For whom the bell tolls: Do we really need to know when it’s time for church?

As I slip my feet back undechurch bellsr the duvet, the ghastly Leonie and James seem to be starting another row. I sip my coffee. I’ve been looking forward to this…. CLANG; CLANG; CLANG; CLANG; CLANG..  Oh well.  Now we’re outside the Bull, and Jolene’s trying to organise everyone … CLANG; CLANG; CLANG; CLANG; CLANG. … Leonie’s berating James again.  Seems their aerial photo shoot didn’t go that well. I guess there’s always the iPlayer.

Kemptown’s noisier than Ambridge. People socializing in gardens, car alarms, Brighton Ballroom smokers shrieking drunkenly – and the seagulls! Can’t be helped, though, can it?  Unlike that CLANGING!

The insistent, tuneless racket is not an alarm. There’s no fire, or sinking ship. It’s St George’s call to prayer.

I like Sunday.  No one has to collect rubbish, or sweat in a suit in a glass-fronted Estate Agent’s.  People who do work, and there were always some, have probably chosen to.

And I’ve got nothing against Christians. Well, I’ve got nothing against all Christians.  I’m a caring, spiritual person – I can appreciate that in others.  And I respect anyone’s right to believe, even if I can’t quite respect the beliefs themselves.

When Henry created his Church of England, he was using what power he had to secure his own position. Cultural vandalism wasn’t really a concern. Anglicanism is so nakedly political in origin, little wonder it’s espoused with embarrassment if at all. People with religious motivation, and I won’t deny they are sometimes more frightening, tend to gravitate toward longer-established faiths. So Cameron, happy to drag God into an argument, seems equally keen to distance himself from the sort of nut-case who might, for example, convince himself God’s told him to lie to the electorate so he could resume the Crusades.

Cameron insists we’re ‘a Christian country’. Well, Constantine chose his Christians because they were a tiny, persecuted sect who’d learned to idealise suffering.While the Emperor Dave dismantles the welfare state and re-establishes the divide between haves and have-nots, little wonder his loyal centurions Baroness Warsi and Eric Pickles are keen to distract us with fantasies of religious persecution.

At least the tide seems to have turned somewhat on that argument.  ‘This militant secularism’ as I heard a catholic headmistress describe it on Channel 4, eager to jump on Warsi’s then careening bandwagon, is more often referenced recently as an acknowledged bogeyman, the ‘religious persecution’ pressure groups like “Anglican Mainstream”, like to claim every time someone objects to the public proclamation of their mercifully far from mainstream assertions about homosexuality.

In March BBC Newsround discovered the number of schoolchildren able to recite ‘the Lord’s Prayer’ has dropped by nearly half since 1972.  Religious diversity is increasing, 50% of adults interviewed by the 2010 British Social Attitudes survey unambiguously described themselves as of ‘no religion’, and many raised in a faith are choosing not to impose it on their children. The trend away from faiths in general, and Anglicanism in particular, has been going on for generations.

The 20% of people interviewed by BSA who even identified as ‘Church of England’ were less likely than any other religion to worship regularly. Yet this significant minority is still represented in Parliament by 26 unelected Lords while taxes raised from all of us are used to maintain faith-specific services such as Anglican hospital chaplaincies. Archbishop Carey, apparently exhausted by attempts to convince us all we recognise his moral authority while simultaneously defending every christian’s right to heterosexist bigotry, appears to have wandered off in bewilderment.

No-one really believes there are ‘militant secularists’ feeding British Christians to the lions. Nor, for that matter, are people being herded into gas chambers. They are simply thinking for themselves. Nowhere more so than in Brighton, where we proudly reminisce about the visiting cleric who called us “the most godless city in Britain”.

Now we’ve realized ticking ‘Jedi’ only swells the count of the ‘religious’, it’s reasonable to assume this spiritual maturity will be reflected by the 2010 census, prompting even more demands for the administrative and fiscal anomaly to be addressed. Hence an embarrassing scramble to count Catholics and Muslims among ‘the faithful’, despite having persecuted the former and made war on the latter for centuries. The fat lady is singing – it’s too late to start blaming Richard Dawkins.

It’s not the bells – I don’t mind them striking the hour, if always a minute early.  And I like St George’s. It’s a creche, a cafe, and a village green where hospital workers, retired residents, local mums and shop staff take the air and share a sandwich.

It’s just that invasive, deluded assumption ‘good’ people should be leaving for church, and the rest of us won’t mind being reminded we’re out of step. When’s the last time a Buddhist came ‘round your house and dinged a meditation bell?  OK, it was last week, but I’m willing to bet they weren’t uninvited.

St George’s pews for 1,300 are only ever full at gigs. Most of its sparse and dwindling congregation, scattered across Whitehawk to Roedean, can’t even hear the bells. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to send a group text and leave the rest of us to our godlessness?


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