Mine is bigger than yours

FAITH IS a virtue. The accumulation of beliefs is not. As a competitive adolescent, I marked my progress against others in my peer group by just such a complacent accumulation. Belief in Satan was followed by belief in angels, and then by a belief in the literal, six-day creation, and so on. There was an unofficial list to be ticked off as one climbed the ladder.

Fortunately no one suggested we might become Mormons - believing the unbelievable could then have been taken to still greater heights. Instead we discovered the reverse competitiveness of university's sceptical unbelief. Cynical? Certainly. But the warning is a valuable one, if only because the context changes so frequently and so subtly?

Remember Bishop David Jenkins? He was curiously old-fashioned, and since he hardly ever managed to complete a coherent sentence it was hard to discover what he really meant. But there was (and this explains his popularity) a seriousness and commitment to his vision of belief. The liberal ideal he propounded was to believe only what one could truly believe, and no more.

How times change. Affirmation is now the watchword. Bishop Griswold's post-Kanuga spin (quoted in last month's editorial), the Scott-Joplin report or the House of Bishops' paper on The Eucharist: sacrament of unity are three examples. Anything you believe, I believe, and then some. Here is no intellectual struggling with truth and honesty, but an affirmation of just about everything.

Whatever traditionalists believe, liberals believe as well, and then their own beliefs as well. Apostolic succession and women bishops. The discipline of the Communion and provincial autonomy. Indissoluble lifelong marriage and remarriage on demand. And so on. It sounds too much like my earlier competitive collecting: I am a better Christian than you, because I believe more things than you do.

Quantity rather than quality might be the way to sum it up. The suspicion is that beliefs are being almost deliberately kept shallow in order to reduce areas of disagreement and contradiction, and so encourage the accumulation of them. Bishop bashing? Of course. But the warning is a valuable one.

Are we, as genuine traditionalists, also beguiled by this competition? Do we accumulate traditions in a bid to outflank our opponents? I hope not. But if others can succumb to the temptation, so can we.


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