Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Dubious Heroics of Doubt

From the July 2005 issue of New Directions magazine comes the following column, entitled "Last Chronicle", dealing with a phenomenon that longtime Episcopalians/Anglicans and other mainliners have experienced: the "heroic" posturing of skeptics in clerical garb and the "prophetic" pronouncments of unregenerate agnostics on ecclesiastical payrolls.
Last Chronicle

You will have met him or (just as probably) her. S/he is a clergy person whose only theological certainty concerns the heroic dignity of doubt. Volunteer an orthodox opinion – that the tomb was empty, the conception was virginal, the gospels are reliable – and you will be told that you simply have not faced up to all the problems and difficulties involved.

Dare to suggest that it was precisely in considering those difficulties and problems that you reached your present firm opinion, and you will unleash a tirade which degenerates into a reading list.

You will ask yourself, as always, in the quiet aftermath of such a fruitless encounter, just why doubt is so much more heroic than faith. We live, do we not, in an age which has canonized uncertainty and divinized relativism? What in heaven’s name is heroic about adopting the majority position? It might be right; it is hardly glamorous.

But the fact is that the more exalted the churchperson, the more likely s/he is to adopt this curious position. Think of all the books with titles like ‘A Bishop Rethinks…’ Recall the media posturings of David Jenkins (who was a class act) and the ridiculous website of Jack Spong (who emphatically is not). (See also this website.)

You will eventually conclude, I suspect, that you are the fall guy. The heroic doubter would sink into oblivion were it not for the orthodox like you. You are the darkness against which the jewel shines. Doubt can only be portrayed as heroic if there are still enough believers to sustain it.

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