Amusing myself to death

Amusing myself to death

I’ve been struggling for some time in knowing where I fit in with Christianity. I know I am a Christian of some sort. It is God’s truth, love, wisdom and beauty that keep me going, outside of it I am nothing. Despite this the conflict between my personal convictions and trying to work them out have been giving me a level of cognitive dissonance that is hard to reconcile. So much so that I have become aware that I’ve been closing up in regard to seeking to express my faith confidently amongst unbelievers and believers alike.

As a Protestant I adhere to Sola Scriptura, yet I have been struck by my own historical ignorance and the clash that contemporary evangelicalism has with the church of history. It seems naive to cling to the Bible but to reject entirely any respect for the context out of which it was collated and propagated. To uphold the Bible abstracted from its historical context is bookish, abstracted and dry. I am also tired of verses being taken out of context to promote some new angle on scripture that is marketed to the faithful on backs of emotionalism and the personal brand of celebrity pastors. As a balance I increasingly can’t help but value the input of the Church Fathers have on the scriptures and admire the fruit of their convictions that is born out in the accounts of their lives.

I’m also increasingly drawn to the ideas caught up in what might be known as Sacramentalism. Not too long ago I listened to a discussion on worship in which a Charismatic minister stressed the different ways people encountered God in worship. These are the sacraments, preaching and singing. In his own tradition it was the singing, in more reformed churches it was the preaching and in the more traditional churches it was the sacraments. I agree with him on this but I don’t see a scriptural argument for the emotionalism and hype given to singing in charismatic churches. On preaching, Lord knows that the quality of preaching can vary dramatically from one person to the next, and these days thanks to the internet you don’t even need to go to church for decent preaching. Yet a focus on the sacraments takes the focus off us and onto God. It cannot be packaged and sold like singing and preaching and has the added advantage of being explicitly commanded by Christ himself.

Despite this all I know is the Evangelical world. I’m still one deep down and thought I could straddle both worlds in something like the Church of England. Yet the hounding of people like Philip North and the entire principle of ‘Good disagreement’ are things I increasingly just don’t associate with what I see in scripture. In that sense Orthodoxy and Catholicism I commend for their adherence to and championing of what they believe is the truth, even if I disagree with aspects of it. In many ways I really wish I could become one and the fact that theres an impasse, an inability to reconcile really twists me up inside.

So what do I do? I don’t know, thats the problem. I increasingly turn to distracting myself from these issues. I try to focus on other things than; the sadness of what the CoE is, the inability to talk about things like church history with my peers, the cognitive dissonance I experience in church, the fact that I no longer agree at all with a female priesthood, having female friends who are ordinands, the fact that every day I listen to audio devotionals from orthodox and protestant ministers back to back, I turn down requests to play in the band at church because I am more interested in exploring plainsong, sacred harp and psalm singing, the fact that despite all this I can’t shake the sincere belief that some of the catholic and orthodox practices are wrong. Where do you fit in? It’s easier to watch TV, love your wife, play games, read, throw yourself into work and go to the gym. The position feels untenable and I have no idea what God is asking me to do with all of this, I could be wrong or right in any number of ways but that doesn’t matter if you don’t do anything with them. Distraction is not healthy in the long term, but in the short term it makes the heavy tension bearable.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

Crucified teenagers and being a witness

Crucified teenagers and being a witness

I read an article about four Shopfitters who had been antagonising a Teenager who was doing an apprenticeship with them. Apparently it was a form of hazing and when put before a judge called what they did banter. Banter for these Shopfitters took on a distinctly religious overtone however when they realised the teenager was a Christian. The hazing included..

  • Being attacked with a lit aerosol
  • Tying him to a “crucifix” and having crosses daubed over his face and body
  • Tied to a chair with duck tape and had a dummy forced into his mouth before being paraded out into the street and then given a wedgie
  • Drawing symbols, both religious and phallic, over [the teenager’s] face.

These weren’t children, the oldest of the group is 37 at the time of writing this. Whilst I’m not a stranger to the various initiation rituals that go on in these circles the fact that this behaviour is acceptable is really troubling. This wasn’t purely religiously motivated, it isn’t a binary case of this or that and I’m sure each of the Shopfitters in some form each went through their own form of hazing but this is distinct because of their shared disdain for the Teenagers Christian beliefs. We’re talking and writing about it because these men acted on their views but the views themselves are widespread. In 2012 Richard Dawkins stated at a ‘reason’ rally in the US..

So when I meet somebody who claims to be religious, my first impulse is: “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you until you tell me do you really believe — for example, if they say they are Catholic — do you really believe that when a priest blesses a wafer it turns into the body of Christ? Are you seriously telling me you believe that? Are you seriously saying that wine turns into blood?” Mock them! Ridicule them! In public!

Don’t fall for the convention that we’re all too polite to talk about religion. Religion is not off the table. Religion is not off limits.

Religion makes specific claims about the universe which need to be substantiated and need to be challenged and, if necessary, need to be ridiculed with contempt.

Richard Dawkins

Now I have no doubt the Dawkins himself would rebuke the actions of the Shopfitters and in this instance he wasn’t talking of mockery for the sake of mockery (though I think this distinction is a fine one for him) nor do I think the Shopfitters would be counted amongst his adherents. I agree with Dawkins that no religion (or rather any ideology or belief system including Dawkin’s anti-theism) is off limits for discussion. Yet despite this I’m not talking about the actions of the individuals, that’s a symptom of (among other things) their low view of Christian belief. Now I’m not saying Dawkins et al is responsible for that low view but is merely echoing what seems to be an increasingly pronounced sentiment at work in our society. A sentiment that is expressing itself in various forms in a variety of ways at different levels of society. The Shopfitters didn’t distinguish the Teenager from his beliefs which I think in this instance is to his credit despite the terrible cost.

newsthumpThis case in many ways is a extreme example of how religion is received currently both certain areas of education and the workplace. University academia was in many ways the most tame and manageable form of disdain I encountered for trusting in and pursuing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yet in the workplace we’re an ideological minority, who on coming out runs the risk of being immediately quizzed on our sex life and its history, our views on any range of topics and public individuals. This is followed by a measure of distance being introduced by colleagues depending on the degree to which they object to our answers. Sometimes the objection isn’t upfront and instead finds itself in the form of passive aggressive jibes or links to articles denigrating your belief. When confronted the response is often along the lines of ‘it’s just banter’ or ‘shouldn’t you be turning the other cheek?’ to outright ignoring the question altogether. In the private sector its just easier to not talk about it. Its not persecution, but their is disdain at times and if the experience becomes normative you begin to internalise the disdain.

Despite all the above the thing I’m left wondering (which is the crux of what I’m trying to get to) is what sort of support existed for the Teenager in question on the part of his Church? Dealing with this sort of behaviour has become a matter for the individual as its generally left unspoken about in most Churches. The hazing process is initiation, the questions asked when you come out are to appraise how much your like ‘everyone else’. If they pass you over you’re not in any way functionally different to those around you, your faith is either unknown or not distinct enough to warrant the attention. The easiest way to avoid the hazing and the banter is to simply keep quiet and to not act on your beliefs. Is that what Churches want? I wonder sometimes if part of the reason their are lower numbers of Men in the church is partly down to attrition and eventual internalisation of the views espoused that occurs as a result of this friction. Its not an intellectual decision but a emotional one. You see the faith as something to be mocked, denigrated and laughed about or even scorned and the person in Pulpit goes on as if they are completely oblivious to what’s going on out there. Nobody respects the faith, there is no fear of God in the land and the Church doesn’t seem too bothered about those on the ‘frontlines’. Christians spend more of their week in work than in Christian community and yet this is something that we just don’t seem to talk about.

The Church needs to equip people to deal with this sort of behaviour from both their peers and seniors in work and at home, not everyone experiences this ‘banter’ but I see the practice becoming more acceptable as time goes on. This isn’t a matter for individuals to handle on their own, because the path of least resistance is to just opt out. We shouldn’t have to tolerate this sort of treatment and should be shining a light on these incidents and calling them out when they occur. If we just accept it people will push it further and denigrate not just the believer, but the Church and ultimately God. We can’t stop it entirely but we need to be there to minister to one another and work together to make the case to society that we are worthy of the same respect attributed to everyone else. Jesus told us we’d always be mocked because they mocked him but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pretend that it isn’t taking place and that everything is therefore ok.