Back to the Future - Church and Culture

The rector of St. Chad's, the Revd Robert Bull, presented the society with the kind of talk that we seldom have a chance to enjoy at Open Meetings; a talk that reviewed our world through its basic principles under the general heading of 'Church and Culture'.

In this he saw that there was a fundamental conflict of a 'pre-modern' church in opposition to a 'post-modern' world; thence the title of the talk being "Back to the Future", derived from the well-known 80s film of that name. Not that he was advocating any sort of cultural nostalgia, rather that the pre-modern should be a vehicle to enrich this (allegedly) post-modern age.

Much of Mr. Bull's thinking sprung fro the very recent visit of Pope Benedict and his notions of the effect of 'Aggressive Secularism' on society's well-being with its contention that the individual can exist perfectly well without the input of 'faith'. This view was having a very profound effect on the structure of society, how it used its time on Sundays in particular, without regard to the heritage bestowed on us by the church. It had changed our choice of activities making religious observance but one of many options. Religion had been effectively 'privatised' and was lost amongst many other activities. Anyway the secular mindset will see that the church will indeed vanish as people are now tone deaf to dogmas according to some proponents.

Notwithstanding all this Mr Bull insisted that the sacred still existed [as did spiritual awareness] and had to 'mutate' as the secular world had mutated; Mr Bull used the term 'Transformational Learning' for the way organised religion must reach out to the world. Religion was still a very hot topic as the Pope's visit had demonstrated and must be focussed around stabilising society and reinforcing a sense of well-being. This had both a personal and a social context "Living well together to make a difference for the better than if we had never lived at all". There was the effect of Taise particularly with the young and the discipline of the Rule of St. Benedict to effect this 'living well'. Individuals still had a quest for meaning within its changing landscape - can the Church engage with this? Religion must learn to live together with the community and bestow on it both stability and content.

An hour long question time followed in which matters as far apart as the effect of Sunday trading, church schools, the effect of affluence, translations of the Bible (too many), inter church relations and medieval religion all played a part.

Mr Bull certainly demonstrated in his case that the church certainly hadn't lost its intellectual rigour but it was certainly a talk that could well need a follow-up so that its implications could be clothed in both local and practical terms.

Transforming Society in reality is the real rub. Am I alone in thinking that few can do it in a beneficial and positive way? The world is littered with the ruins of well intended schemes but we must carry on trying - hope springs eternal - unless of course you happen to meet a grizzly bear! [the only joke of the evening!].

Alan Thompson
September 2010