Public fretting about the supposed War on Christmas may be behind us for another year, but that does not mean that the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from certain grumpy Christian quarters has ceased entirely.
There is always some new perceived slight or attack to form the next rallying point for indignant protest at the assault on religious freedom (which can be translated as the end of state-sponsored primacy for one religion over all others, or none). And if nothing is currently happening to cause new outrage – no matter, they can quite happily argue their case to anyone who will read or listen without a clear jumping-off point.
Step forward Cristina Odone. The redoutable Odone has taken to her Telegraph column to bewail the “disappearance of the Bible from our children’s lives”:
Almost a third of children do not know their Adam from their Noah or that David slew Goliah. The Good Samaritan is a stranger and the Nativity just a Christmas play.
The latest Bible Society findings prove that the West has erased its Christian heritage from public life. I’m not surprised – only saddened that No God Zone, my e-book on the subject, has been vindicated. After decades of concerted efforts by secularist zealots, the Bible is a truly alien subject. Future generations will look on “the greatest story ever told” and think it is a 1965 movie starring Charlton Heston and Max von Sydow.
At fault, of course, is the ever-present, ever-menacing atheist brigade, who want nothing more than to tear down her church, prohibit her from celebrating her religious holidays and re-educate her to worship at the altar of multiculturalism:
A few faith schools still teach “the Good Book”; but they are under fire from the atheist brigade, and many feel that they will only survive if they promote a multicultural syllabus that stars Gandhi and Mandela rather than Abraham and Jesus.
The extraordinary, subversive book, with its lessons on charity, compassion and respect for others inspired generations to rebel against tyrannies of all kinds – dictators, addictions, vices. Men and women dedicated their lives to its teachings – and were ready to die for it. But today it seems that a host of martyrs lost their lives in vain: the Bible is just another book that sold more than the Hunger Games trilogy at some point.
How very melodramatic.
Odone worries about the children, but really it is the adults and parents who should be the focus of her concern – two thirds of British adults have no connection with the Christian church at present, half of whom having left at some point and the other half never having had any involvement at all.
As a practicing Catholic this saddens me, but unlike Cristina Odone it is not my first instinct to go lurching off to the government for redress, to make them make people behave the way that I want them to. Indeed, it speaks very poorly indeed of Odone’s supposed conservative credentials that she thinks that such a thing would be at all appropriate. A religion that requires government promotion makes itself immediately vulnerable to government influence, interference and control – something that no supporter of religious liberty should wish upon themselves.
If there is to be a Christian, or any type of religious revival in this country, it will not come about by going back to what Cristina Odone clearly sees as the “good old days” of having the Church of England shoehorned into every conceivable tradition or aspect of British life. Singing Christian hymns at public school assemblies, cramming public squares with nativity scenes or erecting stone carvings of the Ten Commandments outside courthouses are not going to make a blind bit of difference to church attendance or the practicing of Christian teachings.
Maybe Odone would rather tie the awarding of jobseeker’s allowance to church attendance rather than the claimant’s willingness to take remedial literacy and numeracy training where required – I would love to watch her make that argument, just for the fireworks that it would create. But short of extremely heavy-handed government coercion such as this, I am at a loss as to exactly what external actions she thinks should be taken.
Rather than looking outside for help that will never arrive, people of faith would be far better off engaging with their local churches, parishes or faith groups and helping them in their work to serve their communities and make themselves more relevant to the people whom they serve. For it is only through this bottom-up approach that any meaningful progress will be made.
My own track record in this area is far from impressive – very occasional bouts of deep involvement in parish life followed by months or years of either lazily sitting back in the pews or not attending church at all. But this is exactly the point – if I can only halfheartedly and sporadically muster the will to do something, why should I expect the government to enforce it on people who may have different beliefs and have no desire to follow along at all?
A parallel argument – perhaps better suited to the boardroom than the church hall, but perhaps not – would be that is it not far better to have a smaller, leaner church that is filled with more committed members and does more to show God’s love and do His work in the community than a bloated, lazy, state-supported church, topped up with unwilling attendees and with no clear direction other than to keep pleasing the government on which it depends for survival?
I believe that a strong argument can be made for just such an adaptation, one that is in any case well underway – for just as businesses must retrench and refocus during economic recessions, so too, perhaps, must religious organisations during times of spiritual recession.
Yes, the church and the values that it professes (love, understanding, charity – I’m less worried about society’s rejection of archaic cultural rules about gay people, wearing garments made from multiple types of cloth or the eating of shellfish) have experienced an unbidden and unwelcome decline, and this is a legitimate cause for concern. But if it also provides space for a sober reassessment and recalibration of our understanding as to the role of faith in our society, is there not also a great opportunity to be exploited as well? Sometimes, after all, it is necessary to go backwards first in order to move forward.
There are parts of the world where Christians really are being persecuted, quite terribly. Cristina Odone’s leafy corner of west London is not one of them, and she would do well to acknowledge this and to give thanks that she lives in a place where she is free to openly practice and profess her faith.
Then we can talk about Christian revival.