The most urbane atheism


Justin WelbyThis morning’s Sunday Programme on Radio Four offered a rare treat. That nice, matey, Justin Welby, Arch-community Songster of Canterbury, came on to tell us that he says the Creed and believes it – “without having to cross my fingers.”

But should we believe him? In a manner of speaking. Or, as Welby himself might say, in a very real sense. Along with most of the rest of the bishops, he believes in a sense, in a manner of speaking. I can best explain this nuance by asking you to compare the sorts of things you would hear in sermons of fifty years ago and what we get today.

As Larkin said of sex, we might say the same about the secularisation of the church: it began in 1963, “Before the end of the Chatterley ban and The Beatles’ first LP.”

In a typical 1950s sermon  on the creation of the world, the priest would tell us that God certainly did create the world. Only after making this plain, might he conclude that therefore humankind has a duty to look after the world. In other words, the ethical consequences for humans was derived from the miraculous action of God who really did make the world. Nowadays, preachers give us the Green dogmas, using the language of creation, but regarding creation only as a myth from which to derive the propaganda about low energy light-bulbs, carbon footprint and global warming.

Again, in a 1950s sermon about the Incarnation, the preacher would first declare his real belief in Our Lord’s birth of a Virgin. Only then would he elaborate, saying that, as demonstrated by the unique manner of his birth, Jesus was a very special person. Nowadays, they don’t believe that Jesus was actually born of a Virgin. They are far too advanced and progressed in their thinking to believe something as “primitive” as that. They regard the story of the Virgin Birth as just that: a made up tale meant to tell us that Jesus was “special.”

The same goes for the resurrection. They used to preach it, truly believing that Christ in his body rose from the tomb. Again they would proceed to say that because of the resurrection we can now experience new life. Today’s preacher does not believe in Christ’s physical resurrection from the dead. He/she thinks that the resurrection is something that happened in the psychology of the first disciples: their subjective experience of new life.

And so on throughout all the fundamental Christian doctrines. Today’s bishops and clergy – in Professor Rudolf Bultmann’s phrase – “demythologise” the doctrines. They do not believe the doctrines fundamentally. Indeed, they would be offended and mortified to be regarded as fundamentalists. That would be a real blow to their self-esteem.

If you like jargon, the technical word for this process is “reductionism.” It is only the Positivistic, Materialistic philosophy applied to theology. It is the same sort of thing as that which claims that mental experiences are “nothing but” physical events in the brain. The modern bishops and clergy have simply swallowed whole the (actually very unbelievable) superstitions of that crass materialistic science. Crass because it can be disproved in one go:

If the world and humankind were only material things, there could be no way of knowing this: because the act of knowing is not itself a material phenomenon.

Bishops are meant to be shepherds. But if the shepherds are hirelings…  What can we say of Welby and the rest of the episcopal gang?

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou were cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3: 15-16

PS And yes, that is the way the real Bible spells “spue.” Look it up for yourself.

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