The Ambivalent Anglican

Brian Miller reviews Roger Scruton’s Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England. Here he explores the British philosopher’s complicated embrace of his nation’s church:

According to Scruton, “any church must have two dominant duties: to inspire religious sentiment, and also to contain it.” A question that then arises, and one which Scruton himself notes, is whether the Church has proved so successful in the latter that it eliminates the existence of former. To illustrate this problem he points to the examples of John Wesley and John Henry Newman, who he calls the greatest apostles of Christ that the Church of England has produced, yet admits the Church was incapable of containing either of them.

The duty to constrain religion arises from the belief that nothing is more important to civil society than civil peace. Scruton traces this belief to Thomas Hobbes, who concluded that religion could prove a danger to civil peace, and that it therefore must be constrained by civil government. Scruton goes to on to confess that “Like Hobbes I remain attached to the idea of civil government and believe it to be superior in every way to the rule of priests.”

He further confesses that “The English know in their hearts that faith is in large part a human invention.” This view is given legitimacy by the Church’s very history, which, as Scruton points out, was born in controversy and has continued in such through the years.