Thursday, 1 January 2009

Looking Ahead

Looking ahead, much will be based around the economy and the common prediction that 2009 will be rough. The kind of public spending on projects that would make a difference needs to be started rapidly if there will be a pick-up in 2010. In the UK what is being brought forward is hardly enough to make a difference, and 2010 will see tax rises to choke off any recovery.

The current Israeli action against Hamas and spilling into the population shows again that without a comprehensive peace in the Middle East nothing will last. Gaza is like a prison camp or huge ghetto that has fallen into extremism and despair, and the Israelis do have to trade land for peace at the West Bank. Getting that right and compromising about Jerusalem, and if they want a wall to put it inside the 1967 boundary and not around settlements and a bit more, might just lead to a form of stability for the wider Middle East too including Iraq and, longer term, Pakistan and as far as Afghanistan. Islam was never as anti-semitic as it is now; and trying to get a peace with Israel might lead to Islam being less reactionary and open to some sort of critical reform.

In terms of world religion, and even world Christianity, the spat between the Global Anglican Future Conference and elements of the Anglican Communion is but a blip on the landscape. The evangelicals and charismatics that fill the media halls and occupy satellite stations care about pastors and authority but don't care a jot about bishops and Anglican formularies. In the landscape of megachurches, and then struggling churches under their shadows, the GAFCON dispute is just a peculiar side show in one denomination. In England some metropolitan cities produce large churches, and some suburbs do, and have specialities, but most do not, and the existence of some independent denomination that fills its space - say like Abundant Life in Bradford, sucks the life out of other evangelical churches more than other kinds.

As for the Anglican dispute, regarding the Anglican Church of North America and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a stalemate is most likely. The Communion may be effectively moribund, with the main actors busy in its corners and this Primates Council presenting itself as an authority competition within the Communion but appealing to no one but itself. Nevertheless, this Covenant saga may weary itself onwards, a dead horse with no point to it, flogged on and on, with neither point nor purpose for either side. It will have to be forgetable to be passable.

Other denominations are in considerable decline: we see this within the United Kingdom especially. The Methodist Church is almost systematically closing churches, and the URC has continued with compatible mergers and closures. One wonders how Unitarianism struggles along, with its lack of any clear identity, and recent years saw serious central rationalisation. Roman Catholic attendance was boosted by foreign labour, but was in a condition of decline, and we know that the Pope would prefer a smaller, purer Church than one with more outreach and compromised.

Anglican bishops in England may moan about the withdrawal from the public square, but this is what continues. There are several reasons, but the simplest is, despite involvement in schooling, Christianity is no longer part of ordinary public discourse. It is a minority pursuit. It's not that it has lost the intellectual argument (which it has, in the causality of anything) but that ordinary, practical, day to day thinking does not need it: we lead daily, practical, rational-enough, this-worldly lives. There are New Atheists out to give it a further kicking, but it is fairly kicked in already. Many just nod at what they write, and others see it as superfluous.

Christianity has failed to communicate. It has not found a mode by which it can communicate, because it always ends up falling back to dogma. It is almost scared of the world: thus its retreating on sexuality when finally society comes to broadening its boundaries. Christian strategies seem to be entertainment-emotionalism tied to a simplisting all or nothing literalism, a retreat into a kind of classical music concertism, and the attachment of blinkers with an awful lot of internal talk, and the promotion of socialising (with some genuinely useful and sometimes communal pastoral contact). I don't have an answer, though somehow it needs some engaging discussion with the world about the world's concerns, without the trickery of the recruiters. In the end human contact, a sense of a home from home, and using one's language, is what lasts, but Christianity may be too stuck in its own 'claims' to reach out and engage. Presumably 2009 will see more in the way of Fresh Expressions, but this is something of an add-on that does not disturb the core, it doesn't seem coherent, and can mean all sorts of experiments and even has a sense of desperation about it. Try it and see, one supposes, whatever it does.

Even liberal religion and liberal Christianity need some sort of reviving. It too is stuck in trying to be acceptable to the rest, trying to be broad across narrowing institutions. It ought to communicate better and be less fearful of institutions. It has to address the authority of the individual and the accountability of the group and whoever it proposes as servers of the group. It has to use education and not hide the controversial, and be prepared to pull down as well as raise up. Liberal religion ought to be subversive: that is its role. One of its sayings should be, "But it's not like that is it?" - especially when dogma is presented as poorly supported truth when the truths available are broader and wider, and make more sense in the world in which we live. Liberal religion has to join up with the arts and present itself as more life enhancing, to build up people in this difficult world, and be a forum for questions of meaning in a spiritual context. In as far as institutions will target liberal forms of faith in 2009, its response should be to stand up for both the use of reason and being reasonable, to promote social and religious liberty and to live with the difference that makes humankind interesting.


Doorman-Priest said...

Abundant Life in Bradford.

Dear God, don't get me started!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well I've turned the ignition key already: where is the accelerator?