Yesterday evening, I discovered a BBC program I’d not heard of — In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg. It’s a history program, and the host, Bragg, talks with a few experts about a given subject for forty minutes. I went and pulled a few episodes off the podcast feed, especially when I saw that a recent episode was on Pelagianism, a fifth century Christian heresy that was viciously opposed by Augustine of Hippo because it denied Original Sin.
Pelagius, by the way, is a minor character in Clive Owen’s King Arthur film of several years ago. The theological issues of Pelagianism versus Augustinianism are avoided by the film, however. I have wondered at the development of western history if Augustine’s were the heretical views and if Christianity developed on the decentralized lines that characterized the Celtic, rather than the Roman, church. Suffice it to say, the political and theological questions of the early church fascinated me. Indeed, the theological and the political were at times identical, and that was a point that was brought up in the episode of In Our Time on the topic of Pelagianism.
And yet, I’m a rampant godless heathen. Questions of theology surely fall outside my worldview.
Not really. I’ve spent a decade of my life in the worlds of fandom. Questions of theology turn on points as arcane and inconsequential as questions of continuity. Like religion, fandom has its orthodoxies and its heresies. Religion’s prophets and bishops are fandom’s Big Name Fans. Whether or not salvation can be achieved through one’s actions or through predestination is as nerdy in its own way as whether or not William Hartnell is the first Doctor or the ninth.
Church architecture fascinates me. Nothing looks like a church or a cathedral. I’ve been known to walk the city, just to take a closer look at a steeple and the church building it adorns. A few weeks ago, when the train stopped a few stops short of the subway transfer point, I walked through a hilly neighborhood and a college campus, and I took pictures of the churches along the way, especially an Episcopalian church that had been built in a Tudor style.
I absolutely love the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I first visited it in elementary school on a field trip to the city. I last visited it about a decade ago.
And yes, I’ve taken a picture of its Darth Vader gargoyle.
It’s a beautiful building, and though I have no religious inclinations of my own, I cannot help but be impressed by it.
I’ve visited the Baltimore Basilica, though I’ve not taken the tour. I would like to take the tour. Maybe I’ll skip work one day…
What impresses me about churches is that they’re buildings that exist for reasons bigger than people. They exist to bring communities together. They stand for years, decades, centuries, and they tie the past together with the present and they point toward the future. Even I, godless heathen that I am, recognize the noble purpose to which these buildings stand. Even I can feel a hushed reverence at the artistry, expertise, and craftsmanship that went into constructing these edifices that have stood the test of time.
I’m a church tourist. What can I say.