The title of the 2012 conference was “Church, Credibility and Culture”. Our aim was to reflect on questions of the credibility of faith and of the church, not in general and abstractly, but here and now, in the Great Britain of the second decade of the twenty-first-century. The papers reflected the effort to bring insights to bear on the question from a variety of perspectives and a range of academic disciplines.
Thomas O’Loughlin & Eamon Duffy, in the papers which opened the conference, brought historians’ long views to the question of the credibility of the Catholic Church. James Sweeney, as a sociologist of religion, saw the recent Bishops’ Synod on evangelization (October 2012) as an acknowledgment that the church is not coping with the challenges of modern culture, while Ethna Regan outlined the “national trauma” triggered by successive revelations of child-abuse in Ireland, and the impact this has had on the Catholic Church’s credibility.
Agata Bielik-Robson, who was invited to offer a paper from a Jewish perspective, drew on twentieth-century German Jewish messianic thinkers, including especially Jacob Taubes and Gavin D’Costa considered credibility in relation to questions of continuity and changel.
Timothy Finigan brought the new movements and the new social media into the conversation, suggesting that If we want to think about the church in relation to culture, then we need to think about the kind of media that can be accessed by far more enquirers than ever come to hear a sermon. Catholic sites are dominated overwhelmingly by traditionalists, and Finigan raised the question of whether they should be regarded as “an unrepresentative selection of extremists” or an indication that, for the young, a re-emphasis on tradition may enhance rather than damage the appeal of the message.
Finally John McDade concluded the conference using Nietzsche to focus a criticism of religion. When religion moves beyond what can be legitimately said about God, it creates a human product that invites disbelief. Current atheism, he suggested, has its roots in inauthentic forms of Christian religion.
(See New Blackfriars, March 2013 for published papers.)