Sometimes, it is simply a relief to discover articles embodying the current penchant for secular idiocy within right-wing organs of public opinion, such as The Telegraph. Linda Woodhead’s daft, and profoundly uninformed piece in the 27th March edition, entitled ‘Is Jesus the latest – or was he the first – victim of #MeToo?’, after the initial irritation, leaves one with a sense that all is right with the world. Reading a distinctly 21st century fad back into 1st century Palestine makes, oh-so much sense.
After all, as if there is a kind of competition in vacuousness, we then have Simon Jenkins’ rather sad exercise in reductionism in the 30th March edition of The Guardian, entitled ‘Happy Easter to you. Now let’s nationalise our churches’.
It’s as if Easter has morphed into a kind of special occasion for the triumph of ideology over sensible enquiry and discourse, but at least it is reassuring to be reminded that this is not a market that the Left has entirely cornered. Give it time.
You can virtually guarantee that the liberal media will bulge like overripe plums with this kind of guff at Easter time. Perhaps one should be relieved that they find it impossible to let the occasion pass without some sort of baseless sermonising; it is encouraging that we have not yet made Christ’s resurrection so anodyne that it may be ignored with impunity. Simon Jenkins does not content himself with merely another shallow observation about declines in attendance within the established church. No, as a self-professed ‘non-worshipper’, he is not slow in his demand that ‘our churches’ should be nationalised. The pathology of appropriation appears undiminished over the passing years.
The sadness of this kind of material lies not in the nature of the criticism, but rather in the apparent inability of these writers to consider matters with any degree of rigour. Linda Woodhead may be ‘Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University’, but you’d never be aware of that simply from the content of her article in The Telegraph. Perhaps she is just another example of political ideology masquerading as academic competence within our universities, contexts which increasingly appear to be more driven by politics than by academic enquiry. Perhaps sociology is a discipline which lives within its own little silo and specialises in ignoring reputable academic texts. Perish the thought.
Alongside the sadness lies an inevitable frustration. If one seeks to assess this material with any kind of thoughtful critique, one is spoiled for choice. The quality of this channel of public discourse is now so profoundly denatured, that the act of engagement itself becomes a stretched and unproductive exercise. Where does one start? The path of sanity lies in consigning all of it to the bin, and hoping that it may not be recycled in any intelligible format. But the kind of marxist ideology running through Simon Jenkins’ article should not be allowed to pass unchallenged, especially when it is so reflective of the kinds of agenda played out by Stalin and Mao. Jenkins argues that “…churches should be at the beating heart of each community – but a secular heart, as well as a religious one.”
It is difficult to imagine that such a comment could have been made without some kind of awareness of historic trends within Anglicanism. Firstly, these buildings did, historically, represent the ‘beating heart’ of the community, and the nature of that heart was, essentially, a religious one. Without that vital faith, there would have been none of these buildings whose emptiness Jenkins decries, and it is difficult to discern any residual ‘beating heart’ within a secularised culture that would be sufficient to sustain them if communities simply comprise ‘non-worshippers’ such as the author. The problem of these buildings is all wrapped up in the decline of the impulse which created them in the first place, and repurposing will solve nothing – unless the secularists have in mind delegating that function to islamists.
And secondly, speaking as someone who has been a reasonably regular partaker of Anglican services over the last forty years, it would be difficult to overstate the degree to which the ‘religious’ heart has already been replaced with the mechanical, secular alternative. Agreed, there are pockets of resistance to this trend, but in so many instances what one encounters are the forms and the words which have been hollowed out from the inside. Scratch the surface, and the values underneath are often secular values, the responses to culture are secular responses, the underlying beliefs owe more to secular ideology than anything one might associate with Christian belief. Secularism has already done it’s job – that’s why those buildings lie empty on Sundays, and throughout the week. There’s a whole lot more to Christianity, than a kind of communal articulation of the words of the liturgy, especially when those words no longer reflect the convictions of so many of the clergy. Besides which, we’ve been there before: Christian universities have, in many instances, been exhorted to ‘share’ their spaces with secularists, and we all know where that ended up.
Thankfully, there are many other churches which do not mirror the narrative of decline that Simon Jenkins appears to revel in – and many of them were built to support astounding revivals of biblical Christianity at a time when a kind of proto-secularism was attempting to shut down the religious life of the nation. Thankfully, there is always Easter.