IN 1565 a huge Turkish army and fleet laid siege to Malta. Had the siege been successful, the ships of Islam would have gained free movement in the Mediterranean and their armies a route through Sicily and southern Italy to attack the underbelly of Europe and threaten Christendom itself. Malta held. Christendom was saved. It held because of the sheer toughness of the Knights of St John under their Grand Master, de la Valette. During the siege an episode occurred which showed how Christians then went about defending their faith. The Turks captured, crucified and beheaded some Knights, then threw their headless bodies on their crosses into the waters and the tide took them across to the Grand Harbour. In response, to show the Turks there would be no surrender, de la Valette ordered that all his Turkish prisoners be beheaded. He then loaded the heads into his cannon and fired the cannon over the Turkish army.
Not nice. Not the way we do things – or rather don’t do things – in the CofE today. Nietzsche disparaged Christianity as elevating weakness in itself and neglecting heroism. He was wrong. Neither Newman nor Wilberforce was weak. Both were heroic. But there is tendency in Christianity which can seem to elevate weakness. When it is not properly restrained by other virtues such as fortitude and loyalty to truth, and when it is encouraged by dominant tendencies in the secular culture such as romanticism or more recently the therapeutic ideology, then not just weakness but wetness seems to become a virtue. And the last half-century, in which the CofE has lost more than half its members and apparently entered terminal decline, has seen wetness become almost a cult. There’s been wetness and sentimentality in social policy – that refusal to oppose single parenthood which has destroyed the married family as the norm; wetness in liturgy-what Ratzinger has called `infantilization’; and above all wetness in language- an explosion of caring-sharing-including babble that has destroyed intellectual life in the Church.
Well, not quite destroyed it everywhere. New Directions has stood for two things. One is obvious and frequently admired: the readiness to say unpleasant truths. Look at the way the Crown appointments system has been exposed, or the Church’s spinning of its figures. Remember its hard hitting analyses of the Blackburn report on the Act of Synod or the Mind of Anglicans survey. Or think of its exposure of the costs of the bishops and bureaucracy – bishops and bureaucracy which have doubled in numbers as church attendance has halved. Thanks to New Directions these are known not just by churchpeople; they are on the files of every national newspaper. But, even better, the points have been made with gusto and wit. It has found its tone. The editor, Mrs Low, tells me, even those bishops who admit some of its points often deplore its tone. But it is the tone which counts. It has told the unpleasant truth, where necessary, unpleasantly. Before it came along, the tone of the religious press had become cozy, gentle, even fawning. New Directions has changed that. It has shown the virtues of straight talk and- I choose my words carefully – a manly approach to the Christian life and to Christian journalism. I have only one reproach and I’m sure this will soon be rectified. It has yet to claim its first scalp, to get its first resignation. It can’t be for lack of candidates: look at the number of bishops who have continued in office and salary while the Church has been dying, sickened in many cases by their supposed cures. So into the cannon with the first head, Mrs Low, and fire!
Digby Anderson is Assistant Priest at St Saviour’s, Luton and co-editor of Called to Account: The Case for an Audit of the State of the Failing Church of England.