Indefectible Churches and Unsinkable Ships

Sometimes, one comes across new articles that show mounting anger against a certain kind of religion associated with American neo-conservative politics, bigotry and the many evils that put many people off Christianity altogether. Christianity is like the Titanic is an example.

Of course, this month, we have had the centenary of the Titanic. What was so special about the Titanic in a century when many ships sank after having been torpedoed by enemy submarines, having hit extremely bad weather or through navigation errors – and many human lives were tragically lost? The Titanic was claimed to be unsinkable, and her designer claimed that not even God could sink her! She was not sunk by God but by human foolishness.

This article compares Christianity to the ill-fated liner of 1912 by its lack of viability. It is reminiscent of the arguments of Nietzsche. Christianity is distinctive through its weakness, not its strength or viability. Jesus was crucified, and his mission was absolutely misunderstood by his disciples, by the Jewish clerical establishment and by Pontius Pilate. “My Kingdom is not of this world” – one of the most ignored utterances of Christ.

I don’t see all Christianity failing and foundering, but I do see our time as one where bad Christianity is being discredited. The movement began in the middle ages, but was the very soul of modernity, through Protestantism, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the various late nineteenth-century anti-clerical movements in Europe and Latin America and finally a movement of secularism brewing in America.

Scorn is heaped on both conservatism and liberalism as being movements to maintain a religion lacking truth and viability. There is a claim that there are one billion atheists in the world, about the same number as practising and nominal Roman Catholics. The article does not hide the fact that it is an apologia for atheism.

The arguments are not new. Atheists are rational and religious people are irrational. The Old Testament is full of a bloodthirsty and vengeful God. The biblical accounts of creation do not tally with modern science. Christianity has not changed the evil in the world. The doctrine of eternal hell is preposterous. Prophecies of the end of the world and the second coming of Christ have all failed. There are no miracles like those Jesus performed in the Gospels. Hypocrisy and moral double-standards of church ministers and priests are also an obstacle to faith. Christians hate each other and ecumenism has not resulted in the reunion of churches. Atheists also argue that the message of Christianity was plagiarised from the old Egyptian, Hellenic, Roman and middle-eastern Mystery religions.

How do we react to all this, by more hatred and sales pitch? For me, the way is inwards. The Church has come to a time when inspiration should be taken from the monasteries and the way of the desert. There are many who say that the Church must maintain the same pitch in the market place of ideas and maintain moral and social teaching – but the Church will lose. I have commented on this theme before as I find in the writings of Berdyaev and other Russians at about the time of the fall of the Czars and Lenin’s Revolution. We go into the darkness, but the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.

The Christian Gospel and even the sacramental presence of Christ will abide with those who treasure spiritual life, peace and goodness – but the big sort-out is happening. Bad Christianity and ideology are on their way to the bottom of the sea! It happened before in some places and it can happen again.

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9 Responses to Indefectible Churches and Unsinkable Ships

  1. Albertus says:

    “My Kingdom is not of this world” – one of the most ignored utterances of Christ.
    The constant temptation of the Church’s members throughout the ages is to forget that the earthly Church – albeit in the world -, is not of this world. And so i can only agree with what you here write: ”For me, the way is inwards. The Church has come to a time when inspiration should be taken from the monasteries .. There are many who say that the Church must maintain the same pitch in the market place of ideas and maintain moral and social teaching – but the Church will lose.” Funnily enough, in most of the Catholic press here in Holland, one reads exactly the opposite of what you suggest! : according to them, the Church must not turn inwards, but must embrace the secular and look and act [even!] more like the world in order to be meaningful and survive. This recipe has been tried – most recently, most thoroughly, and most devastatingly since the end of the Second Vatican Council – and has seemingly failed. Why are they so afraid of trying something new, which is at the same time as old as the Gospel itself: i.e., turning inwards, to the Kingdom of God within?

  2. ed pacht says:

    Well said!

    The Church is indeed indefectible, the gates of hell will not prevail against it, but particular churches, whether as large as the Roman behemoth or as small as a storefront congregation are sinkable, and will sink if they rely on any strength but that of God Himself. To seek God, to seek to be remade in His image. to lead others to seek Him – that is all we are here for. Yes, as we seek to be remade, we will be doing the works that evidence that growth, and, if we are faithful, perhaps the world will be changed. One does hope and pray so. But it is not our job to change the world by political power, but to let God have His way in our lives and in those of others.

    Christians err. God holds us responsible for that.
    Atheists err (as they certainly did in the USSR). God holds them responsible for that.
    A politics of hate is always ugly, but a politics of hate that claims to hate in the service of the God of love is an abomination. If we are not seeking to be what He intends us to be, we have failed already.

  3. Neil S Hailstone says:

    You say ‘There are many who say that the church must maintain the same pitch in the market place of ideas and maintain moral and social teaching – but the church will lose.’ Really? As a common or garden Christian doing social work in the real world and a former Evangelical Pastor in the distant past I would respectfully dispute that comment. I am and have been Western Orthodox/Anglican Catholic for some 20 years and it seems to me listening to ordinary people, including many poor and disadvantaged people, that the world is crying out for a lead from the churches in the matter of traditional morality as has been believed by many for the last 2,000 years. I am no daft fundamentalist but it seems to me that traditional morality is, apart from other considerations, very helpful and advantageous to the suffering poor. Presumably some of you who appear on these deeply intellectual blog sites have little or no contact with such people. Are any of you seriously suggesting that a bit more abandonment of traditional marriage, unprotected sex between men and women who have just met on the dance floor of a night club, rather more moves to sanctify sodomy, perhaps a bit in the way of euthanasia,
    a touch more abortion on demand ( there are some very limited circumstances where it seems to me under Almighty God that the medical termination of life is a morally right decision), perhaps a bit of syncretism here and there in the traditional churches and all will be well? My view is of course simply not. It would be uplifting for me if now and then, other people could post here with comments about how sensible traditional faith, not the fundamentalist kind, can and does help the sick, the poor, the dying and suffering ordinary humanity. Or for that matter rescuing the wealthy from the worship of money. Especially I would like to read posts from other ordinary Christian people who are able to express these matters more articulately than I am able. Not only here but across the blogosphere.Thankfully I am shortly away to some dramatic mountains where I can seek very necessary guidance in solitude.

  4. ed pacht says:

    I think you are misreading Fr. Chadwick rather badly here. Of course the church has a concern with both social and moral issues, and of course she teaches and leads in these matters if she is to be faithful to her Lord. But to “take the same pitch in the market place of ideas” would, it seems to me to be to take up the very weapons the secular world has designed for its purposes, to use them according to the rules that same society has devised for its own purposes, and to expect somehow to prevail against such stacked odds. I’m of the opinion that attempting to use the secular methods to enforce morality on those who do not want it ultimately serves merely secular ends and converts the church into something other than Our Lord intends it to be. In short, under those conditions the church loses – either loses the battle it has chosen, or loses its own soul..

    There’s a useful distinction between a shepherd and a sheep-driver (I think it’s what our Lord meant in distinguishing the shepherd and the hireling). The shepherd has the confidence of the sheep, knows where they need to go, and goes there, walking ahead of them. The sheep follow, and arrive willingly. The sheep-driver walks behind them, driving them by force. Maybe most of them arrive, but they arrive looking for a way of escape.

    In this society it would appear that the majority are hell-bent on self-destruction. All we can do, I believe, is to demonstrate what the path is that a Christian can walk — and then the many who are hungry, even if they do not know what for, can hear the summoning voice and begin to follow.
    Your last sentence comes very close indeed to what Fr. Chadwick is saying (or so it seems to me): “Thankfully I am shortly away to some dramatic mountains where I can seek very necessary guidance in solitude.”

  5. Neil S Hailstone says:

    I identify with much of what you have written here, especially your last paragraph.

    • I did exactly that this afternoon, except that I did not go to the mountains, but took my boat out on the sea. It was slightly less than contemplative, as the south-south-east wind was very unstable, as it always is coming from the land. Then I had to work out a tacking strategy to get back in allowing for drift and the current – so little time for prayer whilst balancing my mainsheet, jib and helm.

      One can blow up abortion clinics, stage demonstrations and do all kinds of things. The way things are presently, we will end up with euthanasia, genetic engineering, cloning, “improving” humans by implanting electronic and mechanical machine parts. Orwell’s dystopia or that of Aldous Huxley? Or something much worse.

      Some of us live in countries where churches are increasingly sidelined from voluntary work. We may be living in an era like the early 1930’s in Germany. People who said anything then were taken out and shot. Some people had to keep quiet so that they could live to tell the tale!

      I keep out of cities. That doesn’t mean splendid isolation, but getting to know people in our village.

      What more is there to say?

  6. Stephen K says:

    What Father Chadwick writes here about the necessity for interiority and how it constitutes a key element of the kingdom the Gospels have Jesus say (i.e. “not of this world”) rings true, but I think it is always perilous when one talks about “the Church”. We often weave in and out of what we mean by the term, even in a single passage! I don’t think any visible “Church” is indefectible or unsinkable. So long as people continue to be exposed to inspiring and ennobling and affirming experiences, love, a spirit of hope and a striving for better things and imitation will continue to manifest. It is that “church” – the great collective of deeds and movements of love – that I think will continue.

    But it won’t necessarily be monotone, monochrome, regimentedly uniform in appearance, for it springs from and exists through individuals. Sharing, yes, but individuals just the same.

    This is why it seems to me that we have to continually watch against attributing to communities of shared energy some kind of overarching and dominant reality, because once we do that, I think we move away from the message Jesus preached. Hence, the significance of his saying to Pilate. These are just my own thoughts

  7. ed pacht says:

    I just read that article you linked. My only comment is that it certainly takes great faith to make the assertions he makes, a blind faith at least equal to that of the most ardent Fundamentalist. I see no presentation of evidence and no practice of logic, merely a spewing forth of naked prejudice and hate — and this is typical of, not thoughtful and reasonable atheists or agnostics, but certainly of the professional antireligious activists that seem to abound.

    Perhaps what Christians need to learn from this kind of ranting is what kind of attitudes we need to avoid. Our job is to introduce people to the Christ, not to take upon ourselves the divine role of judge – certainly not to answer such as this in the same spirit they evidence.

    • That is why I showed this article. Atheism is a religion with its own “orthodoxy” and “inquisition”, with its own fanatics and zealots. It is not by denying God that people find freedom, reason and enlightenment.

      But this kind of thing cannot be fought with obscurantism and fanaticism, only by living our spiritual lives and that others may see the change for the better it brings in us.

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