Jumble sales of the apocalypse: Denominational interbreeding
Simon Jenkins imagines denominational interbreeding
Choosing a dog these days is a lot more complicated than it used to be. Over the last few decades, the big breeds have come together and produced a vast litter of designer dogs, each with its own dinky portmanteau name. There’s the cockapoo, the labradoodle and the peke-a-poo, where poodles have been crossed respectively with cocker spaniels, labradors and pekingeses. There’s the puggle (pug meets beagle), the dorgi (dachshund dates corgi) and even the chorkie (chihuahua marries Yorkshire terrier). Why get a boring collie when you can proudly walk a puggle?
This makes me think, naturally enough, about the problem of ecumenism. If dogs can get together and happily become chiweenies and cavapoos, then what about the sects of Christianity? According to some estimates, there are 41,000 denominations in the world, and more than a few of them are only too happy to extend the middle finger of fellowship in each other’s direction. Could the kingdom of dog help out the kingdom of God, by showing us how to bring the big religious breeds together?
Imagine a world where you could join the Bapticostals, the Anglo-gelicals, the Pentegationalists, or even the Quaketerians. Personally, I’d be keen to try out the Metholics, just so I could sit through a John Wesley-length sermon and then pop straight into the confessional to receive 100 Hail Marys for not listening to it. Taking the whole pack of squabbling churches for walkies, so they can sniff each other’s bottoms and pee on each other’s lampposts, could be exactly what ecumenism needs right now.
Of course, the different denominations have been trying to patch up their differences ever since St Nicholas punched Arius at the Council of Nicea. An eye-catching slogan which appeared on church billboards back in the 1980s proclaimed: ‘Ecumenism means loving the opposite sects’. That sounds a bit heterosexualist now, so maybe it could be updated with a ‘same sects’ version, which might apply best to the different branches of Orthodoxy: Greek, Serbian, Romanian, and so on. However, ‘Ecumenism is a same sects marriage’ might not go down too well with the ragingly homophobic people currently running the Russian Orthodox Church.
The vexed problem of preventing schism and trying to bring your denominations together isn’t exclusive to Christianity, of course. It was heartwarming last year to watch the struggles of atheist campaigners in Australia as the national census approached. Previously, in the 2001 census, some 70,000 Australians had jokingly entered ‘Jedi’ (the warrior monks of Star Wars) as their chosen faith. And the Force remained strong for those Jedi numbers in Oz’s 2006 and 2011 censuses, giving genuine denominations such as the Salvation Army their marching orders. Pretty much everyone for whom religion was laughable or ludicrous thought that adding ‘Jedi’ to your census return was a hoot.
But in 2016, the unbelievers had a lightsaber moment. They realised the Jedis were robbing them of much-needed statistics. The Jedis had previously been useful to the ‘no religion’ cause, but now it was best they went off to a galaxy far, far away and stopped making Australia look more religious than it actually was. One atheist poster advised: ‘If old religious men in robes do not represent you, don’t mark yourself as “Jedi”. Tick the “no religion” box instead.’ It almost brought a tear to the eye to see atheists and Jedis, who had once shared such sweet fellowship together, being ripped apart by schism.
But just like buses, no sooner had one schism come along, than another was right behind it. A new division among unbelievers opened up when the anti-Islam campaigners of Oz suddenly plumbed new depths of paranoia by claiming that if all the atheists went for ‘no religion’, then Islam would rise to the top of the census and Australia would become an outpost of Isis. A desperate situation required a desperate solution. ‘Be sure to tick Christian!’ they said. ‘Because you can bet your balls they will fill in Muslim!’
And that’s how atheists and Christians finally got together and became Athians. Who knew ecumenism could stretch so far?
Simon Jenkins is Editor of shipoffools.com. His book, Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse, was published in March by SPCK at £9.99. Reform readers can get the book for a discounted rate (£8.99) via this URC Shop link: http://bit.ly/2oXP4IM
This article was published in the May 2017 edition of Reform.