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February 11, 2005

Peter Mullen vs. A. N. Wilson

Posted by Peter Mullen

Before Christmas I was honoured to have been singled out as among "the usual suspects" by A. N. Wilson in The Spectator for my criticisms of the Archbishop of Canterbury ("Holy Sage", The Spectator, 18th December 2004). But I had then criticised Dr Williams's utterances only twice: first when he said that the West should not respond militarily to terrorist attacks and secondly when he declared that his faith had been shaken by the murder of children at Beslan. I thought the Archbishop's opinions about the war on terrorism naïve and sentimental; and his reaction to Beslan theologically inadequate. I have since criticised the Archbishop for saying that the Indian Ocean Tsunami had also shaken his faith.

A.N.Wilson is fond of name-calling, but he has a long way to go before he can match Lord Habgood who once described the traditionalist Archdeacon George Austin as,

"…like the Fat Boy in Pickwick Papers who makes your flesh creep".
In similar vein, I must say the Archbishop of Canterbury always reminds me of the Circumlocution Officer.

Anyhow, Wilson is welcome to his own very public agnostical agonising – an agony which, I suspect, becomes rather less agonising but certainly ever more public as the years go by. But he is wrong when he says that those who believe basic Christianity

"are a tiny minority of the population of this planet"
and when he goes on to say that traditional believers might as well admit the game is up and resign. In fact traditional Christianity is thriving worldwide. It is strong in the USA of course where, to the chagrin of bien pensants like Wilson, Christians won a second term for a conservative Christian President. The faith is burgeoning in Central and South America too where Pentecostal Christianity and the conservative morality that goes with it is reclaiming millions of drug addicts, restoring decent community life and consequently improving the living standards of the population.

African Christianity is now doing so well that it sends missionaries to Britain to preach the gospel to the generation of apostates and ideological liberals such as Wilson who have abandoned it. It was the traditional Catholics in Poland and other Soviet satellites who did much to throw off the dehumanising totalitarianism of the Communist evil empire. In short, Christianity is alive and well wherever it is being celebrated, preached and practised according to the traditional model. Catholics who use the Latin Mass and Anglicans who have stuck to The Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible report well-attended services. The Orthodox, who have not much altered their liturgy since AD 1054, are thriving.

In truth, Christianity everywhere is enjoying a big revival. It is only in northern Europe with its post-Enlightenment ragbag of liberalism, pluralism, secularism and political-correctness that the churches stand empty. In other words, it is precisely the modernising, debunking, snobbish and patronising attitudes of clever people like A.N.Wilson which has done so much to remove the historic faith from the cultural landscape of England.

The modernisers among the bishops and in the General Synod have dominated the English church these last forty years and all but destroyed it. They have denied or distorted every cardinal doctrine of the faith. The Resurrection of Our Lord has been reduced to a subjective feeling of cheered-upness among the disciples. The Virgin Birth has been dismissed as a mistaken reading of the Book of Isaiah. They have swallowed whole the notion of secularisation and adopted as their keynote the words of the demythologising theologian Rudolf Bultmann:

"You can't believe the miracles and the Resurrection in an age of electric light and the wireless".
Why not?

As I have discussed previously, the leading group of modernisers, called Affirming Catholics actually affirms nothing as a recent survey revealed that many of its members disbelieve the Incarnation and the Resurrection, while the doctrine of Original Sin merely offends their refined sensitivities.

These "liberals", as they like to be called, who constitute the hierarchy detest the Christian past and dismiss our forefathers in the faith as "primitive". Really they are old-fashioned Whigs in new Guardianista clothing - apostles of the discredited doctrine of "progress". And God help anyone who stands in the way of these ecclesiastical totalitarians as they bully conservative clergymen and steamroller traditional parishes into adopting their puerile new versions of the Bible and their trashy modern liturgies. Their aim, largely accomplished, is to remove entirely from use at public worship The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. As the then Bishop of Birmingham, Mark Santer, once wrote to me,

"I don't have any Prayer Book enclaves in my diocese".

Roll up, roll up to see all the formative articles of the faith denied! Original Sin, along with "the devil and all his works" obliterated from the Baptism Service. And in the progressive hierarchy's long march to the sunlit uplands there is no hint of the frailty of human nature. But if there is no sin, what was Christ's death for? The Marriage is no longer

"a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication"
but a debased rite in which the priest prays,
"Let them be tender with each other's dreams".
There ought to be a rubric in the margin at this point: The congregation shall now throw up: bride's family's side first.

The six magical words of one syllable which go back as far as Chaucer

"With this ring I thee wed"
done away and replaced (to make the meaning simpler?) with eleven words,
"I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage".
This is a piece of idiocy which I would have thought beneath invention even by the morons on the Liturgical Commission. Don't they see that if the groom has to tell his bride that the ring is a sign, it means that the sign isn't working? All the earthy and rooted bits in the Funeral – "worms", "vile bodies" etc – abolished. But if they are too squeamish to mention the reality of death, why should we believe them when they pretend to speak of the resurrection from the dead?

The hierarchy launched their Alternative Service Book in 1980 under the slogan:

"The greatest publishing event in 400 years".
Twenty years later they banned it. Yes, banned it. A funny operation, book burning for "liberals". Its replacement Common Worship is even worse. This is the book in which those most solemn words at the consecration,
"In the same night that he was betrayed"
can be omitted and replaced with
"He had supper with his friends".

The result of all this iconoclasm is that people have voted with their feet and the congregations have diminished spectacularly. Where they have not diminished but increased and thrived is precisely in those churches so despised by A.N.Wilson: the Bible-based evangelicals and the traditional anglocatholics and high church. I must say that one of the great joys among traditional believers these days is the spectacle we can now enjoy of the liberal hierarchy's Pyrrhic victory. At last there they sit in full control of the Church of England – except that the only meaningful parts of the church have gone their own ways, leaving the liberal bullies with no one to boss about.

I do not write about these matters as an amateur or dilettante, lately stumbled on to the derelict ecclesiastical landscape. I have been a priest for 35 years and watched the tyranny of apostates in high places and I know that people do not want a pale, euphemistic religion in which the gospel is reduced to a metaphor for the social policies of the soft Left. But they will come to church to be moved and stirred by words that are worth their weight in glory and to hear sound teaching.

People are coming into our St Michael's in increasing numbers, and even more so since we announced our Campaign for Real Religion. If A.N. Wilson will stop turning down my invitations to him to come and preach for us, he will be assured of a warm and not uncritical welcome.

Rev'd Dr Peter Mullen is Rector of St Michael's, Cornhill & Chaplain to the Stock Exchange.


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> Anyhow, Wilson is welcome to his own very public agnostical agonising – an agony which, I suspect, becomes rather less agonising but certainly ever more public as the years go by.

Yes. It does make Mr Wilson rather ridiculous. It's many years since I went to church, but I respect those who do, and I don't feel the need to keep raking the whole business over. A. N. Wlison never stops doing so.

And he has got a problem with an urge to "call names". He used his column in the Daily Telegraph the other day to attack another Spectator writer in a most acid, unpleasant, and effeminate way. He evidently allowed himself to forget that most readers would be unaware of the feud between him and his fellow contributor and, had they known, would not have cared either.

If he doesn't believe in God, why is it so important to him to defend the Archbishop of Canterbury's theology - whatever that may be?

As for the archbishop, I think one has to conclude that he is nowhere near as smart as he thinks he is. He impresses those who think that if they can't understand an utterance it must be deep. This seems to be what his reputation is built on. However, if one looks at what he says closely and tries to get some paraphrasable sense out of it, one finds that, as often as not, it is a gossamer web of confusion. It's like "management speak" - buzz words; words chosen for their associations not for their sense.

This is not what good writing is like at all. Really intelligent writers are pellucid, and if one can't understand one knows it is one's own fault not the writer's. Compare Hobbes or Hume. Nor is it that Dr Williams is "bright' but unable to express himself, as the Daily Telegraph rather kindly but rather lamely once concluded. There is no gulf between what one thinks and the language in which the thoughts are expressed. As Nietzsche remarked, if you want to write better, you must think better.

Posted by: Damian at February 11, 2005 06:01 PM
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While I agree with Dr Mullen in most of what he says - particularly in regard to A.N.Wilson, that fox who has lost his tail and wants others to cut off theirs also - methinks he goes too far in castigating the Whigs. The Church of England has, since its beginning, tended to lose credit among the people by being too closely associated with the secular authorities, including a none-too popular bunch of Scottish rulers (I am talking about the 17th Century, of course).

God is not an Englishman, and He is neither Tory nor Whig. Certamente, no soy Guardianista, but while the Telegraferos show much sense in matters civic, economic, and politic, I don’t find them a particularly godly lot either.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at February 13, 2005 08:59 PM
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This is an excellent article, and its implied Whig-bashing is not least amongst its merits. Please, can we hear more of this?

Posted by: Bunny Smedley at February 14, 2005 10:03 PM
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What a superb article - A. N. Wilson reflects just the type of sneering opinion toward religion which is so widespread among the intelligentsia. This is a pity since some of his other is so excellent. Peter Mullen is an excellent voice on religion - he stands up to traditional belief and is a resolute opponent both of liberalism in the church and vacuous so-called evangelical happy-clappydom.

Posted by: Jim Donaldson at February 18, 2005 12:27 PM
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In truth, Christianity everywhere is enjoying a big revival. It is only in northern Europe with its post-Enlightenment ragbag of liberalism, pluralism, secularism and political-correctness that the churches stand empty.

Physician, heal thyself. The concept of a "Christianity" encompassing anything from Orthodoxy to Pentecostalism is highly liberal. And how much effort has the politically incorrect, anti-pluralist Mr Mullen put into filling churches with converted Muslims and denouncing Islam as a false religion? Or does he, in typical liberal fashion, put expediency and avoidance of offence before truth and salvation?

In short, Christianity is alive and well wherever it is being celebrated, preached and practised according to the traditional model. Catholics who use the Latin Mass...

would not accept that the Church of England is part of authentic "Christianity".

They have denied or distorted every cardinal doctrine of the faith.

Exactly the accusation "Latin Mass" Catholics would level at any Anglican.

I must say that one of the great joys among traditional believers these days is the spectacle we can now enjoy of the liberal hierarchy's Pyrrhic victory.

Anglicanism as football match. To describe such a spectacle as a "great joy" is literally devilish.

These "liberals", as they like to be called, who constitute the hierarchy detest the Christian past and dismiss our forefathers in the faith as "primitive".

Do you seriously imagine our forefathers in the faith would have found your version of that faith acceptable? If you do, you are either highly ignorant or wholly without imagination.

...even more so since we announced our Campaign for Real Religion...

À la the Campaign for Real Ale. Christianity — it's the Real Thing. And you have the gall to criticize the modernists for the trashiness of their language and their surrender to consumerist and secular values. It's no better if you're joking.

...comments are subject to staff approval and therefore will not appear immediately on site.

If this is not approved, you are certainly liberal.

Posted by: Naxos at September 17, 2005 06:48 PM
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