Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Revisiting why I’m an Anglican

Ten months ago I posted on why I’m an Anglican. That article struck some people as somewhat negative, and I especially like this reflection on what I wrote by Pradusz. The background for that article was partly thinking on those I know who were raised in the Church of England but have converted to Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. For them, the ministry of women was a stumbling block, but I could also trace a deeper sense of turning away from the everyday normality of Anglicanism in English religion to something more exotic, challenging and full of the certainty of tradition. For those converting to Eastern Orthodoxy, old-fashioned orientalism was often part of the allure, and I hope the Orthodox quickly put them straight on that account. Likewise, I’ve known Anglicans convert to charismatic house churches for the certainty that comes from a certain type of biblical interpretation and emotionally charged worship. For me, Anglicanism is part of cherishing who I am, rather than trying to be something different. I wanted to emphasize the Kierkegaardian way in which the historical reasons for our life choices are often different from the interpretations we put on them. For the majority of people in this world, their religious conviction was chosen for them, by their parents and society at large. I wanted to embrace the religion that chose me, rather than applauding the concept that the grass always has to be greener in someone else’s field.

Celebrating the religion that chose me is important because I can find good reasons to question Anglican religious history. The Church of England has always been associated with English state power, and the global Anglican Communion owes its existence to British imperialism and colonialism. I am horrified at how most Anglicans seem unaware of this history, but realise that ignorance of them is part of the reason why Anglicanism is trying and failing to deal with its internal fault lines.

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An English anthem?

And did those feet in ancient time

The preface to Blake's 'Milton, a Poem', containing 'And did those feet in ancient time', as coloured by Blake.

Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem MP for Leeds North West, has been watching the footie, and he wants a debate on an English national anthem. It seems he’s got a little annoyed at the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the England football team at the World Cup in South Africa.

First off, anthems are rather silly things. Their lyrics are often little more than a admixture of jingoism and romanticist nonsense. However, the things of anthems and flags are important symbols of belonging, as long as we recognise they are the symbols and window-dressing of our identity and not its substance.

Second off, I abhor our current paean to Mrs Windsor because she doesn’t even begin to represent what this country means to most of us. The tune and lyrics are both bad: scrap it along with the monarchy! It also has the problem of having some official status in most Commonwealth realms (those countries that inexplicably keep Mrs Windsor as head of state). New Zealanders, for instance, would have the right to complain that the use of ‘God Save the Queen’ by British or English sporting teams that the anthem is just as much theirs — ‘God Save the Queen’ is the national anthem of New Zealand, alongside the more common ‘God Defend New Zealand’. In spite of my being a Christian, I recognise that ‘God Save the Queen’ bears a certain theological element that is either inappropriate or questionable to a significant number of citizens — being addressed to God, it is a prayer, and can, historically, be said to be a Christian, even Church of England, prayer.

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A white man’s bizarre racist dream

As a white man, I am starting to think I must have this great urge to leave ‘my people’ and be one with some exotic, primitive folk. Of course, it will be a struggle to be accepted, but, through trial and initiation rites, I shall become one with my exotics. It seems also highly likely that the big chief’s daughter will fall for me — one just can’t help it! Naturally, the marauding, plundering, modernising, globalising white folk will eventually turn up to wreak havoc on my new-found paradise. But heroic I shall stand fast with my exotic brethren and become their mighty war leader in this time of trial. I shall overcome my own… I hope all reading this can spot irony when they see it. Continue reading


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Money as Debt

Money as DebtI’m a fan of Paul Grignon’s animated films Money as Debt. They are pieces of advocacy for monetary reform, a tough issue that needs plenty of explanation. Almost any type of reform would be easier than this — electoral, political, social, ethical reform — which is perhaps an indicator of how important it is. Grignon’s new film, Money as Debt II: Promises Unleashed, introduces a light focus on bank bailouts, and it takes the educational message of the first film and develops a call for monetary reform.

The two films describe how around 95% of the money supply is bank credit, or debt money. This money is created by banks in the form of loans and mortgages. The loan isn’t taken from so-called ‘deposit money’ and given to the borrower, but created from nothing by the bank as a promise to pay. This promise to pay is considered to be money and may be exchanged for a house, car or for whatever we took out the loan. The first problem then is that the money supply is overwhelmingly in hands of private banks, generally unaccountable to governments. The second is that if a large proportion of the money supply is created by banks as the principal of loans, there is very little other money available from which to pay interest on these loans — it is almost as if the monetary system is designed to bring all money into the possession of banks and, no matter how diligent borrowers are, some will always default on loan repayments. To keep the economy working there is a demand that new loans are always taken out so that more money is introduced to pay off the interest on old loans. The treadmill never stops, demanding exponential growth and creating constant inflation. Problem number three is that natural resources, and the total global value that is derived from them, are finite, meaning that real economic growth can only occur with the discovery of new resources, greater efficiencies or redirecting the resources from another local economy (that old chestnut: imperialism is theft). Thus, a system that demands exponential growth in order to function is also demanding environmental destruction and the impoverishment of the poorer regions of the world. Continue reading


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Church disestablishment and freedom

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham in my former diocese, has written a blog post (supposedly based on Andrew Brown’s post about slavery/freedom, atheism/religion, which reads like a lesson on how to perform keyhole surgery with a monster truck) about how Denmark is a wonderfully free country with an incredibly established state church, and this makes church establishment good for the rest of us. He even includes a picture of Fred Phelps of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, holding up his God hates fags placard, to show us what religion looks like when it’s privatised!

The perfect societies of Scandinavia is a popular meme in British discussion on social and political issues. The fire behind this smokescreen is that Scandinavian countries have managed their natural resources fairly well, remained relatively homogeneous and retained moderately successful social democratic systems. The two latter reasons mean that the real wealth from natural resources is fairly well distributed. This is a Good Thing, but one cannot take the close church-state relationship in Denmark, transplant it elsewhere and make elsewhere look like Denmark.

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The Anglican Communion as imagined community

Frank Turner, Professor of History at Yale, has a wonderfully insightful article on the Anglican Communion at Episcopal Café. His thesis is that a group of Anglicans, mainly bishops, have sought to shape the various independent Anglican provinces into a global ecclesiastical community over the past two decades.

Turner calls Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities into play here. The bare bones of Anderson’s theory is that a nation is a socially constructed community based on various presumptions of shared attributes: language, religion, skin colour, culture &c. The question it raises is why do I cheer on an athlete, whom I have never met and with whom I have little in common, at the Olympics just because her uniform says she is British? The question it raises is why it is considered a high ideal to die for ‘queen and country’.

Of course, social constructs are not unreal, but they are perceived realities: nationality is no absolute thing. It is fascinating seeing a ‘nation’ being built over the last score of years, but understanding the Anglican Communion as imagined community does much to help us understand the pressures it is under at this time.

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