It was, according to the roaring headline on journalist Melanie McDonagh’s column in The Times of London, “an assault on Christianity.” Good Lord, could it be the horrific massacre of Christians in Nigeria, or the banning of church worship in some cruel atheist dictatorship? No, thank goodness not. It was the London School of Economics renaming the Lent term “Winter”, the Easter break “Spring”, and so on. Seriously? I mean, seriously? Yes indeed.
As the great G.K. Chesterton once said, “Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is dead’ to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive.”
Actually, we’re allowed to say pretty much whatever we want on this subject and most others, and the faith given to the world by a first-century Jewish messiah based on a permanent revolution of love, justice, and inclusion is unlikely to be smashed by an innocuous evolution of language at an esteemed British university.
In fact, it’s somewhat irrelevant. Perhaps slightly gratuitous but entirely understandable in a nation, and a university, that is increasingly post-Christian. Oxford and Cambridge maintain their Christian nomenclature, but then the colleges were often founded as monastic institutions, and one of them is a cathedral! If you doubt me, I went back there for morning Mass just a few months ago.
This over-reaction came the same week that some in the Church of England commemorated, as they do each January 30th, the 1649 execution of King Charles I. He is revered by these High Church stalwarts as a “saint and martyr” when in fact he was one of the least competent and most reckless monarchs in British history. Offered a stunningly generous peace offer by his Puritan opponents, Charles instead forced a second civil war that led to thousands of deaths. Neither as wise as his father nor as tolerant as his son, Charles was more sinner than sinned against. Yet still the cult continues with those who like their Christianity wrapped in patriotism and pomp, and sealed with a nice bow of nostalgia.
And nostalgia is what McDonagh’s objections are largely about. England, though not Britain, may have an established church, but it hasn’t been a Christian nation in some time. The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) findings show that more people in England and Wales under the age of 40 describe themselves as having “no religion”, rather than being Christian, the first time that’s ever happened. Those numbers are likely to increase in years to come, and the situation is very similar in Canada.
Appearances, of course, can be deceptive. Cathedrals and splendid churches pepper the British landscape, archbishops are often featured on the news and are in the House of Lords, and respected institutions use, or did use, medieval Christian terminology to divide their years. Churches, however, often struggle to keep their doors open, and cathedrals are more popular with tourists than worshippers. It’s tragic, but true.
Christianity is in essence a personality cult, the personality in question being an itinerant preacher who, I believe, was also the Son of God. His appeal is not in what he wanted to preserve, but in what he insisted on changing. To “assault” him would be to ignore his startlingly refreshing teaching, and that has nothing at all to do with how terms are named. Or, for that matter, with 17th-century monarchs who really should have known better.