Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Bishop of London, Iain Dale, and the Community

Like Iain Dale, I frequently despair for the Church of England. It seems to have lost the moral clarity that is necessary for it to offer true guidance. Of course, this is partially down to the fact that it is a state religion, and the whittling away of the royal prerogative means that elected politicians, rather than clergymen, play too great a role in deciding the upper echelons of the Church. It also needs to stop beating itself up over the issue of homosexuality - the sooner the Church realises that it can have a far greater impact on the world through encouragement rather than fire and brimstone, the better.

Nevertheless, Dale misses the point when he criticises Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London (who, remember, was too traditional to be acceptable as the Archbishop of Canterbury), for saying that flying is a sin.

I could scarcely believe what I was reading on the front page of the Sunday Times today. IT'S A SIN TO FLY SAYS CHURCH. Now I think I've got a good grip on the definition of sinning (no comments please!), but I can't see where in the bible it mentions air travel, or driving an Audi (as I do), being in need of repentance. The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres disagrees...

The crucial message of the Bible, surely, comes through the commandment of Jesus that you should do unto others as you would have done unto you. In other words, the crucial objective of a good Christian is to behave decently towards others. That in itself requires working in the community to make it a better place. For all that the truths of God are meant to be absolute, we cannot divine the true nature of their meaning as humans - we can only do our best to approximate. The greatest way for man to have a beneficial impact on Earth, however, must surely be to work within the community to make it a better place.

Now, the question then comes as to what sort of impact actions such as driving a gas-guzzling car or a trans-Atlantic flight has on the environment. If you do believe that they have a negative impact on the environment that will lead to humanitarian catastrophe in the future, then it is a tremendously selfish act to continue to use them - and, indeed, a symptom of sin. That, of course, is a matter of interpretation. But if the Bishop of London believes in the negative impact of these, then he is surely well within his rights to issue sermons on the subject?

Why, then, is it a symptom of sin? Because if you believe it causes irreversible damage to the planet, but continue to act in such a way, then you're placing your own convenience ahead of the needs of the community, both in the present and in the future. In the present, because you're unnecessarily using up resources; for the future because of the damage you will cause. Putting the interests of yourself above the interests of community is precisely the sort of selfishness and materialism that leads to a breakdown in society. Being a good Christian is not just about a personal relationship with God, it's about living your life to make a difference to your community.

Dale may disagree about the effects of his Audi on the environment, but that doesn't mean that Chartres is bowing to political correctness.