These are the Signs: Removing the Chapels from our Chapels

Sigh. I guess these are signs of the times, so to speak. Officials at the College of William and Mary have recently removed the cross from the ancient (by American standards) Wren chapel at the once Anglican, now "non-denominatonal" college. They cited the various "non-religious" ceremonies held in the chapel, as well as the need for being "inclusive" of other faiths.

Of course, the shape of the building, the position of the pulpit, choir stalls, and altar all have specifically Christian theological and historical significance, as does a cross. So if they really wanted the chapel to be totally "free" of all Christian symbolism (for the sake of welcoming all faiths) then they would have to remove the chapel from the chapel (and stop calling it by that name with a specifically Christian connection), and build something uglier (and no doubt much more "relevent") in its place. But then this would defeat the purpose of even having a chapel to begin with, wouldn't it? Perhaps the College will be lucky and no one will ask why they even have a chapel to begin with since this will raise the thorny question of historical and corporate identity: Who are we? What are we about? And such questions are troublesome in our glorious new age.

I have long argued that "inclusivity" as a principle has no content (the moment any distinctive content were embraced, then the opposite would naturally be excluded) and therefore if inclusivity is made the highest principle it necessarily destroys the distinctive identity (which must have some content) of the institution or people that has adopted the "inclusive" principle. Only an empty void is absolutely inclusive.

I am in favor of being welcoming or including people, but doing so on the terms of my own identity. For example, if I wanted to welcome outsiders into my house I would not therefore remove everything about my house that was distinctive to my family in order to minimize the reality that the outsider is just that - an outsider. To do so would have defeated my object since it would no longer by MY house into which he had been welcomed, but something else. This is why I cringe every time I hear mindless and uncritical espoussal of all the glories of "inclusivity" in the abstract. (This is also related to my strong dis-like of The United Methodist Church's "motto" of "Open hearts, minds, and doors" about which I will comment later).

I hope nobody thinks that I am only annoyed by the William and Mary officials (their decision may simply reflect the sad reality of our situation). After all, I suspect that if that chapel were still filled with young people singing the Te Deum Laudemus at the top of their lungs every day at morning prayer (that is, if the church had been doing its job), the secularization of William and Mary never would have come this far.

But this is event is almost a parable illustrating the cultural crisis that Western Civilization has descended into. We are tearing down our cultural heritage, giving all those things that give distinction to our civilization in exchange for...nothing. And "everything." Because of course to embrace simply everything is the same thing as to embrace nothing at all. This is what happens when we adopt "inclusivity" as a (necessarily) totally unrestricted and all-important ideal.

We (the West) bought into post-Enlightenment secularism. When it failed to deliver we opted for some kind of semi-Post-modern pluralism that tries to gloss over contradictions with sentiment and avoids taking hard-and-fast positions on prinicple. But in practice this cannot work, neither in the Church nor in the civil community. Someone once wisely said that the exaltation of the "virtue" of complete tolerance represents a loss of faith in our ability to come to real and substantive agreement on basic prinicples. But "if we be not agreed, how then shall we walk together?" We are walking in different directions. I think the foundation of our life together, our political order, our very civilization must be located somewhere, as opposed to "everywhere." The question becomes "where?" and "why there?"

"We Praise you O God. We acclaim you as Lord..." - Te Deum Laudemus
(see United Methodist Hymnal #80; The Book of Common Prayer p. 96)

11/16/06 Update: I have just recieved an email from a student/alumni group at William and Mary interested in reversing this decision. I do not know much at all about this group, but you can learn more at: http://savethewrencross.org/. Also I discovered a hilarious cartoon-commentary on this whole issue.

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