On orthodoxy and community

Rod Dreher is concerned about the relationship between orthodoxy and the current emphasis on community within the church in  Christianity without Orthodoxy, in doing so he perhaps has two questions in mind.

First, there is the matter of practice,

How do you decide right from wrong on a controversial church teaching? . . . How do you determine that now is the time for you to stay when a divisive issue comes up in the church community, or when the line has been breached, and your understanding of truth requires you to leave on principle?

In his southern context, the question of race (and Jim Crow) lurk right below the surface, if that. And then there is a second, not-quite-the-same question, one certainly more global in nature:

We are so accustomed in our culture to not applying reason to religious experience, to only thinking of it in terms of emotional resonance, that to draw those lines seems somehow, well, un-Christian to many. How any religion survives the loss of a sense of the need for orthodoxy, I don’t know.

Both questions are rather protestant in nature, the former being the classic practice flowing from conviction (typically biblical). The latter one would appear to imagine the existence of a common orthodoxy, expressed across very diverse traditions. A fundamentalism, if you will (we differ but we all believe the same core truths). A more honest approach may be to acknowledge that what the Eastern church means by “orthodoxy” is not the same as what Rome means, let alone what an Evangelical may believe. This would be a functional definition of orthodoxy rather than a specifically theological one.

Of course, Dreher could be thinking of the more specific and normative meaning of orthodoxy as that practiced by the Eastern church (aka the Orthodox Church).

As to the relationship of orthodoxy and community, the relationship is surely dialectic. Orthodoxy explains what the community is about, it interprets the historical experience with God. The shape of the community  expresses some convictional norm, an orthodoxy at least of culture if not of theology/ideology. These convictions may be expressed explicitly in statements, and more often or in parallel, by narratives — the stories we tell about where we have come and how we got here.

In similar fashion, the practice of the community reflects or exegetes the convictions of the community. Hence the charges of dead orthodoxy or of hypocrisy when the practice of community appears at variance with the statements of formal orthodoxy or belief. What we state we believe exists as a hypothesis to be demonstrated in how we live. Practice and conviction walk together.

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So Where Are All the Atheists?

Earlier this week, the BBC published a set of opinions provocatively titled,”Why is faith falling in the US?” The story was attempting to bring a national focus to a survey of global religiosity and atheism from WIN-Gallup International.

The writers naturally came from two camps: Rod Dreher, who  thinks the decline in US numbers can be traced to the rise of Moral Therapeutic Deism (the new favorite conservative whipping boy, evidently); and on the left, by David Dickerson, who believes the decline arises from the conservative church’s political stands, notably that on homosexuality — oh, those traditional stick-in-the-muds.

While both views have merit in their US context — and in truth, I’m sympathetic to both — what  what is striking is how the actual survey  shows this decline in professed religiosity to be going on through a number of developed countries in the same 2005-2012 time frame. Much as we Americans like to hold to our exceptionalism, something ordinary seems to be happening,  the decline in faith of the middle class driven by economic conditions. That is, the loss of economic faith and its secular promised future undercuts our more transcendental view of the future, that God is in control.

This entwining of the transcendental and the secular hope does point in part to that Moral Therapeutic Deism that Dreher cites. Entwining can breed a sort of psychological syncretism where my life and my faith get intimately bound so that psychology and faith are nearly one and the same. Fortunately hope is a bit more powerful than that.

On a side note: The report has some other incredible data in it. For instance, while the US bemoans the number of atheists, it’s really small potatoes relative to the world. The survey found 5 percent self report as atheist, the same number as Saudi Arabia. In most of Europe the number is in the 10-15 percent range.

Who’s Telling the Story?

Patrol asks,

Are gay parents worse for kids than straight parents, or is Mark Regnerus, as some LGBT groups claim, a “right-wing ideologue”? David Sessions on the controversy over his explosive new study.

Sessions does a good job summarizing the controversy (who knew that Regnerus was an old Calvin prof?), its limits and the attendant controversy.

As the report notes, the data is old. As Regnerus admits, he didn’t have enough to look at intact same sex households, and that would be crucial. As a matter of public policy, the establishment of legal status of same-sex relationships would seem to support the maintenance of intact households. This conservative view has been well-known for years, and is attested to elsewhere in surveys of gay attitudes to marriage generally.

So oddly, our friend Rod Dreher is not that far off the mark, traditional is best. (And same-sex households can be very traditional.)

The Eugenic Future

Ross Douthat certainly opened a discussion with his column on eugenics, advances in testing, and abortion. Ed Kilgore is scathing, meanwhile Rod Dreher sees the threat and points to a (conservative) cultural solution. Scott McKnight simply lets it fall. I respond

While Douthat wants to see this through the grid of abortion, the more critical view would be to see this as an instance of economic choice. The decision on which children to have, how to engineer them presently looks as if it will be made as a market decision. How successful we can be in keeping genomic information out of the hands of parents remains to be seen. Spiritually, this turn to the self seems to be a far greater danger than the issue of abortion per se. Indeed, once the knowledge is easily available (and for now, thank heavens, it’s not), the decision about fetal life will not be one that can be prohibited, either because of private medicine or the availability of pro-choice jurisdictions. And that in turn only underscores that the issue at hand is deeply cultural in nature.

After all, we are far more likely to introduce a eugenics regime through the market than by some liberal cabal (per Douthat). The enemy is inside us, in our own culture.

Developing and supporting an alternate culture is “conservative” I suppose, however that should not be confused with the merely political. The task is deeply cultural, and one that cannot be settled simply by a reactionary turn, a pulling back. We need a healthy, organic, nurturing culture. Yeah, it’s going to take work.