Martin Newell’s Joy of Essex: So what’s the Church done to get the rationalists in a lather?

Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: DAVID ILIFF.

Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: DAVID ILIFF. - Credit: Archant

If he’d had a faith, my father lost it aged 17 in November, 1944, when a German V2 bomb hit Woolworths in Deptford, killing 168 people. His mother was amongst them, writes Martin Newell.

Later, as a young soldier, given a choice between church parade and jankers (cleaning latrines and peeling spuds) he would opt for the latter.

Our family never went to church. My mother’s side had never attended church either. Nobody in my immediate family was ever christened, wedded or buried by the Church. Nor do I recall ever seeing a Bible around the house.

To this day, in fact, apart from occasionally glancing at certain passages while checking quotes, I have never read the Bible or taken Christian instruction. Yet, as a complete outsider, I’ve become a quiet fan of the Church. I respect it and wish it well.

It’s always represented to me a kindness and inclusivity often found lacking in certain other institutions.

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I was impressed once, upon interviewing a local rector, when he told me that the Church welcomed those “of all faiths and of none”.

I have noted over the decades that whenever a crisis arose, there too was the Christian church.

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In 1985, after the Battle of the Beanfield, when people belonging to a so-called hippy convoy were beaten and had their vehicles smashed, it was Christian church-goers who emerged with blankets and tea flasks to aid the traumatised survivors.

During the 1999 Kosovo crisis, it was churches who organised clothing collections and relief packages for the refugees. Even now, churches are at the forefront of setting up food banks for hard-up citizens of this, the world’s sixth-richest nation.

The Church of England, to me, a lifetime non-attender, has always seemed rather a good thing. I do not care what gender or gender-orientation its priests happen to be, so long as they remain kindly, compassionate and functional.

I write this because I’ve noticed the Church taking unjustified flak from unexpected quarters. I was surprised when I heard the Archbishop of Canterbury tell the Today programme that, earlier this year, BBC authorities, upon seeing his Good Friday broadcast-script, protested there was too much God in it. This is like criticising publishers of the rail timetable for featuring too many trains.

Closer to home, during a survey on my local internet forum, one fellow announced that whilst he “respected people’s rights” to believe what they wished, he had no interest in “a God which didn’t exist”. He added that he struggled to have “personal respect for anyone who believed in all that stuff”.

As I have often observed, whenever a debate about the existence of God, ghosts or any other unquantifiable entity arises, it’s nearly always the rationalists who are first to start shouting, and banging their fists on the table.

The believers and open-minded will often behave far more calmly. I do find it strange how quickly many rationalists will anger, whenever their unassailable logic is questioned.

When, however, we hear one pillar of society asking another to tone down the God in his broadcast (at Easter) it gets silly.

If I’d been the Archbishop I would have said “Okay, I’ll stop riding my faithful steed so hard, if you’ll refresh your Reithian principles: To Inform, Educate and Entertain, since all three are looking somewhat threadbare lately.”

Probably just as well I am not the Archbishop; otherwise we might be looking at a Thomas à Becket scenario all over again.

Meanwhile, Humanists UK had a pop at the Big Fellow. Noting that 53% of the population now belong to no religion, it stated that: “The figures must raise fresh questions about the place of Churches in running state schools and other state-funded privileges.”

The adherents of secularism are ratcheting up their game. Some rationalists, it seems, would like to see Christianity out of the equation altogether.

Such people increasingly are opting for Humanist weddings and funerals. I’ve found such events passable, if lacking in depth at times.

It’s like a toast with non-alcoholic wine. It doesn’t always quite hit the spot.

The Christian Church has the venues, the hit tunes, the rituals and the antiquity. Such things can be of great value when face-to-face with immensities such as life, love and death.

Who are these heroic new rationalists announcing the demise of faith? I’ve noticed they put on their Clint Eastwood hats only when attacking the ever-forgiving Christians. I haven’t seen them having a go at any of the world’s more “robust” religions.

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