Losing my religion

No not really but this is my last week as a member of the Presbyterian Church (we are starting to go to another church). If this is too close to a personal testimony please avoid it but I was inspired by this to think about the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, its place in NI culture and its future. It will largely centre on Coleraine and East Belfast Presbyteries (especially Coleraine) as they are the ones I know but the issues are very likely to be generalise-able. For the religious amongst you my apologies in advance for not mentioning the power of the Holy Spirit and His ability to save souls and cause church growth: this is a blog about religion and not a religious blog.The PCI is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland and the second largest on the island (after the Church of Ireland). In common with most of the mainstream denominations the PCI has seen a decline in numbers, currently its membership is about 300,000 (it was 336,000 in 1991 and over 400,000 in 1971). The PCI has for as long as I have known it been pretty obsessed with its numerical decline and innumerable suggestions have been made as to how to arrest this problem.

One of the PCI’s problems of course is that it is a very broad church. Some parts of it (largely within Belfast) are liberal, sometimes with a strong ecumenical tendency, whereas other parts (predominantly, though not exclusively outside Belfast and especially North Antrim and East / South Londonderry) are highly evangelical and indeed fundamentalist. These two groups and many in between coexist in relative harmony though their concerns regarding things like church growth (or arrest of decline) often diverge.

Much of the loss of membership (both active and passive) has come from the general reduction in religious observance within Ireland both north and south. This has afflicted all churches, though the Roman Catholic Church may be somewhat more immune at least in terms of keeping people as nominal members. Many Protestants who were once semi or non-practising Presbyterians have simply stopped attending church. Various attempts have been made to bring such people back into the fold with modifications to services, a decrease in formality and other things which have been feared to be “elitist.” Of course a problem which the liberal wing have had is that their frequent opposition to the Orange Order and general mistrust of harder line unionist politics have played poorly with many of those whom they are trying to persuade back into church. On the other side the more fundamentalist wing have caused themselves problems (for right or wrong reasons) by for example refusing to baptise infants of parents who do not attend church. This refusal no matter how biblical it may be has frequently caused resentment within whole families and has resulted in many more than the parents in question not attending church. The compromise position which some ministers have adopted of having a dedication may also be problematic as it seems to be a second class baptism.

Another problem, which particularly affects the fundamentalist wing, is the profusion of smaller fundamentalist churches, which have grown up in the last fifty years. Not only the Free Presbyterians but many other small denominations and indeed individual churches with no specific denominational tag have sprung up and taken significant numbers of what were once the most active and committed Presbyterians.

Sometimes the Presbyterian Church’s response to the challenges it faces has been extremely naïve and indeed incompetent. I can well remember some 20 years ago the Coleraine Presbytery’s response to the unsurprising revelation that some of its young people were going to Portrush night clubs and obtaining drugs: the church put on a single party in the Cloonavin Rooms owned by Coleraine Borough Council somehow wondering if that would help.

The youth work, once the jewel in the Presbyterian Church’s crown has in general suffered badly. Whereas once every church had an extensive programme of youth work many (including my old home church) have lost their youth fellowship for want of leaders willing to give up Sunday evenings.

The youth work itself was also occasionally problematic as there was a tendency especially in the more conservative churches for the most hard line and uber-fundamentalist view to be seen as the most holy. In my own Youth Fellowship the sorts of people brought to speak (without the minister’s knowledge or permission) tended to be the ones who denied that the wine in The Bible could have been alcoholic (odd considering the injunctions against getting drunk). Other favourite issues included the inevitability of The Rapture occurring before the year 2000 and showing the frankly terrifying Thief in the Night videos (incidentally rated 15, not that that stopped our leaders showing them to 12 year olds).

The church has also frequently been foolish in its strategies for managing decline. In an organisation, which is supposedly democratic to a fault, the amalgamation of the Presbyterian Women’s Organisation (always joking referred to by me and my mates as a secret loyalist terrorist organisation: the Protestant Warriors Association) and the Young Women’s Group was forced through. My mother (a PWA leader) recounts attending a meeting where a most earnest central leadership bod went on about how amalgamation was clearly God’s will rather than being honest and say it was due to falling numbers. As one now retired minister once warned me: Be very wary when anyone tells you what God’s will is for you as they may be setting themselves up as a mediator between you and God as that offends against the Priesthood of all Believers and is specifically one of Protestantism’s most fundamental criticisms of Roman Catholicism.

Of course in the midst of this decline there are small pockets of growth. Kilkenny Presbyterian Church was down to less than a dozen members but its elders refused to give in and close the church: now it has over 150 at most services. In the Coleraine Presbytery Hazelbank Presbyterian Church was opened on the western edge of the town in 1973 and largely through the utter determination, hard work and overwhelming holiness of Rev. Sam Millar (now retired) and his late wife it now has over 300 families. These churches are, however, a minority and the slow gradual dwindling of the denomination continues with Church House seeming to have little in the way of ideas to arrest this decline.

I of course now feel rather guilty as the Presbyterian Church has just lost one more family; I fear it will not be the only one this week.

  • Ulsters my homeland

    That’s one hell of a post.

    Just remember, baptism/christening,doesn’t do anything,(unless get you into a league of gentlemen) its a waste of time.

  • HeadTheBall

    Hi Turgon,

    No wish to pry but I would be really interested in your reasons for abandoning Presbyterianism (if that is what you are doing).

  • Garibaldy

    A brave post Turgon. Though I have to say that that Thief in the Night thing is fundamentally bizarre, and borderline scary. The UN as effectively the anti-christ’s agent? Sounds in no way, shape or linked to US neo-fascism. I do wonder about the dark impulses in certain parts of rural NI sometimes.

  • Turgon

    HeadTheBall,

    Largely geography. We are moving to County Fermanagh which as Darth Rumsfeld so often reminds us is a land which Presbyterianism forgot (great film The Land That Time Forgot; sort of reminds me of Fermanagh). There is a Presbyterian church in Enniskillen (and I believe others) but they are all a long way away. Also I hear (could be wrong on this) that the minister in Enniskillen is religiously liberal and ecumenical. Now whilst I respect the Roman Catholic Church, I respectfully suggest that I have very major disagreements with their theology and as such would not be comfortable with ecumenism.

  • billie-Joe Remarkable

    Losing My Religion is actually a slang phrase used in Georgia (not that Georgia!) and it means to be exasperated by someone or something. To lose patience etc:

    “I’m losing my religion with the couple at table four” a waitress might say.

    I guess it’s apposite for your post.

  • Turgon

    Garibaldy,
    Those films absolutely terrified me and others. I remember well seeing some light in the sky one night when my parents were away and being convinced the rapture had occurred. I was only happy when I rang one of my mates. Thankfully (as I had hoped) his mother answered. Clearly the fact that she was still there was proof that the rapture had not occurred. It is funny now but was far from it then.

    I honestly feel that showing them to us was morally wrong. If I ever found my children were shown them under age I would seriously consider asking the police to investigate.

  • Garibaldy

    I can understand they would scare kids witless. But beyond that, the very fact that people take them as a serious comment over here is what I find disturbing. I can just about understand yanks thinking that way. But people here should know better. BTW, the protestant capacity to switch churches at what can seem like the drop of a hat (not saying that is what you are doing) is something utterly baffling to those raised as Catholics.

  • ben

    You would think “about the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, its place in NI culture and its future.” You wouldn’t think in reasonable, evidence-based terms about reality, because that’s beyond you. Vomiting up an unreadable word-salad that goes on for twelve hours, that you can do. Thinking, realistically, you can’t.

    If the teachings of the Presbyterian or any other church had any value, any relevance, any basis in reality they would be true regardless of your selfish, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, clueless bleatings about Norn Iron and the TUV. They would be simply TRUE. They aren’t. You know that. You don’t care. You just need to blurt forth more evil, hateful, divisive self-obsessed delusional shite about the imaginary Holy Spirit as an excuse for your odiously reactionary political views and your sectarianism.

    And your hatred for the art of communication in general and the English language in particular abides.

    The more people there are like you, Turgid, the worse the world is. It’s that simple.

  • William

    Turgon…

    As a fellow Presbyterian, may I ask which denomination you propose to worship in, once you relocate to Fermanagh?

  • KieranJ

    Slugger is scraping the bottom of the barrel with subject matter such as this nonsense.

    What’s next, a piece on whether to wear an ascot or a four-in-hand?

  • USA

    Not sure if i’m in the “who cares” or the “are you really suprised” camp.
    Either way, religion is such a crock of soup, or as you guys would say, a load of aul shite.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    >>Also I hear (could be wrong on this) that the minister in Enniskillen is religiously liberal and ecumenical. Now whilst I respect the Roman Catholic Church, I respectfully suggest that I have very major disagreements with their theology and as such would not be comfortable with ecumenism.
    Posted by Turgon @ 12:18 AM<

  • Turgon

    ben and KieranJ,
    Funny I always thought this was a blog on Northern Ireland politics and culture. The PCI would seem to be a part of NI culture. Ah well shows how wrong I am.

    I do like this line though “The more people there are like you, Turgid, the worse the world is. It’s that simple.” True quality.

    Prionsa Eoghan,
    I essentially object to ecumenism as I think there are differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism: not vast but sufficient to mean that attempts to hold united services are deliberately avoiding the important differences. As such I think they are in some ways dishonouring both religions. Others may feel very different: that is absolutely fine by me.

    William
    Probably Independent Methodists (the wife’s old church).

  • fair_deal

    “Independent Methodists”

    Is the Rev Park still the minister there?

  • Turgon

    F_D,
    Yes, I believe so.

  • Glencoppagagh

    One of PCI’s problems is that having lost the urban working classes it is now trying to get rid of the educated middle classes as well.
    There is a discernible contempt among many of the younger fundamentalist ministers for any activity that might be deemed intellectual.
    In many congregations, Sunday worship has come to resemble those dreary Sunday evening “gospel” meetings of yesteryear.
    Intelligent people soon get bored with being told every Sunday that they need to be “saved”.
    It surprises me that an apparently cultivated man like Turgon appears to think that there isn’t enough of this mindless doctrine in the PCI and wants to find more of it elsewhere.

  • swiss john

    Turgon,

    Considering your obivous interest in theology, do you mind me asking how you can go from a staunchly calvinist church. to an arminian church? It seems that you are engaging in a little theological pick and mix? Surely this should be a fundamental in choosing where to worship?

  • Glencoppagagh

    “On the other side the more fundamentalist wing have caused themselves problems (for right or wrong reasons) by for example refusing to baptise infants of parents who do not attend church”

    I meant to add that Turgon obviously hasn’t come across the really serious fundamentalist ministers in the PCI who won’t baptise children of parents who they decide are not “saved” regardless of their commitment to the congregation.

  • Turgon

    I really must stop answering every comment on this thread but I guess it is an interest of mine:

    Glencoppagagh,
    Very true: I think that is a real problem. There is a happy medium to be struck. One person who at least used to be very fundamentalist yet very educated and analytical was Rev. Keith McIntyre of Bessbrook. His favourite line was that you were to “Love The Lord thy God with all thy Mind” as well as the other bits. The only problem with him was that I used to take the train home with him on Friday evenings. He spent the whole train journey explaining the finer points of theology which even I found a bit heavy going.

    swiss john,
    Very fair point and I am very much a Calvinist yet Elenwe is an Arminian. I am essentially a hen picked husband, however, and will do whatever I am told. Maybe I will sneak out to the Presbyterians or Free Ps bytimes.

  • fair_deal

    Turgon

    Our family attended Coleraine IM when he was the minister there. Good preacher he managed on a number of occasions to get through juvenile disinterest and get me to listen. He was also conscientious in supporting his congregation.

    IIRC you should get along politically as well. He was the only Protestant minister to attend the Day of Action protest in Coleraine and lead the prayers – not even the Free P minister had turned up 😉

    He also entered family folklore – allegedly when I was four I asked him if he wanted to see Page 3, he was amused but respectfully declined. I have no recollection of this event. Also my mother scared by the first sign of grey got her hair tinted but the following Sunday was when he decided to preach against this and other dangerous trends. She felt somewhat self-conscious for a few months until they disappeared but it seemed to have some impact as it was a few years before she did it again.

  • Turgon

    Glencoppagagh,
    I had not realised that ministers were doing things like refusing to baptise the infants of unsaved parents. I find that absolutely crazy on so many levels. I guess I did not find it as with a wife who spent 10 years working for the Independent Methodist church and who has taught some theology few would have the nerve to question us.

    I suspect part of it is that some of these people would like to make the church Baptist. I also think some want only the saved in the church which is also crazy as how will people then hear the gospel. Also cynically they have not thought about how their salaries would be affected if the church fell in numbers. Also some of the younger ministers seem to forget that they are not in charge of the church: they are merely the teaching elder: something I think they need to be reminded of.

    Some of all this was probably a reaction to the excess liberalism in the past but now the pendulum has swung too far. Certainly a friend of mine who always wanted to be a minister and would have been an ideal liberal fundamentalist (if that is not an oxymoron) was told about 15 years ago to go and work in McDonalds for a while and then come back. Being an intelligent person he went and did teaching at Stranmillis and then decided to be a teacher.

    Anyhow thanks for commenting.

    Fair_deal,
    I must admit some of the Indie’s “standards” and worrying about girls wearing trousers etc. do really annoy me; they seem utterly irrelevant to me. The not dying your hair would go down badly in a quarter very near me now. Mr. Park may have moderated a bit over the years as his son has married a Baptist girl and she has been seen in his house wearing trousers.

  • fair_deal

    “Mr. Park may have moderated a bit over the years as his son has married a Baptist girl and she has been seen in his house wearing trousers.”

    Nothing is sacred/Slippery slope and all that. He’ll be going to the cinema next.

    He did allow himself a TV (even if he only used it for news) which IIRC was a breach of church rules at the time (portal to hell and all that). Whenever he arrived at the house there was always a tremendous rush to turn off tv’s and radios.

  • Glencoppagagh

    Turgon
    On baptism
    To be fair, I have only heard this and I’m not sure if it was an outright refusal to officiate rather than dsicouragement.
    In any event, I think the decision to baptise would lie with the Kirk Session although presumably a minister could in conscience decline to officiate.

  • Eddie

    I’m not trying to be deliberately personal, and I always try to play the ball, but…

    Turgon comes across to me as someone who, in this post, is troubled. Please let’s not have Slugger allow all of us to start spilling our guts on this admirable site. You want to hear mine? No, I don’t think so.

  • cladycowboy

    ” the really serious fundamentalist ministers in the PCI who won’t baptise children of parents who they decide are not “saved” regardless of their commitment to the congregation.”

    I thought the whole point was that it was unknown who was saved or not?
    Can’t you live a feckless life then be re-born in your last month and still be one of the elect?

  • Turgon

    Eddie,
    It is an analysis of the position of the PCI illustrated with examples from my and my family’s experience. I am saddened by the fall in numbers the PCI is experiencing and am rather troubled by their utterly useless attempts to address that problem.

    In answer to specific questions I have answered them. Now do you have something to comment on about the position of the Presbyterian Church?

    I was recently being attacked for only posting about the TUV, on other occasions I get attacked about other things. Now without being unpleasant can I suggest that if you do not have anything to add to this thread please do not bother. Neither I nor anyone else is forcing you to read this stuff.

    The role of religion is pretty important in Northern Ireland society and not just as it is related to politics. As such I would have thought it odd if someone did not address the decline in religious observance. To illustrate it with examples from one’s own experience is hardly to show that one is “troubled” and I would rather not have amateur psychiatrists analysing why I have said what I have said.

    Sorry to be sharp but I do not see this as an inappropriate subject and I am afraid I do not see this as an inappropriate blog. I have hardly started preaching to you and neither have I talked much about my own religious opinions apart from illustrating the frankly idiotic behaviour of some of the PCI’s members and leaders.

  • Eddie

    Phew!!

  • Paul P

    Turgon,

    There are no biblical grounds for baptising (greek =plunging,dipping, soaking, immersing) those who could not confess their own personal belief in Christ.

  • Hen-pecked husband – change to ‘her-in-doors’ denomination – surely not the autobiography of Tony Blair 😉

  • Alan

    Turgon
    I asked a work colleaque who was a member of Enniskillen Pres. church up to approx. three years ago about the minister( who’s name I’ve forgotten). She said that he is an excellent pastor and is very evangelistic.

    She mentioned that he is in no way liberal although he has no problem in working with Roman Catholics or wth any other denomination for the betterment of Enniskillen. He does draw the line at joint worship with Roman Catholic’s because of theological differences ( apparently).

  • Cupples, Foster and the Alpha course

    David Cupples is minister of Scots Presbyterian Church.

  • Garibaldy

    Does Anglicanism still claim to have a theology? I thought it was whatever they read in the Guardian that day.

  • scroggy

    christianity is zombie worship at its silliest amd all religion is superstition. i know that gets people’s backs up, but it’s kind of the actual truth. just thought i’d point it out. oh, and there’s no tooth fairy either. sheesh..

  • Greenflag

    Eddie .

    ‘Turgon comes across to me as someone who, in this post, is troubled.’

    Any intelligent person regardless of religious denomination who seriously examines their beliefs in any kind of detail will be troubled some to a greater degree than others As one ages continuing persistent examination of beliefs is one sure path to at the very least an agnostic situation .

    We live in a world where many are ‘turned ‘ off by the seeming excesses of a materialist culture. Some are looking for a replacement or even just answers to ‘moral’ questions that enable them to live comfortably within their own skin . Without wishing to give an impression that I’m psychoanalysing Turgon from a distance it seems that this is what our thread leader is about .

    When a ‘traditional ‘ society undergoes rapid uncertain change there is at first a sense of ‘freedom ‘ from the old strictures . Inevitably as time passes there is also a sense of something having been lost . We sense this in Turgon’s thoughts re his predicament . As he say’s he’s not alone in NI , nor for that matter is he alone in Ireland or the USA or anywhere else where ‘traditional’ religions have held major influence up to recent times . Many former RC’s lament the passing of doctrinal certainty and a Church whose clergy evoked ‘instant’ respect simply because of who they were . Many others and probably a lot more prefer their present ‘freedom’ from the religious hang ups and irrational ‘guilts’ which seem in retrospect to have been a hallmark in particular of Irish Catholicism. And from reading this thread it would that these ‘irrational ‘ guilts seem to be prevalent among the trouser wearing ‘sinners ‘ of Pentecostalism and others 🙁

    I recall the life experience of a now deceased in law who started life as a Methodist moved to COI and then to Roman Catholicism entering even a monastery before emerging into the lay world . He never ceased his religious seeking for some kind of absolute affirmation of ‘truth’. As a converted newly born Catholic he did not take kindly to my teenage ‘rubbishing ‘ of his newly acquired ‘doctrines ‘ . Fortunately he left this mortal coil just before the RC Churches ‘sex ‘ scandals became widespread public knowledge .

    In looking back I often think the man would have led a far happier existence had he just tried to become a better Methodist if such is possible 🙂 ?

    We are of course lucky to live in western society it’s ok for ‘individuals’ to decide for themselves which drop down religion from the extensive menu available to take and whether or not this or that church suits their lifestyle , social class or ethnic profile etc etc .

    Good job for Turgon then that he’s living in present day NI and not in Catholic Medieval Europe nor in the present day Islamic fundamentalist States nor even in the Calvinistic Swiss States of the 17th century ?

    We are here to help each other get through this thing -called ‘life’ whatever it is , without regard to denomination or ethnic or national affiliation . Some of us alas are here of course to help ourselves alone 🙂 Life imo is not a dress rehearsal.

    If ‘religion’ helps you -fine . If it doesn’t find one that does or else you can aspire to be a cynical , skeptical, pessimistic optimist re the ‘human’ condition like some of us 🙂

  • Half of you have problems

    To Eddie, non believers, anti belivers et al.

    You do not seem to understand some basic points:

    1. This is a blog (web-log) about various topics related to nIreland culture and politics. It is not a newspaper. Perhaps you thought you were reading the Andserstown news?

    2. I am sure when Mick asked Turgon to blog he realised exactly where his interests and politics lay. This is a blog for many people. I am concerned some people people in nIreland (here) wish to remain ghetto-ised or even make everyone else agree with their point at all costs. Let’s be a broad church. (Temple/Orange Hall/Youth Club/Cathedral).

    3. You do not have to read, much less post. I enjoy reading posts about peoples religion, despite the fact that I am not relious in the slightest, wheter that be of James Joyce or Turgon. Please be constructive and not so vacuous and predictable!

  • Does Anglicanism still claim to have a theology? I thought it was whatever they read in the Guardian that day.

    I’ll bring you a saucer of milk later, you cat.

    There’s a lot of Anglican theology; what often confuses non-Anglicans is there are also widely divergent views within Anglicanism and a lack of central authority – for me, a very refreshing lack of central authority. But don’t make the mistake of confusing liberalism with latitudinarianism or a lack of faith, or indeed confusing asceticism with holiness.

    Yes, at its worst liberal Anglicanism can descend into theology a la Guardian, but even speaking as a confirmed Guardian-hater there are many worse things to descend into at one’s worst.

    Anyway, what does any of this matter to you, you Commie pigdog? 😉

  • Garibaldy

    Ah Sammy, it offends my belief in the need for a strong link between theory and praxis as respresented by a coherent ideology and democratic centralism.

    As for the lack of faith, well when you have a bishop doubting the resurrection happened, then it’s a bit hard to take it seriously.

  • susan

    Refreshing posts from Greenflag and half of you have problems. I often find it difficult to retain much faith in either reason or religion after too much exposure to the visceral glee with which many Sluggerites display in tearing strips out of each other for their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

    It seems about as civilised as watching a bunch of yobbos knock the yamulke off the head of a young Yeshiva student on a downtown Brooklyn “F” train. There are plenty of atheists who care deeply about humanity and the world around them, and plenty of decent religious folk for whom love of God is inseparable from love of neighbours. Can we just calm down?

    You don’t have to be an atheist to value the separation of church and state, and atheism and agnosticism offer little protection against parochialism and the intoxication of knowing you’re right.

    Turgon, you and I have many differences but you do have a trait I’ve always valued highly — a sense of one’s own capacity to be completely ridiculous at times.

    Health and happiness and inspiration to you and yours in your new spiritual home, Turgon.

  • Eddie

    Greenflag at No.11 above makes a very wise blog.

    I am sorry if Turgon is upset that I thought he sounded troubled. There’s nothing wrong with being troubled. We’re all on a journey. I get troubled sometimes. We all do. I don’t get upset if somebody thinks I am troubled when I express a point of view. It’s just that I don’t want to burden others with my inner turmoil when I’m turmoiling. But that’s me. Bit private.

    I hope that Turgon finds the contentment that he seeks in the religion of his choice.
    As for me – God? Dawkins? I dunno. I just try to be the best Eddie that I can.

  • Eddie

    Greenflag at No.11 above makes a very wise blog.

    I am sorry if Turgon is upset that I thought he sounded troubled. There’s nothing wrong with being troubled. We’re all on a journey. I get troubled sometimes. We all do. I don’t get upset if somebody thinks I am troubled when I express a point of view. It’s just that I don’t want to burden others with my inner turmoil when I’m turmoiling. But that’s me. Bit private.

    I hope that Turgon finds the contentment that he seeks in the religion of his choice.
    As for me – God? Dawkins? I dunno. I just try to be the best Eddie that I can.

  • Turgon

    Eddie,
    Okay and maybe I was too sharp and I am too defensive on religion blogs but in all honesty I was trying to look at the PCI and not myself. The references to me and my family were as susan rightly observes to try to point up some of the ridiculous things in the PCI: most of those things were and are funny though I am still highly unhappy about having been shown those dreadful videos all those years ago.

  • Big Maggie

    What I like about religion in Northern Ireland is that it keeps the people off the streets.

  • Ah Sammy, it offends my belief in the need for a strong link between theory and praxis as respresented by a coherent ideology and democratic centralism.

    Well, that would be the very antithesis of Anglicanism so I can see your point, now. Goddamned commies!

    As for the lack of faith, well when you have a bishop doubting the resurrection happened, then it’s a bit hard to take it seriously.

    A bit like when I see Marxists whore themselves out for £1000 a day to motivational speeches to middle-aged provincial businessmen…

  • susan

    Turgon, I posted in haste, but I did not mean to imply that your capacity to see the ridiculous within yourself and your religion were your only good points and I hope it did not read that way.

  • Turgon

    susan,
    No not at all.

    Regards

  • Dewi

    “Refreshing posts from Greenflag and half of you have problems.”

    Which half Susan…….?

  • Garibaldy

    I wish someone would pay me £1000 quid but I suspect my speeches would be less than motivating.

    As for the latitude allowed by Anglicanism. I find it absurd that a religion can exist which embraces some priests/bishops/archbishops who think that the communion is literally the body and blood, while others mock the very idea as superstition. It’s absurd, and a sign of an unwillingness to stand up for anything fundamental. Give me a good bit of old fashioned Calvinism any day.

  • Give me the inconsistent but decent bumbler over the committed and dangerous fanatic any day, Garibaldy.

  • Greenflag

    eddie ,

    ‘As for me – God? Dawkins? I dunno. I just try to be the best Eddie that I can. ‘

    Now that – sounds like a ‘wise ‘ plan 😉

  • Glencoppagagh

    Looking at Nevin’s link highlights one of the PCI’s biggest problems, hardcore fundamentalists like Foster and FPs in general snapping at their ankles.
    For Foster, the worst thing about the Alpha course is that some RC approve of it. For the sort of people Foster wants to appeal to that’s usually enough. No high falutin’ theology required.
    Unfortunately, this type is often very influential in Presbyterian congregations and if any minister doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, there is the impicit threat of them flouncing off to whatever sect satisfies their requirements.

  • Garibaldy

    Sammy,

    The track record of the C of E is far from decent and bumbling however – just look at the trappings of empire in many of its churches. However, some of my best friends are decent C of E bumblers. 🙂

  • abucs

    I agree Susan.
    After all, the historical seperation of religion from the state was to protect religion from the state.

    It was a big step forwards.

    In an indirect sense, the Protestant reformation split the connection between loyalty to religion and loyalty to the national monarchies (in many places).

    It probably contributed like no other change to cause the fall of monarchies across Europe allow democracy to flourish.

  • The sleeping dog that is lying down here in the South at the moment is that the RCC has lost the thinking middle class and the working class almost altogether.

    When the 1930s-1940s generation of Irish Mammies passes on, the last generation of Irish women terrorised into faith by the Holy Nuns, expect to see a systematic collapse in RCC attendance and another bounce in Anglican practice down here.

  • Greenflag

    abucs ,

    ‘It probably contributed like no other change to cause the fall of monarchies across Europe allow democracy to flourish’

    Debateable , The only RC Kings left are IIRC the Spanish and Belgians . However Britain , Holland , Norway , Denmark , Sweden still have Protestant(Reformation ) monarchs -albeit their power is now largely ceremonial .

    ‘In an indirect sense, the Protestant reformation split the connection between loyalty to religion and loyalty to the national monarchies (in many places). ‘

    True except in the UK where the Monarch cannot be an RC by the Act of Settlement .

    So the Reformation did’nt ‘ahem ‘actually take place in the UK did it ?

    Back to the drawing word abucs ? 🙂

    Consider instead the influence of the French and American Revolutions and the British Reform Act of 1832 as more direct progenitors of modern style democracy

  • some of my best friends are decent C of E bumblers

    In the elevated social circles you move in, I’d be surprised if it were otherwise!

  • abucs

    Fair comments Greenflag.

    I would say the reducing of Monarchies to the ceremonial role, which is basically how it is in Europe, and in fact almost all over the world now, is really what i call the ‘destruction of monarchies’ or to put it more accurately – the destruction of monarchial power.

    I think it is the butterfly effect Greenflag.
    I know you have read up a lot more on the ‘Religious Wars’ of Europe than myself, but i submit that it can be looked upon in a different way.

    It can also be seen as the secularisation of religion. When a king or civic group decide they now have the right to administer religion – choose bishops, defend the faith, establish worship and define heresies etc – that can be looked on as the state taking over religion exclusively. A soldier fighting a war is not necessarily doing it because he now believes his King has the ultimate right to declare all of the above but simply because 1)those of a different faith than the king are threats, subversives and disloyal 2) the king pays his wages 3) he is a loyal national.

    When the bloody mess of those wars was over the the outcome was that religion was no longer administered by the state in an exclusive sense, but differing faiths were allowed to practice within the borders of the state – in theory at least. It also inevitably meant the ‘God given’ right of monarchies to exist was no longer tenable.

    Hence the age old system of Governments going back to the Egyptians and further was on the way out and allowed for other forms of Government to fill the vacuum IMHO – which in turn led to actions such as those revolutions you speak of.

    I am a firm beliver that history is made up of a lot of little chnages in the pysche of the people that lead to large actions that the history books then tend to present as a cause not an outcome.

    Of course religion was heavily involved in the whole episode and there were lots of nutters around as they are in everything, but the term ‘Religious Wars’ would not be one that i would agree with.

    The problem as i see it, is that religion was and still is to a lesser extent, very important to people and when it gets wrapped up in national politics, as we know, it is a disaster because it holds such a sway with people.

    This sway is probably why monarchies existed for so long, because it was wrapped up in religion.

    Ironically the exclusive monarchial take over of religion led in the long term to less power and loyalty for and to those monarchies and not more.

    Once it was decoupled through those wars, it is in a short space of time that the monarchial power systems declined all across Europe and that decline has spread across the world.

    That’s the way i see it anyway.

  • Greenflag

    abucs ,

    ‘the term ‘Religious Wars’ would not be one that i would agree with.

    How about ‘Wars of Religion’ ? One way or the other be it 16th century Spain or later in Britain and Ireland , France and Germany ‘religious denominational wars ‘ were fought and millions died . In Germany alone some 7 million are estimated to have been killed in their ’30 years ‘ war . All around the world there have been ‘wars of religion’ since man developed the first ‘organised ‘ religions . Japanese Shintoists and Buddhists have slaughtered each other for the ‘faith’ jst as much as Catholics and Protestants in Europe or Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East . Calling these people ‘nutters’ doesn’t cut it . Given the times they lived in ‘religion’ was a plausible rationale for going to war for the people of the time – even if it was used often as a ‘cover’ for
    the political objectives of their rulers.

    I would see the reduction of monarchial power as being primarily the result of the growth in populations, industrial wealth and rising numbers of the middle classes , and democratic representation , in Europe and America since the 16th century .

    The Ancient Romans were largely ‘tolerant’ of other religions in paricular where those ‘religions’ did not encourage their ‘native ‘ adherents to rebel against the Empire . Ironically it was shortly after Christianity became the Roman State official religion that the Empire began to crumble . Whereas the ‘pagan ‘ Roman empire would tolerate the germans or celts or iberians worshipping their holy trees and sacred groves the new monotheistic religion would brook no competition for men’s souls . As late as the 8th century Charlemagne found himself beheading some 40,000 Saxons because of their refusal to give up on their Tree God and accept the Christ as the one true GOD . The ‘pagan’ Romans were much more tolerant -as long as the ‘natives ‘ put in the odd prayer to the God Augustus or Tiberius they could worship as many trees as they wanted .

    Religion was in the distant and not so distant past an attempt by the species to try to understand the world and ourselves and our place in it . Science has answered many though not all of the questions which religion has posed in the past . I see that trend continuing although it will not be at the same rate of change for all societies ..

  • abucs

    Greenflag,

    as i have said before i see science as coming out of religion and as such that project of working out ‘how things are’ continues to this day.

    The mass killings were just like the tens of millions of citizens killed by communism – a result of a different philosophy of people to the state that was seen as treason.

    That is why for instance, many of the Christians were persecuted because they ‘would not worship the emperor’. Christ himself could be said to have been crucified because his philosophy looked suspiciously like treason to the emperor.
    Yet in the long run the philosophy of Christians succeeded against the public burnings, crucifictions and feeding to wild animals and the Emperor adopted Christianity thereby destroying the idea of the Emperor being a divine God.

    When the Western Christianity spread so did the stopping of worshipping kings and Emperors as gods (china and Japan in latter centuries for example).

    It is not religion that the emperor (or later monarchies) were mainly interested in, but loyalty to their rule, and right to rule). This is what caused the wars and killings and still does to this day.

    Ancient Rome (in the West) fell in my opinion because of many factors including population decline, the ‘bararian invasions’ and the moving of the capital to Constantinople by Constantine.

    Decline, according to the historians was evident from the second century.

    It’s interesting that the eastern Roman empire, based around the new capital of Constantinople, was largely left intact and thrived until the coming of Islam several centuries later.

    The Christians in the west, that fell to the barbarians gradually formed nation states and monarchies which lasted for over a thousand years. It was in these middle ages in the West that the Church was the unifying cultural influence and it is interesting that the church spread the use of monastries and instigated universities of learning which would lay the groundwork from which our science would emerge.

    In contrast, the surviving Eastern Roman empire fell to Islam and it was the west that emerged stronger in the long run and was even strong enough to try and reclaim the Roman Empire of the east.

    It is from the stability and learning of the west (largly from those middle ages) that the whole modern world is based on.

    Universities, mass schooling, European nation states leading to democracy, development of widespread hospitals and medicine, charitable organisations of welfare as well as the founding of most of the worlds basic science disciplines occurred in that period, in that region.

    The take over by democratic European states of the above functions is the world we live in today. IMHO.

  • Greenflag

    abucs ,

    I’m at a loss here to see what your overall point is other than a ‘defence’ of religion and it’s inoculation against any ‘complicity ‘ or causus belli during the history western civilisation ?

    While I would agree that it was not the prime cause except in some cases e.g the Crusades -or the 30 years war in Germany the list of the soldiery who went off to war with Gods blessing runs all the way from Emperor Constantine through to an Anglican Bishop circ 1914 who told his flock it was their ‘duty’ to kill as many Germans as they could as so help to complete God’s work on earth.

    ‘Universities, mass schooling, European nation states leading to democracy, development of widespread hospitals and medicine, charitable organisations of welfare as well as the founding of most of the worlds basic science disciplines occurred in that period, in that region.’

    True as long as ‘education’ and scientifc research did not come up with unpleasant facts which could undermine the Church’s teaching on man’s place in the Kingdom of God on earth.

    In the Middle Ages ‘knowledge ‘ was confined to an educated elite and the clergy . Today a teenage kid in India , China , or Africa can access knowledge in an instant . The ‘stability’ you refer to re the Middle Ages was a consequence of living in an ordered world world where everybody knew their place and the Sun could revolve around the Earth .

  • abucs

    It’s just that i disagree with the ‘completeness’ of some of the comments made, such as some in the last post regarding the crusades, conflict between new and old knowledge, the acceptance and non acceptance of new knowledge, the confinement of knowledge and the nature of stability.

    I think a slant can be given to certain limited events making the overall picture appear a certain way, which can be misleading. But i suppose we could be at it all week if we wanted.