Barry Taylor in his forward thinking book ‘Entertainment Theology’ (1) predicted that our emerging post-secular society, (the paradox of a ‘premodern’ and modern society mashed together), would give rise to a neo-medievalism.
Looking at London, a lot of his predictions are coming true,. We are seeing the rising of forms of church like new monasticism and other forms of missional church that are centred on the question “How should we live” rather than “what should we believe?”. The paradox of living still in a highly scientific and technological world, but where people are increasingly seeking the impossible in terms of spirituality over and above the possible, the material and scientific. (2)
So not only are we seeing new or should I say old forms of spirituality, a group now called the ‘Spiritual not Religious’ (SNR), but we are also seeing the simultaneous reversal of our British class driven society. We are seeing the unhealthy and scary reality of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, and an active erosion of the ‘middle classes’. I am left with the question ‘are we being forced to face a neo-feudalism’ where to be seen to be poor is seen as sinful? Stringfellow in his seminal work convinces me that all Capitalist market societies always demonise the poor, as if people have chosen to be that way. The was our society treats disabled people and poor families who have contract jobs, many who cannot find full time work. The language used around those who require welfare benefits again shows an attitude of disrespect if not hostility.
So not only are we emerging in a culture of the increasingly spiritual over the religious, we are seeing the rise of the increasingly rich and poor, and erosion of the middle classes. We remember that the middle classes were trade-driven skilled makers. It was the shift from an arable to a mercantile society where weavers, printers, musicians, lace makers, who also later became the professions, bankers, lawyers, clergy, doctors, social workers, nurses etc.
I have been fascinated by the pressure on occupations – as the Personnel Department becomes the Human Resources Deparment. Social Services have eroded the professions through the import of a market, so social workers have become Care Managers and Occupational Therapists have become assessors and providers of equipment rather than any therapy or transformation of skills and circumstances. We have created a cruel society that tries to make it very hard to find support services and decent welfare support in times of crisis.
So rather than our hope, that a post-secular society would be one where being human was central to the priorities of our society – of wellbeing and fulfilment and equality. We are increasingly in our neo-medieval come increasingly feudal society more and more oppressed by the market which yes opens up people towards spirituality but at the same time, has become dehumanised with an increasingly unequal society.
So what should the church do? Well increasingly put the focus on rehumanising society whilst challenging the forces that make everything a market, and to have a preferential regard for the poor.
I do not have hope as I look to the future, and hope that the church will recover a prophetic voice in these circumstances, as it attempts to be missional not only to open up Christianity for people to know and receive the love of God, but also to challenge the structures of oppression.
Capitalism as a market society has been talked of positively because it creates a meritocracy. Well actually I think this is not true, if the poor are actively disadvantaged regarding education and health care let alone nutrition, then actually the truth is the poor are more disadvantaged in an unequal market place.
I hope for a more courageous church to engage with parts of our increasingly neo-medieval society so that we don’t enter an increased time of injustice.
(1) Taylor Barry (2008) Entertainment Theology: Exploring Spirituality in a Digital Demcracy,(Baker Academic, USA).
(2) Mobsby, Ian (2012) God Unknown: The Trinity in Contemporary Spirituality, (Canterbury Press, UK).