Monday, February 10, 2014

Some thoughts on Religion

Sorry for the (mostly) off-topic post but I wanted to say this somewhere and it's too long and potentially controversial (I've had enough Facebook arguments recently) for Facebook. And I know many readers of this blog are either Catholic or Anglican/Episcopal and am curious as to whether they'll agree with my speculations.

Conservative Catholics, perhaps especially in the United States, sometimes wonder why liberal Catholics who want women priests and acceptance of same-sex relationships, contraception, and remarriage after divorce don't "just" become Episcopalians, since The Episcopal Church is a liturgical, sacramental church with vestments, bishops, and cathedrals that already has these things. Of course, a few have, but most don't, and probably won't. There are many possible reasons for this, but here's one. Admittedly what follows is based on anecdotal impressions rather than hard evidence, but I think that despite superficial agreement on sex & gender issues, when it comes to worship liberal Catholics and liberal Episcopalians do not actually want the same things.

I think it's fair to say that many (perhaps even most) liberal Episcopalians, while firmly committed to both women's ordination (which despite a few reactionary holdouts like me is no longer even considered controversial) and gay rights, have no problem with, or even enthusiastically embrace, most or all of the following: priests celebrating "Ad Orientem" facing the altar, Kneeling for Communion at a rail, Incense, Latin, Gregorian Chant, "Elizabethan" English, Music ministries that emphasize sacred works by prestigious (mostly long-deceased) European composers sung by a professional or semi-professional Choir, the Pipe Organ as the church's principal (or even only) musical instrument, preference for traditional Architecture and care for historic buildings, a generally Dignified and Reverent "Sunday Best" approach to worship that avoids emotional exuberance, and (here we get back on topic) a certain Downton-Abbey-watching nostalgic fondness for England and the British Monarchy. In contrast, Progressive Catholics are likely to object to some or all of those things. Additionally, even if they've discarded the conservative moral views of their Irish ancestors, many American Catholics are likely to retain a chip on the shoulder regarding anything perceived as "elitist," "English," or "WASPy," while simultaneously romanticizing the idea of being in communion with a billion mostly non-white and non-wealthy people around the world. I should say that the "traditionalist" aspects of Episcopalianism I've identified--all of them dear to my heart--are far from unchallenged or universal within The Episcopal Church, but they do survive, perhaps even more in perception than in reality.

Therefore, most Call To Action, National Catholic Reporter, Hans-Küng-admiring types would not be comfortable in The Episcopal Church, and that--and not just a revolutionary desire to change the Church they were brought up in, though that surely exists as well--is why they don't join it. Of course, all this also works in reverse: the surviving traditional attributes of Episcopalianism I mentioned have also probably been a major factor in discouraging conservative Episcopalians not thrilled with certain contemporary developments from leaving to join the Roman Catholic Church.


Aaron Traas said...

Mostly fair. But I've seen the traditional aspects of liberal anglicanism waver. An Episcopalian church not too far from me, where some of my in-laws are members, 5 years ago had beautiful lessons and carols every year. Gorgeous, expertly performed traditional English and Latin hymns. Even some Catholic stuff -- they had a lovely rendition of the angelus years back, certainly better than I'd heard in any Catholic church, traditional or no.

They got a woman "priest" as a pastor, and ever since then, they've gone more "multicultural". They've added South American and African folk songs to the mix. Though I have nothing wrong with those sorts of music per se, they were disharmonious and discontinuous when performed alongside Byrd, Handel, etc. I've heard that at their regular Sunday services, they're including folksy 70's stuff that you'd hear in a modern Catholic church. I'm sure it's expertly performed crap, but crap nonetheless.

Theodore Harvey said...

I'm very sorry to hear that...hence my phrase "far from unchallenged." However, I know there are still plenty of aesthetically traditional options for Episcopalians in the northern NJ/NYC area. Grace Church Newark and (in NYC) St Mary the Virgin ("Smoky Mary's) Times Square are probably the epitome of the sort of odd liberal/traditional combination I'm talking about, that Novus Ordo RC modernists wouldn't really like.

Theodore Harvey said...

Also, I think my description of liberal Episcopalians probably applies more to laity than to clergy. Stridently liberal Episcopal clergy (from which I am spared in Dallas) may be impatient with the traditional attributes I listed and more likely to favor the sort of changes you describe.

Aaron Traas said...

I mostly agree. I think Anglican culture/art/liturgy is sliding into banality much slower than it did in Catholicism, and that's a good thing.

It's also a thing that I often prefer the company of my more liberal friends to many of the conservative Americanist ones. Largely, because they have more culture. They may think that desecration of the sacred is art, but they also have an appreciation for real art as well. Whilst my "conservative" Catholic friends listen to country and Christian rock, hold the voting for the GOP as the 8th and greatest sacrament, worship at the altars of capitalism, republicanism, American exceptionalism, etc.

Mateus G. M. F. Tibúrcio said...

It's sadly a truth. American Episcopalians tend to have overall more liturgical strictness than American Roman Catholics.

Although a Traditional Catholic myself, I've some ties to the Brazilian Anglican Church - A closed family friend is an Episcopal priest -, then I can tell the situation here is rather the opposite.

Brazilian Anglicanism, alhough not so strong, is mostly made of ultra-liberal former Catholics. Most of its clergy is made of former seminarians linked to thje Liberation Theology. Then, liturgy is quite lax at most parishes. There are many Nigerian priests though.