Christianity: Aesthetics: Spirituality: Life: Stuart and Moira Gray

The Dearth of Spiritual Christianity caused by intellectual dogma

Stuart Gray
Moira Gray
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What has happened to the liturgy of the Christian Church? Has it become so politically inept ( sorry! I meant inclusive!!) that it has failed to accept that Liturgy is concerned not with such earth-bound concepts of 'gender specific' or 'inclusive language' but with the raising of humanity above its physical existence onto a more spiritual plain where such concepts have no relevance. Christianity, through its language and practice, has negated spirituality through sinking into the abyss of dogma and inclusive language.

Is it purely an extension and salve of our physical existence or is it a vehicle which should transport us onto another plain of existence? Should it be relevant to our physical lives here on earth (inclusive and 'everything goes') or should liturgy involve more eternal aspirations. Is liturgy, indeed, the point at which we 'leave' our ordinary physical existence and reach out to our more eternal non-physical existence?

The horror which faces most thinking Christians in the present climate of growing apostasy and seeming irrelevance to the lives of most of humanity in Britain is its developing and engrossed concern over inessentials of belief. Not content with removing spirituality from its services to appeal to the masses with mind-numbing modern music and effete modern liturgies, not content with interminable debates over inclusive language (which seems to apply only to the language but not universally to the priesthood), not content with the problems of appointing a gay priest to a bishopric in this country (solved by his decision to remain celebrate), the Church of England has now concentrated its weakening energy in trying to resolve the perceived catastrophe of a far-off branch of the Anglican Communion which has appointed a gay bishop.

Has the Church of England forgotten the essentials of Christianity? Has it forgotten the cause of Love and acceptance? Must it constantly look over its shoulder to see what other branches of the Church are thinking? Is it so weak that the concept of unity at all costs remains its guiding influence? Is it so spiritually decadent that such a concept finds no place in the present debate? Is it, after all, like all other multinationals, concerned about the image of the product rather than the quality of the product itself? Does it even understand the meaning of spirituality?

FederovskyaWhen, I wonder, did it last look objectively at the product it is marketing? What, indeed, is it trying to sell? Certainly, whatever it is, success does not accompany it. I started to write this article long ago in Holy Week, 2005. A glance through the TV schedules indicated the problem. The observance of what were once major festivals is slipping into oblivion and the media moguls care not one wit. Space once occupied by devotional items is now filled with comedy, soap and violence. Radio fares a little better with Radio 3’s “Easter at Kings” though we did experience the timeless music of Bach and the Renaissance period spread over 3 evenings.

Perhaps this is the key to the problem? Perhaps all that is left of ‘spiritual’ (or real) Christianity is its music, art and architecture? Perhaps these ‘remnants’ are all which matter? We see over the course of a year programmes on Christian art and architecture. They are as relevant and inspiring now as at the time of their creation. We rarely see (outside the compulsory Sunday "God slot") programmes on liturgy, sermons, or modern Christian activity, activities beloved by the priesthood. And what indeed of this 'God slot'? It is now reduced, on BBC at least, to what can only be termed as the emotional vandalism of Christianity in song.

Indeed in what should be real key areas, by which I mean representations of Jesus’ prime areas of concern (revolutionary and integrated healing and teaching - an holistic approach to life), the Church has abrogated all responsibility into a hollow nothingness clothed with wordspeak. How many bishops, deans, archdeacons, priests or curates, for example, were examined before ordination in their ability to practice an integrated ministry, i.e. that of healing and teaching which were the core elements of the ministry of Jesus and his commandment to his disciples who after death became known as Apostles. Yet the Church has the temerity to proclaim that it is an Apostolic Church, able to trace back the validity of its ministry to the Apostles. Where is the healing, gentlemen, and ladies? Where is the spiritual enlightenment by which we can 'love God' in real experiential act rather than selfish emotional word?

Instead the Church has chosen a different strategy, that of historical unrepeatable finitude which absolves them from the need to possess any of the Apostles’ virtues. Jesus died for the sins of the world. Its all done and dusted. Merely believe on this statement and you are saved. Meanwhile these their modern presentations of Jesus’ ministry are ephemeral and have become irrelevant because they no longer speak to our spiritual natures. They cannot because there is no healing, no immediate holistic reclamation of the individual in the here and now through change of lifestyle, nothing tangibly personal onto which to focus. Salvation is no longer individual and present. It is cosmic and future. And all, possibly, because they cannot heal people. Or have they transported Christianity into a dry formula of passive, inert acceptance clothing myth with heavy-handed reality?

Think of the mythical donkey with which Palm Sunday is associated. Up and down the country, even when we were in Hereford, poor beasts are brought out to lead unwilling processions of embarrassed people. Who, in this day and age, is prepared to follow a donkey down a street and feel spiritually uplifted by the experience?! The Church has been reduced to re-enactment of quasi-historical dogma because it is growing empty inside, i.e. it depends on a rather ridiculous outward show to produce an inner belief.

Perhaps, for the more enlightened, the reason behind the title is becoming clear. Christianity, at any season of the Christian calendar, has seemingly become enveloped by a time warp of fundamentalist ignorance. Any religion which bases its belief and practice on historic and self-imposed immutable truths and practices is doomed eventually to extinction through the exposure of world and individual reality. The constant annual rerun of this terrible event of crucifixion - a death once for all time for the sins of the world - is set against a world of consistent war, crime, drug abuse, covert political manipulation for power, and all perpetrated by Christians or within Christian cultures. Who, for example, invaded Iraq and caused the death of thousands of innocent people? Two Christians. Where, for them I wonder, was the concept of "love thy neighbour"? Who have refused to make such ethical questions as abortion part of the election campaign despite the fact that any change requires Government legislation? The 3 leaders of the main political parties, all professed members of their religions. Where, indeed, is the voice of their branch of religion strong in public condemnation of such stances?

Religion in the West has become so fragile in its attitude to the individual that its influence is withering. Why is it, I wonder, that Buddhism and Hinduism are both growing in terms of acceptance and practice while Christianity declines? Why is it that many secular organisations exist to preserve the Christian buildings, art, music and poetry of the past, but none (outside the Church) the sermons or liturgies, the supposed key elements?

The core of Christianity has become centred on the finite history of the cross, an event never to be repeated. Curiously this symbol did not rise in significance until the third or fourth century. From this one can extrapolate that it was of minor significance in the early church, i.e. those closest to the time of Jesus. Their symbol was the fish, or ixthus, whose letters spelt Iesus Xristos theou ‘uius soter, Jesus Christ Son of God and Saviour.

TheMedieval gospel Apostles and the early Church were too busy carrying out the ministry of Jesus, i.e. healing and teaching, to worry about the long term significance of this event. That was left to people who had never seen Jesus, to people who had much more influence in the world at large and with their own personal agenda of self-aggrandisement, people like Paul and the Emperor Constantine.

Such a religion which is based on history, i.e. that Jesus died once and for all to eradicate the sins of all the world, inevitably has to live in the past, to be exclusive. With this emphasis the healing and teaching message of Jesus is of little relevance. Why bother? Merely turn up to baptism and you are saved for evermore. Its that easy, just as the Emperor Constantine demanded, so that he could rule the Roman Empire as he wished while the crucial Jesus elements of Christianity were removed. As a consequence Christian influence was transferred from care over the inhabitants of this planet to care of their immortal future.

The spiritual demands of twenty first humanity do not see it that way, hence the demise. It needs more immediate and practical solutions not only to its increasingly whirlwind existence but also to the knowledge and understanding of consciousness which has been yielded by the Information Revolution. The need is individual and the solution involves such as the practice of aesthetics and meditation. The Church is unable to respond. While it tries to relate to suffering by its modern view of God sharing in human suffering on the cross, this is an empty concept because the Church remains unable to translate this into personal help or resolution. Nor can it cope with such modern concepts of the 'God-within', let alone the validity of other religions, or modern scientific knowledge concerning the timelessness and integration of consciousness into the whole universe. And it certainly cannot cope with the concept that all humanity was there at the point of creation, known as the Big Bang!

More on this later, including the great paradox of belief. Why, if my contention that the ministry of Jesus is of more importance than his death is plausible, why is it that so much of the "Art" world (music, art and architecture) finds such resonance in the cross often to the detriment of Easter in thinking about the human spiritual condition? Think, for example, of the huge genre of Lent and Passion Music in comparison with that of Easter. Perhaps the answer is that here we dwell on the human plight of individual suffering and our inability to solve this problem through the ordinary message of the Cross. Perhaps Easter represents the Church's theological solution, not that of its artists and musicians who still wait for enlightenment?