Religion – The Fifth Emergency Service
When I joined the AA (that’s the Automobile Association, for the avoidance of confusion – 12 steps don’t get you far when you’ve broken down 20 miles from home), I thought I was paying for breakdown cover. They also offered me a few small discounts on products I didn’t want, but that was no problem if I chose not to take them up on the offer. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the way they’d lobby the government, in my name, for all sorts of things I didn’t support.
They seemed to think that my request for roadside assistance meant that I shared their views on transport policy, and was content for them to use my subscription money to fund their campaigns against speed cameras, for reductions in the price of petrol, and generally with the aim of allowing people to carry on driving like heavy-footed petrolheads without consequences.
That’s not an obviously ridiculous position for them to take – many, if not most of their members probably supported those aims, and they seem to be a reasonably good fit with their main business. But they didn’t ask me for my views, and there was no mention of this campaigning role when I joined up. The fact that I wanted breakdown cover was being used to support an entirely different agenda.
And that’s a bit like the church, as a hackneyed sermon might say.
Maybe there are people who join the church because they want to deny gay people rights, or stand for conservative social values, or preserve a stuffy, antiquated vision of society, but there are also plenty of churchmembers who want no such thing. And none of this has any connection to the primary aim of the church, except in the minds of a few people, but the church still claims to speak for its members.
How many people joined up for spiritual breakdown cover and found themselves being used to support a whole manifesto of policies that they don’t agree with, or that they vigorously oppose? Does the church know or even care what the people it claims to speak for actually think?
Perhaps there’s some microscopic small print on every baptism certificate, saying:
From time to time, the church may sign you up as a supporter of carefully selected causes. Please place a cross in the box if you wish to opt out of these campaigns.
Not that it would make any difference if you did place your cross as specified – whenever this option is given, I’m convinced it’s just because they like to know which are the troublemakers who actually bother to check what they’re signing up for.
Apparently, a vague belief that there’s probably some sort of higher power out there, or that Jesus was a pretty good bloke, or that it’s generally a good idea to be nice to each other instantly defines your views on sexuality, fertility, TV broadcasting regulations and any number of other things that the church wants to stick its nose into. Who knew?
There are plenty of reasonable, decent people in the church. Unfortunately, the hierarchy which represents them in public is very reluctant to adjust its views and continues to hold tight to a conservative position, as I’ve mentioned previously. But I can’t imagine anyone could seriously insist that belief has to come with all these strings attached.
Still, when even a lack of belief comes with additional small print now, why not?
Photo by aussiegall, used under Attribution License