The triumph of the cross
by Andrew Gimson, Conservative Home:
Twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, the press provides handsome quantities of space for coverage of the Christian religion. Hard-pressed editors, aware that bad news is more exciting than good, commission pieces about declining congregations at home and the persecution of ancient churches in the Middle East.
This narrative of embattled decline has become embedded. Aggressive secularism and aggressive Islam are coming to get us: if extinction has not yet occurred, it is at least imminent. That is the received idea of Christianity in large parts of the media.
As someone of conservative temperament, I find this pessimism attractive. The politics of cultural despair, the sense that everything is getting worse and it is probably too late to avert disaster, exercises a seductive appeal.
Matthew Arnold conveyed the sense of Christianity in decline when he wrote Dover Beach, in the mid-19th century:
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
A grim message. No one, perhaps, could approach the moral heroism of the poet’s father, Dr Thomas Arnold, creator of Christian gentlemen.
Yet if one takes a wider view, this pessimism becomes one-sided to the point of absurdity. In much of the world, Christianity is growing. Globalisation means access to information, which leads to conversions in places where one would not have expected them.