Geofrrey Kirk reflects on christian orthodoxy, the new atheism and the Church of England
He came; he saw; he conquered. Heart spoke to heart – though not, of course, to the heartless.
The Papal visit may not have changed the climate of British opinion in any significant way; but the Vatican is right to be pleased with a response from all levels of society which was genuinely attentive and often affectionate. It may therefore seem churlish of me to dwell here upon the reactions of those who were adamantly opposed to the Papal visit; but I think it is salutary to do so.
The opposition demonstration on the evening of the Hyde Park Vigil was sizeable and articulate. It has much to teach us about the nature and coherence of the liberal agenda against which the Church must now direct all its efforts. From academics to lawyers, from the advocates of women priests to the ‘tax-paying lesbian’ who protested the state’s financial involvement, the lobby is united in its hatred of the Catholic Church. If anyone ever doubted the interrelationship of those different projects – Lesbigay rights, women’s ordination, abortion on demand, sexual licence – they had merely to view the crowds and read the slogans.
To this cacophony of related private interests the response is Benedict XVI’s programme of reasoned natural theology – the Philosophy of Life. He responds by demanding that such a programme be rehearsed in the public square. No privatised morality can sustain a healthy and fully integrated society.
The paradox of the unity and coherence of the opposition to the Pope’s vision is that it derives its very rationale and structure from the moral system which it opposes. It is the inverted image of Catholic Truth. The demonstrators on Whitehall were not representatives of the ‘multiethnic society’ (on behalf of which they so often purport to speak). They were not Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus. They were commited post-Christians with private agendas at times all too obvious. The question for Anglicans is surely whether the Church of England, with its habit (as Newman pointed out) of baptizing the ambient culture, has any hope of countering this new and concerted attack on Christian culture.
A reading of the electoral addresses of the clergy of this diocese in the forthcoming General Synod elections does not inspire me with hope. I am struggling to find more than two candidates whom I can endorse. And I have no expectation that they will be elected. The acid test has to be whether any of them would say anything to discountenance the bien-pensants of the liberal consensus. Everyone (bar two) is, of course, in favour of women’s ordination. Most (the vast majority) are for the ‘inclusion’ (as they tendentiously put it) of the lesibigay transgendered community – and many belong to it. Abortion on demand is not yet an issue for the Synod; but were it to be so (and surely the occasion cannot be far hence) I suspect that they would be in favour of that too. A woman’s right to be ordained is not a million miles (hardly a kilometre) from a woman’s right to choose. The clerical candidates in the diocese of Southwark have, in short, more in common with Voltaire than Jesus Christ – though Voltaire had more in common with Jesus Christ than with some of them.
Small wonder, then, that the Ordinariate looms large in the future of many hitherto faithful Anglicans. Any notion that the majority of the Anglican Communion could somehow moderate the excesses of the liberal North-West seems hopelessly optimistic. The Southwark candidates, for the most part, take a dim view of the Covenant – Rowan’s last stand.
To embrace Benedict’s generous offer, as I see it, is not to abandon the Anglicanism in which I was reared. It is not to forsake Austin Farrer, who nurtured my vocation, or John Moorman who ordained me. It is to remain faithful to them in the only way which remains open to me at the end of a long ministry as a priest of the Church of England. I have often wondered why so many of Austin’s pupils and friends – Leslie Holden, Michael Goulder and others – lost the plot. (Perhaps there were personal agendas at work there too). But that is no reason to loose it oneself.
The Pope’s visit has, I suspect, brought many to a point of decision. If there was any doubt about whose side one should be on in the coming life and death struggle between the Catholic Religion and its Cultured Despisers, the matter is now settled. With Newman I am for conscience first – but my conscience compels me to raise my glass to the Pope. ND