Who constitutes the church? A hypothesis on clericalism, factionalism, and mimetic rivalry

I’m still working through the issue of mimetic rivalry between clergy and laity. Part of what’s going on is certainly factionalism. But then I tried to figure out, okay, so who exactly are in the clericalist and anti-clericalist factions? There are clergy and laypeople on both sides.

(Updated to clarify: Just realized anti-clericalism might mean either anti-(clericalism) = ideology that is opposed to clericalism, or (anti-clerical)ism = ideology that is anti-clergy. In this post, I am referring to the latter meaning.)

And after a bit of brainstorming, this is what I wrote down:

The clericalism faction consists of:
clergy whose identity is constructed over against the laity, and
laity who identify as a member of the hierarchical church, whose desire is to conform themselves to Christ by obeying the clergy, as Christ obeyed the Father.

While the anti-clericalism faction consists of
laity whose identity is constructed over against the clergy, and
clergy who identify as a member of the baptized faithful, whose desire is to conform themselves Christ by ministering to the laity, as Christ ministered to others.

Does this sound plausible to you?

The latter group is operating, consciously or not, with a baptismal ecclesiology: the baptized faithful constitute the church, and the clergy have their proper role in it, and an associated proper manner in which they are to imitate Christ.

The former group is operating, consciously or not, with what by analogy I would have to call an ordinational ecclesiology: the ordained clergy constitute the church, and the laity have their proper role in it, and an associated proper manner in which they are to imitate Christ.

(I’m using “proper” here to mean primarily “particular”, but it certainly also has the connotation of “well-ordered.”)

What blows my mind about this is that, in both cases, there are people whose desire is sincerely ordered towards Christ… and in both cases, those people are not the ones whose position the faction privileges. The fact that I’ve written down descriptions that are mirror images of each other first blew my mind, then built my confidence: that’s exactly what mimetic theory would predict.

It’s also interesting that after starting out to analyze these differences in terms of mimetic desire, I ended up finding a difference in ecclesiology, via the understanding of church in which their identity is grounded. That’s a validating thing for a mimetic ecclesiology to do. 🙂

So, what do you think? Is this plausible? Do these descriptions sound like the clericalist and anti-clericalist people you know? (At least, when they are not caught up in the dynamics of bashing the other faction — that powerful dynamic would still overlay every actual or imaginative interaction with the other side.) I would seriously love feedback here.

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5 Responses to Who constitutes the church? A hypothesis on clericalism, factionalism, and mimetic rivalry

  1. Lauretta Nagel says:

    I am trying to wrap my mind around this line: “…in both cases, there are people whose desire is sincerely ordered towards Christ… and in both cases, those people are not the ones whose position the faction privileges.” and having a hard time with it. I know there are people motivated by power/control instead of love/service. I guess I need a concrete example. Or maybe I just answered my own question?

    • I think maybe “self-interest” is a more cautious way to say it. If I’m a priest, then for priests to be in charge is in my self-interest. If I’m a layperson, then for laypeople to be in charge is in my self interest. Whenever I’m invested in an idea or position that also “just happens” to benefit me, then my involvement in that position is automatically suspect, compared to the involvement of people who are invested in that position even though it does not benefit them.

      Also, I should say, the description above is almost certainly oversimplified. I think most people’s identities are quite complex and involve a whole cluster of desires received from a whole variety of models, and that different elements tend to be activated in different circumstances at different times. Participation (actual or imagined, live or virtual) in faction-related activities would activate the faction-related desires.

  2. Andrew says:

    “What blows my mind about this is that, in both cases, there are people whose desire is sincerely ordered towards Christ… and in both cases, those people are not the ones whose position the faction privileges. The fact that I’ve written down descriptions that are mirror images of each other first blew my mind, then built my confidence: that’s exactly what mimetic theory would predict.”

    What I like about the symmetry of this description is that it counteracts the natural tendency to pick one faction as the Good Guys, and to assume that the other faction is composed of exploiters and dupes (In fact, It took me a bit of conscious effort to break that frame, just so I could understand your point). There’s a passage in “The Screwtape Letters” about the relationship between high and low church Anglicism that allow reflects this mirror image concept, as I recall.

    • Thanks Andy, that is a nicely concise description of the dynamics of factionalism that I see occurring between the “left” and the “right” (for lack of better, less politically charged terms). In more specifically religious language, I tend to see discourse that implicitly or explicitly operates with a frame of “misguided at best, evil at worst.”

      I haven’t read Screwtape in too long to remember the passage you mention. (I read it in high school, and I confess what I mostly remember is the whining of the apprentice devil. 😉 )

  3. Andrew says:

    You mgiht be interested in this questionaire http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.htm
    Excerpt:
    “Which of the following best describes how and why you arrived at your present set of political opinions and political agenda?

    Logical appraisal of the evidence.
    Inherent qualities of my nature, character or intelligence.
    The effects of propaganda or upbringing.
    Pursuit of my agenda may result in personal advantage.

    Now answer the same question about why your political opponents hold the opinions/agendas they do.

    Logical appraisal of the evidence.
    Inherent qualities of their nature, character or intelligence.
    The effects of propaganda or upbringing.
    Pursuit of their agenda may result in personal advantage.

    Do you think your opponents would agree with the way you answered just now? How do you think they would respond, if asked the very same questions about their own beliefs… and yours?”

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