Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Seeking a Christian England

So - we live in a secular society, not a Christian one. Nice to have it laid out so clearly by the judiciary. It grates that these judgements are so philosophically ill-grounded - but I've discussed that in more detail before.

"...if such a thing should be, the crimes of that nation will probably begin in infringement on Apostolical Rights ; she will end in persecuting the true Church ; and in the several stages of her melancholy career, she will continually be led on from bad to worse by vain endeavours at accommodation and compromise with evil."

Should Christians be worried about this? Given that the church was (arguably) at its healthiest when working within the avowedly pagan Roman Empire, one would suspect not. Yet surely it is understandable for a Christian to want not to suffer so much? In a way, it will make Christian witness rather clearer. This isn't a point about homosexuality so much as a broader point about how a distinctive Christian life is possible in a secular society. For example, take issues at the beginning and end of life. At what point will a Christian doctor be disbarred, or restricted from practicing in certain areas, if they, eg, refuse to terminate a baby's life, or refuse to administer euthanasia? Will Christians be allowed to teach differently to the secular world-view? Will parents be forbidden from teaching Christian doctrine in those areas where it clashes with secular assumptions? "That'll never happen!" Right.

"How may a man best reconcile his allegiance to God and his Church with his duty to his country, that country, which now, by the supposition, is fast becoming hostile to the Church, and cannot therefore long be the friend of God?"

I think what's really running around my mind is whether it is legitimate to seek to make England a Christian nation (I leave off the possible 'once again' as it begs too many questions). There are, of course, all sorts of potential idolatries here - I have read my Hauerwas - but there is also an idolatry in quietism. If we, as Christians, are inevitably committed to questions of social justice then we are also inevitably political creatures - which, logically, and under God with all due humility, must mean seeking to so order our political arrangements in such a way that abundant life can flourish - and that "abundant life" is irreducibly Christian in character, not secular. We are therefore in necessary tension with any secular state.

There are several threads that I want to knit together:

- the internal collapse of the Church of England, culturally and theologically (symbolised by the abandonment of the BCP, however sensible that step was);
- the death of England more broadly;
- the on going threat of Islamisation, and the sometimes unhealthy political reaction to it;
- the way in which the Anglican Communion will split, and how TEC may be a better vehicle for the Anglican theological spirit than a Covenantised CofE; and finally
- the unhealthy nature of Anglo-Catholicism within the CofE (reactionaries contending with liberals), compared to the initial flowering of Anglo-Catholicism sparked by a political controversy.

I just wonder if there is a 'sweet spot' lurking here that would mean the project of seeking a Christian England would be blessed. Watch this space.

"What are the symptoms, by which one may judge most fairly, whether or no a nation, as such, is becoming alienated from God and Christ?
And what are the particular duties of sincere Christians, whose lot is cast by Divine Providence in a time of such dire calamity?"


  1. The problem as I see it is that the judiciary has been turned away from the idea of Natural Rights, in which law was 'discovered' by judges towards the idea that laws are made by politicians. In a world where Natural Laws are respected the secular and religious worlds can coexist perfectly because neither will be able to impose obligations on the other. In a world of legislative law everyone is at risk by the arrogance, corruption, and stupidity of the ruling elite and the judiciary.

  2. Surely this secularisation of our society is an inevitable result of the failure of the Church of England and any other faith body in Britain for that matter to engage people at a fundamental level. We don't necessarily in my view have to adopt the 'dualistic' approach that secular=bad, faith=good. Humanists, agnostics, rampant atheists all bring something to the table, after all they make up the lion's share of our society (like it or not). I'm kind of reminded of Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality (although I have to confess it's been a while since I read it) where the Church has become a 'Static Quality Pattern' and Secular society is a 'Dynamic' one, inclusive of various shades of belief, creed, colour, sexual orientation etc., that in part must account for it's success. I have to say as a person of faith I don't think this is necessarily an iredeemable situation for the church, as I think there is for a large number of people today, a spiritual appetite simply not being fed.

  3. Thanks for comments. VangelV that's interesting, hadn't thought of it that way before - it's as if when both accept something 'larger' there is room for difference, whereas if either assume they can totally explain then there is intolerance.
    James - didn't realise you were a Pirsig/MoQ fan!! (Have you read any of my stuff about that?) I think that the church can indeed become a static pattern (has become) but I also think that the most interesting and dynamic thinking at the moment is in theological circles. It's partly why I suspect that TEC is a better future for Anglican theology rather than an established church - the static patterns are weaker. Also: quality is found in the interplay between static and dynamic, too much of either is destructive.

  4. Sam, yes a big fan of Pirsig/MoQ since first reading 'Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' when I was about 18. I'll certainly be reading your thoughts about that soon.

  5. Some thoughtful stuff, here, Sam. I will be following your development of this.

    Especially, I would like some 'fleshing out' of what you are meaning by "Christian England" - all of my initial 'resident alien'-instincts scream "NO!"....and yet, I am a political animal!...

  6. Paul, thanks - I'm sure there will be more stuff in due course!
    James, the two things of mine that might be worth reading re: the MoQ are this one trying to match it up with Christian thinking http://elizaphanian.blogspot.com/2005/09/christian-interpretation-of-moq.html and this one (more technical) where I'm seeking to 'correct' what I see as a mistaken emphasis: http://www.moq.org/forum/Elizaphanian/Eudaimonic_moq.html


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