An Easter retreat at the Church of Zengland

‘I need you to put your thumbs in your ears, fingers over your eyes and say ‘Ooohm.’’ At that moment it wasn’t certain that I was going to enjoy my weekend away at the start of Lent.

What could be nicer in the lead up to Easter; beautiful grounds, English Gothic buildings, even a church nearby with crosses cut in the tower by returning Crusaders. Vegan food of a quality you never get in restaurants and good company. This was a Church of England retreat, but mornings began with prayer and Chinese exercises, not just any old physical jerks, the person leading them imbued them with a strong spiritual reality. Despite being a regular member of our congregation he told me he didn’t believe in God because, ‘It’s really all about the planet, and all religions are the same.’

The C of E partly in its attempt to simply be nice to everyone, has been ‘New Agey’ or pantheistic for some time. In 2016 York Minster advertised: 

‘The York Zen sangha meets on alternate Fridays at the old palace for zazen (sitting meditation), led by the canon chancellor, the Revd canon Dr Chris Collingwood supported by Fr Patrick Kundo Eastman Roshi, a Roman Catholic priest and Zen master in the white plum Asanga of the lineage of Hakuyu Taizen Maezumi Roshi. All  welcome.’ 

Writer Rob Slane who spotted that advert, now refers to, ‘The Church of Zengland.’ 

We weren’t just exploring the wonders of Buddhism transmuted through the culture of California, there were other communal Christian events to enjoy, at least that’s what I think they were. During an enjoyable exploration of the Book of Kings, in which it turned out no one knew much  about Biblical History, it emerged that we are no longer allowed to say ‘Old Testament’ or ‘New Testament’, as that suggests that the new one is better than the older, which is really not PC.

As a child I learned that  the Old Testament is a continuing revelation about the nature of God and the New Testament the fulfilment of it. Absolutely not! Heaven forfend that anyone should admit to such flagrant anti-Semitism.

The problem is you can’t actually say you believe in anything, without saying you don’t believe in something else. The C of E has settled this by believing in everything and dismantling what orthodoxy it had. The vicar/journalist  Peter Mullen has taken to calling himself a ‘fundamentalist,’ as he says he  prefers to, ‘look for the basics in the words of Scripture and the doctrines of the Creed rather than the fissiparous systems of what is called Liberal Theology.’

In a recent article for the Salisbury Review, he looked at that theology, seeing it derived from early Enlightenment thinking which placed Reason above metaphysics of any kind. People were told they could not believe in miraculous occurrences. This unease with Christian belief and doctrine has continued down the centuries to theologians such as John Hick in the 1970s arguing for religious pluralism and denying the Incarnation. In the 1980s David Jenkins as  Bishop of Durham mocked the miracles of Christ as, ‘conjuring tricks with bones.’

American Professor of Divinity, Harvey Cox insisted that secular reality is all there is, followed by Rowan Williams, (he who instructed us to accept Sharia courts as a legitimate parallel system) and declared in his final sermon as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury; ‘The Church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.’

The latest reinterpretation of our understanding of the Bible, which I was heard for the first time this Lent, originate with the wonderfully named, Phyllis Trible, a US professor of Old Testament studies, author of ‘God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality’ and ‘Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives.’

Her major theme is,‘ Depatriarchalizing in Biblical Interpretations,’ her argument being that the Bible has existed in a sexist form for centuries, which has changed the way people interpret its messages. She even argued that an androgynous Adam will bring gender parity. All her work was  based on a current point of view, she refused to  look at any text in its cultural context.

Her sisters in dismantling the Heavenly patriarchy include US feminist Rosemary Ruether,  ‘Sexism and God-Talk. Toward a Feminist Theology,’ and, ‘Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism. Also, Elisabeth Schussler, from Harvard, author of, A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins.’  

In 1992 Schussler invented the word ‘Kyriarchy,’ meaning a social system built to impose domination, oppression and submission. It encompasses, sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, xenophobia, injustice, the ‘prison industrial complex,’ colonialism, ethnocentrism, economic injustice, militarism, anthropocentrism (no idea) speciesism and presumably, Old Testamentism.  

In every category such women use a feminist critique to negate, challenge and of course correct traditional Christian thought. As I discovered this March, their thinking has now fully entered the western Anglican church as a denial of ‘binary gendering’ in particular the idea of the fatherhood of God, or that God is in any particular way male.

I was already worried before I went on the retreat. The whole liturgy, including the Lord’s Prayer had just been changed into bald modern English. I was told this was ‘for Lent.’ Why it was, was not explained, unless it was an unlikely admission that listening to it is  a penance. Once I got to the retreat it was obvious that the ‘Our Father,’ and much that I’d known all my life had been junked.  

 Sunday Eucharist, with many congregants sitting on the floor in what looked like Japanese stress positions, ended with the person leading the exercises saying with passionate tears that he no longer wanted to hear the words ‘Sin,’ or ‘wickedness’ in our church liturgy. They have no place, he said ‘In the 21st Century,’ and increase mental illness or rather, ‘mental health issues.’

I said this was Church, not a therapy group, but these days emotional outbursts cannot be gainsaid, so I was told flatly, ‘This is not a debate.’

No one, all women except the Vicar and the Zen instructor, supported my corner. One said she approved because ‘changing the liturgy makes you think.’  I left before lunch and haven’t been back. I decided to give up going to Church for Lent in the small hope it might all have gone back to ‘normal’ by Easter.

The arrival of the Chinese pestilence has made that less of a sacrifice, or rather less of a statement of discontent. People sometimes say, ‘I didn’t leave the Church of England it left me,’ and in this case that is literally true and an unexpected relief.

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17 Comments on An Easter retreat at the Church of Zengland

  1. I looked up “free inquiry”, the USA’s leading atheism magazine.

    Two of their articles online right now are “why I am pro-abortion, not just pro-choice”, and the threat of overpopulation requiring drastic action – “US population right now is not sustainable… how do we plan our lives, go to college, or have our dreams if the future is eaten up by too many people trying to eke out a living on a limited planet? “.

    They are obsessed with death. Billions – of babies, of the poor in the third world, of those who vote the *wrong way* on Brexit and therefore should just “fall of their perch” before a second referendum (Richard Dawkins) – must stop living, since it hurts their *dreams* and desire to *go to college* .

    We had sanguine popes and religious leaders, God knows. But even the worst of them didn’t think billions must die because they want to go to college, or that killing babies in the womb is a positive good. This is standard fare for the new fundamentalists, the neo-marxist atheists.

  2. Jane,

    The wider Anglican Communion, which is predominantly African nowadays and all too familiar with persecution, offers no support for all these idiotic heresies. (Heresies is almost too complimentary a word for them, considering the comparatively formidable intellectual powers of some of the notorious early heretics.)

    But even in England, there are still a few parishes that adhere faithfully to “the words of Scripture” and “the doctrines of the Creed” (to which Rev Dr Mullen ought perhaps to have added “the Chalcedonian Definition”, supported by the magnificently named Dogmatical Epistles of St Cyril and the Tome of St Leo). If I’m right in thinking that you’ve said you live in Oxford, St Mary Magdalen’s and Pusey House might be worth a visit.

    The alternative suggested by AndrewR is to attend an Orthodox church. They are generally more faithful to “the words of Scripture” and “the doctrines of the Creed” (without interpolations) than even the best Anglicans, but their liturgy is foreign and they won’t let you be a communicant without undergoing instruction and the rite of chrismation.

    There are more Orthodox churches in Oxford than you could shake a stick at, despite the departure of the mighty Bishop Kallistos, who in my day was an unmistakable and uplifting presence, striding through the Cornmarket in his wondrously enormous big black robes and big black hat.

    But not all Orthodox churches are equal. The Russians are mostly OK, as are the Autocephalous Greeks, but the Greeks who bow to the Ecumenical Patriarchate tend to be infected to some extent with the same kind of theological liberalism that has killed most Anglican parishes, albeit to a lesser degree.

    (As for me, I’m Orthodox in belief though never formally converted, but I’d be willing to attend any church that approximated to Dr Mullen’s “Fundamentalist” requirements, if there existed such a church within travelling distance of my home.)

    I hope my babblings are of some use. Christ, the only hope for us sinners, is risen!

  3. Doing my first hard St Augustine standard lent now, of the popery persuasion, same sect as Shakespeare. Smashed my pathetic hunger. Lost 6kg. Ready for plague. Nothing nice about strict lent. Harrowing. Nothing till 3pm, and then a dry biscuit. Our mass is sung. On pause for the great Chinese bat plague though. The priest speaks Latin. No green haired lesbians in sight. More young kids, veils, and young men attend than I’ve ever seen in a church. Pews get fuller each week. A joy.

    I was baptised CofE.

    • Pb: The Orthodox Churches observe Lent three times a year, and there are no comfortable loopholes, such as defining otter tikka masala as a kind of seafood or whatever. Strict observants aren’t even allowed milk in their tea. I’m glad to read that at least some Filioquists are imposing similar high standards on themselves!

      • PJR: The simplicity of Wednesday fast’s are compelling. Just don’t eat. Nada. The catatonic shock I induce when I try explain it to others is hard to comprehend. The fasting was a mimetic emulation of the Greek Orthodox. Pure copycat. But I had to look up Filioquist. Orthodox is OK in my book whatever the controversy. I like that the bearded priests look like they good handle themselves in a pinch. The protestant religions were all originally state enterprises, founded on bureaucracy, with the king subbed in for Pope. Like that was ever going to work. Peace to all. And look after your street.

  4. Jane – I think you need to look at traditional Roman Catholicism, Greek(Eastern) Orthodox or Russian Orthodox if you want your faith to have any meaning in a wider society. The Church of England is irrelevant precisely because it’s trying to be so in touch with the fashions of the day.

  5. It’s about time all this superstitious claptrap was consigned to the medieval scrapheap it belongs.

    At least Zen Buddhism has some similarity to mindfulness, which has been shown to have positive effects in people suffering from depression, much better than for example telling them to “pull yourself together”, as it seems you would like to do, reading between the lines.

    I’m sorry, but thinking it’s a good idea to make people terrified of burning in hell for eternity, while inspiring one of the best recent radio comedies, is the product of a deranged mind.

    • You should visit the African and West Indian churches sometime. You will hate it because they are so fundimentalist and fervent in their belief. You will be afraid to criticise them of course because they are not white people. What a dilemma for you, best keep quiet about your narrow-minded views. It doesn’t seem that you are intellectually equipped or have enough experience of the World to see the possibilities. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.

      • Of course I criticise them. Any kind of religious fundamentalism (intellectually unequipped I may be, but I can still spell!) is anathema to me. And if they aren’t endlessly shouting it in the high street using megaphones or even electric amplification, they’ll be ringing my doorbell on a Saturday morning to tell me the “good news” that I somehow hadn’t heard already. I don’t judge the relious by the colour of their skins, but by the content of their dogma.

        My former local cinema is now a uckg venue. An old nightclub is now an Islamic centre (!) Another former nightclub became some other flavour of christian church, a long way from the days when a Kray associate was killed there in a shootout with the Richardson gang, provoking the retribution murder of George Cornell in the Blind Beggar the following day.

        I’ll just address your Shakespeare quote. Had you been more “intellectually equipped” yourself you’d know that it means you should accept the evidence of your eyes even if you can’t explain it. Religion, by definition, is based on faith, not evidence. You cannot use this quote to tell me to be scared of a god that nobody has ever seen, or that religion has any basis in reality. Conversely, I accept quantum mechanics to be true because if the copious experimental evidence, despite the fact it often defies rational explanation. That’s the proper sense of your quote.

        You are welcome.

        Incidentally, Myles dislikes personal attacks such as your snipe at me there. Be careful of you’ll be banned.

        • It seems the same sort of people who were superstitious Catholics in medieval times are “Woke” now. But the superstitious medieaval Catholics had more common sense.

          For example, not even the most credulous medieaval Christian had to believe that the children’s crusade is a good idea (the pope himself was against it). Today, the cult of St. Gretha of Thunberg is the Woke’s religion.

          He never had to believe 2+2=5. Not so with the Woke, who must embrace Marxist “economics”.

          He could say that men are men and women are women. Not so now, when saying that will get the Woke to label you an anti-trans bigot.

          He had to believe in the apocalypse, but didn’t have to believe it’s imminent. The Woke today move from one end-of-the-world mass hysteria to another, and yet declare they are “the future”, which they just denied exists.

          Examples could be multiplied.

          • The Catholic church believes absurd nonsense about heaven, like, for instance, that there are nine different orders of angels.

            The Woke church believes abusrd nonsense about earth, like, for instance, that there are nine (if not 15 or 57) different genders.

            Which one is more damaging? Clearly the latter.

          • I would also add that Andrew would make a great grand inquisitor. Like other “woke”, it is not enough for him that he can believe what he wants. Until *YOU* believe what he wants, too, he will not be satisfied. He will keep on fighting against all the evil “brainwashing” that makes all those *inferior* people believe the *wrong* thing.

  6. Yes, it must be quite a relief for all those CofE heretics to be able to openly deny the existence of a God, any God except someone else’s.
    It will save them from the traditional punishments for apostates. At least it will until a more fundamental belief system restores the fear of God in them.
    Thank you Jane, beautifully penned, as ever.

  7. No wonder people are leaving the CofE in droves, whilst Churches which actually believe in the truth of the Gospels are flourishing,

    As for ethnocentrism; as the Russian Orthodox Church says in its Jubilee Bishops Council Declaration of its Social Conception’’

    II2. They universal nature of the Church does not mean that Christians should have no right to national identity and self-expression. On the contrary, the Church unites in itself the universal with the national……
    The `Lord Jesus himself..pointed that the teaching He brought was not local or national in nature….Nevertheless, He identified Himself with the people to whom He belonged by birth.’’