Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Five lessons about Normation

I use the word "normation" to describe the process whereby one religious tradition asserts its superiority over others, particularly laying claim to being "the" orthodox tradition, while others are considered to be lesser, defective, or downright errant.

What lessons about normation might we be able to learn from the most recent declaration by the Vatican and the reinstatement of the Catholic Latin Mass?

1. What is written as normative by one religious group does not reflect the religious reality. In this case, the written declaration of the Catholic Church uses language of superiority, describing other forms of Christianity in deviant and "lesser" terms. But the fact is that other forms of Christianity do not consider themselves to be deviant or lesser, nor do all Catholics themselves think along these lines. Because one group describes another group as thus-and-so does not mean that the other group is thus-and-so.

2. Normative posturing in religion is successful because of its appeals to authority, appeals which are meaningful to certain parties, but do not reflect the fact that other parties have their own equally successful appeals. In this case, the appeals from the Vatican come in two ways: Roman successorship of the Pope (Petrine authority), and apostolic succession (our tradition is a continuation of the tradition that has been handed down from the twelve apostles).

3. Normative declarations result in confusion and offense. Need I say more?

4. There is always response to normative posturing (although in the ancient world this may not always be captured in the literature). Typical responses include outrage, anger, insult, defensiveness and questions like why would you say this about me? My religious views are just as good as yours if not better.

5. The group that is norming will then consolidate its position, sometimes adjusting its previous position, sometimes intensifying it.

5 comments: said...

As a child I was baptised and confirmed Anglican. As a teenager, I was pursuaded by some nice American guys to join the only 'true' church, called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Then as a student I was converted and became a 'true' Christian. For several years I went to a Plymouth Brethren Church. They were sure they were the nearest in practice to the New Testament. Subsequently I joined an Independent Evangelical Church and later a Baptist Church. So I have been a member of five denominations which have all laid claim to being 'normative' in one way or another. I used to believe that there was at least some concensus of what was 'normative' in the protestant churches, and even believed that the 'true church' consisted of all believers in Jesus regardless of denomination. One minister of the Baptist Church I attended had some ideas that were completely foreign to what I had previously thought were fundamental or 'normative'. Thanks to him, I realised that there was no such thing as 'normative' in relation to Christian church practice or theology.

John Lyons said...

Hi April,

Would you be happy to apply this model to academic traditions as well as to religious traditions? If so, is this a game everyone plays, or just specific groups?

Best wishes,


Jared Calaway said...

Certainly some sort of game theory applies to Academia! said...

Academia IS the main source of 'normative' theological games. A Southern Baptist pastor could say: "I knew nothing among you except Christ and him according to Bultmann and Zwingli." Or in the Baptist church I attend (to support my wife), a previous pastor could have said: "I knew nothing among you except Jesus and him according to David Pawson and the Normal Christian Birth (Pawson's book). Is the Catholic Church under Ratzinger now 'normative'? The orality of academics and their pupils has been a continuous source of defining the 'normative'. But you mustn't tell that to those down there in the pews. said...

A modern example of oral variation in academia is illustrated by Michael Bird's: What's at Stake in the Pistis Christou Debate?

Has it taken 2000 years for scholars to decide if it is 'faith in Jesus' or 'Jesus'faith' that saves? No doubt scholars have differing views as to what is 'normative'.

Bird quotes a passage from Romans in Full Circle by Mark Reasoner. In that passage it appears that Reasoner is in favour of the idea that it is Christ's faith that saves. And that if this view is promoted, according to Reasoner: "we will begin to read Paul's gospel not as primarily based around the dichotomy of works and faith, which both have a human subject, but rather as a dichotomy between law and Christ."

It is my view that the original dichotomy of Romans was between the law and the Spirit. The question was: did you obey the law that did not cleanse, or did you obey the Spirit that you heard and did cleanse when you obeyed and received it?

Reasoner goes on:"this view of pistis Christou moves students of Paul's letters to see that justification by faith is part of a bigger theme in Paul, participation in Christ."

Again in my view, the earliest 'Christians' saw themselves not as being 'in Christ' but 'in the Spirit'. In effect, the Spirit of God was viewed as something like a fluid in which one could be immersed. The rising smoke from burning incense in the sanctuary is one example. Ancient prophets probably regarded clouds as God's Spirit that sent rain when the heavens opened.