Anglo-Catholic Cultural Criticism

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The terms Anglo-Catholic and Anglo-Catholicism are broad descriptions of people, groups, ideas, and practices that emphasize those dogmatic and sacramental aspects of the Church of England that promote continuity with Catholic tradition. Anglo-Catholicism formally began in 1833 with the Oxford Movement reaction to extreme liberal and conservative innovations of the Church of England, as argued most prominently in Tracts for the Times, eighty-eight pamphlets issued in five bound volumes (1834–1840), written by John Henry Newman, Edward B. Pusey, John Keble, and several others. Following is a brief discussion of several selected forerunners and heirs of Anglo-Catholicism, all who were and are important critics and interpreters of the culture of science in their time.

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was one of the keenest satirists and greatest masters of prose style that English literature has produced. His most famous work, Gulliver's Travels (1726), was a bitter satire of the politics and social attitudes of his day, and in Part One, "A Voyage to Lilliput," he satirized abstract science or technology. He was not opposed to science and scientific experimentation if it was benevolent, but he warned about putting too much faith in science, as he lived in an age when much that passed for science was pseudo-science, perpetrated by impostors. He was before his time in realizing that science could be put to evil as well as good use. Swift often painted science in a good light in Gulliver's Travels, as when Gulliver studies "Physick" at a renowned medical school, when he enthusiastically reports the scientific discoveries he encounters, and when he gives word of the discovery of the two moons of Mars by Laputan observers, 150 years before they were actually discovered in 1877. His attitude was in contrast to many critics of his day, who saw science as promoting intellectual arrogance which could lead a person away from God, and as a philosophy which would likely end in pure materialism.

John Henry Newman (1801–1890) was the Anglican, later Roman Catholic, theologian and churchman who was one of the chief founders of the Oxford Movement. Newman's views about the science of his day were decidedly pessimistic. He avoided the meeting of the British Academy for the Advancement of Science in 1832 because of its interests in theology, and also shunned later meetings of the British Association. He suggested that a person with simple faith had an advantage over an academic or scientist, particularly if the latter did not temper their empirical observations with proper moral quality and regard for faith. In An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870), Newman called attention to the faulty psychological presumptions of many scientific claims, with a specific reference to the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. In Letters and Diaries (published posthumously in 1961), he voiced his indignation toward scientists who gave public talks on subjects other than their own.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936) was a convert to Roman Catholicism, social critic, Christian apologist, novelist, and popular speaker. As an apologist for the Catholic Church, Chesterton believed the Church to be a living institution, a meeting place for all truth, including science. But he was opposed to scientism, naturalistic science that left no room for metaphysical truth. The popularizers of science in his day (Thomas H. Huxley, H. G. Wells, and others) attacked religion openly, and statements about science as a new religion had become common in intellectual circles. Chesterton pointed out in such works as All Things Considered (1908) that scientists, in claiming to have no room for ultimate authority, violated their own rational-empirical methods by making dogmatic pronouncements about religion and God based solely on their own authority. He was critical of evolutionary theory in works like Orthodoxy (1908), and The Everlasting Man (1925), and reserved some of his harshest words for eugenics (What's Wrong With the World [1910]), declaring it would primarily be used to oppress the poor.

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) was a noted Christian apologist, Dantean scholar, playwright, and detective novelist. Her most original work was The Mind of the Maker (1941), in which she examined the creative instinct in human beings and speculated that the capacity to create was a human quality that mirrored the character of God. In that work and in Begin Here (1940), Sayers used Trinitarian analogy in describing the human soul. Theology interprets God in nature, humanity, and Christ; philosophy strives to understand humanity and its place in the universe; and science attempts to understand nature and how it should function. She saw science primarily as the study of means and instruments, and believed it could not deal with ultimate values. For Sayers, a Christian humanist, science was one part of the human soul, and it was God who created its possibility. Her creative thought was a synthesis of empiricism, reason, and revelation, all placed in the human spirit by God.

E. F. Schumacher (1911–1977) was born in Germany and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the 1930s. From 1950 to 1970 he was an advisor to the British Coal Board, and his foresighted planning (he predicted the rise of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] and the problems of nuclear power) assisted Britain in its economic recovery from the war. A Roman Catholic convert, Schumacher's most famous work was Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered (1973), a blending of Christian principles and eastern belief systems (including those of Gandhi and Buddhism) that suggested for him an alternative to rampant accumulation and technology. He had the rare gift of being able to combine sound thinking with pragmatic common sense, and recognized that commitment to technology needed ethics to help give it balance in human affairs, as it had no natural controls or self-limitations. He understood the problem of expensive technology for underdeveloped nations, and proposed for them intermediate technology that was less efficient but employed more people and could be incorporated more easily into a poor culture. A Guide for the Perplexed (1977) extended his argument. Schumacher spent most of the latter part of his life teaching intermediacy and urging wealthy nations to share scientific advances and new technologies with less fortunate countries. His vision of intermediate technology and economics influenced the alternative technology movement in the developed countries and flourishes in the early twenty-first century in several countries in Africa and Asia.

E. L. Mascall (1905–1993) was a mathematically trained Anglican priest and for many years Lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, and Professor of Historical Theology at King's College, London. Mascall argued in his The Openness of Being (1971) that the natural world reveals the presence of God, who is creator and sustainer. In this and other works such as Christian Theology and Natural Science (1956), he contended that the scientist should consider the idea that one does not start with the world and end up with God, but that God and the world can be perceived together in reality. In The Secularization of Christianity (1966), he praised those who argued that Christianity and science are compatible, and that scientific achievement only made sense when combined with a study of Christian doctrine. In The Christian Universe (1966), he deplored the decay of belief in God in his time, and urged his readers to see their vast world in light of the great creeds of Christendom.

John Polkinghorne (b. 1930) was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge and President of Queen's College, Cambridge until his retirement in 1997. A significant contributor in the dialogue between science and religion, his autobiography, The Faith of a Physicist (1994), was a best-seller. Polkinghorne is a rare combination of a working scientist and Christian apologist. In several of his works, including The Way the World Is (1983), and Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998), he initiates a place for natural theology (knowing God through reason and experience alone) in apologetics and theology. For Polkinghorne, natural theology is perhaps the crucial connection between the world of science and religion, and he asserts that one of the most important achievements of modern science has been its demonstration of a natural balance and ordering of the world. This leads him to ask in several of his works, where the balance and ordering of the world comes from.


SEE ALSO Christian Perspectives: Historical Traditions; Lewis, C. S.; Tolkien, J. R. R.


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