Yes indeed, because this week, to chime with Holy Easter, 'The Speccie' offers two opposite views on the future path for the Christian churches in these modern and increasingly irreligious times. To open the batting, as it were, they have an essay from Rod Dreher, an American journalist who was raised as a Methodist but switched to Roman Catholicism but then, following the paedophile scandal 'over there', he switched again, this time to Eastern Orthodoxy. So, a man well-steeped in religious matters.
In his article, Dreher faces up to the uncomfortable fact that the Christian church is fast becoming irrelevant in the modern world. To be a practicing Christian today is to be part of a small, and shrinking, minority. There is now a very real possibility that Christianity will simply disappear. All the efforts over recent years by Churchmen and women to make their beliefs more acceptable and modern and 'with it' have made no difference:
The collapse of religion in Britain has been perhaps the most striking feature of the last generation. The sheer pace of the decline has been recorded by Damian Thompson in this magazine: church pews are emptying at the rate of 10,000 people per week. In 1983, some 40 per cent of the population declared itself Anglican. Now, it’s 17 per cent. To be a practising Christian in the West now is to belong to a minority.
This is not the first time that this shrinkage has occurred. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the 6th century saw a similar contraction occur and it fell to St. Benedict to offer a solution. He began the monastic movement in which true believers detached themselves from ordinary society and formed their own separate communities in order to follow their precepts and, hopefully, to act as an example to others. The monastic movement spread rapidly all across Europe and provided a base for Christianity when, eventually, the desire for a Christian society returned. Dreher thinks that a similar movement is required now.
True to 'Speccie' principles, an exactly opposite opinion is offered by Matthew Parris who might stand as a primus inter pares example of modern, western man who picks and chooses which bits of Christian belief he is prepared to accept.
Like many atheists, agnostics and searchers, I find myself rather drawn to a church that, however fitfully, seems to be trying to stay open to ideas, differences and influences outside.
He recognises that in certain areas the Church has led the way but that in others it has lagged and dragged but, in any event, he insists that the Church must remain tied to the society in which it exists with each exerting a 'push-me-pull-you' on the other:
Connecting a religion and the culture within which it lives, the metaphor of a length of elastic is illuminating. The two may diverge, but each exerts a pull on the other. In its long, turbulent history, the church has sometimes run ahead of secular culture, sometimes lagged behind. It has a proud record in questions such as the abolition of slavery; in education, welfare and prison reform it has sometimes lit the way. On overseas aid and concern for the homeless, the church has led where secular society first looked away.
On the other hand, the church has had a chronically difficult relationship with the advancement of science, and, in recent centuries, has had to be dragged reluctantly to a recognition that religion is not the seat of learning about the material world. Wherever sex or gender are involved, the church has tended to lag a good few paces behind the rest of society.
You can read both sides of the debate and then, of course, you can take out a subscription to the world's 'oldest and bestest' weekly magazine! I may return to this subject later - you have been warned!