Christianity is Changing… (a tad controversial?)

BB: Science, Faith, and Prejudice

Christianity is changing–or is it? Well, the label has certainly changed, now it has become  attached to something which has nothing to do with the message of the Gospels, the present United States Republican politics. Many of us believers, who are appalled by this, wonder what we can do in order to prevent ourselves from being labelled as racist, fascist, haters of the LBGT + community, and generally committed to outdated paternalistic prejudices.

TLY: Art, Science, and Losing your Way

As a writer, I am aware that publishing houses don’t want any ‘spiritual’ content in fiction today, (especially not ‘Christian’) yet I hesitate to ban from my stories the strange and informative interplay of strict and liberal ‘religious’ characters, rounded and believable, not caricatures or always the villains.  (And so am happy to be committed to the Alliance of Independent Authors. As an Indie, I’m freer to include a range of odd-balls and explore their worlds… ) And, it’s no surprise that the latest British Social Attitudes survey shows a graph of decline in the practice of Anglicanism (Church of England).  Only 12% of those surveyed responded that they currently worship as Anglicans. Of course, the Church of England isn’t the only church in Britain but membership has plummeted since the first Survey in 1983.

Apart from the hijacking of the definition Christian by a political right-wing group, why might a majority now identify as atheist or ‘no religion’? It seems that there is now a strong attraction for doing without a spiritual side to life, and accepting that Humanism is getting on nicely, despite the amount of violence, crime, drug addiction, poverty, racism, and other miseries.

The Church of England is the State Church and for many in the past membership and regular or occasional worship was part of being English. People continued to be married, buried, or have their children baptised in the local church, it was what you did. Even so there are three distinct forms of Anglicanism. The ‘High Church’, which emphasises the ritual of liturgy, robed choir, organ music, and Gothic architecture. Allied to this are some who practice an English, non-religious, ‘Christianity’, finding peace and some kind of spiritual strength by being in the atmosphere of our ancient cathedrals, appreciating the amazing building, and the harmonies and cadences of church music. Then there are the Evangelicals who reject ritual, favouring lively worship songs to a band, less formal prayer, and an emphasis on Bible teaching, which tends towards strict, and what today we would call patriarchal, interpretation. A third group choose an emphasis on social action and inclusiveness, in opposition to the Evangelicals who find the LGBT+ community difficult to accept on equal terms. So, today, What actually is Anglican anyway?

Society has always responded to the changing world about us. Science, technology, but also how we view ourselves, whether we live as a feudal hierarchy ‘obeying our betters’, whether we have a concern for social justice and how we understand what that is, and where do human rights fit in? Upcoming generations respond negatively to anything not fit for purpose, yet not necessarily rejecting belief outright. Is there a need to move from a backward looking and hierarchical church which offers answers to questions we don’t ask and none to those we do? If this is the end of ‘religion’ in its old form, is it also the end of the importance of the teaching of Jesus Christ 2000 years ago? Much of this teaching I would argue forms part of what we call Humanism – a code of ethics which at its best respects all living beings, has been pivotal in the concept of human rights, and emphasises compassion, social justice, equality, and concern for neighbour. Just what Liberal Anglicans want – but with God!

So why might many people, particularly from the middle-aged down to and including  Millennials, be leaving or have left the Church of England, or indeed any religion? Writing in 2015, the American author Rachel Held Evans, a Millennial, talks about what and how she and her generation are seeking and thinking outside the box of a straight ‘God or no God’ outlook.

She says “… we are tired of… Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we are for… not just what we are against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion, or between our intellectual integrity and our faith… we long for our churches to be a safe place to doubt, to ask questions, and tell the truth… to bring our whole selves through church doors, without leaving our hearts behind, without wearing a mask… when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome… then we don’t feel welcome either…(we’re not) looking for a hipper Christianity…(but) for a truer Christianity… we are looking for Jesus…

Anglicanism has over the years lost touch with Jesus, and a crucial thing to do is to return to what we know about him, his message and who he is.

Wherever next, or “Happy 2017”?

I was a teen in the age of aquarius. An age of love, light, and humanity, unlike the current “Age of Pisces (Remember the song, from ‘Hair’? Maybe not…)

Talk, (not so long ago) ,was of how we have moved into a digital age.

dark days (fog)
Life in the post-truth era …?

But now we are also living in the post truth era.  

On New Year’s day, (a dark, damp day here), a friend posted an article on Facebook: Are we heading for in a post-human rights world? (Well, it was only what I’d been thinking – but here was the detail…)

So, …‘how was your Christmas? Ours was a lovely few days of family togetherness, and

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Family togetherness

suspension of considering the gloomy realities of 2016.  Although as a family we’re all roughly on the same side, at Christmas lunch political talk was banned on pain of having to eat another sprout for each politically driven remark – I (Mum to the instigators) took and ate two before succumbing with humour to the ban!

 It’s probably easier for us parents to ‘accept’ the darkness of the times. Our adult children, midway into careers, have a possibly worse prospect ahead in terms of employment, pensions, raising a family. Food Banks were almost unknown when we were in our mid 30s, and Crisis at Christmas Crisis at Christmas (founded ten years earlier, 1972) a relatively new idea. This year, our younger son was spending part of his Christmas holiday helping out at his local crisis centre.

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 Written by a fellow ALLi author , and recommended by me (photo, Amazon UK site)

 

Over the holidays, I’ve read a novel which partly draws its central theme from the  Aldermaston Marches. And the terrible events not only of Hiroshima but of nuclear testing which continued – without detailed public knowledge of its consequences  – throughout what appeared to us post-World War II children a safe and peaceful world, (despite the Cold War).

As this New Year arrives, it’s only too evident that decades on, we are living in dark days: 2016 has brought extraordinary changes, uncovered or unleashed hatred, disagreement, bewilderment, and fear. Civil war in Syria since 2011 sends thousands of civilians running for their lives, and the knock-on effect of camps full of refugees has frightened people. We in the western world aren’t used to such movement of peoples. What changes might it mean? Atrocities in major European cities and towns, the bombing of hospitals and schools in war torn countries, clearly ignore the most basic ‘human rights’. ‘Happy Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ are lovely phrases when genuinely meant, but ring with a hollow sound while there is violence, suspicion, and little compassion, and the new age is described as ‘post-truth’. (And did I really see Donald Trump quoted as saying that torture kind of ‘does the job’, intelligence-wise?)

Ironically, 2016 also saw the demise of a huge number of iconic public figures, household names from the arts to politics. Who can replace Victoria Wood, (who got away with such lines as ‘Beat me on the bottom with the Women’s Weekly’ )? Can anyone be the new Prince?  Or Neville Marriner? Or mother and daughter actors Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher?

We face a new year, and with this astonishing concept of ‘post-truth’ to join the digital age, and the post-Christian cultural shift.

So, how do we live in these times? It’s hit my writing right in the centre – my ‘work in progress’ being a contemporary family saga which examines our Western values …

It would be easy to make a clarion call, saying with the Queen by doing many small acts of kindness. She, as we know, had a bad cold, so missed her usual trips to church this Christmas. Many others will have attended traditional Carol Services or Midnight Mass. How much the emphasis on the baby Jesus is relevant, among the general celebratory, festive, wintery, activities is hard to tell: carols like Away in a Manger or See amid the Winter’s Snow can miss the point. ‘Peace on earth’ sang the angel choir in the Christmas story…

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Annunciation 2017: Gabriel shows Mary her surprising future …

The Magnificat, (Mary’s song, from the earliest part of the ‘Christmas story’ ) is very ‘political’.  This baby’s mother, Mary, is hardly the ‘Mother mild’ of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’. Her song praises God for promising to shake up society. The baby Jesus grew up as a predictable son of Mary, who understood about equality, and human rights. His story of the care, and tolerance, which a traveller (the original “Good Samaritan”) showed towards a stranger from another culture and religion, demonstrate the type of attitudes communities and nations need to express towards one another. ‘Peace on earth’ wasn’t simply a beautiful choral display by angels: it was a hope, or wish, or even a prayer or a resolution, for a better future.

One small act of kindness – yes. Mary’s song is about provision for the poor. It questions the power of the rich, it welcomes and celebrates an ending of oppression. It’s also why my painting of the Annunciation features Mary as a student activist …

2017 could be a challenge to us all. What are ‘traditional English/Western values’? How do we mend the rifts in our own society? How can the global community turn from destroying itself to achieve co-operation and harmony? How can the benefits of health care, science, and technology be used fairly and for peace?

Human Rights are really only a beginning – how can the world think to step aside?

 … and, how can anyone be a fiction writer, when there are so many wrongs to right …? It’s my commitment … I just hope it goes some way to convince some readers something worthwhile …

Standing with Parisians, under the tricolour

Soon after ‘Remembrance Day’ I find myself symbolically dressed

It wasn’t until I added a beret (because it was howling a gale outdoors and I didn’t want my hair blowing across my face) that I glanced in the mirror and saw I was dressed in the colours of the Tricolour. Freudian, you say? Hardly: a navy and white striped skirt demanded a plain jumper, and the cherry-coloured one, bought recently, went perfectly: red and navy, a traditional match.

We have exchanged the red poppies of peace in Europe, produced originally as reminders never to go to war again, for the Tricolour, which arose from the French Revolution. We stand united with the people of Paris, traumatised since Friday’s terrorism. What our leaders decide to do about this may  look like retaliation, or ‘revenge’.

Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)
Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)

For days I’ve wished the rhetoric would stop, sadness at the consequences of all our clashing histories would sink in, and be admitted, and  recognised in as many ways as possible. Busy deciding on whether to write about ‘Christmas, what does it mean to you?’ or ‘Why I write what I write’ for my next blog, I’ve ‘procrastinated’ by working on my novel.

Novel number 3 in the Mullins Family Saga: Love You to the Moon is themed around the vexed question of  what we mean by ‘love’. Constructed to include a variety of expressions of love, the plot should lead towards a catastrophic gesture in which the love (obvious to its perpetrator but not to anyone else) is certainly debatable.

So what do we mean by ‘Love’?

On Saturday, a quote from Martin Luther King was circulating on Facebook. The message, basically, was love can conquer hate. Meant as a message hope, this carries within it the sad fact that hope is so crushable, so disposable, and so easily forgotten.

Martin Luther King was a preacher, and knew his Bible: in the words he chose, he had adapted a phrase, well known and read at most Carol Services. Soon it will be Christmas, and all over Britain crowds, whether normally churchgoers or not, will hear it read: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sometimes the original Greek phrase is translated as ‘the darkness has not comprehended (understood) it.’ Here’s something so significant for our time. Light shining into darkness illuminates, penetrates, and makes everything clear to see. When we further translate, using love for light, then love being shown to those who do not understand love, and whom we believe to have acted through hate (translated darkness) should be a powerful weapon, or rather, a powerful overcomer, for love doesn’t seek, in overcoming, to destroy.

However … were it that easy!

My motivation for looking at ‘love’ in the next Mullins family series is to try and tease out, in story,  the meanings, and the interpretations, of this so widely and over-used word.  ‘Altruism’ or unselfish acts, given freely beyond duty or  expectation of ‘payback’ has been dismissed, debunked, or denied existence  by thinkers like Richard Dawkins: we all know about The Selfish Gene or we think we do. Every unselfish act is really me-directed. (Really …?)

Alongside that belief, ‘love’ is used when ‘desire’,  ‘instinct’ or ‘desire to control’ would fit the context better. Literature is filled with such uses and excuses. A  banner at a demonstration against domestic violence, especially rape, reads ‘Love shouldn’t Hurt’, but  the obviously contextual meaning  was ‘Sex shouldn’t hurt’. Which was somehow also sad since love, as in generosity, does quite often hurt,  but in a very different way.

The bothersome questions

So, back to Paris, Friday 13th, and the sudden atrocities in the city perhaps most associated with Love (equals sex/romance)?  Emotions poured out, candles and flowers, expressing sorrow, horror, fear: immediate reactions.

A few days on,  if we collectively self-identify with the light/love quote expressed in that and, adopt a Tricolour solidarity as our Facebook profile, what does this mean to us, to  those who were caught up in the events, or to on-lookers?  We need to ask ourselves this question.  Long term, what is this solidarity? And to answer with honesty and integrity. Would we agree to do everything in our power to seek revenge, or to see that the collective reaction of Europe is not one of hatred, and if so, what actually does getting involved mean?  Are our collective hands clean anyway, in historical terms, are we white as pure light, or have we, as  nations, thrown elements into the international pot which is now boiling over?

Are we also fundamentalists, our current fundamentalism being free speech, strangely coupled with a strong cultural preference for secular values? Historically the religious cultural background of Europe, brought over from the Middle East itself, are not control, empire-building or capitalism. Ironically, they are based on a teaching of ‘love towards enemies’ with a bias towards the poor and the disadvantaged. It was for our founder to be the basis for condemnation and execution.

The shadow of revenge

While realising that in pragmatic, realistic terms, air strikes and retaliation may be forced upon the international community, it is horrifying to hear the rhetoric from some international leaders. At the same time, standing back we wonder at our own reactions, hope these are more than ‘knee-jerk’ and whether our love is real enough to stand testing. What do candlelight vigils and bouquets really mean, once the candles burnout and the flowers wither and fade? When the street cleaners clear it all up – which they will inevitably  have to.

How ironic that the attack took place only 2 days after the anniversary of the Armistice: is anyone left alive who can recall that day, and how felt? ‘Remembering’ was instituted so that there would ‘be no more war’, and not to ‘glorify the military’. SInce then, weapons and devices have increased in power and in use.

I return to writing my novel themed around what is love, using that phrase which, analysed for meaning would be found to be meaningless: Love You to the Moon.

Related Articles (which I’ve read in the past few days) you may find interesting:

From The Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Sunday 15th November  (The information here is referred to in Arab Digest, a blog which collects together articles from journalists and experts on the Middle East from around the world)

SheridanVoysey’s blog on Turning the other cheek in an age of terrorism