The Church of England may be an absurdity, a fractious mess rapidly disappearing up its own arsehole, "led" by a man whose resemblance to the recently discovered Radavan Karadjic most commentators were too polite to comment on, but when you look at the alternatives it's hard not to wish them at least a degree of success. If only because its disappearance would leave the field entirely clear to real believers. One such is Cardinal Ivan Dias, who wears the red hat as the Prefect of the Congregation for Evangelisation. His job, in other words, is to spread the word. In corporate terms he is the head of Marketing and Consumer Relations.
Yesterday he addressed the Lambeth Conference, the gathering of Anglican prelates which is confusingly taking place in Canterbury. Apt symbol, perhaps, for a church that has not merely lost its way but would appear to be under the direction of a particularly malicious SatNav. I learned of his remarkable oration via Ruth Gledhill, who chose to dwell on Dias's remarkably rude comparison of the Anglican church to a trembling and senile invalid:
Much is spoken today of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By analogy, their symptoms can, at times, be found even in our own Christian communities. For example, when we live myopically in the fleeting present, oblivious of our past heritage and apostolic traditions, we could well be suffering from spiritual Alzheimer’s. And when we behave in a disorderly manner, going whimsically our own way without any co-ordination with the head or the other members of our community, it could be ecclesial Parkinson’s.
The barb must have stung all the more for being so accurate.
But I'd like to concentrate on the genuinely insane outburst that constituted the core of Dias's address. Asking what was the purpose of evangelism - or, as Catholics prefer to call it, evangelisation - he answered that it was to fight against the power of the Devil, which was particularly well represented in the modern world:
The spiritual combat, described in the Books of Genesis and Revelation, has continued unabated all down the ages...This combat rages fiercely even today, aided and abetted by well-known secret sects, Satanic groups and New Age movements, to mention but a few, and reveals many ugly heads of the hideous anti-God monster:
You have to wonder what this guy is on. Clearly all the struggles with the Satanists, secret societies and New Agers have got to him. Anyway, what are the visible manifestations of this hydra-like "hideous anti-God monster"? Dias knows:
among them are notoriously secularism, which seeks to build a Godless society; spiritual indifference, which is insensitive to transcendental values; and relativism, which is contrary to the permanent tenets of the Gospel. All of these seek to efface any reference to God or to things supernatural, and to supplant it with mundane values and behaviour patterns which purposely ignore the transcendental and the divine.
Far from satisfying the deep yearnings of the human heart, they foster a culture of death, be it physical or moral, spiritual or psychological. Examples of this culture are abortions (or the slaughter of innocent unborn children), divorces (which kill sacred marriage bonds blessed by God), materialism and moral aberrations (which suffocate the joy of living and lead often to profound psychic depression), economic, social and political injustices (which crush human rights), violence, suicides, murders, and the like, all of which abound today and militate against the mind of Christ.
He doesn't go into detail about the "moral aberrations"; perhaps he has in mind the long, tragic history of sexually abusive priests in his church, but somehow I doubt it. He goes on to complain that "many answers being proposed in our post-modern world have become disconnected from authoritative sources of moral reasoning". By "authoritative sources", he might mean the Bible, a more-or-less random assortment of ancient texts thrown together a couple of thousand years ago and bizarrely declared to be divinely inspired. Or perhaps he means his own infallible pontiff, currently the red-shoed wonder. Whatever.
Europe, he says, is "increasingly becoming distanced from its Christian traditions and roots", leading to "a context of moral confusion". This is a common whine of church leaders, often supported by Eeyorish commentators of the Peter Hitchens variety. It's arguable that the loss of widespread acceptance of religious dogma has left some people confused and spiritually adrift. But the idea that secularism entails immorality or nihilism is, frankly, rubbish. Secularism is about creating a neutral public space. Whether society is godless (like Britain) or religious (like the USA) should not be a matter of state diktat.
The cardinal is of course entitled to lament the end of the power and wealth his church enjoyed in the days when its rules were enforced by the officers of the state. But it is questionable whether those centuries were any happier, richer, or more moral. There were, in the days of mass religious observance, still wars, still greed and exploitation, still murders, still prostitution - and, yes, still abortion, except that women in desperate circumstances were forced into the arms of back-street abortionists and well-meaning Vera Drakes who occasionally ended up butchering them with knitting needles. The last two countries in Europe where Catholicism held sway were Franco's Spain and the Ireland of the Magdalen laundries. And possibly Poland, where the Church for a time offered a point of resistance to Communism. Somebody had to. It's noticeable, however, that as Poland loses sight of that dark past and embraces prosperity and freedom the Church is losing congregations faster than you can say Kyrie Eleison.
The decline in European religiosity hasn't produced the end of civilisation as we know it. But it has led to a crisis of confidence in church leaders. They respond to it in various ways. The Anglican answer is to tie themselves up in philosophical knots or fall apart in mutual recrimination as they desperately try to be "relevant" to a modern world that is not so much antagonistic as uninterested. The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, is truer to its traditions and is thus both more respected and more reviled. The price its leaders have paid, if Cardinal Dias's strange outburst is any guide, is to go stark, raving bonkers.
Though Ratzo v. the Hideous Anti-God Monster would probably make a good all-action cartoon film.