The call to prayer, in Arabic, is blaring. Bearded proselytisers of a Salafist sect offer free copies of the Koran to London’s uninitiated. Significantly, the stall is located outside the famous St John the Evangelist church at Waterloo. This beacon of Christian hope (the Greco-Roman neoclassical structure was destroyed in the Blitz and rebuilt after the war) has become a vibrant cultural centre, with classical concerts – and multi-faith events. Recently an imam was invited to preach the word told to Mohammed (PBUH). We suspect that the liberal St John’s would welcome the recruitment to Islam outside their gate, and that anyone who complained would be straying from the path of virtue.
Since Matthew Arnold’s poem Dover Beach, the tide has continued to ebb further from our shores. The withdrawal of Christianity from Western society has left a vacuum that Marxism failed to fill, but Douglas Murray’s controversial book The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity and Islam leaves no doubt about what will replace our Judeo-Christian heritage. The church could be a bastion of continuity in a changing world, but its leaders’ immersion in left-wing ideology has undermined defences to the great tide of Islam. That the usurper has little in common with egalitarian socialism – or with Christianity – is irrelevant, but it’s a mass movement with the force to overturn the ancien regime.
Thirty years ago, one of us (RW) penned a series of articles in the Salisbury Review on the creep of Marxism into the clerical establishment. Subversive entryism was made possible by a compromised Christian leadership, despite stark warnings by some notable critics. We should remember them for their struggle, and for their words of wisdom amidst a fudge of relativism. With a few exceptions such as Bishop Nazir-Ali (before he resigned), the Church of England lacks such correctives today.
Two books published in 1978, A Reason to Hope by David Edwards andAll in Good Faith by Edward Parry, warned of the social, political and economic challenges to Christianity. Written by the Deans of Norwich and Liverpool respectively, they were avowedly anti-Marxist, emphasising the doctrine of free will denied by communism. Describing Marx as the ‘twentieth century antichrist’, Edwards honoured the work of Michel Bordeaux at Keston College in Kent, who documented the repression of Christianity by the Soviet regime. Both books stated that religion was thriving in Russia, while alert to state manipulation of the Orthodox Church (as in China today, where officially-approved churches pledge their loyalty).
Christianity and the Left had grown closer in the twentieth century. Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple declared himself a socialist. The Labour Party was more Methodist than Marxist, but their spiritual guides had similarities. He of Highgate Cemetery was prophetic, romanticising an innocent past before present alienation, and signposting a future utopia. Religious and revolutionary fanatics share certainty in their righteousness, dividing the world into good and bad.
By the 1960s political incursions were increasingly radical, as Edwards witnessed as editor of Student Christian Movement Press. Reviewing contributions to a project run by the British Council of Churches, he observed: ‘the thesis running through the material was that churches ought to identify with the poor’. Faith is profoundly deeper than Marxist materialism, but Anglican and Catholic churches alike allowed leftist agitators to set the agenda. Edwards would not have been surprised by the blatantly socialist Faith in the City report that infuriated Margaret Thatcher.
Liberation theology gained momentum in Latin America, in opposition to institutional religion and the ultraconservative Opus Dei. The World Council of Churches was a hotbed of socialist internationalism, its conferences dominated by anti-racism and anti-colonialism to the extent of supporting armed insurrections. Edwards doubted whether ‘taking sides with immigrants peacefully campaigning for their numbers to be increased or with guerrillas killing and burning to force a change of government really was as central to Christian Gospel as the WCC believed it to be’.
An excusable error of Edwards was his promotion of a United States of Europe. He was writing at a time of economic malaise, leading to Britain joining the Common Market. Marxism threatened to pounce with the decline in national confidence, but Edwards saw the essentially Christian Europe as a bulwark to revolution and war. In Pour l’Europe (1963), Robert Schuman stated the solid foundations on which Europe rested: –
“Democracy owes its existence to Christianity. It was born on the day when man was called to realise in his temporal life the dignity of the human being, in the freedom of each person, in respect for the rights of each and by the practice of fraternal love for all. Never before Christ had such ideas ben formulated.”
Demographically and influentially, European Christianity is fading away. Protestant churches of northern Europe are heading for the rocks, desperately clutching at social whims to remain relevant. Rome has held firm, but under the unpredictable and seemingly confused Pope Francis it too is slipping anchor. Europe as a Christian fellowship was a nice idea in the 1970s, but hopelessly naïve in the current state of a continent that Douglas Murray accuses of cultural suicide. In the more religious USA it is little better: Catholic authorities are silencing bishops who raise concerns about Muslim persecution of Christians in the Holy Lands. Arguably, the church is no less complicit in this crime than in child sex abuse scandals.
As a totalitarian system, Marxism was eshewed in the West, but failure at the ballot box did not diminish its transformative impact on society. Our history, patriotism and cultural norms are derided by generations raised in a prejudiced education system. In a later book Christianity and Conservatism, Edwards asked whether these were compatible. The need for the question is telling, and the answer is not reassuring. The church is in crisis, as demonstrated by plummeting congregations as the rift between pulpit and parishioners widens. Weakened by Marxism, the church is supine to militant Islam. Perhaps it will settle on another syncretistic folly: the United States of Religion.