Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Memo to Lord Carey: Loss of privilege is not persecution.

A poll was released on Easter Day which suggests about 40% of Britons do not trust clergy to tell the truth.  According to the YouGov survey, 54% feel the Church of England has "struggled" to give moral leadership and fully 69% believe the established Church is "out of touch."  A Barna Group study from the United States a few years ago showed similar negative perceptions, with 87% of young people saying Christianity is judgmental and 85% that Christianity is hypocritical.  Only 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and 20s had a positive impression of Christianity.

I'm always a little leery of commenting on polls based on superficial media stories, but it strikes me the loss of the Church's credibility in England (and elsewhere) is related to a quite credible perception that the Church is far more interested in institutional preservation and with recovering lost privilege than she is concerned with proclaiming good news about anything or about speaking in a way that is credibly prophetic.

The perception, though credible, isn't entirely accurate.  Unfortunately for Christianity, the majority of mainstream media reporters are more or less religiously illiterate.  Add to that the desire for conflict to sell papers, and you have an inbuilt tendency for the media to pass on thoughtful religious voices in favour of hacks and cranks.  As a result, the self-identified Christian voices that get the ink are all too often the least credible and the most obnoxious.  Thus it isn't a negative perception foisted upon us by some imagined secularist conspiracy.  We do it to ourselves.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey's lunatic screed over the past weekend is a prime example. In the face of major changes to the welfare state with as yet unknown effects on the poor (of whom scripture says much), Lord Carey chooses to ignore that and instead offer up a deluded dystopia of pretendy persecution. He advances the fantasy that the loss of unearned and unmerited privilege is the same as being killed for what you believe. In a country where the head of state must belong to his religious body, where 26 legislative seats are set aside for senior members of his religious body and where the past leaders of his religious body (himself included) are always offered a legislative sinecure on retirement, where simply being a retired Archbishop pretty much guarantees you front page coverage in all the major media for your every pronouncement, no matter how inane, to talk of persecution is both idiotic and an affront to those Christians who face real persecution elsewhere.

It is said that "every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket."  George Carey, Pat Robertson and the rest of the far right hacks and flacks would lead a reasonable person to conclude that Christianity has degenerated to racket long since.

Yet just a few weeks before the latest wittering from Lord Carey, 43 serving bishops of the Church of England signed a letter expressing serious and thoughtful concern about the UK government's plan to reform assistance benefits.  Sadly, this kind of substantive intervention pales in the media's attention next to the ridiculous figure of a retired bishop making a fool of himself and disgracing the Gospel.

When someone of this stature says something so addlebrained as this, it reinforces every negative stereotype of Christianity as a gang of angry old Major Blimps raging against the end of the Victorian era.  If there is some massive secularist conspiracy out there somewhere, they'd be well advised to keep their powder dry, in keeping with Napoleon Bonaparte's dictum that you should never interrupt your enemy when he is shooting himself in the foot.  George Carey and his ilk are a greater threat to British Christianity than Richard Dawkins, the National Secular Society and the entire readership of the Guardian combined.

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