Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Post-Christian Britain and “Wishy-washy” Christianity

Debate has been raging as to whether or not Britain is a Christian Country. Prime Minister David Cameron says it is, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and other atheists say it isn’t. Archbishop Welby says it is; former Archbishop Williams says it is a “post-Christian” country.

Of course, one does need to be careful about what makes a country specifically a Christian country. One is moved to ask parallel questions of the form “Is this an X country?” where X is, in this context, an adjective particular to a religion. It is clear that this cannot mean that every person in the country is a follower of X since immigration, particularly within the EU, would always mean that there is a minority of other religions present and functioning as citizens in the country. There would also be a number of dissenters from X, even if they felt coerced to say that they did adhere to X. We cannot make windows on men’s souls, thank God!

However, it seems fair to say that we can certainly identify, for example, Islamic countries very quickly: Iran, Dubai, the Maldives are all clearly Islamic countries. Their laws are based on the Islamic laws; they expect tourists to follow manners and customs which we wouldn’t think of in the West. They might not insist that foreigners say prayers with them, but they will insist that women are correctly covered and, in the case of the Maldives, the constitution of the island does not allow citizenship of those who are not Muslims, and those found with non-Islamic religious materials can be subject to arrest.

We therefore have the question: What might a Christian country be like if we adopted a similar system? Well, one would not be allowed to have citizenship unless one professed to be Christian. There would be no mosques, gurudwaras, temples or such. Each citizen would need to demonstrate some Christian practice – but which? Anglican? Roman? Methodist? Baptist? Calvinist? Lutheran? Eastern Orthodox?

In the U.K., there is a state religion – the Church of England – which is fully established and has rights to representatives in the House of Lords and the Privy Council. Until 1858, MPs were required to take the oath of allegiance "on the true faith of a Christian", necessitating at least nominal conversion. The laws that we inherit have come from people who have Christianity at the very heart of their understanding and who have decided to enshrine those laws within the uncodified constitution of the U.K. In this sense, the constitution of the United Kingdom is a Christian Monarchy, and, in that sense, it is a Christian country. That does nothing to say much about the state of Christian belief. Indeed, it would probably be fair to say that we do not have a Christian Society.

What do I mean by “Society” here? In this sense, I am talking about the general will and expectations given by the “vox populi” from citizens of this country that finds itself reported in the various media or from data collated from the most recent Census. Since a Census takes place every decade, this does mean that one relies heavily on the accuracy of the media to get some view of the current beliefs of the Society. That is not something to be taken at face value, and the question needs to be asked as to how far the media really understands the concerns of the people or whether it is controlling the expression of the collective understanding of vox populi via memes, soundbites and neologisms on its own agenda authored by different powers. I, for one, am sceptical about the veracity of the media and its accuracy in displaying the real problems that face real people in their real lives.

It would be quite fair to say, given the recent Census information, that Society is neither religious, nor atheist but rather apatheist – the majority of citizens simply do not care about whether there is a God or not. They seek only, and genuinely, to live good lives, being decent to others and being scandalised by all things that are unjust, unfair and unkind. Their search is by no means a bad thing and, for me, evidence that human beings are not totally depraved. Indeed, for me, the search for good is evidence that there is an in-built desire for God. The CofE is rather set on upholding this moral view and incorporating it into its structures. Society sees the plight of those who are burdened by debt and that motivates the CofE to oppose the unfairness and exploitation perceived in payday loans.

The problems come when Society is scandalised by the Church itself, or by “religious fundamentalism”. What does Society mean by “religious fundamentalism”? The main idea here is that Society opposes oppression of all sorts. There is, at least in the British mind, an horror of anything that would inhibit a person’s free choice. A religion which tries to “force” itself on others is to be seen as destructively fundamentalist and inimical to Society’s dogma of free-will. A “fundamentalist” in the eyes of Society is an inhibitor to finding happiness, freedom and fulfilment within that Society.

This is where the CofE comes in and, in doing so, begins to put a strain on its own identity. I’ve heard it said that the CofE is to meet the needs of all people of faith and none. Indeed, as a Catholic, I fully agree that it is an integral part of the general priestly office of the Church to bring the whole world in communion with God. Yet, the CofE, in meeting the needs of all people of faith and none, seeks to make that inclusivity part of its identity.

Of course, this depends precisely on what is meant by inclusive. If, by “inclusive”, one means welcoming anyone into the Church, looking after them, listening to them and giving them any aid and assistance that the Church can give them, then this is fine and every Parish should seek this form of inclusivity. However, the problem comes either when the Church believes that it has the power to assist that person in any capacity, or Society demands that the Church assists that person in any capacity.

For example, from the mouth of Our Lord Himself, the Church possesses the keys to Heaven, and in the Sacrament of Confession can, lawfully and actually, pronounce God’s absolution upon any Christian who is repentant and contrite and sorry for their sin. What it cannot do is pronounce absolution on anyone who is not repentant, nor can it prevent human law from being met when crime has been committed. The act of contrition here that would make the absolution effective would be to accept the penal consequences of that sin. The power of the Church is limited to that which God has given it – He has made the Church human and called it to serve humanity for its Eternal Salvation, not to be an omnipotent ruling power.

The CofE is in a quandary here. If it has an Established Status, then Society has a claim on how it is to operate. Yet the sovereignty of God is also at the heart of the Established Church too and, it is blindingly obvious that God and Man are not always in agreement. Society’s “god” says marriage is between two people who love each other and wish to commit to each other. The Established Church, however, has received from God that marriage “is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.”

For Society, Sex is equivalent to Gender and further that men and women are utterly and completely interchangeable in every respect. That is how Society perceives sexual egalitarianism even if it will not accept that even it would accept complete interchangeability. The misconception is that equality means the same as interchangeability. As a mathematician, this is indeed true and absolutely so in the framework of mathematical and logical thought. Modus pones ponendo is the perfectly logical ability of substituting into expressions terms which are equal. The trouble is that men and women are not equal in a mathematical sense. They are not equal in an ontological sense otherwise there would be no such thing as male and female. The difference just would not exist at all. The biological difference must dispel any notion of the interchangeability of sexes.

Likewise, without the Christian element at its heart, Society believes that the priesthood is a role to play in the functioning of Society. Yet in the Church, the priesthood is not a role but a character of Christ imprinted upon the being of those who God has called to be a re-presentation of the Celestial Bridegroom in His reality, not in His function. Gender has no prescribed roles merely modes of how roles are to be performed, and so it represents the nature of function: Gender has the character of an adverb. Sex is qualitative, biological and established beyond human intervention and therefore not a functional quality: Sex has the character of an adjective. These days, adverbs and adjectives are readily confused in everyday language ( c.f. “I’m doing well” with “I’m doing good” which often mean the same thing in the vernacular of Society ). Confuse Gender and Sex, and human beings are seen to be materialist functionaries defined by what they do rather than by who they actually are.

We see then, that Society wants the Church to be “wishy-washy” – to believe, but not really believe. It wants the Church to play a function for it, to be an adverb, to “do Church” without actually being Church for fear of encroaching on the freedom of someone to be what they want to be. One remembers that God is the source of being. He is Who He is, was Who He is and will be Who He is. He may make Himself known by His deeds, but ultimately, the mark of God is being and not doing. Thus the Holiness of the Church is Eternal and unchanging, because she is set apart for God.

What we are left with is confusion, something which Old Testament and New Testament folk fear alike. The Psalmist frets “In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.” (Psalm xxli.1) and St Ambrose (or his ghost writer) prays with us in the Te Deum ”Let me never be confounded”. However, the Lord God has been clear with us from the beginning that we are to be separated clearly from those who are not of His ways. The Laws of the Pentateuch and the testimony of the History of Israel show that God has brought together a code of practice designed to distinguish (even discriminate!) His followers from the rest of the world. This separation is at the heart of our sanctification. We cannot be sanctified if we are not separate from the world. To be Holy is to be set apart, reserved for God Himself. The life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ opens the possibility of sanctification for everyone regardless of who they are, provided that they are willing to be sanctified and to be apart from Society as long as Society itself is not sanctified.

A church that cannot be distinguished from Society is not a holy church, but a place where atheists and apatheists can find a salve for their rejection of humanity’s purpose and the fear of the meaninglessness of life. It is set apart from God, and that is the opposite of holy. The Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of the creed must stand apart from Society in order to be Holy, and this necessitates scandalising Society. If Society calls the Church “misogynist” or “homophobic”, then it should not matter because Society cannot understand the difference between form and function.

This shows us very clearly that, to be true to its very being, the Church cannot ever really be Established except within a Christian Society and that effectively means that this Society itself is the Church! While Society has a right to interfere with Church doctrine, then there is an oppression which Christians must bear, but not accept. The Church is not called to be “wishy-washy” but to believe, hold fast to and promote the teaching of God, even if Society says “yuck that’s horrid!” or worse. It would seem then, that Nick Clegg is actually right, if the CofE wants to be the Church of England, then it must be disestablished. It certainly does not represent me, or stand for me, and I do declare that I am in no way part of the CofE, but rather pray, begging God with every fibre of my being, that I may be a member of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in England.

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