James MacMillan on the liberal élite’s 'ignorance-fuelled hostility to religion'
There are so few composers today who even bother. There is greatness in Tavener, a convert to the Russian Orthodox Church, and the Church of England has Rutter, though he is deemed by many to be insufficiently ‘serious’. But the Protestant churches are no longer producing the Bachs or Handels, or even the Greenes or the Wesleys.
Yet even the greatest Protestant composers drew on Catholic liturgy because of its inherent greatness and splendour. There is something of the majesty of God in their requiems and masses, their anthems and magnificats, and this resonates all the more in an era typified by all that is materialistic and shallow.
But while Mr MacMillan blames a pathologically anti-Christian media, Cranmer would like to point the finger at Parliament and politicians too, for the Philistines have overrun the temple. The UK has seen decades of funding through the Arts Council to all manner of irrelevant, politically-correct, ethnic-quota-controlled, gender and sexuality-balanced ‘artistic’ initiatives, while the nation’s greatest have struggle for survival and some even bled to death.
It is not so much the ‘ignorance-fuelled hostility to religion’ which is supplanting the sacred with the secular – though it certainly a factor – but decades of political interference and assertions of 'neutrality' which inevitably yields all that is ‘bland and naïve’. And so Mr MacMillan identifies that the true creativity which is born of difference and plurality is subsumed to a Marxist agenda, and Art is ‘reduced to a lowest common denominator of uniformity and conformity, where any non-secular contribution will automatically be regarded as socially divisive by definition’.
There is not yet a secular orthodoxy, but Cranmer does not agree with Mr MacMillan when he says that such an agenda is failing. Whilst it is true that great art overcomes all opposition, there is no doubting that much creative energy is wasted in contending for the right to express the depths of one’s spirituality and the greatness of God. One can only wonder at the new glimpse of the Divine the world might have had if Beethoven had lived to complete his Requiem.
Mr MacMillan observes: ‘A smug ignorance, a gross oversimplification and caricature that serves as an analytical understanding of religion, is the common intellectual currency. The bridge has to be built by Christians and others being firm in resisting increasingly aggressive attempts to still their voices.’
And so the superficial and the banal must be confronted by the true greatness of a true and great faith. For our worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be reduced to clapping on 2 and 4 and hopping from foot to foot to three guitar chords and a drum kit from Asda. Church worship has been reduced to a theme from a soap opera, and the superficiality of secularism has corrupted the solemnity of the sacred.
It is indeed time to recover God's divine spark ‘which kindles the musical imagination now, as it has always done, and reminds us, in an increasingly dehumanised world, of what it means to be human’.