I got an ebook reader for Christmas, which is great, because it means I’ve been able to read heavy books on the train. One of them is Diarmaid McCulloch’s Christianity: the first three thousand years, which I am enjoying far more than I expected. It’s much more nuanced than the accompanying TV series, which had me muttering, ‘no, affirming the humanity of Christ is not actually heretical’, and is hilariously bitchy in places and very interesting throughout. At least, if you find deeply-felt squabbles over apparently trivial differences with appalling results interesting, which I do. I’ve given up apologising for Those Christians Over There and whatever they’ve done now, but I do feel that it’s worth knowing how they got there, and how I got here, and what we still have in common. And getting to very different places using the same map has been a feature of Christianity since, oh, the book of Acts.
In that spirit – here’s the AngthMURC/Cathsoc committee meeting that happens between chapters 2 and 3 of the first section of Speak Its Name. All the inter-denominational schism and bitchiness that the heart could desire.
‘Hmph!’ Sophie said, when Peter had finished reading out Jake’s email. ‘Well, it’s a pity, but I can’t say I’m surprised.’
There was just about space for the six of them around the kitchen table at 27 Alma Road. Georgia was in fact at the sink, frantically washing up mugs so that due hospitality could be offered. Sophie, Tim and Kasia, the operative half of the Cathsoc committee, were squashed onto the bench on one side; Becky, still in her pyjamas, crunched toast opposite them; Peter sat on the wobbly chair, at the end that wasn’t against the wall, and spread ancient AngthMURC paperwork across the vinyl tablecloth.
‘I don’t suppose we could compromise?’ Kasia said.
‘How do you mean?’ Georgia asked.
‘Well, of course we can’t sign their Statement – have you read the thing? – but could we perhaps suggest the Creed instead?’
‘No,’ Becky said, blinking over very strong coffee. ‘Sorry – that was a bit abrupt. I didn’t mean to be rude. What I mean is, of course you could, but I wouldn’t sign it. Wouldn’t sign anything. I’d still come, but I couldn’t be involved in the organising if that was the condition. Same with most of the Friends, I would think.’
Olly wandered into the kitchen in his dressing gown, said, ‘Oh, God. Christians. Shouldn’t you all be at church?’
‘Colette’s gone,’ Becky said.
‘Hmph. Vicarious holiness, eh?’ He wandered out again.
‘I doubt Fellowship would go for the Creed,’ Peter said, as the door shut. ‘They would say it’s too woolly. Anyway – which one? Half the Evangelicals I know don’t believe that Jesus descended into Hell, which excludes the Apostles’, and if we use the Nicene then we’ll start filioque all over again.’
‘Ah,’ Kasia sighed, ‘those were the days. Proper schism, none of your modern namby pamby stuff! Do we even have any Orthodox who’d want to be involved?’
‘You never know,’ Georgia said, peeling off the rubber gloves. ‘So are we going to write a tactful email to Jake Warner telling him to take a long walk off a short pier?’
‘Why are you all looking at me?’ Peter asked, with an injured air. ‘OK, OK, I’ll write it. And I’ll email the rest of Fellowship, too, letting them know it’s still happening. Together with an annotated copy of the Statement of Belief, explaining why it’s exclusive bullshit?’
‘No,’ Georgia said, apparently before she realised he was joking.
‘It’d be handy to have,’ Sophie mused. ‘We could make hundreds of copies and hand them out at the Freshers’ Squash. Poach a few members from Fellowship…’
‘Which reminds me,’ Tim said, ‘I still owe you lot my three pounds fifty for this year. I assume you’ve still got me listed as a member, since I’m still getting AngthMURC emails.’
‘You are. And I’m still getting Cathsoc ones,’ Georgia told him. ‘Fair exchange, no robbery.’
‘Remind me,’ Becky said, ‘why the Statement is exclusive bullshit? I always get stuck on the fact that they make you sign the bugger.’
‘Penal substitution, and sola scriptura.’ Kasia ticked them off on her fingers.
‘Oh, Lord,’ Peter said. ‘OK. Penal substitution is the theory – which some Evos will try to make you believe is held by all Christians, but which really, really isn’t – that humanity is so fucked up that God (who in this version of events is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, but apparently really unimaginative) has to torture somebody horribly to make it all better.’
‘That somebody being Jesus,’ Tim put in, helpfully.
‘See me looking blank,’ Becky said. ‘Don’t take it personally. It may never make sense to me; Quakers aren’t really big on sin.’
‘I vaguely recall Father Steven explaining it all using There is a green hill far away,’ Peter said, ‘but I can’t remember how.’
‘That’s really helpful.’ Georgia was getting impatient.
‘And what was the other thing?’ Becky asked.
‘Oh, sola scriptura. The Bible alone – as a means to determine God’s will, I mean. They mean,’ Kasia corrected herself. ‘Leaving out of it tradition and reason.’
‘And experience,’ Georgia added.
‘Leaving the poor old Wesleyan quadrilateral wobbling on one leg, and causing alarm and despondency through the Church Rational,’ Peter said.
‘What about the Spirit?’ Becky asked, and laughed bitterly when nobody answered.