Comments: Opinion - 6 May 2017

Sorry, but I did not appreciate Jonathan Mitchican's appeal for weirdness. "The weirder we can be, the better". The trouble is, we are already regarded as weird by many ordinary people, and I can't see that accentuating that weirdness helps at all.

In trying to project "our distinctiveness from the world" we should do weird things, like blessing pieces of chalk etc? Really?

My suspicion is that the widening gulf between many Christian churches and society at large is because we are insufficiently "distinctive" IN "the world"... and interest in our faith is less likely to be stimulated by 'being weird' than by being engaged and integrating and serving IN communities, outside the churches themselves, which too often appear to be middle-class enclaves allied to the wealth and power of the establishment, talking their own language, but not actually sharing in the violence, hard grind, youth anger, poverty that is this "world" Fr Mitchican refers to.

"While emphasizing these practices may turn some people off, many of them were never going to darken the door of a church anyway." Oh. Is that so? And do they need to? Why would they want to? Maybe Christianity needs to be more radically immersed in the world, beyond church walls, and maybe it is the very people who would never "darken the door of a church" who actually deserve to be lived with, listened to, and - in a more costly way than 'blessing chalk' - served.

Rather than trying to appropriate people to "our" community - via middle class dinners and the niceties of our enclaves - maybe more Christians need to be selling up, and moving into the actual communities that desperately need the day to day love and patience and humility of the One whose ministry was largely "out there", in the ordinariness, not the religious weirdness, of ordinary people’s lives and their struggles.

Christians sometimes do this - I've always been moved by Geoff Shaw's work with the Gorbals Group, which was not about being weird, it was about being human, and accepting everyone, and sharing a common life – at street level – with ordinary people who often felt alienated from the churches and the establishment.

A bit like Jesus, really. Christ walked the dark corners of the world, got alongside the outcasts who “weren’t ever going to darken the doors” of the religious. He was real, not weird.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 2:12pm BST

In 1983 the late Eric Hobsbawm and the late Terence Ranger edited a collection of essays called The Invention of Tradition, in which all manner of sacrosanct customs were ‘discovered’ to be of relatively recent provenance. The volume was somewhat scurrilous for a work of academia and it had an impact upon the cognoscenti not unlike that of Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918). Just as in the 1920s the great men and women of the nineteenth century were soon deemed to be deranged rogues and hypocrites because Strachey had insinuated that they were so (though he had, arguably, libelled his subjects) so too during the 1980s and 1990s it became commonplace to doubt many of the presumed verities of British life on the grounds that they were not nearly so old as they claimed to be. This presumption helped debase the legitimacy of these institutions.

Thus many now believe that England was never nearly as religious as we once supposed; that even in the high-water mark of modern English piety (c. 1840-1914) the churches were never quite full, and that the late Victorian epoch was, anyway, an aberration: the eighteenth century being a period of ‘indifference’ and that the unbelief of earlier eras has been discounted. Archdruid Eileen disparages Peter Hitchens’ elegiac essay, because she presumes his version of the past to be not nearly as true as he supposes. Now I don’t care for much/most of what Mr Hitchens writes, but I do not think I can agree with Archdruid Eileen.

Look at the visitation records: they invariably show packed churches even when ‘indifference’ was supposed to be at its height. True, the churches struggled in many urban areas, but it is not at all clear that the cities deserted Christianity or even the Church of England. Nor is it necessarily the case, at least until the close of the nineteenth century, that the elites had fled their pews (or, indeed, that their dim youngest had forsaken the cloth – since that had happened already).

What I suspect is that we want the past to be much like the present, so as to console us in our present travails. Might not the Archdruid be rationalising the near-extinction of some local congregations in west Beds/Bucks by appealing to what she perceives as the continuity of religious indifference in England, with the Victorian experience as a relatively brief aberration?

Posted by Froghole at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 2:25pm BST

Wow. If you're going to be thought weird by the culture, for goodness's sake let it be because you're practising the Sermon on the Mount, not a bunch of traditions with little or no connection with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Saturday, 6 May 2017 at 11:10pm BST

A very brief comment on Richard Peers' post: quixotic (not).

Posted by Pam at Sunday, 7 May 2017 at 11:22am BST
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