I’ve just been listening to some utter guff on BBC Radio Four’s usually fascinating Feedback programme. The former Primus and Bishop of Edinburgh has been advertising his agnosticism in quarter of an hour lunchtime nuggets for what seems like years – though actually it was only a couple of weeks. Richard Holloway has come to the remarkable conclusion that the only thing which is certain is that nothing is certain. That’s a wonderful degree of dogmatic incertitude, don’t you think? And a nice trick if you can pull it off.
In the course of these strange reminiscences, the former bishop waffled on about how we were once a Christian country but that nowadays we are secular and we have exchanged the certainties of religion for a sort of supermarket of ideas.
But this is merely the phoney atheistic prejudice. Where does he get it from? Well, of course secular pluralism is BBC orthodoxy. For the BBC and other great liberal organs of the fourth estate, any opinion is acceptable – except traditional Christianity. Moreover, I have discovered that these media sages have a very strange way of construing their arguments. They begin by saying that “Everyone has the right to their (sic) own opinion.” This in itself is a dubious proposition – but let that pass for a minute. But they then go on to insist that every opinion, however unschooled and inexpert, is as valid as any other. And that is merely stupid. “Moses thought this. Buddha thought that. And Jesus thought the other. What do you think, Megan?” And dear little Megan is nine years old and is only just on to stage two of the RE syllabus.
But let me return to Holloway’s view that Britain is a secular state. In fact we are not. We are ruled by a Monarch who was proclaimed Queen and anointed with sacred oil at a ceremony in our national shrine. This Monarch is also Head of State and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Are you with me so far, Megan? Are you too still with me Richard Holloway? I suppose I’ve lost the BBC by now…
Every day prayers are said in both houses of parliament. Bishops sit in the House of Lords – though I grant you that is a doubtful cause for rejoicing, given the empty-headedness displayed by so many of them. Most of our decent schools and universities are Christian foundations. The ancient monasteries and other religious houses were for centuries the custodians of both classical and Christian learning. Much of the prosperity and well-being of our nation is largely owing to charity – and the very concept of charity is Christian in origin.
For 14 years I have enjoyed close association with many of the great guilds and livery companies of the City of London. I have been chaplain to six of them. But secular institutions don’t employ chaplains, do they? Of course not. But these ancient companies and guilds are not secular: each one is dedicated to a Christian saint. I was also honoured to be Chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London and then to two Sheriffs. So the senior civic dignitary in the City celebrates his office under God. On Lord Mayor’s Day he attends divine service in St Paul’s, another of our great national shrines. The fact that the Sheriffs, based at The Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, also appoint chaplains emphasises the realisation that the law derives ultimately from God.
Every village in England has its own parish church – often the finest and most prominent building in the vicinity. And even in these sorry days of our dispossession, there are still thousands of clergy to serve these churches. Our rites of passage – baptism, marriage and funerals – are Christian in origin and remain so in popular practice. Every city in the land has its cathedral, and each cathedral is a focus for both the spiritual and the civic aspects of our lives together.
Despite the malice and ignorance of the modernisers, The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer have not, quite, been expunged from public recollection.
So, Mr Holloway, what is so secular about all that?
The truth is that this wonderful panoply of our Christian nation is under dire threat. There are militant secularists very prominent in all our national institutions who wish to see Christianity obliterated from public life. They make no secret of this. On the contrary, they profess their iconoclasm with great vehemence every day. Why should we not believe them? Well, never mind. We can tolerate militant secularism. We can argue against it, as I have done here. We can even repudiate it and refute it. And real Christians should expect to come under attack. Our Lord told us to rejoice when we are persecuted: “For so persecuted they the prophets, which were before you.”
What is much more depressing and difficult to counteract is the spectacle of bishops, priests and highly-placed laypeople in the government of the church, the very people who were appointed to nurture and sustain the Christian faith, actually contriving its destruction by their own espousal of secularism. There is a broad spectrum in the hierarchy and in the priesthood generally which interprets Christian theology only in terms of secular concepts such as the doctrine of universal human rights. These influential leaders vigorously espouse all the shibboleths of contemporary secularism: diversity, egalitarianism and feminism.
They do not admit the miraculous nature of the feeding of the 5,000. In their hands this is just about “sharing” – nothing more than a socialist picnic. They don’t believe the Virgin Birth. The Resurrection is only an image of what our lives might be like, if only we adopted the approved socialist nostrums of the day. And God himself is only a metaphor for those universal rights.
The secularists in society generally, and especially among the modernising churchpeople, foolishly imagine that the traditional meaning of Scripture and historic Christian doctrine – they sneer at these things as “fundamentalism” – can be reinterpreted according to their own secular fashions and fads. But, they think, something like Christianity will still remain like the ghost of itself. It will not.
A strange contradiction haunts me. These modernising clergy are so keen to ditch the historic faith. But they still want to cling to their titles, to occupy the chief seats in the synagogues – sorry, I mean the cathedrals – to wear their gorgeous robes and carry their crosiers.
I wonder why they want to do these things? If the baby has been thrown out, why keep the bathwater?