Magazine article The Spectator

Christian England?

Magazine article The Spectator

Christian England?

Article excerpt

No, says Matthew Parris. Jesus of Nazareth would be appalled by the Catholic Church

Lurching drunkenly away from the table at a dinner party, Dylan Thomas once explained his departure. 'Something's boring me,' he said, 'and I think it's me.' I am an irreconcilable atheist who's beginning to bore himself, banging on all the time about it. Plainly there's no God; but there we are, life goes on and it isn't - for us atheists - the most important thing in the world. So, with your permission, I'm not going to play the hired atheist for the purposes of this debate.

Instead I'd like to mount my case from inside the Christian tradition and, make no mistake, whatever faiths or faithlessness individual citizens may profess, this country - its culture, its jurisprudence, its vast, submerged moral landscape - is firmly and powerfully within the Christian tradition. I love the Christian tradition. It made me. It absorbs me and I've studied it and thought about it all my life. I love and revere the person of Jesus Christ - and, if there can exist a non-theistic meaning to the word 'divine', I consider him divine.

That he was under one immense and central misapprehension - that he was the Son of God - cannot, for me, disable the transfiguring energy - and stinging severity - of Jesus's teachings: about love; about human charity; about equality; and about the primacy of each individual's personal response to the universe.

Jesus tells us, every one, to cast off fear and superstition, to turn away from wealth and status and authority; to turn away from rule-based theology, and the High Priests and the Pharisees; to turn away from human mediation; to lift up our heads to the stars;

and to be unafraid.

The Roman Catholic Church tells us to bow our heads, to take orders, to follow form, and to be afraid. Rome stands between the individual and the light, blocking the light.

I tell you how we know that about 2,000 years ago a man called Jesus of Nazareth did exist, did attract disciples, did inspire devotion, and did teach much of what we read in the Gospels today. We know it because if Jesus had not existed, the Catholic Church would not have invented him. The Jesus who takes shape in the New Testament is sharply different from the Christ it would have suited the Church to invent.

Jesus of Nazareth is a colossal embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

To all the pomp and circumstance, to the chanting and ring-kissing, to the rosary beads, and indulgences, and prayer by rote, to the caskets and relics and the reverencing of inanimate objects, the idolatry and the mumbo-jumbo, Jesus of Nazareth represents a permanent reproach.

There he stands, in all his simplicity: a man contemptuous of finery and wealth, scornful of hierarchy, and utterly careless of bricks, stones, mortar and stained glass;

a man whose attitude towards silver and gold - towards display of every sort - it is impossible to mistake. There he stands:

a man who never uttered a recorded word about sex, about contraception, about abortion, about homosexuality - or indeed about family at all: never a word, except to say that he had come to tear families apart.

There he stands, this Jesus of Nazareth, a man whose attire nobody even noticed, who never spoke a word, so far as we know, about religious art, religious music, religious architecture or religious form; and whose only, single reference to beauty is to the beauty of a lily.

There he stands, this man whose innocent remark about breaking bread in remembrance of him has been twisted almost beyond what meaning will bear into a holy ritual whose licensed enactment has been made to underwrite the entire currency of priestly authority. …

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