That the preposterous Woke v Non Woke war in Britain should have a battlefield in the Church of England is hardly surprising – it’s everywhere. But in reality there is an inverse relationship between the Church’s propensity to pontificate and the likelihood of them being listened to.
That we have an “Established Church” is an anachronism but in truth it doesn’t really matter. That there are Bishops in the House of Lords is illustrative of the unsuitability of that ludicrous , unelected and overblown institution. That these prelates can actually vote is absurd. But it’s Gilbert and Sullivan pomp and self regard rather than anything more venal.
There is no temporal subject on which normal people’s first thought is “I wonder what the Archbishop thinks”. He’s less significant than Marcus Rashford in public debate. Our society is overwhelmingly secular and the church’s role is for many of us confined to the provision of a bit of structure and pageantry to national events. For example a secular Remembrance Sunday event or one with multi religion content would be unthinkable. You don’t have to be a Christian to support the style and structure of how we remember the fallen.
You don’t have to be a Christian either to appreciate Cathedrals and Churches and to find solace in them if you’re seeking it. Or to enjoy religious music and Art. The spiritual rather than the dogmatic aspect of a beautiful building or (say) the St Matthew Passion.
But words can of course matter if they inspire you even if the context is a religion which, overall, you reject. It’s hard to fault the Sermon on the Mount as a life template. You don’t have to buy into the “Word of God” meme. One of my favourite passages about religious belief is in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited between Sebastian and Charles:
Charles: I suppose they try to make you believe an awful lot of nonsense.”
Sebastian: Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.”
“But, my dear Sebastian, you can’t seriously believe it all.”
“I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.”
“Oh yes, I believe that. It’s a lovely idea.”
But you can’t believe things because they’re a lovely idea.”
“But I do,” Sebastian replies. “That’s how I believe.”
I’m recently returned from a brief visit to the Holy Land – Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth. Like Sebastian Flyte I know the “lovely ideas”. To stand on the Mount of Olives or see Christ’s birthplace was moving despite rational me knowing that the whole shebang from the manger to Calvary is a complex and extended parable.
Like arch atheist Christopher Hitchens I found value in the twice daily religious services in the 1960s in the Chapel of The Leys School which we both attended. I can’t quite explain that but in a way we are back in Brideshead territory. “Lovely ideas” as well as terrible ones in fiction can move us and teach us even though we know that they are inventions. But to believe that an Archbishop has a right to be listened to purely because of his job is nonsense.