Anglicanism share two fronts. In Europe, both are weakened players, caught between a secular majority and an expanding Muslim population. In Africa, increasingly the real heart of the Anglican Communion, both are facing an entrenched Islamic presence across a fault line running from Nigeria to Sudan. Where the European encounter is concerned, Pope Benedict has opted for public confrontation. In a controversial 2006 address in Regensburg, Germany, he explicitly challenged Islam’s compatibility with the Western way of reason — and sparked, as if in vindication of his point, a wave of Muslim riots around the world.
By contrast, the Church of England’s leadership has opted for conciliation (some would say appeasement), with the Archbishop of Canterbury going so far as to speculate about the inevitability of some kind of sharia law in Britain.There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.
See, we don't need no stinkin' conciliation with one of the world's great religions. What we need is ... a Crusade. That's the ticket. (That, and for white European women to stop using birth control and start making babies. Soon, Europe will be ... to use Berlusconi's word, "tan.")
The Crusades worked so well hundreds of years ago. All that marching off to Jerusalem to secure the city for Christianity, take it back from the Islamic horde, and, on the way, slaughter as many Jews as the Crusaders could find.
Methinks Pope Benedict sees himself blessing the troops as they march off to destroy Islam.
And Ross Douthat? Why wouldn't he be a cheerleader for that?
Douthat knows who America's enemy is. It's those swarthy Muslims and their crazed minions, who slaughter the innocents in the name of Islam.
Hell, Christians never did that. Ever.
And even if someone could categorically prove to Douthat that the violence perpetrated by Muslims is a small minority of a great faith, he's not interested. Douthat has invested the Muslims with as much evil-doing as we once thought the Eastern Bloc was capable of.
Douthat sees this moment in history as one where we will look back and see the Anglican and Catholic Churches reuniting to take back Europe from Muslims. But some of us wonder if this isn't 1096 all over again.