Tuesday, December 19, 2006


In a recent article about 'the Christmas wars', Giles Fraser observed: "The distinction between Christianity and Christendom is not widely understood." He's right. Whether we are Christians or not, our whole way of thinking about God, the church, theology and the subversive narrative of Jesus is still imprisoned in the functionalist assumption that Christianity is, or needs to be, an essentially 'established', 'recognised', 'buttressed' or 'majority' faith. Privileged in the social, cultural, political and economic order, in other words. It is this that produces the "either it must be imposed or it must be deleted" approach to religion in public life beloved of putative dogmatists on all sides.

But the alternative, post-Christendom possibility is catching on, not least because of dramatic changes in church and society. Around as a public argument at least since the time of Kierkegaard, the critique of Christendom as the dominant ideology of faith is (very) slowly starting to edge into contemporary conversation and commentary. It is hinted at in Frank Furedi's penetrating piece Do they know it's Christmas?, and it was also effectively recognised by Brian Walden (coming from a rather different place on the political spectrum) in his weekend BBC Radio 4 A Point of View broadcast - although he used the less helpful - because confusing - term post-Christian, which precisely assumes that Christianity depends upon power and status.

Now here's former Iona Community leader Ron Ferguson, writing in the Scottish newspaper The Herald, and hitting the nail firmly on the head: “The reality is that Britain is no longer a Christian country – the term is a piece of fantasy anyway – and fewer and fewer people go to church. What we are witnessing in western Europe is the end of Christendom – the cultural, if not constitutional, alliance between church and state. I've yet to be convinced that this particular demise is something that should be mourned.”

For it is surely the divinely disruptive and levelling spirit of Iona's wild goose, not empires and temples, which is needed to sustain the radical message of the community of Jesus in the 21st century? This is what it means to pay homage to the Prince of Peace, rather than principalities and potentates. "Not my might, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Sovereign One." It's a difficult vocation to live when the logic of compulsion is all around us - in both its 'religious' and its 'secular' guises (none of which are nearly so religious, or secular, as they like to claim).

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