Thursday 24 October 2013

Why Anglicans Stay

This is the letter composed today only to discover that the editor of The Inquirer will only pick up emails on 29 October. The letter is responding to a 12 October edition letter. I can't wait that long. Here it is; my response:

Jim Corrigall's letter arguing for the primacy of practising a recognisable Christianity for recruitment purposes (Inquirer, 10 October) wouldn't work in places where the net must be cast as widely as possible. That he refers to the General Assembly Object privileging Christianity only reminds me of the argument I made that it is retrograde and is, today, even more misleading.

He wants to appeal to discontent among liberal Anglicans. This involves a fundamental misunderstanding of association. Liberal Anglicans put up with every irritation going, some vocally, but they very rarely leave. You would think that by now they might have found an ethical tipping point, causing many to tumble away, only to find they still very largely remain. Despite sectarian trends, apparently, liberals still out number evangelicals by ten to one.

Ideologically, if anything, liberals are more likely to be Anglican.  Look at the argument often given now about the Social Trinity - the Trinity by which God has internal difference and diversity, loving relationship, perfect tolerance within, and is both other and one. This well out-liberals the straightjacket of simple unitarian theology!

But the real friction is not ideological. As the work of Dan Sperber shows, symbolism is a mood-music that does not convert when one ideologically converts. You might lose your beliefs, or change them, but you carry the symbolic actions you practised to the next place. And this leaves Anglicans cold when elsewhere. Indeed, they stay for the mood-music no matter what they believe.

The churches with rising attendances today are cathedrals. The reason is that the mood-music is intensified and enriched but the ideology is freed by anonymity. Why would an Anglican not have that?

What might attract an Anglican is a sense of disgust - that is ethical disgust with the stance of the Church as a whole. Here's the tipping point, if more than simply ideological. This is where the issue of equality and religion comes in. Yet the ethical campaigners still think that in the long run they will succeed, and that's enough to keep them too. They wobble, and then stay.

But let's be clear. People outside of that symbolic autobiography of the mood-music who empathise with the tipping point are dropping the label Christian altogether. If they are spiritual, then we might attract a minority of them, but certainly not on the basis of maintaining the label 'Christian'. The General Assembly Object should stop privileging one faith as something that ought to be upheld. It is too associated with beliefs and ethics from which many now want to distance themselves.

Sperber, D. (1975), Morton, A. L. (trans.), Rethinking Symbolism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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