Thursday, January 11, 2018

Reformations and Transformations

A new year calls for a reassessment of one's direction. If it is -- nay, if it even appears -- unsatisfactory, the first month of the new year is the time to change it.

As readers here may have gathered, my enthusiasm for the topics formerly covered on this blog has waned markedly. The reason is also, I trust, equally apparent: this Curmudgeon finds no Schadenfreude in the decline of the West in general, or of America and her mainstream churches in particular. The road to perdition has been so well traveled over the centuries that chronicling its latest lost wayfarers engenders nothing new under the sun, no new lessons to instruct, no new dangers to warn against, and no new means of slowing or countering the decline. People who are fallen continue to fall, regardless, and there is nothing uplifting to observing (or reporting) man's never-ending attempts to replace, or to do without, God.

Indeed, to focus on man's efforts to "progress" is to look through the wrong end of the telescope. The concept itself is an illusion: thus an ant that crawls around and around on a giant sphere might be imagined to be driven by the notion that it is making "progress", i.e., getting somewhere. From the ant's limited grasp of the situation, it has indeed gone at one stage from point A to point B on the surface of the sphere. What it is incapable of perceiving, from its surface-bound perspective, is that both A and B are nothing more than points on a great circle that returns always to the point of "beginning", wherever that might be said to be.

Similarly, man with all his scientific instruments extends his reach through the physical universe farther and farther every year, but what he sees is what his instruments feed back to him -- which is something very dim at first. Then as the details grow sharper, he finally realizes that what is being reflected is the image of his own face, staring back at him from a mirror. Until he can enlarge his perspective to encompass the idea of things which he cannot see directly, he can discover, no matter how far he "sees," only himself.

For the new year, therefore, I resolve no longer to dwell upon (or complain about) events, institutions and people who illustrate, serve, or advocate that we (mankind) can do it all by ourselves. Such a misguided notion blinds us to the necessary humility occasioned by a proper and due respect for the unarguable (and highly uncomfortable, to many) realization that we are not here alone.

To the contrary: we are (and will be held) accountable to our Creator -- because the only alternative is to conclude that God's only son was either a liar or a madman, that his horrific death upon the cross was just another pointless act of man's unspeakable cruelty to man, and that all worship of the divine  is in vain. Those who have read my previous posts on the evidence that history and science offer in support of a divine Creator know that I reject that alternative as far more unlikely than the probability that Jesus was exactly who he said he was.

I speak as one who has been left behind by what I used to think of as a church to which I belonged, but which now I can no longer recognize. Its actions over the past forty years, as catalogued on this site, have become more and more un-Christian, to the point of suing innocent vestry members in court for punitive damages, worshipping Mammon more than Christ, and embracing abortion as a "holy sacrament." Most recently, it has adopted rites of same-sex "marriage" that openly and unashamedly liken such a relationship to that between Christ and his church. The rites have been provisional until now, but soon will become official and then later mandatory -- an episcopally sanctioned blasphemy that renders the denomination's entire purpose and function in this world null and void.

Looking back, I know how we got here: by focusing on man's needs and inclinations to the exclusion of God. Thus was it ever in the Church's history. Yet as G. K. Chesterton observed in The Everlasting Man (an ironic title, if ever there was one):
Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave. But the first extraordinary fact which marks this history is this: that Europe has been turned upside down over and over again; and that at the end of each of these revolutions the same religion has again been found on top. The Faith is always converting the age, not as an old religion but as a new religion.
This passage places the emphasis on where I want to be over the coming year: taking courage from the resiliency of God's church, and not carping on the shortcomings of man's attempts to replace it. As I continue my search for a way to worship Him as I was taught so long ago, I have undertaken a study of where things went wrong, and why. Since this is the 500th anniversary of the start of the various Protestant Reformations, I began my study with Martin Luther's break with the church in which he grew up, and have branched out, forwards and backwards in history, from there.

I have no inkling, as yet, where this study will bring me out. But I think I could do worse on this blog than share with readers what I am learning as I make my way through it. At the very least, it promises fare that is more healthy and appetizing than what daily assaults each of us in the various media.

With the next post, therefore, we will start to try to understand the steps that led a theretofore faithful (but insecure) Augustinian friar to conclude that the Church in which he had both learned and taught had become one in which he could no longer discern a secure path to salvation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ

As Advent slides into Christmas, I should explain my extended silence on this blog.

As for things Anglican, there is no joy in watching the Church of England fall apart under inept leadership and the pressures to conform doctrine to the Zeitgeist -- so I do not write about those events; you may learn of them from the Anglican blogs linked on the right.

As for church matters in America, there is likewise a dearth of stories to write about, because here, too, the Zeitgeist has pretty much taken over. The Episcopal Church (USA) is not a church anymore: it has adopted (and will soon make permanent) a liturgy that is blasphemous. Nor is it Episcopal, since it is not led by any Bishop (in the sense of 1 Timothy 3) -- no such bishop worthy of Paul's description would ever have allowed any such liturgical error to take place. Protestantism in general has not fared well since Martin Luther proclaimed that every person of faith was his own priest, and needed no guidance in reading the Bible. 

As for politics in America, the less said at this point, the better. We have not been such a divided nation since the days leading up to the firing upon Fort Sumter.

What else, then, is there to write about that is worth reading? In the past during the nativity season, I have done my best to offer the fruits of the most recent research into the events surrounding the birth of our Lord, and I cannot improve upon those posts now. You will find them listed and linked here.

Until the new year, then: A blessed and joyful Christmas to all ye of good will!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Triumph of Injustice and Irresponsibility

In two orders mailed to the parties at the end of last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court announced the following rulings in the property dispute between Bishop Lawrence's Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church (USA) joined by its rump organization there:

A. The motion to recuse Justice Kaye Hearn from the case was denied unanimously by all five Justices, including Justice Hearn herself. (Two justices concurred in the denial, but wrote separate opinions stating their reasons.)

B. The motion to grant a rehearing in the case was denied by a tie vote of 2-2, because Justice Hearn, in an act of what can be described only as hit-and-run, recused herself from deciding that issue (as well as from acting further in the case).

If evidence were needed to demonstrate the fecklessness of the justices who are responsible for the mess the South Carolina Supreme Court has made of its church property law in this proceeding, the latest pair of rulings on the petitions would suffice, all on their own. Consider the following facts:

1. There was never any decision of a majority of the Court in the case. In five separately written opinions, only two Justices (including Justice Hearn, herself an Episcopalian) agreed on reversing the decision below in order to hand all of the disputed church property to the Episcopal Church and its Potemkin diocese in South Carolina. Two Justices agreed on letting the decision below stand, albeit for different reasons. And the fifth -- Chief Justice Beatty -- simply punted by saying he would enforce a Dennis Canon trust (but not for the reasons stated by Justices Hearn and Pleicones) only against those parishes who had "acceded" to the national canons. (Never mind that virtually no parish had ever done so since the Canon's adoption in 1979, or that any such involuntary trust would have to be revocable at will under South Carolina law.)

2. All five of the Justices misunderstood the motion to recuse Justice Kaye Hearn. They appear to have regarded it as wholly independent of the motion for a rehearing, when it was not. The reason is that granting the request for a rehearing would have accomplished the same things requested again in the motion to recuse: the Justices would have been able to decide the case anew. Their prior opinions would be replaced by any new ones written on rehearing, and Justice Hearn's prior opinion would no longer be of any account. But they treated the motion to recuse just one Justice as a request to do all these things independently of any rehearing, which makes no sense, and appeared to congratulate themselves on their unanimity in striking down a straw man.

3. Thus they each (including Justice Hearn herself!) ruled that the motion to recuse came too late, since the full Court had already rendered its non-decision in the case. The motion to recuse, however, was aimed only at her future participation in the case; the past is water under the bridge, and could be corrected, if at all, only by granting a rehearing. (For her part, Justice Hearn mooted the motion to recuse by announcing on her own that she would not participate in further proceedings in the case.)

4. But not before voting to deny the motion to recuse! (So she did not withdraw from all further matters in the case.) She waited until she could see which way the rehearing votes were going to fall on the part of the other four Justices, and then grandly announced she would recuse herself only from participating in the decision to grant rehearing.

5. The reason she could make that gesture is that when she saw that the Court would still be divided 2-2 on granting a rehearing, she knew that her participation in it would not make any difference to the outcome she wanted: a 2-2 tie vote operates to deny a pending motion just as much as does a 3-2 majority vote to deny it. Cynically, therefore, she could get away with appearing to be "noble" and no longer involved -- while ensuring by her recusal the outcome she wanted all along.

6. The great unanswered question in these shenanigans is only hinted at by Justice Kittredge, who states in his concurrence in the recusal order the following:
For the purpose of resolving the rehearing petitions, I requested that a fifth justice be appointed to fill the absence created by Justice Hearn's recusal so that a full Court could decide this matter of great importance. My request was rejected, which I find shocking. Under these circumstances, to disallow a full Court from considering the rehearing petitions is deeply troubling and, in my judgment, raises constitutional implications as the Court has blocked a fair and meaningful merits review of the rehearing petitions.
The question is: which Justice(s) voted or decided to deny the request to appoint a full five-person court? From the lack of any written ruling or order made upon Justice Kittredge's request, it would not appear that there was any vote taken. Instead, the decision appears to have been made by the Chief Justice, acting on his own authority. (A court rule that operates in the case of a recusal by a justice facing disciplinary charges gives the Chief Justice that duty, but it is mandatory -- he must name a replacement.)

But by what authority? I could find no rule of court that was directly applicable to the situation, but South Carolina has a statute which reads as follows:
SECTION 14-3-60. Procedure when justice cannot preside in cause; special justices.  
In case all or any of the justices of the Supreme Court shall be disqualified or be otherwise prevented from presiding in any cause, the court, or the justices thereof, shall certify the same to the Governor of the State, and he shall immediately commission specially the requisite number of men learned in the law for the trial and determination thereof.
Why, then, could not the Court have certified the lack of a full court to the Governor so that he could have named a replacement? Again, the language of the statute is mandatory: the Court has no discretion to ignore it. No wonder that Justice Kittredge is so shocked.

This mystery just adds to the bafflement of outside legal observers in trying to explain what is really going on inside the South Carolina Supreme Court. Whatever is going on is not pretty, and ought to be highly embarrassing to all members of the South Carolina bar. (Perhaps one of them will venture here to dispel our curiosity as to why the statute just quoted was not followed in this case. Is the reason that the word "presiding" in the statute is taken as referring only to cases when the Chief Justice is disqualified, as opposed to applying to any Justice who had been sitting on the case? But why would that be? In both cases, the Court is left with four justices who can divide evenly as they did in this case, so that a fifth justice to resolve the split is highly to be desired.)

In any event, the more outlandish this case gets with each successive month, the more it cries out for redress by some higher authority. The Episcopal Diocese says it is contemplating asking the United States Supreme Court to review what has now become an egregious denial of due process guaranteed by the federal constitution -- it has virtually no other alternative left to it.

For their part, the response of the ECUSA parties to these latest developments is downright macabre. Here is Bishop Skip Adams, speaking in a public statement issued after the two latest rulings:
We give thanks for the clarity that the State Supreme Court’s decision provides and we are grateful for the thoughtful and difficult work the justices have undertaken in this case. . . .
Clarity?? You give thanks, Bishop Adams, for the Court's clarity??? Could you, perhaps, try to be a little more clear in what you mean by that statement?

With Sophocles (Antigone, vs. 620-23), I can only say: τὸ κακὸν δοκεῖν ποτ᾽ ἐσθλὸν τῷδ᾽ ἔμμεν' ὅτῳ φρένας θεὸς ἄγει πρὸς ἄταν.