January 5, 2005

How, Not Why

In some discussion on the Titusonenine blog concerning my note on Bishop Howe’s proposal, it became clearer to me something of what separates the world view of this particular “reappraiser” from that of many of the “reasserters.” This is the larger question of what constitutes “authority.” I’ve seen this reflected in the reasserters’ blog postings in a concern for “credentials” and in the tendency to collate citations, or lists of critics who agree with ones position (ignoring all those that don’t) and then consider the matter closed. Neither of these actually go to prove or disprove a point, they merely add voices to the debate. As one who believes in objective truth, I would affirm that an idea is right and true (or wrong and false) not on the basis of who says it or who believes it, but on its own standard.

One of the reasserters challenged my citing Aquinas on this matter while not accepting his authority on sexual morality. This reflects a misunderstanding of my intent: when I cite someone like Aquinas or Hooker, it is not to “prove” a point on the basis of his “authority” - it is rather for one or both of two reasons:

1) to demonstrate (contrary to an allegation or assumption explicit or implicit in the discussion) that this particular point of view is articulated in the tradition (which is a matter of precedent, which is not binding, but may be persuasive), or

2) because it is said particularly well or clearly.

Neither of these bears authority to my mind. Many things have been said in the tradition that were later found to be mistaken, and the mere compilation of a list of statements agreeable to ones position proves nothing. It does go to show that you are not alone, but it does not prove you to be correct.

Finally, in case anyone is confused: I am not objecting to the substance of Bishop Howe’s proposal but its form: the House of Bishops has no authority to impose a “moratorium” but it does have the authority to ask its members to refrain from a given action. I admire Bishop Howe’s whole charitable and open approach, which I wish more would emulate.

1 comment:

Sarah Dylan Breuer said...

So you're a poet, priest ... and blogger!

Glad to find you in the blogosphere! I've loved your posts on the Bishops-Deputies list, and hope to find more of your thoughts here. You're linked from my blog!