From the Revd Alastair Ferneley
Sir, - I identified with Judith Robinson's article "The Daily
Penance of Paperwork" (Comment, 13 March) but
was left troubled by the last phrase about the Church being at the
forefront of "good practice".
It was "good practice" in the first century to sacrifice to
pagan gods and the emperor to avoid what we would call accidents,
which they put down to the displeasure of the gods. Not to do so
was considered negligent. The refusal of the early Church to take
part in this was no small part of why they were persecuted.
Many pre-Christian cultures are like this. They blame accidents
on "witchcraft", and seek for a witch to blame (see E. E.
Evans-Pritchard's anthropological works on African culture).
Is this the situation we find ourselves in today? The decline of
monotheistic belief leads to a cultural inability to cope with
accidents - what we might loosely describe as "acts of God" -
without finding someone to blame. The "witch" is often believed to
be the person who refuses to bow to the witch-doctor's control,
purchase his charms, take his advised "good-practice" precautions,
It looks to me as if our obsession with avoiding risk, endless
paperwork (which, like witchcraft, does little or nothing to
actually prevent accidents) takes the same cultural place in our
thinking as witchcraft or sacrifice to idols takes in pre-Christian
If I'm even a fraction right, it is very worrying if the Church
is seeking to be in the forefront of this. Shouldn't we rather be
saying: "Even if you persecute us for it, we will not serve your
gods!" Then perhaps we may free ourselves from this culture of fear
and anxiety that is crushing everyone with its paperwork "charms",
and potentially get our whole society to rethink.
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