Sorry for the provocative title, but the current exchange of comments on Re-reforming Anglicanism? raises many questions about the validity of the assumptions of any of us. Just this morning, I read in a magazine about the fact that the municipal and state authorities in France can no longer afford to maintain the churches those authorities have legally owned since 1905. In consequence, 5% (1 in 20) of those churches will be sold for symbolic prices to developers. Some will become homes, others will become business premises, museums, educational and cultural centres and just about anything we could imagine. Some of the crosses, stained glass windows and statues will remain as a rebuke and a reminder to what is lost.
On the other hand, we might turn this thing around. Many people simply turn around and say “The Church brought it upon itself. It only got what was coming”. As I mentioned in another article, what is life without Christianity? A simple answer is that it is life as it is. Just go out into the street, get on a train, go to work, go shopping. Is it the end of civilisation without religion? No, life goes on. Are people looking for the transcendental absolute or meaning to life. A few might be, but not most people.
If we see things from that point of view, what viability is left to religious groups whose orthodoxy becomes increasingly narrow and exclusive. Comprehensiveness and inclusion seem to be illusions because we feel the need to establish limits. If we want Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals under one roof, why not also women bishops and LGBT people? Why not? On the other hand, you go for narrow orthodoxy and it finishes up like Communism with its purges and pogroms. The knife edge becomes so narrow that no one can live on it. So where do we go? Who are the winners, the loonies or the shrinks? Which ones are crazy and which ones are “normal”?
People are intuitively conscious about this, and realise that human life and Christian religion have drifted so far apart that no relationship between the two is possible. Christianity has to be a sect or has to become so involved in modern human life that it will lose it specificity. Is there a third way? I’m not so sure.
What is the purpose of religion? Let’s face it. It’s us. It is about survival after death in the place of our annihilation and the ultimate emptiness of nothingness. All our achievements and what we thought important – for nothing? It is also a pre-scientific attempt to understand the origin of the universe and where we came from. That is where our interest in history comes from. Otherwise, why should we care about working conditions in a northern English coal mine in 1840?
The second part is over for churches. We don’t look in the Bible for an explanation of what now belongs to historians and scientists. Even ethics are now a secular branch of philosophy. The real “business” of churches is metaphysics, something no one else cares about. This notion is also put into doubt, since those who are interested in scientific evidence of the afterlife and quantum physics discover explanations for metaphysics other than by way of mythology. What have churches to offer?
It would seem that the only things left are certitude and security. The problem is the most ancient of problems, managing our freedom as human beings. Or are we truly someone’s property despite what we find in the laws and constitutions of all civilised countries who learned something from the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-1946? One fundamental human right is to doubt and ask questions – the essential attitude needed for discovery and creativity.
The ever-widening gulf between conservatives and liberals is the essential cause of the sectarianism from both sides and which has led to the “death of God”. Perhaps this is the greatest evidence for the existence of Satan, that Christianity as Christ meant it to be was nipped in the bud at about the time of St Paul.
Most people I know have either been influenced by liberal Christianity, or their fundamental intuitions agree with it. I have often argued for generosity and inclusuivity, but how generous and inclusive are we. What about those who are beyond “our” limits, those who lie beyond our care and empathy? We are beyond someone else’s care and empathy and are fit only to die and be gone. Surely, there is a distinction between a person’s condition (having only one leg, being poor, etc.) and being sinful! Christ pardoned his own executioners and didn’t even tell them they were doing wrong.
We hear about the trajectory of history, a positive narrative of evolution. After all, if we were going down into disaster and apocalypse, why did Hitler not win the war? Why didn’t we have the ultimate nuclear barbecue in the 1960’s? Why are we still here in spite of the prophets of doom? If that is so, to what are we evolving? Utopia or dystopia? What are we doing with our technology? What has any of that to do with Christ or a story that is more than two thousand years old?
There is also a question of society. I live in a village, but am more connected with people in America and Australia than in the house next door! We are a global village thanks to the Internet and computers that can be bought for about a day’s work. The present Churches are unable to conceive of that reality, yet anything devised to work by internet is scoffed at. How long will we have technology, and what would cause us to lose it and be forced back to pre-modern life? Is that not what we secretly wish for in our agony?
Personally, I have always lived with scientific and liberally-minded people, and I believe in the necessity of accommodating discovery and creativity. It seems as though life after death and a pathway towards light and happiness, perhaps another parallel universe, is possible without the person having been under the domination of a human organisation calling itself a “true church” offering salvation in exchange for a pledge of total obedience and devotion. Quantum physics have changed many things from invalidating Newtonian physics, fundamentalist religion – and – nihilistic atheism. Get used to it? Not easy for any of us…
What is spirituality and prayer? Those words mean so many things to so many people. They would seem to be a connection to something higher than ourselves. Those who are not narcissists are “hard wired” to seek something higher because we lack complete confidence and certitude in ourselves. We find in that higher being a source of empathy and love. It is in our nature to seek to find a better life through some kind of journey and linear evolution, whether by going from one place to another using a means of transport or by making an inner or spiritual journey. It is said that happiness is not having but wanting. It keeps us on the move. Some people look for material things, money and power over others, because they are narcissists. Others seek wisdom and better ways to empathise with others and oppose selfishness and the root of evil.
We Christians are often motivated by the saying of Christ: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will abide. Vanity of vanities! Everything is so fleeting and temporary, including ourselves. Why do we care so much about our fiefs and certitudes? On the other hand, is that not the root of despair and nihilism. Can we not find something of an image of God’s love here in our present life, in our fragile homes, churches, whatever?
There are also parables about caring for what we have and what we are called to do in our present life. We do care about our church communities if there is a glimmer of what it all seems to be about. I don’t think we will ever get down to the bottom of it all.