The death of Chris­tian Eng­land

The Church of England - - Leader & Comment - Peter Mullen

Any­thing Bene­dict and Fran­cis can do, our lads can do bet­ter. It’s nice to see for­mer Arch­bishop Rowan and new boy Justin singing from the same hymn sheet. I ad­mire the co-oper­a­tion, it’s just that I’m not too keen on the sound of their singing.

Both men have said re­cently that Bri­tain is no longer the Chris­tian coun­try it was for so many cen­turies. Of course, as tact­ful and diplo­matic guys, Rowan and Justin are care­ful to qual­ify their judge­ment. Rowan has stressed the tremen­dous in­flu­ence that Chris­tian val­ues have ex­erted on our na­tional cus­toms and in­sti­tu­tions; and Justin has kindly let it be known that he thinks there is still a place for the “mod­er­ate” Chris­tian. So that’s all right then: just no room for the im­mod­er­ate Chris­tians who try to keep Our Lord’s com­mand to re­joice un­der per­se­cu­tion; no place for mar­tyrs, stroppy types such as Poly­carp, Thomas More, La­timer, Ri­d­ley and Cran­mer. Cer­tainly, it was not very nice to see Chris­tians put to death, but at least these deaths in­di­cated an age when Chris­tian­ity had not yet been emp­tied of all prac­ti­cal mean­ing.

What re­ally makes my eyes wa­ter though is the opin­ion of both Arch­bish­ops to the ef­fect that his­tor­i­cal and so­cial changes are in­evitable and so the church must ac­com­mo­date it­self to them. Rowan said as much in his last ser­mon be­fore he re­tired: that the church had a lot of catch­ing up to do with changes in sec­u­lar mores. What­ever hap­pened to “Be ye not con­formed to this world…”? And in any case, the idea that his­tor­i­cal change is in­evitable is the Marx­ist view of his­tory.

The Arch­bish­ops are right, though, to no­tice that great changes in the char­ac­ter of Chris­tian Eng­land have surely oc­curred. We might even put this dra­mat­i­cally and say that the old Chris­tian Eng­land has died. But we should no­tice that its death was not from nat­u­ral causes, and it was not mur­dered. It was in fact sui­cide over the long-drawn-out pe­riod when the mind of the church was dis­turbed. There was true psy­cho­log­i­cal and spir­i­tual pathol­ogy and I shall iden­tify the symp­toms in due course, but first I should like us to re­call the church when it was in the full bloom of health.

Af­ter the Sec­ond World War, the church en­joyed a pro­longed pe­riod of life and growth. All through the 1950s at­ten­dances held up; bap­tism, con­fir­ma­tion and mar­riage were pop­u­lar. There was a sus­tained in­crease in the num­ber of men of­fer­ing them­selves for Holy Or­ders. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, and to be young was very heaven. I know, be­cause I was there. In the work­ing class par­ish of St Bartholomew, Leeds, where I was brought up, there were three of us can­di­dates for the priest­hood; and we were all three or­dained. Down­town Armley be­tween the gas works and the jail – and there were over a hun­dred of us at the Sung Eucharist ev­ery Sun­day. Lights, colours, mu­sic ac­com­pa­nied by the mighty Schultze or­gan and the­o­log­i­cal ser­mons.

Then – and I can date it pre­cisely – the first signs of dis­ease. It was 1963, the same year iden­ti­fied by Philip Larkin as the be­gin­nings of sex­ual in­ter­course: “be­tween the end of the Chat­ter­ley ban and the Bea­tles first LP.” That was the year when Bishop JAT Robin­son’s icon­o­clas­tic tract Hon­est to God ap­peared and went into nine edi­tions. Hon­est John Robin­son ad­ver­tised his book with an ar­ti­cle in The Ob­server in which he told us “our im­age of God must go.” Specif­i­cally: “We no longer be­lieve in a God who is lit­er­ally and phys­i­cally up there…” – but we never did, Bish – “…nor can we be­lieve in a God who is me­ta­phys­i­cally out there.” It was the start of prac­ti­cal athe­ism. The sense was of a huge cat be­ing let out of a gi­ant bag. And not just one cat but two.

For if the­ol­ogy was de­bunked, could the rub­bish­ing of moral­ity be far be­hind? Chap­ter six of Hon­est to God ex­plic­itly re­jected de­on­to­log­i­cal bi­b­li­cal moral­ity and rec­om­mended in­stead some­thing called “sit­u­a­tion ethics.” You just de­cided the dif­fer­ence be­tween right and wrong on the spot. This was also called “the new moral­ity” – satirised at the time as “…only the old im­moral­ity in a miniskirt.”

There was metas­ta­sis in this men­tal ill­ness and the sui­ci­dal ten­den­cies in­creased and spread. These de­stroyed those whole­some nu­tri­ments: The King James Bi­ble and The Book of Com­mon Prayer. These were re­placed over a pe­riod of 30 years by in­creas­ingly de­gen­er­at­ing ver­sions of scrip­ture and forms of ser­vice of mind-numb­ing ba­nal­ity. New wor­ship songs and cho­ruses led us into vain rep­e­ti­tions, 10 times over, of stuff that wasn’t worth singing once.

Fi­nally, there was the po­lit­i­cal revo­lu­tion. The C of E had never re­ally been the Tory Party at prayer. Per­haps it used to bear re­sem­blance to the Lib­eral Party at the sherry morn­ing. But over the last three decades of the 20th century, it came to look like the So­cial­ist Party at the bar­ri­cade. Ev­ery trendy, lefty pol­icy and ev­ery in­no­va­tion in sec­u­lar moral­ity was en­thu­si­as­ti­cally taken up un­til the one-na­tion church of Hooker, Law, Lancelot An­drewes and TS Eliot was turned into a sect. The C of E ef­fec­tu­ally re­signed.

So this is how we came to be where we are now which is, as Rowan and Justin have cor­rectly de­scribed it, an en­tity that is no longer a Chris­tian coun­try in the old sense. To­day’s C of E is part of the mu­seum cul­ture, the her­itage tra­di­tion – some­thing for the tourists to gawp at. Tra­di­tional doc­trines were long since aban­doned. The real Bi­ble and the real Prayer Book – for cen­turies the uni­fy­ing fac­tors among all Angli­cans, High, Low and Broad – ripped up. The po­lit­i­cal equi­lib­rium, painfully achieved, was sac­ri­ficed in the in­ter­est of the bish­ops and Synod and turned into a left-wing pres­sure group.

But the no­tion that all this was merely ac­ci­den­tal is as fool­ish as it is wicked. The death of the old Chris­tian Eng­land was willed. More­over, we know who dun­nit and we know where they buried the body.

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