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Monday, December 19, 2005

'Religion doesn't come into it'

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory be to thee!

This is the troparion from the Feast of the Nativity of OLaSJC. What really touched me was the words, they that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship thee.

When I was 15, I moved away from the Anglican Province of the West Indies, which is very much influeneced by the general culture of Christianity in that part of the world. Sola Scriptura may not be official policy, but it is almost certainly part of the pew-culture. I felt so liberated when I moved back to the UK and the Church of England, I was presented with entirely (to me), new perspectives on matters of faith. Things were no longer quite so rigid, and there was an acceptance of difference of belief about various issues, which was affirmed as ok. I saw this as a very good thing at the time.

However, I have seen this taken to its extreme, and the universalist position does worry me. The extent to which this has taken hold in much of Christianity has become more apparent since the beginning of my journey towards Orthodoxy. I am firm in my expression of Orthodox Faith - what the Church is, the Sacraments as means of grace of the New Covenant - and I am accused of being exclusive, of regarding the unbaptised (which, I hasten to add, includes me), as having second-class status - this is what is levelled against me for having dared to link saving grace and being part of the Church with Baptism. This from supposedly Christian voices!

I see Christians accused by other Christians of being exclusive and triumphalistic simply for expressing their beliefs in Christianity as Truth, to the exclusion of religious traditions that differ from Christianity. This astonishes me. Surely, a Christian is a Christian because he believes Christianity to be true. If he didn't believe this, how could he be a Christian? Why would he want to be?

Is it part of the culture of "church" being reduced to a social club of people who have bake sales and bingo and who get together every now and then to sing a few hymns and say prayers? The same culture that reduces worship to entertainment, so that the gathered community is the focus? So that the priest has to face the worshippers throughout the service to engage with them? So that they have to see everything that goes on otherwise they feel deprived? The same culture that cancels Christmass services because the audien... erm... congregation won't be large enough tomake it worthwhile? Is it part of this? Has this mentality become so entrenched that people see church as a place where we have fun and get on, and where people who make a fuss about what we believe and how this should be reflected in the way we worship, are just rocking the boat unnecessarily? I cannot help but think that this disregard for the core purpose of our Faith in some circles is directly related to the rise of universalism.

I'm reminded of To the Manor Born, when Richard DeVere is being reprimanded by the former Lady of the Manor for not going to church. His response is, 'But I'm not religious', to which Audrey fforbes-Hamilton retorts, 'Religion doesn't come into it'.

I wonder just how much truth there is in this.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Audrey was quite right, she was referring to the responsibilities of the local gentry to set a good example - attendance at the Parish church was seen as the proper behaviour for those who had the responsibility of leading the community. Religion really didn't come into it. In a sense, religion was the optional extra for those attending the Parish church. There were always those who took it seriously, and for them, the presence of the church and its clergy (however uninterested they might be) was a blessing.
Whatever we may think of the Church of England now, she did retain the essentials of the faith and carried the country through that long period, enabling those who would, to pray and provided some degree of assistance for those working out their salvation. Unfortunately, she dropped the bundle about forty years ago, and now she is worse than useless, she is a genuine negative effect for those who wish to hold the faith.
(If I want to rant I should get my own blog - sorry)

Fr. Michael

Michael said...

You needn't apologise, Father. You're more than welcome to rant here. Goodness knows I do enough of it. I didn't know the C of E in its golden era so I cannot comment on the changes, but I know where I feel as though I'm going home and why I could not be elsewhere.

Joe said...

Father--I for one would look forward to reading such a blog. ;)

Joseph Zollars

Merseymike said...

I understand what you say. As I move in the opposite direction to you - towards a fully-fledged , open universalism, and away from anything resembling traditional/orthodox Christianity, I recognise, as I think you do, that there are literally contradictory views encapsulated within the CofE. I don't believe it can continue for long. What, though, you view as Truth, I simply see as opinion. I don't believe there is such a thing as revealed truth (and if I'm honest, I'm thoroughly unattracted by the philosophies which are offered as such)

There is just an entirely different mindset,outlook and worldview between those who you may have once related to, and the way you see things now - to an extent I can relate to this as well given my move away from the revealed-truth type of Christianity towards a universalist christian humanism.

I think many liberal Christians actually think as I do and doubt the notion of revealed truth, but haven't jumped the rubicon of being able to express it openly.

I don;t think, however, that it has much to do with the sort of church culture you mention, which has far more to do with not thinking at all about anything very much! I find that sort of church environment as unstimulating and deadening as you do.

I only wish that genuine openness of thought and universalism had caught hold to the extent you perceive - I still see the church as being largely bound by outdated traditions and literal belief in 2000+year old books!

Michael said...

I think you're right that we do have some things in common, Mike. Despite what I've said above, tha majority of people who know me personally have been very respectful, so the shift and sifference hasn't really been that much ofa problem.

I agree with you about the C of E, and I find it interesting that, despite our movement in opposite directions, we have both arrived at the same conclusion that the C of E, in its current direction, is untenable as a continuing single body.

I, too, think that this is perhaps a good thing. A split would certainly be more honest, in any case.

Let's see how things go.

duchessSoF said...

As a Yankee reading this blog, I enjoy the edifying education I receive here. Thank you.

M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S !!!

The young fogey said...

What bothered me at the time about 'To the Manor Born' was I assumed that Bedrich Polowicka/Richard DeVere was Catholic to begin with but had become Protestant as part of his social climbing, the same reason he changed his name. Then much later I learnt that many Czechs are indifferent to religion to begin with. (Not really different from the English.)

Anyway, Audrey Fforbes-Hamilton's answer reminded me of Dr Frank Senn's definition of modern religion - doing it not because you believe it's true but because it's materially useful to you somehow. It keeps the proles under control as good subjects, or it helps you advance your career. Anglicanism once had that prestige position in the US alongside Presbyterianism. Utilitarian. Speaking of America it also reminded me of that great agnostic of the 'Enlightenment' Thomas Jefferson, who as Virginian landed gentry was on the vestry (PCC) of his Anglican parish church not because he believed but because that's what men of his station did. Religion didn't come into it.

That said, well put, Fr Michael, on the past of the Church of England. It may make it into my blog.