As the last two millennia show, Christianity can survive heresy, agnosticism and atheism. I’m not so sure about its ability to resist systematic vulgarisation within itself.
This melancholy thought was brought on by the poster outside St Martin-in-the-Fields, one of London’s most central churches. “We understand…,” it begins.
The first part of the sentence is dubious theology; the second, pernicious politics. Both are so irredeemably vulgar that I’d almost prefer a message saying that the rector of that venerable institution doubts the existence of God.
Since the poster’s first statement is theological, it can only be discussed in theological terms. Being the supreme science, theology is the epitome of reason in that it’s impeccably logical. Yet the poster takes the ‘logical’ out of ‘theological’.
The cliché of everyone being equal in the eyes of God is the curate’s egg: good in parts. But those parts are much smaller than those where it’s wrong.
Is one to assume that, say, Adolf Hitler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (the pastor killed in a Nazi concentration camp) are equal in the eyes of God? Or, say, Lenin and the thousands of priests murdered on his orders? Or St John Newman and Jack the Ripper?
If they were, one would find it hard to justify the Christian doctrine of heaven and hell. Surely God displays the ultimate discrimination by consigning bad people to one destination and good ones to the other? Verily I say unto you, on that evidence alone it’s hard to claim God to egalitarianism.
Equality before God exists to begin with, but it expires some time after a person leaves infancy behind and starts to make free choices between good and evil, virtue and sin, right and wrong.
Mankind’s ability to exercise free will in that fashion is God’s great gift, and one struggles to understand why he’d bother to give it to us if we had nothing to gain from good choices, nor nothing to lose from bad ones.
I don’t know what God’s ledger sheet looks like, but I do know that some people are more good than bad, some the other way around, and some have no discernible good traits at all. To claim equality among them all is tantamount to claiming equality among the choices they’ve made, which strikes me as illogical.
The poster would have been theologically unassailable had it said that God loves us all. But that would only mean ensuing equality if we all loved God in return and tried not to transgress against his commandments too much.
Since that’s demonstrably not the case, the unqualified egalitarian claim collapses – but not as loudly as the second, secular part of the poster about everybody being equal in the eyes of humanity.
What does it even mean? Clearly the chaps who displayed that bunkum hadn’t asked themselves that question before putting pen to paper.
Since, not being myself divine, I can’t vouch for God, I can only rely on prayer, doctrinal sources and my own reasonable conjecture to grasp his feelings. But – and I know some may disagree – I do see myself as fully human.
Moreover, in the course of a long life I’ve met thousands of people who could make the same claim with equal validity. Yet neither I nor anyone I know has ever regarded everybody as equal in our eyes.
Murderers and their victims? Savants and ignoramuses? Geniuses and hacks? Statesmen and spivs? Athletes and weaklings? Hard workers and parasitic idlers? Everywhere we look, people are unequal in our eyes, morally, intellectually, physically – you name it.
None of us can claim equality of outcome. And, since we are all born with different genes and to different families, we can’t even claim equality of opportunity. If at birth we are indeed equal in the eyes of God, we can’t claim even such short-lived equality in the eyes of humanity.
I try – with variable success, it has to be said – using my free will to stay in God’s good graces. But, at 5’7’’, I’ve never had a shot at playing goalie for a Premiership team, and no amount of effort would ever have addressed this glaring inequality.
By the same token, I doubt that any degree of application would enable many Premiership goalies to do what I do, so where’s the equality in that?
In other words, if the first part of the poster is highly debatable, the second part is simply idiotic – and ideologically idiotic at that. But it would be wrong to think the two parts aren’t connected.
The key message, one that the authors really wanted to convey, is the political statement of secular equality. The preceding nod in God’s direction is there merely to add verisimilitude to the subsequent deep bow in the direction of left-wing politics.
I don’t know what sort of liturgy, if any, St Martin-in-the-Fields uses, but I suspect its clergy probably think that 1642 is a PIN code, and I’m sure the female Bishop of London doesn’t mind.
If the Anglican Church used to be called the Tory Party at prayer, it has certainly changed not only its prayers, but also its political allegiance. On the plus side, Anglican churches are emptying so fast that not many parishioners will be affected.
Thank God for small favours.