Sayers on the Supposed Sacred/Secular Split

How’s that for alliteration in a blog post title?

But on to the point at hand: as one of my recent posts indicated, I’ve been reading Dorothy Sayers’ Letters to a Diminished Church—a book I’d recommend if you want to be challenged by prose that is not only thoughtful and provocative, but also intentionally grounded in orthodox Christian doctrine (two traits that are too rarely found together).

In the interest of (1) serving up another taste of Sayers work to whet your own appetite and (2) underscoring a theological principle that remains fundamental the ministry of The Crossing, I offer the following quotation for your consideration and comment (there’s that alliteration creeping in again):

In nothing has the Church so lost Her hold on reality as in Her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the worlds intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.

But is it astonishing? How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.

Church, by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

Yet in Her own buildings, in Her own ecclesiastical art and music, in Her hymns and prayers, in Her sermons and in Her little books of devotion, the Church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent draftsman.

And why? Simply because She has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as that work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred. Forgotten that a building must be good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work. (Excerpted from “Why Work?”)

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