Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Times: Churchgoing isn't always religious

[...] Britain is still a Christian landscape, dotted with spires. It is still a place of Christian ritual, where people go to churches to mark marriages and deaths. It still has some heroic pastors who help people cope through terrible times. These things are part of the fabric, but they are strangely absent from much of the debate about national identity.

I had not thought much about all of this until five years ago. My first child was a year old and my mother, who had always been a militant atheist, suggested I should start taking him to church. She thought he should “have the option” of being part of a religious tradition. I was stunned. My parents had reacted with detached amusement when I had flirted with churchgoing at the age of 13, a brief period that ended with my deciding that I could not be confirmed, because God would know that I didn't really believe the words I would have to speak. The vicar, I think, was floored by my pagan levels of superstition. My father, whose own father was a vicar, still sees religion primarily as device by which elites exercise power over the people. And I am inclined to agree.

Nevertheless, my mother had hit on something. I dutifully explored various churches. The first surprise was how much my son enjoyed the ritual, the kindness. The next surprise was how deeply the rhythm and the language resonated with me. The writers and composers of the best religious works can still sharpen the senses and infuse the spirit like nothing else. The hymns that we sang at school, the cadences of Bible stories, are part of my identity. What other identity can I have?

I have not sent my boy to a church school, but to a school that has hymns in assembly, as well as plenty of acknowledgement of other religions. If I don't expose him to that canon, what other can he have? Read more
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