God causes pain

The Church of England was founded in crisis, and it seems determined to continue this tradition with its recent decision to reject women bishops. Its fondness for muddle, however, must be seen in a deeper historical context. At the intellectual heart of the Reformation, for example, was the ultimate muddle, the crise pyrrhonienne, which “had overwhelmed man’s quest for certainty in both religious and scientific knowledge” (Popkin 1979:109).

Much of the energy of the Reformation was marshalling intellectual forces against the crise pyrrhonienne. Christians — both Catholics and Protestants — had a great deal vested in their particular kinds of certainty, and couldn’t afford to allow doubt too many inroads. Naturally, they fought back, and the “quest for absolute assurance about religious truths” (108) led eventually to the supposedly invulnerable Cartesian cogito, the criterion of truth, which for Descartes was “the connecting link between the ideas in our minds and objective reality” and, finally, the link between us and God (186):

Descartes has created a structure which will ultimately support our knowledge of nature, but only after reinforcing our inner certainty by attaching it to the Divine Will. The omnipotent Deity must be made the final basis for guaranteeing our certitude.

It’s one thing to read about the epistemic role of the divine will in the context of 17th-century Counter-Reformation philosophy, quite another to come across Canon Rosie Harper, speaking in 2012 on the Sunday programme (25.11.12), and making reference to the will of God:

It’s very, very hard not to take it personally. It feels like a vote which unequivocally says that women are not equal. And I know people against will say no, no, no, that is not the case, but the point of synod is to discern the will of God, and synod has said, God doesn’t think you should be equal and that’s pretty painful to hear actually.

Painful to hear what God thinks? Surely, Christians should rejoice once they have discerned the will of God? Not only do they know what to do, they have an absolute epistemic warrant.

I included another quote from Harper at the end of Refusal to admit reality, and the credibility point made in that post is worth making again: it’s not the church’s rejection of women bishops that drains credibility, but beliefs such as synod being capable of discerning the will of God that will make any sensible person take a step back from religion.

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