John Walker's Electronic House

Back To Church Sunday?

by on Aug.04, 2010, under The Rest

Sore back? Flaky skin? Difficulty sleeping at night? Why not try church?!

For a few years now there’s been a project called Back To Church Sunday. It’s the peculiar name for a day that encourages people to attend church on that one occasion (that isn’t Christmas or Easter), with the assumption implicit in the title that they simply must have been before. (Apparently, when it began, it was intended to encourage those who have left to return, but now its remit has expanded. Unfortunately its name has not.) Presumably the intention is if you can encourage people to come along just this once they’ll realise what they’re missing out on, and choose to stick around.

However, the somewhat awkwardly arrogant name is not the real issue about the campaign. That real issue would be that almost nowhere on their website or promotional materials do they make any mention of God or Jesus, or anything that Christianity is about. Instead they’re trying to sell you your local church as a quality spa day for you and your best friends.

The clearest example of this is their radio advert, which I’ve streamed below. Just hit the play button.


A few choice quotes:

“It makes me feel good about myself.”

“If I’ve had a rough week, I can just leave it all behind.”

“Friends, family, fun… I just love it!”

It’s church as beauty therapy. It’s a way to relax, unwind, and just let your hair down with friends. Forget all the tough things in life! Come to church!

It’s about as far from any understanding of church as I can imagine.

Let’s define terms. “Church”, unhelpfully, has at least three distinct meanings. There’s church the building. There’s church the institution. And there’s church the body – the family of people. Presumably this campaign is aiming for a conflation of the first and last – they want to get you into the church building, so you become a member of the church body. And it’s partly this conflation that leads to the peculiarly atheistic delivery of their campaign.

Church has a responsibility to be otherly. It should be unrecognisably different. The desperate attempts by all manner of church groups to reinvent themselves as a diluted simulacrum for something currently fashionable or popular is the absolute antithesis of its purpose. Church should stand out against the rest of the world, it should be counter-cultural, unsettlingly alternative. Disguising church, attempting to hold up a painted sheet of a trendy wine bar to trick people in, is a sad, sad sight. “Look at us! We’re a bit like that other thing you like!”

I love church. I understand this to mean the ‘body’ of Christ, the collection of people with whom I co-labour in the act of being church. And yes, I have great friends there. I have fun with those people. In many ways, I feel better about myself. But that is a sliver of its reality. Church is really tough. To be a Christian isn’t a badge for a club – it’s a decision to live life in constant turmoil, face incessant challenges, and be enormously open to change. (Even the most traditional of Anglican churches, stuck in their centuries-old ways, on their centuries-old pews, are still – hopefully, in their own odd way – encouraging some form of change in their congregations.) To put yourself in the body of a church is to agree to transformation and revelation.

To be a part of church is to embrace sacrifice. It’s to serve others. To change your priorities. It’s to recognise hard times and face them. Christianity is a faith that says, “whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Christianity is a faith that includes the lamentations of those for whom God made life incredibly difficult. It’s a faith that says we must be challenged and transformed by that which is Other. It says we must love our enemies. We must stand out.

It’s fantastic. It’s fantastic because of the tough stuff, on top of the extraordinary joy that is knowing that you are created and loved by God, alive with purpose, and living because of the sacrifice of Jesus. It’s fantastic to be a part of something that repels the notions of existing to serve oneself, of seeking to take from others.

It’s not a spa.

And most of all, to focus on the most egregious of all the comments made in their advert, it’s not a place to go after a rough week leaving all your troubles behind. It’s a place to take your troubles to. That’s the whole point! Church is where I take my broken, crumpled self, and serve others, love others. Love that brings about change.

I recognise how extraordinarily unlikely it is that an organisation would put out an advert with people saying, “I go along every week, and it just gets harder and harder. I really feel like giving up.” But I’ve known many people who’ve felt this way. People who don’t give up, and then see extraordinary change. But wow, imagine if their advert did say that. THAT would be counter-cultural.

But I absolutely do not expect an organisation such as this to avoid the words “God” and “Jesus”.

I mean, I get that fear. Typing them here, on this blog – the blog on which I write about television and videogames – is pretty terrifying. I imagine people reading this and thinking me a loony, deleting the blog from their RSS feeds. I think: “Maybe if I just remove those bits and make it more of my usual ranting about a crappy advert, that’ll be easier.” I get that it makes for a difficult commercial, having someone say “Jesus”. All that baggage, all the assumptions made. Heck, when I hear someone say “Jesus” on the radio my immediate response is to worry about what’s coming next, and assume the worst. I get why people try to avoid using those words. It’s fear and shame.

In their “What Is BTCS?” section, they list “Success Stories“. Nowhere in this mini-interview with a nice lady who found she liked church does it mention God, Christ, relationship, love… She talks about how it’s not as stuffy and boring as she remembered, how it made her laugh. You know that old restaurant where the food used to be so bland? It’s a bit better these days.

I’m certain that Back To Church Sunday has good intentions. They want to see people coming along to church. They want this because they want those people to get engaged with it, to fall in love with God. I’m sure that’s their motivation. They’re also about trying to get those currently in church to invite their friends, to “evangelise”. There’s obviously a lot of inter-church “initiatives” going on, trying to push the notion nationwide. (Oddly, their website – referenced in their radio advert – seems to be focused on those already in church, convincing them to invite others. A strange choice bearing in mind the nature of their publicity.)

But in stripping out all that church exists for, replacing it with asinine statements of what a lovely social club it is, they’re either ashamed, naive, or attempting to hoodwink people into joining. None seems a good option. They’re trying to sell The Church Show. “Come along! It’s not quite as boring as you remember!”

I would very much love for people to try out church. But I want people to go in with expectations not only of receiving, but of giving too. Expectations of challenge, of tough times, as well as joy and love. Not of joining a gym with a lovely sauna, but of joining a revelatory, life-transforming, counter-cultural force, driven by love.


49 Comments for this entry

  • Mike McQuaid

    Great points here John. I often find myself falling into the trap of unintentionally downplaying elements of Christianity or church in order to make them appear more attractive.

    I think another problem with the secularisation is that, lets be honest, church coffee is a bit crap, church music isn’t as good as elsewhere and there can be some pretty horrible people there. However, what’s important is that we’re all there together and trying to make the best of it for one reason: Jesus. To ignore that is to basically get rid of any meaning in it at all. It’s like the classic writing off of Jesus as “a good man”, when we just secularise this all then we remove the sacrificial love and controversy that Jesus’s life shows us.

  • mister k

    A well argued blog, but I do wonder if you are imposing your feelings on what church is on others? Are you certain everyone- even going to your own church, and ignoring the multiplicity of experiences out there, experiences church attendance in the same light?

    Still, the not mentioning God and Jesus is certainly a tad silly- its hardly as if anyone is going to think “oh hey, that church thing sounds good- they’ve cut out all the religion now”. Or, if they do, they’re in for a rather sad discovery…

  • Nick Mailer

    mister k: That’s the problem. This campaign has about it the air of a bait and switch swizz, which is usually more the provenance of cults.

  • Feet

    Good post, though I sometimes wish there was a way church could be “marketed” and also reflect it’s true nature, but without the unsettling alternative part. I’d find it much easier to talk to people about my faith if there was a way.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Feet: I think Alpha does that moderately well. It has a message that the CoE, Baptists, Methodists, Orthodox, Catholic and other churches can get behind.

  • Satan

    Except God doesn’t exist, so the argument for either is baseless anyway.

  • Xercies

    Hmm what a weird way to advertise the church, it may be a bait and switch but i don’t think it will fool anyone. i think a lot of people know what going to the church is like and it is definitly relgious so just taking it out actually makes people look at it more saying “why have you take your religius stuff out of your own adverts”

    Anyway i always had a bit of problem with church advertising: The preacher in the street with his leaflets, the signs saying “feeling lonely come in and have a chat”, and everything else. they always had something a bit more to them that seemed to me a little bit wrong.

  • Fede

    I would actually question their intentions. They seem to be interested in just drawing people to the church. Is this really useful? If they listen to it, won’t they just be more disappointed afterwards, because they don’t understand it?
    This blog post is probably a much better “advert”, as it explains what they should expect, and, in part, why it could be useful for them.

    Then, I’m torn on the subject of advertising and evangelization. Sometimes I feel like it’s wrong.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Fede: Do you recommend good films to your friends? I assume so. I recommend people investigate Christianity because choosing to do so myself was the best decision I’ve made in my life and I’m so glad for those who encouraged me to investigate it further. In case it’s relevant to this example, I became a Christian at 17 and my family don’t go to church (except maybe on the occasional Christmas).

  • John Walker

    Mike – there really isn’t a reason why church coffee should be crap, nor that the music should be so lame.

    I’m spoiled by being a part of a church which has refused to let itself be that way. The coffee served is decent, the music is exceptional. (The musicians certainly are, even if the songs themselves are not always to my taste.) I don’t think church should be “making the best of it”. I think it should be striving to be excellent at what it does.

    mister k – While there’s certainly going to be many people who completely disagree with me about the roll of church, I think they’d be hard-pushed to defend it biblically.

    Feet – I think if you speak in faith, if you talk honestly, letting your words be your reality, that’ll do it.

    Xercies – Actually, another frustration of this campaign is its Anglican-centric position. Church does not have to be the 16th century traditions, but with one modern song on the keyboard for the kids. It can be radical, peculiar, new.

  • Nick Mailer

    Are there still churches which do not use fairtrade coffee/teas?

  • John Walker

    In my experience, extremely few. The church (institution) has been at the front of the Fairtrade movement, campaigning to see entire towns go fairtrade, as well as ensuring all their own supplies are. They deserve kudos for this one.

  • Simon Jones

    As a mostly-atheist person, this makes for an interesting topic. The church really is in an impossible situation – on the one hand, if I detect even the slightest amount of evangelising or talk of God/Jesus, I’m going to switch off (in an advertising context, that is – I’m perfectly happy to have a good, respectful debate with people on the topics!). On the other hand, omitting those elements isn’t going to fool anybody.

    Perhaps the larger question that should be addressed by the church and church-goers is WHY there’s this embarassment or reluctance to talk about what you love. It reminds me a little bit of when I was a kid, and was rather reluctant to talk about my love of science fiction, for fear of being branded a nerd – so I’d talk about it in ways that diminished the scifi aspect (“Oh, there aren’t any spaceships. In fact it’s more like a crime thriller. That it’s scifi is almost irrelevant!”), in the hope that I’d ‘get away with it’, or maybe sneak the recommendation past other people’s prejudices.

    What’s interesting is how the church has gone from something that everyone just did without questioning to being in this position. With my example of science fiction, it’s a genre that started out niche and always has been. Religion doesn’t fall into that category – or it hasn’t for a few thousand years, at least.

    The main issue, really, is that non-religious people generally only come into contact with it in negative circumstances – the latest suicide bombing, or the latest paedophile priest scandal, the latest case of sexist discrimination etc. Combating that negative and misrepresentative press is pretty difficult.

  • Mike McQuaid

    John: I don’t drink coffee so I wouldn’t know but I’d imagine my church in Edinburgh didn’t compete with the gourmet coffee shop down the road. I’m also a bit of a jazz head so, although the musicians in church I play with tend to be very good, they are never fantastic musicians. I guess my point wasn’t that we suck at those things and we shouldn’t try but that we can’t expect them to be a selling point compared to commercial offerings. I do agree with striving for excellence, my church in London’s head pastor had a motto: “Strive for perfection, settle for excellence”.

    Nick: Same here, the churches I’ve been at were on the Fair Trade coffee bandwagon long before it became mainstream.

  • Nick Mailer

    “we can’t expect them to be a selling point compared to commercial offerings”.

    I guess Debian GNU/Linux is much worse than RHEL and Windows, taking that into account?

    Why on earth should non-“commercial” musicians be considered worse than “commercial” ones?

  • Chris

    I won’t unsubscribe from your RSS feed John, but be warned that my tolerance for religious prattle is practically non-existent.

    Still, interesting to see how passionate you are about Jesus and all that. I had no idea you were so ‘into it’.

  • John Walker

    Er, I’m going to choose not to “be warned”.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Nick: Poorly phrased, I apologise. Replace “commercial” with “professional”, e.g. being a musician is their full-time job.

  • Jaz

    If I saw an advert for church that said “I go along every week, and it just gets harder and harder. I really feel like giving up,” I’d show it to people. Imagine the youtube comments though.

  • Trellism

    Is this campaign linked with the odd Anglican hip-ness of a couple of years ago? Geri Halliwell and others were singing the praises of church, as it were. I think it fizzled out at about the same time that scepticism and science became modish.

    But, anyway, regardless of your reservations, at least this does not give me the willies like the Alpha course does.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Trellism: What’s the problem with Alpha?

  • Nick Mailer

    You’ll need to ask Reverend Gumball and his big Mercedes. John – have they responded to your “COPYRIGHT!” query yet? Thought not.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Gumbel doesn’t have a Mercedes. You can criticise his doctrine but his finances are not a good target. He cycles pretty much everywhere and the man owns a handful of shirts. Plenty of the congregation have flash cars, sure, but Gumbel doesn’t.

  • Cooper

    To add an anecdote:

    I’ve worked in the NHS and a London Borough, part managing a drug & alcohol dependency service in the past.

    It’s no secret that so many of the charitable services provided to those in need but often deemed “unworthy” by taxpayers/government are run by Christian groups. And they are thoroughly welcomed in an incredibly underfunded sector such as alcohol dependency.

    Yet, whilst, in the past they were very open about the evangelism as part of the service (see, for example, the 12 step programme), now it is much, much less so.

    In part this is due to pressure from public bodies, but it’s also due in part to an acknowledgement that God and Jesus are massive turn-offs for many people.

    So we get an odd mix of services – some seem to have lost all attempts at evangelism (at least at an organisational level).

    Others use a variety of ways (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call them “bait and switch”) to bring God into people’s lives. Including the hiding of the conversion-as-intention, by (like this campaign seems to be aiming for) the engagement of people in your third meaning of church (the family) with the others supposedly to follow, somehow, someway.

    As an atheist myself, what I found particularly interesting about this were the various tactics of the service users. Those engaged in various services were more than well aware what was going on. As well as some conversions, there’s a heck of a lot of ‘playing along’ going on – they take the religious system to be nothing else than any other system they were engaged with. Like they played the game with our social workers, or medical professionals, or welfare offices, or any other public service – the more evangelical charities were simply to be kept amused whilst they got what they came for.

    But what I did find distasteful, though for different reasons to your own, were those running the church-in-your-third-sense-first services who hid their motivations. Though notlying, it is a form of dishonesty. Whether that be a dishonesty about what faith is, or a dishonesty about intention, it’s worrying nonetheless.

  • Nick Mailer

    Mike, I’ll allow you to review Gumbel’s pursuit of Mamon independently. Suffice to say that I imagine Jesus would have a few words with him about camels and needles. If he found himself able to do so without being sued for breach of Gumbel’s copyright.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Nick: I don’t think he’s rich man at all. Hell, I probably make more money than the guy. HTB on the other hand has a very rich congregation, some of who give large amounts of charity and some of who splurge it on shiny cars. Gumbel’s pretty frugal nature makes a statement to those people in the church.

    I went to HTB for a year, if that isn’t obvious by now, and met Gumbel many times while I was there. I can’t comment on the man’s copyright views (I find most mainstream church views on copyright to be very silly) but he’s not some wealthy cult leader, he’s a very warm and humble man.

  • Nick Mailer


    Have a read of this article, if you haven’t already. Ronson is actually being quite fair, I think:

  • Nick Mailer

    (Although Ronson is much too generous in allowing the Josephus quote through – analytical Christians now admit the quotation as a forgery).

  • Mike McQuaid

    Nick: I’ve read that article before, it’s very well written. I don’t think it makes any comments about Gumbel’s personal wealth, however. I used to be dubious about Alpha but I’ve helped run a couple of courses now (including one at HTB) and I really don’t see anything sinister in it. The charismatic stuff that tends to scare people isn’t what happens in every Alpha course and within the Church of England there’s a fair amount of debate on these sort of topics.

    Nicky doesn’t do all the talks himself (anymore at least) but Alpha is pretty important to him and I don’t blame him for it, it’s helped make Christianity very relevant to a lot of people and it’s also helped bring some unity between different churches and denominations.

    I’d argue that most critique of Alpha is actually criticism of HTB (e.g. a bunch of rich bankers being Christians) or charismatic Christianity (e.g. whether miracles are just in people’s heads). The reason people focus on Alpha is because they don’t know much about HTB or other charismatic churches.

  • John Walker

    Jaz – yes, perhaps I’d phrase it “more and more difficult.”

    Alpha is interesting in that it is absolutely up front about what it’s offering from the start. However, it’s worryingly absent of the word “sin” being mentioned at any point, and of course there’s the larger concern of their creating enthusiastic but extremely naive Christians, and then ditching them into the crappy church system with no follow-up at all.

    My major issue with Alpha is the copyright one. As an organisation they’ve outright ignored my enquiries (now many years ago) about their copyrights, which is a wholly troubling sign. The greed of the copyrights on the materials is worrying. That they have chosen to ignore suggestions of licenses that would protect their materials, and prevent others from running contradictory courses under the Alpha name, but allow the message to be freely shared – well, that demonstrates that it is absolutely a money-making scheme, no matter what other positive intentions may be present.

  • JG Hunter

    Uh, I don’t think God, or Jesus for that matter, ever had a problem with people being high earners, did he? If believers are judged by the heart, not by sin, then if he pays taxes and gives even ten percent of what he earns back to God, he has already done what is asked of him… The mention of the rich man was not about wealth, but ones attitude towards it.

  • Mike McQuaid

    John: Yeh, the lack of “sin” is troubling for me too. That’s them trying to be “accessible” and they do cover the concept, just not using the word (in the HTB course or material at least).

    The naive Christians thing is dealt with in HTB with Pastorates, basically groups of small groups that cluster together and teach and do a fair amount socially. In other churches I’ve found the follow-up is pretty awful.

    I don’t agree that it’s absolutely a money-making scheme at all, moreso that they want Alpha in e.g. the UK to subsidise the courses run in poorer countries. Alpha is a charity, I’m curious how they’d somehow funnel this money into the church or Gumbel’s pockets. HTB contributes funding to Alpha. Alpha does not contribute funding to HTB.

    I do think plenty of Christians are failing massively at copyright, from Bible translators to authors and especially Christian musicians. I think CC and GPL are more in the spirit of the church community than Christians charging churches to use their stuff :(

  • Mike McQuaid

    John: It seems Alpha might not actually even receive any money from HTB. Gumbel receives royalties from some of the books he writes but he gives them to Alpha. I’ve heard Gumbel’s (rough) salary and it’s impressively small.

    If you email me your copyright questions, I know a few people who work at Alpha and I might be able to actually get them answered.

  • Fede

    @JG Hunter: of course there is no problem with people being rich, but, statistically, rich people are more greedy and more of them value money more than anything else, unfortunately

    @Mike: nice point, but while I’m always open to discussion with everyone, I would limit suggesting to try Christianism to friends, firstly because I think it’s not a simple subject, and you need to be able to prepare and follow them; secondly because it’s a very personal matter, and it would be weird to suggest it to people you don’t know well (at least for me); and finally, I know that many just look at the church as institution instead of looking at the message, and so tend to be abusive

    The Alpha you are discussing about is this?

  • Dave mcleod

    Interesting issue, and an interesting post to go alongside it.

    Just a couple of thoughts.

    I’ve always been of the opinion that a conversion (or return) to Christianity would be result from a personal experience, rather than some kind of presentation of the facts of the matter. I mean that, arguably, I am far more likely to become a Christian if I was to feel some kind of sensation of closeness with something higher (vague, but difficult to express) than I am after listening to a series of arguments on the matter. And indeed, i’d say that it were far better for me to be comeplled to believe in god as a reaction to an experience, rather than just as an assent to an argument – belief should be distinct from reason, right?

    Anyway! Let’s run with that for a moment and say that becoming a Christian stems from a moment or experience that cements those beliefs for you. How that applies to people raised in the church – I won’t worry about it. Didn’t you say John, I think somewhere, that you discovered/rediscovered the church via a youth group? I think? Likewise for me, I was raised in a catholic environment, but lapsed as soon as I was old enough to be left home alone on a sunday morning, and my parents actually followed suit. To cut a long story short though, one Tuesday ten years later, I got to mass with a flatmate, meet a pretty girl. I promise to come back next Sunday, start talking about church and her catholic life and whatnot, and it’s through that that I was able to consider, and assent to, the tenets of faith.

    It wasn’t ignorance of them – RS a-level and a year of a theology degree had me clued on the basics of Christianity, at least. But it was the experience of them that made a difference.

    What is it to experience Christianity? Big question. But if it is, as I really believe it is, a question not of persuading someone, but of allowing an individual to see and experience the Christian life as a testament to it’s being a good thing, then going to church is more productive towards presenting the message of Jesus to people, than trying to do so over a medium like tv, radio, billboards, etc. Even if there weren’t a stigma about the use of the j word and the g word in a public forum.

    To go back to your three interpretations of ‘church’ analogy. Its not just that getting people inside of the church the building will be adding them to the church the body. Its that getting people inside of church the building allows them to witness the church the body, and from there make their own judgements of Christianity. I’m a Christian. Not because of a belief that my church is a spa, or because of an upbringing or whatever, but because I was encouraged to step into a church, where I listened to what was being said, took notice of the other people that were listening, and contemplated to come to the conclusion that ‘I agree with this’. And furthermore, that when I prayed with the congregation and gave it ago, that there was something in the way of sensation that encouraged me to keep going.

    Although I guess with that latter point we can disregard it as something that is more for Catholics with our wacky transubstantiation approach. But maybe something still stands without it.

    Apologies, it’s early here, and my eyes are full of sleep, and I’m typing on an iPad. The devils laptop, ironically.

    But thanks for the good post!

  • Jambe

    You’re clearly chastising Back to Church for their promotion of social gaiety over more productive endeavors. That’s a good point; escapism is fine but other worthwhile activities exist. Most of this post, however, is fluff about what constitutes proper Christianity. None of it follows, John. These supposed indicators aren’t unique to any sort of Christianity; they’re unique to PEOPLE. All humans and many other animals (barring disorder) appreciate solidarity and group activity. Atheists congregate for the same reasons Christians do (minus the worship).

    * facing incessant challenges
    * being open to change
    * agreeing to transformation and revelation
    * sacrificing
    * serving others
    * changing priorities
    * recognizing & facing hard times
    * lamenting the unfortunate
    * loving one’s enemies

    Christians don’t monopolize any of that, nor does being Christian make you better at it than others. It’d be fantastically arrogant to suggest otherwise. Why is your brand of Christianity better than that of, say, an extremely liberal church whose God is more pantheistic than Abrahamic and whose Jesus was a normal but influential human with resonant ideology? Why is enjoying a getaway weekend in the company of other loosely-Jesus-affiliated folk worse than practicing your way? Because you say so, ultimately. That’s the only reason anybody’s ever had. That doesn’t cut it for me. In the words of Tim Minchin, “I don’t believe just ’cause ideas are tenacious it means that they’re worthy.”

    — below here is a bit meandering

    Actually it turned ranty, so I cut it out. I may post it later on.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Fede: Yeh, I don’t go around trying to “convert” anyone but my faith is similar to my marriage insofar as I don’t shout it from the rooftops to people I don’t know but it’s such an important part of my life that you are going to hear about it if we’re friends. Yes, that’s the Alpha we’re talking about.

    Jambe: I think the point wasn’t to condem people who have a more pantheistic God at all but more that these people explicitly believe very strongly in God and the divinity of Jesus, consider them the core of their faith but yet seem to be going out of their way to hide these things in order to get people to come to church. Once they get there, they will then hear about God and Jesus. It’s not to condemn social clubs of Christians or Atheists but instead to condemn trying to get people to come to church through pretending to believe differently from what they actually do.

  • Trellism

    I saw Gumbel’s flash car outside a church inReading but that was a while ago now.

    If he truly were a hair shirt wearing modest man, why aren’t the Alpha materials distributed for free? Alpha could be non profit if he wanted.

    I don’t think it’s a cult, by the way, there are worse things to be involved with than Anglicanism. But the copyright clutching nature of it makes me uncomfortable. Like missionary work should not be done for fun and profit.

  • Mike McQuaid

    Alpha is a non-profit charity. They need to make money because they employ full-time members of staff (on, again, very low salaries). This relies partly on donations and partly on the sales of the materials. I agree, it would be nice if it were all CC licensed but, lets be honest here, Alpha is far from the only non-profit organisation that sells materials to get more money. Also, Alpha isn’t run by Gumbel so it couldn’t be non-profit if he wanted. From the website, in case you don’t believe me: “Alpha International is a registered charity [no.1086179]”

  • John Walker

    Jambe – do you want to take another go at that post, this time without all the ludicrous anger? Have a read of what I wrote – not what you’re angry about from somewhere else.

  • bbot

    Wow, you, uh, really like Jesus. That’s something.

    I have unsubscribed from your blog.

  • Jambe

    I will, John. I’m not (and wasn’t) angry. That you think me ludicrous makes me a bit sad! I use ALL CAPS in place of italics/bolding, mind. I’ll try to show that I understood your point and then I’ll take issue with it.

    1 (your point):

    “BtCS disingenuously promotes church-as-escapism without mention of its more profound and meaningful aspects. BtCS hides the possibly negative aspects of churchgoing — which may lead to much betterment — promoting instead only transitory fun.” Is THAT the point you were making? You seem to be saying church is a way of life, but BtCS reduces it to vacation. Right? Do I understand you?

    I happen to think Mike McQuaid was wrong in his summary of your post, and that your assertion is more broad than “BtCS misrepresents specific Anglican viewpoints.” Yes? No?

    2 (my issue):

    You went from A (BtCS is proselytizing) to B (they’re doing it wrong). You did this by first defining what you think Christianity means (it’s a way of making sense of and moving through the turmoil of life) and second by suggesting that BtCS misrepresented, glossed over or devalued that particular interpretation of Christianity.

    Here’s the problem: how did you get from “this is what I think Christianity is” to “that is how BtCS should represent and advertise it”? Do you have some evidence to explain how or why your explicitly-described version of Christianity is right, correct, proper, worthwhile, etc? In other words, can you provide evidence which suggests that BtCS should advertise churchgoing as you describe it?

    Why couldn’t a watered-down, deism-like Christianity (wherein ethics and personal & communal development have more secular origin) be more credible than your version? Why couldn’t a more traditional Catholic-style Christianity (wherein the same stuff is more authoritatively prescribed) be more proper? What’s your reasoning?

    The only evidence I see which would support your claim is the implied relationship between your specific understanding & practice of Christianity and your personal maturation & good deeds. “I am Christian (in x-z ways) and have matured, done good, endured hardship, and helped others do the same. Therefore, Christianity (if done in x-z-like ways) will help others do what I’ve done. Given this, BtCS should promote Christianity (as expressed in an x-z-like manner).”

    This is a simple conflation of correlation and causation. You can argue all you want that Christianity caused your deeds; I will point out in each instance that the desires you felt and the choices you made were the result of qualities innate to you (and indeed, innate to all healthy humans and many other animals). The time & space-dependent peculiarities of your choices — bits like “Jesus” and “God” and “sin” — have their analogues in all cultures, and merely reflect notions of society and ethics humans naturally develop.

    This indicates that your method of life (Christianity) is not better or more effective than any other. Again, have you evidence to the contrary? Or are you simply saying that BtCS is doing it wrong, and we should believe you because you say so?

  • Jambe

    I’ll add a bit of an addendum here so you know where I stand.

    I only care about faith insofar as it impedes us. So, homophobia, stoning, religious warring, etc — all to be combatted. But even with the mildest of religions, there’s always the fundamental problem that proselytizing takes time and effort which could be better spent on the physical world. Change in the tangible and observable universe is better for humanity (which exists therein) than change in the fluffy “spiritual realm” where there is only vagueness, tradition-for-its-own-sake and dogma.

    I think it’s patently obvious that whether dogma has been rehashed and the sharp edges chipped off or is ancient and barbaric is irrelevant — it’s all dogma and is intrinsically antithetical to human progress.

    I don’t begrudge you your “constant turmoil”, John. I’m not in constant turmoil, nor do I require it to be or do good. I simply interpret the world as skeptically as I can and hope to leave this place better than I found it (and enjoy myself along the way). Implausible miracles and unprovable deities are interesting to ponder, and the aesthetic achievements of religion can’t be denied, but none of that means religion is a good foundation for the ethical principles humans naturally seem to seek.

    Frankly, I find a good deal of modern, fairly-liberal Christianity creepy, especially when you talk of how “broken and crumpled” you are, and such things. How you take your world-weary self to church and make it better. There’s a kind of masochistic undercurrent there. “I’ve been beat up by this world the Lord hath made, so I take myself to him to be healed. Once I’m healed, I look forward to being beat up by the world some more and be healed again afterward. That constant cycle is life means to me.” I find that genuinely disturbing.

    You could argue that for some, faithfulness is all they know, and that without it they would be lost. So in that sense it must be necessary (for them). I don’t think that holds water, though, first because I don’t think anybody needs religion (I think I tendency towards society and ethics is natural). But the main reason I bristle at this argument is that “faith” (at least as described in most iterations of Abrahamic religion) requires suspension of skepticism, and I think suspension of skepticism is more dangerous than it can ever be worth. Christians generally believe Jesus died and was physically resurrected and they believe in an unfalsifiable deity. They also generally believe in outmoded notions of ethical right and wrong such as sin and righteousness.

    At some point, implausible and/or unknowable concepts must be held as truths. Credulity, the big, clumsy, dangerous nincompoop that he is, must be allowed his foot in the door. If the door’s open, though, what’s stopping it from opening further? This scares me. The door should be closed and barred! The faithful will argue (and have argued in the past) that the suspension of skepticism and/or the constant struggle to reconcile skepticism with the implausibility of faith is IN AND OF ITSELF reason to believe. In other words, deliberately being credulous and/or constantly forcing cognitive dissonance on oneself are self-justifying means by which to live productive lives. This doesn’t make any sense.

    This wasn’t intended to sound condescending or insulting; it’s how I honestly feel. I usually include a disclaimer like this when talking about these things because I find the faithful, well, easily upset. I live in a rather traditional Christian area so I’m used to couching my views. I just don’t know what to expect… so, again, yes, I used the word “credulous”, but only because it is perfectly fitting to describe (as in the aforementioned specific instances) the rejection of skepticism. And I suppose I called you masochistic, but again, it fits with how you described your lifestyle (you get knocked around by life, then you do good through Jesus to feel better, rinse & repeat).


  • Robert Grant

    Atheists congregate in order to love their enemies? Really?

  • kaydee

    @Dave mcleod: The first paragraph of your comment rang a (faint) bell — I vaguely recall reading something once along the lines of “If you can be argued into believing something, you can probably be argued straight out of it again”.

    I realise many people will take issue with that notion, because being argued into believing “facts” suggests that there is no room to do a 180 — it’s simultaneously discovery and faith, with the assumption that once you know something is “true”, you’d be an idiot not to believe in it. But we don’t know everything in this universe, we don’t know everything about life, and fundamentally we work on faith every day, in both small things and large, or we’d never get anything done — whether we believe in God or not. “Facts” can change, as we discover more about the world we live in, and what goes on inside each of us — so you can choose to yo-yo back and forth as new information is revealed, but you’re never going to know for sure if what you’ve just been told is going to turn out to be true in the long run. Maybe we’ve gotten it wrong again.

    So at some point you have to say, “Okay. I feel that this is true; I’ll call it a day, and believe it. I won’t stop questioning, and I won’t be irrational, but I recognise that I am a temporal creature. I am constrained by living from one moment to the next, and that a series of such moments form my existence. I will *live life* based on my belief of this moment, instead of holding back waiting for permanent proof or an argument that is beyond-all-shades-of-doubt true, because I am not timeless and I can only see stretches of time in hindsight — I cannot tell what is ultimately true, because I am not an ultimate entity. I must live in the present, and choose to do so with what I feel and believe.”

  • Alex

    Well, I have to say that I still prefer their methods to these guys:

  • Jambe

    @Robert: isn’t the bit in question taken to connote brotherly love, kindness, respect, concern for well-being, etc, rather than outright affection? I (an atheist) respect and appreciate the humanity of enemies and certainly prefer non-violent conflict resolution. That said, I don’t have affection for enemies and I think pacifism is ethically abhorrent (that is to say, violence can be ethically justifiable).

    I don’t speak for all atheists, though, obviously. Our only common bond is a lack of theism.

  • Bruce

    hi john,
    i’m a little late to comment, someone forwarded a link to your piece here. have read the post and i’ve heard the ad myself. i’ve a couple of points to make.
    i agree with you that the Cn life can be tough. but i think we need to remember the audience for this kind of ad, and what it’s aiming to do, and what it can do.
    it’ll be played on mainstream commercial stations, for a largely non church-going audience. in such a short space, an ad has to be very focussed and make a single point. this one communicates: church can make you feel good, give it a try. it will hopefully attract some folk to do that.
    i don’t think it’s an ad’s place to do much more. you simply try to attract the audience to the ‘product’. i don’t think it’s underhand not to say too much more. church, the family of God, really can make life ultimately feel a lot better. it’s not dishonest. once you’re in and part of it, things may get tougher. but do you need to spell that out at the outset? Doesn’t God himself offer us a relationship, a good thing, and then often only later, when we can handle it, face us with the challenges of following him?
    using the words God and Jesus may well put a lot of people off, due to all the prejudice and misconception around. so why not simply offer them the invitation to come along? – if they do they’ll find out more soon enough. i think a lot of people DO come to faith when they first experience the warmth of the family of God.