June 21, 2008

Thought for 06.21.08

What shall it profit you if you gain a whole world church at the cost of your true self?

It seems to me that the effort to transform the fellowship of autonomous national and provincial churches known as the Anglican Communion into some kind of centrally governed world church is placing more of a burden upon the existing structures than they can either bear or even bear with.

The real danger is that of Bovarism. Madame Bovary is probably the most misunderstood novel ever written — people see it as a kind of romance (and if one is to judge from the film adaptations, that is how it is almost universally played). But it is not a romance, rather an anti-romance: a study in the damage caused by romanticism. The "heroine" could have been perfectly happy in her life had she not filled her idle hours with reading romances, and imagining that this was what "love" was about. In fact, her ordinary life as the wife of a modest middle-class doctor could have been as loving as she was willing to make it. Instead, she embarks upon one failed and tawdry exercise after another, until at last even her suicide is botched -- instead of downing the swift and romantic cyanide she gobbles the nasty and corrosive arsenic; and even as she dies she is robbed of romantic death as the lyrics of a bawdy street song float through the window.

"Bovarism" is this tendency to live in a romanticized world, in which real joy is bypassed in exchange for an unattainable and impractical ideal; real joy is destroyed by romantic ambition.

The Anglican Communion can continue to function as it has — a bit disorganized, even dysfunctional, at times, yet still able to do much good. Or it can quest after becoming something it never need become, nor very likely can become.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

John 2007

Are there not overly romantic views of "inclusion" that percolate, from time to time, among the liberal-leaning Episcopal Church? It seems that way to me, often.

Ed said...

There's something amiss in your title: "What shall a profit you...." Should it be "it" profit you?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Ed, I've made the correction.

John 2007. No, I don't find the idea of inclusion in the least romantic. It means, among other things, putting up with those with whom one disagrees. It seems to me the idealists who want a purified church are the romantics. OCICBW.

June Butler said...

Tobias, I believe you have coined a new word. And it has nothing to do with cows, right? Now I learn that I could have had a happy 47 years with Grandpère, if I had not spent my time reading romances. If only I had known, I could have saved myself years of discontent.

Yesterday, I read Bishop Duncan's opening speech at GAFCON. (I can't even type the acronym without laughing, but it is, indeed, no laughing matter.) They search for that nebulous golden age when the one true church of Jesus Christ manifested itself without ambiguity, and they appear to want to remake Anglicanism into its likeness. Or so it seems to me. OCICBW.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Great reference to Madame Bovary. I agree with you that romanticism is a dangerous force in this world. I wrote a post saying something similar about a month ago, although I applied it more to our individual walk with God rather than the Anglican Communion. (Here's the link on the off chance that you're interested.)

I think another of the forces driving this is nostalgia for a perceived simpler and more righteous time. A lot of people are infected by that one too.

susan s. said...

"OCICBW." Tobias

Even tho I read you often, I don't comment much because many times I feel inadequate to do so. But this entry is so to the point that I had to say thanks.

And, you are the most civil person I have encountered in a long time. :-)

Thanks, Tobias.

Fran Wingate O'Gorman said...

I strongly agree with you Tobias. The fact that different opinions and interpretations are experienced within and yet everyone can rise above them, respect the differences, and still work and worship together is, I suppose, an ideal (and obviously not always realized) but the reality of it is that it is hard work in any case.

Fran said...

This is very thought provoking - Bovarism, I like that.

Thank you Tobias, I always leave here with questions and things to reflect upon.

The thing that strikes me is that the romanticism you describe just speaks - to me anyway - about how the Kingdom is now.

Ruminating on how it could be must in some way diminish what we live in the now.

Oh dear, am I starting to sound like Eckhart Tolle? (Not that there's anything wrong with that snicker snicker.) I am shutting up now and leaving with my provocative questions to ponder and my life to live.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I can take no credit for coining "Bovarism." As I recall, I first encountered it in Saturday Review article about the novel, I would guess a good forty years ago.

Let me also clarify that I have no beef with a bit of romanticism, or certainly idealism. (As a glass-half-full optimist I can certainly be accused of idealism from time to time.) It is only when the romance or the ideal become counterproductive, or detached from any connection to the goals the romance or the ideal are intended to foster, that problems arise. It then becomes deeply counter-productive and destructive to its own aims, rather than merely the messy state of things that we can all more or less live with.

Let me give one ecclesiastical example: liturgical revision is often claimed to advance and foster the growth of the church -- certain ideals drive this process (sometimes paradoxically, both relevance and historicity are cited) -- yet I have not noted an incredible growth in the worship of the church since the introduction of any number of revisions. I suppose there is a difference between idealism and ideology -- and it is the latter that seems more problematical, and less open to correction by being judged according to its success or failure.

In this current reflection, I was referring to the romance of the "church without disagreements" -- a church that never was, as far as I can see. Why, this morning's Matins reading from Acts 15 reminds us just how much portions of the early Christian movement were divided over the idea that the whole of the Jewish Law had to be maintained -- and some "traditionalists" kept insisting on their own way (as Galatians reveals) even after the leadership issued their compromise pronouncement after the Jerusalem Conference.

My concern in this reflection is to note that efforts to "heal" disagreements in Anglicanism -- in a quest for a more permanently peaceful church -- may produce an entity no longer recognizable as Anglican. Variety and Provinciality are cornerstones of Anglican reality, and identity, from the outset. Losing these for the sake of "peace" is rather like cutting down all of the trees to prevent a forest fire.

Craig said...


For a while I've been thinking that a better model for communion is perhaps 'Porvoo'. My fear is that any attempt to form a communion around a 'centre' will only result in a somewhat anaemic version of Rome.

Country Parson said...

I think there is such a thing as the romance of inclusiveness. I've seen it embodied it the heartfelt desire of some to open wide their warms of welcome expecting an onrush of the poor, afflicted and oppressed (by whatever definition) into the embrace of their love given in Jesus' name. That gesture, which seems so selfless from one side, is seen from the other as rude, arrogant, demeaning and lacking in knowledge and respect for the other. Romantic inclusiveness is a little like the process of reverse osmosis used to purify water. It allows all the good stuff to come into our world of welcoming inclusiveness while keeping out the contaminants. And it keeps us from having to enter into the contaminated world of the other. That kind of romantic inclusiveness is, to resurrect an old pejorative term, the world of the "liberal do-gooder."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

CP, I suppose we're talking about two different things. First off -- the concept of bovarism is not just about romanticism; it is about a particular form of romanticism that destroys the very thing is seeks to create.

Secondly, I don't think real inclusion is romantic. Yes, there certainly are those "liberal do-gooders" and "bleeding hearts" -- but I don't think they are being truly inclusive; in fact, they are patronizing, as you note. I would argue they are not really "inclusive" except "on their terms" -- which is to say, not really inclusive of "the other." To my mind that kind of "inclusion" is just a different species of puritanism. So if that's the kind of "inclusiveness" you're talking about, I agree with you; but then, I wouldn't call it inclusiveness. Gay and lesbian people have been on the receiving end of that form of "inclusion" : those GC resolutions that piously remind us that we are children of God while at the same time denying basic human rights. Perhaps that is a part of the filter mechanism; and certainly it is a problem of romanticism (as in thinking you can hate the sin but love the sinner) -- but I wouldn't call it inclusiveness. Perhaps this is a distinction too subtle to make; but I think it is important -- to some extent it is the difference between mere toleration and true inclusiveness. Some who practice the one can imagine they are engaging the other -- and that is a romantic problem, I agree.