It’s distressing and depressing. The Anglican establishment – as represented by the Bishop of Oxford and chairman of the Board of Education, the Rt Revd John Pritchard – has so lost confidence in itself and the Gospel that it wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reduce the proportion of church-going pupils at C of E schools to just 10 per cent.
So secularism rules and guilt-ridden liberalism reigns. The bishop – who himself was privately educated of course (here) – reckons sniffily that the church schools for which he has responsibility seem to be about “collecting nice Christians into safe places” (here). Tell that to the hard-pressed headteachers of the C of E primary schools in deprived multi-ethnic east London where I live.
He justifies this new inclusivity with supreme liberal-Anglican arrogance, claiming that the Church of England “is the only organisation that exists for the sake of its non-members”. Tell that too to the Chair of the Charity Commission and its 162,000 registered charitable organisations (here).
The bishop – who was educated at the top-drawer universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham – says he arrived at the figure of 10 per cent by “pure hunch”. Then presumably he can advance no rational reason why invertebrate church authorities shouldn’t go further and decide on zero per cent.
He could of course go even further than that. He could propose that the church hitch herself fully to the hostile secular bandwagon and start to actively discriminate against believers who want church school education for their offspring.
Or how about the church offering to fund Richard Dawkins’ latest plans to set up an atheist school (here)? That would at least have the merit of taking the bishop’s self-flagellating liberal agenda to its logical conclusion.
The enemies of Christianity are salivating of course. Even the National Secular Society which takes no prisoners and is currently running an aggressive ‘Debaptise Yourself’ campaign (“Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had!”) (here) concedes the bishop has taken “a step in the right direction” from their point of view.
Thank God for the Catholic Church with its clear stand against secularisation. Our local oversubscribed Catholic secondary school effectively excludes our daughters because we aren’t Catholic believers. But I don’t begrudge them this despite the limited alternatives. At least they know what they stand for.
And of course the Pope routed New Atheists and other protesters during last year’s visit with his call to arms against the UK’s “aggressive secularism”. There are “deep Christian roots… present in every layer of British life,” he said, and attempts by the 20th century totalitarian regimes to eliminate God (Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong and Pol Pot come to mind) should provide “sobering lessons” on tolerance (here). Unsurprisingly our intolerant friends at the National Secular Society had a hissy fit (here).
But the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t always hit the right note. In his Easter message Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien rightly called on Christians of all denominations to resist attempts to destroy our Christian heritage and culture (here). Yet he spoilt this by appealing to self-interest, complaining about the way Christians have been marginalised and prevented from acting in accordance with their beliefs. Here the Cardinal’s language became shrill and victim-speak.
It is of course true that Christians face marginalisation and hostility. But this is not unexpected. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me,” said Jesus. We should rejoice and be glad when the National Secular Society, Richard Dawkins, Peter Tatchell and politically-correct authorities like Wakefield & District Housing of recent ‘palm cross’ fame (here) have a go at us for our faith.
The far greater crisis is the corrosion of our culture. Self-centred individualism, hedonism, sexualisation and shopping are the dehumanising hallmarks of our age, and all these are directly attributable to the de-Christianisation of our civilisation. It’s the voiceless and vulnerable who suffer from today’s me-first morality. Society is enjoined to look after number one, so the devil will of course take the hind-most and helpless.
Christians must awake, arise, advance Kingdom values for the 21st century and challenge such secularisation. This is not because we ourselves have been disadvantaged, but because Christian values are demonstrably better for wider society. It’s hedonistic secular values not Christian modesty and restraint that misunderstands human nature, liberalises the drinking laws and unleashes the binge-culture on town centres every weekend.
It’s the secular cult of youth worship rather than Christian respect for parents that sexualises our children, teaches inappropriate sex & relationships education at school and elsewhere and then wonders why teenage pregnancies have soared.
I recently received an email from a non-believing acquaintance: “Only today some fool member of the clergy said that only 10% of CE schools pupils should be practicing Christians,” he wrote angrily. “I am not a practicing Christian but this situation is ridiculous. The ‘establishment’ doesn’t realise that the reason for the success of such schools is because they are Christian. They also don’t realize that the success of the West was because of its Christian cultural matrix.”
My angry agnostic acquaintance got it exactly right: Secularism sucks.
(This post also appears as an article in today’s edition of The Church of England Newspaper.)