The Church is a body primarily interested in self-preservation. To promote this end it makes its faithful profess belief in it, after the Holy Trinity, of course, every so often. Secondly the Church is interested in money and in conjunction with that, thirdly, in politics.
It also looks after the sick and the poor, because such has been its image for a long time. Institutions have to live up to their image in order to be widely accepted and respected.
The Church believes in guiding people and in telling them what to do and who to vote for in the case of elections, for example, or referendums. It tells people what to spend their money on, Church supported projects, for example, and threatens to punish disobedience with the means at its disposal.
The punishments have varied from century to century in keeping with the respective spirit of the times, I imagine, from a downright physical nature, ranging from tortures of all kinds to extinction by fire which had the inconvenience of producing an unpleasant smell, to mere spiritual ones which in our more sensitive times are just as effective, for who would like to be threatened with eternal fire of varying intensity depending on the degree of disobedience? Who would forgo eternal pleasures, if all one has to do is do as one is told?
Doesn’t the Church promise to lead everyone who believes in it to a safe place ?
Of course, there are small interior differences of opinion, perfectly human. Some like it high, some low. Heaven is high, I suppose, why not aspire to it on Earth? Low, on the other hand, stands for humility … People can choose what they like, suit themselves according to their temperaments. Some like it colourful and festive, to the honour of God, needless to say. Others prefer it plain, also to the honour of God. Some believe in the power of praying, success being commensurate with the effort deployed presumably, and really drive it home to the addressee envisaged. Others pray only in distress, thus confirming a popular proverb.
Prayers can deal with all sorts of subjects. The faithful know they can tell Him anything at all. They can praise Him, thank Him, ask Him for help, the latter probably being the most popular motivation. The Church assures them that He will lend His ear to everyone and if our prayers aren’t answered, one should never give up. Maybe one has to accept in the long run that one can’t have what one wants, but that is a different matter. It would appear that the posture adopted when praying is of a certain importance. Some like to sit with their head down, eyes closed. Some bend their back considerably at the same time. Others kneel, supporting themselves by resting their elbows on the back of the pew in front of them, their folded hands in an upright position serving as head supports, any long hair coming down on either side. One clergyman told me, this was known as the ‘shampoo position’. Others like to stand erect, or with a stoop as the case might be. The congregation generally follows the officiating clergyman and it seems important for everybody to do the same thing. Obviously nobody would like to stick out.
Some believe in the beneficial effect of crossing themselves, others seem able to do without it. Some believe they’re ingesting human substance, others are happy with a symbolical explanation. Some like holy water, others don’t. Some like their priest to change his top garment several times during the service, others prefer plain black all the way. Some clergy are allowed wives, others housekeepers only. Some people welcome ‘clergywomen’, others are fiercely against them, ‘the reactionary only and they’re bound to die out’, I was told by a progressive clergyman. Maybe this latter problem will be solved by a simple law of economics, that of offer and demand.
As to God’s own nature, male or female, nobody has been able to make a definite statement yet. Until we know, the address may remain ‘Father’ which implies a certain amount of male chauvinism, it is true. However, it is of long standing and from a practical point of view – how can the faithful address Him and what about the Lord’s Prayer? – this would be the easiest solution.
Music is normally considered an asset in divine services. Most churches have at least a piano and the congregation is expected to sing. Not terribly well in some cases, a bit slow, a bit behind the organ, enough to drive a musician to despair, but most people don’t notice it, and we can take comfort from the fact that the addressee will mercifully receive it as part of our worship, a little imperfect, but that is all we can do. In any case, it’s the effort that counts.
The hymns are all in praise of Him, telling Him about our troubles – I thought He knew them anyway?- , about our struggles, about the Church who thanks to His help has managed to survive all these years. In one or two hymns the faithful express their thanks for any help given in their fight against the heretics.
Churches readily welcome cultural events within their walls, music or drama, preferably of a sacred character – ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ seems to be the appropriate, if not the ideal subject -, but they will accept more worldly items like a martial Battle Pavane or some innocent soap opera as performed by members of an outstanding choir. Depending on the priest in charge, there might be an opening or closing prayer, and some blessings with a bit of luck. At the very least there will be a priest around in his working-habit, so as to remind people by the very sight of him where they are.
The sermon is a more or less important part of the service. It usually starts and ends with a praise to Him, the centre part being devoted to a Christian way of life in keeping with the Church’s own teachings in whatever field, some Christians are more flexible in this respect than others. The faithful usually follow the sermon with great interest, eager to learn how they can mend their ways. They can then go home comforted, accompanied by the blessings of the Church.
In some parishes there is a cup of coffee available after service. In one case the faithful could unfortunately not be bothered to join their clergyman in the Parish Room, this room being a little out of the way. To mend this state of affairs, it was decided to propose coffee in the church itself, at the very back. I haven’t heard any more.
The Church is popular on certain family occasions, because it helps to make for a nice, warm, pleasant, jolly, sad, grievous, etc. atmosphere. Also it is a done thing to have the Church on such occasions. Apparently it takes a lot of courage not to have it, a non-church goer, who had to have his wife buried, told me, asking: How do you do these things without the Church ?
There are a few unruly professors of theology and bishops around the country who insist on professing publicly personal opinions on various parts of the dogma. However, as a rule these can be handled well within the framework of the Church. In any case, the Church should be able to accommodate divergent elements, if only to prove that it is as broad-minded as certain rumour has it, prepared to go with the times.
Throughout history, the Church has shown considerable flexibility. It has managed to come to terms with most ruling powers, the most satisfactory state being that Church and ruling power are one. However, even when this is not possible, the Church will prosper under any government that can be called Christian at all. Under governments other than these, the case is a little different in so far as the Church would constitute a rival who could hardly be tolerated. This means that the Church is forced to adapt itself to circumstances, displaying an astonishing amount of flexibility considering its age.
In Christian countries the Church will support a government that will support the Church, that is, will let the Church have its proper place in whatever context is suitable. It has, for example, a prominent place in the military world, and I have seen a photograph of a clergyman splashing holy water on cannons and personnel, thus boosting everybody’s fighting morale.
In a number of countries religious instruction is a compulsory subject at school, giving the Church a chance to at least try and direct young minds the right way.
In one country I know of, the head of the State is at the same time the head of the Church. This strikes me as a good precondition for fruitful cooperation. It is quite significant, for example, that it is the Prime Minister who appoints the bishops. I have not heard about this happening the other way round and it would seem there is scope for development, if only for fairness’ and equality’s sake.
The church has a long tradition of looking after worldly affairs, increasing, like the good servant in the Bible, the pennies entrusted to or acquired by it, turning them into pounds and amassing such wealth throughout the centuries that it can live comfortably on the interest in our present day.
Most people will appreciate this desire for financial independence. In my country the understanding between Church and State is such that the State will raise a tax called ‘Church tax’ from all members on the Church’s behalf. This saves the Church asking for donations and writing thank-you-letters. In return, the Church will oblige the State whenever it can.
My daughter is learning all about the crusades at the moment: under what difficult conditions the brave knights and their followers had to travel, live and fight, the sacrifices they made to conquer the wicked Muslims and liberate the Holy Land. It moves teachers and children alike even nowadays.
There was one crusade not quite as difficult, being in a neighbouring country. Certain heretics had created a flourishing civilization which was threatening to spread, a most undesirable rival reducing the Church’s sphere of influence in an impertinent and unprecedented way, obliging the Church to do away with it while it could. With fire and sword, proven Muslim practice.
In spite of many differences of opinion inside the Church there is general agreement on two basic points : people must be baptized in order to secure membership and people must be made to say at regular intervals that they ‘believe in the … Church’, in order to safeguard its indispensability and justify its existence.
It is true, there is a slight disagreement about the meaning of the adjective preceding ‘Church’. However, this is a small linguistic problem which does not endanger the principle and should not take long to sort out.