Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Shrill and contradictory

The New Puritans: The Rise of Fundamentalism in the Sydney Anglican Church by Muriel Porter

This book is a critique of Sydney Anglicanism. It is written in rather a shrill tone, and Porter makes no attempt to be objective (p. 6), or even fair: if she misrepresents her opponents, it is their fault for being unclear (p 7).

As the title suggests, Porter argues that the doctrine and approach of the Sydney Anglicans is a form of Puritanism. She note that they emphasise the Bible, and want to reform church practice along Scriptural lines. This causes them to jettison cherished practices (such as the wearing of vestments) as well as reject new things like the ordination of women.

And this is the strange thing about this book. One moment the Sydney Anglicans are criticized for being reactionaries who are breaking with historic Anglicanism, the next moment they are taken to task for living in the past. One is reminded of G. K. Chesterton's comments in Orthodoxy (though it must be said that Chesterton was no friend of the Puritans himself):
Suppose we heard an unknown man spoken of by many men. Suppose we were puzzled to hear that some men said he was too tall and some too short... One explanation (as has been already admitted) would be that he might be an odd shape. But there is another explanation. He might be the right shape. Outrageously tall men might feel him to be short. Very short men might feel him to be tall.
And like the critics that Chesterton talks about, Porter does not mind contradicting herself. Without any awareness of the irony involved, she writes against those who "want to turn the clock back" and on the very same page (p. 8) says that she writes the book "in loving memory of the vibrant mainstream Anglicanism of the Sydney Diocese of my childhood, my first spiritual home, which is now well and truly buried."

Or to take another example, Porter appeals to the "openness characteristic of historic Anglicanism" (p. 4) but then dismisses the 39 Articles as "the product of compromise" (p. 16).

But the most disappointing thing about this book are the insinuations. Porter is quite willing to insinuate baseless allegations by asking loaded questions (pp. 37 and 126). This really is a dreadful book. Porter obviously has the cause of women's ordination close to her heart, but she has done this cause no favours by writing this volume.

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