Carey adviser condemns `fast-food religion'

THE ALPHA course, a hugely successful 10-week introduction to Christianity, has been compared to McDonald's by an adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Both the burger chain and the Alpha course have achieved success through franchising, have ambitions to spread throughout the world, have a clear brand identity and have aimed for consistency by simplifying the menu, according to Pete Ward, Dr George Carey's adviser in youth ministry. Borrowing a phrase from the American social historian George Ritzer, who wrote about the "McDonaldization of society", Mr Ward says that Alpha is responsible for the "McDonaldization" of religion.

In an academic paper published this week in the Evangelical journal Anvil, Mr Ward, a lecturer at King's College London, writes: "In short, Alpha has done for evangelism what McDonald's has done for fast food... Convenience, speed of service, fast food, Alpha shares a great deal in common with McDonald's."

While insisting that the analogy is not entirely negative, Mr Ward lists "a number of points for concern", among them that "Christian theology is, to say the least, complex and varied. Alpha tends to flatten this reality. Just as the Big Mac and fries are filling, they are also uniform and bland and, on their own, hardly a wholesome diet. The same could be said of Alpha, if it leads no further than its own version of the faith."

The Alpha course for non-churchgoers began at Holy Trinity Brompton, in Knightsbridge, London, Britain's wealthiest parish, in 1991. In September it was launched nationwide with a pounds 1m advertising campaign. The number of Alpha courses worldwide has grown from four in 1991 to more than 10,500 last year. The Archbishop of Canterbury is known to be a strong supporter of the course, which he has described as "one of the most significant areas of growth during the Decade of Evangelism (the 1990s)".

Mr Ward also notes in his paper that "McDonaldization" is characterised by the exercise of control, something he detects in Alpha. "With worship material, training manuals, cookbooks, and all the other resources made available through the central Alpha organisation, a pattern of not only enabling the local church to do evangelism can be seen to be taking shape, but also a pattern of control," he writes.

He also says that Alpha offers non-churchgoers an experience of the faith that has a measure of unreality. "Membership of a local church, regular Sunday worship and so on, are simply not like Alpha," he writes.

Holy Trinity, Brompton said last night that its members felt Mr Ward's paper was "misconceived". A spokesman said: "There is a certain suggestion that people prefer Alpha to church, but we only encourage them to do the course once. It is nothing more than an introduction into the Christian faith, after which people can go to a church of their choice. We have no influence over that choice and we wouldn't want to."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable