Some questions about a strange letter in Evangelicals Now

I was reading the letters section of Evangelicals Now this month and noticed a reply to a previous letter from the Assistant Service Manager at Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries. And with a reply from a title like that, you know this blog post is going to be right riveting. But bear with me.

The original letter concerned a complaint about Cheriton Library (no idea 🤷‍♂️ but based on the title of the man writing the second letter, I’m guessing Kent). Specifically, it was a bit narked that Cheriton Library didn’t stock a Bible but *shock horror* they did stock “New Atheist” materials.

The Assistant Service Manager at Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries has looked into the matter and found that there are “two Holy Bibles in Folkestone Library… One reference only Holy Bible at Folkestone and one at Hythe Library. Looking at the number of Holy Bibles in all the Kent libraries, they have identified around 30 Holy Bibles (Gideons) across the county”. Phew! The Kentish Holy Bible Crisis of 2022 has been averted.

As for the concern about the lack of Bibles relative to the “New Athiest” materials available, the helpful Assistant Service Manager at Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries clearly knows his onions. He says, ‘Kent County Council Libraries are required to stock books covering a range of subjects. These may not all be stocked in one single library but in many across the county, and can be reserved and delivered using our central van delivery system to the library of your choice.’ There you have it. Cheriton Library just happened to be fulfilling the county-wide criteria to stock “New Atheist” books whilst the wider Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries service carries many more Holy Bibles. What a relief to know our local libraries are upholding this countries commitment to Christian values.

Still, I have lots of questions. I suppose my first is why Evangelicals Now think this is a particularly worthwhile letter? Not the response, I understand the response given the original published complaint. But I am wondering how valuable the stocking decisions of a provincial local library in Kent is more broadly nor what it has to do with the national state of Evangelicalism in the UK?

I equally wonder why the original complainant has a bee in their bonnet about it? The point I am surprised was not made by the venerable Assistant Service Manager at Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries is the palpably obvious one: perhaps they don’t stock Bibles in every library in the Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries service because – and hang onto your hats for this if you’re of the “this is a Christian country with Christian values” bent – there isn’t the demand for it. Perhaps the more pertinent question is not “why is there not a Bible in every library in your service?” but rather “how many times have the 30 or so Bibles in your county-wide service been checked out?” I suspect the answer to that question might go some way to explaining why they have Bibles available, but they are content to have some and bus them in such as they’re requested.

This seems to labour under the same bizarre misapprehension about library closure altogether. There is always a mad public outcry whenever a library is closed down. There is usually an assumption that libraries are closing because of ideological cuts by local government. Sometimes that may be true. But often the reality is that it is an obvious cut to make because hardly anyone is using the library. The formula is very simple: use it or lose it. The same sort of public outcry goes up when high street shops start going under – “We can’t have this, there will be no Debenhams anymore!” – without anybody stopping to think perhaps it would still be there if people actually used it.

But it feels like the complaint is essentially one that is looking for trouble. Or, rather, looking for a cause upon which one can be a martyr. Look! Look! They aren’t stocking Bibles! See how they hate Christians! Except, they are stocking Bibles. And, once again, even if they weren’t, as with most things most service providers do, they don’t stock or put on what there is evidently no demand for. If they did stop stocking Bibles, rather than assuming it was some ideological anti-Christian stance, it would seem far more likely that would stem from lack of demand. Lack of demand itself may be a result of lack of interest in Christianity, but it may also be because Bibles are readily available and reasonably cheap to buy and, in the end, most people buy one if they want one. There may be a whole host of other factors too.

Some of us seem to have a persecution complex about these things all the time. But even when there is stuff actively being pushed that is ideologically driven and does not accord with Christian values, even this isn’t usually an attempt to persecute us. Because, and I hate to break it to you, Christians aren’t important or significant enough to bother persecuting. We are nothing. We don’t warrant persecution. More often than not, we just don’t feature in people’s thoughts at all. The only time we do is not when anyone is trying to persecute us, but when they do something we don’t want to go along with (potentially quite reasonably because of our faith and beliefs) and they hadn’t countenanced that anybody would have grounds to complain beyond the less thinking, and often quite bigoted, I-just-don’t-like-it-but-I-might-change-my-mind-if-I-meet-some-people-who-think-that-who-I-actually-quite-like variety. It doesn’t matter that we might have theological grounds and fully fleshed out framework for our position. Most people haven’t even thought about us and, when they encounter us saying we’re not keen, don’t have the categories to view us any differently to the I-Just-Don’t-Like-It crew.

The point is, we don’t live in a Christian country. Not really. We may have a Christian heritage. But we have to accept that carries no water with most people. They don’t subscribe to Christian values. They don’t really even share much Christian culture. Even things like our guilt-based culture – that stemmed from our Christianity – has increasingly become replaced by a more Eastern-style Honour culture. People are no longer bound by the religious ties that once – even though many didn’t believe personally – had civic value. We are truly and properly post-Christian and there is no value in getting ourselves worked up in a lather that we wish it were like it once was. We simply have to accept this is where we are at now. Christians are not living in a churched culture, but a missionary one. Which means, at a bare minimum, libraries might not stock Bibles anymore and, even where they do – as in the Folkestone & Hythe District Libraries – we can’t be surprised if they’re not checked out very often nor if they exist purely for reference because they are ‘required to stock books covering a range of subjects’ and no more.