Another Cheap Shot

John Bruce keeps churning them out. They all add up to the same thing: Continuing Anglicanism and the Ordinariates are trash and you have to be a “proper Catholic” (whatever that means nowadays). I usually don’t bother, even though my name comes up occasionally with my archaic ecclesiastical title of Monsieur. Here’s The Root Of The Problem is quite telling:

But let’s revisit the Anglican patrimony here. Anglo-Catholicism has been the effective pretext for Anglicanorum coetibus, with Bl John Henry Newman taken as something of an ur-Anglo Catholic and the patron of some ordinariate communities. But keep in mind that those tractarians who remained in the Church of England were the ones who developed the Anglo-Catholic style, which was distinctly anti-authority.

The use of Catholic vestments in the Church of England was not canonical and after (I believe) 1872 actually illegal, but neither the canonical nor legal provisions could be enforced, since they were so widely violated. The same applied to Roman liturgical forms, most in violation of the XXXIX Articles, which were effectively ignored, with bishops forced to look the other way. The effort to revise the Book of Common Prayer, ultimately unsuccessful, was undertaken to find an enforceable compromise with the Romanizing faction. Same-sex attraction was widely accepted and part of the package, from the 1840s onward.

I thought this kind of rhetoric had more or less died by the late winter of 2012-13. Roman Catholic triumphalism was practically snuffed out overnight with the election of Bergoglio. Many of the trolls who buzzed around my English Catholic blog like demons around St Anthony of the Desert fell silent – and are possibly waiting for Benedict XVII, Pius XIII or Gregory XVII (or should it be Gregory XIX?). The Continuing Anglican blogs mostly died, and I just seem to be keeping mine going because it is my blog – even though I am a priest in an institutional Church under the jurisdiction of a Bishop. Being myself seems to help even if I go through “dry” periods.

Monsieur Bruce seems to seize onto a similar theme I saw under fire in about 2011 in the Continuing Anglican world and Archbishop Hepworth’s wishful interpretation (yes, the famous interpretations of Anglicanorum coetibus). Anglicanism is Protestant, right, and Catholicism is Roman, right? High Church Anglicanism and Anglo-Catholicism were excroissances that were rightfully repressed in the Victorian era, right? He does hit on a note of Anglican Catholicism being largely based on a defiance against episcopal authority, Tradition over Authority, a kind of “English Gallicanism”. At the same time when English ritualist priests were sent to prison, Rome was demolishing the last shreds of Gallicanism as Pius IX affirmed his feeling of being infallible – La Tradizione son’io.

Mr Bruce strangely forgets to mention the discreet presence of the English style, which in time prevailed in most parish churches, thus displacing the triple-decker pulpits and box pews. The use of a more “Roman” or “counter-reformation” style remained in the minority, and mostly in London and the south coast of England.

This is quite a gob-smack: – Same-sex attraction was widely accepted and part of the package, from the 1840s onward. Homosexuality in England was not a good idea in the Victorian era unless you wanted to wind up in prison – as Oscar Wilde found to his cost. Did he mean the 1940’s, at least once the war was over? Even then, homosexuality was still against the law until 1967, and not welcome in most churches.

I discovered Anglo-Catholicism in London in the 1970’s. The “big spikes” in London were spiritual homes to quite a few “camp” characters. Perhaps these people sought a spiritual home and a way to God in spite of their weaknesses. The liturgy was beautiful and appealed to aesthetes. Is not beauty, like love and truth, an icon of God? In the ACC, we seem to have lost the “camp” dimension, and it has to be said that some of the “queens” in the spikey parishes of London and Brighton were quite shallow in their expression. We have more of the provincial parish ethos in the ACC than of London and the south coast, and it is less flamboyant. We are almost mundane, which suits me fine as a plain northener. One who associates Anglican Catholicism and homosexuality as intrinsically bound together shows bad faith.

Personally, I have allowed myself to be influenced by the English style, Arts & Crafts and French monasticism. I emerged from the world of Gricigliano with indigestion, but it was not for me to say it was wrong! I was intrigued by the Sarum revival movement from the early 1980’s and discovered many fascinating books from the Henry Bradshaw Society and the Alcuin Club, attesting an entire movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Percy Dearmer was one of the champions of this movement, though he limited himself to using the Prayer Book with Sarum style ceremonial and church furnishings. I don’t think those churches were full of camp “lace queens”. It was a more intellectual movement, and hardly survived World War I. Mr Bruce neglects this aspect in his binary thinking and attitude. The movement for the 1928 Prayer Book in England was more “Sarum” than “Roman” in inspiration.

What we have today, in the Forward in Faith parishes and the Continuum, is little more than a shadow of the pre World War I heyday, once there was more tolerance for ritualism and the Prayer Book revision movement took hold. We do what we can. I do believe that some priests in the Ordinariates are doing fine work, their utmost for the beauty of the liturgy and an inculturated spirituality. English people are as ethnical as any other people in their parts of the world, and we have our culture that asks to be evangelised and filled with the grace of the Christian Gospel.

John Bruce is still on with his business analogies and the viable Church, whilst Christ’s movement with the twelve Apostles, one a traitor, was in such terms a non-starter. He is a classicist in the manner of the old rationalism from the Georgian era. Perhaps he would have been happy with three-hour sermons whilst the organist* went fishing! Like Voltaire, I respect a man for expressing his opinion, but no opinion (including mine) can go unchallenged.

* I allude to the example of Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876), organist of Hereford Cathedral, according to anecdotes related by organ teachers…

* * *

I won’t go on with a running commentary on all this fellow’s articles, but the one for today makes me wonder what the cat dragged in… I know what conditions can be like for parish priests living in the midst of indifference and hostility. Perhaps priests should be trained like soldiers so that they have the will and impassibility of the Waffen SS, or the notion of the parish needs to be revised and made more intimate and human.

Priests often don’t come up to expectations. We are all human. Some priests have personal issues that can mar their aptitude for ministry. They can either be “eliminated” or imaginative uses can be made of them in chaplaincies, teaching and all sorts of things. We change over the years, and experience can bring us bitterness or wisdom – or both. Who would benefit by our giving up? It would certainly not be God or Christ! The expectations of some laity on priests reinforce the old clericalism, and this is a travesty. I have the impression that most people going to church do so for reasons that are incomprehensible. The death of “cultural Christianity” and the “business model” might be an opportunity for a new beginning. Who knows?

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Fr Graeme Mitchell RIP

Of your charity, please pray for the soul of Fr Graeme Mitchell of the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia (member Church of the TAC). I received this obituary from Bishop David Robarts. When I joined the TAC in August 2005 (Patrimony of the Primate, Archbishop Hepworth), I first contacted Fr Mitchell, who introduced me to Archbishop Hepworth and passed him my file of the usual documents.

I never met Fr Graeme in the flesh, since I have never been to Australia, but we corresponded quite a lot at one time.

* * *

FR I know you knew him and he spoke very highly of you. I refer you to this email
Clergy, members, and friends, of the ACCA,

I must apologize for the delay in this notification as I only returned home last night from a week away on a Pastoral Visitation. I was informed of Fr Graeme’s death at the conclusion of a Mass in Mildura last Sunday. It was my intention to be with him for Mass on Wednesday morning in Melbourne, but he had another appointment with the Lord and I found myself at the altar in his place.

Father Graeme died peacefully in his sleep at home; probably on Thursday morning, 14 September. He was in the house on his own, as Lynette his wife had been in England visiting an ailing sister. She was met by family members at the airport with the distressing news that her husband had just died, while she was in transit.

It would be impossible to describe the loss that his death will mean not only to the ACCA but the wider Continuum and a vast network of friends and colleagues around the globe. Fr Graeme was a foundational member of the Continuing Movement in Australia, well before the beginning of the ACCA and the Consecration of its first Bishop, Albert Haley, in 1988. He was an invaluable resource to a great many of us in this regard, and a vast reservoir of information will now be lost to us with his passing. While much of this was retained in his head, we now face an enormous task in going through ever mounting piles of papers accumulated over the years in his study, waiting to be sorted. He did not believe in throwing things away!

We mourn the passing of a resolute and uncompromisingly faithful traditionalist whose like we will not continue to see. He was a generous friend and encourager of others who sought his support. The ACCA is now bereft of a long-standing Diocesan Registrar, Regional Dean, and Dean of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. Please pray for us.

A Requiem Mass for the repose of the soul of Graeme Alan Mitchell will be celebrated at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Cnr Jupiter St and Kooyong Rd Elsternwick (North Caulfield), on Thursday next, 28 September at 11.00am.Following this there will be refreshments at Nelson Bros Funeral Services Cnr Kooyong and Glenhuntly Rds Elsternwick. Please note too that Vespers of the Dead will also be said at St Mary’s on Wednesday evening at 8.00pm.

As we pray for the repose of Father Graeme’s soul please also remember his widow Lynette, children James and Katherine, and other family members. May he Rest in Peace.

It would be an additional kindness to pray for Father Neil Wall who will be taking over Sunday priestly duties at St Mary’s, and for worshippers there at this time of transition.

Yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend David Robarts OAM
Bishop Ordinary, Anglican Catholic Church in Australia.

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Boom Preventer

Prevent us, O Lord, we beseech thee, by thy most gracious favour... No, this time, the word prevent is in the modern meaning – to impede, to stop something from happening.

Sailing boats are notorious for people being hit over the head by the boom when it swings across the boat. This happens by tacking, when the bow is brought through the wind and sails in a close haul on the opposite tack. It also happens with a much more violent movement when running before the wind – the wind is astern of the boat, and the stern is brought through the wind. This is gybing, which should be a carefully controlled manoeuvre. If gybing is uncontrolled or accidental, it has catastrophic consequences on a yacht and causes a dinghy to capsize. It is the most frequent cause of capsizing.

Accidental gybing usually happens when sailing by the lee, with the jib opposite the mainsail in a scissors or butterfly configuration, the wind almost directly behind the boat and the mainsail is on the point of gybing. I often run before the wind in this manner, but avoid taking the boat to the utmost limit. The gybe is caused by the helmsman steering over, by a sudden change in the wind direction or a wave that pushes the stern over too violently to be compensated by the rudder.

The solution to this problem is to be able to control the movement of the mainsail, to bring it through the gybe slowly and gently. An alternative is preventing this from happening until the helmsman and crew are ready for the gybe. There are two devices: a boom brake and a boom preventer. The boom brake is set up when the boat is rigged, and is engaged when the line is pulled tight and cleated. The boom preventer has to be taken by a crew member forward, past the outside of the standing rigging and threaded through a mooring cleat or fairlead at the boat’s bow or a forward mooring cleat. The line is brought back to the cockpit. After the gybe, the line is pulled in and the process is repeated on the other side of the boat. This is nerve-racking on a yacht on a heavy sea and quite impractical on a dinghy.

Here is a presentation of several devices on a yacht and how they work:

With the exception of the boom preventer, which is simply a piece of rope or a warp, the braking devices are bought from the ship chandler’s shop and are quite expensive. The cost is justified by the saving of major repair costs to a broken rig, not to speak of an emergency at sea. That is for yachts with their enormous areas of sail.

A dinghy is that much more reactive and the simpler they are, the better they work, especially for racing. Dinghy cruisers tend to modify their boats and make them into “mini yachts”. An uncontrolled gybe, unlike on a large yacht, does not bear the consequences of breaking the rig. However, the boat rolls over suddenly and the boom end digs into the water, the hull lurches towards the wind, the stern and rudder lift up out of the water and no control is possible. The broached boat capsizes. A highly skilled skipper is able to anticipate the movement from the moment of the gybe, and gets up onto the uppermost side of the boat and clambers onto the centreboard, saving himself a swim. From sailing school, I have always been nervous about gybing, especially in a fresh breeze.

It is possible to avoid gybing altogether. You bring the boat up to the wind gently by hauling in the main and jib, and then you tack, and then ease off both sails after the tack. You always anticipate for the whims of the wind and waves by not going further away from the wind than a full reach. That is possible, but “chicken gybing” is laborious and complex.

I decided to install a boom brake on Sarum. Here it is:

The line is tied with a bowline to a chain plate on the starboard side, through the braking device, through a fairlead on the port side and back along the gunwale of the boat.

I have used a simple nickle-plated brass swivel, which I have attached to the boom vang (kicker or downhaul if you prefer) fitting. Friction is increased when the (red) line is tightened.

It is then taken back along the port side and tied to a pulley. Another line tied to the aft mooring cleat is taken through the pulley and back to a cleat. This second line gives a 2 to 1 force on the brake line. Because the braking device is not attached directly to the boom, there is a bit of shock absorbing, which is ideal.Before doing a gybe, I can take the line off the cleat and ease it out. I can slow the gybing of the mainsail and keep better control of the boat. When I am running before the wind and “on the lee”, I can prevent the boom from going over. The sail might start flapping and wind might start to hit the opposite surface, and this will warn me to correct my helm. Another trick is sailing in such a way as the jib is only just not collapsing, and this will tell me that the main is firmly on the right tack. But there are still those rogue winds and waves, and even the most experienced sailor cannot anticipate them.

The boom brake also works as a boom preventer. Another use for this device is when there is very little wind and the boat is “ghosting”. You can either sit on the lee side of the boat and let gravity keep the boom from falling to the other side and spilling the wind out of the sail, but that might be risky in the event of a sudden gust. You can use a whisker pole (the boat’s gaff) on the boom like on the jib, or this device.

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Religious Freedom Revisited

The fact that Rod Dreher is trying to inculturate his ideas in ‘Le Pari Bénédictin’ Est Arrivé (the word pari in French usually means a gamble or a bet, but can also be used analogically to mean a challenge) into a French context is very interesting, something which highlights the difference between religious freedom as perceived in the USA and “freedom from religion” in France and increasingly in England. The question is still discussed by Roman Catholic traditionalists under the guise of the “social kingdom of Christ”.

In the Roman Catholic world, the institutional Church was concerned about the Papacy having lost its temporal authority in 1870 as a kind of “super empire” lording it over kings and emperors all over the world. Pius XI in 1922 attempted to formulate a notion of a kingship of Christ in the face of Fascism and Nazism. American Protestants and Catholics alike, when identified with the conservative tendency, want a world in which a religious minority can require that their government should enact laws against moral issues like homosexuality and abortion. This notion of the Church having temporal authority goes all the way back to the Peace of Constantine and in a clear form in Bonface VIII’s Unum Sanctam of 1302. It was challenged in 1870 by the Italian Resorgimento. Since then, the Church has had to refine its authority at a spiritual level, but using every opportunity to regain political power through “sympathetic” dictators like Pinochet, Mussolini and Franco.

This ambition for political power is thus a deeply rooted temptation, but one that has turned many against the Church and encouraged the formation of deeply anti-clerical tendencies in Europe. Many Roman Catholic polemical pundits felt validated by the development of Freemasonry in different and more or less virulent forms and the development of socialism and anarchism.

From lording it over the world, the Church had rapidly to beg for its freedom in Europe, America and elsewhere. How do you go about asking a hostile or indifferent secular authority to grant you civil rights and freedom whilst withholding them from rival religions like Protestants, Jews or Muslims? All of a sudden, the Church has to compete without force and coercion. The days of the Inquisition’s torture chambers are over! From day one, the American Constitution declared the complete separation between State (or federal government) and religious bodies. Such bodies are simply private associations like associations for other human interests.

Here in France, the most “mainstream” way is for everyone to be atheists and adhere to the prevailing socialism. People are free to adhere to the religion of their birth or convert to another and engage in a constant game of self-justification and standing out. In the classical fashion of the Vicar of Bray, mainstream Catholicism has aligned itself with all political ideologies, including Nazism under the Occupation. The current incumbency of Jorge Bergoglio shows the almost complete submission of his Church to the prevailing orthodoxies of socialism and various forms of collectivism.

Give France a shot of Americanism? I can hardly see that happen, when many French Catholics of the milieux bourgeois still only relate to England through stereotypes and ignorance. They still talk about Joan of Arc and Napoleon! I am also sceptical of America’s tired message when that country slides ever more deeply towards the police state and dystopia. The opposition between the antifas and the alt-right is increasingly polarised and violent, brought out by the election of Trump. What is at stake here is not America or Europe, but human nature at its basest. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it – if I have got the quote right.

Dreyer is right in that massive Islamic immigration has changed the paradigm. The Roman Catholic Church is no longer a force to be resisted, and the laws of separation of church and state are of historical relevance only. As far as I see things, the old laws will continue to be in place to resist radical Islam today like radical Catholicism a hundred years ago. Unlike many, I do not see Islam creating a totalitarian caliphate in Europe for as long as political authorities remain under the influence of atheism, big money and power. At the same time, politicians still need votes from the strong Muslim minority.

Christianity must find a different way from claiming political power and denying freedom to those who are not Christians. “Error has no rights”. It may be correct in the absolute and in metaphysical terms, but what right do we have to coerce people into a our faith and / or morality? As for religion becoming private, I see no other way, certainly not by getting into politics. Then, by culture? Yes, perhaps.

It is interesting to note from one of the comments in this thread that:

Islam is even deader than Christianity when it comes to the spirit of the religion. He says for the young it’s all surface and lots of hypocrisy. Certainly from a few students I know, they seem to suffer from the same embrace of contemporary western liberal culture that we see with many young Christians.

All that means is that diaspora Islam is going the same way as mainstream Christianity.

I am not that sure of using culture to bring Christianity back into society. It depends on what we mean by culture. Most of what passes for culture today, including museums and classical music concerts, is no platform for Christianity. Institutional Christianity has little time for art and artists these days. Even in the past, artists and composers got short shrift from the Church.

The future of Christianity has to come from its intrinsic truth and value as a way of life. Those notions have no need of validation by politicians and legislators. People often feel the need for validation by some small society or association. Don’t we all? I cannot be a legitimate priest without being under a bishop with a working Church and who is in communion with a number of fellow bishops. At the same time, anything worthwhile comes from individual persons, be it prophetic vision, art, music, literature or anything inspiring and beautiful. I have to make a distinction between my vocation as a priest and my personal aspirations. This goes against my seminary formation teaching that a priest sees everything through his priesthood and clerical status.

Being a cleric removed me from the usual categories of social classes. Among other things, I have an instinct for “detecting bullshit” and the less sincere and honest aspects of social life. In my present married life, I spend more of my time looking like a fairly “bohemian” sort of layman than a cleric or gentleman about town. I find myself having largely gone the way of a tendency of post-war French clergy. They stripped themselves of their clerical identity (and the cassock) to live among ordinary people who had long ago been alienated from parish life. The worker priests and the Mission de France largely became political and espoused issues of interest to communists and trade unionists, and that was their greatest mistake. Perhaps, Dreher’s greatest intuition is to emphasise St Benedict, not for the purpose of founding monasteries but a more contemplative and liturgical notion of Christianity to be lived by intentional communities and individuals alike. Someone working in town and showing some difference from most people will attract attention, well or badly intentioned.

I have read most of Nicholas Berdyaev’s books, and I think particularly here of Freedom and the Spirit. There is no way that anyone can legislate over the free human spirit. We can be brought to task for what we say or do, but usually not for what we think. Orwell imagined the frightening concepts of thought crime and thought police, but they are not yet with us, and we can still think as we want. Religious freedom is above all a freedom of spirit, as in the spirit being distinct from the soul.

To continue a theme on which I have written, religious and spiritual life probably prosper better under conditions of pressure and adversity, the need for clandestinity, than being officially validated by the rich and powerful of this world. We live in a world where people kill, steal, abort, fornicate, violate marriage and family, abuse children and just about every other crime against God and man. What can we do about it? Perhaps the only thing is not doing any of these things ourselves! Many so-called “Christians” do, as I read this morning in an article about a Catholic orphanage in Scotland where evidence revealed 300% more mortality among the children in this institution than in the general population during the same era (late nineteenth century to about 1930). We can also cease supporting political ideologies that advocate things like “ethnic cleansing” and other euphemisms for killing certain categories of human beings.

Being powerless is perhaps the most purifying experience of all. I know of no teaching of Christ, neither in the New Testament nor in various apocryphal and Gnostic texts, that advocates the use of political authority or force against those not in agreement with his message. Christ went out to the marginal, the poor, the sick and the weak, those who sought God’s help and blessing, those who had hopes beyond this present world. This is what was attempted by those French priests in the 1950’s and 60’s, with the distinguished example of the Prêtre chez les Loubards, Fr Guy Gilbert. I wish and hope for the day that the black priest’s cassock will cease to be a symbol of alt-right politics, and will again become something that represents the same gentle and compassionate ministry as Fr Gilbert’s motorcycle jacket and long hair.

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Missal Stands

I have just made an improved missal stand for my travelling chapel, because before it was resting on two triangular feet which got in the way of things like the corporal on a very restricted space. I adopted the column and round foot solution.

It is quite stable and has a tipping-over moment of at least 15-20° with a book that isn’t too heavy. The ideal format is a book with something like A5 pages. It can also take the laity version of the Anglican Missal and a small format Roman missal. My Latin Dickinson missal will go on it, though it is a little on the heavy side.

The design is based on the metal pillar stand which I use in my chapel.

I bought it cheaply from a church that also sold me its organ. It is much more stable than my new wooden stand and will take heavier books, but not the big Roman and English missals that were published in the early twentieth century.

An alternative form, which I made some years ago in oak, is foldable and also designed for smaller format books. I presently use it in my sacristy for holding the Ordo.

It has four square feet and will go on most altars without getting in the way. Of course, it is the most stable design, and has three angle positions from almost flat to the angle you see here. I have come across priests who prefer an almost flat position for the missal. In Percy Dearmer’s recommendations and probably in the medieval Church, a cushion was used to position the missal for easy reading and to give it some dignity as a sacred object.

I am not much of a purist and favour the wooden missal stand, preferably with a fairly steep angle. The round pillar allows the missal to be distanced further from the area of the altar covered by the corporal. When the missal is “flitted” (moved from one side to the other) it can be taken by the part holding the book, or with one hand by the pillar, which is what I do.

Some missal stands are very elaborate, like in this catalogue. I don’t really like them and they are very pricey. Many designs are possible, but in the end, I prefer the column type.

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Human Nature

On opening Facebook this morning, it reminded me of a link I had shared a couple of years ago. It is still there: I love the Victorian era. So I decided to live in it. It’s not something I would want to do myself, but I sympathise with those who want to do their “own thing”. This lady gives her reasons, like her reaction from – always the same bloody thing – consumer capitalism. The prime example is anything mechanical, designed to last and be repaired – or thrown out because it cannot be repaired and replaced with a new one (to the advantage of the manufacturer). We are taught that money is everything and that this marks the end of history, the proverbial boot stamping on the human face forever. There are signs that it will also fail like all the worldly empires that have passed away.

What is most poignant in this story of a couple living the (neo-Victorian) life that enables them to blossom as persons being themselves and not harming anyone else – is the abuse hurled at them by “normal” people.

We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort. Societies are rife with bullies who attack nonconformists of any stripe. Gabriel’s workout clothes were copied from the racing outfit of a Victorian cyclist, and when he goes swimming, his hand-knit wool swim trunks raise more than a few eyebrows — but this is just the least of the abuse we’ve taken. We have been called “freaks,” “bizarre,” and an endless slew of far worse insults. We’ve received hate mail telling us to get out of town and repeating the word “kill … kill … kill.” Every time I leave home I have to constantly be on guard against people who try to paw at and grope me. Dealing with all these things and not being ground down by them, not letting other people’s hostile ignorance rob us of the joy we find in this life — that is the hard part. By comparison, wearing a Victorian corset is the easiest thing in the world.

This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.

Last night, my attention was attracted to the plight of Pitcairn Island, one of the most remote places on this planet where Fletcher Christian and the other mutineers on the Bounty took refuge to avoid being taken back to England and the gallows. The story is fascinating, and now the population is down (as of a couple of years ago) to 49. In the early years of this century, there was a disgusting revelation that nearly all the men living on the island were pedophiles, raped and abused children and kept pornography representing sado-masochistic fantasies. One of them was the Mayor and a descendent of Fletcher Christian. The population seem to have a kind of omertà in place and would be hostile to anyone coming to live on the island. One suggestion has been made that the British Government remove the population, relocate them elsewhere, turn the island over to UNESCO and make it accessible only to professional scientific researchers. Perhaps there are some nice people living there who fear the bullying and tyranny. The story rather reminds me of Lord of the Flies by William Golding in which a bunch of schoolboys are plane-wrecked on an uninhabited Pacific island, all the adults were killed in the crash, and the boys gradually revert to a state of savagery. Two films have been made of this story, but I prefer the older one:

What can we understand of this aspect of humanity, what Calvin called total depravity? Is this within us all? We read about murderers and child rapists, among others who commit evil in different ways, and wonder if this is something normal. Would it be better to wish for the extinction of humanity like what happened to the dinosaurs millions of years ago?

In scientific terms we read of personality disorders of persons without any moral conscience or sense of right and wrong. Some have come up with theories of about 5% of true psychopaths in society and the way that ordinary people can follow them and be “infected” with their evil. The prime example of this was Nazi Germany, something that can happen anywhere, given the rich culture of Germany and its technological and scientific prowess. The phenomenon of the schoolyard bully is particularly relevant, children who seem to be born to victimise other children.

My last posting attracted the comment – Amongst some conservative Christians the Faith has been reduced to smugness about ones own salvation and a moralistic crusade against divorce, abortion and homosexuality. My own reaction is to ask myself whether I am happier in the company of atheists. Perhaps not, since atheism doesn’t make a person immune from ignorance and becoming bullies. Christianity is almost completely covered by this ugly coat of paint that chokes it to inexistence!

I have written quite a lot on the mystery of evil, but I have no more insight than anyone else who has tried to study it from a point of view of theology or philosophy. Have we to knuckle down and accept it as normal, contribute to it, be even nastier than “them”? Hell is an image of many ideas. Probably, the most credible notion is a state of darkness, senselessness, absolute boredom and isolation of one’s sinful ego. George Orwells 1984 dystopia is an image of hell on earth based on the Hitler and Stalin regimes made so much worse by the imagination. The Grand Inquisitor of Dostoevsky was essentially one who wanted to bring about good by the repression of human freedom which is the seat of evil – and thus himself emerges as an evil atheist in spite of his appearance as a priest of the Church.

Evil is essentially something with no ontological existence, something like darkness where there is no light. One of the finest philosophers I have read on the mystery of evil is Nicholas Berdyaev.

God is not culpable in worldly evil, God is not all-powerful in this. He does not rule within the world, but He conquers the dark chaotic principle, which is co-eternal to Him, having been always.

It is a terrifying mystery that we will never comprehend. I have tended to believe that God created us in his image, and therefore we can deduce that the divine image is as tarnished by the principle of evil as we are. The Gnostics saw original sin not in man but in God, somewhere between the “God above God” and the creator God of the Old Testament. Speculation is always possible, but can be no more than analogy. Perhaps good is only good in relation to evil as light to darkness, white to black.

I believe that we are called in life to be aware of this mystery and do all we can to be good and confront evil with good and love. It’s much more easily said than done, and we all come short. The more I go on in life, the more I notice that Christ ministered to the marginalised, downtrodden, poor and maimed. Those who best understood him in history were the victims of the official establishment, but also of the ignorance and cruelty of the mob. This is something beautifully understood by the most unlikely candidates for canonisation by the official Church – St Francis of Assisi, St Benedict-Joseph Labre and others who would have been vilified and punished in our own time.

I don’t think I would want to live like in the nineteenth century or any other time in the past. However, I am attracted to marginal people and those who can slip under the net. This theme has preoccupied me for some time. However, there is a warning. The people of Pitcairn are marginal, and the devil built his “chapel” alongside the marvellous opportunity those folk could have had to construct something fruitful based on relationships of love and a social contract built upon a rock of justice and forgiveness. It is also the mystery of totalitarian cults and sects. Flee away from those who claim to have all the answers, those who are “always right” and live on the unhappiness of others. Evil is not always in the mainstream.

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

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Christianity and Social Conformity

A very illuminating article has come up from an American point of view – The De-Churching Of America by Red Dreher. Though his emphasis is on his own country, many of his observations reflect the situation in England with the present directions taken by the Church of England. He also mentions the plight of France’s rotting church buildings, increasingly slated for demolition by those public authorities not prepared to continue financing their upkeep.

On reading this article, it occurs to me that Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic, has depended for too long on bourgeois social conformity and ultimately on the old Latin saying Cuius Rex eius religio – your religious beliefs and practices are not determined by any objective truth but by whoever is running the country you’re living in. If that standard changes, you change with it.

What does it all mean to us? Some will threaten us saying that if we leave civil Christian orthodoxy, we will end up on the radical left or the alternative right. What about the option of being oneself and going a different way, and – by the way – rediscovering Christianity as Christ looking after the little ones and marginalised. Healthy people don’t need the doctor, only when something is wrong and you want to put it right.

My impression of America has always been mixed. It used to be the individual’s dream, like the Transcendentalism about which I have written. Now, the analogy seems to be the anthill and the ants – as with European city dwellers commuting to “bullshit” jobs. If I were a layman in America, which church would I go to? Probably one that would be hundreds of miles away from my home.

Perhaps it is the Rex who is deciding everything. I talk not of President Trump but simply of social conformity. What is happening in America is what happened in Europe, Canada and Australia decades ago. We have contented ourselves for too long with a caricature of Christian culture that we no longer bother to seek something more authentic or which speaks to our inmost being.

Many things will depend on how committed we are to politics and the current polarisation between “right” and “left”, seemingly leading in the minds of some pundits to a second civil war, or whether we decide to be independent from it all even if we conform outwardly to continue to enjoy the advantages of modern consumer capitalism for as long as it lasts. For us, it will depend on whether we still have the money to spend on it.

There are alternatives to being left or right wing militants. Just go away and find a new life in the margins – and you will find others in the margins. I have again been reading about the modern equivalent of hippie communities and folk living in boats. Expressed ideas are often angry and stereotyped, but some are profound and express a message for the future.

Being marginal and unafraid of it is a “sign of contradiction”, a boat being rowed against the current. It might not get very far, no further than the first Christians before the Peace of Constantine when the temptation of becoming establishment was finally swallowed. The moment of success was the failure of what made Christianity true and good. I always return to the quote of St Jerome I found in a book by Soloviev: Ecclesia persecutionibus crevit; post quam ad christianos principes venit, potentia quidem et divitiis maior, sed virtutibus minor facta est (The Church firstly languished under persecution. After this, she turned to Christian rulers who gave her wealth and power, but she thereby grew weaker in virtue). That is the root of the problem, yet Christianity based on personal dignity and spiritual freedom could not last. Christ himself, in temporal terms, did not last very long. The clergy of Jerusalem got the Romans to execute him like a common criminal and his resurrection and ascension were only clear to a few. Outside Christianity, only Flavius Joseph wrote anything significant about Christ. Slender underpinnings indeed.

The thinking of the old Worker Priests and Fr Guy Gilbert among others was not far off, when they didn’t convert everything into political ideology using disembowelled Christian terminology. However, such a mission has no room for traditional Christian culture like organ and choral music, beautiful churches and art. I myself am attached to such things, but they are not enough to get people back into medieval and Victorian church buildings and foot the bill for their upkeep. Administrators in the Church of England and in French Roman Catholicism know that the “game is up”. It’s over and has been for a long time.

We will live long enough to see cathedrals become museums or secular buildings for cultural or business purposes. Churches can no lo longer be maintained, unless they are very small and within the abilities of people who do up houses to work on. The church of the future is no bigger than a garage of a garden shed or a room in someone’s house. My article of yesterday showed the extreme reduction of a place of worship to a corner of a tent on a camp site or on a rock on the beach. The place of worship will follow the number of worshippers from a priest alone to a couple of stubborn souls (where two or three…).

Perhaps, Christianity can be instilled in family life from parents to children – in some cases. It all depends how dependent the parents are on the consumer capitalist world that woos them with lots of stuff and gadgets (which I have to use myself to work in the services industry). Here comes the “Benedict Option” of getting families into alternative societies and intentional communities. Such communities do exist, but most are opposed to any kind of “dogmatism” or institutional church getting its claws in. Perhaps a priest has himself to live alternatively and grow into the community – and that was the essence of priests who were stigmatised in the 1950’s for being too radical and progressive. They just saw the limits of the institutional Church – and the way its discredited itself for hob-nobbing with the Nazis in the early 1940’s. The scars are still there in France! Reading Bonhöffer will clarify many things for us.

What is the “new” Christianity. Simply going to the New Testament and the examples of light shone in the darkness through individual persons (saints) and monasteries. Here are there, there were parishes and dioceses that shone by their love of Christ rather than by the standards of worldly success. We in the margins of society have to rebuild Christian culture through writing, art, and simply by spending time with other marginal folk without trying to sell anything.

I can only get a feeling about Dreher’s Benedict Option. He is an American and I am European. The perspectives are different. Alternative communities or any kind of alternative living is just like the mainstream – you have to have money. Some ways of life need less money than others, and less dependency on The System (The Pit) or whatever you want to call it. There always has to be some compromise. You just have to balance your accounts and make sure that you have the time and space to live a life worth living.

The key will be the greatest independence from the System, and the ability to become ourselves and decide on our priorities. Some will decide to live in intentional communities (as pawns in a cult or buying into some form of cooperative at market prices), or live alone or in families and meet up from time to time, like in the case with nomadic people on the sea or on land.

Is Christianity a marketable commodity to be sold, imposed by persuasion? I don’t think so. It seems to be something to be found and rediscovered when we are dissatisfied by the record of some other religions and ideologies. A part of this blog is one of offering seeds to others – free of charge and with no advantage to myself trying to live life as a priest and an ordinary guy.

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