by the Revd John Lovejoy
The final remark made at the end of my previous article on ‘Liberal Secularism’ leads to the observation that in the case of The English, the central importance of Religion cannot be overestimated as a formative historical factor. This is true for cultural, spiritual, economic and anthropological reasons, and remains true despite a confused, stormy, and fragmented history since the end of the First Millenium.
Here, as latter-day English people and also as participants in Steadfast (an advocacy group for the ethnic English mainly based in the north east of England now), we recognise and respect all religious positions which, historically, we have known among us through the centuries. The Christian Faith has been dominant, as well as culturally and spiritually formative, since the 7th century. Before that, the archaic Heathen religion was integral to the English way of life for an unknown period of time; Thunor, Woden, Freya, Tiva, were honoured in ways which few of us are aware of now, but there are those among us who know much more than I!
By contrast, a healthy scepticism is something which has also been respected among the English in recent centuries, and is perhaps as necessary as ever, for in very recent times we have seen the arrival among us of wacky kinds of ‘Christian’ sects from the USA, far-out Hindu sects, somewhat strident versions of Islam, the DIY African ‘churches’ with fanciful names and bags of electronic equipment and sound-mixers. You cannot miss them!
Meanwhile, for the real Liberal Secularist the whole subject of religion will have become distatsteful, and he would prefer to regard it as a mere archaic cultural trait, eventually perhaps to wither away but to be tolerated meanwhile as something which certain individuals practise in private, and which seems to be of comfort to the very young and to a lot of the elderly.
However, on this view, public institutions such as churches and denominations should be subject to restrictions by legislation, with all religions being treated as equal, with any public criticism of one by the other being sternly discouraged, under pain of being accused of ‘bigotry’, ‘Islamophobia’, ‘xenophobia’, etc.
The religion of the English and the rise of scepticism and science
For a long time, after the disasters of the 15th and 16th centuries, and the decay and revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries, England’s sceptics and different religious traditions lived in relative harmony, and so, too, the agnostics such as many of the scientific community. The Western Christian traditions – Catholic and Protestant – were in the ascendant, though this came to be less so after the First and Second World Wars. It was from the 1960s that the Western traditions of Christianity went through a process of self-questioning with a readiness to question and even reject much from the past, and a new open-ness to the ferment of contemporary secular thought. Meanwhile, other religions entered the country along with the immigrant peoples from South Asia and the Caribbean. But much if not most of the indigenous English population became indifferent to Christianity of any brand.
Now, though, we have a much-changed situation, which includes these elements:
i. A massive contraction, in terms of proportion of the populace, of the denominations of Western Christianity; concurrently, the growth of agnosticism, atheism, and even the view – unlike atheism – that the whole concept of religion is a semantic nonsense, and deserves to be expunged from human thought. Classical atheists do at least agree that the argument makes sense.
ii. The cultural and ethical trend, which we have labelled ‘Liberal Secularist’ but may be equated with ‘Humanist’. Thus we find humanist rites to replace, for those who so wish, the rites of Christianity; ‘Go as you please’ funerals, ‘Micky Mouse’ weddings in bizarre locations – all set to Rock and Roll/Pop lyrics instead of the well-worn old Christian hymns. (Sorry, I do seem to have a very jaundiced view of all this!)
iii. A strident and militant Atheism, with well-publicised books, and prominent leaders and writers, which has used a number of channels of publicity to pour withering scorn on the Christian Faith in particular, and also – it has to be inferred – on religions in general, though this is not explicitly stated.
In line with this, we find scurrilously anti-Christian advertisements on buses, anti-Christian presentations on Channel 4, the removal of theistic promises in the vows of Scouts and Guides, legislation forbidding the wearing of Christain symbols in a multi-faith place of employment, and so on. (Just how can you ask a young would-be Boy Scout to promise ‘I will do my duty – to my own self-development’ I wonder?)
iv. What is to be said about all this? It is just here where I may seem to appear partisan. Historically, the Christian Faith has thrived on a respected opposition, and toleration continues to be a virtue for everyone. Yet it now seems to me, as an Eastern Orthodox Christian – and as such outside the events and changes that have beset Western Christianity since about the time of the Norman Conquest – that Western Christianity has lost its nerve, and seems to have lost the way. I will thus answer this new militant, strident sort of atheism in this way:
Christianity has lost its way in England
First, I would reiterate that the Christian Faith has been prevalent in England since the 7th century, and that the Christian Church has influenced communal morality, ethics, culture, and spirituality all that time. Surely, then, it deserves some respect. Furthermore, those voices to the effect that ‘we ought to get rid of Judaeo-Christian ethics’ are more likely to be wanting to get rid of morality full stop. This is just a manifestation of the infantile rebellion against all constraints which was made fashionable in the so-called ‘swinging sixties’, when we were open to all new transatlantic influence, and became scornful of everything from the past.
Secondly, the widely-publicised attack on Christianity is based on the novel belief that all of reality is confined to the natural, physical, material order of existence. On this view, Mankind is DNA with bones, full stop!
Against this, and against what is popularly thought, the evidence for the Christian faith is massive, widespread geographically, and cumulative over many centuries – and not least in the recent 20th century. According to Christian experience, ordered, persistent and constant, there is a spiritual order of existence within reality as a whole, such that it interpenetrates the physical-material order. This is perceived primarily in Man himself, for Man perceives this immedially through the disciplines of contemplation and prayer, when he learns to enter into his inmost being. Man is thus self-experienced as a spiritual being with a physical expression.
But to stop there would be disastrous. The invisible and spirtual order of existence is disordered, and Man, by common experience shares in this disorder. We can all agree, I think, that Man is far from being what he ought to be; there is an awful lot wrong with the world!
In ordered, ongoing Christian experience though, Man is able – indeed is called – to look through and beyond his inner self, and become aware of we can only call, in the limitations of human language, Uncreated Being. In English we have always used an old word ‘God’ for this. The human sense involved is what we call ‘awe’. This, by the way, has nothing whatsoever to do with psychology or psychological states. These latter, according to all accredited Orthodox Church fathers, have to be silenced and set aside for this purpose.
Christianity versus Atheism
In short, Christianity directly contradicts Atheism on the grounds of ordered and consistent experience, such has been described by many, in different places and over many centuries. Atheism and Christianity, then, have a widely differing anthropology – their respective view of what Man is.
It is ironic, then, when people with a knowledge of Natural Science say that whereas Science is based on ordered observation of physical facts, Christianity is based on ‘faith’. This is not true. Yes, Natural Science is indeed based on the observation of physical facts, but there is no grounds whatsoever for denying the existence of Uncreated Being and of the spiritual order of existence, when these have been the experience of the human race since time immemorial.
For the Christian Belief is not based on faith; it is rather based on ordered experience of the sort briefly indicated here, and which cannot be gainsaid. In addition, of course, there are the particular events described in the Christian scriptures, but for this purpose I was alluding to recent experience in recent centuries. Faith, rather than being the basis of Christianity, is rather the wholehearted commitment of the believer to acting in accordance with what he already knows to be true on solid grounds.
I realise that this has come rather close to being Christian Apologetics!
The Old Religion of the early English and Christianity
However, I do not deny that there is a rightful place for scepticism as against ‘blind faith’, and in regard to the assertion that there is a spirtual order of existence, I think that this is in accordance with what the adherents of the Old Religion of the early English would have believed.
Moreover, this essay has had the limited aim of countering the rather aggressive sort of atheism which has appeared of late, and it seemed necessary to restore the balance, especially within the political/intellectual climate which I have labelled ‘Liberal-Secular’.
Not only that, I have not said anything about the original events on which the Christian Church was founded in the first place. It is in fact open to anyone to agree with what I have pointed out, and yet to reject the Christian Church as such. Why not just approach the Uncreated Being (God) and search ones inner spiritual heart without all the paraphernalia of The Church and reference to events of two millenia ago?
Well, anyone is always entitled to try.
But the committed Christian (and an Orthodox Christian in particular) would surely reply that it makes no sense to make a spiritual journey without all the existence on offer. He would also say to such a person, as he would also say to the Liberal Secularist, that the human race is in a dire state, and that some very drastic remedy – a remedy that will touch the very core of man’s being – is very evidently necessary. The Christian Church, like its Founder, has always offered that.
This, then, is an unusually personal view, and I am aware that it is unlikely to meet with agreement everywhere. What I would ask, though, is that the delicate matters which I have touched upon be accepted as one contribution to the sort of interchange of views which I think we all believe to be necessary.
Shortage of space in what has to be a very compressed essay has meant that I have not been able to supply particular references to the sort of evidence which I have written about. This is something that I could supply should anyone be interested in learning what sort of evidence is there in detailed particulars, especially from the 20th century.
Perhaps I should add, too, that should any of us wish to make a presentation from a Western tradition of Christianity, from the old heathen religion of the early English, or from a sceptical or agnostic viewpoint, then I am sure that this will be acceptable to all English nationalists – as long as it can be presented as a genuinely English point of view, and in line with our own identity, history, culture, and origins.