Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism

Why I’m an Anglican


The main reason why I’m an Anglican is because I’m English, and being C of E is like a national default (at least it used to be, in the days before opting out of organised religion became the new default). That’s it, mundane and simple. As with so many things in life, the original reason for a decision is often pretty mundane. The reasoning and calculated arguments are added later. This is partly a natural evaluation that we do, but it is also an attempt not to look too stupid. We can go to great lengths to justify all sorts of decisions that, in truth, originated by whim of circumstance. Sometimes it’s liberating to be honest about our reasons. I chose my theological college because they served a nice cheeseboard when I visited, and I couldn’t afford the time or train fare to look elsewhere.

This is not to say that the later reasoning is a cover up. It can be, but it is still important to justify why we are where we are. I find this reasoning increasingly important as I find very good reasons not to be Anglican. I hate the Church of England’s ties with Establishment — Elizabeth Windsor as ‘Supreme Governor’, bishops sitting in the House of Lords, and the general societal superiority this tends to create (varieties of exceptionalism and classism). I hate its history of collusion with British empire building. I hate its lack of courage and self-knowledge and the blinkered pettiness it breeds.

A fellow priest asked me a few years ago which side in the English Civil War I felt I could associate with best. To me, this didn’t require any more thought: a Parliamentarian, a Roundhead. My colleague guessed that’s what I’d say, but was still shocked to find an Anglican priest who supported the ‘other side’, while he was all for King and Country. I am convinced that the teachings of Levellers and Diggers, and many an ordinary Puritan, were honest understandings of living life following Christ in all simplicity, whereas the bishops really were ‘lords spiritual’ continuing a feudal ecclesiology. Though don’t mistake me as Low Church. I have equal fellow-feeling for the Pilgrimage of Grace of the 1530s, during which the ordinary Christians of the North campaigned to preserve their faith and practice from Protestant revision.

So, I’m an Anglican because I’m English, I was baptised privately in a 19th-century suburban church, I went to Sunday school and sang in the church choir and was confirmed after a course of instruction that did little to help understand what it was all about.  I’m an Anglican because the vicar I thought incomprehensible and not a little silly, made profound sense at my mum’s funeral. I’m an Anglican because it’s the church for everyone in this little England. You don’t have to sign anything, you don’t have to go to classes, you don’t have to speak up, you don’t even have to go to church. Its weakness is its strength. When we cleanse ourselves from the pomposity of Established Church and the bourgeois musings of second-string bishops, we might get a step closer to realising that we are a church for all, bringing hope in all of England’s corners. That’s why I’m an Anglican.

I’m not an Anglican because of what Richard Hooker of Heavitree actually said, but what we all like to think he said: we try to read the Bible in the present, holding onto our dear traditions (as best we can remember them) and reaching out in reason (as best we can employ it), and somehow being like Christ, near torn in twain in the breach.

This discussion continues in the article Revisiting why I’m an Anglican?

Author: Gareth Hughes

A priest of the Church of England, who is Chaplain of Hertford College, Oxford, and doing Syriac research at Oxford University.

10 thoughts on “Why I’m an Anglican

  1. I’d surely have to go to classes to become Anglican (not that I would want to join a religion where there are members of the clergy who deny basic things like the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the fact that man can only be saved through Christ, the existence of objective truth at all etc.) since my *cringe* wiccan parents declined to have me baptised (for obvious reasons).

  2. Yes, in the end, most people who become Anglicans would end up in a class of some sort (confirmation, Sunday school, not to mention the various ‘faith exploration’ menus on offer). I believe it to be a Good Thing that the church is involved in the religious education of its members, and it’s desirable, but I also understand that this isn’t necessary for all. If you were to make a firm decision to become an Anglican, it would make sense to enrol in some kind of class at your local church.

    You cannot become a member of the Anglican clergy if you deny what is said in the creeds, that’s the basic things. However, interpretation is a different matter, and I believe it is an important facet of Anglicanism that we are encouraged to think through our faith. Religious people who don’t like to question their faith, don’t want it tested in case it breaks. Questioning faith leads to stronger faith if that faith is well founded.

  3. I said it because you said you don’t need to take a class, evidently that is not true for increasing numbers of British people.

    Is what you are saying that you think it is a good thing for priests to say there is no such thing as truth to their parishioners and that Resurrection “should not be taken literally”? Yeah if that is the case I definitely am glad to be avoiding the Anglican church.

    …hey… what if it does break? What then? What if someone *is* to weak to handle such questioning? Just tough for them? Or what?

  4. You’re right. For an increasing number of British people, they would be expected to do some kind of class to become baptised and communicant members of the Church of England. However, this can range from a few chats with the vicar to a full-blown syllabus. On the other hand, I see people in church who do not need to do anything to participate. Some are happy take part in church in a non-sacramental fashion, not being baptised or confirmed for a number of reasons. I would say that they’re missing out on something, but they’re still part of the church and it would be wrong to force them into a sacramental commitment. Others have been baptised as babies, maybe confirmed, and may have been communicant members of other churches. There’s little to stop people in these situations from just turning up and getting involved in the full sacramental life of the church (there are now little ceremonies we can do to mark new membership, but they are totally optional).

    There’s a big difference between forcing people to question their faith and allowing them to do so. Often, religious groups disallow questioning, which can lead to shallow faith. On the other hand, I know of people who need faith to support them right now, and they’re not ready to question it. That’s fine, and I shouldn’t force them.

    Faith is like falling in love. If I start with questioning and rationalising, it’s not going to happen. There’s an element of reaching out and taking a chance. However, the long-term relationship that develops needs to be thought through. This doesn’t stop the occasional ineffable experience from stirring old passions afresh, but we cannot build a life on them.

    I agree with you that ministers should not be telling people those kind of things. I know some think that a little stirring like this would be a Good Thing. However, I think we need to provide a context for questioning. I’m talking about having a discussion about the meaning of the Resurrection, rather than simply dropping a bomb. Unfortunately, literal interpretation is not as obvious and straightforward as might seem; it still requires interpretation. After all, there’s only so far you can go along the line ‘Is this exactly as it happened historically?’. So, a discussion on what the Resurrection means in the context of our faith is entirely more fruitful. We need to talk about the historicity of our faith events, but realise that there’s a limit to what can be reasoned about them. We take the historicity on faith, then move on to meditating on what this means to us.

  5. The main reason why I’m an Anglican is because I’m English … That’s it, mundane and simple.

    From my point of view as a Muslim, this is sad. From attending religious lessons in school and additional ones in my nearby madrasah, I also learned that my religion chose me rather than the other way round. Beyond my will, my yet to be born body had already agreed to born Muslim. As a way to justify our commitment to Islam, this is not hocus pocus as most people get their religion passed down from their parents. And being a Malay-Malaysian, the default religion was waiting for me before I arrived in this world anyway.

    But there is also the concept of the shahadah, that will confirm me as a Muslim the moment I can speak, even if that means some Arabic that I may not initially understand. Herein lies the conundrum though – when did I really become a Muslim?

    I think it’s grossly unfair to force religion on children, and in this respect and in retrospect, to view that ethnicity chooses what values, rituals, and religious traditions we should uphold.

    And like you, bearing the imperfections of the practices of our respective faiths, I remain steadfastly a Muslim and wouldn’t call myself anything less. But for me it’s like dealing with a congenital condition; I try to make the best of it without knowing that there will ever be a privilege in sight of changing my mind about Islam and leaving it.

    • Thank you for your comment, cycads. There is something rather sad in the fact that religion, for most of us, chooses us rather than the other way round. You could put it down as part of a divine plan: God made me Sikh! But more often than not there’s nothing more glorious here than society at work. I actually do think this is liberating when you admit that this is the fact, rather than being totally sad. I think you do raise an interesting point about when we become associated with our religion; we may have various initiation rituals (which we often don’t understand), but the path is often socially predetermined. Of course, we shouldn’t force religion on children, but shouldn’t we share those things that are important in our lives with our children? If yes, we have to walk a very fine line. It is an awesome responsibility that parenthood involves the formation of a new consciousness, and that will come with various identity labels. Thank you for bringing the word ‘congenital’ to the discussion: I quite like being a congenital Anglican.

  6. Why is it sad?
    If Islam is true it is good, you are at a distinct advantage on billions of people. If it’s not true it would be if anything worse (since you would have more responsibility for it) if you had made the initial choice in full consciousness.

    But I guess that is one thing I will never understand, the outlook of people brought up religious who don’t really think it’s true, or who think there are many conflicting truths and all are valid. In general the idea that religion is primarily about “identity” because (naturally and in my opinion beautifully – I wish I had some cohesive tradition I’d got passed down from by my parents) they cannot give up that which they were brought up on, but they have been so infected by pluralistic society and its ideology they can’t fully accept it as an exclusive truth either.

    But I think even if you go through all the motions, at some point you have to make a conscious choice. At some point you stand before God and either decide to resist or to submit as a fully conscious human being, and from then on on some level you are as much a convert as weirdo’s like me. :p Because you are not just doing what you were taught, or going to Mass because it’s familiar and comforting (as wonderful as it is if people do that) or enjoying the symbols and images and songs of your youth, but deciding to engage first and foremost with God, recognising the fact that your life is His and not your own. And that that is not only right but good.

  7. Yes, we all have to make a conscious and reasoned choice about faith at some point. This is just as true for converts as for congenitals. Kierkegaard wrote about faith always beginning with an intuition and some risk (leap of faith), and the reasoning being applied at some later point. But there are differences too. Being a convert is a bit like falling in love, and converts can be as mad and passionate as lovers. Being raised in a religion is more like a filial love, just as strong, and maybe more lasting, but lacking the intensity of the convert.

    I suppose that this post is about the recognition that our religious views are moulded by our surroundings: conforming to or rejecting our upbringing, and which religions are accessible to us. If I choose to follow Tibetan Buddhism, my faith is always affected by my non-Tibetan upbringing, so that I cannot believe and practise quite like a Tibetan.

    The word ‘sad’ I meant in a manner of gentle acceptance of the issue. If you are raised in a faith, sometimes it is easy to wish for the convert’s belly full of fire. Likewise, converts often feel a certain loss in that they don’t have the depth of history and understanding of the faith as the congenitals.

  8. Pingback: Dlaczego anglikanizm? cz. 2 | Don't shoot the prophet

  9. Pingback: Revisiting why I’m an Anglican « Ad Fontes

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