Cuddly church…

…and the death of community

Earlier this week Mariella Frostrup responded to a truly desperate letter from an overstretched working mother. Working 60 hours each week and caring for a two-year old in her ‘spare’ time, she wondered whether church might be any help despite the fact that she doesn’t believe in God? Some of Mariella’s comments are uncomfortably honest:

Only a truly desperate creature would contemplate embracing a religion they don’t believe in just to get some respite from their daily life.

Some are cynical:

 I’d nod in acquiescence to a mythical life in the hereafter in return for some peace and quiet in the here and now.

Others perfectly combine the naive and the patronising:

The songs and solace offered by the church have taken on a compelling new allure. Led by kindly, cuddly, old-world characters like Rowan Williams who you suspect, given 10 minutes audience, would really understand your problems.

Nobody could argue with her depiction of the death of community though, nor the fact that in our insanely busy lives we need it more rather than less. My issue is more with the way that she portrays the church as a kind of anaesthetic for the pain of community separation. She seems to feel that some time off from the chores of home and work, together with a blast of enthusiastic hymn-singing is good enough no matter what you believe. Surely there is more to it than that?

Surely, too, the church described by Frostrup as a ‘real-life’ community can offer a lot outside the hymn-singing arena?  In the course of an average week in the church where I am writing this people come in to read books, play with their children, exercise at zumba or pilates, give blood, check their homework and more besides. To be a community church is a description of mission, not location.

Last word goes to Mariella Frostrup, though with this delicious piece of irony:

Church seems as good a place as any to start your search for salvation!

Teddington Baptist Church - a mosaic of people

5 thoughts on “Cuddly church…

  1. Your analysis is spot on Richard.

    Mariella Frostrup states in the article that she is in the Dawkins/Christopher Hitchings camp when it comes to religion, so I can understand her depiction of church as an escape from a difficult reality and even admire her honesty in saying that church has something to offer.

    What I can’t really understand is why various Christians I know have posted links to this article as if Mariella Frostup’s opinion is some kind of accolade! As you say, it comes across as rather patronising to those of us who think Christianity is more than a social construct.

    It’s good that Mariella Frostrup, as an atheist, is honest enough to say that church has something to offer but that reflects well off her for being open minded enough to say it’s worth try rather than off the church!

  2. That’s funny… I read Mariella on Sunday and thought it was a remarkably positive article from someone owning the Dawkins/Hitchings camp! There’s plenty to criticise, of course, but she’s an outsider to church culture, so why should she get it right? And given the fad for the “new atheism” it strikes me as remarkable that she doesn’t say “pull yourself together and try yoga instead”.
    I quite agree that a dose of church as anaesthetic isn’t anything like enough… but I am very interested indded to see someone like Mariella saying that it might be something.
    Or perhaps I’m too grateful for small crumbs, feeling as if we are unrelentingly battered by press and public opinion (often deservedly)…

    • Hard to know quite how to read it, isn’t it. She doesn’t ‘slam’ the church, for which I am grateful – but then again it is also pretty patronising. I wonder what the letter-writer decided to do?

  3. To be honest I do think as Christians we are too grateful for small crumbs.

    I really like Mariella Frostrup, the only time I’ve seen her in real life (at the filming of a TV programme she was in) she came across as a very decent person.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think as a non-Christian it’s fine for her to offer her own interpretation of what church is about. I just don’t think we should be posting the link to it uncritically is if this is what WE think church is about as well.

    Lots of people start going to church for similar reasons, and if you subscribe to the ‘belonging before believing’ model of evangelism then of course anything that gets more people into church has to be good.

    I happen to think that reliance on this model has resulted in many churches developing a client/provider model that creates a self perpetuating ‘club’ where the development of discipleship and mission are actively resisted.

    That’s why I’m not very keen on settling for the cuddly, non challenging model of church presented by Mariella Frostrup.