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Bishop of London: 'Religion can be dangerous'

Bishop of London: 'Religion can be dangerous'

By Ruth Gledhill
Sept. 23, 2014

Society has forgotten how "dangerous" religion can be, the third most senior bishop in the Church of England has warned. At the same time he laments that religion in the West has become "feeble".

Bishop of London Richard Chartres, who in terms of church growth and evangelism heads one of the most successful Anglican dioceses worldwide, said religion is thought of as "a minority leisure pursuit -- another cup of tea, Vicar."

He laments that the spiritual culture of the West is impoverished and primitive. "People find it extraordinarily difficult to be serious about angels or discarnate energies."

He does not mention Islamic State or other contemporary terror movements apparently motivated by fundamentalist religious belief. Instead, he says: "To remember how dangerous it can be, you have to go back to before religion became obstinately metaphysical, to the Civil War, when the streets around here were filled with Levellers and Fifth Monarchists and other fanatics, who had caused a social revolution."

The interview was published at the end of July but the bishop's views achieved national prominence after a news story about it was published in The Independent this week.

Speaking to Jules Evans of the Philosophy for Life blog, he cites St Paul's Cathedral as architect Christopher Wren's answer to religious enthusiasm -- "God as a mathematician rather than the terrifying arbitrary God of the Civil War."

The historic "occlusion" of the Holy Spirit in the West turned God into nothing more than an idea, he says. "It's a very modern tragedy that religion has become ideas in the mind. That's why western religion is so feeble."

He concedes that in some areas this is being reversed. In his own diocese, the charismatic wing has not left to form a rival sect but is "revivifying" the Church from within.

He warns that God can very often be a projection of an individual's anger and other unacknowledged psychic material.

"You can see it very clearly: the God which causes people to smite and slay. Sane religious cultures which have lasted for a very long time have discerned that the real fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace and various other things. They certainly aren't homicidal impulses," he adds.

The Church needs huge reform, rather than the "fidgeting" of the last 50 years, he adds. He bewails the "fidgeting about structures and regulations, about the ministry, about this that and the other, and being a dull echo of the secular consensus."

Bishop Chartres, who does not ordain women priests and who is from the Church's catholic wing, argues that the real trouble with the Church is not that it has retrograde social attitudes, or hasn't embraced the emancipation of women, but that it's not credible spiritually.

"It's just as shallow as the rest of us. That's the real truth, and that's why people are fascinated by other ways which have remained less disturbed by the gospel that really grips this society, which is that there should be no constraint on individual consumer choice in goods or morals. That's the very opposite of the truth. Autonomy is the story of the fall, not redemption. The church has accommodated itself so much, and is so lacking in distinction," he warns.

"Spiritual But Not Religious is a new upper middle class religion. You take a bonne bouche of Sufism, season it with Californian Buddhism. It's delightful. And your deity of course is your taste. There is no genuine spiritual progress without committing yourself to a way."


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