THE ECONOMIST’s Erasmus blog, written by Bruce Clark, is a consistent source of thoughtful and well-informed commentary, as you would expect. In the run-up to the latest deadline for a Brexit decision, and before it had been successfully dodged, the column looked at the Church of England’s divide over the issue.
A passage such as the following will not have been written without some real knowledge: “Archbishop Welby (ex officio a member of the Privy Council, an inner circle of senior office-holders with access to sensitive information) is known to be worried about local food shortages and a breakdown of public order in the event of a chaotic exit from the European Union.”On the other hand, he is careful not to paint the Archbishop as a “Remainiac”: “In a recent address to the General Synod, one of the senior organs of his church, he said the surge of pro-Brexit sentiment was a cry of protest which must be heard.” This was written before it was reported that the Archbishop had said in Peterborough that the country ought to respect the referendum result.
What made the piece, though, was the inclusion of Brexiteer voices. There was Canon Giles Fraser, and from his views, we segued into “a very different corner of British Christianity, the smallish world of zealous fundamentalism, [where] the sentiment in favour of Brexit is often no less passionate, but very different in tone.”
During a recent pro-Leave march, a white-haired lady carried a placard which was widely and approvingly shared by evangelicals on social media: ‘Only God’s providence makes a nation prosperous, not its leagues and alliances. Therefore Britain needs a total break from the EU, along with repentance from sin and a return to faith in Jesus Christ.’”
This is certainly a bold solution to the problems of a world in which more trade is conducted on the basis of detailed treaties than on a mutual trust in Providence. In fact, I can’t even think of any Churches which run themselves without quite detailed regulation.
THAT brings us to the next subject of the Erasmus blog: Pope Benedict, who took himself off six years ago, rushing back on to the pitch to take down his successor with a two-footed lunge from behind. This may have been clumsiness, rather than intentional: there are passages of his long document that read as if they were written by a bewildered 92-year-old.
Describing the sexual revolution, which he dates precisely to 1968, he writes: “The mental collapse was also linked to a propensity for violence. That is why sex films were no longer allowed on airplanes because violence would break out among the small community of passengers. “And since the clothing of that time equally provoked aggression, school principals also made attempts at introducing school uniforms with a view to facilitating a climate of learning.”
This really is odd. I remember outbreaks of violence on planes, but these were to do with political hijackings; I don’t remember there being any films on planes at all until around 1980. Those that I did see had a normal quota of sex scenes.It is true, and I think essential to understanding the story, that there was a spike in abuse throughout the 1970s and the early ’80s everywhere. And it obviously had to do with the sexual revolution and the way that this burst on generations of priests completely unequipped by their formation to resist or even understand these temptations.
But it is also true that incidences of abuse ebbed away over the next 20 years, while the sexual revolution more or less rolled on. What made the scandal so damaging was that this period of diminished criminal activity was, at the same time, the period of the greatest and most organised cover-ups. It was not the shock of pornographic films that caused bishops to transfer priests to new parishes when they should have been punished.
But, when you read the whole piece, there are still fragments of the things that Benedict really, deeply believes: “God is (about) more than mere physical survival. A life that would be bought by the denial of God, a life that is based on a final lie, is a non-life. Martyrdom is a basic category of Christian existence. The fact that martyrdom is no longer morally necessary in the theory advocated by Böckle and many others shows that the very essence of Christianity is at stake here.”
Whether he is right to locate this argument in particular academic quarrels among forgotten German theologians is a separate question, which I am not qualified to judge. But it has to be true that Christianity, if it matters as much as it claims to do, matters rather more than life at times — and this is a good week to remember that.