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'Most churchgoers are liberals trying to find meaning in life'


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Dec 10, 2011, 2:48am Top

Chris Bryant: As a vicar I found that most churchgoers are liberals trying to find meaning in life (Independent)

And in the end there is (was?) something profoundly decent about the Church of England, because contrary to rumour, most churchgoers are not self-righteous hypocrites, but liberal-minded people who are looking for a sense of meaning in their lives.

Dec 10, 2011, 6:57am Top

It's probably as true as any statement made about millions of people that with "in my experience" or "I have found. I think our experiences and observations are inherently biased based on the fact we often end up by folks more like us than those very different from us.

I don't doubt his personal experience, but also don't think it can be applied that widely. I also think folks can be self-righteous hypocrites and liberal-minded people looking for a sense of meaning, depending on the day. Simul justus et peccator

Finally, liberal-minded does not equate to liberal in the political sense. And liberal in the church does not equate liberal in wider society. Although perhaps the two are close in England than in the US.

Dec 10, 2011, 7:21am Top

Well, by definition we can take for granted the average CofE churchgoer is no more liberal than the average CofE churchgoer.

Edited: Dec 11, 2011, 4:25am Top

>2 Madcow299: Of course what you say is true to some extent: my experience is always only my experience, and is necessarily limited. But given the amount of discussion on LT which seems to be predicated on fairly negative stereotypes of Christians (all of which almost certainly exist in somebody's limited experience), I think it's useful from time to time to present the opposite experience and to suggest that it is rather more common than Christianity's detractors apparently suppose.

Edited to add: I think one also has to consider the breadth and depth of someone's experience when weighing its import. An Anglican vicar with direct experience of thousands of Anglican church-goers, who also interacts with dozens of other Anglican vicars who share their own experience of thousands more Anglican church-goers, probably knows more about Anglicanism than, say, a hypothetical Chinese atheist who has never met a Christian. Much of the discussion about Christianity on LT appears to be dominated by US atheists who have particular experiences with a particular brand of US Christianity. Those experiences are of course valid, but they are very limited and are not necessarily representative of Christianity as a whole.

Dec 11, 2011, 9:53pm Top

I think it is a very valid perspective on much of the Church of England (and in my limited experience probably goes for the other British Anglican churches and the Episcopal Church in the US too). People who are not "liberal-minded" in at least some sense either gravitate to smaller subcultures within the CofE (conservative evangelical or conservative high church), or head out for less open denominations, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox.

Dec 12, 2011, 1:46pm Top

I would think that the majority of African or Latin American church goers are far more "liberal" than your average CoE congregant. Liberal in the sense that they believe in divine revelation in the Bible, the miraculous and that the power of God is at work in their lives and in the world in general. I have never understood what is so "liberal" about a Western Christian theology and/or praxis that isn't free to believe in the wonder of revelation.

Dec 12, 2011, 2:59pm Top

In this context, that's a very confusing use of the word "liberal".

Dec 12, 2011, 6:44pm Top

>7 MyopicBookworm:

I agree, but note that most soi-disant "liberal" theologies actually quality as liberal in the idiosyncratic sense put forth in #6. Liberation theology, for example, has a fairly robust notion of revelation, while liberal post-millenialism depends strongly on the notion of God being present within the dialectic of history.

Dec 12, 2011, 7:29pm Top

Historically Liberal Christianity approached Scripture from an academic point of view, and while they may have believed in the miraculous intervention of God, they were often characterized, and still are, as godless.

Edited: Dec 13, 2011, 9:24am Top

>8 cjbanning:: I'd just point out that you don't have to be a post-millenialist to have a strong belief in God's presence within the "dialectic" of history. While the terminology you use derives from Hegel, the idea of God's presence within salvation history surfaces throughout Christian theology. It's called "Geschichtstheologie" or "theology of history", and can be find in its more pessimistic form in Augustine and Tyconius and in more robust, optimistic forms in twelfth-century thinkers like Gerhoch of Reichersberg, Rupert of Deutz, and even Joachim of Fiore. For the arc of thought I'm referring to, see H. D. Rauh's Das Bild des Antichrist im Mittelalter.

I would point out that the current Roman Pontiff did a lot of work in this area early in his academic career. His Habilitationsschrift (kind of like a second dissertation) was on Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, and one can discern the effects of this study in, for example, his essays on Faith and the Future. Well-worth the read to see how daring and reforming his theology might have been had he not taken a hard-conservative turn after taking over the reins of the CDF under Pope John Paul II in the '80s.

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