Saturday, 11 November 2006

On using the 'J-Word'

Normally, I'd prefer to talk about writing, and I am reluctant to replace the previous post because it had some really rather nice responses. But this present topic has been bobbing around in my brain this week and I thought I would share it, because it does have relevance to the matter of writing.

More years ago than I care to remember, I spent a year on a reasonably remote university campus. We were so distant from the nearest town that we evangelicals would all turn up at the college chapel to hear preaching from whoever was passing through. We had an extremely varied diet, including many academic theologians who felt that here, amongst students, they could use words with more than two syllables. Very soon we developed an index of the preaching, simply based on how long they could preach without using the word Jesus. Some managed the whole thirty minutes without using the word. After some months, we felt that this was a pretty sure indication of whether or not a preacher was spiritually alive or dead.

Years later, I was told that if you wanted to get a book with a Christian framework published by a secular publisher in the UK you had to avoid using the J-word. You could get away with all sorts of things, including discussing spirituality, but somehow that name (the real He-who-shall- not-be-Named) triggered negative responses. At this point, you would expect me to say ‘well, of course, I abhor this view and my books are studded with the word ‘Jesus’’. Well actually, they aren't and in the present series I think I've made a point of using that word just once a book partly because I don't want to put off the interested reader, who comes from outside Christianity. And after all, as the Bible shows there are lots of other names and titles for the Lord that we can invoke.

What you may ask, triggered this reflection? It's just that is our country's leading churchman has a widely noted inability to use the J. word himself. Entire sermons pass without him mentioning it and he achieved a singular feat recently of being interviewed specifically about Christianity by one of our more aggressive radio personalities and never used the word (or, I think, ‘Christ’).

I would be inclined to attribute this apparent ‘Jesus-ophobia’ to some psychological or sociological quirk were it not for the explicit claims of the New Testament, notably in Philippians chapter 2 that one day, ‘every knee will bow at the name of Jesus’. Of course, that is symbolic language but I feel it is interesting that there are so many attempts to whitewash away the very specific and very concrete Jesus that there is in biblical Christianity and replace him by something far, far vaguer.

Are they afraid of something? Or Someone?