Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Good morning. An article in this morning’s Economist speculates what role the Church of England will play if we have another depression like that of the 1930’s. Would it have the moral authority to play a key role? For it is sometimes suggested that church leaders, including bishops now seem to speak more about social policy than they do about God, and for that reason they have lost their distinctive authority. There are two responses to this, one short, the other more nuanced. The short response is that when the state determines so much of our lives, as it does now, how can we love our neighbour without considering the effect government policies will have, for good or ill, on them? Of course Church leaders have to consider the effects of policy, not least on the most vulnerable.

But what about speaking more publicly about God? That requires a more nuanced answer. First, culturally the English are very shy about bringing religion into public discussion-in contrast to America of course where it is taken for granted, if not required. That shyness has roots in real religion. Some forms of Judaism for example refuse to even write or use the name of the Holy One for that very reason. As the poet W.H.Auden put it “Truth, like Orthodoxy, is a reticence”. The other reason for this apparent reluctance to use religious language in public utterance, as opposed to in Church is that religious words have been so overused, abused or seem lacking incredibility that they either fail to resonate, or even alienate.

This is not a new situation. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison for his part in the plot to assassinate Hitler he wrote a remarkable series of letters, one of which was to a young person about to be baptised. In it he said that the great Christian words “have become so problematical and so remote that we hardly date speak of them.” But he went on to affirm that “the day will come when men will be called again to utter the word of God with such power as will change and renew the world…Until then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time.”

So a certain reticence, far from being an abandonment of faith, can be an expression of its profundity. Meanwhile, that doing right to which Bonhoeffer refers, includes both personal behaviour and public policy.

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