TWO RADICALLY OPPOSED VIEWS OF SOCIETY

A blithely unaware Church is under existential threat in the West. The problems occupying the Church today are superficial in comparison with the underlying threat.

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Globalisation This is the worldwide process of growing collaboration and amalgamation among people, companies, and governments. Whilst primarily an economic process of interaction and integration, globalisation has profound social and cultural implications. Continue reading “TWO RADICALLY OPPOSED VIEWS OF SOCIETY”

WHAT’S THE POINT?

The evidence cannot be denied. In its traditional power base of the West Christianity is in decline. Fewer people claim to be Christians, and even fewer are actually serious about practicing it. The Church of Scotland is fast disappearing, in the mere five years between 2008 and 2013 it shrank by 29 percent, and we can be sure the decline didn’t stop then. George Carey has warned that the Church of England is one generation away from extinction.

And I’m glad. It is only when we realise the true depth of the crisis that the ordinary Christian will demand change. We cannot look to the ecclesiastical managerial class inhabiting the corridors and committees of denominational headquarters. They see their task as preserving the institution. Continue reading “WHAT’S THE POINT?”

DAM THE FLOWING TIDE

Shakespeare writes in Julius Caesar: ‘There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune’. Progressives have taken advantage of the flowing tide. Wherever possible they relentlessly press ahead to dismantle the Western culture built on Christianity. At times they seem unstoppable. Like Tony Blair, they feel the hand of history on their shoulders.

Blair

Superficially they may have a point. Once an action has been advanced in the name of a sexual minority, and it is usually a sexual minority given the progressive’s obsession with sex, can it be undone? Continue reading “DAM THE FLOWING TIDE”

EXTREMISTS AND OTHER FAUNA

My last video provoked this response on Facebook. My reply is too long for Facebook so is posted here.

First the original criticism:

“‘For 2000 years the church has rejected those who want Christianity to the social establishment.’ That is an astonishing statement. I should be interested to see how it could be defended against the church’s historical record. He quotes Wilberforce as an example of the church standing against the social establishment, and at the same time points out that Wilberforce was standing against the ecclesiastical establishment too. You can’t have it both ways. I doubt anyone with a high regard for scripture would allow the simple equation of ‘the ecclesiastical establishment’ with ‘the church’ but there is surely a problem of circular argument here. Disagreeing with fellow believers’ interpretation of Scripture, even with the interpretations of believers and thinkers of the stature of Pannenberg, is not the same as rejecting the authority of scripture. Refusing to see the stark divide between the Christian and the Secular which contemporary conservatives constantly hark on about is not rejecting the authority of scripture. Many progressives take the stance they do because they believe that on particular issues their position is more biblical, not less biblical, than the traditional conservative view. Let’s at least try to be clear on the different polarities involved here: one of those polarities is between ‘traditional’ and ‘progressive’. Neither side makes its case well by wholesale identification of the other with the worst of those who take or can be given the other’s label.”

My response is:

The good news is that I still have the ability to do something ‘astonishing’, Although what I said was that for 2000 years the church had rejected those who want Christianity to accommodate to the social establishment. It’s also good to know that I’m not the only one afflicted by the dreaded typo. Continue reading “EXTREMISTS AND OTHER FAUNA”

CHANGE AND DECAY

In the church in Scotland there is an objection sure to be repeated whenever change of any kind is mooted, ‘But we’ve always done it that way’. In this we are probably no different from churches elsewhere. The sad truth is that it was ever thus, in fact ‘We’ve always done it this way’.

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The Venerable Myopia Motionless, minister of St Rheumatics on the Knee, laid down his quill. Pushing back the scroll he shook his hoary old head and sighed, ‘Ochone and ochone’. As he ponsdered the state of the church he was forced to recall a line from a beloved hymn in his treasured hymnal Hymns Ancient & Ever So Slightly Less Decrepit, ‘Change and decay in all around I see’.

He could see no end to it all. Young ministers refusing to have a proper tonsure at the front and going in for those new fangled tonsures at the back of the skull. Well, God would have the last laugh, He didn’t create male pattern baldness for nothing.

Myopia had even heard rumours of people wanting to translate the Bible into everyday English. Preposterous, how could the church survive if people actually understood what was going on? If this continued you would end up with people in the pews actually thinking that they could understand the mysteries of the faith themselves.

Why, if that happened and all the obscurity and mystery went the officiating ministers would lose all status and esteem. The common folk in the pews might even want to start thinking for themselves and not bowing the knee to the experts, ministers like himself.

Myopia knew in his bones that once ministers stopped dressing up in cod mediaeval costume they would lose all respect. Folk would think they were just ordinary people when the magic went. What these young whippersnappers forgot is that it’s the clothes that make the man, that’s what earns respect, not the person or the message. A favourite saying of his bishop’s was ‘A dog collar covers a multitude of sins’. Just think of what a cassock and robes could cover up. Well, it worked for him.

He smiled quietly to himself as he recalled the golden age when he was a lad. The old ways were the best. Didn’t these impudent children realise that trying to change things for the better was self-defeating, how can you improve something that is perfect?

AT LAST, AN OPPORTUNITY

I may well have been wrong. It is possible.

At one time I would have said that whilst the USA had its culture war here in the UK there was no such thing. Any such war was was over and we had lost it before we began fighting. All that remains were a few hold-outs waging guerilla campaigns against the establishment elite who control every aspect of UK society. I’m not so sure now.

From the ’60’s onward we experienced a takeover of society by the same standardised outlook. ‘Progressive’ values are daily pumped into our homes by the media, print and broadcast. These are also the views of the major political parties who hold to only slightly nuanced versions of the same cultural ideology. The mainstream Christian denominations, despite real theological differences, articulate and practice the same progressive responses to social and moral ills.

In last week’s by-elections in Clacton and in Heywood and Middleton the main parties met with a mighty shock. UKIP won Clacton from the Conservatives and in Heywood and Middleton Labour just scraped home with a majority of 617. Both seats had previously been considered safe. Whilst considering most of UKIP’s programme to be vacuous, weak in analysis and short of detail it is heartening to see the establishment shocked into reality.

The insiders set the pace, established the parameters of debate and created the atmosphere. In these two by-elections the people, for once, said ‘No’.

We have been enmeshed in a monolithic progressive establishment holding everything in its thrall. They seem to live on some distant planet where the everyday concerns of earthlings do not impinge on their gilded lives; or if the hoi polloi are ever heard they are dismissed out of hand. This was perhaps best expressed by ex-Conservative MP Matthew Paris. When commenting on the likelihood of UKIP winning the Clacton by-election he wrote, ‘I’m not arguing that we should be careless of the needs of struggling people and places such as Clacton. But I am arguing – if I am honest – that we should be careless of their opinions.’

The establishment elite hold the people in contempt. We have witnessed in our lifetimes large scale social, economic, aesthetic and moral disruption, and been blithely assured that this is an advance, an improvement, progress. To express dissent was, prior to last week, to find oneself marginalised. When ordinary working people voiced concern about the nature of immigration into the UK they were described as ‘bigots’ by Labour and ‘loonies and nut cases’ by the Conservatives. To the increasingly irrelevant Lib Dems anyone expressing the concerns of ordinary people was racist, homophobic and probably fascist.

The usual term of denigration for UKIP has been ‘populist’. Appealing to the people and expressing their concerns is the ultimate low in the minds of our elites.

Both main parties found out last week that they can no longer rely on the tribal vote. Those who have always voted Conservative or Labour cannot be counted on to vote blue or red no matter who stands, what they promise or who leads the parties. With good reason the people don’t trust the politicians.

It is almost amusing to witness both main parties making sudden reversals in policy direction in order to hold back UKIP. Today Boris Johnson, mayor of London, says, ‘The Conservative Party must tighten up border controls to win back voters from UKIP’. Yet in 2012 in the midst of describing British workers as ‘lazy’ Johnson had called for an amnesty on over-stayers. He also criticised his own Government’s immigration cap with a warning that key firms were becoming increasingly ‘hacked off’ with the restrictions on overseas workers and that any cap was ‘damaging to business’.

Labour for their part are appalled that the working class voters whose allegiance they rely upon are actually deeply concerned about a completely different range of issues from that which exercises the bourgeois elites running Labour. We even found Ed Miliband, the day after the by-elections, shamefacedly admitting, It is not prejudiced to be concerned about immigration‘.

But its not just about immigration, its about society and its direction.

Were the by-elections victories in a UK culture war? It’s doubtful. Is UKIP going to be the standard bearer for a resurgence of social conservatism? I hope not.

What has happened is that those who have found themselves marginalised and dismissed by progressive society have been given encouragement to fight back against the machine. That includes Christians.

Presented with the picture of a declining Church in the midst of a confused culture we are too inclined to despair. We forget that initially the Church grew and flourished in the midst of an antagonistic pagan culture, not too dissimilar in its moral relativism from what we know today. The Church can grow again; and a vibrant, engaged Church is needed by unbelievers as well as believers.

Today’s political disenchantment, even insurrection, is no more than a sign of the disillusionment of many with our culture. The response to it cannot be confined solely to the political, it must go to the heart of the matter.

As people generally become aware of the failures of a secular progressive society we are presented with an opportunity. Our response must avoid either the woolly liberalism which has waffled the Church into dramatic decline, or the aggressive evangelical theocracy which demands submission across the board.

We can, with prayer, trust, hard thought and work, make real a church today which is modelled on the New Testament Church; engaged, creating caring communities, embodying the love of Christ, a Church determined and willing to turn the world the right way up again.

GOOD INTENTIONS

Last week archbishop now Cardinal Nichols, closely followed by 27 Anglian bishops, intervened in the debate over welfare reform. This was met with the usual boring cry of, ‘The church should stay out of politics,’ as though God’s sovereignty somehow ended at the doors of parliament.

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What was more interesting were the predictable complaints from the political right that the church has gone left. What the latest intervention by the massed clerics is held to illustrate is the apparent tendency of church leaders to intervene on only one side of any economic debate and take a line which can be charitably described as soft left.

Are political and economic matters really either so clearly morally good or morally evil? Is there only one side a Christian can take?

Church leaders have few qualms about making sweeping pronouncements regarding economic matters.  A few years ago we had senior English churchmen sounding like spokesmen for Occupy Wall Street. Dr Rowan Williams, then archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that ‘unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders’. Williams added that Karl Marx had been right in his assessment of the nature of capitalism, ‘if about little else’. His counterpart in York, Dr John Sentamu, said the market took its rules of trade ‘from Alice in Wonderland’ and branded speculators who had short-sold shares ‘bank robbers and asset strippers’.

Seemingly incredibly sophisticated financial products most assuredly bring problems, they also enable reasonably efficient flows of capital, from those who have surplus funds to those who require funds, e.g. for investment in a new or growing business. They may be more complicated but they operate on the same principle as the TV programme Dragon’s Den. The outcomes from such transactions are more than ‘profit for traders’, and bring real and tangible benefits to a significant number of people, including those who gain employment in such businesses.

The recent failings of the global financial system, and they are many, do not demonstrate that the system itself is a fantasy from down the rabbit hole. It is this same system which enabled a sustained global economic expansion throughout the 1990s and into the first years of the 21st century. We did not hear church leaders then lamenting that that expansion was built on sand.

One common justification for this soft left stance is that the Bible is clearly on the side of the poor and the New Testament in particular is proto-socialist if not communist. Blithely ignoring its historical context Acts 2:42f is regularly trotted out with a quasi-fundamentalist flourish as an illustration of the church at least starting out as a communistic community sharing everything. Church leaders are said to be merely enunciating a biblical vision of economic and political reality.

As usual there is another approach to the question. Our church leaders are not sitting up conducting their evening devotions over Marx’s Capital. There are two underlying reasons why church leaders consistently hold to a redistributive economic stance – compassion and ignorance.

Clergy are profoundly influenced by the fact that they spend a great deal of their lives thinking about or in close proximity to the sheer wretchedness of poverty. Clergy, even those in leading positions, tend to have far greater personal contact with poverty than politicians. When confronted by real poverty the compassionate response, the Christian response, is to give immediate help. Thus we have church food banks, urban aid programmes and help given on an individual scale, sometimes sacrificially.

The problem arises when this laudable compassion is combined with economic ignorance. The cry of compassion against poverty can be simplistically converted into a cry of rage against wealth.

There are Christians working as professional economists, such as members of the Association of Christian Economists, who approach economics from a distinctively Christian perspective. Unfortunately, with very few exceptions most clergy are woefully ignorant of the most basic economic principles.

Our seminaries offer and our denominations require courses in all manner of useful or useless ‘outside’ disciplines; sociology, psychology, gender studies even anthropology. How many denominations require Economics 101? The result is that when even intelligent church leaders make economic statements they are not made on economic grounds but on the basis of familiarity.

Church economics operate on the redistributive principle, money is gathered in and then shared out. At its simplest the plate is passed around on a Sunday and on Monday the bills are paid. If there is not enough money to pay the bills and do the work of the church the minister stands up and puts another layer of guilt on the congregation.  Clergy have a static approach to money as though it were a pie that has to be distributed, if someone is to get a larger portion someone else has to get a smaller portion.

However, outside the Occupy movement, Greens, Lib Dems, SWP and other fringe groups, the real world operates on the production principle. The amelioration of poverty requires the creation of wealth. If money is to be redistributed to those in need first of all value has to be created. We cannot help the poor by taking in each other’s washing. Unlike the clergy the entrepreneur talks of making money not collecting it.

The French Thomist philosopher Etienne Gilson pointed out the inadequacy of good intentions, ‘Our first rule of action (is) that piety is never a substitute for technique; for technique is that without which the most fervent piety is powerless to make use of nature for God’s sake.’

Our clergy make pronouncements on economics with the best of intentions, and we all know what is paved with good intentions.