Thursday, October 18, 2007

American Christianity, Christianity, Heresy, and the Church

Well The Winged Man and The Young Fogey have riffed on my post on Ann Coulter's comments on Judaism and Christianity. The Winged Man points out the semantic ambiguity of "Christianity" while the Young Fogey commends my catholic argument but takes issue with my use of Marcion in comparison to Coulter.. What my friends are here teasing out I think is a problem we have when attempting to sort this stuff out and how to discern whether Coulter or anyone else is speaking for (and here I have a problem do I say Church or Christian theology/faith) orthodox catholic theology. Somehow I doubt Coulter would really care.

Young Fogey questions my assertion that Marcion was Christian. In a sense I think it is safe to say that Marcion was a heretic, and not a Hindu, or pagan or Buddhist heretic but a Christian one. I wonder if Young Fogey is meaning that he thinks Coulter is closer to the truth than Marcion was. Which may be true, it may be true that Coulter is "more" Christian than Marcion. But this all begs the question of how do we tell. The term Christian doesn't really do the work we want it to. There may be no way out of this, except by doing something I think most Protestants don't want to do and that is find a way to speak about true Christian faith in ways that narrow the set of those who can claim to be in continuity with the faith that is centered on Jesus of Nazareth and the Apostles. Given that all Protestants of whatever stripe all have broken from one of the two main claimants to that narrower sense of continuity I can understand our hesitation to gain precision in this arena. My use of the world "heretic" in my post is intended to walk us down that road of precision. It was in response to evangelical bloggers seemingly rejoicing in Coulter's words as if she was some defender of the faith! On top of that was my realization that it wasn't enough to say that her remarks just weren't "Christian". I could see a number of people saying to me "Oh, really and who are we to believe you or Coulter?" After all clearly she believes her words are Christian, while I claim they are just a distortions of what has been the faith of the Church. But how is this something other than just to equally valid claims, or equally invalid for that matter.

Now many Protestants love the term "church" and it has equal ambiguity as "Christianity". The Church is in its most innocuous and useless theologically when it refers to all those who believe in Jesus Christ, (which I guess would include Marcion and Coulter as well as Latter Day Saints, and maybe even Muslims). Church can also mean those who truly believe in Jesus, that is in the right way: possibly by believing the correct set of doctrines. Yet, some of those doctrines may be heretical or at least can differ radically, when compared to say the creeds or the beliefs and practices of ancient orthodox and catholic Christians. Though it may just mean believing after having a certain type of experience of conversion. The problem with this term is that it lacks the concern for actual historical continuity of the faith. All you need is the Bible, an experience, and assent to Jesus being Lord and Savior and viola! your a Christian and a member of the body of Christ, the church. I agree with Young Fogey that this is probably where Coulter is at, at most she is answerable to the teaching of Jerry Fawell, but she wouldn't be answerable to ,may not even know to ask, St Ignatius of Antioch, or St Ireneaus of Lyon, or John Chrysostom, etc..

Somehow, my Lutheran Pietist upbringing and training in the faith schooled me in the sense that the Church was something continuous, that true Christian faith had to have some form of continuity with what came before all the way back to the apostles. It wasn't enough to claim to be Biblical, you had to show that you weren't just making stuff up whole cloth out of those Scriptures. Yet, no one could explain to me exactly how to show or discern this continuity that was more than our interpretations of Scripture. My father retreated to a perpetual search for the truth, admirable, but hardly going to convince a heretic who believes he or she is teaching the truth, while my father is ever on the search for it. In fairness my father does also believe that the church is something and that that truth is found in continuity with what has gone before, but the nature of the continuity is vague.

I am beginning to believe that the sorts of heresies we are encountering in the US emerge and our inability to name them as heresy, is due to a complete loss of the Church as something concrete, and the Christian faith of the Church as something definite. This loss was perhaps inevitable given that Protestantism simply encouraged ever greater fragmentation having separated from Rome seeking the completely purified and perfected Christianity(one should perhaps keep this in mind when thinking of Coulter's comments). American Christianity is a product of this, though we also see it all too often in ethnic expressions of both Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Also there is much evidence that there are RC and Orthodox who have ingested this heresy of American Christianity. As for the Orthodox from my reading I think both Schmemann and Meyendorff would agree with me here, both were critical of the longing for Byzantium and Christian Empire as well as the local Orthodox Church as ethnic enclave. I say this because what I am trying to puzzle through and emerge out of is a problem for all Christians in the States. Ann Coulter's words on Deutsch's show either caused rejoicing or scandal because we who claim to be members of Christ's Body are perhaps more members of elements of this world than we are truly members of the Church that was founded on the Apostles, our worldly allegiances are more important and we attempt to make Jesus, Christian Faith, and/or the Church place the stamp of authenticity upon those allegiances, when in fact the Church founded on Jesus Christ and the Apostles and in existence continually from the day of Pentecost, actually challenges those allegiances and identitties, and demands our first identity and allegiance be that of Christ.

I am still unsatisfied with what I am saying. Perhaps it is that it is difficult if impossible to say what I am saying as a Protestant and unconvincing when RC and Orthodox say it because they are so often similarly compromised. It is obvious to me that American Christianity and Ann Coulter are wrong and both espouse heresy. It is more difficult for me to speak that conviction coherently and without contradiction. Though I do think Marcion is the key not because of his Gnosticism (If he was a Gnostic), but because it is clear to me that Marcion was more aligned with his time than to the Church. He was more concerned with a culturally relevant and compatible faith than with a faith that could embrace foreign ideas found in Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. Thus his"truth" was more important than continuity with the teachings and faith of those who claimed to be in continuity with the Jewish Jesus Christ and Apostles. For so many in this country relevance and /or being American seems more important than whether either of those are compatible with a real spiritual/historical continuity with the faith passed down through the centuries from Jesus Christ and the Apostles. And that is a critique of both the Christian Right and Left in the States.