Friday, 31 January 2014

An Orthodox Voice in a Western Wilderness

There has been a tendency for rebellious Westerners to reject their cultural heritage and to seek it in the East.  From the Beatles onwards this has been a popular trend, yet strangely these Westerners do not gravitate towards that great edifice of Eastern culture based on a view of truth West and East share, the Eastern Orthodox Church, but rather choose those manifestations of belief that renounce all that the West regards as most precious about our humanity.  So the rebellious Western youth chooses Buddhism, a philosophy of renunciation, rather than complementing his own Christian heritage by learning how the East has understood those same truths upon which Western culture is built.

The irony of this is that when a Westerner attempts to abandon his culture in a Cartesian effort to shape the world according to his partial view, he finds an Asiatic culture that places far more emphasis on tradition, wisdom of the ancestors and renunciation of novelty.  The blogger suspects however that this attraction to belief systems that some Westerners engage in is an individualistic fascination with the novel.  It all goes back to Descartes’ great attempt to believe only what he himself could justify.  From that step so much of what is wrong with Western culture followed.

Western culture has always been more individualistic than the East, but that individualism can only function in the context of tradition and a reference to the accumulated ways of doing things, based on valid lessons long since forgotten.  The error of the Westerner who thinks that he can pick and choose his culture is that he can never really escape the traditions and cultural values that have shaped him.  Thus a Western convert to Buddhism or Taoism can never be completely that, he will always be a Christian Buddhist or Taoist, just as an atheist in the West still acts in accordance with the values shaped by a Christian post-Roman culture.

And yet if Western culture is individualist, perhaps we are especially free to pick and choose who we are, like existentialists who think we can define our own meaning?  Well actually the West does have a tradition and when that tradition is strong then we are far more fulfilled and free.  Edmund Burke, a defender of the liberties of the Glorious Revolution recognised this.  As much as he believed in the freedoms won for us by Parliament, he understood that we are shaped by our traditions and history.  We hand on those rights, liberties and traditions passed on to us by our ancestors.  Our social contract is not some individualistic arrangement between us and the State, but a contract between us, previous generations and generations to come.  It is a contract based on trust; we hold what our ancestors have left for us on trust for our children.  Thus Church, Monarchy, nation and tradition should be sustained (including necessary reforms for their survival in a changing world) so that they can be passed on to the next generation.

Burke emphasised the wisdom of the ancestors, the importance of prejudice and, in his aesthetic philosophy, the importance of the Sublime.  With reference to this, I now want to return to the East.  Burke was often accused of a Catholic sympathy and yet was he not pointing out those aspects of a culture necessary for its survival that are often neglected in the West?
In the Catholic and Protestant Churches there is a strong emphasis on the individual being saved by Christ taking our punishment.  When Christianity was accepted in the West it moulded a pre-existing individualist and humanist culture.  These Indo-European races with their human-like gods and god-like heroes and their democratic ideals, placed a strong emphasis on the individual human and the personality.  True to the spirit of the Incarnation the Church met people where they were.  Yet can we not learn something from the East?  And I mean here where the East is relevant to us.  Surely the Orthodox Church has far more to say to us than Buddha, Confucius or the Dalai Lama?

The Orthodox Church places a greater emphasis on the teachings of the Church Fathers than Roman Catholics or Protestants and is this not in some way similar to Burke’s emphasis on the wisdom of the ancestors?  Its emphasis on obedience and authority (as opposed to the more subjective notion of individual interpretation of Scripture in Western Protestant Churches) is similar to the Burkean critique of Descartes.

The importance of the Patristics in Orthodox theology is something the West could perhaps learn from.  You only value learning from the Patristics if you recognise your faith is handed down to you by others who have learnt much on the way.  It is surely a recognition that the Cartesian outlook is by definition severely limited.  From the Orthodox outlook we can learn to value our own fathers’ teachings and our own traditions.

For those who look to the East, Orthodoxy provides a greater emphasis on tradition and on a meditative state through the theosis, which is difficult to achieve in the materialist West, shaped by Calvinist ideas that worldly success is evidence of election.  And most importantly of all the Orthodox Church is an expression of the universal values that the West is also in touch with – the truth of Christianity.

We will always be Western, but we can learn from Eastern Christianity, because we are starting from common ground.  From the East we can learn that Western individualism and liberty can reach their fullest potential with due recognition and reverence of tradition and the wisdom of the ancestors.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

In what spirit should an Englishman toast Rabbie Burns?

Tonight like many other English men and women the blogger will toast the immortal memory of Robert Burns, the Scottish poet.  This is notwithstanding the imminent referendum on a divorce between the two largest nations of this island.  The English are however of a generous spirit and notwithstanding the insults and resentment of Scottish nationalism, we are big enough to continue to commemorate our shared British heritage.

What further demonstrates this generosity of spirit is that Rabbie Burns himself seems often to have seethed with an anti-English and anti-establishment resentment.  How unlike that other great Scot of letters, Sir Walter Scott!

Notwithstanding that tone of bitterness that one can detect in poems such as “A Man’s a Man for all That”, one cannot deny the sensitivity of spirit that speaks to us in poems such as “To a Mouse” or songs such as “My Luve is like a Red, Red Rose”.  This sensitivity was somewhat betrayed by Burns in his own life of being false to true love in matters of the heart and his own principles when he became an Excise Officer, extracting tax on behalf of an establishment he claimed to despise.  Some might describe him as a man of contradictions, which is perhaps a euphemism for hypocrite. 

Whereas Rabbie Burns seems sometimes to be bitter, Si Walter Scott was able to identify with affection the characteristics of the different cultures of these islands.  Indeed Sir Walter Scott was able to create an affectionate portrait of the different extremes of Scottish culture, from the Highland bandit Rob Roy to the Lowland businessman, Mr Jarvie.  He was also able to feel deep affection for English heritage and culture, as we can see from Ivanhoe.  His characterisations show that he understands both the forces and ideals that drive men as well as their limitations.  We see the limitations of the tribal Highland culture in Rob Roy’s brutal wife and the limitations of nationalism, which turns to fanaticism in the character of Fergus Mac-Ivor.  Whereas Rabbie Burns sometimes seems judgemental in that he holds society to a higher standard than that by which he lived himself, Scott shows an understanding of the frailties of human nature and portrays these faults not with gall, but with sympathy.

It does seem churlish to criticise the immortal memory today and would defeat the point of the argument were I to do so; rather I am arguing that we should show Scott’s sympathy for human nature in toasting a flawed character who probably would have resented us.  Thus, in the generous spirit of that other Scotsman, Sir Walter Scott, let us toast the immortal memory of a great romantic poet who belongs to all of us, English and Scottish – Rabbie Burns!   

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Pantheism like Deism can only give a partial picture

 In the declining West with its twin maladies of political correctness and the kitsch there is a growing tendency for thinking and sensitive people to look for the Divine and the cultural in Nature.  The Church seems to have been captured by those forces people of taste reject – I mean a politically-correct outlook that would replace the reaching out to the sublime with value-neutral and gender-neutral language.

Of course this is depressing and cultural decline in the West is a real phenomenon.  I have argued before in this blog that this decline has much to do with the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, with its attempts to universalise, deny the local and the traditional and move from the Incarnation to Deism or even atheism.

Nietzsche of course recognised the decadence of the West and produced a powerful critique in his writings.  He knew that the attempt to explain all by science was a mistake and thought his emphasis on the aesthetic and the subjective Ubermensch was the answer.  I think he was wrong in the way he laid the blame for Western decadence at the door of Christianity.  The self-loathing of political correctness today has its roots in the decadence Nietzsche perceived, but it is not an evolution of Christianity; rather it is a falling away from Christianity.  Christ did not teach us there was no Judgment, only that we were not the judges.  Remove God and we are left with a society with no values (something Nietzsche came to embrace of course).

More perceptive than Nietzsche in his definition of this Western decay was Charles Baudelaire, that old sinner.  As much as that son of a Lutheran minister Friedrich Nietzsche probably never committed a significant carnal sin in his life, Baudelaire in his seedy, garret existence perceived the Divine still through the murk generated by Western liberal dogma.  Rather like the woman washing Christ’s feet grasping the nature of grace better than Simon the Pharisee, so Baudelaire saw that it was a falling away from religion, not religion that brought about decay.

Baudelaire wrote of the liberal French writer, George Sand:

“Consider George Sand.  She is, first and last, a prodigious blockhead, but she is possessed.  It is the Devil who has persuaded her to trust in her good-nature and common-sense, that she must persuade all other prodigious blockheads to trust in their good-nature and common-sense.”

The blogger considers this to be a devastating definition and categorisation of the liberal do-gooder.  Baudelaire saw that these liberals, with their non-judgemental and modern outlook were falling away from Western culture with its concept of sin and redemption.  You cannot have the redemption without the sin.

So the argument of this blog is that what repulsed Nietzsche was not Christianity, but a partial picture of Christian values – it was liberalism, spawned by the least traditionalist and most secularist aspects of Enlightenment thinking.  The decent and intelligent man attracted to Pantheism should not reject Christianity because liberalism casts pearls before swine.  He should first know exactly what it is he is rejecting!  He is not rejecting liberalism, he is rejecting what G K Chesterton called “The intolerant Truth”, which is “full of grace and truth.”

Pantheism does indeed identify something very powerful in Nature and the Pantheist is right to feel awe and perceive something revealed of the divine in Nature, just as Job in his revelation saw God in Nature.  Job however could tell the difference between the Creator and the creature.  The Pantheist has the two confused.  The Pantheist sometimes caricatures the Christian as Manichean or Gnostic, but the Church always regarded the hatred of the material world as heresy.  Baudelaire pointed out:

“The mystery of Paganism.  Mysticism:  the common feature of Paganism and Christianity.”

This may seem arcane, but it is surely profound, and the blogger may not have fully understood Baudelaire’s meaning, but no discussion of Christianity can be complete without reference to the Incarnation and is not the Incarnation nothing less than the Divine coming into its creation and thereby sanctifying and redeeming it?  So both pagans and Christians see the mystery in the world around us.

If creation is imperfect but beautiful, the Incarnation can make it perfect.  We must turn to a far more saintly character than Baudelaire to complete this blog – G K Chesterton.  The Roman Catholic Church is currently investigating whether this rotund Englishman of wit and letters was actually a saint. 

Chesterton demonstrates in his work, the Everlasting Man that Paganism can only eventually lead to depravity as evidenced by Roman decline into the Circus and perverted emperors.  This is of course a reiteration of the first chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  In another work, Chesterton defined the problem of paganism in his book on Saint Francis of Assisi:

“What was the matter with the whole heathen civilization was that there was nothing for the mass of men in the way of mysticism, except that concerned with the mystery of the nameless forces of nature, such as sex and growth and death.  Thus, the effect of treating sex as the only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex.”

Thus the decline of the classical world.  And thus also the need for a redemption from Nature worship.  That redemption came through the Divine entering its own creation – Nature - from the outside.

Acknowledging the specific nature of Christ’s incarnation has important practical implications for today however, because if we take the Incarnation completely seriously, we realise that the Universal has become local, the general, specific and the Divine, individual.  Thus local tradition and custom in religion become sanctified because they are specific to a certain people.  If redemption is achieved by God becoming a real, physical person in a particular place and time in history, so the way we worship and reach out to the universal, which is sublime, must be practised in a customary and traditional way. 

We meet the Universal Divine here in this world, in our places of worship with words handed down to us from previous generations.  As T S Eliot put it in the Four Quartets:

“Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere.  Forever and always.”

The Book of Common Prayer helps us to reach the sublime because of the beauty of its language and because it is English tradition.  New and transitory language is a step away from the Incarnation and towards Deism.  It will refer to the Incarnation in words, but the underlying assumption is that the words should be detached from local context and tradition, they should be “modernised” – this is a major intellectual concession to Deism I believe.

And so the belief or rather faith in the Incarnation achieves what both Pantheism and Deism fail to do:  it brings us into touch with the Divine where we are now in both our personal lives and in our own culture and traditions.  Only the Incarnation can redeem us.    

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

The True European is no friend to the Eurocrats

To talk of scepticism about the European Union, that political and economic project, as being an anti-European phenomenon is (often) a complete misunderstanding of that position.  Of course, there may be a minority of Euro-sceptics who genuinely loathe their European kin, but what really fires mainstream Euro-Scepticism is opposition not only to loss of democracy, but more fundamentally opposition to the standardisation of Europe.  That standardisation is the destruction of European culture in all its various national manifestations.

T S Eliot, in a radio lecture to a German audience in the Post-War years, stated:

“For the health of the culture of Europe two conditions are required:  that the culture of each country should be unique, and that the different cultures should recognise their relationship, so that each should be susceptible of influence from others.”

What is relevant here in terms of the political project in Europe today is that it is based upon standardising and making all Europeans the same.  If we believe in a European culture however, we must understand that it is strengthened by the different local expressions of that heritage.  If everything is forced from above by a political and legal authority to be the same, there can no longer be the cross fertilisation necessary to sustain European culture.

This blogger does believe in European culture and that there is something unique and special that Europe has to offer the world.  It is from the interaction between Christianity and the heritage of Greece and Rome.  These two societies, which valued humanity, were fertile ground for this new Semitic faith from Galilee.  Greek was the language of Scripture and Rome the ecclesiastical centre of the new religion.  Today we are all still shaped by that interaction between these forces.  All Europeans have this in common, including Eastern Europe with its Christian Orthodox and Byzantine heritage, which can trace its genesis to the same three roots.

However, that cultural unity is achieved through the diversity of local sub-cultures, from the Anglo-Saxon to the Italian.  Our strength lies in our difference and our culture is not the same as politics.  The trouble with the European Union is that it is trying to replace European culture with European politics.

The two forces are in complete antithesis, because the predominant political ideology is anti-cultural.  The dominant political outlook, to the exclusion of all others, is secularist, liberal and materialist.  To value Europe’s cultural heritage is to destroy your career in the European Union.  One only has to call to mind the debacle of Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the European Commission to understand that the Commission is instinctively opposed to European values.  It was precisely because Buttiglione as a Roman Catholic held to a moral and spiritual code that sustained our culture since the Holy Roman Empire that his candidacy was undermined.

So the European Union is more about secularism and liberalism than sustaining European culture.  It would rather see a Europe in which the only value was the legitimacy of personal choice – a moral code described by American Distributists as similar to that of “the psychopath”, in which one choice is no more morally valid than another.  This is in contrast with a European culture based upon real values.

Furthermore by its aggressive project of standardisation the strength of Europe’s different cultures is being eroded.  A key example is weights and measures.  This may seem a mundane subject, but weights and measures are part of everyday life, they become part of our unique colloquialisms and our sayings.  They reflect an outlook on life and are therefore part of popular culture.  Thus imperial measurements in England do not adhere to an abstract theory of measurement, but rather commemorate specific events or individuals – the foot for example, mythically being based upon the size of King Edward’s foot.  This uniqueness is of course anathema to the anti-cultural European Union and so selling goods in imperial measurements in England has become a criminal offence!

So the argument of this blog is that the true European loves what makes Europeans different and what makes them the same.  The English, with our common law, adversarial politics and law, our foxhunting, pubs and yes selling our goods in pounds and ounces, and of course with William Shakespeare and our poets.  The French: with their painters, their strong secular state, sustained rural way of life, their gentler form of capitalism, their wine and cuisine.  The Germans: with Goethe, with their music, their philosophy, their consensual industrial relations and yes their beer festivals.   The Italians: with Dante, their opera, strong family-values, their Catholicism.  It is sad when these traditions diminish and standardisation undermines tradition.  Politics undermine culture.

In the same way, what holds Europe together is inheriting the universal and cultural values of Christendom, expressed differently throughout Europe, from the severe Calvinism of some parts of the North to the sumptuous Catholicism of the South.  Whatever the local manifestation, that common culture holds us together and a political system so averse to that inheritance also undermines what Europeans share.

The European political class must realise that Europe’s spiritual and cultural survival does not depend on political unification, but local diversity.  We saw in the last century the danger of that impetus to unite politically when Germany became a political unit and standardised, it went on to try and create a standardised, political unit of the whole Continent and its archipelagos.     

John Major, during his more beleaguered years as Prime Minister, trying to gain acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty emphasised the Catholic concept of subsidiarity - a principle that was championed by that English Catholic and Distributist G K Chesterton.  The Roman Catholic Church has learnt from history what a dangerous path it is to ignore local conditions.  It had to face the Reformation as Northern Europe began to express its Christianity in its simpler, more democratic way.  The European Union should learn from the Church and in that way Europe will become stronger through its diversity of Protestantism, Catholicism, different languages, customs and different national traits.  The best way to achieve that European diversity is through that tried and tested political institution – the nation state.

The nation state is large enough to unite, without being too large to gain popular engagement and acceptance.  It is of the same size as a nation of people by definition.  It is the nuclear family, with those special ties, as opposed to the extended family of a whole Continent.  It holds together a people who have specific things the same in common: language, race, history, religion.  Of course all European nations are part of something bigger, but they are the local manifestation of that culture and because they are of the same size as a people they command the political legitimacy a super state could never command.  Men will die for their country and thereby save democracy from threat; they would not die for an international bureaucracy. So Europe should not vest an international bureaucracy with law-making powers and all the trappings of a nation state.  No one will come to save it when it falls under threat.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Silence on the Christian Holocaust from the Heirs of Christendom?

This blog will begin with some honourable exceptions in the matter of Western silence on the deliberate persecution and removal from their religious and native homeland of Christians through murder and intimidation.  Our first exception to an otherwise failed political response is Fiona Bruce MP, who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the persecution of Christians and rightly drew an analogy with the Nazi mass extermination of Jews in the last century. 

Of course it is right that we should oppose persecution of all peoples, whatever their faith or race.  It was right that the West intervened to protect Bosnian Muslims, even if a consequence of Bosnian Serb defeat was relief not just for decent Bosnians but also a minority who went on to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan.  It is right that the West is bringing pressure to bear on President Assad, when he has allegedly used chemical weapons on his own people as well as using conventional weapons to slaughter his fellow citizens.  It is right to do that, even though many persecuted Christians depend on President Assad’s survival to protect them from the Al Qaeda-inspired rebels who benefit from Western policy.

It is not right however to ignore the persecution of those who are closest to us culturally and spiritually.  Surely when Christians are persecuted in the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan, there is a special onus on the inheritors of Christendom to speak out and take action?  Strangely it seems that the Western media is sadly lacking in interest in the persecution of a people whom HRH Prince Charles (our second exception to the general political failure) has described as “our brothers and sisters in Christ”.

When I refer to us as the inheritors of Christendom I mean all of us, whether or not we are faithful or practising Christians.  Even if we are not, we have inherited a culture and a history shaped by Christian faith.  We have a duty to uphold that culture, whatever our personal beliefs.  We cannot choose to have been born in a Caliphate or a Buddhist state, whether we are believers or not we have been born into and shaped by a Christian culture.  The Western atheist owes his values to the same inheritance as the Coptic Christians.  I believe that this not only behoves us to uphold our own values and customs, but to understand that special link it gives us with Christians in other parts of the world and particularly in the Middle East, where Christ lived, walked and taught.

It is worth quoting His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, bearing in mind how much the Prince has done to reach out to Muslims in our own country:

“I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by various Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East.  It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants.  Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Prince Charles by dint of his role and upbringing is more aware of our cultural roots than those who run the twenty-four hour rolling media or the politicians more worried about climbing the greasy pole than standing up for principles.

Why should it be though that the media ignores this or pays it scant attention and politicians see no benefit in speaking out (apart from notable exceptions including Fiona Bruce MP and other MPs such as David Simpson MP (DUP)?  Perhaps part of the explanation can be revealed by another honourable exception:  Baroness Warsi.  The Baroness has spoken out about this issue and yet this begs the question as to why someone of Islamic faith of an immigrant family has spoken out more vocally than all those politicians whose roots are Christian and European?

I think the excuse our leaders would give is that for a White, ostensibly Christian Western politician to condemn the persecution of Christians would play into the hands of Islamists who for propaganda purposes would then be able to falsely portray Middle Eastern Christians as Western stooges.  One is reminded of President Obama’s behaviour over the abortive Green revolution in Iran.  Even when the protesters pleaded for American support he remained ambivalent.  The Green Revolution failed.

This attitude seems to be based on shame about and alienation from our own values and a misunderstanding that somehow speaking for the cause of what is Right and Just strengthens the arm of the wicked.  Speaking truth to power earns your cause credit not discredit and inspires rather than undermines.  Silence on the other hand can look like indifference or even tacit acceptance of the rightness of the oppressor’s action.  We know where the attitude of asking "What is truth?" leads.

It is the view of this blogger that the attitude Western leaders are portraying is not pragmatic politics but an exhibition of politically-correct guilt and alienation about our own values.  An aggressive secularisation and attack on our traditional values has left us with pusillanimous politicians who no longer speak with conviction or even know what convictions they should hold.  Rather than talk of our Christian values as Sir Winston Churchill did, politicians can only speak in value-neutral language.  To speak passionately about the persecution of Christians would not be value-neutral precisely because we have that special link with them.  So in our perverse modern world the very reason for speaking out becomes a reason not to speak out.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, another important and honourable exception, has referred to Christians murdered by suicide bombers in Pakistan as martyrs – a powerful way of highlighting how distorted the extreme Islamist view of martyrdom is and what a cruel parody of true martyrdom has developed in Islamist doctrine, as well as expressing the much-needed sympathy for Pakistani Christians. 

This blog recently touched on the Church of England’s embarrassment over the existence of the Devil.  Well, we live in a world where those who have inherited the legacy and duties of Christendom have monumentally failed to speak for and act for their spiritual and cultural brethren.  Not only have they failed, but they exist in a world where they are so alienated from the values of their culture that they are impotent to speak out precisely because of our special link with other Christians who are being murdered every day.  Surely that disabling impotence must be the work of the Devil in our culture and politics.

For those frustrated about our politicians' failure to act and wish to do something in however small a way for our spiritual brethren can I recommend the Barnabus Fund?  Their website can be found here and is self-explanatory:

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Marketplace and High Toryism

How much of a conservative force is the market?  I have blogged on this for Conservative Home here:

There is more to say on this though, because the market is undoubtedly an organic institution that has arisen naturally.  Its virtue is that it has not been centrally planned according to abstract theory.  It is rather the cumulative effect of individuals trading together, leading to a consequential price from demand and supply that regulates scarcity very efficiently. 

The market then must be defended and recognised as a part of the tried and tested human interactions that have created society.  It achieves what no central planner can in that it overcomes the partial and limited viewpoint of individuals.  Just as much as bureaucrats with fallible and limited knowledge cannot plan for a whole economy without disastrous results, so the market unconsciously regulates scarcity through prices set by no planner but through a natural process of reaching equilibrium.

Friedrich Hayek, that most liberal of philosophers, made the very Burkean point that in our historical origins civilization occurred when society began to rely on accumulated wisdom and knowledge that no individual comprehends or possesses.  So it is, he rightly argues, with the market.  The consequent result of lots of individuals transacting with each other is an unintentional regulation of scarcity.  This is why markets work and why, although Socialist governments in this country nationalised many industries, they would never have risked nationalising the provision of food.

The market is a valid and valuable institution that came about through historic evolution rather than the illegitimate process of political revolution.  The problem with politics today is not so much that it is pro or anti-market as that it regards the market as explaining everything about human interactions.

Rather like the more extreme enlightenment philosophers, particularly French empiricists, who regarded science as explaining everything about our race, this is a myopic outlook.  It ignores so many other important aspects of being human – religious faith, family love, romantic love, patriotism, appreciation of art and beauty, love of our countryside.  It is acceptance of that false Whig cliché that “every man has his price” first coined by our first prime minister, the corrupt Sir Robert Walpole. 

The market is an inadequate explanation for all aspects of human life.  To paraphrase G K Chesterton once you introduce to conversation with a Tory the Armed Forces and what motivates them, the Tory no longer talks of self interest and profit, but patriotism. 

That is exactly the point.  Surely conservatism is a rejection of the idea that human life can be explained in its entirety from one scientific or even one economic perspective.  It is my concern that the modern Conservative Party is in danger of acting as though the market explains all behaviour and is the most efficient way to get the best out of people in other aspects of life apart from trade and industry.  That is an ideological rather than a Tory perspective in the view of this blogger.  

In effect it is no different in its approach from the social Darwinist, the Socialist or any other ideologue who attempts to reduce the complicated nature of humanity to a materialist or pseudo-scientific theory. 

It is the argument here that just as patriotism drives the soldier, sailor or airman, so a notion of public service rather than self interest can drive the civil servant and indeed the politician.  The vicar is moved to his vocation by his faith not profit. Royalty serve us through the values of tradition and duty.  We must recognise that the market has its place, but to try and treat profit as the only motivator for human action will have a corrosive effect on society and if we succeed in reducing our world to one where it is the only motivation, we will be living in a degraded and cynical place. 

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Devil is in the detail

 Surely it is deeply troubling and unsettling to people of faith, whether they be zealous in conviction or just vaguely assenting to the faith of their forefathers, that at baptism the established Church will offer the option not to refer to sin.  This may well blend in with our choice-based, consumerist society, but is it not surely profoundly contradictory to ignore sin and the Devil at the very moment he and his ways are to be renounced?  Of all the services at which to ignore the Devil, surely the sacrament of Baptism is the last at which this should be done.

It may be argued that this is merely a trial, evil is still mentioned, it is only an alternative and no definite decision has been made.  It is my concern that a trial alone and its being targeted at the least religiously-aware congregations suggest the Church does not recognise the gravity of what it is doing.  It just should not have gone down this road in the first place.

In my blogs I have often praised the Church of England as an important force for good and I passionately believe in the need for an established Church, but when such a vital piece of doctrine as the existence of a personified force of evil is denied, one can only assume that the established Church has been corrupted at least by the society it is meant to evangelise and at worst corrupted by the very force it is attempting to sweep under the carpet.

C S Lewis pointed out in his Screwtape Letters that the Devil is at his most powerful when he is thought of as an unbelievable caricature.  It seems as though modern Anglican theology does not spend much time on the personification of Evil.  One does not have to be a Manichean to recognise a malevolent and fallen force that deceives and leads astray; one simply needs to read Scripture clearly rather than through the prism of over-intellectualised theology.

In England it must be the case that for the maintenance of a Christian society the established Church is a significant and indeed vital factor.  Disestablishment would seem to be a renunciation of the whole of society’s Christian heritage and the reduction of Christianity to a disconnected sect.  It is however possible to believe in establishment and yet be very troubled by the direction that the established Church is taking.

In many ways, through its rootedness in communities, through its links with Royalty, through school education, through its sanctifying of national celebration or mourning and indeed family occasions for the irregular attendee, through weddings, funerals and of course christenings, the Church of England ensures Christ remains at least a small part of all our lives and that everyone is part of a parish.  Such a role requires a different tone from the free churches or the Church of Rome, in that these other parts of the Universal Church are completely separated from the State.  However, as T S Eliot argued in his essay on the Christian Society, the purpose of an established Church must be to Christianise our society; it most certainly is not to live-and-let-live. 

It is also pointed out by Eliot that an established Church can be corrupted and is particularly at risk through its connexion with the State. For this reason its hierarchy may from time to time need to come under attack from the community of Christians.  In the case of ignoring the Devil, has not the Church been corrupted to please the existing, liberal, multiculturalist establishment, which advocates free choice and non-condemnation as its values or rather non-values?

Is the Church not also failing in its pastoral responsibilities to those who are least familiar with their forefathers’ faith?  If a personified, fallen deceiver is kept secret and hidden and moral dilemmas are simply portrayed as a matter of autonomous choosing rather than a matter of the risk of being led astray, are we not joining the predominant idolatry of choice and subjectivity that the Church should be crusading against?  How much more difficult it is to make the right choice, when your religious leaders tell you that there is no fallen angel attempting to tempt you and lead you astray!  It is all very well to say evil is within man just as good is within man, although this sounds more Quaker than Anglican, but an awareness of the Devil brings vigilance against sin.  Truly this secrecy about sin and the Devil at baptism is a dereliction of duty on the part of the established Church.