“We Don’t Do God” is a small and reasonably slim volume, coming in at under 180 pages. The Careys ask a lot of good questions, and provides some superb answers. The author writes from a perspective of years in the leadership structure of the Church of England, frontline ministry experience, and political engagement. Lord Carey, regardless of your views on his views, is pretty well placed to comment on Christianity and culture. We begin in Chapter One, “Living in Critical Times”, where there is a strong challenge; “Can anyone still pretend that a secular State delivers neutrality? In fact, from the point at which it casts down state religion it makes a powerful statement of repudiation of the religious voice – all religious voices – in the public square“. Written in 2012, this statement makes for chilling reading, in terms of foresight, in the way that religion is often treated in culture today.
But this is not a negative, anti-state book. In Chapter 2, the question is rightly asked “What has Christianity Done For Us?”, before moving into a look at “The Changing State of Britain”. It is here that Carey’s keenness of mind shines through. Elsewhere he warns about a form of Christian faith that eschews intelligence and reason – “There are aspects of evangelicalism, particularly American evangelicalism, that downplay intelligent discourse and civilised debate” – but this is not the form that Carey is taking, or teaching. Carey wisely and in timely manner notes that “In other words, there was never, ever a “golden age” in the past to which we can look back as a solution to the travails and concerns of the present. The problems of the past were often different but were equally real. Christians, like others, always need reminding that thought the past may seem an appealing place, we can only deal with hand we are given“. True. Christians should not be living in or for the past, but instead for the future ushered in with Christs resurrection.
The bulk of the book (Chapters 4 through 7 by my count), unsurprisingly but by necessity, is engagement with the issue of religious intolerance and secular/sacred conflict. Carey helpfully reminds us that whilst there have been some removals of Christian furniture from our national living room, it is worth noting that “Another way in which there has been a gradual marginalising of faith in the public realm is much less noticeable because it is more about omission than it is about commission“. You know where you are when things are deliberately removed. But mere omission makes it harder to pinpoint the exact crux of the issue. This section of the book makes for a rather frustrating and depressing read, yet it reflects the reality of a culture where the Church, for a myriad of reasons, has lost its voice and influence, for the most part.
The closing chapters, though, reflect ideas that resonate and slowly emerge throughout the book. Written in an unabashedly confrontational and confident style, Chapter Eight “Establishment: A Bulwark Against Intolerance”, makes an interesting case for the continued establishment of the Church of England, and demonstrates the authors awareness of the variety of churches and other religions that get involved in the UK. It is in the end, Chapter 9 “Challenging the Culture”, that Carey really gets his point across most helpfully. Carey launches into this final proclamation with a timely and helpful reference to Leslie Newbigin. Carey takes this idea of confident Christianity through the test cases of Secularism and Human Rights (including interesting observations on Equality), before looking at the future of Christianity in a Secular Europe. With a very helpful survey of different Christian reactions to culture, Carey closes with a wonderful, forward looking challenge to the Church;
“Just as at the start of Christianity, the Church of the third Millennium has a wonderful opportunity to proclaim afresh the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ to our world. If we can regain our sense of being God’s instrument for transformation we may well set the world ablaze once more. On that decision hinges the future of the Church in England”
This is an important book. It is especially important as Lord Carey now goes into the public arena to say increasingly unpopular (and never perfect!) things. It is a helpful book to demonstrate the careful thought behind an expression of Christianity often labelled unthinking. It is a warning bell for Christian leaders complacent in our so-called ‘Christian’ country. I didn’t find myself agreeing entirely with every issue and conclusion Carey came to, but I don’t hesitate to recommend this book.