Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Why atheists love churches

(Ed: Actually I can never understand it. Still, the article has some interest.)

In the heart of most English towns and villages is a hole. It is filled by a deserted meadow littered with incised stones and a large building, often gloomy, locked and unused except by a tiny fraternity of citizens for a couple of hours a week. Nowadays, most young people have little idea what it is for and many shudder when they pass it.

The English parish church has become the ghost in the machine of local Britain. It must be the ripest plum for a property-hungry government to pick, offering the parochial equivalent of the dissolution of the monasteries. I can hear the Treasury protesting that there are plenty of places for Christian worship, so why waste space on 20,000 underused properties?

Roy Strong, a former director of the V&A, is an Old High Romantic. When Augustine landed in Kent he would have told him to go away as the Celts were perfectly happy. He deplores the Lollards, the Reformation, Puritans, Methodists and all modernisers. In his new book, he sheds copious tears at the loss of smells, bells, relics and icons. His heroes are Pope Innocent III, Bloody Mary, the Catholic recusants and Victorian Anglo-Catholics. Nobody reading this book can doubt his point of departure. But where does he arrive?

My point of departure could hardly be more different. As an atheist of nonconformist sympathies I love churches for what I can see and read in them. Read more
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