It’s not often now that the Church of England (CoE) hits the big headlines in mainstream media. Two news items – one on the historic physical child abuse known to the Church hierarchy for many years but only just revealed to the general public, and the other on the debate on the status of LGBTI believers, have both briefly hit the headlines recently. But both stories faded away very quickly, with little comment from outside the church itself.
The first issue is horrific and at the very least should result in prosecutions, not only of those directly involved, but potentially those aware for years of criminal offences who failed to report them – the very governance of the CoE. The second issue makes you wonder what decade the Church is operating in – the 1940s or 1950s? Any other major organisation with open discrimination against people’s sexuality would be challenged in the courts in high-profile cases. But in the CoE just a few dedicated Christian LGBTI groups seem to be pursuing this.
My point is – who really cares now about what happens inside the CoE? Even ‘big’ stories about their actions and their policies barely register in the media, and few outside the church seem minded to pursue them. The church never seems to comment on social policy anymore, or if it does, no-one cares much what it says. Even the CoE’s early involvement in food banks has been overshadowed now by corporate enterprises. World attention on religion is most definitely focussed elsewhere.
The CoE is still guilty of many crimes of morality, but in terms of influence I would suggest it’s largely an anachronism, an out-dated organisation run by elderly white men with a dwindling congregation of predominantly elderly parishioners. It is destined to fade away, I think, particularly in the UK, even if it maintains more influence in other parts of the globe. It’s still a scandal against democracy that Bishops sit in the House of Lords, but they are a small number in an unelected second house now packed with Tory appointees – the whole thing a bastion of privilege and cronyism in which the Bishops are just a little part of a very big problem. The Church still owns some enviable real estate. But did you know there is an organisation, the Friends of Friendless Churches, looking after a growing number of historic buildings that the CoE can not be bothered to conserve, let alone revive as vibrant centres of worship? What more poignant symbol of decline is there than churches disused and falling down.
Who could have predicted that the once great force of Anglicanism would die with a whimper rather than a bang, focussed on fighting internal battles which no-one outside of its walls really notices? How should Humanists respond? Can we look forward to the demise of the CoE without putting much effort in to help that process? I think so, and there will be little need for dancing on that grave, after what looks to be a slow but largely painless fading away. So maybe Humanists can now look elsewhere to fight more current and important challenges to enlightened secularism.
In my mid-eighties myself I was interested to read in Alan Bennett’s diary in the London Review of Books that as an octogenarian he is always conscious of his age with its infirmities and ‘the only end of age’ as Larkin put it. In his case as well as many others the personal situation is acerbated by the visibly worsening of society in many respects nationally and internationally. We can see the pressures on young people setting out on adulthood and on the poor in our own society and the conflicts abroad leading to the miseries of loss of home and livelihood leading many to become refugees. We can see that our cherished western liberal, humane society that we believe in as the beacon for the future, is beset on all sides.
Ironically ‘the enemy within’ turns out to be what we thought of as one of its central pillars namely democracy itself. Large numbers of people have become conscious of their power to bring about change. The change voted for unfortunately is in favour not of greater equalisation of wealth and social opportunities and away from rampant capitalism but is to turn inward to become nationalistic and chauvinistic.
We have turned away from a united Europe once the great post war dream of peace and co-operation. In America they have elected to replace an intelligent, civilised and well-intentioned President with one who is the opposite and whose many shortcomings are overlooked in favour of his appeal exclusively to self-interest.
Alan Bennett finds consolation in the fact that he has no children or grandchildren to feel sorrow and guilt about the future that our generation is bequeathing. I know what he means. Those of us who have staked our hopes for the gradual improvement of mankind in the potential of people to work together cooperatively with good will and kindliness to all, can only take a deep breath and hope that the present situation is just a blip on the upward climb.
Dr Brian Nicol
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists
Thanks to the efforts of Bob Jelley and other volunteers, C & W Humanists have been organising a Humanist contribution to Remembrance Sunday by laying wreaths at local ceremonies for the last 4 years.
This year Bob has purchased five wreaths from the British Legion, and we are hoping to cover all the local ceremonies. Bob has organised representatives for Warwick and Coventry, and will cover either Bedworth or Nuneaton himself. If anyone would like to volunteer for Leamington, Rugby, Bedworth or Nuneaton, Bob has kindly offered to deliver the wreath to the volunteer in advance. He will also ring the relevant council to get details of assembly points and timings and then give that info to the volunteer.
Bob has also reminded us that the weather may be cold and the ceremonies can be religious and dour!
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested.
If the UK is to be a truly democratic society then the Government must be open to changing its views on particular issues when it is clear that its current policies are against the wishes of the majority of its citizens .
We are increasingly a non-religious society as is shown by poll after poll, and the favoured approach is a secular one in which the Government upholds the right to worship but gives no special favours to religious bodies in general and the Church of England in particular. Unfortunately we are a long way from that position and Churches enjoy a range of privileges from automatic inclusion in the legislature and the, not unconnected, exemption of Churches from laws that apply to everyone else.
However it is education in which a lack of secularism impinges most on the lives of British citizens. Schools with a religious character, or ‘faith schools’ as they are commonly known, account for around a third of our publicly funded schools. This seriously limits choice for parents who do not share the faith of the local school and do not want a religious education for their children.
The National Secular Society has been campaigning for many years against faith schools which are a major divisive element in our society at a time when more than ever polices should be directed towards cohesiveness .
Totally ignoring this need and in the face of public opinion, it is extraordinary that our Prime Minister, a devout Christian, has chosen to put her own opinions ahead of those of the public at large by announcing the establishment of another hundred faith schools and changing the entry criteria to allow these state funded schools to take in only pupils of their favoured faith. This is a retrograde step of the first order.
By all means let us have variety in school provision but whatever their source or specialisation they should be inclusive and open to all.
Dr Brian Nicol
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists.
Star Trek is in the news with a major convention being held in Birmingham.
I wonder how many people, including its fans, are aware that its American founder, Gene Roddenberry, was a Humanist.
Roddenberry was raised a Southern Baptist. However, as an adult he rejected religion. He began questioning religion around the age of fourteen, and came to the conclusion that it was “nonsense”. He said of Christianity, “How can I take seriously a god-image that requires that I prostrate myself every seven days and praise it? That sounds to me like a very insecure personality.” He dismissed all organized religions, saying that for the most part, they acted like a “substitute brain… and a very malfunctioning one”. He was also critical of how the public looked at certain religions, noting that when the King David Hotel bombing took place in Jerusalem in 1946, the American public accepted it as the action of freedom fighters, whereas a car bombing by a Muslim in Beirut was condemned as a terrorist act. While he agreed that both parties were wrong in their use of violence, he said that the actions of both were undertaken because of their strong religious beliefs. He made it known to the writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion, superstition, and mystical thinking were not to be included. He compared Star Trek to his own philosophy by saying: “understand that Star Trek is more than just my political philosophy, my racial philosophy, my overview on life and the human condition.” He was awarded the 1991 Humanist Arts Award from the American Humanist Association.