Not often you can say you’ve been to hell and back on a blog, but here we have been, and this, be reassured, isn’t going over old territory; it is an attempt to draw some general lessons from it. The comments sections have more than 1000 comments in them on this subject, and while there are some irritated ones, I’d draw anyone’s attention to the long to-and-fro between Jessica and Dave Smith. Starting quite far apart, they never treated each other with other than courtesy and politeness and real respect (not that ‘with all due respect’ nonsense, which really means ‘I don’t respect you at all’). The result of that, and of interventions by others, was that there was a real discussion, you could see both sides thinking about what the other had said and trying to understand, and then respond. The result was what it so often is when Christians proceed in this way – a revelation that the gap was not as wide as it had seemed, and a real growth in true understanding.
I contrast that with the approach taken by quiavideruntoculi in his post on ‘hell, muslims and gutless Christianity’ – the title packs a punch, and his piece does the same. He is, as always, forceful, logical and hard-hitting. He rightly says it is the Spirit’s job to convert people, not his, but the Spirit works through us. We are his witnesses. So, I look at Dave Smith’s approach, and I look at QV’s and I know which one would make me want to know more about Catholicism. The version of it which seems to be offered by QV is the one my Protestant Belfast relatives and friends always said was there – intolerant of others, willing to use force and the sword, and prevented from so doing only by the law – convinced everyone else was little better than a pagan, and backward looking. It doesn’t surprise me that Bosco praises QV, he espouses just the sort of Catholicism that Bosco believes in. Reading Dave, I listen and I learn, reading QV, I marvel at what an educated man who plays with words can convince himself of. It clearly frustrates him that his Pope and most of his Bishops and Cardinals do not agree with him, and while he says he does not peddle a hermeneutic of rupture, I’m not sure some of his bishops or his Pope are not doing just that. I am not surprised he get angry with them, but how do we deal, as Christians, with disagreements?
Jessica outlined the case in her own Church, where there is a Communion which has such a difference of views on what is and is not sin that even it is beginning to wonder whether it is a communion. I am sure I see a similar range in the Catholic Church, and I am afraid I think here we just see the Anglicans saying without code what the RCs need code for. I doubt Cardinals Kasper and Nichols dissent from the liberal view on the issue of homosexuality being ‘sin’, but they cannot say so openly. So we get Kasper criticising the Africans for being backward, and Nichols going on about pastoral concern; no one can say decisively they do not agree with the teaching of their Church, but they do not say they do either. I actually prefer the openness of the Anglicans to the confusion and Newspeak of the RCC. Were I a Catholic, I should regard Nichols and Kasper as hirelings; indeed one reason I could never be one is that these men are to be found everywhere in the RCC. In my own small fellowship, we know where we stand – in Christ – and how – as men and women have done for generations. If anyone cannot hold fellowship on the Nicene Creed sincerely professed, then they know this is not the place for them; there is no need for hard words because we are clear about what we believe.
Across the range of Christianity we see that the old denominational divisions are far less relevant than that between those who adhere to the traditional Christian norms and those who want those norms to become aligned with those of the most socially liberal parts of the Western intelligentsia. At some point this will become clear, and at least then the acerbity might moderate, as we shall no longer have people under the strain of having to pretend they are in the same church. Words mean something, and belief in the Word who is the Truth involves conflict with what this world wishes to hold. If you need to be loved by the world, you cannot expect to remain faithful to Him whom the world rejected.