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Giles Fraser: Too much religion is bad for your faith

30 January 2008

Last Sunday morning, I took my daughter swimming. I was not on the rota for duty in church, and I did go to the eucharist in the evening. None the less, I felt guilty. This was the first time in years that I had not been to church on a Sunday morning, and it felt weird. But it did me good.

“Too much religion is bad for your faith.” These are wise words I once heard from the college principal at Cuddesdon many moons ago. He was right. It is all too easy for those of us who are involved day by day in the work of the Church to become obsessed by the details and the delivery, and to neglect the big picture.

This is why we professional religious types — especially clergy and those poor souls who are attracted to the work of church committees — get all steamed up about things that are, in the great scheme of things, unimportant: what you wear to say mass, what an obscure verse of scripture means, the latest nonsense from GAFCON (News, Comment, 25 January).

Faith is supposed to broaden horizons. To claim a faith in God is to see yourself and the world from within the context of one who created the stars and the sky, the one who is eternal and everlasting. To be a Christian is thus to view things with a wide-angled lens. Yet too many of us are caught up in minutiae, focusing ever more narrowly on what are little more than technicalities. This is why too much religion is bad for your faith. Often, you have to step away a little to see it.

Most of my fellow Sunday morning swimmers have no interest in church. What has the 10 a.m. service to offer these people that is more important than the joy of larking around with their kids in the pool? Of course, I think it has a great deal to offer. Jesus promised life in all its fullness.

The problem is that many churches do not appear even to attempt to live out that promise. I wager that the vast majority of business conducted in most PCCs relates more to ecclesiastical housekeeping than the deeper point of the Church. Jesus makes big, bold, shocking claims. We squeak like a bat — and I hate to say this, but it is true — liberals especially.

Large organisations readily come to see their own internal workings as being what they are all about. The reason churches so often become dull is that they confuse the infrastructure of the church with its purpose. This sort of church may be of interest to ecclesiological anoraks, but it won’t get people out of the pool and on to their knees. When the Kingdom comes in great power and glory, no one is going to care if anybody took the minutes.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney.

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