Has the usual seasonal avalanche of "they're trying to ban Christmas!" stories abated somewhat, at least in Britain? Simon Barrow looks at the evidence and asks what it says to us about the church and Christianity in an emerging post-Chrstendom era.
Not long before he died in August last year (2012), the Catholic Archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini's final comments on the Church were that its leadership was “200 years out of date” - bureaucratic, pompous, autocratic, inflexible and seemingly remote from the spirit of Christ on key issues.
Whether you find him inspiring or exasperating (and I sometimes find him both!), the work of US theologian Stanley Hauerwas provides a challenging alternative vision of church as subversive, exemplary community - rather than the cement or glue of society, as in the top-down Christendom model.
The current ills of the Western church are more to be found in sickness within than in threats without, suggests Simon Barrow, echoing a recent landmark comment from the Pope. Likewise the way forward is through radical reformation not fearful reaction.
Today and tomorrow, 27 & 28 October, are key dates in Christian history. Constantine's 'vision of the Cross' in 312, and his attribution of military victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge the next day to God, was the beginning of Christendom in Europe - an era which mixed civilisation with bloodshed, saints with militarism, and faith with often brutal sacralised-secular power.