The 9th Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture on 27 October 2003

Why the Chattering Classes hate Christians
by Cristina Odone

Report by Eunice Burton
November 2003

The Ninth Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture was given by Cristina Odone on 27 October 2003 in the historic Guard Room of Lambeth Palace: her subject was “Why the Chattering Classes Hate Christians”.

Prof. David Daniell thanked the Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, for his continued interest in the Tyndale Society, especially by acting as a Patron, and for so graciously consenting to chair this meeting. Responding, the Archbishop said that presiding at this lecture was high on his list of priorities, as the Tyndale Society promoted honest language and the morality that goes with it, for which society cares and without which society is lost. He then welcomed Cristina Odone, until recently Editor of the The Tablet and now Deputy Editor of the New Statesman.

Cristina Odone began by saying that she needed to vent her anger! She asked why was it that educated, sensible, usually tolerant and humane British people are so prejudiced against Christians and attack them so viciously, citing Richard Dawkins (‘Time to Say Enough’) and Polly Toynbee (‘Maggoty Heart of Religion’). Their image of Christians is of ‘out of touch’ creationalists, fundamentalists and autocratic bigots, often child abusers, anti-women, anti-gays and anti-semitic, who intrude into the ‘live and let live’ lifestyle of secular society.

Cristina accused the media of discrimination against Christians, especially Roman Catholics, in a way which would not be tolerated by Muslims, e.g. Christopher Hitchens’ criticism of Mother Teresa’s Beatification on the ‘Today’ programme, and the request for atheists to contribute to ‘Thought for the Day’. Christians are seen to resist materialistic greed and to promote family values and defend vulnerable people such as the embryo, disabled and elderly, thereby endangering the mores of the chattering classes. As Jews, Muslims and Hindus are regarded as ethnic minorities, fear of the accusation of Racism prevents their being targeted as white Anglo-Saxons are. Christians’ ‘subversive’ views emanate from recognition of the authority of God, who dictates their words and deeds, and are seen to result in clashes between dictatorial oppressiveness and personal freedom.

Following the social rebellion of the 1960’s, the chatterati applaud changes in traditions and law: decriminalization leads to tolerance, then acceptance and then promotion. But freedom is not an end in itself to Christians, who accept absolutes and standards of justice and self-sacrifice; prohibition by the Roman Catholic Church of ‘sins’ such as adultery, premarital sex and abortion is balanced by messages of virtue, e.g. their responsibility to care for the handicapped. As a mother of a young baby, Cristina Odone deplored the way in which positive tests for ‘foetal abnormality’ proceed to abortion so readily today.

The chattering classes want to be seen as fair and open minded, condemning cruelty and greediness, and hence use a parallel system of humanistic morals. But the question of ‘Why’ is not addressed, and moral rectitude based on the Bible is regarded as simplistic. Cristina herself had experienced less ridicule in the U.S.A., and in her native Italy Roman Catholics are not mocked, whereas derision of “non-conformists” is common in the United Kingdom. Many Christians are clear on the big themes, but open to reason and the fruits of science, so that fears that piety and zeal lead to terrorism are ungrounded. William Tyndale was persecuted, exiled and martyred for his endeavour to provide direct access to the Word of God, which empowers the behaviour of the humble man and whole communities. Today’s Christians are embarrassed to mention their faith, but we should be courageous to announce the Lord’s Message. It is not necessary to wear ‘Jesus loves me’ T-shirts to say unashamedly ‘Here we stand we can do no other’.

A time of questions followed. Discussion ranged from the need of role models for the young (a teenager had asked a member if the Church had standards, as society had none) to the departure of the BBC from its original charter to promote good, and the pitfall of extreme fundamentalists holding antiquated scientific views adding to the glee of Richard Dawkins. Christina Odone accepted that there are blurred edges and much common ground between Christians and the chatterati. Christians should be flexible to methods of witness while faithful to the Sacred Texts and all strands from sacramentalists to fundamentalists must be permeated by love. Society’s search for “spirituality” reveals needs which secularism has failed to meet, so Christianity can be explored!

Down the ages, persecution has led to growth of the Church, so why do we see falling numbers now? Perhaps apathy is a greater danger today. It was suggested that Christians could now claim the minority rights of ethnic communities!

Archbishop Rowan Williams thanked Cristina Odone, stressing the place of the Church in uniting people; he felt that scepticism and mockery were too blunt and insidious as instruments to provoke resistance - whereas William Tyndale created a language which excited confrontation.

A time of conversation over wine followed, and then a smaller group joined for a meal together at a nearby hotel.

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