30 October 2006

A Weak Faith Lost.

The National Review's John Derbyshire is not a Christian, and he tells us at some length why. Some of it manages to be intellectually feeble and patronizing at the same time (i.e., reduces to "Christians are just not as smart and well-informed as am I."), and some is very thoughtful and even poignant and deserving of a gentle and respectful answer.

The faith I was brought up in — my “faith tradition,” as Al Gore would say — was Anglican Christianity. This is an English, very English, variant of the great old Catholic tradition, with most of the intellectuality and authoritarianism of the Roman church stripped away. English people don’t much like intellectuals — to an English ear, the very word “intellectual” has an obnoxiously continental sound to it, cliques of self-absorbed Bohemian mischief-makers arguing about nothing important in smoky Left Bank cafes — and the Reformation convinced the English that intellectuals are especially pestiferous in matters of faith.

I was once hanging around in the National Review offices talking to an editor (since departed) who was also an Anglican, though an American one — which is to say, an Episcopalian. We got to talking about the Thirty-Nine Articles that define Anglican faith. Did she actually know any of the articles, I asked? No, she confessed, she didn’t. I admitted that I didn’t either. We looked them up on the Internet. There we were, two intelligent and well-educated Anglicans, a fiftysomething guy and a thirtysomething lady, gazing curiously at the articles of the faith we had professed all our lives. That’s Anglicanism. In England it is quite a common thing for some Anglican bishop to get into the news by saying publicly that the Virgin Birth, or some other point of doctrine, is most probably false, and worshippers shouldn’t feel bad about not believing it.

Working in America, and especially exchanging e-mails for several years with National Review readers, I lost my Anglican innocence. Take a fish out of water, it dies; take an Englishman out of Anglican England, his faith takes a blow. It doesn’t necessarily die — I know plenty of cases where it didn’t — but people of really feeble faith, like mine, need every possible support, and emigration knocks one prop away. In America, at any rate for most conservatives (taking my Episcopalian colleague as an exception), you are actually supposed to think about your faith, and even, for heaven’s sake, read about it! With the keen immigrant’s desire to be more native than the natives, I did my best with this, but found I constitutionally couldn’t. The books sent me to sleep; and when I tried to think about Christianity, it all fell apart.

That bit is probably the most subjective and personal of his reasons - and thus likely the least incisive for others - but of special interest to us Anglicans.
Links in the excerpt are Derbyshire's, not mine.


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