Thursday, 10 February 2011

Ignorance and the Church of England

Here's something to make you want to cry.

"The Church of England has voted to use more accessible language during baptisms to help it connect better with congregations, especially non church-goers. Members attending the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in London, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.

The Reverend Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, said on Wednesday his motion was "not a request for christenings without Christianity." Quite the opposite. "I am not asking for the language of Steven Gerrard," he said, referring to the Liverpool and England soccer star. "Just references that could be understood by the majority."
Stratford said many people today did not have enough background in the Bible to understand the images used in the current baptism services. This was "not a plea for a prayer in Scouse, but for a prayer that the majority of non-theologically-versed Britons would understand." He gave the following as an example of what he called "problematic sentences":

Through water you led the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.

In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit."

Wait - those are your 'problematic sentences'? You're telling me that there are people who come to present their children for baptism who don't understand the simplest references to
a) one of the most famous stories in the Bible and
b) the Resurrection of Christ
even when presented in language which is so plain as to be almost banal? And the Church of England, instead of realising that maybe this shows how atrociously they have failed to educate the souls in their charge, decides to just take out the Biblical references? That may be one of the most patronising things I've ever heard. Generations of people with no formal education have learned the basics of the faith well enough to understand the baptism service - and today's Christians aren't even to be expected to try. Modern Christians are too stupid to understand the symbolism of baptism, so we should just pretend there isn't any (while at the same time making snobbish jokes about the Scouse dialect, of course).

This, right here, is why the Church of England is dying. You hear a lot of drivel from Anglican vicars about how paternalistic their Victorian forebears were, but no Victorian clergyman would have ever been so elitist and patronising as to think his flock should not be expected to understand just a little of the Biblical basis for baptism! And as for the medieval era (you know, that time when no one knew the Bible, because the nasty clergy hid it from them?) - well, illiterate tradesmen put on plays about the story of Moses and Pharoah, a story which is today supposed to be beyond the comprehension of ordinary Christians.

Never mind, it gave Rowan Williams an opportunity to make a self-deprecating joke: "I find myself very much in sympathy with this motion. Like most of those who have spoken, I too, have a sense of the wordiness of what we have and a slight feeling of eyes glazing over. It is not, I think, solely as a result of my delivery."

St Anselm would be so proud.