Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Church of England

The sad thing about the impending schism in the Church of England is that both sides have stumbled into the folly of literalness. The great glory of the Church has always been its sweet, liberal vagueness. I was brought up in this faith and I wallowed in the fact that I seemed to be able to think what I liked. This may sound crazy amidst the literalism that has since swept the world. But I had the Book of Common Prayer and George Herbert, in the face of which literalists had and still have nothing. The current confrontation should have been swept under the carpet. Literalists think this is always a bad thing. I don't. It's a particularly valuable policy now when most people don't care very much what the Church does and, besides, it worked for 400 years and not sweeping is now threatening the existence of Anglicanism, a sweet faith of holy vagaries.


  1. I would agree with you, up to a point (Lord Copper). But sometimes, vagaries conceal injustice, and wallowed-in vagueness is another way of wallowing in heresy. Sometimes, just sometimes, the right thing has to be done, even if, like Chairman Mao, we won't know the results for a couple of (hundred) years.

    For my money's worth, the right thing was done yesterday, and threats of the sky falling in upon us and the judgements of heaven being visited upon us will all look a little silly in a very short time

  2. Well I would say this, but to me we are seeing the end of a 450 year old fudge. A fudge which worked so long as Enlightenment thinking could be ignored. For better or ill, however, we now live in a post-Enlightenment world and decisions about the primacy of theology or secular values - utilitarian, sentimental and political - have to be taken. It seems the secular has won.

    There is some sadness. Some things of great and lasting beauty were built in the CofE; the BCP being one of them. However the foundations on which that structure was built were an abomination: the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in history; a massive land grab; the abandonment of any concept of duty to the poor and needy - who needed Poor Laws and Vagrancy Acts before the Reformation? - and the confinement of education to a wealth elite; and to top it all, a cultural holocaust. No, in the balance The CofE was a 'bad thing'.

  3. It all rather lends credence to the Hitchensian 'religion poisons everything' position, too, doesn't it? The sweet reasonableness of the CofE was often cited up as an example or religion as a force for good, cuddly, unthreatening (if a bit ludicrous) in contradiction to Hitchens's anti-religion fulminations. But now we find the church in earnest, prolonged, public debate about how far and in what ways it should discriminate against women and homosexuals. All in the name of love, of course. We had thought that this sort of discrimination in our public institutions was a thing of the past (or at least something to keep hidden, a source of potential shame). But religion poisons everything.

  4. Well to those who think that everything that Hitchens says is gospel, then what Hitchens says will be gospel. Others of us, though, just think Hitchens worships at the temple of Hitchens.

  5. I read an interview with Vaclav Havel in one of your newspapers last week wherein he made a passing reference to the larger issue looming behind this one, that modern western societies have become atheistic in nature.

  6. Religion poisons everything? Wow. That's really clever. And persuasive. Have to remember that one. And who's this Hitchens character? Sounds like a genius of uncommon insight.

  7. Yep... amazing. I'm still reeling from it actually. Excuse me, I'm going to have to go out and lie in the grass for a while. Stare up at the stars. Try to... try to think my way round this dammit. I mean... wow. 'Religion poisons everything'. Incredible.

  8. God knows what John Betjeman would have made of it all.

  9. Richard:

    God knows what John Betjeman would have made of it all.

    How about something like:

    O lady archbishop, tow'ring in the pulpit there,
    Ruddy broad-chested gal, belting out the hymn.
    What mighty muscled limbs hide beneath your cassock there?
    Sturdy legs made holy by bicycling and gym?

  10. Yes, should have been swept as homosexuality and the role of women in the church is staggeringly insignificance next to the core message of the gospel.

    Roman triumphalism wearies and bores me in the face of Anglican distress. Anglicanism is imploding because of spiritual myopia and secularism, not because it has lost any of the old arguments it established in its defence against Roman claims to dominance.

    If there were to be a spiritual revival of the senses and ethical consciousnes in this land the old argument in favour of the Anglican stance would be as strong as in the past.

    Can't Rome be persuaded to stop trying to dominate everything. We dont want to impose ourselves on Rome, after all.