Running a blog provides much pleasure, and not a little duty to feed the beast. Amidst the insanity of the world in general one does not lack for topics. I have been busy of late earning a living, for which I apologize. Islam, climate, Obama: these dirigibles of folly grow tiresome. So with some trepidation I chose last night that it was time to say a word about the conversion of a polemical Catholic to Anglicanism.
I am speaking of the noted Canadian Roman Catholic apologist Michael Coren, who has left for the sunnier shores of the Anglican Church.
Both churches are liturgical. Both place the eucharist – the communal eating of the bread as flesh and wine as blood of Christ – at the centre of their services. One says the bread and wine are the real presence of Christ, the other says that they are “the memorial which He hath commanded”. The doctrinal niceties of difference may be more important than I weigh them. Yet for me the principal difference is that the Anglican clergy are not a caste of people set aside by magical powers from the laity.
By “magical powers” I mean just that.
As a Catholic friend of mine once observed, “80% of Catholic theology seems to concern the priestly role. What about the saintliness of Joe Average?” I digress.
I am not holding out Michael Coren as a deep thinker. He does not hold himself out as the avatar of Thomas Aquinas. But he was a committed and well-reasoned Catholic, and proudly wore the team jacket. So it was interesting that the main reason he cites, as a heterosexual and happily married man (it seems), was that Catholic teaching about homosexual relations was wrong.
No thinking Christian can be easy with the tide of relentless attitudinal change we are required to undergo in modern society. Some few of the Catholic right oppose all change on sexual matters, and are satisfied with what they hold to be eternal truths. As David Warren wrote on the subject of Michael Coren:
To some, this stasis — this insistence on a moral and spiritual order that cannot be altered by men, nor by a God who is self-consistent — makes the Catholic Church a dead end. To others, it is actually liberating, to stand for the right, regardless of the numbers; regardless, finally, even of the cost.
I think I am being fair when I assert that all sexual thinking, which is considered lust, is especially problematic to Christian doctrine. Hetero, homo, adultero, thinking of your wife in lewd ways: it is all suspect, some especially so.
Yet for all that the Christian Church seems to hold sexuality suspect – as a drive that more often than not takes us away from God – society is undergoing one of those huge transformations of sentiment, whereby feelings of disgust and guilt for sexuality are being abandoned. It is akin to what happened to attitudes towards slavery or cruelty to animals. It is as if the sentiment was discovered, and held up to inspection, and found wanting. Why do we hold these lusts to be disgusting? Why do we shame people for practicing them?
I do not think most people thought much about slavery, or cruelty to animals, until there was a slow trickle downward of changed attitudes at the top. Blame it on Quakers, who led the fight against both. I also think that the late 19th century saw an intensification of anti-sexual feelings that had not existed in Christian society before that time, and it lasted at least as the generation that fought in World War 2.
Society has softened its sentiments towards sexuality of all kinds in the last sixty years. In my days in university women students were still housed and chaperoned in special dormitories, which practice ended in my time. Women’s sexual activity was legitimated as a reasonable and shameless course of action within a very short time after the Pill.
Indeed, the birth control pill could be living proof of a science-fictional universe, in which sexual mores worked out over thousands of years are abandoned in the space of a few years as the human drive to fuck is made safe from reproduction. I am not saying this is good – I am enough of a conservative to worry abstractly about such things – but I am asserting that it has happened, and cannot be reversed by anything short of a titanic change of sentiment and belief, of which I see no sign.
We are still working out the sexual rules between men and women in consequence of sharing work-spaces all day long. Why should the adaptation to homosexual sex be faster, smoother, or better understood?
In the end we might still agree that sexual relations outside marriage are “objectively disordered”, as the Roman Church likes to say, but our attitudes will not carry with them much condemnation. That seems to have happened already.
Bob Hope, the famous comedian, stated once in the sixties: “They have just legalized homosexuality in California. I am leaving for Nevada before they make it compulsory”.
I am as confused as anyone about this gay thing: I do not want Christian bakers to be compelled to bake cakes for lesbian weddings, so call me a reactionary; I do not want gay people to undergo any more legal disabilities, so call me liberal. But I do not want my sentiments – particularly my sexual tastes or lack thereof – to be made the object of state persecution for being insufficiently enlightened, progressive, or, for that matter, Christian.
So welcome to the club, Mr.Coren. We are just going to have to muddle through.