The Truth is Unknowable

Fellow Palm Beacher George Conger has written a fascinating summary of the 2008 Lambeth Conference in his article The Hollow Men: Lambeth 2008, What Happened And Why.

In the course of this, he focused on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ own consistent philosophy of religion:

Dr. Williams is a consistent thinker. Since his enthronement he has not deviated from the intellectual and theological principles that have guided his academic writings. Paramount among these is the belief that truth is unknowable. Certainty lies only with those who lack critical self-awareness: “For the fundamentalist, the will of God is clearly ascertainable for all situations, either through the plain words of scripture (as received in a particular but unacknowledged convention of reading) or with the aid of supernatural direct prompting: Christian revelation is there to offer clear and important information – how to be right,” he asserted in his 1994 book Open to Judgment (OTJ, p. 221).

When God does illumine us, “when God’s light breaks on my darkness,” he stated, “the first thing I know is that I don’t know – and never did” (OTJ, p. 120).

This denial of certainty is what the reign of Christ over us means: “Christ’s is the kingship of a riddler, the one who makes us strangers to what we think we know” (OTJ, p.131).

For Dr. Williams, theology does not reveal God; it reveals that there is no revelation, no single knowable truth. He who claims possession of the truth, and uses it to exclude others from the fellowship of the church, shows by his very actions that the truth is not in him.

That kind of thinking–that God, and the truth, are ultimately unknowable–is a throwback to a lot of the liberalism that I was presented with growing up in TEC.  It is a big step beyond the admission that God is infinite and that we as people don’t have the capacity to understand everything.  Buttressed by Higher Criticism, it was and is the religion of endless doubt and searching without resolution.

The result isn’t too hard to predict–people left a church with no answers and no definite position in droves.

Unfortunately, Williams makes himself an anachronism, even to the TEC liberals.  Washington Bishop John Chane is more certain of his own position in this post-Lambeth wrap:

WRITING IN his diocesan newspaper upon his return to Washington, leading liberal Bishop John Chane was not sanguine about the Communion’s future prospects, either, and defended his decision not to honor the moratoria.

In his attempts to be non-partial, Dr. Williams had favored the right, Bishop Chane charged. “There was far too much recognition of those who chose not to participate in this Lambeth Conference and far too little recognition of those bishops who chose to come,” he contended. Moreover, homosexuals continued to be a scapegoat for the Communion’s troubles. “Blaming the least among us continues to divert our attention away from the issues that threaten the very existence of humankind and the environmental health of our planet,” he wrote.

“I for one will not ask for any more sacrifices to be made by persons in our church who have been made outcasts because of their sexual orientation,” Chane said. “The Anglican Communion must face the hard truth that when we scapegoat and victimize one group of people in the church, all of us become victims of our own prejudice and sinfulness.”

Williams is finding that his liberalism is being left behind, both by the conservatives from the Global South (with their North American allies) and their left-wing opponents.  His position may be consistent, but it is untenable.

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