I recall a conversation I had a couple of years ago with another British libertarian who argued that ‘pundits are the new priests'; they deliver ‘sermons’ from their TV or radio pulpits and minister to a befuddled public about the mysterious ways of our secular lords.
Although I can see the argument, I don’t entirely agree. However, the very fact that this kind of argument can be plausibly advanced at all is because we are all aware of the decline of the ‘old’ priests; a phenomenon which gets little attention but is highlighted by leaders like this in the Telegraph:
“But the Church has many good things to offer and it needs to start marketing them more successfully. Church buildings are testament to the triumph of Christianity. Soaring roofs, intricate stonework and stained glass windows echo a pride in Christianity that the 21st-century Church seems embarrassed to admit to. There’s a feeling that to modernise means stripping out pews, replacing organs with electric pianos, divesting priests of their robes and ignoring altars for Communion. But young people need someone to respect and admire. Today’s celebrity culture demonstrates that. If the Church, in its physical, as well as spiritual nature, is not the demonstration of the ultimate aspiration, what is?”
The leader quoted above is, in fact, an open letter from a twenty-something British Christian woman to the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. It is a plea to the Church to arrest its slide into irrelevence and provide some meaningful spiritual guidance to Britain’s Christians.
Despite not being a member of the Church, I can wholly understand her desperation because I can also see that it has gone quite disastrously off of the rails. The absurd and frantic mission to ‘modernise’ has resulted in just about every senior member of the clergy tripping over each other in the headlong rush to embrace every manifestation of fashionable claptrap from global warming to grievance politics. This is not to say that the Church should not address itself to current issues. In fact, quite the opposite. All institutions must evolve and adapt if they are to survive and the Church of England cannot and should not except itself from this process. But this does not mean eschewing moral certainty without which all that remains is vacillation and pointlessness.
I suspect these are the fruits of a failure to appreciate the difference between common decency and that dreadful word ‘inclusiveness'; the former requiring, nay demanding, judgement tempered with mercy, the latter demanding the indulgence of fecklessness and wanton barbarity for its own sake.
In those circumstances it is easy to see how certitude itself has become besmirched as ‘bigotry’ and that is something which we are required to purge from our social landscape. The act of judging other people and finding them wanting is a bit too much like ‘hate’ in this age of eggshell personalities and political correctness.
By my reckoning, Christians who go to Church do so for the comforts of faith and tradition but those ‘reactionary’ articles have been ditched in favour of a steady diet of political agit-prop and infuriating relativism. People who look to their spiritual leaders to provide them with values by which they can live their lives are instead enjoined into exultations of cant and stupidity. Going on protest marches is the new version of pilgrimage.
But, as evidenced by the correspondent above, ‘Our Lady of Trendy-Leftiness’ has probably run her course. The Church has attempted to please everyone but has wound up pleasing no-one. Even homosexuals, who have been quite fanatically courted by the Church for years, are starting to tire of this superficiality. I note the number of gay men who far prefer the solemn dignity of Anglo-Catholic ritual to the humiliating childishness of clappy-happy ‘outreach’. Adopting nauseating ‘niceness’ and recycled marxism as articles of faith may well have been rewarded with lashings of gratifying column inches in the Guardian but, simultaneously, the pews are emptying. Christians have not abandoned the Church of England, it is the Church of England that has deserted Christians.
As a libertarian, I regard religion as a matter of individual conscience and, as a secular Jew, I have no business telling the Church of England how to organise its affairs. That should be that. But it isn’t that. As I contemplate the possible demise of this institution I cannot dismiss the faint but persistant bat-squeak of concern about its possible replacement. Most people in this country have long forgotten that the Church of England was established as a vehicle for humane and moderate religious practice and to protect the nation against the savage winds of religious fanaticism that blew across this country in the 17th Century, leaving a charnel house in their wake. Such was the ferocity and instensity of this ideological war that it resonates to this very day in Northern Ireland.
The letter linked to above constitutes a call for ‘new blood’ to revitalise the Church of England and rescue it from it from its own folly. If the new blood proves to be insufficient then I only hope that it is not bad blood that is left behind.