Wednesday, July 25, 2007


In relatively recent times professionals, those who practise a profession, were held in high regard. They were seen as persons worthy of respect, not the least of which was, they did what they without regard to the money benefit.

All of this is derived from the historic English idea of a profession as an activity worthy of being done by a gentleman. Doctors, Barristers, Church of England Clergymen, University professors, and military officers were all professionals. Every other occupation was not a profession.

Today of course professionals are those who achieve a certain level of specialized education and the entry to which is controlled by the already existing professionals. Which makes, in a certain sense, plumbers professionals, except that no one thinks that they are.

I'm an attorney, so therefor I'm a professional. I'm expected, jokes aside, to adhere to a certain level of ethical conduct. I'm expected to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Most of my fellow attorneys do that successfully. We examine our conduct continuously to make sure that we are doing as we ought to do.

Priests are supposed to be professionals as well. which makes the stories of Bill Melnyk and Ann Redding so shocking. Mr. Melnyk eventually recognized the contradictions in his position. Ms. Redding has not yet done so. But these are symptoms of a much larger trend.

Attorneys are not required to believe in anything. We are required to act in certain ways and to refrain from acting in others. Priests aren't really required to do anything. They are required to refrain from the usual litany of crimes and offenses common to all professionals. They are also required to hold certain beliefs and to teach those and not to teach beliefs contrary to them.

One of the troubling things about the modern church is how words are continuously redefined. So that the Resurrection isn't really a resurrection at all. The Bible can be downgraded to a book of fairy tales because we didn't need to be saved after all. Salvation being a null term, and the Bible being a null book, it still contains all things necessary for salvation.

If there's one thing lawyers are criticized for, it's that we manipulate language. I would never dare do to my rules what the Episcopal clergy have done with theirs. I'd be disbarred in a heart beat. Bill Clinton was disbarred for lying to a judge. Most attorneys I know, and most of the attorneys I know are Democrats, agree with that decision. But priests can and do knowingly give Communion to unbaptized persons. They marry persons, who by the rules of the Church, may not be married.

The Episcopal Church no longer has a professional clergy. They do not enforce the rules that they themselves have laid down.

While they may still speak in terms of having a calling, it's become clear to me that what they really have is a job. There's nothing wrong with having a job. Absent inherited wealth, it's a necessity for most of us. And there's a genuine reward in doing your job well. But there's nothing noble about having a job. There's nothing worthy of note. Or respect.

And that's whats absent from the modern clergy. They are not worthy of our respect. They know that a sizeable minority of their parishioners, or former parishioners, do not respect them. I doubt that most of them know the reason why. But I think a few of them are beginning to realize it.

Respect is not given. Respect is not automatic. Respect is earned. We respect the military officer because we recognize that he is doing a necessary and inherently dangerous job, for non-monetary reasons, and after some fairly difficult training. Not everyone gets to be an Air Force pilot. And they do what they do not just for themselves, but also for the rest of us. They adhere to a code of conduct that requires the highest level of self-sacrifice imaginable.

We respect doctors because of their arduous training and lengthy apprenticeship. Not everyone gets to be a doctor. The Hippocratic Oath is the most famous professional code of conduct in the world. If you look at a doctor's earnings over their lifetime, it's obvious that they did not get into just for the money.

The priest doesn't have an especially difficult or challenging job. It is almost never dangerous. And it appears that very little is required of them in the way of behaviour. The hours require one to work on Sundays, but the rest of the week can be as full or empty as desired. There isn't a lot of money in the priest business, but there isn't much demanded by way of training either. To be blunt, seminary isn't especially hard. That some people find it difficult speaks more to the intellectual qualities of those that get sent there rather than to the inherent challenge of the materials to be learned (I'm not calling the clergy of today stupid, just mediocre).

Priests are trained in some counseling skills, a little theological history, some Greek or possibly Hebrew and a lot of nonsense. It takes three years to do the coursework. There's also some work experience required in the form of a one year diaconate. None of this is especially hard. I noticed this back when I was in college. The African students at Sewanee were head and shoulders above their classmates at the seminary. The run of the mill seminary student didn't know himself and did not know how to think. Critical thinking is not taught at seminary, which is shocking given that contemporary theology is supposed to be based upon a re-appraisal of the basic Church beliefs.

I've had my opinion of the low level of intellectual quality of contemporary Episcopal thought since college. But I've refrained from articulating it because I'm aware, well aware of the snobbishness that philosophers feel towards theologians. There's not a philosopher alive that doesn't believe that his peers in the religion department may be nice people, but they aren't terribly swift. My readings of Roman Catholic and Jewish theologians have shown me that in their case, that isn't true. But Episcopal theology bears out the stereotype. Our clergy isn't terribly bright.

Which brings me back to professionals again. Every other occupation that claims to be a profession requires intelligence. College professors are famously brainy as a rule. Doctors are as well. CPA's and attorneys are. But priests aren't. We select them on the basis of personality, not intelligence. And not on their ability to think.

I know what the problem is, I just wish I knew what the solution is as well. I can't go to a church or belong to a Church where the priests aren't worthy of respect. Currently the priests are demanding respect be given automatically because of their job and they aren't willing, as a rule, to earn it. Because of that, absent a sea change, I don't see the Episcopal Church reviving.

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