mercoledì, ottobre 21, 2009

I'll see you in a receptacle where the stunted may become strong and the perverted be restored, motherfucker

This account of metaphysical bureacracy and the defeat of Satan Himself in the highest court of English law is sourced from 'The New Harrowing of Hell' chapter from Derek Jarrett's The Sleep of Reason.

According to Anglican doctrine, hell froze over in 1864 and the Devil lost his groove in 1876. A couple of court cases did the trick, one of them featuring a priest who'd been a bit too nice in his thinking, and another featuring a man who wanted to take Communion despite his lack of belief in the Devil.

It started in a sense with Charles Darwin, or rather with geology and the necessity of acknowledging that the world was rather older than the Bible suggested. Essays and Reviews was published some time thereafter and went a ways to reconciling Christian faith with the new discoveries, but in a way many people thought was heretical. And the objections to it weren't all about the new science; some were about a new compassion.

For example, Henry Bristow Wilson, one of the contributing priests, had offered what Jarrett calls the 'kindly and comparatively harmless suggestion' that, rather than counting on the existence of Hell and eternal damnation for the naughty, '"we must entertain the hope that there shall be found, after the great adjucation, receptacles where the stunted may become strong and the perverted be restored."' A less kindly church court found Wilson guilty of heterodoxy for the suggestion.

However, Wilson appealed to the secular Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (something like the Supreme Court) and was cleared, partly on the basis of the committee's finding that eternal punishment was not part of the teachings of the Church of England. "He dismissed Hell with costs, and took away from orthodox members of the Church of England their last hope of eternal damnation," snarked the Spectator of the lead judge.

The reaction of the Anglican clerical heirarchy was furious, and following a synod and lots of rough talk the Convocation sent out a letter to all the priests in the land explaining that they really, definitely believed in hell and instructing them to sign a statement to that effect.

But Hell officially ceased to exist as a definite Anglican reality in the House of Lords on Friday July 15 1864 when Lord Houghton, esrtwhile suitor of Florence Nightingale and prodiguous pornography collector, pressed the issue by asking if the Convocation had had the right to send out a letter about how they all believed hell really, definitely existed and telling priests to sign it, whereupon the Lord Chancellor (head of the British judiciary until 2005) bitched that the Convocation was a futile, ridiculous body that had been suspended for its troublesomeness for a century and would be suspended again if it persisted in its hell-raising ways.

And the Anglican Church, whose highest echelon of authority is the political class, had to listen. State religion, baby; making the secular rulers of England the spiritual rulers as well was good for something besides letting Henry VIII stick his dick in Anne Boleyn with a clear conscience. Of course many Anglicans, lay and clerk, continued to insist hell was real and the world was heading there in a handbasket, but the dogmatic tide was against them.

In 1876 the Privy Council overturned another church council decision supporting a priest who had refused one Henry Jenkins communion on the basis of Jenkin's disbelief in the Devil, on the basis that belief in the Devil was not part of Anglican doctrine. The Devil - at least as far as Anglicans are concerned - disappeared in a puff of legal papers, with the unfortunate side effect that just under 120 years later Kevin Spacey managed to convince a generation of movie-goers he could act really well by delivering the line 'the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist' in the Usual Suspects.

Of course popular perceptions took much longer to change, with priests and parents continuing to use images of hell and the Devil to scare the fucking bejeebus out of their charges for decades and decades to come. But here we are some 150 years later, and Anglicans are finally complete fucking milksops about that sort of shit, and power to them.

So if all it took was a couple of court cases and a century and a half to get Anglicans to shut the fuck up about hell and the Devil, I wonder how long it will take them to shut the fuck up about how they're not comfortable with the ordination of women.

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