Sunday, August 04, 2013

Are all priests corrupt? - Secularisation, sentiment and small things

I have had several reactions to my last post, some of which seem to be concerned that I am becoming a secularist, and others reacting to the language used. Certainly the author of the major substance of the post was neither out to offend but to give an opinion. I stand by posting it because it does raise some issues that lie at the interface between the Church of Christ and the "common society ".

Secularism itself suffers from the same disease as "Protestant" and "Catholic". One has to be very careful about definitions of words. We already see the words "Catholic" and "Protestant" as labelling two tribes in the Northern Ireland of the 1970s who were causing much anger, aggression, and even death. A peaceful society could not function in such circumstances. There needed to be a common forum in which both sides could talk, and this wasn't even achieved until the 90s.

I really do wonder how many of these tribal "Protestants" and tribal "Catholics" actually went to church regularly and were active members of their church community. I wonder how many of them actually lived lives actively living out the two commandments of Christ to love God and neighbour. Surely only God can answer this!

An Anglican Catholic knows too well the problem of definition with people taking their own understanding of the words and making judgements based upon them without any actual enquiry. To many, our status as "Continuing Anglican" reads as "people who broke away from the CofE and are still angry about it". That's not who we are, but that is the way people look at us, rightly or wrongly. We also suffer strange attitudes because of our name. Those who hold to that form of strict Protestantism which regards Rome as the Whore of Babylon think we're quislings and deserving of punishment. Other Protestants believe us to be a tiny little rump church talking itself into insignificance. Some Roman Catholics lump us in with all Anglicans without realising that our understanding of what it means to be Anglican is very slightly different. The point is that we get dismissed easily, especially when people won't listen.

Now that's a big point in the text of my previous post. What is the forum for true dialogue and listening? Where can each member of society meet and raise concerns that really bother them? Can that ever happen in a church in which the priest preaches a sermon and an individual finds an unexpected issue? I am aware that my own sermons and homilies are far from perfect and I dare say that there are people who have found my words actually quite offensive. How they are offensive is a different matter!

There are issues that do cause offense. My stance which is firmly against abortion will be necessarily offensive in the ears of a pro-choice campaigner. My subscription to the Catholic Faith will offend many women on the grounds that I believe that they are not, never have been and cannot be ordained unless there is a clear Divine Mandate which causes the whole Church to accept that change in teaching. If I don't want to be offensive, then I cannot possibly succeed in offending no-one, and perhaps I should stop blogging altogether. Perhaps I should stop preaching altogether.

The main thing here is that I don't want to offend anyone. It is never my intention to cause offence, but rather to put my words into the crucible that forms the reader's mind and let them find the Word of God within it. It might be unpalatable, but it is honestly meant with love.

Intentions are a key issue in today's society. I am sure that bankers, lawyers, politicians, priests, celebrities have, for the most part, good intentions for all of their work. Indeed, why single these folk out? The majority of members of society are good, honest people. But things go wrong. "The pathway to Hell is paved with good intentions" so they say.

Our Western society is based fundamentally on Christian morality - an historical fact. Other societies are often based on the morality of the indigenous religion. So our morals are indeed shaped by the society in which we work. Our society passes laws that allow that society to function. These laws will be based on the indigenous population and will adapt and evolve as that population develops and changes.

So it is that we find ourselves in a society that simply is post-Christian. The majority of people who say they are CofE do not go to church save at hatches, matches and dispatches. That is a well-known fact. It is also a fact that midweek church attendance is growing, though the effects of this are still not known. Furthermore Atheism is growing, as is agnosticism and spiritual indifference. We have other religions now which have a good claim at being called "indigenous". It's interesting to note that the majority of religions do have a submission to lawful authority. For the Christian, this is found in Hebrews xiii. "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves : for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief : for that is unprofitable for you."

The Christian view is definitely a desire to participate in society. The Christian Religion is one in which intention is absolutely central to the relationship between the individual and the divine. In the Christian ideal, there is no need for law because the desire is to do the will of God for the purpose of enjoying life with Him. That's the ideal, but we know about the fallenness of human nature. Legislation is necessary because of sin. In order to protect ourselves from the effects of sin and to make it clear that sin has consequences on the perpetrator, there has to be a code of law. St Paul really does better justice to this notion in his letter to the Romans.

For the Christian, "Christianity may not have a monopoly on morality and goodness but it does believe it has a mandate" (Bishop Damien Mead) . Human beings do not have to be Christian in order to be good, law-abiding or moral. People who hold to other religions still bring themselves to society and have value because they bear the image of God even if the do not necessarily believe that they do so. If people wish to contribute to the well being of society then that should not only be encouraged but the basis of society's fundamental tenet. If we wish to reap the benefits of belonging to society, then we must make the appropriate investment, and this is regardless of what we believe. This is the real essence of a secular society.

Secularism in its proper sense is not synonymous with atheism. Most priests in the country are secular priests as opposed to monastic priests or hieromonks as the orthodox would have them. Secular in this context means working in the common society. Secularism properly done means that those folk who wish to make an investment in society and reap its benefits are allowed to do so and those who wish to take without giving be reprimanded for doing so. The ideal is that all people of all faiths come to the council chamber to run society on an equal footing in proportion to the most common set of beliefs. Our country, having had predominant Judaeo-Christian beliefs, has laws that reflect those sets of beliefs. It has been good that laws which force people to go to church have been abolished - God, after all, wants people to seek him willingly.

At the present moment, Traditional Christianity is a minority and the law of the land have been altered to reflect that. Now this does present big problems, especially on issues that really do matter. For example, the issue of Abortion causes friction because of the beliefs of what constitutes human life. Very clearly, this is an issue in which offence can be taken readily. For the Traditional Christian, Abortion is nothing less than an unlawful killing. We have to be careful though: is it murder? is it manslaughter? How far should we consider the mother's role? What if the child is conceived because of rape? If abortion is legal, then this problem goes away, but it is still the taking of life! If we hold to the immorality of abortion, then it must make sure that the victim of rape is supported every step of the way. The problems of abortion are immense! One can make a blanket statement that Abortion is unlawful killing but the application of that can only ever be on a case-by-case basis. The issue is much easier to deal with in the small, rather than in the large.

This level of care is inherent in the ideals of Traditional Christianity, but not in its actuality. Again, this is the fallenness of humanity. The convolutions of legal and economic systems produce similarly difficult issues. The Welfare State is a case in point. The majority of failures in the welfare system are due to "red tape" or "lack of public funds". One might believe that these are a fobbing off. In fact they are more than likely to be true than due to the corruption of officials. It is the system that is flawed and needs careful re-invention. The trouble is that the system is so complicated that the slightest tweaking can cause another travesty of justice. Yes indeed, there are corrupt bankers, politicians, priests, lawyers and celebrities, yet in many cases of travesties of justice, it is the system itself, man's fallenness in the very operations that he has put together. It is right that the Church get angry at injustice and at any and every single injustice that is hurting the vulnerable. That anger needs to be put to good use.

Since all our systems are flawed, and in the reparation of those flaws become inflexible and unwieldy, we can only hope to deal with what we can seriously and definitely influence. This means starting small. The Christian system is simple in its statement, and yet has produced every political system in the West. Each has had its flaws, and its successes. It has been the size of the system that has produced the complexity which generates the injustices in society. That cannot be helped. All that can be done is for things to be done in the small, and this is where the parish church can have its strength if the laity are clued in and contributing with their peculiar abilities. A well-informed and active laity, cherished for their own wisdom, can make all the difference in the small and particular cases which the System misses.

This is not to say that the laity don't have dominant roles in the System itself. Christians should indeed seek to play a part in the System to influence it on the inside. If the Church can harness the power of the small, then the world itself can indeed be transformed by the tiniest grain of mustard seed.

Most of us can do nothing about the System itself, but our anger and frustration can indeed be motivated to making a difference, not through the blame game, but rather through active service and small acts of the best intentions governed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in properly and well-informed consciences. The Incarnation of Christ allows us to be confident that our efforts will not be in vain. We must not despise the day of small things but use our smallness to grow a new system that will not allow vulnerable individuals to slip through the net and prevent others from taking more than is their due. This is what the great priests like Fr Dolling did. It made a difference. The same is possible for all priests in their little churches as they serve their laity in their becoming lights to the world in reflection of Our Lord.

Let us remember our first duty of prayer, and keep that up.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved , and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (I Tim ii.1-4)

Then, when we have prayed, only then we shall repair the system and perhaps secularism will be Christian again through the choice of individuals, rather than coercion.

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