I’m often asked why I left the Anglican Church to become a Catholic. Was it women’s ordination or some other issue? Well, the debate over women’s ordination was an influence. It made me re-examine the question of authority in the church. I have written about my conversion several places, and these articles can be found on my website under the ‘articles’ tab.
However, the more I think about the reasons for my conversion, the more I realize that the real problem was not women’s ordination, nor was it, at depth, the question of authority in the church. Women’s ordination was a problem and the authority of Rome was the answer, but there was a deeper, underlying problem with the Anglican Church as I experienced it. The problem is modernism — a philosophical and theological position which is deeply opposed to historic Christianity.
The foundational problem with modernism is that it is anti-supernaturalist. The most foundational difficulty with the anti supernaturalism of the modernist is that he has an anti-Christian conception of God. For the modernist God is either totally immanent. That is He is ‘down here’ and not transcendent, or he is so totally transcendent as to be a sort of deist God who is ‘out there’ and does not intervene. What the modernist theologian cannot believe in is a God who is both immanent and transcendent–a God who is ‘out there’ but who touches this world and ultimately enters this world through the incarnation.
The modernist cannot believe in this kind of God because that would introduce miracles and the supernatural, and for the modernist such things are impossible. The effect of this distorted deity is also an un-Christian view of man. If there is no supernatural, if God is either totally ‘out there’ or totally ‘down here’ then man is definitely a creature limited to this world only. His only hope is to find the God who is ‘down here’ which means he invariably goes on a search for the ‘God within each of us’ or he decides that religion is about making this world a better place.
From the distorted deity of the modernist and the un-Christian anthropology comes an un-Christian understanding of Christ and the gospels. The modernist cannot accept the old supernaturalist understanding of a Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, the Atonement and the Resurrection. These events must be ‘de mythologized’ and re-interpreted. Consequently, the whole understanding of the salvation of souls is totally eviscerated. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is nothing more than the martyrdom of a good man. For the modernist it cannot be a saving sacrifice. Such metaphysical and medieval concepts are impossible given his faulty theology and anthropology. At most the sacrifice of Christ is a symbol of human selflessness and sacrificial love, but even this is a nonsense if all we have is the senseless death of a political prisoner.
If this is true–if Jesus’ death is no more than symbolic image, then the entire ecclesiological structure and sacramental system is no more than an archaic symbolical structure. It is a historic mythology that, at best, unlocks something within the human subconscious. It is a human construct that helps people to transition through their lives. Indeed, the vicar in the next door parish to me in England in the late 80s said as much. He said, “I see myself as a sort of shaman of the tribe. I’m there to offer them rites of passage.”
What strikes me now is how honest my fellow clergy were about their paganism. Unfortunately, their honesty was rare and usually not conscious. More often they indulged in a kind of dishonesty which I can only now admit is really a lie from Satan himself, for what they did was to use the traditional language of the historic Christian faith while not believing the historic Christian faith at all.
So when they said they believed in the Incarnation they actually believed that “Jesus Christ was the most fulfilled human who ever lived. He was so self actualized that he achieved a kind of divine status. He, more than anyone else, was one with the god within.” When they ‘affirmed’ the Virgin Birth they really meant that Mary was an especially pure young woman before she had intercourse with Joseph or a Roman soldier. When they proclaimed from their pulpit on Easter Day, “Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!” what they meant was, “In some sort of wonderful way I would want to say that Jesus Christ continued to inspire his followers after his tragic death.”
I used to think that his lie was simply being told in the halls of academia, that the rot was really only in the universities, but of course it was not only there. It had been disseminated throughout the Anglican Church through the education of the clergy for the last fifty or sixty years. Of course there were pockets of true belief and there are still. In making this critique of Anglicanism I am not damning all Anglicans.
However, Catholics who are involved in ecumenism should be aware that this is the real nature of the people they are talking to. The Anglican theologians will talk a Catholic language, but they mean something totally opposed to Catholicism when they do. They will talk a Christian language, but they mean something totally opposed to Christianity when they do. We must not imagine that this modernism is held only by radical theologians and heretical bishops. It is the mainstream.
Finally, allow me to say why it is the mainstream. It is the mainstream because it fits so perfectly with the philosophical and theological foundations of Anglicanism. The Elizabethan Settlement established Anglicanism for what it is, and that is that it must not be a dogmatic religion. It is to be a flexible religion. When you read Anglican history you will find the principle of dogmatic compromise in every age. From its conception Anglicanism has been wedded to the spirit of the age. From the beginning Anglicanism has adapted its language according to its practical needs. From the first Anglican reformers onward the heritage of Anglicanism has not been a fearless search for truth and a proclamation of the truth at any cost, but a fearful search for compromise and a proclamation of any truth that would please as many people as possible.
I want to say, “Ah, but these are only the members of the liberal wing of the church. The Anglo Catholics and Evangelicals, they have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Unfortunately the rot of modernism has also touched many who follow the Anglo Catholic and Evangelical modes of being Anglican. Furthermore, another whole essay could be written about the philosophical underpinnings of the Anglican Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics. Are they not able to stay within a church where both parties hold diametrically opposed beliefs because they too believe that theological language is merely metaphorical and that the language of belief is provisional? While they profess to believe in a dogmatic religion, they can only remain Anglicans recognizing the ministries of one another (while believing opposing things about sacraments and ministry) because they too really believe that dogma is unimportant.
I realize these are harsh words. I also realize that there are many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have true faith, who love the historic faith and are unaware of the depth of deception at the heart of their most beautiful and venerable religion. I do not wish to offend them, but I offer my thoughts on why Anglicanism is at once so desirable and yet so often dishonest.
PS: I am well aware that the same sort of modernism has poisoned the Catholic Church too, and will post on this soon.