Great news from The Times, who report an upsurge in support for gay liberation and equality. Yet the article’s headline - ”Church ‘Out of Touch’ as public supports equal rights for homosexuals “- regurgitates an idiotic and irrelevant cliche.
On the question of sex before marriage, homosexuality and a host of other issues, we are constantly told that the church is ‘out of touch’ and needs to modernise. As you might expect, I am an atheist who is absolutely committed to queer liberation. Yet i find such rhetoric about the church pointless and patronising. At a basic, empirical level the church is not ‘out of touch’. That is to say that the church is not unaware of the way in which public opinion has been transformed in the last 20 years.
To suggest that the church is ‘out of touch’ implies an expectation that the behaviour and the teachings of the church should be congruent with the broad sweep of public opinion. Quite where such an idea comes from one can only wonder. Christian churches are organisations that exist to propogate what they consider to be the word of god and christ. Now of course this is open to interpretation – but it would seem fucking obvious that:
a) What christians interpret to be the word of christ will not necessarily cohere with what the mass of people happen to think in England in June 2009
b) That any christian worth his pew would take the former more seriously than the latter when considering how the church should be organised and what it should propogate.
But this is not just about religion. Rather it is about our attitudes towards civil society and to dissent. I am sure I have been in countless organisations that could be described as ”out of touch” with public opinion – in the sense of propagating ideas and values that are deeply at odds with prevailing patterns of thought. The ‘out of touch’ rhetoric deployed against the church implies that the unpopularity of an organisations ideas is in itself an adequate basis for attacking it. It suggests that we should attack dissent for the simple fact that it is dissent.
By all means let us articulate our problems with the Churches, the Synagogues the Tories, the English democrats and whoever, but let us to do so on the basis of our ideas. And let us not, for a second, imagine that our society would be improved if it was not full of organisations – political, religious or otherwise – that were deeply deeply ‘out of touch’. In the age of Blairite politics, and in an era in which the tastes of the urban majority are enforced by hunting bans, and smoking bans and BDSM bans, we need more, not fewer, organisations that refuse to go with the flow.