Friday, April 06, 2007

Anathema Sit

I don't know how I got to thinking about this.

Dogs and Firefly and Bishops

A while back Vincent Baker wrote a bit on about using the Dogs In the Vineyard rules to play a game set in the Firefly universe. To the question of "what happens to the Dogs' function of judging things as sinful?" he answered that the crew of the Firefly have to ultimately make the decision to participate in a (usually criminal) enterprise or not, and whose side to take if they do participate, and that is the same decision that the Dogs make when they make judgements of sin. "I will be a part of this. I countenance this" vs "I refuse to be a part of this. I do not countenance this" or even "I will stop this, at whatever cost."

I was just thinking, while washing dishes, that that equivalence between what seems to be an objective statement about morals or ethics, and an individual decision to take an individual stand with regard to someoene else's actions, shows up in other places.

I have a friend who was ordained a Bishop a year or three ago in an Independent Catholic line of succession, as part of her own personal endeavors to build a faith and perhaps a faith community that reflected religious truth as she understood it. Her own religious community, which was basically her and a few friends who agreed with her religiously to one degree or another, was an interweaving of Buddhist and Anglican rites and beliefs. She tried to make it fully orthodox Buddhist and fully orthodox Christian, in fact, with Mary understood as Kwan Yin. Anyway, the important bit is that some old friends of hers from way back, professors, husband and wife, who had been semi-parental figures to her in days gone by, refused to attend the ordination -- which was as important to my friend, as much a turning point in her life, as a marriage or a conversion and baptism! -- on the grounds that it was syncretistic and therefore *wrong*.

She was musing about this in her blog the other day and brought up just how hurtful and a betrayal that seemed to her, and wondered if she should still consider them friends.

Why? If they were simply informing her of what they saw as the moral and ethical facts of the matter, and behaving in what they saw as a morally correct manner, wasn't that something she should praise, while regretting their difference of opinion on the facts? Why did it hurt her personally, when it was about objective statements?

Because it was also an interpersonal act. It was "I do not countenance this. I will not be a part of this."

I wonder if that sort of thing is *ever* merely a statement of beliefs about impersonal metaphysical facts.

"This is sin."

Anathema Sit and Speech Acts

My mind moved back to the first centuries of Christianity, and the unfortunate business of condemning heretics and defining and enforcing dogmatic orthodoxy. The usual formula was: "If anyone says ___, let him be anathema." "Anathema sit" is the formula used in Latin, borrowing the Greek word to emphasize the connection with the Greek phrase "anathema esto" as found in Galatians 1:6-9:

"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed [anathema esto].
As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed [anathema esto]."

And also 1 Cor 16:22: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." (What "Maranatha" is doing there and what it means is a matter about which there has been some interesting misunderstandings over the centuries, which are only relevant here in that it was for a very long time believed that calling someone "Anathema Maranatha" was an especially terrible curse, and it was used as a formula of excommunication.)

Returning from digressions and searches of Greek New Testaments online -- the interesting thing about the Latin formula is that it's in the jussive subjunctive (Latin equivalent to the Greek 3rd person imperative "esto").

The jussive subjunctive is always used in direct "speech acts" or "performative utterances" which were written about by philosopher John L. Austin in his book "How To Do Things With Words." A "speech act" is an utterance which not only says something, but does something. Like agreeing, commanding, cursing, blessing, labeling, greeting, protesting, requesting. Speech acts do not merely state facts; when they do they state facts which come into existence only because of the speech act: "Do you take this man/woman as your lawful wedded wife/husband?" "I do." Performative utterances in English, in traditional, formal contexts, often contain the marker "hereby" -- "I hereby pronounce you man and wife."

That's why it's so interesting that the formula was "anathema *sit*/*esto*" and not "anathema *est*/*esti*". "Est" or "esti" would have been a statement of fact: "he is accursed." It would have had at least the superficial appearance of impersonality, of objective statement of facts in which the speaker has no direct involvement. "Oh, looks like it's going to rain today. Oh, and anyone who denies the Trinity is accursed."

"LET HIM BE ACCURSED!" That is an outright speech act, something the speaker is doing, something the speaker is involving himself with; an utterance which establishes the facts, not merely states the facts.

Those early Christians, following Paul's lead, had no illusions about their personal involvement in matters of judgement of sin.


For the past few years I've been interested in a school of thought about communication and personal interaction called "Nonviolent Communication" or "NVC." One of the basic procedures of NVC is reinterpretation of supposedly objective statements, which cause conflict and division, in terms of the personal involvement of the individuals involved.

In NVC, if you heard someone say something like "that is a sin!" you would work towards an acceptable reinterpretation of the statement in terms of the individual person's feelings and needs, hopes, wishes, and fears, and the choices they had made and wished to make with regards to other people. The idea is that these personal factors are always there, and you can choose to use language which exposes them, or language which ignores them, and the language which exposes them, so that they can be understood and respected and addressed, is more conducive to speaking peace in a world of conflict.

And it all comes together...

How do you translate Dogs to Firefly?

You just pay attention to the implicit, which remains the same, though it is implicit in *different things* in the two different settings.

That is all.