Wednesday 31 May 2017

The Glorious '50s

I have been thinking about how so many of the books that have shaped my imagination and formed my appreciation of Albion were published in the 1950s.

The Chronicles of Narnia are an obvious example: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (1950), Prince Caspian (1951), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), The Silver Chair (1953), The Horse and His Boy (1954), The Magician's Nephew (1955) and The Last Battle (1956).

So too the three parts of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (July 1954), The Two Towers (November 1954) and The Return of the King (1955).

Roger Lancelyn Green's classic retelling of the Arthurian mythos, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, was published in 1953, with his Adventures of Robin Hood following three years later.

Rosemary Sutcliff's stories of Roman and post-Roman Britain first appeared in the 1950s, most notably The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Silver Branch (1957) and The Lantern Bearers (1959), while Colin Wilson began his prolific career with The Outsider (1956), Religion and the Rebel (1957) and The Age of Defeat (1959).

I would also add that Alan Garner's Alderley Edge novels, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and Moon of Gomrath, came out at the start of the next decade, in 1960 and 1963 respectively. In his collection of essays, The Voice That Thunders (1997), Garner suggests that the generation of children's writers that emerged in the aftermath of the Second World War, including Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising), Sutcliff and himself, were greatly influenced by the strong sense of good versus evil the war inculcated in people's minds.

This clear delineation between good and evil and right and wrong (or, in Wilson's case, between a life oriented towards meaning and a life immersed in trivia) is highly marked in all the writers listed above. So too is a yearning for stability and peace - the good order established by Aragorn after the War of the Ring or the longing to rebuild Roman Britain that animates Aquila in Sutcliff's The Lantern Bearers.

The 1950s are routinely derided today for precisely this quality of uncomplicated simplicity. They are damned as 'boring' and 'grey'. Traditionally-minded types are lambasted for 'wanting to take us back to the 1950s.' Viewed from 2017, however, after five decades of social and economic liberalism and a growing sense of chaos and insecurity, the stability and simplicity of the '50s looks very attractive indeed. It could also be the case that the limited work and entertainment options people had in those days - the lack of choice and the absence of technology - helped forge a slower, more reflective mental climate, more conducive to creative endeavours than the fast and furious 'marketplace' we live in today.

It is a craving for this kind of rootedness, I believe, that lies behind the recent wave of political populism, which has made so many waves across Europe and the US. It seems to me, however, that the 1950s was a decade peculiar to itself in many ways - a period of suspended animation, where the horrors of the war had not yet properly sunk in and where the pyrrhic nature of Britain's victory and Europe's complete loss of power had not yet been consciously acknowledged (though Rosemary Sutcliff's elegiac reflections on the decline of Roman Britain suggest an unconscious awareness on her part at least of the UK's changed status).

We can learn a great deal from the decade though. A Christian renaissance in this country will need to base itself on the two pillars exemplified by the '50s - the stability, security and simplicity we have lost in a bewildering haze of complexity and choice, and the imaginative flair illuminated so well in these great books. 'Keep your feet on the ground but your eyes on the stars', in other words.

Tuesday 23 May 2017

Christianity and Mystery

Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life but much modern Christianity offers no real way and has little truth and still less life. Indeed, in many cases what calls itself Christianity today is something else entirely. This is because it has lost touch with what should be its central concern which is, of course, theosis; the deification of man. That is what Christianity really exists for. To spiritualise men and women and turn them into gods. But sadly it has been reduced to something far less, a mere code of beliefs and practices that aims to make men better instead of radically transforming them. It has over-simplified itself and, having been infected by secular humanism, it now prioritises loving your neighbour over loving God*. Consequently it has become a thing of this world. You might think I exaggerate to make a point, but the exaggeration is not that much and the point is valid.

This accommodation (capitulation would be another word) to materialistic humanism is a foolish mistake because by going down that path Christianity has rendered itself largely irrelevant to many people for why bother with it if the essential part of it is better catered for elsewhere? One has to ask why it has done this, and the answer can only be that far too many of its leaders do not have any deep spiritual insight or feeling. They have no connection to divine mystery, no sense of real holiness, no perception that the human being as he or she is in this world is just a limited part of the true soul that exists elsewhere and comes here to learn certain lessons, the better to fit it for its divine destiny. They are bureaucrats working to keep the show on the road rather than visionaries or saints or even, since the percentage of visionaries and saints has never been high, people who really believe the inner truths of their religion.

As a result modern Christianity has lost its sense of sacred mystery. Now mystery is the essence of any true religion and when that is no longer at its heart then the religion becomes just a worldly club for like-minded members to get together and socialise or do good. Religion only exists because of the complete superiority of the next world over this one. As soon as this world becomes important or meaningful in itself, rather than being something only seen in the light of higher realities,  then religion is dying and this is the situation we have now in practically all religions though some branches do heroically hold out more than others. But they are few and even many of them have been compromised in one respect or another.

Christianity must rediscover its spiritual side and put that front and centre. It must emphasise holy mystery. It must not be afraid of confronting the world with a radically different view and nor should it ever seek to compromise with the world. It should not try to simplify itself even if its essential message is simple and open to all, the wise and the foolish, the educated and the uneducated alike. But behind this simple message of salvation lie profound mysteries which must be seen as such and not brought down to our level. For if you bring the high altar down to the people then the people have nothing to pull them up beyond the banalities of this world. They have nothing to inspire them and take them out of themselves.

It is worth repeating. Sacred mystery is the essence of religion and religion can only survive in a meaningful way when that mystery is preserved. But note that mystery is not mystification for it is not hidden in darkness or obscurity but in light. Christianity must realign itself with the light that is not of this world.

 Right on cue shortly after I had written this I saw an article in which the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is quoted as saying, "The heart of Christian values has something to do with mutuality - a real commitment to and investment in the wellbeing of your neighbour." But this is not the heart of Christian values at all otherwise what's the difference between a Christian and a liberal humanist? The heart of Christian values must be the love of God and everything else is subsidiary to that. Which naturally doesn't mean don't love your neighbour but that can never be primary or else it could be used as an excuse for all sorts of spiritual misdirection as it is now.

Saturday 20 May 2017

Globalism or damnation? Mistakenly conflating the needs for National and Christian revival

It seems to be common for people to conflate, to assume the sameness of, a revival of national power and prestige with a revival of Christianity. This conflation seems to happen both on the mainstream political 'Right' as well as the Left (who bracket nationalism and Christianity under the category of 'fascism' which they bestow indiscriminately upon all their opponents).

But although de-nationalisation and anti-Christianity are being simultaneously pursued by the Leftist Establishment; the two do not necessarily go together, indeed I think they cannot (in principle) be pursued in parallel - we must choose one or the other as priority.

If it is accepted (which I argue elsewhere at length) that the Global Establishment is purposively evil, being tools of the demonic powers dedicated to the damnation of Man - then we can see that the anti-Christian agenda is primary; and the globalist agenda is a means to that end.

The Right-wing nationalist agenda sees engineered mass immigration and population replacement as a toll for destroying Western Civilisation; and the main modern problem. But from a Christian perspective this is a secondary problem, and not the main goal of those who pursue demographic destruction.

For Christians, the role of demographic destruction is to induce fear, hatred and chaos - justifying the extension and completeness of the materialist, surveillance and micro-managed totalitarian state which is already substantially in-place.

This planned totalitarian society will be used to (attempt to) destroy Christianity, and indeed all transcendental thought - by deluging the mind with constant input, by rendering the will passive, by filling thought with bad stuff, and by manipulating emotions: by burying our true free selves under layers of engineered and automatic habits and responses.

But the planned totalitarian future can only be resisted by a society that has higher goals than the modern 'utilitarian' public ethic of maximising pleasure and minimising suffering during mortal life. If our feelings and pleasures are to be the bottom line, the totalitarianism will not be resisted, because totalitarianism can sell itself as the best and only means to human 'happiness' (as with Aldous Huxley's Brave New World).

So a Christian revival is the priority; and this would be welcome from whatever source - however, to be effective against the prevalent materialism of modernity, any Christian revival needs to be spiritual.

Spiritual sounds vague - but what is needed is anything-but vague. It is indeed radical beyond anything we have yet experienced (except among a tiny minority). Recent and current Christianity (and I mean among good and sincere Christians) is very materialist - very assimilated to modernity; it is a set of beliefs, a set of assented 'fact'; rather than that different way of thinking, perceiving, and experiencing which is required.

To get back to priorities - the observable fact is that over the past twenty years the British population, hence culture, has been replaced by a variety of other people and cultures - typically non-Western. This has been enabled and facilitated by native sub-fertility; which is itself the major symptom of nihilism and despair - i.e. the British people in a deep sense, en masse, want to become extinct.

That national despair (consequent upon wholesale and near-complete abandonment of Christianity - including among self-identified mainstream Christians and especially their leaders), ultimately, is also why the British have passively-consented-to being substantially replaced; with very little discussion, indeed very little awareness of what is visibly and rapidly happening.

This analysis reveals that nihilistic despair, hope-less-ness, demotivation is the core problem for Britain (and The West generally). Also, awareness of the evil agenda of demographically-induced chaos leading to fear and hatred makes clear that the evil agenda will not be prevented, but will instead be assisted and advanced, by any nationalism based upon fear and hatred.

In a nutshell; there is only one positive option for Britain and that is a Christian awakening distinguished by a new and qualitatively-different perspective on reality; a new and spiritual way of perceiving and thinking.

Furthermore; such a Christian awakening needs to encompass regent migrants to Britain - if hate, fear and chaos are to be avoided.

In other words, National cohesion must be based on religion first, transcending cultural and racial differences. Indeed, religion (and only some religions) are the only known effective basis of long term, non-tyrannical social cohesion among people of different cultures and natures.

To put it another way; the future is totalitarian tyranny or a society based on one, shared religion; and that can only be Christianity; and an effective Christianity needs to be spiritual (non-materialist).

Unless there is Christianity and that Christianity embodies a different and spiritual (non materialist) way of being - then we will remain trapped in nihilism and despair.

(Note: The reason to be Christian, and to aim for a new and spiritual Christian way of being, is that this is true, and best, and indeed divinely destined. Above I am arguing for its expediency - which is true - but secondary.)

Thursday 18 May 2017

Modern unbelief in God, the Holy Ghost, Christ and more

It is natural, normal, spontaneous to believe in God and in the world of the spirit (which I here term the Holy Ghost - I simply mean the immaterial divine as it permeates everything).

So how is it that modern people do not believe in either God or the Spirit? It is a matter of explaining-away - a matter of having alternative explanations for universal human experiences.

I know this from the decades when I was an atheist and a materialist - I had all the spontaneous intimations of the divine which people had in the past and continue to have in non-Western societies. That is, I felt that the universe of reality had purpose, hence meaning - that it was ordered rather than chaotic; that what happened mattered.

But I explained away this spontaneous insight as being, for example, a product of the way that humans evolved, or the way our sensory organs or brain just-happened to be made. This was a tragic thing for me, or anyone else, to do; because it meant that deep down I regarded everything that was and had been and could be - absolutely everything - as pointless and meaningless.

Such a conviction lay behind, or below all experience - undermining it, eroding it, subverting it into a conviction of delusion; it meant that I did not believe in my own experience, my own thinking...

The experience of everything being alive and sentient was equally solid - it was how I responded to the situation I was in, whenever I was aware of it. Sometimes it was a delightful benign and beautiful situation - at other times it was a deadly, oppressive sense of malignity around me. This I explained-away as a projection of my own emotions onto the surroundings.

And what of Jesus Christ? It is possible (many do) to believe in God and the Holy Ghost but not in Christ; but what is missing from such a belief? From my perspective the reality of Christ is mainly (but not only) about the possibility of becoming like Christ - Jesus was God as Man who was resurrected to eternal life and full divinity, as a gift which we may choose to accept.

In a nutshell, the reality of Christ is the reality of eternal family - which is, for me, necessary to a hope-full life. An eternity of solitude, even if it were blissful, is a sad, sad thing - a thing which would negate much of what has been most valued in my mortal life.

And more? Well, in this mortal life there is the mystery and magical otherness of Woman, and there is marriage; and the possibility that this too will be permanent and eternal. For me, this has become bound-up with my belief in the reality that God is both man and woman: both Heavenly Father and Mother. To accept the common idea that sex is a temporary state and marriage must end at death... these too are sad and lonely beliefs; which also undermine my spontaneous experience of life at-its-best.

Yet more? Creativity... this has been a big factor in my life; I mean the need to be writing, playing music, singing, connecting with literature, art... Is this just a pastime, a lifestyle? Or is it the same kind of thing that I would be expecting to do in eternity? Is eternity active, evolving, open-ended?

The alternative notion of an eternity that is timeless and in essentials changeless; perhaps worshipping or simply being... to some this is an ideal but to me this devalues my experience of what is Good. It is a kind of unbelief. I was delighted to discover and feel the truth of a view of Heaven and eternity as endless creativity.

In sum - the ideal is love: love implies people, family, marriage, children, creativity - all these, and more no doubt. Before any may be believed they must be understood and imaginatively entertained as possibilities - conviction may, or may not, follow....

Monday 15 May 2017

A New Mind

In my last post here I wrote of there being nothing new in spirituality but that is not entirely true. No doubt in an absolute sense there is nothing new. The rules of the spiritual road don't change and changing times don't mean old truths are outmoded or can be rejected in favour of new updated ones, more in line with contemporary preoccupations. That is one of the great errors of the modern age which we can see in, for example, present day opinions about sexuality and the relationship between man and woman. Archetypal truths remain or they would not be truths in the first place.

Nor does the way to God alter. The demands are the same as they have always been. Purification of the lower self, devotion to higher ideals, mental and emotional discipline and detachment, cultivation of imagination and the mind in the heart, service, sacrifice and love of God as both inner reality and supreme being. There can be no newly discovered 'quick fix' or technique or method or form of knowledge that can bring salvation, using that word to mean the liberating of the spiritual inner self from its entanglement in the worldly ego. The advent of Christ did mean that a hitherto secret path open only to a very few became potentially open to all, and in some respects made easier because of the spiritual power released by Christ, but still the work required by each individual to reach the goal of union with God was the same.

But while there is nothing new in terms of what the spiritual path is or what is required on it or the goal to which it leads nevertheless, for us evolving human beings, there are always new vistas opening up, and I venture to suggest this probably continues into eternity. Heaven is not some static place or state of being but an ever unfolding vision of God and an ever deeper union with him. And God has no end.

Meanwhile back here on earth humanity does grow both individually and collectively. The spiritual path is awakening to the reality of the soul within. It has to do with bringing the errant will into line with divine will which is the only place the former can find real fulfilment. But human beings develop in other ways as well and the main one is how their mind responds to their environment, both outer and inner. Using modern language you might say that early man lived an instinctive right brain existence in which he was naturally one with his world, albeit to a limited degree and without much understanding of it. Also with little sense of love. He was not separate from nature but his union with the whole was mostly passive, and his ability to stand apart from his environment and control it was minimal. The bulk of humanity continued like this for millennia.

However in Greek and Roman times (as far as we can tell from historical records) the left brain consciousness came more into focus. Arts and sciences arose, humanity determined its surroundings and its path to a far greater degree. Change was effected from within instead of being imposed by external forces. At first this was on a low level and perhaps restricted to an advance guard but now so called left brain consciousness (logical, rational, utilitarian, seeing in parts rather than wholes) is totally dominant. Having liberated humanity from an over-dependence on Mother Nature and initially been a force for good, it is now a decidedly limiting and restricting factor in our lives. The artificial, mechanical world it has created is a reflection of itself and responsible for our currently alienated state. The next step is waiting to be taken.

In truth that next step has been waiting for some time now which fact explains the state of uncertainty, or even near futility, that many sensitive people feel today. Humanity has come to the end of a road but doesn't know where to go next. The answer is, continuing with our brain hemisphere metaphor, a union between the two hemispheres, a recognition that our way of looking at the world is no longer good enough and we must move to recapture our earlier consciousness but this time seeing it in a new light with the developed fruits of the past few thousand years of reason, self-determination and so on.

But, and this is important, that is just a start. The real task is not just some humanistically inspired refocusing of consciousness to incorporate both intuitive and rational functions, however desirable that may be. It is to awaken to the reality of God and see ourselves in relation to him. The former without the latter is by no means enough even if it might be better than what we have now. Like the prodigal son we need to return to the Father. But then, with our new mind, we might start to perceive our relationship with the Creator in a less passive way than heretofore. Of course, God remains supreme. He is the Creator. We are his children. But children grow up, and perhaps now we may conceive of a relationship with God in which we can participate more fully and perhaps even one day become co-creators with him of a more splendid, more glorious, more beautiful universe. This will always be on his terms and in the light of his supreme reality. We should not make the mistake that Lucifer is supposed to have made. But is it too far fetched to imagine that, like any proud father, God would be delighted to see his offspring make their individual mark in the world. Is that perhaps part of the reason for him creating us in the first place?

First things first though. None of this can happen in the way it should until we fully and wholly acknowledge our Creator. Only then can we take wing and fly in the way it is hoped, serving God in love and creativity with our new mind.

Thursday 11 May 2017

Beyond the Grey Havens

J.R.R. Tolkien's, The Lord of the Rings, has no fewer than three endings - (1) The fall of Sauron and the coronation of Aragorn, (2) The 'Scouring of the Shire', where the hobbits return home, setting wrongs to right and putting into practice the high skills acquired on far-flung fields, and (3) The departure of Gandalf, Elrond, Bilbo, Frodo and Galadriel to the West from the Grey Havens. Tolkien's description of Frodo's arrival at the port, the subsequent voyage and his first sight of the Undying Lands is a thing of shimmering beauty:

Then Frodo kissed Merry and Pippin, and last of all Sam, and went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance in the air  and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Frodo, his great task accomplished in this world, is rewarded with the achievement of his heart's desire. In his dream at Tom Bombadil's house, early in his adventure, he could hear the sea and was running up a hill to look at it but never reached the top. He was still searching then. Now he has found. The inner truth and pattern of his life has unveiled itself. 'Ripeness is all', as Shakespeare says.

This luminous vision, I believe, is the intended destiny of each and every one of us, articulating, in its primal beauty and simplicity, the deepest longing of the human heart. It points us to the root and source of our being, which ultimately lies beyond the parameters of this world. In his essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis says that we all have a desire for a 'far off country' like an inconsolable inner pang - 'a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it.' In fact, he says, we were made for another world. What finer illustration of this could there be than the magical Narnian tree growing in Digory's  garden at the end of The Magician's Nephew that bends whenever a breeze blows in Narnia due to the Narnian sap running through it!

The Deceiver, however, wishes us to believe that our deepest desires can be satisfied here in this world. He offers us a range of seductive options that promise everything but deliver nothing, leading only to the dusty corridors and empty lumber rooms of his barren, mechanistic universe. We live and move and have our being in this world. We are meant to enjoy it and do good in it, but it should never be mistaken for our abiding home. It can never fully satisfy. As Ransom is told in Lewis's novel, Perelandra, 'You see only an appearance, small one. You have never seen more than an appearance of anything,' and he sadly realises, 'I have lived all my life among shadows and broken images.'

Tolkien was fully grounded in the flesh and blood reality of this world, while at the same time keeping his gaze fixed on the deeper, wider, truer reality beyond the Grey Havens. As very young men, before the First World War, Tolkien and his friends believed that they had been 'granted some spark of fire ... that was destined to kindle a new light, or, what is the same thing, rekindle an old light in the world.' (Tolkien, Letters no. 5). 

Tolkien, through his writings, certainly succeeded in this mission. It is for ourselves, as apostles and evangelists of a new spiritual Christianity in this land, to build on his (and Lewis's) work of imaginative engagement. The way to do this, in my view, is to speak directly to the human heart, the place where this deepest longing sits. This comes before anything else - dogma, ideology, and even our frustration with the societal decay and dissolution of values gathering pace around us. No matter how corrupted, compromised or confused a person has become, that deepest desire - that primal beauty and simplicity - is always there, waiting for a look, a word or a gesture to kindle it into life, blaze forth and shock the world. From there, anything is possible, so that when we, in our turn, arrive at the Grey Havens, it won't be to make an end but to embark on a voyage to a beginning.

All this, in short, is the work of the Holy Spirit. In the words of the ancient prayer, Veni Sanctus Spiritus:

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of your love,
Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the Earth.

Or, as Cirdan the Shipwright tells Gandalf at these same Grey Havens on the last page of The Silmarillion, as he hands him Narya, the Ring of Fire:

'Take now this Ring, for thy labours and thy cares will be heavy, but in all it will support thee and defend thee from weariness. For this is the Ring of Fire, and herewith, maybe, thou shalt rekindle hearts to the valour of old in a world that grows chill.'

Monday 8 May 2017

England's Failure. Another Chance?

I believe that England was intended to be, or, at least, it was hoped that she might be, a pioneer for a revived form of spirituality in the late 20th century but this failed. It failed through a combination of social and political actions that came about in the 1980s but had their roots earlier, sometimes much earlier. We are still living with the consequences of that today.

At any one time there is always a jostling mass of thoughts and ideas lying beneath the surface, seeking concrete form in the future. Most of these can take a good or bad turn. They can manifest themselves in human consciousness positively or not as the case may be, sometimes both together. It all depends on the receptivity and ability to translate the sensed concept both of individual human beings and of groups. Ideas of love and freedom are obvious examples but there are many others. These ideas can be encouraged in a positive form by spiritual forces but they can also be manipulated and perverted by demonic ones and, sadly, humanity at the moment is often more prone to respond to the latter since this will usually be more in line with its desires and weaknesses and require less effort on its part to bring into expression. (As a brief aside, let me say that if I could ask for one thing to come about in the modern world it would be the recognition of the reality of the devil and his fallen powers.)

So, many ideas pertaining to a fresh spiritual understanding rose to the surface particularly in the 1960s, though pinning a time to these things is always problematic since nothing comes from nothing. These ideas had been around for decades if not centuries in some cases. But in the '60s they broke through to a greater extent and became more embedded in general consciousness. And what was the central idea around which all the other ones revolved? It was that God was not just the transcendent law maker out there but that he was within us as our very being and that we could individually realise that. In essence the idea was that we were divine beings with divine potential. Of course, this idea wasn't usually understood in those terms, people responded according to their own capacity and within the limits of their own understanding or pre-existing ideologies. Nevertheless, realised as such or not, this was the fundamental root idea behind all other ideas to do with freedom, increased democracy, exploration of consciousness, artistic innovation, living in harmony with nature etc, etc. Man can become a god. It has to be said that there was nothing intrinsically new in this. But it was at that time brought out more than before and potentially available to everyone. It was in the air. The possibility of spiritual renaissance existed.

Unfortunately however whenever there is something new that promises to expand our horizons, the corruption of that thing follows closely behind. This is the consequence of us being fallen beings living in a fallen world. The potential for rebirth that was there in the '60s ran aground. It was diverted away from spiritual ends into social and political ones on a much lower level of consciousness. Even when expressed spiritually, as it should have been, it fizzled out into the often narcissistic banalities of the New Age movement. England, which had the chance to be a pioneer in new understanding, failed to take up that opportunity. She was not alone in this. Other countries, most notably America, were jointly involved in this destiny but they all failed and were sidetracked into lesser preoccupations by their own shortcomings and by listening, once again, to the voice of the tempter, always seeking to lead astray.

But from failure can come success at a later time if the lesson is learnt. Might it be that we have another chance to awaken to the realities of the spiritual world? Could the current ferment in the world lead to something like that as people react against all the absurdities of the modern world? Politics has failed us, science has failed us, art has failed us, pretty much everything has failed us. Spirituality might seem the only option now. However if this does happen and significant numbers of people turn to God then every effort has to be made to ensure that this revival is not poisoned at source as happened last time, and that any nascent spirituality is not contaminated by a human-centric perspective as it was in the '60s but submits itself to the wisdom of tradition. True spiritual tradition is never outmoded. Christ came to fulfil the law and the prophets not to replace them.

For any new spirituality cannot really be new. It can only be a restatement of what has always been. Spiritual truth does not change though it may grow, or our perception of it may grow, but if it does grow, it does so organically. And we must never forget, as previously we have forgotten, that although we truly do have the potential to be gods ourselves this must always be on God's terms and never ours. Satan always offers the same temptation as he did in the garden of Eden and all too often we succumb to that temptation.

By complete coincidence I wrote this just before Bruce Charlton's last piece here which covers a similar theme. Maybe that indicates that thoughts about a new chance of awakening are in the air!

Sunday 7 May 2017

The modern fake utopia of sustainability - we need something better, now!

In the late 1960s into the middle 1970s - and perhaps inspired by Tolkien; there was an era of utopianism, based mainly around EF Schumacher's ideas relating to intermediate technology and 'Small is Beautiful' - which he derived partly from Buddhism and the Distributist Roman Catholicism of Chesterton and Belloc, underpinned by the Neo-Thomism of the mid 20th century.

Schumacher also referenced the early 20th century Christian Socialist economist RH Tawney, and his views looked back to the utopian agrarian socialism of the Victorian William Morris (as described in the fable News from Nowhere).   

Other themes included that of Self Sufficiency, as advocated in several books by John Seymour - and underpinned by a rather imprecise pantheism (William Blake was oft mentioned). This looked back towards HD Thoreau and especially his book Walden or Life in the Woods - with its how-to-do-it chapter 'Economy'.

This early 70s agrarian utopianism was spiritually motivated - with the economic arrangements and way of life designed mainly to support a spiritually-enhanced way of living; made impossible by modern planned and market economics, materialism, consumerism, gigantism etc

However, aside from Schumacher's late conversion to Rome, the spirituality was vague: too vague - it was subjective, pantheistic, and hedonic; and embracing of the 1960s counterculture imperatives of unconstrained sex, and often drugs (although the pleasures of intoxication from home brewed beer and home fermented wine were perhaps most emphasised).

Because of this lack of spiritual seriousness, and the consequent lack of any focal and organising principle to the ideas; the agrarian movement was rapidly corrupted throughout the 1980s into its present, almost inverted; and in practice hyper-materialist form of a pseudo-utopianism of 'sustainability'... the symbols of which are the blight of wind 'farms' that now disfigure so much of England's most beautiful landscape:

While on the mainstream political 'Right' there is a 'survivalist' bunker-mentality... Everybody else may die, let them die! - but not me. No Sir: my carcass will continue to live, albeit at the spiritual level of a cornered rat.

We need utopian thinking now more than ever...

This time it must be spiritual first - which means that the economics and politics need to be derived from the religious aspects and not the other way around. The aim must be life which is religion - religion as living. And that religion must be motivating, inspiring, and encouraging.

There has to be an earthly utopia to aim at, no matter how remote - to order our lives - we require some picture, ideas, fairly-definite notion of the kind of life envisaged: not a detailed blueprint, not a five-year plan, not a flow-chart, not a fixed system - but some inspiring depiction of The Good Life in broad clear outline and bright colours.

(Note: The above picture is from a popular mid-70s TV sitcom called The Good Life, about some suburbanites who dug up their back garden in order to try and be self sufficient. The humour came from the problems and disasters of this activity - indeed its practical impossibility; but there was a basic appeal to the idea, nonetheless - no doubt enhanced by the dungaree-clad cuteness of actress Felicity Kendall (above) who played the wife of Richard Briers's character 'Tom Good'. Yes - the title was a dreadful pun...)

Thursday 4 May 2017

The Return of Constantine

I have been reflecting recently on the statue outside York Minster of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great (above). Constantine was acclaimed as Emperor in that city by the British legions in 306 AD. He emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against his rivals Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires from 324 until his death in 337. At the Battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius in 312, Constantine claimed to have seen a vision of a great cross arising from the light of the sun, bearing the inscription, In Hoc Signo Vinces - 'By this sign you will conquer.' Constantine converted to Christianity shortly before his death, the first Roman Emperor to declare himself a Christian. He had already played a key role in the Edict of Milan in 313, which proclaimed tolerance for Christianity throughout the Empire, and had also called the First Council of Nicea in 325, which saw the Nicene Creed adopted by the Church.

Constantine is venerated as a saint in Eastern Orthodoxy and Byzantine Catholicicism. The Russian Church hails him as the first ruler of the Christian Empire, an Empire which was transferred to Byzantium after the deposition of the last Western Roman Emperor in 476, and then on to Moscow at the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Moscow, on this view, is seen as the 'Third Rome', with Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917), who was martyred along with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918, considered the last Christian Emperor. Russian eschatologists expect the Christian Empire to reappear in the future, however, just before the rise and fall of Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ. The Emperor, in this scenario, will do what he has always done, acting as a Katehon, as St. Paul puts it in the original Greek - a restraining hand against the power of evil - he who 'holds back' as the New International Version has it: 

'And now you know what is holding him (Antichrist) back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming.' (2 Thessalonians 6:8)

Evil has certainly been revealed, and many would say has prospered, both in the East and the West, since the Emperor was 'taken out of the way.' The Holy Roman Empire, turning our attention to Western Europe for a moment, was dissolved by Napoleon in 1806. The Empire, many believe, lived on in Vienna and Budapest until the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Blessed Charles of Austria (1916-1918), reluctantly relinquished his responsibilities in the same year that the Tsar was executed. A prayer for the Roman Emperor was included in the Catholic Missal until 1955, but the Imperial throne, to all intents and purposes, has been vacant in Russia and the West since the end of the First World War. It is an absence keenly felt. As Valentin Tomberg writes in Meditations on the Tarot (1984), 'Europe is haunted by the shadow of the Emperor. One senses his absence just as vividly as in former times one sensed his presence. Because the emptiness of the wound speaks, that which we miss knows how to make us sense it.'

None of this is to say that the Emperors were always good - Constantine himself committed many dubious deeds - or that the system worked worked perfectly in all times and places. But the principle, to my mind at least, is admirable and even essential - the establishment of an earthly counterpart to the spiritual authority represented by the Patriarchs in the East and the Pope in the West. The aim was never (or never should have been) a stultifying theocratic dictatorship, but rather a form and style of government that gave priority to the sacred and set out first and foremost to protect and cherish the good, the beautiful and the true. What a contrast to the dissolution and fragmentation - the lawlessness and formlessness - we see around us in so many realms today, the end product of failed attempts to plug the Imperial gap - first by Communism, then Fascism and, most recently, by economic and social liberalism.

(Icon of Tsar Nicolas II and his family)

The Emperor, when he returns, will have to be something of an all-rounder. He will need to bridge the spiritual and political divide between Russia and the rest of Europe for a start. He will also be required to combine a deeply felt Christian faith with an understanding and appreciation of the continent's pre-Christian heritage. His Christianity should be grounded in the primordial spiritual tradition which all the major religions share, confident and spacious enough to incorporate religious and cultural minorities, finding the optimum fit for them which Europe has struggled for so long to find. France, for instance, relies on a hardline secularism which all too often breeds alienation and resentment. Britain's cut-throat consumerism provokes mindless hedonism followed by spiritual despair, while the bland humanism of the Scandinavian countries serves to marginalise traditional native values, creating a civilisational vacuum rather than fostering authentic integration. 

The Emperor, more than anything else, will need to inspire his people and engage their hearts and minds, as Aragorn does on his return to Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. This, in my view, is the single biggest failing of the European Union and the root cause of its probable demise - its inability to connect with ordinary Europeans and speak to the imagination and the emotions.

How can such an archaic figure as an Emperor possibly have a role to play in our hyper-modern world though? The prevailing materialistic mindset will surely render his return out of the question. It would take an astonishing sequence of events to turn the hands of time so far back. Sometimes it feels that nothing short of a war or an almighty economic crash will give us the shake up we need to pierce the veil of linear time and perceive again the abiding, archetypal truths about the human condition and the right and proper relationship, in the political and social realm, between the two poles St. Augustine called the City of God and the City of Man.

Our prevailing mindset neither grasps nor comprehends the whole story, however. There are vast areas of reality existing beyond its ken. The big, seismic changes - the paradigm shifts that trigger the rise and fall of civilisations - tend to take place at the periphery rather than the centre, the birth of Christ being the prime example. Britain, at the time of Constantine's acclamation, was a remote, windswept province at the North-West edge of the Empire. I would like to imagine, consequently, that the great wheel of the Christian Empire might turn full circle here. The country has some pedigree. The British, in Medieval times, regarded Constantine as one of their own kings, with particular links to Caernarfon in Gwynedd. (Prince Charles, as a matter of interest, was invested Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle in 1969). Legend also has it that Constantine's mother, Helena (also a saint in the Orthodox Church) was the daughter of Old King Cole of Colchester. 

So, maybe the next paradigm shift will set itself in motion on this island - quietly and unobtrusively - far from the media's clatter and din. Perhaps even this very night. We are in early May, after all, the start of the 'bright half' of the Celtic year. The veil between worlds is thin. I see, in my mind's eye, a ruined abbey high above the North Wales coast, waves breaking against the rocks below and the peal of a church bell, blown on the wind from over the mountains, slowly chiming midnight. Six men and six women stand in a circle between the broken columns of the nave, some in sweeping green garments holding bugles and horns, others dressed for battle in chain mail and helmets, starlight glinting on their swords and spears. In the middle is a silver chair, with a boy - far from manhood still - siting there in a purple robe with a white cross emblazoned on the front and the words In Hoc Signo Vinces inscribed beneath. He has a golden crown on his head, a globe of the world in his left hand and a little tree with many leaves and branches in his right.

The church bell sounds for the twelfth time. A shout of acclamation rings around the abbey, followed by a crescendo of brass and the ding-ding-ding of spears on shield rims. Then comes the silence. Just the wind, the waves and the sharp, briny tang of the sea air. The first Emperor in a hundred years hops down from his throne, looks around, smiles shyly, and addresses his people for the first time, speaking to hearts and minds with warmth, intimacy and grace ...

Tuesday 2 May 2017

What Christian church for an Englishman? A personal view

William Wildblood has written a thought-provoking piece at his Meeting the Masters blog

which covers a lot of ground but contains the following observation

Each religion has its own mythology and really you cannot adopt this. It has to be part of you, and that is definitely the case where Hinduism is concerned. I do think you have to be Indian to be a Hindu. Traditionally that is the case anyway. To be sure, you can take the philosophical aspect and leave the mythical side alone but then you will remain outside the religion as a whole so your interaction with it will always be slightly, or even very, artificial. It will be like reading a poem in translation. Of course, you can get something from it but you are not reading the real poem.

This set me thinking about a similar thing I feel about Christian churches in relation to England; and in this I can only speak personally about how things seem to me.

A few years ago I was set to become Eastern Orthodox - specifically Russian; but I changed my mind. There were several reasons; but one was that it felt like an exotic alien import, and I could not shake-off a feeling that it was 'artifical' and my participation had an element of play-acting about it.

I feel rather similarly about even Roman Catholicism. Probably due to the period when the church was more-or-less suppressed in England; Roman Catholicism - here-and-now - has what seems to me a non-English and alien flavour; emphasised by the fact that so many of its priests and religious have been either Irish, or else trained abroad.

Englishness is a major reason why I stuck with the Church of England for some years, despite that it is a substantially corrupt, secular and overall anti-Christian organisation - it simply feels more natural, and I don't feel self-conscious about it.

At present I don't attend any church regularly - but the one I am associated-with is a kind of 'dissident' C of E conservative evangelical church - always at loggerheads with the hierarchy, but trying to hold-onto its Anglican heritage (which nowadays involves mostly working with theologically-traditional Bishops from Africa, Asia and South America).

There are of course other English churches with roots going back some hundreds of years, sometimes to the Reformation - but most of these are liberalised and secularised (e.g. Quakers, Methodists, most Baptists).

The situation with churches is a microcosm of the larger social scene - all the traditional English institutions have been, in past decades, in effect hollowed-out from within - and their vocational leadership replaced by Leftist quasi-political careerist managers and public relations consultants. (Mostly Franco/ Euro-philes and anti-Brexit - to boot!)

My spiritual hopes are located in the past and the future - but not the present; nonetheless it is in the present that I must live and function; and I have concluded, eventually, that church affiliation - while potentially helpful in many ways, is not essential for a serious Christian.

I feel myself aligned with the likes of the poet Blake, Owen Barfield, William Arkle, and William Wildblood; as unorthodox Christians apparently having the destiny of ploughing a mostly solitary furrow; sustained mainly by reading, thinking, prayer and meditation - and a spiritual rather than social communion.

Working, by various means, for a future imagined, ideal and genuinely English Christianity.