The slow death of Christian Europe

Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor

Charlemagne is crowned Holy Roman Emperor

Renaissance, Reformation, Revolution

The philosopher Antony Flew told me an engaging story about Wittgenstein at a meeting of the Moral Science Club in Cambridge in the late 1940s. The speaker began his talk on Descartes: “Cogito ergo sum…” Whereupon Wittgenstein said in a loud stage whisper, “That’s a f****** stupid place to start!”

It is also where I should like to start this essay on the decline of Christianity the West.

Europe in the 16th century was a sinful place: half golden but also half rotten. But Christian Europe knew that it was steeped in sin. It knew also that Christianity is the remedy for sin: The Prayer Book of 1549 begins the order for Evening Prayer with the sentence: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, he is just and faithful to forgive us all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Something began to go wrong at the time of what is misleadingly referred to as the Renaissance and then the Enlightenment. And what went wrong was philosophical theology. The God-centred thought of the Middle Ages was suddenly and shockingly replaced by the anthropocentric perspective. This contaminated the most distinguished thinking and the highest art. Descartes made the individual human being the starting point for all conjecture when he said “I think therefore I am.” And nobody noticed that this was a vacuous tautology until Wittgenstein.

In the greatest of all modern plays, Shakespeare has Hamlet replace the metaphysics of the Divine Being with a question, “To be or not to be?” Aquinas, to quote G.K. Chesterton, had announced, “There is an IS.” To which Hamlet replies, “Is there?” And with the collapse of Christian philosophy in that great play comes necessarily the collapse of morality. For the same Hamlet who doubts God goes on – with perfect consistency – to say, “There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” No wonder he becomes an indecisive, murderous neurotic and who sees “This goodly frame the earth…” only as “a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.”

The same anthropocentric prejudice was also to be found in the visual art of the period. T.E. Hulme described the mood:

“You get the first hint of it in the beginnings of the Renaissance itself, in a person like Pico Della Mirandola. You get there the hint of an idea of something which finally culminates in a doctrine which is the opposite of the doctrine of Original Sin: the belief that man as a part of nature was after all something satisfactory. You get a change from a certain profundity and intensity to that flat and insipid optimism which, passing through its first stage of decay in Rousseau, has finally culminated in the state of slush in which we now have the misfortune to live.”

Of course, Reformation Protestantism believed intensely in Original Sin and so presented an accurate perspective on human psychology. But there was another psychological tendency in Protestantism which was entirely in keeping with the radical anthropocentricism of the period: the emphasis on individual responsibility and each man’s accountability to God for his own personal sins. Thus began a subjectivism – productive of great insights, incidentally, and finding its apotheosis (if that is the right word) in Kierkegaard – but which culminated in the narcissism of self-esteem and self-cultivation which in our times has moved so far from the body, mind and spirit sections in the weirdo bookshops to be the ethos of our hypnotised consumerist culture. Luther, influenced by his bowels and the thunderstorm, actually bargained with God, giving rise to the suspicion that for the great reformer his own personal experience of God was rather more important, and certainly more immediate, than God himself. Transcendence became immanent in the Protestant conscience. Der Lieber Gott, the kindly God. Until the Reformation, sinners had gone into the Confessional and heard God’s Absolution pronounced by the priest in the name of the whole church. Sin, repentance and restoration were public phenomena. The Protestants privatised the process as each man begged God’s forgiveness alone in his own bedchamber. The individual, not God, was now at the centre.

Hulme added, “The Copernican revolution had the very opposite result of that which is generally thought.” For it did not locate the centre elsewhere but in mankind. God had died and man became the measure of all things. Burgeoning science constructed a brave new world and, within a very short time, the new secular dogmas of the Enlightenment enabled men to create their own values, to declare the rights of man universal. Chief of the new dogmas was a fervent progressivism. The significance of the later idea of evolution does not lie so much with Darwin as with the likes of Herbert Spencer, H.G. Wells, the Webbs, the Fabians and all the other socialists who really did – and still do – think that, as the species was evolving physically, it was also progressing morally: getting better all the time. So that today’s commentators in the press and all the radio and TV presenters forever refer to things which are particularly cruel and barbaric as “medieval” – and somehow manage to ignore the fact that in the wonderfully progressed 20th century there were more people slaughtered in wars and genocides than perished in the wars and pogroms of all the previous centuries added together.

Before the Enlightenment, and its grandchild Jeremy Bentham, values were regarded as objective and absolute. The Ten Commandments announced these values in language that everyone could understand. Utilitarianism declared values to be relative and subjective. You can pick your own. As Bentham said, “Pushpin is as good as poetry.” Nothing should be done because it is right or good in itself. Everything should be done so that. Thus the good is perpetually postponed – like the device of the thousand penultimate climaxes in a Rossini overture. Hulme again:

“In the humanist view, everything is justified by its results, and the results are justified by their results and so on. The ultimate justification is either future happiness or human survival.” This is totally opposed to the outlook that Hulme sometimes calls religious and sometimes classical: “There are absolute goods, which are not justified by anything they may lead to, but are simply good in themselves. Restraint, courage, self-sacrifice, truthfulness are qualities of this kind. If people have no sense of the reality of these absolute values, they have no standard by which they can perceive the radical imperfection of either man or nature, and they begin to think that life is the source and measure of all values and that man is fundamentally good.”

“Going forward” then is what, it is said, we are always doing. We have only the linear notion of time which continues in a straight line, always onwards towards the sunlit uplands. But there are other notions of the character of time and hence of history. One of these notions, to be found in ancient and classical civilisations, was of time as cyclical – the eternal return.  This view was revived first by the classicist Nietzsche and then by Oswald Spengler and applied to history and civilisations in his Der Untergang des Abendlandes  – The Decline of the West – (1918). In a spectacular analogy, Spengler likened a civilisation to a tree or a plant which has its life cycle: so it grows from seed to sapling, to mature foliage and then it begins to fade and weaken towards its eventual death. There could not be a more stark contrast with our secular dogma of Progress. Eliot puts the cyclical view of history epigrammatically: “Do you need to be told that what has been can be again?”

So where are we today in the cycle? With Spengler, I believe we are towards its end. Since it is not a straight line but a cycle, we have been here before. Specifically, C.H. Sisson has something illuminating to say about St Augustine: “What makes St Augustine so interesting is that he lived through times which are very much like our own – and rejected them.”

And what did Augustine himself have to say?

“Why do you seek an infinite variety of pleasure with a crazy extravagance, while your prosperity produces a moral corruption far worse than all the fury of an enemy?”

There were theatres putting on gross pornography and the sadism and blood lust of the gladiatorial arena. Augustine described and condemned these scenes of depravity:

“Full publicity is given where shame would be appropriate; close secrecy is imposed where praise would be in order. Decency is veiled from sight; indecency is exposed to view. Scenes of evil attract packed audiences; good words scarcely find any listeners. It is as if purity should provoke a blush and corruption give grounds for pride.”

And the public squalor was accompanied by intellectual bankruptcy: Augustine said, “Listen to sense, if you can still hear sense – your minds so long clouded with intellectual nonsense.”  In our own age Eliot spoke of a decayed Establishment seeking to perpetuate its rule by “licensing the opinions of the most foolish.”

And so it all comes around again. Here we are saturated by the culture of celebrity and selfies, crude entertainments for the masses and universal benefits distributed to those who don’t feel any obligation to work for a living. It is a repeat of the scene which prevailed during the decline of Rome. Collingwood describes it and the parallels with our time are striking:

“From Plato onwards, Greco-Roman society was living its life as a rearguard action against emotional bankruptcy. The critical moment was reached when Rome created an urban proletariat whose only function was to eat free bread and watch free shows. This meant the segregation of an entire class which had no work to do whatever; no positive function in society, whether economic or military or administrative or intellectual or religious; only the business of being supported and amused. When that had been done, it was only a question of time until Plato’s nightmare of a consumer society came true: the drones set up their own king, and the story of the hive came to an end.”

And so the squalor and the nonsense are here again: Renaissance anthropocentricism; Enlightenment atheism; Utilitarian ethics; the dogma of Progress. All alongside the loss of decency, the decay of public life – what Augustine called full publicity given to things which are shameful. When the anthropocentric prejudice first took hold in the 16th century it was, so to speak, relatively mild. In the deistic theology which followed, a role was still allowed to God – albeit a much diminished role. Philosophers of the time were polite enough to acknowledge God as creator but, as soon as God had set the universe in motion, he permanently absented himself and left the creation to run itself according to Newton’s laws. And David Hume arrived on the scene to announce that miracles do not happen. It was only a matter of time before God, from his position of benign indifference, disappeared from the scene altogether. As Laplace said of God, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” And there you have it: God himself referred to in the vocabulary of empirical science. The terrifying theophany evoked in the numinous language of the Old Testament gave place to a sense of the divine presence which was more a sense of an absence: the face of God no more than the last fading smile of some cosmic Cheshire Cat.

In the old dispensation, man’s purpose was to glorify God, but in the new secular religion it is to please himself – and by whatever means he chooses. Another dogmatic mantra of our time is “Everyone has a right to their (sic) own opinion.” Perhaps. But the dogma goes on to insist that every opinion is as valid as every other. In the RE lesson, for example: “Buddha thought this, Confucius thought that and Jesus thought the other. What do you think Sharon?” Sharon is twelve. She goes back to her home on the council estate and watches trash TV. If any stray reactionary suggests that we need standards, criteria, some notion of authority, he will only be scorned as an “elitist.” Even universities are required to eschew elitism, a requirement with which they are happy to comply, for it takes effort to attain to what is elite and, as Eliot said, it can be acquired “only after very great labour.” Dumbing down is the game. Absolute relativism rules OK? We inhabit a new Babel. A Protestant slogan of the 16th century was “Every man his own priest.” Now every man is his own god. I’d better rephrase that to escape the charge of sexism: “Every person is their own god.”

The notions of science and of progress combined in the secular dogma of evolution which in our time has assumed the appearance of a grand mechanistic theory to explain everything. Certainly that is what Richard Dawkins believes and he has said as much on occasions too numerous for me to mention. It is all in the genes. But then Dawkins is so intellectually flabby he loftily declares that, if God exists, we ought to be able to detect him in our telescopes and microscopes. But no theologian has ever suggested that God is an object in his own universe. It’s as if I should announce to the learned zoologist Dawkins that the whole of biology is contained in the children’s book Janet and John Look at Frogs.

The decline of western civilisation has proceeded apace in recent generations, and my opening remarks are designed only to put this decline in its historical context and to offer the broadest outline of some of the principal causes. In the following chapters I shall try to come up to date and describe some of the more recent and immediate reasons for our decline.

Philosophical Apostasy

“The world is all that is the case…It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that the world exists…Even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched…There are indeed things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical….What we cannot speak about, we must commit to silence.” – Tractatus Logico Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

It is fifty years and more since I first opened that book. I turned to it again recently after reading some words of M O’C Drury in Rush Rhees’ Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections. Drury’s words are heavy and solemn, most moving, at once like a confession and like a lament:

“Forty years ago, Wittgenstein’s teaching came to me as warning against certain intellectual and spiritual dangers by which I was strongly tempted. These dangers still surround us. It would be a tragedy if well-meaning commentators should make it appear that his writings were now easily assimilable into the very intellectual milieu they were largely a warning against.”

Wittgenstein’s ideas were actually taken and perverted in the way that Drury foresaw and our intellectual and spiritual tragedy was the consequence. This is how it happened…

The Vienna Circle constituted a group of philosophers who formed a school of radical thought in that city in 1922. Principal among them were Moritz Schlick, Rudolf Carnap and Friedrich Waismann. They became known as Logical Positivists. Their method was to employ new developments in the study of logical form by such as Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell – and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus – in a re-statement of the Positivism of such as David Hume. In his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume wrote:

“If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

In other words, only the propositions of pure mathematics or statements based on empirical observation can have any claim to veracity. There is, however, a notable flaw in Hume’s argument, for the words in which he expresses his doctrine contain neither abstract reason concerning quantity or number nor experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact. Therefore Hume’s words are rendered nonsensical according to his own strictures. What the Logical Positivists did was to refine Hume’s doctrine while failing to notice its inherent contradictoriness. They proceeded to outlaw all metaphysical statements as strictly meaningless. And they formulated their rejection of metaphysics in the so called Verification Principle which stated, “The meaning of a proposition is its method of verification.” And the only criteria for meaning were the analytic – statements which are true by virtue of the words themselves, such as “a bachelor is an unmarried man” – or empirical, statements verified by observation such as “It is raining.” Thus the Logical Positivists repeated Hume’s fatal error, not seeing that the Verification Principle itself is neither analytic nor empirical: and therefore, according to their own criteria, meaningless.

Unabashed, the young English philosopher A.J. Ayer cleansed the verificationist theory of its remote technicalities and brought out a popular version in his book Language, Truth and Logic (1936). Ayer stated explicitly that all propositions which are not analytic or empirical are meaningless. So all statements about God, the nature of the good and the nature of the beautiful are meaningless. Like Hume and the Vienna Circle before him. Ayer also failed to notice the intrinsic contradictoriness of his thesis. For if those sorts of statements are indeed meaningless, Ayer has no means of showing that they are according to his own principle. Nevertheless, Logical Positivism thrived and became the dominating influence in English and American philosophy for a generation and more.

This is the intellectual and spiritual darkness mentioned by Drury and it was at least partly, as Drury noticed, a result of the perverting of the Wittgensteinian philosophy. For nowhere in all his work did Wittgenstein ever suggest that theology, ethics and aesthetics are meaningless. He said only that there are aspects of these subjects which cannot be expressed in words but, “They make themselves manifest.” Explicitly, he said, “The meaning of the world must lie outside the world and Ethics is transcendental. Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.”

For example, and speaking of the question of what is meaningful and what meaningless, would anyone want to say that a sunset is meaningless because it cannot be put into words? Is a sunset insignificant?

The precise form taken by this intellectual and spiritual darkness soon became clear. Ayer and his American counterpart C.L. Stevenson were obliged to acknowledge that, meaningless or not, people still desire strongly to talk about theology, ethics and aesthetics; and even that these subjects are not peripheral but the things which many people find the most interesting. Human life would not be human life if we were unable to speak to one another about God, the good and the beautiful. So the Logical Positivists had to find a way to save the appearances and define exactly what it is we are doing when we speak of these things. The answer they came up with was Emotivism. All we are doing when we talk of these meaningless subjects is expressing our feelings or trying to persuade others to want, desire and vote for the same things that we want, desire and vote for.

This is where the darkness of Logical Positivism becomes very dark indeed. For both Ayer and Stevenson were forced to admit that, in the absence of the possibility of lexical meaning and therefore of strict rationality, any method of persuasion is logically as valid as any other: if rational argument fails to do the trick, then the cudgel or the thumbscrews might be used instead. This at the time of the rise of Nazi Germany, of brutalism in architecture and the widespread notion that morality is anything that the individual wishes it to be. These horrors were all the result of the impoverishment of our rational thought by the – meaningless – strictures of illogical Logical Positivism.

But let us return to Wittgenstein, and to Drury who writes of interesting cross-currents. Wittgenstein had returned to Cambridge in 1929 and in due course he applied for the philosophy professorship. He confessed that he feared he would not get the chair because “R.G. Collingwood of Oxford is on the interviewing panel.” Perhaps Wittgenstein might have noticed that Collingwood was himself engaged in the same work with which he himself was preoccupied: the necessity of metaphysics. The key document is his book An Essay on Metaphysics (1940).

For Collingwood, metaphysics consists of the absolute presuppositions which we must make if we are to do any thinking at all. These absolute presuppositions are not discoverable by observation or deducible from analytic abstractions. They are what correspond to Wittgenstein’s use of mystical, what cannot be said but can only be shown. Relentlessly, Collingwood exposed the mistake of regarding absolute presuppositions as propositions throughout the history of modern philosophy. In the 19th century this error took the form of Positivism. For example he says:

“Mill, like a true positivist, did not possess the idea of an absolute presupposition. He thought that what he called the uniformity of nature was an empirical proposition, a generalization about facts.

Then he came right up to date:

“If somebody has mistaken suppositions for propositions, who is it that has made the mistake? I answer, Mr Ayer. I do not mean that he initiated the mistake; I have already shown how Mill (and Aristotle) made it before him; I mean only that he has adopted it. The importance of Mr Ayer’s work on the subject, again not exclusively his own: (the credit must be shared by a considerable group of so called Logical Positivists) lies in the fact that he has not only made the mistake, he has also refuted it. But he has not abandoned it.”

Collingwood then begins a ruthless and brilliant assault on Logical Positivism which he exposes as an attack on reason itself:

“The suspicion that resentment, not reason, may afford the true motive of the neo-Positivists’ anti-metaphysics is confirmed by the way in which we find them conceiving the relation between metaphysics and natural science. They seem to think of metaphysics as malicious towards science (the word is Earl Russell’s borrowed from Mr Santayana) and the fear that unless metaphysics is destroyed it will destroy natural science. This implies a complete misreading of the present-day situation…

“The doctrine of the Logical Positivists that metaphysical principles are nonsensical will involve the bankruptcy of all thinking in which any use is made of absolute presuppositions; that is to say, the bankruptcy of all science. Any attack on metaphysics is an attack on the foundations of science.”

The error, and perhaps the malice, is all on the side of the Positivists. While denying the meaningfulness of metaphysics, they themselves depended on absolute presuppositions – which is what metaphysics is. As we have seen, their Verification Principle – that all meaningful propositions are either analytic (true in virtue of the meanings of the words alone and on pain of contradiction) or empirical (based on observation) – is not itself either analytic or empirical. In other words, the Verification Principle fails its own test. It is in fact the Logical Positivists’ absolute presupposition – an example of the very metaphysics they deny.

Collingwood was one of the first to detect the ideological animus in the 1930s Logical Positivists against all traditional values:

“Can it be that we are back once more in the atmosphere of the 18th century, listening to the cry Ecrasez l’infame? Is this haste with tumbrel and blade the outcome of a genuine desire to understand metaphysics – an enterprise which to quote Kant – cannot be indifferent to humanity, or is it the outcome of a desire (not a rare desire, it must be admitted) to belittle what one cannot share and destroy what one cannot understand?

“The notions of the Positivists concerning ethics and theology have nothing to do with what the great moral philosophers and the great theologians have taught under those names. They are simply the foolish ideas many of us invented for ourselves or picked them up from foolish parents or foolish nurses when we were small children. Many of us again look back on our childhood with bitter humiliation and resentment; in these cases, if our childhood has been passed in what is called a virtuous and religious home, the resentment attaches itself to what we (perhaps wrongly) believe to have been taught there, and Ecrasez l’infame becomes a motive for rejecting in later life with contumely, and with argument, if we are trained to argue, the traces of that real or supposed teaching still discernible in ourselves.”

Collingwood saw more clearly than any of his time the acute danger to our society and civilization posed by the deliberate misunderstanding of metaphysics and its relation to scientific thought:

“The danger to science from anti-metaphysics is more serious now than it has ever been before.”

And yet, seventy years after his great Essay on Metaphysics, most people think, if they think about these things at all, that the positivistic outlook stands for clarity of thought, while metaphysics is just a byword for superstition. The antidote to this most dangerous misconception is to read Collingwood:

“To say that metaphysics deals with God, freedom and immortality is to invite the ridicule of everyone who prides himself on being what William James called tough-minded or in the slang of today, hard-boiled. It suggests to people of this kind that metaphysics is a game in which senile sentimentalists play at taking seriously the old wives’ tales they heard when they were children. But I have shown that, interpreted historically, the proposition, God exists takes its place not among old wives’ tales but among the absolute presuppositions of science and civilization. Similar interpretations could be given, granted adequate historical equipment, for the beliefs in human freedom and human immortality; which, thus metaphysically expounded, are by no means the mere wish-fulfilment fantasies for which they are too often taken.”

That animus, that desire to destroy the traditional values of our civilization, has not dissipated since Collingwood wrote those words: rather it has intensified and the intellectual and spiritual dangers of which Drury warned are more dangerous now than ever. At least we have lights in the darkness in Wittgenstein and Collingwood – lights of the world in their generation and beacons for our times.

Deo Gratias. It is a pity they didn’t speak to each other.

The anti-metaphysical debunking of traditional modes of thought was pursued as a specific political programme – a revolutionary programme – by a group of socialistic and nihilistic intellectuals known as the Frankfurt School. The precursors and originators of the Frankfurt School included Georg Lukacs (1885-1971) who declared, “I saw the revolutionary destruction of society as the one and only solution” – where the solution was the overthrow of Western capitalism. But it was not economic capitalism which stood in the way of the revolutionaries’ ambitions but the ancient order that underlay it, as Patrick Buchanan explained:

“Marx had been wrong. Capitalism was not impoverishing the workers. Indeed their lot was improving and they had not risen in revolution because their souls had been saturated in two thousand years of Christianity. Unless and until Christianity and Western culture, the immune system of capitalism, were uprooted from the soul of Western man, Marxism could not take root. In biblical terms, the word of Marx had fallen on rock-hard Christian soil and died.”

Lukacs saw the necessity for the destruction of Christian civilisation and he advocated “demonic ideas” in the spread of “cultural terrorism.” He was Hungarian, an agent of the Comintern, and he set up a schools programme in which children were instructed in free love and sexual intercourse while being taught that the family was an out-dated institution along with monogamy and all manifestations of religion. His aim was to undermine the family by promoting licentiousness among women and children and so weaken the basis of Christian living.

Buchanan prophesied accurately the means by which the new order would become established: “Contraception, sterilisation, abortion and euthanasia – the four horsemen of the culture of death.”

Another of these cultural revolutionaries and nihilistic iconoclasts was the Italian Communist, Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who noticed that the Russian people had not been converted to Communism: rather, they hated it. Gramsci called for “a long march through the institutions” – the arts, the cinema, education, theological seminaries, the mass media and the new medium of radio. Gramsci became fashionable among the radical chic revolutionaries of the 1960s and 70s, among them Charles Reich who revealed Gramsci’s influence on him in his best-selling, The Greening of America:

“There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed and it cannot be successfully resisted with violence. It is now spreading with amazing rapidity and already our laws, institutions and social structures are changing in consequence.”

This prophecy has come true to a degree which not even Reich himself could have foreseen. The Green movement is now worldwide and, thanks to our plague of sentimentality and the dogma of political-correctness, unassailable. The main item in the creed of the Greens is the pagan fantasy of global warming. This sham hypothesis has been debunked many times but, as with all totalitarian dogmas, it is quite impervious to evidence, criticism and rationality itself. Like the old joke about the Communist party of the USSR. You are standing in Red Square getting soaked in a downpour. But the commissar has announced that the weather is fine in Moscow. So the weather is fine in Moscow. The reification of the lie.

Victory in the culture wars was guaranteed once Christianity had died in the soul of Western man. This was happening at a speed which the revolutionaries could hardly have imagined in their most optimistic moments. I have described the conflict as “culture wars.” In fact there was only a phoney war, for Christian civilization surrendered as soon as the first shots were fired. The method of the nihilists was an ideology of perpetual change, the human spirit the subject and victim of endless malleability. This method found its rationale in the doctrine of “absolute historicism” – which meant that all morals, values and standards were products of the age. There are no absolute moral standards and morality itself should be seen as something which is “socially constructed.”

The leading light – one is tempted to say misleading darkness – of the 1960s revolution was Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) who invented Critical Theory and whose supporters repeated over and again the slogans that Western societies are racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist and Nazi. The fundamental ambition of Critical Theory was the mass inculcation of “cultural pessimism” and “alienation” wherein, as Buchanan says, “A people, though prosperous and free, comes to see its society and country as oppressive, evil and unworthy of affection and love.”

Marcuse knew that past revolutions had prospered by the use of rallying oratory and persuasive books, but he believed drugs and sex were better weapons. In his book Eros and Civilisation he called for the universal embrace of the Pleasure Principle – derived of course from Freud – and the creation of a world of “polymorphous perversity.” It was like the trumpet call of the pagans and bacchanalians who stirred the Israelites to the licentiousness of the Golden calf while Moses was up the mountain talking with God. Marcuse’s famous slogan caught on worldwide; “Make love, not war.”

Marcuse’s colleague, Wilhelm Reich was the subject of a hugely successful movie WR The Mysteries of the Organism which argued “There is no political revolution without first a sexual revolution.” The sexual revolution was simply the abolition of traditional Christian morality and the family. The western world seemed to be full of antinomian gurus, radical chic professional people who used their respected positions in society to undermine society. These included Timothy Leary (1920-1996), the anti-psychologist who preached the virtues of the psychedelic drug LSD, and nihilism:

“My advice to people today is as follows: If you take the game of life seriously, if you take your nervous system seriously, if you take your sense organs seriously, if you take the energy process seriously, you must turn on, tune in, and drop out.”

That is to say, life, beyond the pleasure principle, is meaningless.

It was no argument to point to the fact that the Western societies denounced as tyrannical and oppressive by the cultural revolutionaries were actually so free and accommodating that even their declared mortal enemies and those who worked for their destruction were able to speak and write freely. This was a great success among the student radicals and hippies in Europe and the USA in the 1960s and 70s – a generation privileged and pampered beyond all its predecessors, which came to pity itself as oppressed and downtrodden by “authority.” I was an undergraduate at Liverpool University at the time and I remember the sit-ins and trying to find out what these were about. I was told that the students were protesting their sit-ins because “The authorities are keeping secret files on us all.”

“How do you know? What evidence have you got?”

“We can’t know and there is no evidence available – because the files are secret.”

Secret files and non-existent files: the identity of indiscernibles.

Those decades too saw the origin of the therapeutic state, in which sin was redefined as illness, crime was only aberrant behaviour and psychoanalysis and even the anti-psychiatry of such as Thomas Szasz and Wilhelm Reich became intellectually fashionable and culturally influential. In a revaluation of all values, the movies and TV discovered new heroes and new villains. William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation commented:

“The entertainment industry has wholly absorbed the ideology of cultural Marxism and preaches it endlessly not just in sermons but in parables: strong women beating up weak men; children wiser than their parents; corrupt clergymen thwarted by caring drifters; upper class blacks confronting the violence of lower class whites; manly homosexuals who lead normal lives. It is all fable, an inversion of reality, but the entertainment industry made it seem more real than the world that lies just beyond the front door.”

Roger Kimball, writing in his own journal New Criterion – worthy successor to Eliot’s The Criterion – says:

“The long march through the institutions signified in the words of Marcuse, ‘working against the established institutions while working in them.’ By this means – by insinuation and infiltration rather than by confrontation – the counter-cultural dreams of radicals like Marcuse have triumphed.”

Traditional Christian culture is now, in Gertude Himmelfarb’s words, only “a dissident culture”.

This produces in many thoughtful people a spirit of desperation bordering on incredulity – such a man is Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, former Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and leader of the Catholic Church in Britain who asked in his Corbishley Lecture on 28th March 2007, “What kind of culture are we developing which wants increasingly to divorce religion from the public forum?” And he warned, “Religious freedom is not a by-product of democracy but a driving force of it.”

The Cardinal explained exactly why the attempt to base democracy on absolute relativism is a contradiction in terms:

“Relativism takes its stand on a desire for equal treatment of different beliefs in the conviction that these beliefs are relative. Yet in contradictory fashion it does so because of a belief in human equality and human dignity which are not relative values. Relativism is no friend of true democracy. By banishing religion from the public realm in the name of equality, it discounts religious perspectives from debate, banishes truth to a private sphere, labels it ‘religious’ and infers it to be irrational. But in fact truth is not something we construct. It is something we seek together. And there can only be a democratic discussion when truth is a matter of universal concern.”

There has been here and there an almost apocalyptic flavour to this part of my essay and I make no apologies for it, because I believe our situation is dire. But it takes an apparently benign and inconsequential example to reveal just how far our whole culture, civilization and way of life has been permeated and taken over by the social revolution that is made manifest and endemic in political correctness. On the face of it, nothing is more benign and respectable than a late afternoon books programme on Radio Four.

One week, the guests on this show were discussing their favourite books and they enthused over Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop! Beyond the short discussion about literary style, plot etc, there arose the question, “But, when you were reading it, how did you deal with its political-incorrectness?”

And they all replied, “Oh I just had to ignore it, put it on one side and regard it as a thing of its time.”

Those nice people on that books programme really and truly believed that our generation has made moral progress over Waugh’s – that views expressed in Scoop! might have been excused in their day as belonging to a poor, primitive and un-progressed era, but that nowadays, since the coming of the secular gospel of political-correctness, we are all so much better and more enlightened. People like so to think of themselves. That is why PC has found such an enthusiastic reception. But actually it is the language of the totalitarian social and cultural revolution which has replaced Christian civilisation.

The Apostate Church

1 Theological Iconoclasm

Throughout the 1950s, the Church of England was thriving. Attendances at Sunday services actually increased and there was a boom in the numbers of Christenings and Marriages. For three hundred years there had existed three main parties in the church: the High, the Low and the Broad. The high churches were heirs of either the old high churchmen of the late 18th century and their roots went back to such as Archbishop Laud, or the anglo-catholic movement of a hundred years later. The low churches were either lively evangelical parishes with a strong emphasis on the Bible and preaching, or quietest places with the minimum of ceremony, Matins and Evensong from The Book of Common Prayer (1662). In the high churches the priest elevated the Host at the Eucharist, while at 11am Sunday Matins, the Minister performed the solemn elevation of the collecting plate. Broad churchmen were liberals of the old-fashioned sort, light on dogma and doctrine, vaguely deistic, practitioners of the sort of “freethinking” that we find in the writings of George Eliot. All three main parties differed widely in doctrine and practice but united in their use of the Prayer Book and the Authorised Version of the Bible. There was some mild sectarian rivalry, a little entertaining joshing of a generally gentle sort, and many jokes – not all of them bad.

At the beginning of the 1960s, two sorts of innovation destroyed this largely unspoken but affectionate traditional arrangement. The first of these was theological iconoclasm and the second was liturgical change on the grand scale.

In this theological iconoclasm, paperback books became all the rage. These were some of the titles: Objections to Christian Belief; The Secular Meaning of the Gospel; The Gospel of Christian Atheism; But That I Can’t Believe!; Radical Theology and the Death of God and,  one of the earliest tracts and most successful of them all, Honest to God by John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich. He launched this talkative religious bestseller – it was reprinted half a dozen times inside a year – with a long article on the front of The Observer newspaper entitled Our Image of God Must Go.

In his book, Robinson sought thoroughly to undermine our notions of the being of God. He writes: “In place of a God who is literally or physically ‘up there’ we have accepted, as part of our mental furniture, a God who is spiritually or metaphysically ‘out there’.” But Christians for 2000 years had held as their core belief the objective, metaphysical existence of God. Honest to God was an explicit denial of this. Robinson’s book was catastrophic in another way. In chapter six – the corresponding chapter number of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic in which he had announced the meaninglessness of ethical terms! – Robinson preached the utilitarian morality of Jeremy Bentham – with a faintly churchy veneer – and invented the term “situation ethics.” This denied the authority of the Ten Commandments and instead declared that our moral decisions should be guided by whatever we decide is “the loving thing to do” in any particular set of circumstances. In other words, you make up your own morality on the hoof. Situation ethics soon became known as The New Morality – while a wit remarked that it was only the old immorality in a miniskirt. This appalling book had enormous influence, going into half a dozen reprints in as many months. I say it was appalling because it was philosophically incompetent, theologically illiterate, ethically nihilistic and sensationalising. The mass media, which at the time was performing a frenzy of irreverence to all authority and a general debunking of traditional values in what were misleadingly described as “satirical” television programmes, seized upon Honest to God with a drooling relish, talked endlessly of the “atheist bishop” and the bandwagon began to roll. Ironically, this infantilised craving for novelty was described by its perpetrators as “Christianity come of age” – a phrase coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The bandwagon rolled on and gathered pace through the decade of student radicalism, campus unrest, inner city riots and the new feminism. The climate was radical-chic and antinomian.  In 1977 John Hick edited a book of essays by radical priests and theologians and published under the title The Myth of God Incarnate. The authors denied the traditional view of Jesus as God and Man. The New Theology and the New Morality were enthusiastically taken up by the most prominent people in the church; bishops, deans, principals of theological colleges and the like. It thus resembled a churchy form of the Frankfurt School, undermining traditional institutions from within. The radicals in positions of authority promoted their like-minded friends to high office and a new modernising Establishment perpetuated itself.

You might say that the Church of England effectively resigned. But the iconoclasts and virtual atheists who became the new Establishment were left with a big problem on their hands. If you denied, as they did, that Scripture and traditional church teaching actually meant what they said, what did you do with the words of the Bible and the doctrines of the Christian Fathers? Answer: in the phrase used by Professor Rudolf Bultmann of the University of Marburg, you demythologised them.

How? Well, take the feeding of the five thousand. Obviously, the new non-believing theologians could not by any means accept that this was one of Our Lord’s miracles, but there it remains in the Bible – so how to deal with it? Answer: it was a socialist picnic. Turn it into a banal story about sharing and make it part of the social-gospelling ideology which eventually grew and developed into today’s rampant egalitarianism and levelling down.

What about the resurrection of Christ? The modernisers did not believe it. For they had been taught by But That I Can’t Believe, Bishop Robinson’s sequel to Honest to God, that the resurrection of Christ is one of those things which no one in his right mind could believe.  But there it stubbornly remains in all four gospels. So what to make of it? What they did was to deny that it happened and instead they psychologised and subjectified it. These leaders, who were supposed to be our spiritual fathers in God, our religious teachers and defenders of the faith, did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. So they said instead that after his death “His disciples experienced new life.” Thus they left entirely unexplained where this experience of new life came from if Jesus remained dead. And it left unanswered the other question too: would the first Christian men and women preach what they knew to be a lie? Would they really have had the courage to suffer martyrdom for what they knew was a cock-and-bull story?

This secularisation of Christianity has accelerated over the years so that the church is now run by practical atheists. This is why you never hear many of our bishops and other senior clergy speak directly about scripture or the doctrines of the Creed. They don’t believe what the Bible and the Creeds actually say. And so they retreat and re-interpret Christian doctrine in terms of the secular opinions of our time. These opinions are always merely political. And of course they are always the fashionable left wing prejudices of the day.

There are pockets of reaction here and there. Not every parish in the land has bowed the knee to the new secularised Baal. But they are rare and, when they are identified, the bishops and deans who are the new Establishment, do all they can to stamp them out. I speak whereof I know, for I am one who has been stamped out. Over fifteen years, the priest, churchwardens, parochial church council and faithful parish clerks of two historically renowned but declined and moribund churches in the City of London revived these parishes by reinstating the Prayer Book and the Authorised Version and by teaching the traditional faith. The congregation increased tenfold. When the priest retired, the Bishop of London appointed in one church an arch-moderniser who had done more than most to devise and promote the inferior new services – of which more in due course – and to the other church a theologically ignorant, “happy-clappy” priest with his guitars and overhead projectors, “worship songs” and the full repertoire of the Jiving for Jesus liturgy.

Now here is a strange phenomenon: while Christianity is dying in Europe, it is burgeoning in Africa, South America and much of Asia, including China. The faith thrives in these places because its bishops and priests believe, teach and practise the traditional un-demythologised faith. These traditional churches are despised by the secularised bien pensants who run the church in England. But the non-believing new hierarchy has got itself into a delicious jam. Every ten years, all the Anglican bishops worldwide are summoned to a conference in Lambeth. As I write, I note that the Archbishop of Canterbury is trying to make up his mind whether the next Lambeth Conference should be postponed or even cancelled. Why? Because the last thing he wants is to host what would soon turn out to be an embarrassing confrontation between his secularised English bishops and the believing prelates from foreign parts.

Now all we hear from the bishops’ palaces, the archdeaconries and the theological colleges is endless palaver about “diversity”, “equality”, “under-privilege”, “deprivation”, “social exclusion”, “saving the planet” and the whole panoply of claptrap. If you don’t believe in God who is a metaphysical reality; if you believe the feeding of the five thousand was that socialist picnic; if you think the resurrection was a mere shift in the disciples’ mood; then there is nothing left for you to engage with than the secular dogmas of this world. And that is exactly what the Anglican hierarchy has done these last forty years – and with great enthusiasm. They have supported every one of the government’s innovations in social policy since the 1960s so that now services of blessing for same sex couples – scarcely distinguishable from Gay Marriages – are widely performed. This conformity to secular mores has gone so far that, in his last address before his retirement, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury declared, “The church has a great deal of catching up to do with secular values.” What, the traditionalist might ask, ever happened to “Be ye not conformed to this world”?

2 Liturgical Change

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find an Anglican church which still uses The Book of Common Prayer. The modernising senior clergy hate the BCP because, as Eliot reminded us it:

“Tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.”

The Bishops and the leadership in the General Synod believe above all in progress and so they are offended by the BCP which insists that, however emancipated and liberated they imagine themselves to be, they are yet sinners who fall short of the glory of God. Therefore in the 1960s the progressive hierarchy set about devising new forms of church services which would reflect their progressive and optimistic mindset. Of course it would not have been possible to throw out the BCP at once and replace it with new inventions, for the Church of England was, disagreeably for the modernizers, firmly attached to the old book. The rank and file would have to be weaned off it in stages. So the revisers proceeded by stealth. They began by introducing something called Series One – a collection of booklets containing Matins, Evensong, Holy Communion, Baptism, Wedding and Funeral which were only slight modifications of the BCP. These booklets were followed by the rather more radical Series Two and finally by Series Three in which the services bore little resemblance to those in the BCP. In 1980 the General Synod’s Liturgical Commission collected all the Series Three revisions in a volume three times as long as the BCP. This was published as The Alternative Service Book and the Synod spent millions (of churchgoers’ money) advertising it as “The greatest publishing event in four hundred years.” And the Archbishop of York was to be seen blowing his trumpet in Church Times, saying: “The publication of the ASB has made a handsome profit for the Church’s Board of Finance.”

Actually, the book which was acclaimed by its devisers as the greatest publishing event in four hundred years enjoyed a mere twenty years of life before the bishops and the Synod banned it! How ironical that the ever-so-politically-correct and impeccable “liberal” hierarchy of the church should copy the book-burning practices of Nazi Germany and dictatorships everywhere.

In 2000 they replaced it with something else, something much longer and much worse…

Common Worship (2000)

The prevailing revisionist party among the senior clergy and the General Synod prefer to describe themselves as liberals. But they are nothing of the sort. Even John Stuart Mill understood that liberalism is not about counting heads but involves consideration for dissenting minorities. The so called liberals who rule the Church of England will have none of this: their desire is to establish hegemony and they tolerate only with those who agree with them.

There were so many alternative rites and prayers in the ASB that C.H. Sisson was led to refer to it as “the book of variants.” But in CW the concept of variety was raised almost to infinity. In fact, it is hard to determine whether there is a single item which we can refer to as CW: there is such a plethora of permitted alternatives and downloads that the very existence of the book might be a topic for speculative metaphysics. A better title for CW would have been Prayers for the New Babel .

Let us look first at CW’s Baptism, Marriage and Funeral Services because these are the offices used by the occasional churchgoers who represent the largely, and increasingly, unchurched general public. In the BCP, The Public Baptism of Infants is a rite which takes sin and devil seriously. But in CW it is re-titled Initiation Services, which I’m afraid only makes me think of masonic lore and corny witchcraft films on late night television.

CW is full of little explanations in the language of baby talk: “This is a demanding task for which you will need the help and grace of God.” It is the infantilised form of expression used by condescending adults when speaking to unruly children: “And don’t forget to brush the back of your teeth as well as the front!” Many of the intrusive injunctions in CW look as if they have been culled from the secular, psychotherapeutic culture or the self-help guide books on the Mind, Body and Spirit shelf in the bookshop: “God invites you on a life-long journey and Christian formation must allow an individual’s story to be heard.” Hearing this, one requires no emetic.

In competent, successful prose or poetry, language and thought are continuous and the words chosen offer us an immediate presentation of some aspect of reality. But the Introduction to Initiation Services is written in words that obscure meaning:

“It is important to come to these services with a fresh mind, trying to put aside the approaches which have conditioned thinking while the ASB has been in use. The authorised text needs to be seen not as intrusive legal regulation but as a guide to performance.”

But, “Come to these services with a fresh mind” unavoidably carries the connotation, “Try to forget everything you’ve ever learnt” – which is the very modus operandi of the revolutionaries. They seem to want churchgoers to put aside all recollections of earlier liturgies – the BCP certainly, but also even the so recent and newly-banned ASB. Unfortunately, it is not possible to make up liturgical language, as it were, from year zero without leaning heavily on what has been used in our long Christian past: in any liturgy such words as “God, Jesus Christ, redemption and forgiveness” are bound to put in an appearance. Indeed, it might be thought that continuity with the past is part of what we mean by Christian tradition. And the church’s theology declares that worshippers here on earth are part of the whole church, here and in heaven; part of a living movement that has a past, a present and a future. As Eliot said:

“The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.” And, “A people without history is not redeemed from time.”

A liturgy which takes deliberate account of earlier forms is bound to be richer than one which tries to make all things new – precisely because a living tradition contains strata, layers of meaning, and resonances which have formed and reflected the experience of Christian centuries past. How self-defeating it would be to say that we have no need to read St Paul or St Augustine. It is just as strange to order that we put from our minds the powerful and beautiful liturgical creations of past centuries. (But all iconoclasts hate what is beautiful) Historical periods have their particular character of course but, though ages come and go, it is basic to Christian belief that the human condition and psychology – the soul of man – does not much alter with the passing years. Even in what the liberals take to be our wonderfully progressed 21st century, we need to confess our sins just as honestly as Cranmer’s generation confessed theirs and even as much as the vanished, and so recently dispossessed, ASB generation.

There must therefore be continuity and similarity of expression. In fairness, the authors of CW seem partially to understand this, and many of the prayers and sentences used in that book are much like (or, in rare places, even the same as) what has gone before. Interestingly, this fact suggests the question of why there was thought to be the need for a replacement. I am in a sense stating the obvious truth that it is the character of the doctrine that decides which words shall be used. The choice of words determines what is being said. And since Christian doctrine is not a matter of mere fashion, but remains the same in its essentials over the millennia, then we should not expect too much novelty in the words chosen for its expression.

Again that “Conditioned thinking is unavoidable.” All thought is conditioned, for the very good reason that language does not consist entirely of neologisms. Indeed, unconditioned thinking is a contradiction in terms, because thinking has to be intentional, actually about something; and what it is about are, so to speak, its conditions. So if we belong to the Christian tradition, we shall inevitably think the same thoughts that our forefathers thought. Therefore, since there are no precise synonyms, we shall very likely find ourselves often using traditional words.

The expression “legal regulation” is used pejoratively and we are told it will be seen as “intrusive.” This seems to me to be an extremely libertarian, antinomian point of view. There is another and more favourable theological view of the phrase which knows that laws exist not unnecessarily to cramp our style, but for our protection and guidance. The unruly wills and affections of sinners require ordering.

Successful liturgical language effects an immediate presentation of the spiritual mystery. Liturgical language is less than successful when it is overwhelmingly discursive and tries to explain the mystery. But attempts to explain what is inexpressible – because transcendent – are bound to result in bathos. The BCP service The Public Baptism of Infants says, “.,.by the baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ in the river Jordan, thou didst sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin.” This is beautiful. And the use of particular names and places roots the prayer in tangible reality. The reference to Jesus Christ draws us close to him – which is just what is required at a Baptism. CW rewrites this passage, removing all the evocative, homely detail and the result is something which sounds like instructions for operating a washing machine: “Now sanctify this water that, by the power of your Holy Spirit, they may be cleansed from sin and born again.” Even if we ignore that peremptory Now – are we really meant to issue ultimatums to the Almighty? – the sensation produced by the CW version is of a peculiar flatness of tone in which the priest does not by image and rhythm evoke a mysterious spiritual landscape but merely describes what (he hopes) is going on.

Holy Baptism is a full and holy cure of the most dread disease, and this disease is sin. It is dreadful because, as Scripture tells us, its wages are death. The BCP makes this terrifyingly clear right at the start: “Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin…”  CW does not get round to a mention of sin until the candidate makes his “Decision.” In fact the Pelagian tendency permeates this new book. It is as if we must not be led to think badly of ourselves but should at all times keep up what practitioners in our psychotherapeutic culture call our self-esteem. Modern liturgists have frequently tried to explain to me why they omitted the words “conceived and born in sin.” They say we must not use language which suggests there is something unclean about sexual intercourse or giving birth – language that is also said to be “offensive to women.” But the BCP rite neither implies physical uncleanness nor disparages women: the sin it refers to is Original Sin which, according to such un-progressed minds as the author of Genesis, the Apostle Paul and St Augustine, is the heritage and mark of all men. CW’s Initiation Services are theologically feeble because they contain no suggestion of this deep sore with which we are all marked. So we are left wondering about the purpose of CW’s Holy Baptism. Of course it is a family occasion when we publicly welcome a new member of the human race, but there is meant to be more to it than that. We receive her into the fellowship of Christ’s flock which is the company of those God has redeemed from the severe stain of sin; and in this company the infant will have to learn that there is a fight on, against sin, the world and the devil. To play down the sheer evilness of evil and its spoiling presence in the human heart is at the same time to play down the redeeming work of Christ. Surely that cannot have been the intention of the revisers?

These revisers also show a disquieting unfamiliarity with the nature of traditional liturgical language. In The Commentary by the Liturgical Commission on Initiation Services, there is a section entitled Accessible Language which says, “The full and rich imagery surrounding Baptism and the comparative ignorance of this imagery in many sections of modern society pose a major problem in the drafting of services of Christian Initiation.” This is certainly true – and whose fault is this, by the way? But their solution to this problem for evangelism is to abandon the full and rich imagery; whereas a better solution would be to present the full and rich imagery so that “sections of modern society” might hear it and become enriched by it. People have to be taught.

But instead, the removal of the fullness and the richness results in the people’s deprivation – and that cannot have been the intention of the Commission either. They claim that the traditional biblical imagery is “esoteric language.” But is it? The BCP’s presentation of this imagery is immediate, powerful and memorable. It contains a wonderful evocation of spiritual landscape and the personal involvement of heroes of the faith: “Noah and his family in the ark…the children of Israel through the Red Sea…the baptism of thy well-beloved Son in the river Jordan.” This is nothing less than a recitation of our sacred history which is entirely appropriate when a welcome is being made – because it encourages a thrilling sense of belonging, of being part of the greatest story ever told. But if, as CW does, you omit the narrative, the candidate is excluded from his heritage: he is not even told that he has a heritage. This is not a question of mere style but the reflection of incarnational theology, as we see that the purposes of God are bound up with particular people and places.

A curious rite called Emergency Baptism is carried over in an expanded form from the ASB  to CW. The rubric governing its use makes for interesting reading: “Parents are responsible for requesting emergency baptism for an infant. They should be assured that questions of ultimate salvation or of the provision of a Christian funeral do not depend on whether a child has been baptised.” In other words, when is an emergency not an emergency? Answer: when it is an emergency baptism! Finally, there is a new prayer called Thanksgiving for Holy Baptism which begins with what appears to be an altogether more mundane sort of emergency: “I saw water flowing from the threshold of the temple.” I fear this will only provoke wits in the congregation to respond, “Quick – call the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company!”

The three most serious events in life are birth, sex and death. The authors of the BCP knew this and so they produced rites of passage capable of bearing the weight of these occasions. These rites see men and women as, by grace, capable of virtue certainly, but as fundamentally flawed and so always likely to go wrong. The old word for this going wrong is sin. Specific dangers attend every phase of human existence. For example, what plagues men and women for much of our lives is sexual desire, and we know that unbridled or disordered sexual desire causes havoc. This is why the BCP includes all those stern and psychologically accurate words in the Introduction to The Solemnisation of Matrimony in which the couple (and indeed the whole congregation) are admonished concerning “…carnal lusts and appetites…a remedy against sin and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry and so keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.”

As in The Public Baptism of Infants, the BCP is in deadly earnest when it comes to describing the human condition and the deep flaw in our nature by which we are “let and hindered.” Therefore matrimony is called holy – which means something reserved and apart. It is not an ornament but a sacrament. As such, it is necessary if we are to be saved from our sinful sexual tendencies and the death which is their consequence. To be sure, it is a stark and urgent message, but it is Christian truth.

Compared with this, the moral teaching CW’s Marriage Service is unrealistic and shares with the Hollywood musical elements of sheer fantasy. There is no mention of carnal lusts and appetites or of the moral, personal and social dangers which these failings involve. Instead, the bridegroom and bride are made to say to each other, “All that I am I give to you.” But do they give each other their bad temper and their indigestion? It is like the first line of a song crooned by Elton John. If we believe that the marriage ceremony exists in order to bestow, through the sacrament, some help and protection – some “remedy against sin”then to leave out all mention of sin is to leave the couple to their own devices.

Later in the service, the priest may pray, “Let them be tender with each other’s dreams.” Perhaps there should be an additional rubric printed at this point: “The congregation shall now throw up – bride’s family’s side first.” Such gooey phrases are just another example of the vague, untheological, touchy-feely language that has displaced firm words such as “I require and charge you both as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgement.” But there is no judgement here – neither of the theological nor the literary sort – only sentimental self-indulgence. It is hard to attach a clear meaning to “Let them be tender with each other’s dreams.” Does it mean, “Don’t let them disillusion each other?” But the marriage service is meant to be an example of illusions being swept away at the very beginning of the couple’s shared life together. The Solemnisation of Matrimony does just that: it lets the couple know that they are always in the presence of so many and great dangers arising out of their own corrupt desires. Moreover it insists that one of the main causes for which matrimony was ordained is “the procreation of children.” Of course, we know that children may be procreated outside marriage but, says the BCP, it is marriage which confers their legitimacy. CW is vague at this point. It says, “It is given as the foundation of family life in which children are born and nurtured” – as if there were something not providential but merely accidental about this birth and nurturing. We know why the compilers insist on this studied evasiveness and systematic ambiguity: it is out of their fear of being thought judgemental and of excluding those who beget children out of wedlock. But if it makes no difference, why bother with the institution of marriage at all? Or is the remedy against sin merely optional?

CW’s Marriage Service is actually a disservice to the couple because it fails to prepare them for the reality of what is going to happen to them. Because it leaves out all those accurate descriptions of human sexuality and instead offers a psychological world like that in a romantic novel, it is a theological failure. As in Initiation Services, the true nature of human personality is obscured by a welter of euphemisms which misrepresent the truth about human character. Again the participants are encouraged to think well of themselves: an art at which, experience concludes, every man is already his own expert. This evasiveness and Pelagian disregard for human character runs all through CW. I was once told by a prominent member of the Liturgical Commission that “We have gained fresh insights into human sexuality since Cranmer’s time. The BCP was always very negative about sex.”

Nonsense. The Prayer Book’s marriage service contains the ecstatic words – spoken by the groom to his bride – “With my body I thee worship.”

And what fresh insights are being offered? Has the human species, through copious modern educational projects, outgrown lust and adultery? No, it has merely redefined them as matters for personal choice in which he or she is free to make up his or her own mind.

But, as T.S. Eliot said, Do you need to be told that lions no longer need keepers?

There are in Britain more unwanted pregnancies and more single parents than ever. There are ten times as many rapes as there were fifty years ago and there are 200,000 abortions each year – abortion used as a form of contraception. And three out of five marriages end in divorce. Still we hear the Pelagian cry, “Nothing to acknowledge, nothing to bewail!” The BCP is not negative about sex. It is just very much to the point and extremely realistic and earthy. But it is certainly negative about unlawful sex. The truth is that the new rite has been designed for our brave new world in which the concept of unlawful sex is meaningless – because the sexual act has been denuded of all moral content. Any sort of coupling (tripling? Quadrupling?) is acceptable in these days of our fresh insights. In the face of CW’s Marriage Service it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Liturgical Commission regards the traditional Christian rules about sexual relations as having been superseded: the words of the sex gurus, beginning with Freud, Kinsey and Alex Comfort have replaced those of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. Rites of passage are meant to be our landmarks. Well, it is the Commination Service in the BCP which declares, “Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark.” CW has removed all the landmarks.

The smoky romantic atmosphere also pervades CW’s Funeral Services. Perhaps the most disturbing and aweful verse in the whole Bible is the one reporting Jesus’ reaction to the news of the death of his friend Lazarus: St John tells us “Jesus Wept.” In CW he is only “moved to tears” – as if he had been watching Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslett go down in Titanic for the umpteenth time. “Jesus wept” is a terrible saying about the nature and extent of the divine compassion, but “was moved to tears” suggests only emotional incontinence.

There are moments of sheer bathos in the CW Funeral. For example, there are two paragraphs “for reading before the service” and they include the phrase, “There is a real sense of loss at the death of a loved one.” Did we not know this already? “A real sense of loss” here belongs with those other phrases beloved of comedians who satirise modern archbishops: “And I mean this in a very real sense.” Of course, it is devoid of meaning. There is also some (unintended?) black humour. In a section headed Ministry at the time of Death, it is suggested that the priest might read verses from the Bible to the dying. It then adds, “Wherever possible, care should be taken to use versions of texts familiar to the dying person.” So the Liturgical Commission which has dedicated the last four decades to expunging all recollection of the AV and the BCP from the public memory, relents at the last and allows us to have the real words when we are dying! Let us give thanks for small mercies. On second thoughts, this is rather worrying: if I hear a strange parson reading the real Bible to me, I shall fear I am on my last legs.

In what is probably intended as a reference  to the Psalmist’s saying, “Thou knowest my downsitting and my uprising, my going out and my coming in” (BCP), CW’s Funeral  includes the line, “Lord be with us as we open the door.” The mourners will laugh, surely? If only it had said, “Lord be with us as we open the box”, we could at least have imagined ourselves as contestants in a macabre TV quiz show. These examples are not trivial sources of what might provoke mildly scurrilous amusement: because they arise out of the compilers’ failure to understand what will go into ordinary English and what will not, they are bound to result is something which is theologically inadequate.

There are prayers which contradict themselves within three lines. In one of these it says, “Although God causes grief…” then immediately goes on to say, “He does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” So it looks as if God’s right hand does not know what his left is doing! The plain meaning is that God wills some things unwillingly. Theological feebleness – of which there is plenty in this book – is one thing: theological contradiction is a worse thing altogether. Another example: “Before time began.” When, exactly? “Before” is a word which belongs within the temporal order.

Occasionally the revisers fail to distinguish between words appropriate to a technical theological discussion and words suitable at a religious service. In the Prayers of Penitence it says, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God.” The technical word “transcendent” has no place in a religious rite. Besides, having been made aware of the compilers’ desire to produce only what they call accessible language, is “transcendent” an accessible word for those alleged to have trouble with “With this ring I thee wed?”

“Though worms destroy this body” has been replaced by the bizarre expression, “After my skin has been destroyed.” What – after sitting too long under the sun-lamp? “Bless those who had the care of him/her especially doctors, nurses and technicians.” I particularly love the way that “him/her” shows how pedantic political correctness triumphs over all atrocities! But “technicians.” This will only make mourners think of mechanism and robotics. Besides, it is gratuitously invidious to single out some helpers for mention, but not others. If technicians are to get a round of applause, along with the doctors and nurses, let us hear it the taxi-driver, the ward-cleaner and the chef. Further echoes of New Age effusiveness resound in a prayer that begins with the clumsy and inappropriate invocation, “Intimate God” and descends to the sub-Freudian “Reconcile us through your cross to all we have rejected in ourselves.” This is again bad theology: for there are things in ourselves which we ought to reject. Then hilariously, “As we remember our death…” As Tommy Cooper might have said, “It’s a nice trick if you can do it!”

The authors of CW have made an effort to provide funeral rites fitting for specific occasions – sundry kinds of death. There is The Order for the Funeral of a Child and there are prayers to be said following a suicide or after a violent death. The Funeral of a Child begins with the sentence, “We meet in the faith that death is not the end, and may be faced without fear, bitterness or guilt.” Certainly, the gospel proclaims that death is not the end, but can it really be faced without fear? A few extremely brave people may come to regard death with equanimity and to stand fast against its pains, but that is not what Scripture means when it speaks of the fear of death. Death is to be feared not because it is likely to be physically painful and an affront to the ego, but because it is the prelude to God’s judgement. Perhaps we might face death without “bitterness” – though the BCP knows that bitterness is usually involved when it prays, “Deliver us from the bitter pains of eternal death.” And we should not face death without feeling guilty, for the very good reason that we are guilty. I think I can see what the revisers are laudably trying to do in this opening sentence: they mean to reassure the distraught parents that the death of their child is not their fault. But that message would be best given in the sermon instead of in a well-meaning but confused opening sentence.

There is that prayer to be said “after a violent death” and it includes the words “…that we may treasure the memory of his life more than the manner of his death.” (Why no his/her here, by the way – or are we to assume that even political-correctness is swallowed up in death?) This sentence is meant to be the sort of thing that can be said after a fatality on the roads or even after a murder, but the language is uncertain and so the theology is confused. For it asks that “we treasure the memory of the life more than the manner of the death.” What is this “more than”? Surely we should not treasure the manner of his death at all?

There is a long church tradition which says that prayers should be one of the main ways in which doctrine is taught and handed down the generations. But when there is too much, and questionable, teaching there is the risk that the authors of prayers will become adept at offering instruction to God in the ways of human psychology. So, for instance, the CW Funeral prays like this:

“We find it hard to forgive the deed that has brought us so much grief; but we know that, if life is soured by bitterness, an unforgiving spirit brings no peace.”

Oh for God’s sake, shut up! The psychology here is fallacious and so the theology is misleading. Apart from the connotations of modern therapeutics in “if life is soured by bitterness,” where once again the compilers are not far from the counselling clinic, there is surely room for bitterness. Suppose the violent death was the hacking to death of your wife by a mad axe-man while you were on your honeymoon. Are you not allowed to feel some bitterness? If you did not, you would hardly be human. This prayer seems to be saying that you should not harbour these natural and legitimate bitter feelings, and so it fails to answer the particular grief of the occasion. It would have been better to frame a prayer in which the bitterness was offered to God, for it is not we ourselves through our own strenuous efforts who can provide consolation: it is God alone who can wipe all tears from our eyes. Better to ask him then, rather than prescribe the useless self-help of cod psychology to a man beside himself with grief and anger.

The prayer after a violent death also includes the words “It is beyond our understanding and more than we can bear.” Perhaps this might be true in the case of the murder of a member of the family, but what if the case was the shooting by a soldier of a terrorist who was about to detonate a bomb in a shopping arcade? That would not be “beyond our understanding” and most people would be, if not entirely happy, at least relieved that the soldier had acted dutifully and promptly to prevent an atrocity. And even a terrorist should be given a proper funeral.

The prayer after a suicide says, “Hear our prayer for those in despair.” Let us leave aside for a moment the infelicitous and inappropriate rhyme. The prayer is too vague to provide any theological guidance or consolation for the mourners. Indeed, are those “in despair” meant to be the mourners? What if they are not despairing but putting their trust in God? Or is it the person who has taken his own life who is reckoned to be in despair? Why should anyone think that? I think the prayer was contrived as a generality, as it were, “Following this suicide, let us pray for all those tempted to do away with themselves.” But the vagueness of it all produces only confusion and theological inaccuracy. The prayer after a long illness does not understand the physical and mental pains of someone who takes a long time to die. It says, “Our life is a fleeting shadow that does not endure” whereas one actually experiencing a prolonged agony is much more likely to experience it as unbearably long drawn out.

Taking account of the perceived weaknesses of the ASB, the revisers have tried to produce a new book with a stronger sense of shared liturgical experience, and this attempt is suggested by the use of the word Common in the title. But it is hard to see how this aim will be achieved in a book which contains so many alternative forms. Some thought that the four Eucharistic prayers in the ASB were three too many: CW has eight. Banality here is piled upon banality. In the BCP’s (single) Prayer of Consecration, it says most movingly “In the same night that he was betrayed, he took bread.” CW’s Prayer “E” informs us “He had supper with his friends” – which only makes us want to ask, Chinese takeaway or Pizza Hut?

One could write a summary of the terrible events which made up Christ’s passion and death. One might say something like this: “He took bread, he was betrayed, he was arrested, mocked, scourged and crucified.” The expression “took bread” is continuous with the other awful events. But to confuse idioms is destructive of the whole spiritual sense. I mean, by no stretch of the imagination could one plausibly write, “He had supper with his friends, then he was scourged and crucified.” Having supper with friends does not belong in the same contextual universe as being crucified: “He took bread” does.

Those eight Eucharistic prayers are clumsy and wordy. Prayer “B” for example contains the tautologous phrase…”and revealed the resurrection by rising to new life.” How could anyone, even a member of the Liturgical Commission, imagine that to be an improvement on “the third day he rose again”? This Prayer “B” is altogether too subjective and receptionist in its theology of what is actually going on when the Eucharist is celebrated. It asks only that “these gifts of bread and wine may be TO US the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Whereas the gospel says plainly that he declared “This is my body…This is my blood.” Jesus expressly did not say, “You may, if you wish, choose to regard these elements as symbolising my body and blood.” This Prayer “B” also states that the Eucharist is a memorial and as such it was designed with low churchmen in mind. Other of the prayers reflect the Catholic tradition – but the glory of Cranmer’s one Prayer of Consecration in the BCP was that it could be (and it was and still is in places where they do these things properly) used satisfactorily by representatives of all the different parties in the Church of England. Finally, Prayer “F” claims that God reveals …”the power of your love made perfect in our human weakness.” It does nothing of that heretical sort: God’s love was not made perfect in our human weakness but to atone for our human weakness by the perfection of Christ’s sacrifice.

The CW Creed  – but it is ludicrously titled Authorised Affirmation of Faith – perpetuates a serious error which first occurred in the ASB. God is described as maker of all that is “seen and unseen.” The Creed in the BCP says “all things visible and invisible.” The two phrases are not interchangeable. You cannot see the Holy Ghost because he is invisible. You cannot see your little sister only because she is hiding behind the sofa for fear of the Daleks. The first is invisible: the second is merely unseen. There are more serious theological howlers in CW’s Authorised Affirmations of Faith. One of these says, “For as mind and body form one human being, so the one Christ is both divine and human.” Yes, he is both divine and human, but not in the sense implied by this Affirmation – that Christ’s mind is divine and his body human. The doctrine of Nicea is that the whole person of Christ is both divine and human. This revision of traditional orthodoxy smacks of Docetism – the heretical notion that Christ only appeared or pretended to be human.

But how are we even to expect intelligence and coherence after we have read the Introduction to Common Worship’s Holy Communion Rites? Here, for the guidance of the parish priest, the Commission asks, “What is it that this community wishes to emphasise as it celebrates the Eucharist?” As a theological principle, this is wrong from the start: the Eucharist is not the scenario for our emphases, but a representation in the here and now of Christ’s great act of self-consecration. It is not something that provides a theme for self-expression, as if the congregation were a class of primary school children under instruction from a thoroughly modern teacher whose desire is that they express themselves. The Holy Communion is not about self-expression, local or personal emphases and whims, but a solemn re-enactment of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament.

Another question in that facetious Introduction asks, “How will you present the celebration so that the deep structure of the rite is clear?” This theological hybrid seems to derive from Chomsky’s transformational grammar – out of the liturgical bigot Dom Gregory Dix. Then, “How will you try to secure a different feel for the Eucharist at different seasons?” In short, we won’t. Because that un-theological word feel is only a continuation of the touchy-feely language we came across in CW’s Marriage Services.

CW has a section briskly called Schedule of permitted variations to the Book of Common Prayer orders for Morning and Evening Prayer where these occur in Common Worship. It is a slim section but one replete with theological feebleness and plenty of mistakes. For example, God is informed, “Your Son was born in poverty in a manger.” He was not born in a manger. He was born of the Virgin Mary his mother and laid in a manger. In this phrase, “born in poverty in a manger,” the political opinions of the revisers are too apparent and they might seem to derive more from the church’s left wing Board for Social Responsibility than from students of historical theology. Jesus was not born in poverty: his earthly father, Joseph, was a tradesman and of the respectable middle class. Besides, the circumstances of Jesus’ birth are irrelevant to the truth of the Incarnation – that greatest of all condescensions. By this emphasis on poverty, the Liturgical Commission seems to think that for God to have been born in relative poverty was somehow a greater condescension than if he had been born Mayor of Stockport or even Czar of all the Russias. That the second Person of the Trinity chose to be born at all is, of course, the miracle. The compilers do not seem to be able to imagine the great gulf that exists between God and ourselves, frail children of dust and feeble as frail. The same political leanings are evident in the Harvest Prayer in which we are asked to confess “the sins of our society.”

Prayers for Various Occasions reveals a radical shift in the perceived order of precedence as the bishops pray for themselves before they pray for the Queen. In the BCP the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, comes first in the list of petitions. In the ASB Her Majesty came second. But here in CW’s most recent demotion, she comes ninth. One might suspect a creeping republicanism, a suspicion not dissolved by the prayer which follows, “for members of the European Institutions.” In all this, what might at first appear to be a minor adjustment, we see a profound shift in theological understanding. It is not a matter of no importance that the bishops put themselves above the Sovereign, but a fundamental change in the understanding of what the Church of England is. For the BCP the Monarch is Supreme Governor who appoints the bishops. To put the bishops before the Queen is therefore to announce a change in the order of authority: the bishops are the masters now, and the Queen is prayed for as an afterthought.

In the Commission’s Introduction to Common Worship, Planning for Change: Suggestions and Ideas, it says, “When the ASB was published, no one knew which (if any) of the new services would stand the test of time.” Twenty years! It is an eccentric notion of what constitutes the test of time. Cranmer’s book has stood that test since 1549.

We should, after all, have some sympathy with the task facing the revisers. They could not ignore the comprehensive failure of the ASB to halt the catastrophic decline in church attendance during the period of its issue. Something had to be done. But what? I suggest the best thing would have been for them to instruct the churchwardens to find the cupboard in the vestry where the Vicar had hidden all the copies of the BCP – and put them out in the pews again.

IV: The Future of Europe after Christianity

The West’s response to the Islamic threat since 9/11 has consisted in irrelevant and costly wars in terms of men and treasure to establish “democracy” in the Arab states. You might as well try to store ice cream in the fires of hell. Those states despise democracy. Look at the chaos and death which the attempt to secure democracy in Iraq has achieved? By contrast, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the president of Egypt has instituted the only workable policy: he has banned the Muslim Brotherhood, rounded up many of its leaders and executed the most extreme of them. The so called “Arab Spring” was never going to work. Those images of a few years ago of idealistic westerners waving their mobile phones while assisting the Libyan revolution showed a policy which was as pathetic as it was naïve. We bombed Libya in the name of “democracy” – and look at the hell-hole Libya is now under the warring factions. Syria’s Assad is a particularly nasty piece of work, cruel, murderous and ruthless. But would you prefer Syria were ruled by Islamic state? And that, by the way, is the stark choice. Syria is not about to fall into the hands of “moderate Muslims” either.

This “religion of peace and love” has got a CV. Here is a summary of its imperialistic incursions and attempted conquests over the last 1300 years:

In AD 732 a Muslim army of as many as 200,000 men was defeated by the Christian Charles Martel at Tours. If that battle had been lost, all Europe would have fallen to militant Islam. In 1565 the relief of the Siege of Malta, by a Christian alliance, ensured that the Mediterranean did not fall into Muslim hands and so give them a toehold in southern Europe

Then came the Battle of Lepanto on 7th October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Spain (including its territories of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Venice, the Papacy, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire.

There was that other 11th September – 1683 when Christian armies under Jan Sobieski arrived at the gates of Vienna and defeated the last substantial Muslim incursion: the last, that is, before the one which we face at present. There is no doubt that militant Islam’s current aggression will have to be firmly suppressed if the character of Europe as we know it is to survive. If the European powers cannot bring themselves to act firmly, then the continent will be dominated by the Islamic ideology within a generation, with the resulting loss of all our freedoms – and of course the loss of countless lives.

The character of Islam has long been understood by some of the finest minds in Europe. R.G. Collingwood described in as “a barbarism.” And Samuel Coleridge had this to say in his On the Constitution of Church and State (1830):

“That erection of a temporal monarch under the pretence of a spiritual authority, which was not possible in Christendom but by the extinction or entrancement of the spirit of Christianity, this was effected in full by Mahomet, to the establishment of the most extensive and complete despotism that ever warred against civilisation and the interests of humanity.”

Terror and persecution haunts Iraq. But don’t think that it will be confined to Iraq and other faraway places of which we know little. Islamic State has a large following among Muslims in Europe. Five hundred young British Muslims have gone to fight there. One of them beheaded a journalist. They will be back to perpetrate what they now practise in Iraq in England’s green and pleasant land. Did you see the pictures from a recent Muslim “peace march” in central London – its slogans “Europe, your 9/11 is coming” and “Behead all who insult Islam”? We have a choice: either we die of political correctness or we fight fire with fire. But the West is in denial about the threat from militant Islam. It is not as if we were not told about it. Among a great many warnings was that issued by Professor Marcello Pera, former president of the Italian Senate soon after 9/11:

“In Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ossetia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Morocco and much of the Islamic and Arab world, large groups of fundamentalists, radicals, extremists – the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brothers, Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Armed Group and many more have declared a holy war on the West. This is not my imagination. It is a message they have proclaimed, written, preached, communicated and circulated in black and white. Why should I not take note of it?”

The threat from militant Islam is read enough, but the greater danger lies within. R.G.Collingwood pointed out that Rome fell not principally because it was overcome by barbarians – though the task of the barbarians was made much easier by the fact that Rome no longer believed in itself, its traditional form of life, its culture, its civilisation. Writing of our own times, T.E. Hulme says:

“In the history of every civilisation a time comes when the race loses its confidence in its gods, its values and its mission; and then, in some way not understood, it begins to die out and less civilised races take its place. In Western Europe today, there is a decline in courage, faith and hope that seems exactly like the decline that led to the fall of Athens, Sparta and Rome.”

Collingwood again:

“Civilisations sometimes perish because they are forcibly broken up by the armed attack of enemies without or revolutionaries within; but never from this cause alone. Such attacks never succeed unless the thing that is attacked is weakened by doubt as to whether the end which it sets before itself, the form of life which it tries to realize, is worth achieving. On the other hand, this doubt is quite capable of destroying a civilization without any help whatever. If the people who share a civilization are no longer on the whole convinced that the form of life which it tries to realize is worth realizing, nothing can save it.”

Must these things come to pass? I just wonder how much hope Eliot really had when he wrote:

“An individual European may not even believe that the Christian Faith is true, but what he says and makes and does will all spring out of this history of European culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Nietzsche or a Voltaire. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. And I am convinced of that not merely because I am a Christian myself, but as a student of social biology. If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready-made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it.”



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