Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Bish talking pish

This time it's Bishop Nazir-Ali - channeling Melanie Phillips with his complaint that the decline of Christianity has created a moral vacuum, which is being filed with the dastardly Islamists. Read it if you must but you'll have guessed the content already: unless you fancy being blown up by a suicide bomber, you better put your fornicating dick back in your trousers and haste ye to church. A number of bloggers have commented already but I'm going to be boring enough to make a couple of observations of my own:

1) I was struck by the similarities between this article and the one by Archbishop Rowan Williams with his call for sharia law. Both were couched in psuedo-academic language and while on different subjects, the underlying message was about the imperative to preserve - indeed extend - the influence of religion in the 'public sphere'. This despite the fact - no, because of the fact - that the observance of Christianity is in decline in Britain today. Both Williams and Nazir-Ali are about preserving the privileged position of Anglicanism within our constitution. I don't think this similarity was well-noted - and there hasn't been the same 'liberals' defending Nazir-Ali in the way they did Williams, for fairly obvious reasons.

2) Both in Nazir-Ali's article and the criticisms of it, I was struck by the way everyone seems to be seeing discontinuities all over the place. For Nazir-Ali, it's this bizarre idea that the decline of Christianity can be dated from the 1960s and the supposed 'cultural revolution'. Apparently to support this ahistorical thesis, he quoted the historian Callum Brown. Now, I haven't read Callum's The Death of Christian Britain but I doubt very much whether Nazir-Ali's account of it is accurate - unless Callum Brown has changed his mind radically since he wrote this . And even if it was a fair reading, the idea that the decline in the family and the supposed general collapse in social mores can be imputed to the church's capitulation to a sexual revolution advocated by 'Marxists' and facilitated by female contraception is completely absurd. As if the decline in the church's power wasn't something that has been going on for centuries rather than decades.

On the other hand, some of the critics have an equally odd view of the history of ideas and institutions - as if something called the 'Enlightenment' fell out of the sky and brought the influence of Christianity to an abrupt end at some point in the 18th century. One is left wondering where these people think ideas come from? This isn't even sub-Hegelian idealism - it's just downright weird, which brings me to the final point:

3) Nazir-Ali's caricature of Marxism is ridiculous - and I have to say, to create a straw man and then fail to knock it down takes a special kind of intellectual incompetence. The thing is, while I'm not a Marxist myself, I've been thinking alot whether it doesn't hold part of the answer to the breakdown in the family that everyone is on about these days. Contraception doesn't contribute to this anything like as much as is assumed since by definition families that part are by definition people who have not used contraception at least once. No, people divorce, separate, because they can. It is this that is a new thing - but too much stress is placed on the social and legal framework that allows them to do so. Rather people separate because rising wealth means that to do so no longer invites economic disaster in the way it used to. This, surely, is something resembling a Marxist insight?

A related aside: I get infuriated with sanctimonious Christians who talk about divorce as the 'easy option'. Smug bastards who don't understand how often it is that the easy option, the soft option, is the one to stay. If they read the book they claim to believe every word of, they might understand this. Have they not read that the way of the transgressor is hard?

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