Sir Roger Scruton, one of the best known modern-day philosophers in England, has great pride in the Anglican Church and credits it for shaping great swaths of Europe’s culture through its architecture and sacred texts, the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
Scruton, knighted last summer, will speak at 9:15 a.m. Sunday, November 6 at Holy Communion on the power of the Anglican Church, one of his great loves. His book, Our Church: A Personal History of the Church of England, was published in 2012.
He answered these questions ahead of his visit:
Q: If one of the abiding strengths of the Anglican Church is its place in England’s history and its culture-forming nucleus, what are its modern-day shortcomings?
A: It has lost the evangelical habit, and has become too apologetic about the things that it believes: Apologetic most of all about England and its meaning.
Q: If the church in England is now the least-visited building on the block, what role do you see it playing in a multicultural society? And, in your opinion, how does that translate to the United States?
A. The decline in congregations, we must hope, is temporary. In a multicultural society, it is vital that there be a central and officially respected belief – Christianity in our two countries, comparable to Islam in the Ottoman Empire. The role of the church is not to condemn other faiths, but to defend a general respect for faith and to open the way to dialogue about the nature of God. At the same time, it must announce clearly its own belief in the redeeming message of Christ.
Q. What lessons are there for the Episcopal Church in the United States?
A: It is important to respect the beliefs and devotional habits of ordinary people, and also to stay clear of political controversy if possible. The Episcopal Church is a sacramental church, and it is through the sacraments that it will retain its congregation and give them hope.
Q: What is your advice for mending the rifts in the church while still maintaining the Anglican tradition?
A: I wish I had an answer. I suppose the important thing is to hang on to what is essential, and to pray for guidance. The great questions that trouble us now are those of marriage and sexuality. In addressing them we must remember that it is not we and our appetites that are important, but our children and their needs, and – in guardianship over us – the God of us all.
Sir Roger Scruton is one of more than a dozen noted speakers Holy Communion has brought to Memphis since the church formed its Speaker Series ministry in 2002.
“Robbie McQuiston was instrumental in organizing the ministry and laying the groundwork for its long-term success,” said John Russell, president of the seven-member committee that attends to the details, including continually scouting speaker prospects.
“Our first speaker was Elaine Pagels, the American religious historian who is professor of religion at Princeton University and is probably best known for her book on the Gnostic Gospels,” Russell said. “Through the years, we have hosted writers, scholars and theologians, including Bruce Feiler, Jon Meacham, Jan Karon, Diana Eck, Anne Lamott, Karen Armstrong and Walter Brueggemann.”
Scruton, an English philosopher who specializes in aesthetics, is one of a tiny handful of speakers in the series’ 14-year history from outside the United States.
Dan Cullen, who teaches political philosophy at Rhodes College, first encountered Scruton about 20 years ago when he “stumbled” upon his writing, startomg with The Meaning of Conservatism. “It is one of the most important works of political philosophy of the 1980s and is a book that challenged the adequacy of the ideas associated with both Reaganism and Thatcherism. As I read more and more widely, I discovered a thinker, a genuine philosopher (not a "professor of philosophy" or an "intellectual") and a writer of luminous prose (a rarity in academia).”
They met a few years ago at Oxford University and Cullen invited Scruton to lecture at Rhodes.
“Over the last few years I have organized symposia on his thought and invited various scholars from the fields of aesthetics, philosophy, music and political theory to discuss his work with him. I include bits of his work in my syllabi whenever I can," said Cullen, who is compiling a book of essays on Scruton.
“I think Scruton has been surprised and gratified by the interest in his work among North American scholars, and he has finally begun to receive the recognition he deserves."
“Discovering Roger Scruton was an intellectual awakening for me. Because he writes about serious matters in a serious way, Scruton is ‘controversial.’ He has a point of view that illuminates the human world, which is in danger of being rendered invisible to us by the perspective of science and the dominant trends of contemporary philosophy,” Cullen said.
The purpose of the Speaker Series, funded with personal gifts, has always been “to engage in meaningful dialogue for spiritual growth,” both in the congregation and in the larger community,” Russell said. “The events attract numerous visitors from outside our congregation. Importantly, our parish has the opportunity to show hospitality to a wide cross-section of the Memphis community.
“I know parishioners who found Holy Communion specifically because of the Speakers Series,” Russell said. “They saw a banner for a Speakers Series event, came to Holy Communion for the lecture, liked what they heard, and have been here ever since!”
On March 23, Holy Communion will host Dr. Omid Safi, professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University and director of its Islamic Studies Center. Safi is an expert Islamic mysticism (Sufism), contemporary Islamic thought and medieval Islamic history. He has served on the board of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University and is the co-chair of the steering committee for the Study of Islam and the Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion.
“Because many prominent speakers are outside our budget, we are now working to collaborate with other groups. This has worked very well,” Russell said. “Last spring, we partnered with Calvary to bring the Rev. Walter Brueggemann. His lecture was very well-attended. We also partner with Rhodes College, as we did with Scruton.”