Monday, April 09, 2007

The moral necessity of Christianity

Bruce Anderson has an excellent article in The Independent on the moral imperative of the Christian faith, and the ethical consequences of its demise in the public life of the nation. Of particular note is his contrast of the believer’s intellectual and spiritual struggle with the ‘unholy simplicity’ of the atheist. Thus the arrogant Professor Richard Dawkins, who ‘gives the impression that the possibility of self-doubt has never crossed his mind’, has to accept just one proposition – the non-existence of God. But the believer has to try to understand the great complexities of what he or she believes. Anderson notes: ‘After two Christian millennia and many libraries of theology, that task seems harder than ever. St Paul told his fellow Christians that in this world, they would only see through a glass, darkly. That is becoming increasingly true.’

The article is worth quoting at length:

In the West, we have a vast cultural and intellectual heritage. But our ethical heritage is sadly depleted. Its two wells were the Classics and Christianity. The Classical well has already ceased to function. The Christian one may run dry even before the oil wells. Prime Minister Salisbury said that anyone who expected the Christian ethic to survive Christian theology by more than two or three generations was deluded. He has yet to be refuted.

There are those who would try to brush his point aside by denying that the Christian ethic has any value, and the past 2,000 years provides them with plenty of prima facie evidence. So did Christianity make man better, worse, or just the same? It is an irresolvable dispute, but the Christians can adduce some arguments in their favour. Theirs is a religion of love in which charity is a duty. If that cannot persuade man to behave well, original sin is the best short account of the human condition.

As a result, religion is one of the most powerful impulses in the human psyche, and shares a characteristic with two of the others, sex and money. They can all be profoundly creative or profoundly destructive. Religion has inspired painting, architecture and music. It has also inspired persecution, atrocities and massacres. It is surely preferable that this elemental force should be embanked, as great rivers are so that they can flow to the sea without inundating the land. For all their faults, the modern established churches are the safest means of ensuring this.

The second practical argument for Christianity relates to Islam, a religion which is not in decline. Westerners have a problem in dealing with Muslims; too many of us are infested with vulgar Marxism. So when believers who are angry with us talk about their faith, we assume that this is a mere metaphor for political and economic grievances. We are too ready to discount the possibility that our opponents are saying what they believe and that their grievances are largely religious in origin.

This is not to deny that religion and politics may combine to cause an explosion, especially in Islamic countries which do not recognise the distinction between the two. In Scotland, the SNP has convinced many voters that William Wallace was a poll-tax rebel, cruelly murdered by Margaret Thatcher. The SNP has used a "Braveheart" version of early 14th-century Scottish history to inflame unjustified grievances. It is hardly surprising that in countries where the grievances are genuine, a truthful version of 7th-century Islamic history can inflame the passions.

It was one of the most remarkable occurrences in history. Primitive tribesmen surged forth from the Arabian peninsula. Within 100 years, they had defeated the Byzantine and Persian empires. Only Charles Martel prevented them from overrunning Western Europe. This is not to suggest that we return to Charles Martel's methods. The era of the Crusades is over. But in our dealings with Islam, it would help us if we had more confidence in our own values and traditions.

And Cranmer applauds Mr Anderson’s conclusion:

In order for that to occur, as many people as possible ought to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This requires a missionary zeal, and the total rejection of the politically-correct mantra that ‘all religions are basically the same’. That requires the re-assertion of the freedom of speech, and thus the freedom to offend without being arrested for committing some phobia or other.


Anonymous Voyager said...

We are having some good postings this Easter Your Grace.

The article from Bruce Anderson is better than his usual fayre, and contains a profound truth. The way that Socialism in all its variants has subverted much of institutionalised Christianity turning it into an appendage of the Welfare State has focused its attentions upon the material and not the spiritual.

Often it appears the prelates are firmly rooted in the "here and now" with no concept of transcendental deity, and are merely actors reading lines scripted by The Guardian rather than imparting Belief in the Risen Christ and understanding of his Parables and his Mission in the context of the Old Testament, too readily discarded in too many churches.

Building a cathedral over a span of 800 years, or planting olive trees for the generations to come are aspects of modern living seemingly abandoned to the desire for there "here and now"; and the Church which should be a permanence in a turbulent sea, A Rock upon which the foundation of the world is built, too often seems to have men with feet of clay building structures on sand.

9 April 2007 at 12:37  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Voyager,

His Grace thanks you for your kind comment, and agrees with your observations on the sorry state of the Church, but observes the dearth of responses to his more theologically erudite tomes...

9 April 2007 at 16:28  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Easter Your Grace seems to be a time of pilgrimage to realms not provided with access to the Internet and thus many of your congregants are absent from their devotions

9 April 2007 at 16:33  
Anonymous bob said...

Cranmer, your articles for Holy Week and Easter have been insightful, thought-provoking, and very attuned to the sacred truths of these weeks. Many thanks for them.

9 April 2007 at 17:45  
Blogger tim said...

Thank-you, Your Grace, for posting these Easter sermons and thoughts! Voyager is right about the confidence in Christianity that is required for the "missionary zeal" our culture needs.

One thing about the long horizon of a culture that has this self-confidence: I just realized that it is a trait of many environmentalists to plan for generations many years in the future. I must commend them for this.

But within my lifetime, what those specific plans are has changed many times. In the 1970s and '80s, it was "renewable" energy—wind farms and hydroelectric power and such. Cleaning up factory pollution. In the early 1990s, the ozone hole was the big panic. In this decade, global warming has surpassed all, supplanting the coming ice age I was taught to fear in elementary school, so we must rid ourselves of carbon dioxide. Even the factory pollution turns out to be our friend, as it helped hold temperatures down!

Contrast this with Voyager's example of a cathedral that will take hundreds of years to build. The builders, church officials, and laymen who planned that cathedral believed in something specific, concrete, and eternal. And it was a thing to uplift the spirit, not merely to inspire directionless panic.

9 April 2007 at 18:01  
Blogger Sam Tarran said...

This article makes a lot of interesting points. As John Adams put it:

"The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity."

However, it seems a bit shallow that people should be made to believe in the resurrection of Christ simply as a bulwark against the spread of Islam and as a way to preserve Western values and traditions. Shouldn't people believe in the resurrection on its own merit?

9 April 2007 at 22:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once upon a time there was a poor man. He travelled on a train from a railway station some miles from London, without a ticket. Upon his arrival at the great London terminus, he approached the ticket office and declared that he needed to buy a ticket from Xxxxton, as he had not had the opportunity to buy his ticket on the train. As this was many stops down the line, the ticket seller was astonished at his honesty. The poor man paid the fare and turned to look at the ticket seller, whose face was a picture of pleasant shock.

The poor man needed that money. That money made no difference to the ticket seller for he was just doing a job. But this act was not about practicalities, it was about what was honest and what was right; at the least rendering unto Caeser or perhaps doing unto others as you would be done by.

Each of us can be salt and light in every little act of every day. It may not change the world but as another writer once said,

"the movement you need is on your shoulder"

9 April 2007 at 22:45  
Blogger tim said...


Shouldn't people believe in the resurrection on its own merit?

Certainly! But I'd say that it is not improper to sense an urgency for the spread of our religion because of a looming threat. Especially a looming threat that is in direct conflict with our religion, in theory, in theology, and in practice.

10 April 2007 at 04:42  
Anonymous Voyager said...

that people should be made to believe

You make a textual error... should is a subjunctive implying "ought".....then you state " be made to" implying compulsion; and then you state "believe"

This reflects great confusion on your part, and sadly a complete incomprehension of the Christian Faith.

People "should" believe in Jesus Christ and "ought" to find their way to the Cross, but Christianity relies upon free will unlike Islam which is bound up with compulsion and submission.

Your confusion is most unfortunate....since it implies you do not understand The Holy Ghost, nor that you are familiar in any way with the New Testament.

The simple fact is that the failure of the Church in England to reaxh out and evangelise has left many millions of people bereft of guidance or religious sense of purpose and prey to sects and cults, and in some regions, Islam which is sold in a simplistic and cult-like manner of "easy to enter hard to leave"

10 April 2007 at 08:27  
Anonymous billy said...

The Church of England fell behind in the Industrial Revolution and the consequent growth of towns. It found itself left behind and its place taken by the Methodists, Baptists, and others. It did, however, eventually catch up and it built the new churches necessary for the increased urban population. I believe that if Islam is a threat in England that the C of E will catch up again. My local experience suggests that it is happening.
Our parish is growing and I guess that others must be. I don't see any converts from islam but I do see lots of faithless white people coming to Christ, and many of them coming as families. Some are attracted by activities provided for children in the holiday breaks, others seek baptism for their children or marriage for themselves, and cannot have the services performed unless they attend structured classes. Several stay on after the classes. We have old people returning because they have heard that there is something different to what they knew happening in their church.
I hope that my local experience shows a trend that will mean Christianity and the values of the West will eventually prevail.

10 April 2007 at 09:17  
Anonymous m.d. said...

It seems to me that this piece, while being a step in the right direction, was an argument for God, based not in Biblical truths or the love and person of Jesus, but on the fact that it would make the country a stronger place and ward off competing religions. Should we not be wanting a newspaper article based in sound spiritual foundations which talks about an accessible God?

10 April 2007 at 09:18  
Anonymous Voyager said...

and it built the new churches necessary for the increased urban population

The Church of England did not build them, local benefactors did. Local landowners donated the churches to the parish, and funded the living. The Church of England was a bottom-up organisation when it was living and breathing and it was aligned with local worthies who put their money into their local church as still happens in the USA.

The Church of England in industrial cities was behind the growth of cricket - especially Bradford League - it was a means to occupy the free time of people with little money.

The Nonconformists had their own chapels funded by their own businessmen - like Congregationalist Titus Salt.

It was the alignment of those who had money in society with their sense of noblesse oblige rather than their current adulation of money and conspicuous consumption. Christianity was seen as tempering the excesses of money by setting a moral framework for its use

10 April 2007 at 12:00  
Blogger botogol said...

It's odd when religious people employ BA's argument - 'don't worry about whether it's TRUE or not, people should follow religion anyway because it's a force for good'

I think this undermines the whole point of religion. If we all have a moral compass that enables us to judge whether a particualr religion is a force for good or not, then why not simply rely on this moral compass to guide our daily lives as well. What's the need for the religion?

11 April 2007 at 11:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a deterministic atheist there is no chance at all of my believing in the resurrection - to me it may as well be the easter bunny, or the tooth fairy, in fact.

Having some ethical basis is important, but I don't think it need be a religious one. Like him or not, Dawkins strikes me as a man who has his idea of what ethics are about, and I have no doubt he's an implacable enemy of Islam as a result. He doesn't exist in a moral vacuum, in any case.

It's not atheism, but postmodernism, which teaches that ethics are just a socially constructed illusion, which is the problem.

12 April 2007 at 01:27  
Anonymous bob said...

Dawkins strikes me as a man who has more in common with religious fundamentalists than most people of faith that I know. His world view is exceptionally narrow, he cannot accept any view of reality other than his own, and he is determined to rid the world of all other creeds until only his own remains.

12 April 2007 at 11:34  

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