Matthew Parris, who calls himself “a gay atheist” has been getting a lot of notice, mostly positive, for his recent piece at “The Spectator” in which he lectures the church about what he perceives to be our dismal failure in response to the approval for gay marriage in Ireland.

Mr. Parris, a British journalist and former conservative politician, laments “the philosophical mess that religious conservatives are making of their case” in opposition to the sweeping public support in Ireland for legalizing same-gender marriage.

He wants to know,

Is there nobody of any intellectual stature left in our English church, or the Roman church, to frame the argument against Christianity’s slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change? Time was — even in my time — when there were quiet, understated, sometimes quite severe men of the cloth, often wearing bifocal spectacles, who could show us moral relativists a decent fight in that eternal debate. Now there’s only the emotional witness of the ranting evangelicals, most of them pretty dim.

As an illustration of the “intellectual stature” of which Mr. Parris finds the English church so woefully lacking he quotes the “fine mind” of the eighteenth century Church of England Bishop Joseph Butler,

who remarked drily to John Wesley: ‘Sir, the pretending to extraordinary revelations, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, is an horrid thing, a very horrid thing.’

It is not entirely clear to me how this acerbic dismissive snippet illustrates the presence of a “fine mind” of “intellectual stature.” At face value it appears to be nothing more than an “Oh-I’m-so-sophisticated” attack against an experience foreign to the speaker which is therefore dismissed as having no merit.

If there is anything that has caused the demise of the church since the days when the church reached the pinnacle of “intellectual stature” in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century “Age of Enlightenment,” it is not not the “philosophical mess” of the church, or the church’s ” slide into just going with the flow of social and cultural change.” The decline of the church has come about in direct proportion to its slide into a dry barren disconnected intellectualism that fails to take seriously the reality of peoples’ lives and to offer a path of transformation to assist people in living authentically with a deep connection to that Divine Reality in which Mr. Parris chooses not to believe.

Curiously, Mr. Parris, who remember is “gay,” wants the church to hold firm to a “morality” that is “absolute” and “objective.”

I wonder which part of the “absolute” and “objective” “morality” in Leviticus 20:13 Mr. Parris would want to see the church holding firm to today:

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

And I wonder, if he were a church-attender, which of course he is not, if Mr. Parris would urge his church to continue enforcing Paul’s absolute standard all church-goers should

Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? 14Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, 15but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (I Corinthians 11:13-15)

Whether Mr. Parris finds it intellectually defensible or not, standards do change. The human community’s understanding of morality does shift. Sadly, there have been times, far too many times, in history when it has been necessary for the world to lead the church into embracing a more humane and even godly way of being than the church would ever have chosen left to its own devices.

“Objective morality” once revealed to a distressingly large portion of the Christian church that people of colour, almost any colour other than white, were racially inferior and that such people should be subjected to enforced western enculturation, renunciation of their native faith and language, and conversion to the “objective morality” of  “quite severe men of the cloth, often wearing bifocal spectacles, who could show us moral relativists a decent fight.” If the only alternative to such unconscionable arrogance is to “go with the flow” of the world, I will choose the gentler more compassionate stance of the people of Ireland any day, even if it offends the delicate intellectual sensibility of Mr. Matthew Parris.