Up till now I’ve written this blog in the second person and largely used it for a venting ground for my angst. I will continue to make posts of that kind, but a new year comes with a new approach and I have decided for various reasons to include less morose posts in the first person.
Last night I heard about proposed changes to the baptism in the Anglican Church which are currently being trialled. I have scoffed at these changes (not very Christian of me I know) and gotten a lot of amusement from the absurdity of the Anglican Communion at once trying to be a “Church” and at the same time to be genuinely on the same page as the largely atheist UK population, because the Anglican Church has a civic as well as a religious role.
Standing outside from it all, because regardless of what religious associations I have, I am about as lukewarm and uncommitted as they come, Anglicanism appears tragic. You cannot really be all things to all men, at least not in the way they intend – and in the course of trying they fail to do something, and that something is not just the something of accurately representing small ‘o’ orthodox Christianity, something they may no longer care to do anyway.
When I looked up the quote to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” the internet was adamant that the quote was from Banksy. However in my memory I am very clear that it was used long before Banksy was born by G.K. Chesterton. I am not saying he was the originator, but he definitely said it. If the Church is to be anything at all of value to society (I am talking now of it’s role in civic society) it must be able to do this. Christ can certainly do that, Christ was not respectable, yet he was the most respectable person on earth.
Do you think the semi-atheists going in for a baptism who are offended by words like “sin” and “submission” and “repentance” and the “devil” are disturbed? I don’t doubt some of them might be, but a lot of those people are exceedingly comfortable. Comfortable in themselves, comfortable in their notion of their place in the world. “Sin” say the instigators of this “is just conceived of as a sort of naughtiness”, having a bit of sex or eating too much. Does changing the wording to “reject evil” instead alleviate this – in both cases they have no conception that evil has anything to do with them. How easy to say you will reject evil when you could not possibly consider that evil lurks in your heart.
If this were the real reason, to make people understand, telling them to reject evil will not help. They at least admitted between giggles that they have “sinned” even if that meant having one too many cream pies. How many of the “unchurched” (or maybe even the churched…) would really wholeheartedly admit that they have done evil? It’s true that it’s a stronger word nowadays, but that makes it all the easier to “reject”, it has nothing to do with us. It would be like asking a Russian man to “reject” homosexuality – he already has a repulsion for it, and he is already sure that it has absolutely nothing to do with him.
Sin works better, we recognise that we might have one too many cream cakes, but we never stop to think about what it means to eat more than your fair share in a world in which people still starve. To raise prices with demand for goods for which you have no need. We might recognise we have a bit of naughty sex but we don’t consider the complex relational, emotional and at times physical consequences that we engender. And then as we think more deeply about the social world in which we move and all the little acts of evil – a hurtful glance, or a flattering word to win our way – we may never find our way to the kind of evil that really sounds like “evil” to us. Because surely evil has to be big? Evil can’t just be persistent selfishness right? I mean – if I don’t look out for number one, who will? I’ll give £500 to charity once a year because it makes me feel good and I can spare it and I am sure that it’s a good cause, but I wouldn’t give the coat off my back to someone shivering on the streets. I paid good money for that coat, and more than the price I need my coat. If someone dies tonight out in the cold, what is that to do with me? Am I my brother’s keeper? He is probably an alcoholic anyway, he’d probably just sell the coat for booze.
Do we see evil there? Does the modern connotation of the word really extend to all the little acts of callousness, the constant deadening of our hearts that almost everyone does? When the godparent says he rejects evil, will he consider that means to reject all these attitudes? Will the word “evil” make him uncomfortable?
And if it can be taught, that every day he far from rejecting evil, curls up in joyful embrace, kisses evil’s neck and permits evil to playfully tease him and sooth him and keep him warm, could he not be taught the same using the traditional word “sin”? If teaching is required either way, why change the wording? After all sin is something that whether they diminish it or not, people recognise as about the self rather than external. There is a word that works fine to talk about the external aspects of evil, the temptations and the tricks that seduce us into doing wrong – that word is the “Devil”.
As for getting rid of the word “submit”. Where can one even begin? Heaven forfend that any of Britain’s spoiled and entitled children be forced for even one short ritual to consider the possibility that there is someone of more importance than themselves to whom submission makes sense… let not any mere priest challenge our dear little ones from their pedestal atop which they rule the universe. That simply would not do. They are very comfortable up there and would only make the most dreadful of bawling noises if they were asked, with even the most gentle and unchallenging of language, if they might not consider perhaps, getting down.