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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue