A picture held us captive*: secular narratives and the Christian mission

‘A picture held us captive’: secular
narratives and the Christian mission
Dominic Erdozain
King’s College London
[email protected]
Power of discourse
Three kinds of secularisation theory
Bowing to secularisation: the Liberal tradition
Pastoral implications
‘Cause is not what it used to be’: challenges to secularisation
• ‘Awkward facts’: the uses of history
• Conclusion
L. Wittgenstein:
'A picture held us captive. And we could not get
outside it, for it lay in our language and
language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably.'
Philosophical Investigations (1953)
Alice Marguerite Crary and Rupert J. Read, The New Wittgenstein (Routledge, 2000),
Reinhold Niebuhr on the power of implicit
dogma: ‘all the more potent in colouring
opinion because it is not known as a dogma.’
‘Let Liberal Churches Stop Fooling Themselves’
Christian Century, March 25, 1931
‘Ecclesiastical pathology, one of the favourite
studies of the time’. The symptom was a
perpetual pulse-taking at the behest of
‘empiricists within and without the churches’ – an
obsessive compulsion on a corporate scale. The
writer believed that ‘churches would gain by
intermitting for, say three years, the whole series
of statistical returns, and simply going on with
British Weekly, 27 July 1888, 213.
• Three kinds of secularisation theory:
• Idealist – ideas drive history, make belief untenable; religion is the ‘dark’
past eg. Peter Gay,. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism (Vol.
1). W. W. Norton & Company, 1995.
• Materialist / sociological – economics, industrial organisation
problematise religion and religious ‘community’ eg. Peter L. Berger,. The
Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. New York:
Anchor Books, 1990.
‘[By] the twenty-first century, religious believers are likely to be found only in
small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.’ Peter
Berger, The New York Times, 1968
• Cultural – cultural change eviscerates religious values Eg. Callum G.
Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 18002000. London: Routledge, 2000.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Tegel Prison Letter April 30 1944
‘And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in
the world etsi deus non daretur. And this is just what we do
recognize – before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So
our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation
before God. God would have us know that we -must live as men
who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the
God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the
world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before
whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live
without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the
cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely
the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us.’
Alister E. McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader (Wiley-Blackwell,
2006), 53–4.
‘The teaching of traditional Christians of course
makes no appeal to men and women of
modern education.’ Bishop Barnes of
Birmingham, 1949
Quoted in Adrian Hastings, A History of English Christianity 1920-2000, 4th ed. (London: SCM
Press, 2001), 491.
David Sheppard [taking over from Robinson as Bishop of Woolwich, 1969]:
‘Bishop John Robinson said he did not think there would be any visible church
in the inner-city in ten years’ time! I made a mental note to do everything
in my power to prove him wrong.’
Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood told him: Congregations ‘are likely
to be small’
[Church had to] ‘face the facts’
Sheppard refers to ‘chronic collapse of confidence’
‘even if it were not true, they acted as if it were’
David Sheppard, Steps Along Hope Street: My Life in Cricket, the Church and
the Inner City (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2002), 121.
William Temple: on the apparently inexorable
rise of the state, and why the church needs to
accept it: ‘The process is inevitable; it is not
likely to be reversed.’
Quoted in F. K Prochaska, Christianity and Social Service in Modern Britain: The
Disinherited Spirit (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 95.
‘Forty years after David Martin wrote A Sociology of English Religion, I
asked him to reflect on its predictions. He said he had not
anticipated how enthusiastically the churches would collude in their
own demise. He had not expected the mainstream churches to
jettison so much Christian belief and ritual in the hope that
imitating secular culture would make them more attractive.
Encouraged by the bright young things who ran television, vicars
vied with each other to argue that socialism, communism, feminism
(indeed any secular ‘ism’) was really more Christian than
Steve Bruce, ‘Secularisation in the UK and the USA’, in Secularisation in
the Christian World: Essays in Honour of Hugh McLeod, ed. Callum G
Brown and M. F Snape (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 207.
‘The idea that a prediction may have influence upon the
predicted event is a very old one. Oedipus, in the
legend, killed his father whom he had never seen
before; and this was the direct result of the prophecy
which had caused his father to abandon him. This is
why I suggest the name ‘Oedipus effect’ for the
influence of the prediction upon the predicted event
(or, more generally, for the influence of an item of
information upon the situation to which the
information refers)’.
Karl Raimund Popper, The Poverty of Historicism
(Routledge, 2002), 10–11.
Terry Eagleton on Dawkins, The God Delusion: ‘It
thus comes as no surprise that Dawkins turns
out to be an old-fashioned Hegelian when it
comes to global politics, believing in a zeitgeist
(his own term) involving ever increasing
progress, with just the occasional ‘reversal’.’
‘LRB · Terry Eagleton · Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching’, n.d.,
‘The “critique of metaphysics”… turns out to be
a new metaphysics’.
John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory:
Beyond Secular Reason (Basil Blackwell, 1990),
Peter Berger:
‘the assumption that we live in a secularised
world is false: The world today, with some
exceptions…is as furiously religious as it ever
was, and in some places more so than ever.’
The Desecularization of the World (1999)
Peter Burke: ‘The historian is the guardian of
awkward facts, the skeletons in the cupboard
of the social memory’.
‘History as Social Memory’, in Memory, History,
Culture, and the Mind, ed. T. Butler (Oxford
1989), 110.
‘At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the
Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire
and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance
gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was
the dog that died. How complete was the collapse
and how strange the reversal, we can only see in
detail in the case nearest to our own time.’ G.K.
Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (1925)

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