Indvidual Choice and the Church
Pro-choice, the Madison avenue euphemization for by the pro-abortion crowd is on some reflection an odd choice of terminology. The word “heresy” comes from the Greek hairesis (haireomai, “choose”), and means either a choice of beliefs or a faction of dissident believers. Pro-heresy might be an interesting alternative phrasing. Relabeling is in vogue these days, where it is common for those with the bully pulpit to recast the opponents and terms to favor their cause, which perhaps is why Mr Obama is trying to identify Mr Limbaugh as a conservative leader. If turnabout is fair play, perhaps recasting pro-choice as pro-heresy might help the pro-life cause within the liberal Christian community.
When making arguments one must consider one’s audience. When convincing a secular audience that one should rely on secular arguments, which is the primary place in which these arguments are taking place these days. If on the other hand, one is speaking to a Christian community, then Christian argument and theology should be used. Rarely however it seems to me does the pro-heresy community attempt to cast their arguments for abortion in the light of Christian tradition and theology. And for good reason … because Christian tradition and theology has stood against abortion for almost 2 millenia.
Rowan Williams in a book written in the 1980s about Arius and St. Athanasius took a slightly different tack on the question of the Arian heresy than is usually taken. The most common approaches to the Arian heresy attack Arius and his beliefs about the nature of Jesus nature on theological (Trinitarian) grounds taken from Scriptural exegesis. However, Williams suggested that St. Athanasius argument was based as much on rhetoric and reason as it was on his methods. Arius was a charismatic speaker and had a fervent following. He wrote hymns that were popular and memorable. But St. Athanasius argued was based not just on theology but methodology. He argued that Arius as a charismatic leader teaching new doctrines was wrong because he didn’t put his ideas to the correct tests. He didn’t put those teachings to discussion, council, and global acceptance before teaching them to his followers, which is the method for introducing theological innovation which Athanasius thought correct.
After (and perhaps before) St. Athanasius these methods for introducing held sway, and still hold sway outside of the Protestant denominations (which arguably today use Arian methods to establish theological matters) and arguably the Roman church also yields authority one Bishop (the pope) which should be exercised conciliarly. The seven ecumenical councils were the epitome of these methods. Debate, prayer, dialectic and discussion worked at issues until they were brought to council. Bishops met and worked out their best understanding of matters. Yet the matter was not really decided there. For the last important step remained. That which was decided in council and accepted by the Church at large was viewed as a true understand of Christ’s will. The council was not the final authority … the Church take as a whole was.
Recently I’ve argued that Christian ethics is not virtue based, deontological, or consequential, but pneumatological. How is this supposed to work? Well, ethics in a pneumatological meta-ethical system would depend on Spirit to guide one’s ethics. Revelation and inspiration (consider the etymology of inspire as well) guide a pneumatological ethics. However, the adversary is active and what one takes to be inspiration of the Spirit might not be what you think it was. Therefore a mechanism is needed in order to come to a decision whether one’s inspiration/revelation was false, from the wrong source, or true. St. John Cassian (Conferences) and the arguments of St. Athanasius noted above would indicate that Church and the Christian community are the sounding board by which revelation is to be judged. It is also to be noted, that in the absence of inspiration for one’s particular ethical question … the inspiration and conclusions of others facing the same situation is to be taken as normative.
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