Thursday, 16 February 2012

God Jeering

A good article from Alison Pearson on Christianity and the modern world. Here she expresses the views of many not so regular church-goers who value the tradition and saving grace within it. A refreshing start to the day....

Last September, in the final weeks of his life, the New Labour strategist Philip Gould gave a moving interview to The Guardian. Dying of throat cancer at the age of 61, Lord Gould had done a lot of thinking about the meaning of life in a short time. The interviewer mentioned, in passing, that his subject had found religion, lost it briefly when he had witnessed terrible pain in intensive care, and then rediscovered his faith.
That was all. They moved on swiftly to politics. I found that article so frustrating. Here was a highly intelligent, worldly man, a superb operator in a party which famously “didn’t do God”, who had chosen to become a believer. It was a position I knew Philip Gould would not have arrived at fearfully or lazily, but, rather, spiritedly, and maybe even full of hope. For Christ’s sake, if one of our leading pollsters had cast his vote for the life to come, then why didn’t he get the chance to tell us about his Christianity?
My guess is the interviewer found the subject hideously embarrassing. Too uncool for words. The fact that Gould, a brilliant moderniser of the Left, had chosen to be confirmed into the sad old Church of England! These days, celebrities can confess to pretty much anything – drugs, facelifts, deforestation of the front bottom – but when it comes to religious belief suddenly everyone squirms and studies their shoes. Homosexuality is no longer the love that dare not speak its name, Oscar; now it’s Christianity.
For a liberal elite, religion is amusing mumbo-jumbo at best; at worst, it’s Catholic priests who are always molesting choirboys (amazing how they find time to run all those missions in dangerous places, isn’t it?). As a nation, we have gone from god-fearing to god-jeering faster than you can say the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
This was the point made by Baroness Warsi during her visit to the Vatican this week. British society, she warned, is under threat from a rising tide of “militant secularisation”. Naturally, it took a Muslim to mount a vocal defence of Christianity. Actually, I reckon that Lady Warsi understated the case. Mocked, marginalised and increasingly absent from people’s lives, the Church of England is on course to disappear from these isles within three generations, unless there’s a miracle. Anyone who doubts this thesis is simply not paying enough attention. At my funeral, still a few decades away, God willing, I expect the congregation will know the prayers and the hymns that have sustained mankind for centuries and are part of the mental furniture of my own life. But at the funerals of my children when they are old or at those of my grandchildren yet to be born? I seriously doubt it. Christianity may yet return to where it began; a faith practised in secret by small, devout sects poring over illuminated iPads.An English professor at Cambridge tells me that, for the first time, they have put the Bible on the undergraduate reading list. “We can no longer assume students will be familiar with it,” he says. So Christianity will die of ignorance because, shamefully, so many of our young people haven’t been taught the tenets of the great Judeo-Christian tradition which underpins their country’s laws, institutions and culture. Christianity will die of materialism, which measures out life in phone upgrades. Finally, Christianity will die out because people like me, who are supposed to believe in it, are too hesitant to nail our colours to the cross. Lord knows, many of us have sighed with Woody Allen, “If only God would give me some clear sign! Like making a large deposit in my name in a Swiss bank account.”
And what will we have instead of the C of E – Richard Dawkins? God help us. The high priest of atheism – known as The Dork to his students at Oxford, and not affectionately – has been everywhere this week trumpeting a poll by his foundation, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for the Worship of the Supreme Rational Being (Richard Dawkins). A jubilant Dork pointed out that his poll showed that even those of us who say we are Christians don’t always believe in its teachings. As a result, he says Christianity should be banished from the public realm; we should evict bishops from the House of Lords, abolish faith schools and get rid of chaplains in NHS hospitals for the crime of bringing comfort to the lonely and the dying.
Dawkins is incapable of understanding why people would go on calling themselves Christians when they don’t read the Bible or go to church. Words like ritual and mystery are, well, a mystery to him. When the National Secular Society won its case against Bideford council last week and had prayers banned at the start of council meetings, I could see how certain councillors might object to addressing words they don’t understand to a supreme being they don’t believe in. Who couldn’t? But I still felt the decision was wrong. It was the start of the erosion of something precious which, once lost, we can never get back. Just as we are now desperately trying to pour education back into schools where tradition, respect and even learning itself has drained away.
A week ago, I attended Evensong at Jesus College, Cambridge, where the Small Boy is a chorister. I hadn’t been to church in a while and it took me a few seconds, waiting for the faith muscle-memory to kick in. The choir sang. They say the Devil has all the best tunes. Well, they’re wrong; Jesus has Hubert Parry and Johann Sebastian Bach. We knelt. We stood, then knelt again. We sang “Immortal Invisible God Only Wise”. We turned to face the altar. “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth.” I’m not sure what I believe, but I do know every word of the Creed, and when I say them I feel I am joining myself to generations who spoke those words centuries before I was born, and that custom is deeply consoling. I thought about my friend, stranded in New York by snow when her son was hurt in a car crash. Ann hadn’t prayed for years, but she slipped into a church on Fifth Avenue, “I can’t manage it alone,” she emailed, “I know that sounds strange.” Religion is strange, infinitely mysterious and easy to mock, but all I can say is that its rituals feel full, not hollow, as so much of modern life does. The Dorkists argue that you don’t need organised religion to hand down the wisdom of ages or a system of morality. Don’t you?
And so we come to the story of hundreds of commuters in Greater Manchester who stepped over 14-year-old Oliver Tiplady as he lay unconscious for 20 minutes after falling and striking his head. The boy was clearly not a drunk; he was in school uniform holding his satchel. Oliver’s mother Susan said: “This walk-on-by society has got to stop and think. How can people justify leaving a child, or anybody for that matter, on the floor like that? They must have lacked any basic humanity and obviously had no compassion.”
Lacking in basic humanity and compassion? Sounds remarkably like the Dork, high priest of atheists. By the way, there’s a story telling you not to walk by on the other side when a vulnerable stranger is in trouble. It’s in this rather good book.
reference DT here HERE


  1. Agreed, with one small caveat. "...had prayers banned at the start of council meetings" is slightly incorrect. The judgment forbids the inclusion of prayers on the formal agenda. There's no reason that prayers can't be held at exactly the same time as always, and the council summons needs to be altered from (eg):

    1) Prayers (6pm)
    2) Apologies (6.05pm)

    to (eg):

    Prayers (6pm)
    1) Apologies (6.05pm)

    I still think that the judgment is disagreeable, but it's important to be accurate so as not to inadvertently give ammunition to critics.

  2. Thank you for this, I agree to a point. I wonder if having achieved this they will now move the prayers for example to before 6pm before most arrive and after that quietly let them disappear.