Monday, October 29, 2007

England today
Or the Blighty I remember 20 years ago has got worse. Actually in the one I remember I rather lived in my own little world — some things don’t change! — and found one can find the Catholic religion there if one is looking for it. The Revd Richard Kew writes:
In Britain there is now this huge sense that the Christian perspective on things is very much a minority taste that should be neither seen nor heard. Regarding the tussle to shape postmodern culture, a relativistic utilitarian approach to living and decision-making prevails, and attitudes which are rooted in an omnipotent God who has revealed himself are often condemned as irrelevant, intolerant, or both.
He’s not talking about blue-state America with different weather and different accents — nominal mainline membership for baby-naming parties baptisms (‘getting my kid done’ as I’ve heard it called in some circles there), weddings and funerals with an underlying theology of ‘God’s OK but I’m spiritual not religious’ (I really call the shots; he’s just a jolly old dodderer in the sky) — but real secular humanism:
Last Sunday evening I attended the village church to which I have chosen to attach myself and delighted in the office of Evening Prayer, together with eleven others. As one who has spent his whole adult life hanging around the church and soaking up the liturgy, it was a joy to be part of that act of worship, however, what we were doing in that ancient building would not have made much sense to the vast majority in the homes that cluster around St. Andrew's Church. To them this was about as relevant to daily life as the strange secret ceremonies of the Freemasons.

...folks who are three, four, five, or more generations removed from any kind of faith expression or church involvement. There are now folks in my own extended family who are four or five generations removed from any kind of Christian profession or church membership. What the Christian gospel is about is a mystery to the vast majority of the British (and I would have to add broader European) native population.
Among the educated this is or at least used to be mixed with a creepy self-awareness of what the Catholic shell of the culture means, the names of the Oxbridge colleges and those old village churches, but with the firm answer of ‘non serviam’.

I know the problem with ‘O tempora!’ culture-wars writing and realise the underclass in England has been irreligious at least since the Industrial Revolution when people were uprooted from the villages (some among us blame the ‘Reformation’: replacing a Mass with symbolism and devotions they can relate to with a university man talking at them on his level, which the lower classes here would resent too). Something the second generation of Anglo-Catholics, the ritualist slum priests, among others (the Methodists, the Salvation Army) were trying to fix. But Mr Kew better remembers the way it was and is in a better position to comment.
I suspect that what people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are doing in their best-selling frontal attacks on belief in God is both shaping public attitudes as well as amplifying the prevailing popular mindset. One American Christian visiting here that I was talking to the other day was describing a very interesting conversation with a taxi driver in which he expressed many of the same opinions as Professor Dawkins, although he had probably never heard of him. The general drift of his argument was that "no one believes that stuff any longer," something that is eagerly reflected back to folks through the media.

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