Saturday, 27 December 2008

Why now would be a very bad time for disestablishment

The disestablishment of the Church of England makes very good theological sense. At the same time, I firmly believe that now would be a very bad time for it, since those who advocate it the loudest do so, I suspect, not for the effect it would have on the Church of England but for the effect it would have on our society. And what they intend, I'm sure, would would be very bad:
It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have —until recently — been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche [both unbelievers]. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. ... If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it. (T S Eliot, ‘Notes Towards the Definition of Culture’, 1948, in Christianity and Culture, p200)
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  1. Wouldn't disestablishment simply confirm what is already true? The Christian faith is already dead in Europe, and not even recently dead. The stench of the bloated corpse already permeates the air. Its citizens stumble forward into the consequent nihilism with no thought but to pass the time in leisure until they die. And so the process described in the quote by TS Eliot is not pending, but has long since taken root. How would the dis-establishment of the CoE affect this one way or the other? If people do not believe what it teaches, it's mere existence does not matter. Ritual nominalism cannot replace a living faith. Has not the die already been cast?

    carl jacobs
    United States

  2. Thanks, John for posting a counter-cultural quote. The fact is, at it seems to me, that in Paul's way of looking at the Church its outward form is always dying — as dying and behold we live — and the inner reality being renewed as we turn to the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, of course there is deadness and formalism on the outside. But with a bit of faith it becomes possible to see the source of true life for the Church; the continual process of faith on the inside. By returning to that living source we can be renewed. I imagine that has always been the case since the first century, and will be untilt he Lord comes to take us home.

  3. John, do you really think disestablishment will cause or even promote "the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith" in England? Even if it caused the collapse of the Church of England (and if that happens it won't in fact be because of disestablishment) there is plenty that remains of our Christian faith in other churches, and of Christian culture in our culture. Perhaps you clergy have too high an opinion of your own significance.

  4. Peter, you ask, "do you really think disestablishment will cause or even promote "the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith" in England?"

    No. Nor did I say it would.

  5. Even Richard Dawkins accepts that our (English and European) culture is based on the Christian Faith. Where would we have been without this foundation fabric of our faith in society, especially at our 'darkest hours'?

    As parents, we train our children for adult life, then let them go. If as an established church, shouldn't the same model apply? But can the government ever be trusted to hold fast to the Chrstian framework for moral, ethical and charitable responsibility (i.e. the Christian faith, hope and love foundation) that drives and underpins all its actions? I doubt it, so whilst needing an effective political opposition that is prepared to challenge political behaviour, we also need an 'established' church to challenge moral, ethical, etc. behaviour.

  6. Anonymous - you appear to contradict yourself within your 2 posts. You say "If people do not believe what it teaches, it's mere existence does not matter" then continue with "we also need an 'established' church to challenge moral, ethical, etc. behaviour". How do these statements marry together? I believe that you are in fact correct with your initial view that dis-establishment is confirmed as already true, sadly, in our society. How we keep an "established church" within this is debatable.A secular society with a "leader" perhaps? I would not deem to suggest who that leader may be !