Faith & Reason: Logic and lunacy among the believers

Once upon a time the Church of England stood for a Protestant monarchy. Now it is not sure. And it is even more confused about its own constitutional role, argues Andrew Brown.

Dr David Samuel is is a kindly gentleman with a white beard and an unlined forehead, who exudes that sharp benevolence which comes to fortunate souls when they realise that the great majority of their contemporaries are going to burn in hell, for ever. Dr Samuel is a Calvinist. He used to be a member of the Church of England too. After he lost a case in the High Court against the right of the General Synod to ordain women, he left the Church of England, taking his chapel in Reading and his ministerial orders with him. He joined an outfit called the Continuing Church of England, where he was bumped up to Bishop - his diocese covers all of England and Wales.

This makes him sound a crank, and perhaps he is. But he is also humane and even liberal in argument, once you grasp his premises. He believes that God's plan for Britain is that it should be a Protestant monarchy; close attention can reveal the clear meaning of the Bible and this in turn reveals the meaning and purpose of everything else in the world.

These beliefs were quite common before the First World War. In parts of Ulster, they still are. Until he lost his court case, he was able also to suppose that they were the foundational beliefs of the Church of England. Now, he says that "Politically the matter is lost. Humanly speaking, there is no prospect of that being reversed. The church along with the other institutions of this country are under the judgement of God, and without the intervention of God I do not see how this [trend within the church] could be reversed."

This is an inspiring example of the resilience of the religious imagination. It is nowadays scientists, rather than theologians, who have inherited this Calvinist confidence in the primacy of the theory over data and the concomitant willingness to abandon common sense. As a scientific attitude it has brought great rewards. It is odd that it should have been so thoroughly discredited among the religious, who nowadays feel that their picture of God ought to conform more to human ideas of benevolence and even decency.

Yet the fact that Dr Samuel's idea of the Church of England is absurd does not mean that he cannot spot the absurdities in other people's view of it. He was speaking last week at the launch of a Gallup poll his organisation had commissioned into attitudes within the Church of England.

Two things are noteworthy about this. The first is that the bishops have finally got their act together to resist opinion polls. Only 25 of the 114 questioned replied, a sufficiently low number to remove all confidence in their results. Some of the rest looks distinctly dodgy too: when asked "How satisfied are you with the current system of synodical government in the Church of England?" only 52 per cent of the general public replied "Don't Know". God in His wisdom alone knows what the 28 per cent who pronounced themselves "Fairly Satisfied" thought they were doing: probably giving a vote of confidence to the Chief Rabbi.

The second significant feature of the poll is one to which Dr Samuel drew attention himself, and this is the deep confusion within the church about what Establishment actually means. A huge majority of regular church attenders wanted the church to remain established "and keep its association with the state" - even more than were in favour of women priests. There were smaller, but still clear majorities among the full-time clergy and the population as a whole.

So far so good. Then you ask the same people whether Parliament should continue to have the final say in the affairs of the Church of England, or whether the Prime Minister should have a right to veto the appointment of diocesan bishops, and majorities just as large, if not larger, reply that he should not, and that the church should be free of parliamentary control.

This really does look like a more significant discovery than the 35 per cent of self-described Anglicans who told Gallup they never ever attend any place of worship. The plain meaning of the findings on Establishment is that the Church of England has no idea at all of the sort of relationship it has or might hope to have with the state. It expects all the privileges of Establishment but recoils with horror from the obligations. It could do with a dose of Dr Samuel's astringent logic.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory