A blogger who goes under the name of “chalcedon451” and who I always enjoy reading, has posted a comment entitled “Being a Christian?” on the blog All Along the Watchtower about the Radio 4 religious affairs programme on Sunday morning, in which the newly appointed President of the British Humanist Association, Professor Jim Al-Khalili, was interviewed. I heard the interview as well, and like chalecedon, I noted that the professor repeated an old cliché by calling religion a “crutch”. I am generally irritated by such remarks; chalcedon, more charitably, finds them illuminating.
As chalcedon remarked, this notion is shallow. He points out that “There is no point to Christianity other than that it is true. If you want comfort, watch the TV, eat chocolate, take to sex, drugs and rock and roll (many do); but don’t go near Christianity. If you want to look after the poor and neglected, do so. It is a good thing to do so and many Christians do; but that is not the point of Christianity. If you want to stand in judgement on your fellow men, well, become a Humanist; they have the smug tone once common among certain types in the churches. If you want power, influence and position, go into politics; you won’t find any of these in Christianity any more. The point of Christianity is that it is true; it points us towards God; it helps us to understand the self-revelation God has made. That should have an effect on us, but that effect depends on our relationship with God.”
I agree with him. Frankly, it would be so much easier not to be a Christian today. The culture is hostile, as is the official stance of the three main political parties, all hell-bent on being “modern”; so are most of the people we meet. Being a Christian is difficult, especially in public: a conversation-stopper and regarded as alien when it isn’t treated with downright hostility. Just to illustrate this mindset with one small example: I have been reading a memoir by journalist Miriam Gross, member of the London literati and former Observer literary editor. An Oxford graduate, cultured and well-read, she remarks in a throw-away sentence in her book, “Although I’ve always been aware of a “God-shaped hole”, religious faith of any kind seems to me to be completely irrational and self-deluding.” In other words, there are large questions about existence which cannot be answered – but which must never be looked at from a supernatural angle.
News that eleven Anglican Sisters from the Community of St Mary the Virgin in Wantage, Oxfordshire, are to become Catholic via the ordinariate bear out the truth of chalcedon’s remark in their own fashion. Some of them very elderly, they are leaving the security of the convent they have lived in for many years, not knowing where they will finally end up and without financial support. Mother Winsome, the mother superior, who is one of those leaving, stated, “We’ve got an uncertain future. But we are doing this because we truly believe this is God’s call. The Bible is full of people called to step out in faith not knowing where they were going or how they will be provided for and that truly is the situation we are following.”
This suggests courage rather than a “crutch”; a quest for truth so urgent that only faith will see one through. In a telling comment in his sermon for the feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December, the Holy Father said, “Sin brings with it sadness.” One might add that living a life supported by the “crutches” of human and material comforts alone, also brings sadness.