The proliferation of ‘comment’ sections on newspaper websites prompts many of us to post a quick thought; sometimes a slower thought might have been a better idea. Moved to comment on some criticism of Anglicanism on the Telegraph Thompson blog, I found myself like a tourist in Homs, caught in the cross-fire of a fierce war. In this instance between the long-term traditionalist Catholic natives, and the incoming atheists; not so much live and let live as live and let die – and I did.
Shaken, and profoundly unstirred, a few reflections might be essayed.
Of course the vast majority of Christians and non-Christians don’t blog and don’t get drawn in, and we should beware of the notion that what we see on the Web is real life. The blogosphere is like ‘Dover Beach’, place where ‘ignorant armies clash by night’. The past misdeeds of Christians and churches are cited by atheists and agnostics both as evidence of the evil of the religion and the need to extirpate it from public life: Voltaire never dies. On the Christian side come equally familiar tropes: Hitler, Stalin and Pot killed millions in the name of secular utopianism, which are met with the familiar responses that Hitler was a baptised Catholic – and what about abused children? And so the polemic goes on – and usually on and on.
Goodness knows what other stray tourists in such blogs make of it all; their excuses and leave if they’ve any sense.
Polemicists will be polemicists, but the enquirer should not log off the Internet, which has a wealth of resources of interest to those whose minds are open. Like many in the CofE my own catechesis did not exist. I never got round to an Alpha course, and sermons apart, my religious education took place via books and the Web. Sites such as those of Tom Wright, BJ Stockman and Fr. Hunwicke and Fr. Longenecker have been invaluable- and you can always avoid the com-boxes.
There’s an Anglican irenic quality there – an Anglican bishop, an Evangelical Protestant, a high Church (now convert) Anglican and a Catholic convert from Anglicanism. My debt is repaid in part by trying to take an attitude free from confessional bias in what I write. That brings some scorn (rightly from their point of view) from those in all denominations who insist dogma and doctrine matter; I don’t disagree entirely, and I understand where they are coming from. Doctrine and dogma-free Christianity is no Christianity at all. But the Church Fathers hammered all this out a long time ago, and perhaps we’d be wise to settle, as they did, on the Nicene Creed as our benchmark for orthodox belief?
Our Lord Jesus Christ (OLJC) told the Apostles that men would know His followers by their love for each other, and He counselled them to be united; knowing us as He does, He can’t have been all that surprised that we’ve fallen away from those ideals. Perhaps if we were better at them there would be less for the polemicists to reproach us with? Great crimes have been committed in the name of Christianity, that is true, as it is of any great cause entrusted to fallen mankind. It is in our fallen nature to pervert whatever good things we have from God. In our folly we use the consequences of our own sinful state to reject the opportunity to reach out for God’s love; and in our pride erect a superstructure of Pharisaism on OLJC’s words, before proceeding to live in it rather than the love of Christ.
It is foolish to think we can prove or disprove the existence of God. If He exists He is Infinite, we are not; He is the Creator, we the created; if we think we have grasped the fullness of the Infinite then, by that mark, we have not grasped God. OLJC reveals what we need to know, and unless we read the Old Testament through the lessons of the New, we shall go astray. God is love. He came to redeem the world not in the expected form of a Messiah who would bring fire and sword to the heathen, but in the form of a slave, a suffering servant. OLJC redeems us through love and through suffering, not through smiting His enemies. A thought to bear in mind when blogging on religion.