The death of Christianity has (again) been announced a little prematurely. Here in Stoke Newington, I really enjoy being in a parish with an alternative patron saint (anti-S Richard Dawkins, or maybe the Unblessed A C Grayling). Uncritical devotion to atheism is a refreshing and different sort of fundamentalism to confront, and much less embarrassing (for me personally) than the religious variety. There is quite an amusing irony in being told that religion is the cause of closed minds, violence and world wars – in an aggressive manner, by someone who clearly has not the first idea of what they’re attacking. Being true fundamentalists, questions about the religious affiliations of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pol Pot just bounce off.
Sometimes I feel like it’s those of us who go to church (as least, in this parish), who are the real challengers to fundamentalism. St Mary’s congregation are not inclined to lie supine under the teaching of their parish priest, then rise up and blindly follow his doctrinal instructions. Mostly that’s a relief, though every now and again it would be nice … (no, not really). Stoke Newington has a long tradition of dissent (theological, political, every sort), and it’s alive and well in the conformist old Church of England. Both my curate and myself got challenged about the sermons we preached during Holy Week, in the nicest possible way. The church includes people of almost every possible theological outlook, and personal background. We’re black, white, old, young, QCs and cleaners.
Religion dying off? I don’t think so. And it’s not just the conservative varieties that can attract people, either. We’re growing, slowly but surely, even here in the heartlands of the new atheism. This Easter the church was more full than I remember during my years here, and that’s part of an upward trend. I was amazed, given the double bank holidays weekend, and the number of people I knew were away. Jut as well they were or we might have had trouble fitting everyone in (no, not really, not yet).
Resurrection and hope – if the church is true to its founder, then those two have to be around even when things are tough and there’s not much sign of either. St Mary’s (I’m told) was not in a great state a generation or two ago. But we’re still here, and still hopeful. Christ is risen indeed.