Saturday, November 11, 2006

atheism vs polite agnosticism

Watched 'Perfect Day: The Funeral' last night (videoed), third part of a series about a group of university chums who reunite first for new year (programme 1), then for a wedding (2) then for the funeral of 1 of the group. The funeral scene was an interesting one: half way through the Catholic service, a friend stands up after a prayer and announces that it's all wrong, Pete had no time for God and was an atheist, and wouldn't have wanted a religious service. Some of the congregation are upset with his outburst, others think he's hit the nail on the head.

Maybe the era of the polite agnostic is a myth, but people seem to be coming down more firmly on one side of the God thing or another. Richard Dawkins 'The God Delusion', is the most public face of it, but it's interesting to see it carried through in TV drama. In a recent issue of the Times, there was an article on the Dawkins book, an interview with comedian Jimmy Carr who is became a resolute atheist following a Catholic upbringing, and an article by Richard Morrison on the weakness of atheism. The interesting thing is that Morrison admits that he's recluctant to write about his faith, but he feels impelled to write about it in the present context.

Even CofE bishops are getting in on the act, with both Archbishops speaking out this week against 'public atheism' - manifested in 'seasons greetings' on Christmas cards and Santa on Christmas stamps, rather than anything about the birth of Jesus. Anyone for 'Winterval'?

So perhaps, in the wake of the veil controversies, we are starting to have a real public debate about God in public life, rather than a polite tolerance of a smattering of religion scattered like icing sugar over our Englishness. The danger for the church is that public life may conclude that it doesn't want God. But at least that will then free the church from the need to be the chaplian to people's agnosticism, on hand when people want a veil of religiousity but ignored the rest of the time.

Trouble is, the veil of religiousity can be quite an asset in mission: ask any church preparing for Christmas and the opportunities it gives for sharing the message of Jesus. Tricky one.

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