‘I NEED you to put your thumbs in your ears, fingers over your eyes and say Ooohm.’
At that moment I wasn’t certain that I was going to enjoy my weekend away at the start of Lent.
What could be nicer in the lead-up to Easter; beautiful grounds, English Gothic buildings, even a church nearby with crosses cut in the tower by returning Crusaders. Vegan food of a quality you never get in restaurants and good company. This was a Church of England retreat. Mornings began with prayer and Chinese exercises, not just any old physical jerks, the person leading them imbued them with a strong spiritual reality. Despite being a regular member of our congregation he told me he didn’t believe in God because, ‘It’s really all about the planet, and all religions are the same.’
The C of E, partly in its attempt to be nice to everyone, has been ‘New Agey’ or pantheistic for some time. In 2016 York Minster advertised: ‘The York Zen sangha meets on alternate Fridays at the old palace for zazen (sitting meditation), led by the canon chancellor, the Revd canon Dr Chris Collingwood, supported by Fr Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master in the white plum Asanga of the lineage of Hakuyu Taizen Maezumi Roshi. All welcome.’
Writer Rob Slane, who spotted that advert, now refers to ‘The Church of Zengland’.
We weren’t just exploring the wonders of Buddhism transmuted through the culture of California: there were other communal Christian events to enjoy, at least that’s what I think they were. During an enjoyable exploration of the Book of Kings, in which it turned out no one knew much about biblical history, it emerged that we are no longer allowed to say ‘Old Testament’ or ‘New Testament’, as that suggests that the new one is better than the older, which is really not PC.
As a child I learned that the OT is a continuing revelation about the nature of God and the NT the fulfilment of it. Absolutely not! Heaven forfend that anyone should admit to such flagrant anti-Semitism.
The problem is you can’t actually say you believe in anything without saying you don’t believe in something else. The C of E has settled this by believing in everything and dismantling what orthodoxy it had. The vicar/journalist Peter Mullen has taken to calling himself a ‘fundamentalist’ as he says he prefers to ‘look for the basics in the words of Scripture and the doctrines of the Creed rather than the fissiparous systems of what is called Liberal Theology’.
In a recent article for the Salisbury Review, he looked at that theology, seeing it derived from early Enlightenment thinking which placed Reason above metaphysics of any kind. People were told they could not believe in miraculous occurrences. This unease with Christian belief and doctrine has continued down the centuries to theologians such as John Hick in the 1970s arguing for religious pluralism and denying the Incarnation. In the 1980s David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham mocked the miracles of Christ as ‘conjuring tricks with bones’.
American Professor of Divinity Harvey Cox insisted that secular reality is all there is, followed by Rowan Williams (he who instructed us to accept Sharia courts as a legitimate parallel system) declaring in his final sermon as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘The Church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.’
The latest reinterpretation of our understanding of the Bible, which I heard for the first time this Lent, originate with the wonderfully named Phyllis Trible, a US professor of Old Testament studies, author of God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality and Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives.
Her major theme is ‘Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretations,’ her argument being that the Bible has existed in a sexist form for centuries, which has changed the way people interpret its messages. She even argued that an androgynous Adam will bring gender parity. All her work was based on a current point of view, she refused to look at any text in its cultural context.
Her sisters in dismantling the Heavenly patriarchy include US feminist Rosemary Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk. Toward a Feminist Theology and Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. Also Elisabeth Schussler, from Harvard, author of A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.
In 1992 Schussler invented the word ‘kyriarchy,’ meaning a social system built to impose domination, oppression and submission. It encompasses, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, xenophobia, injustice, the ‘prison industrial complex,’ colonialism, ethnocentrism, economic injustice, militarism, anthropocentrism (no idea) speciesism and presumably, Old Testamentism.
In every category such women use a feminist critique to negate, challenge and of course correct traditional Christian thought. As I discovered this month, their thinking has now fully entered the western Anglican church as a denial of ‘binary gendering’, in particular the idea of the fatherhood of God, or that God is in any particular way male.
I was already worried before I went on the retreat. The whole liturgy, including the Lord’s Prayer, had just been changed into bald modern English. I was told this was ‘for Lent’. Why was not explained, unless it was an unlikely admission that listening to it is a penance. Once I got to the retreat it was obvious that ‘Our Father’ and much that I’d known all my life had been junked.
Sunday Eucharist, with many congregants sitting on the floor in what looked like Japanese stress positions, ended with the person leading the exercises saying with passionate tears that he no longer wanted to hear the words ‘sin’ or ‘wickedness’ in our church liturgy. They have no place in the 21st century, he said, and increase mental illness or rather ‘mental health issues’.
I said this was Church, not a therapy group, but these days emotional outbursts cannot be gainsaid, so I was told flatly: ‘This is not a debate.’
No one, all women except the vicar and the Zen instructor, supported my corner. One said she approved because ‘changing the liturgy makes you think’. I left before lunch and haven’t been back. I decided to give up going to church for Lent in the small hope it might all have gone back to ‘normal’ by Easter.
The arrival of the Chinese pestilence has made that less of a sacrifice, or rather less of a statement of discontent. People sometimes say ‘I didn’t leave the Church of England, it left me,’ and in this case that is literally true and an unexpected relief.
This article first appeared in The Salisbury Review online