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Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Christianity is no cushy number

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I AM sick and tired of reading the nonsensical view of atheists/agnostics (including commenters on this site) that being a Christian, or a member of any church, is somehow comforting or cosy, some kind of soft option among world-views. This thinking just shows how naïve people can be. They seem to have the idea that being a Christian somehow confers complete insulation from all possible fears and anxieties, and perhaps also produces a totally safe place in our world. The reality is very different.

I always think of the words of Harry Blamires’s character Brother James, in The Kirkbride Conversations (1958): ‘Were Christianity of human invention, men could scarcely have conceived anything more calculated to render themselves miserable. For this faith asks them to give, and give, and give; to be hurt, to be disciplined, to be knocked into shape by the hammer-blows of suffering and deprivation.’ Note the date: this was a time when Britain could still reasonably be regarded as a Christian nation, and churchgoing was still generally practised (well, except for among rulers, the Establishment, and ‘intellectuals’) – so this view of Christianity was not just of that time, or any other time, but part of the essential nature of the faith. An escape from reality? Just the opposite.

But what about today? In many parts of the world, being found to be a Christian means immediate incarceration or even death. In this country and Europe things are a bit better – for now; the murders of priests in France are an indication of what we might expect to happen here in the near future. Meanwhile, we have to put up with marginalisation, discrimination and prejudice (how often, in TV dramas and films, is the baddie seen holding a crucifix or rosary, and when the villain is finally tracked down, he very often has a cross hanging on his wall?). This happens not by accident, neither does the constant use of the words Jesus Christ! as a blasphemous exclamation; blasphemy towards a certain other religion would mean heads would roll – perhaps literally. But we have to accept it in silence. Meanwhile, this country has de facto blasphemy laws, designed to protect that same religion from feeling any possible offence, or being subjected to the kind of academic inquiry that Christianity has endured for more than a century. But no – we are told – Christianity is a source of comfort, cosiness, security.

Christianity looks very different from the inside (as opposed to the view from outside). Before we get to heaven, there has to be this world and this life to be got through, and that can be very tough. Some Christians – perhaps many – are assured of the salvation and ultimate beatific destiny promised by Christ; but not all, and many have much anxiety concerning such questions as sinfulness and worthiness (atheists/agnostics are often totally negative about any existence after this present life – often called ‘life after death’. This  may involve a little regret about possibly missing out on some heavenly future, but they are more than comforted by the knowledge that there will be no unpleasant suffering or required recanting waiting for them).

In addition to the ‘external’ pressures of this worldly prejudice, there are the internal pressures. Personally, I experience this in terms of ecclesiastical ‘liberalism’, where the church leadership (and not only in the C of E, though more virulently there) seems to be constantly undermining belief by its subtle attacks on the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’, and the frequent less-subtle harping on about our guilt regarding racism, destruction of the planet, being white, etc. And one black mark that I would always set against the church comes from its complicity with the Government’s responses to covid. Often these features can come into church services (via a sermon or intercessory prayers), and I must confess to sometimes feeling worse when I come out of church than when I went in. No, many people don’t go to church for comfort and cosiness, or because they just like that kind of thing (singing hymns, etc). Why, then do I go? Let’s unpack that. I have spent decades in universities and other places studying Christian theology, liturgy, church art and architecture – but I don’t actually like church services, and am rather relieved when they finish. I go because it, Christianity, is The Truth, objective reality, and going, being a member of a denomination and a local church, gives me an opportunity to reconnect with Truth while having to live in a world ruled by lies. Professor John Lennox suggested that atheists/agnostics (such as Stephen Hawking) claimed that religious people clung to faith out of a fear of the dark, while he, Lennox, said that atheists/agnostics shunned religious faith out of a fear of The Light; and that is what it is really all about: hurt, discipline and suffering, but Truth, and finally, The Light.

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John Thomas
John Thomas
As well as writing ‘popular theology’, and studies of church architecture and religious art, John Thomas has written much fiction. He self-publishes at <a href="http://www.twinbooks.co.uk/"?http://www.twinbooks.co.uk/.

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