Strangers and Foreigners

It is quite amazing to happen upon Fr Jonathan Munn’s new article “Loyal to a church that has passed away”. In this article is the eternal notion of our being foreigners and strangers in this world that exacts our compliance. It is entirely my experience as someone with Aspergers autism. Being a foreigner, from somewhere else, an exile, is part of our Christian condition in a world that has only accepted Christianity as a principle of Christendom when it gave money and power to the strong. I often think of these themes as I collate my documents to ask France to accept me as one of its citizens in order to conserve the freedom of movement I presently have beyond the impending Brexit.

The notion of exile and nostalgia is present throughout the Old and New Testaments:

Psalm 137: By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept : when we remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hanged them up : upon the trees that are therein. For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody in our heaviness : Sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song : in a strange land?

1 Chronicles 29:15: For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were all our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow, and there is none abiding.

John 15:18-19: If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

John 17:16: They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

1 Peter 2:11: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

My article of yesterday evening gave a taste of my own experience in the Church of England. The present rebuild of the organ in York Minster will bring back something that has not been heard since about 1960, but which remained graven in the memories of people I knew in the 1970’s. I may have feelings of nostalgia, but the 1970’s were not a good time for me, living through school, my short time with Harrison’s and coming to terms with being an organ builder not being my vocation, feeling lost and rudderless and ending up in London on a harpsichord-making course which was a poor substitute. The Church of England was something I saw from organ lofts, something to keep at arms length even though something fascinated me. I was drawn to prayer and the Christian ideal as a schoolboy, but I related so little to the Church. It was the same with the Roman Catholic Church and my seminary days.

My own vocation to the priesthood flowed out of my love of church music, which is a part of the whole experience of the Catholic liturgy. I was nurtured by that great cathedral with its parish churches of the medieval city of York. Some of the clergy warmed to me as I sought for something I would never find in this world. Canon Reginald Cant was one of them in his kindness and gentlemanly manner. I considered the priesthood in the Church of England, but the barriers were so high I did not have the strength to even try it. It towered over my head!

Fr Jonathan came to the ACC straight from his own experience of the Church of England. I had about fifteen years of experience of the traditionalist wing of the Roman Catholic Church with its “muscular politics” and lack of compassion in accordance with the very principles of the Gospel.

I have had my own brushes with Fr Little, as he has varied over the years in his own way in and out of American “classical Anglicanism”. The American Christian is one who “gets out” and “proclaims the Gospel”, either a commercial pitch to get paying customers back into the empty churches in a secularised world, or an effort to build a “Christian civilisation” which is in reality the dominance of the strong and wealthy using a religion as a means of control. I don’t accuse Fr Little of such a vast scale of transformation of Christ’s teaching into a political ideology, because he is a little continuing Anglican priest, as Fr Jonathan and I are. Fr Little has varied between hard Calvinism to Arminianism, Anglo-Catholicism in the Prayer Book version or a more pre-Reformation version.

I myself have a preference for the “English” (Dearmer, etc.) style and pre-Reformation liturgies, but I am a priest where the prevailing tendency is closer to traditionalist post-Tridentine European Catholicism without the integralist politics. I am not a sectarian and I tolerate the fact that tastes are not a subject of dispute. Would I be happy in a Church that was exactly all my own ideas and tastes? Perhaps a slight tension keeps things straight and in harmony with the whole.

I don’t know Fr Little well enough, and he is something of a mystery for me. The quote on Fr Jonathan’s blog with its reproach of doing things the old way seems to be a comment rather than something reflecting his own conviction. The ACNA has “modern” liturgies and the “entertainment” style. The American world of mega-churches is so alien to us in Europe and the UK. Perhaps conforming the churches to the world draws people in, takes advantage of the incoming financial resources and helps to work towards a new Christian theocracy. Is that Christian?

I am thankful that I didn’t become a priest in the Church of England or the Roman Catholic Church. All the time, here in France, I read stories of solitude and depression in parish priests in the countryside. I know a few personally, and I know I wouldn’t have the strength to withstand the ingratitude, hostility and apathy of parishioners imbued in their ideologies. Little has changed since George Bernanos and the Journal d’un Curé de Campagne, except that it is worse now.

We are strangers in a world that rejects Christ unless he comes in useful for this or that political agenda. What we do in the ACC, Sarum or Anglican Missal, is of little interest to most, yet people of non-religious backgrounds can be “sparked”. One example was Andy and Samantha who live next door to our Bishop and started helping out with practical things. It worked partly through the relationship of friends, and partly through discovering something other-worldly in our liturgy. We have no “sales pitch” and I for one would be put off by such an approach. I am so viscerally repelled by advertising and marketing, that such an approach would repel me or kill me from within. The thought of someone invading my intimate being is knowledge of the kind of totalitarian darkness that would take over the world if we let it do so.

I see the world of fashions, of people living for the ideal of material comfort and social status. Being diagnosed with Asperger autism made me aware of why this value in life meant nothing to me. Not all Christians aware of their alienation from The World or The Pit as some called it share the same condition, but experience of life has brought it together. Some things are innate, and other things are learned from experience.

I don’t know whether conservative Christianity will be longer lasting than populism in politics. Things are changing so rapidly. The assumption is that only old people and ageing Boomers are interested in liberalism and democracy, and that young people want the “old-time religion”. In both religion and politics, the assumption does not have universal validity. Myself, I am not a conservative, but a liberal in the old meaning of this word (at a philosophical level) and attracted by transcendence and beauty in man’s aspiration to the world of the spirit. I am not interested in power and control over other people. I am deeply influenced by the 1960’s and the reaction against that stifling conservativism of the post-war establishment with its gung-ho attitude. I don’t take drugs, live in a hippie commune or listen to their “music” – but there were valid aspirations. It is not a question of following fashions but being free and spiritual as human beings made in God’s image.

The new “liberalism” is a conservative ideology that cannot admit being superseded and passed by as history continues its way. Any salt that loses its savour is no good for anything. The old liberalism (before economics stole the word) was concerned with freedom of the human being to leave this world of conformity and slavery to become fully human and divine. Fidelity to our traditions is not conservatism!

Thank you, Fr Jonathan, for writing such a timely thought.

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I spent most of my teenage years in York and was fascinated by the Minster organ. I occasionally got to play it (outside services) and the exhilarating experience would be something like flying a fighter jet! I knew John Rothera who was an alto songman in the Minster choir for many, many, years from the 1950’s. He did not approve of the Walker rebuild of the organ in 1961, when tonal changes were made to make the organ into an eclectic instrument with both romantic and baroque characteristics. Whilst sipping tea in his house full of collected items, up a little alley near Monk Bar, John would relate so many anecdotes about events and people in the Minster community.

One such legend was the tuner for the north-east of England employed by the venerable firm of Harrison & Harrison in Durham, who went on his rounds on a tricycle. They were different days! Laurence Elvin, who wrote The Harrison Story (Lincoln 1973) relates this extraordinary man.

C. F. Bause, tuner, was based at York for many years and looked after York Minster organ; Sir Edward Bairstow had a high regard for his work and thought he was the “Cat’s whiskers”! He was well known on his Yorkshire tuning round for he travelled to many places on his tricycle! He rode considerable journeys on this even after retirement and was only just prevented by his daughter from cycling to Durham to visit his old firm on his eightieth birthday. He died in November 1968 aged eighty-four, having worked well into his seventies. Bause once related to Dr. Philip Marshall the following delightful anecdote: On a tuning visit to the Durham Cathedral organ, Bause had to break off while Mattins was sung. He sat in the loft with Arnold Culley, organist from 1907-32. The Te Deum setting was in a large leather folio which Bause had to hold on the music desk on account of its unwieldiness. Culley had been having trouble with one of his Lay Clerks and in the middle of the Te Deum asked Bause to look over the side to see if the offending Lay Clerk was singing. He did so, letting go of the book with disastrous results, for it fell on to the manuals and landed on Culley’s knee!

Bause was on one of his last visits to York Minister in about 1960 and talked with John Rothera at the time just before the contract was awarded to J.W. Walkers in Suffolk for the rebuild of the organ. John said to Bause, I think Francis (Jackson) wants to turn this organ into a spinet. The irate tuner turned to John and snarled – Spinarseholes!

The tide has now turned in the organ building world, at least for this organ which is now dismantled and being restored by Harrison & Harrison in their new workshop in Durham. It is a proud firm, for which I worked for a few months as an apprentice in 1976. It didn’t work out for me, but they remain one of the finest organ building firms, and most of England’s cathedral organs are their work. Little is available about the exact specification of the project, but a certain amount of information is available on the firm’s website.

What particularly pleases me, as would have delighted John Rothera had he still been with us, is this:

With the organ reassembled the speech and balance of the whole organ will be reviewed and adjusted. The work of 1917 and 1931 will be regarded as the reference for this task, and our approach will be dedicated to the recreation of the aesthetic of this earlier scheme.

This reference is the work of Harrison & Harrison in 1917 and 1931, the great tradition of the English cathedral organ with high-pressure reeds and an almost divine voice. I heard old recordings in John’s home, played on his old Ferrograph tape recorder, of the organ as it was before the 1961 Walker rebuild. Here is a recording of Dr Francis Jackson playing one of his own compositions in 1956 on the pre-Walker organ.

I look forward to the work being completed in 2020, and may even make the effort to attend the opening recital and services at York Minster. I am thrilled at this prospect, and delighted that the tide has indeed turned. I’m sure Mr Bause will have prayed for this intention!

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Most of us are familiar with the famous quote of Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons in 1947:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…

He was obviously quoting someone else’s idea. The problem of course is the meaning of the word democracy, as Churchill expressed it in other speeches. There is of course the apocryphal saying attributed to him, which is more dubious:

The best argument against Democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

It was said that Churchill could be extremely cynical, but not about democracy. At the time of his more profound utterances on the subject, he had only very recently seen the alternatives in Germany, Italy and Spain!

A lot of journalism these days is sensationalist and shoddily prepared and researched. As I have tried to inform myself as best as possible about the Brexit question, I have tended to find the Guardian and the BBC the most sober and objective sources. I rely on the internet rather than printed newspapers, and I admire the stand of the Guardian in asking for voluntary donations rather than put up a paywall. The Daily Telegraph has always been the mainstay of my family, but it has a paywall and many of the article titles are quite alarming as is the political tendency taking it somewhere to the Right of traditional English Conservatism. Much of Google News involves articles in the Daily Express and the Sun, promoters of bigotry and ignorance. The Daily Mail has been taken over by Remainers, but the audience it targets isn’t exactly me. Blogs and Facebook groups can feed us with things to read and add to the soup bubbling in the pot, but only so far.

The Freedom of the Press was one of the founding tenets of nineteenth-century Liberalism along with religious freedom, freedom of association, the separation of Church and State. The idea of a free press would serve to compartmentalise the political and social life of a country between the elected political parties and government, on one hand, and the legal system and press which would call political wrongdoing to account. Nowadays, with the Internet, we can all be journalists and pundits on the topics that interest us and our readers. Like good journalists, I try to be sober, objective and truthful – and all that depends on good sources of information and a critical mind – and above all, a “bullshit-o-meter”.

No single source is perfect, and we all tend to favour our own opinions and convictions. It is not without reason that there are four Gospels in the canonical Scriptures, three of them being called synoptic. There are also many other ancient writings, some also called gospels, notably in the Nag Hammadi collection of texts. Exegetes compare all these writings and arrive at a synopsis – something that is very helpful is establishing authenticity and objectivity, understanding the meaning of what Jesus and others said. The work goes on in comparison with other data and sources of information like archaeology and known Jewish and Roman texts. This is the way we should be reading sources and writings on current affairs.

A remarkable article is James Miller’s Could populism actually be good for democracy?

What I find remarkable is Miller’s depth of philosophical and historical reflection. I would go as far as saying that this is the best of journalism. The voter needs to be educated about the basics of political and social philosophy, questions like the common good, the purpose of law and how it works, questions of individualism and collectivism and how balance can be achieved. Much of our political philosophy and law is based on Christendom, but not all. Quite a lot is based on ancient Greek and Roman law, thus the need to have knowledge of works like Plato’s Republic. Obviously, this is out of the reach of most ordinary voters, but it would be unjust and unrealistic to make people sit examinations before being allowed to vote! In an ideal world, the press would educate the people according to their capacities and culture. I think this Guardian article goes a long way, though to a more cultured audience. The gutter press is a clear sign of the limits of the Liberty of the Press.

What is going on today? It is all very confusing, and when people feel that the wool is being pulled over their eyes, they become afraid. The conspiracy theory is often an attempt to understand clearly when there is nothing to be understood. When we read terms like National Populism, shivers go up and down our spines as we suspect a return of Nazism. Quite apart from the taboo put up by Godwin’s Law, the historical circumstances from 1919 to 2019 are totally different. The founding myths are totally different. We do not have the militaristic tradition of the Prussian army of World War I or easy credence in the many occultist themes that fascinated people in the late nineteenth century. There are parallels, however, like the rejection of mainstream party politics. Hitler rode piggyback on the failure of the short-lived Weimar Republic. We have to be critical if we are going to make any historical comparisons. However, I would give some credence to the idea that 1914 to 1989 was one long world war with two periods of truce and cease-fire. Nazism was discredited by the Nuremberg Trials, and Communism collapsed in 1989 (the iconic date). Men like Mélenchon here in France or Corbyn in the UK may have their activists still calling strikes and blocking roads, but their ideology is passé.

At the base of it all seems to be the idea that everything is the same whether the government is Conservative, Labour or Liberal. Unemployment, inequalities, law and order, economics and taxation, everything else. What about a revolution? Most people know that revolutions kill a lot of innocent people and bring out the worst in the dictators who rule the roost. Mob rule is even worse! Miller advances essentially the idea that democracy can be defended by challenging it. Human nature becomes complacent and corrupt until we know that we are worse off not having what we’ve got now.

Many political agendas are obviously illiberal, whilst being democratically elected. Eastern Europe is decreasingly tolerant towards Islam (which is understandable in view of the atrocities we read about, committed by Al Qaida, ISIS, etc.). There is a new push in the UK to bring back capital punishment, and the price of crimes like rape and drug dealing is going up. If a majority of people called out for re-establishing public executions by hanging, drawing and quartering or feeding them into a sausage machine between the west end of Oxford Street and Marble Arch, is that a mandate to the country’s government? Miller takes the logic to the reductio ad absurdam to bring us to question the limits of democracy. Tolerance is wearing thin with the erosion of law, order and decency.

This limit of democracy goes back all the way through history. It was opposed by some of the ancient Greeks as it was by Edmund Burke who called democracy “shameless”. The French Romantic Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) idealised the emerging ideology in America, as

John Adams warned, “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”.

Democracy as an ideal is only very recent in history, forged under the shadow of the guillotine in France and “re-arranged” by the Romantics. When injustice went beyond limits, people would revolt and usually end up hanging from the gallows, but the message survived. These disorders would create a kind of tension against the status quo, a kind of Hegelian dialectic view of history: thesis-antithesis- synthesis. The famous liberties in the early nineteenth century expressed the will of the people. The difficult thing was linking these popular actions with the mainstream national government. From this came the system of voting for the most trustworthy politician to express this popular synthesis. The way it happened under Robespierre in France left a lot of people with very short necks! In many countries, dictatorial regimes would claim a popular mandate, giving rise to the Communist expression “enemy of the people”, an idea rendered totally meaningless.

Democracy, as Churchill observed, is weak and unstable, but what are the alternatives? That is a good question from a man who declared war on Hitler in 1939 and brought our country through the worst days of darkness.

The Brexit question has brought something home to me, just like so-called liberalism or traditionalist integralism. The two sides excite intolerance, anger and hatred. Wicked billionaires belonging to a sinister oligarchy or “human reptiles” are seeking their advantage from two contradictory positions. I remember my dogmatic theology professor mentioning in the 1980’s that the pope was being attacked by “traditionalists” and “liberals” for the same reason from two opposite viewpoints. I drew the conclusion of calling the two either Scylla and Charybdis in reference to the two ship-wrecking rocks in Greek mythology or Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The opposing forces actually seem to be representing the same agenda understood in different ways. This is one big obstacle to democracy.

What is liberalism? This is one that Miller takes to heart. To begin with, democracy is not liberalism. The two concepts are distinct. I sympathise with liberalism in its early nineteenth-century meaning in association with Romanticism, but not with contemporary movements using that word to mean the opposite – illiberal, intolerant. I empathise with that movement of two hundred years ago, as with some aspects of what I experienced as a child in the 1960’s. Liberalism must be linked to “nobility of spirit” as Rob Riemen coined it, because it was the only way in the 1930’s to avoid getting sucked into the Seig Heil fervour. There has to be something more than the intellect in humanity.

I belong to a Church whose entire raison d’être is the battle against liberalism, that liberalism being meant as the denial of the sacred, relativism in doctrinal teaching, the de-sacralisation of the liturgy, the overturning of traditional moral teachings and the ordination of women. This was in the 1970’s in America a religious populist reaction in the face of the vacuous complacency of the mainstream Anglican churches worldwide. I know of no Anglican Catholic Church bishop who would advocate being in a totalitarian regime under someone like Franco or Pinochet, resurrecting the Inquisition with the right to torture people, working towards a theocracy, etc. All the Anglican Catholic bishops are much more liberal (with the small “l”) than some of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox traditionalists you find on Facebook and elsewhere! The difference is felt, and I am at home in an Anglican Catholic Church that has become stable and peaceful. May it never become complacent and vacuous!

Back to secular politics, why entrust our fate to the idiotocracy of people who are stupid enough to support incompetence, corruption and self-destructive policies. That is transparently an idea from a remainer, but could have been one from a leaver two years ago.

What are the alternatives? Aristocracy and Monarchy? We have both in the UK, but the political system is run almost like a republic, with the Queen giving her Royal Assent to new laws. She has little choice about the matter unless she wants to create an incident like Queen Victoria did in her innocence. I have spent time with French monarchists, and I have even met the Duc d’Anjou at a ceremony in Paris. Dieu et la Roi! – in the late twentieth century… It just isn’t serious. In Europe, we were finished with dictators in 1945 and Franco went largely unnoticed outside Spain until he died his death in 1975. Again, I was on holiday with my family in Spain in 1969 and the police made everyone stop on the road. A convoy of big black cars with tinted glass passed by. Apparently Franco was in one of them. It was an amusing anecdote of my childhood. Well, what else is there?

Perhaps we can learn a lot from Plato and ancient Greece, the Philosopher Kings. How do you make sure they are lovers of wisdom and not using the words as a euphemism for something else? In the State like in the Church, there needs to be more participation to counter the tendency to clericalism and lust for power. The jury system in Crown and Assise courts is a leftover from this ideal, the final judgement being made by ordinary people without knowledge of law, and a summing up by a judge. Ordinary people need to have the power in a real way and not delegate it to those who are less and less trustworthy. The problem with this is the lack of education and training for the tasks in question. You have to know the law in order to administer it to punish a criminal or settle a civil dispute.

The idea attributed to Churchill seems to come from Plato. The crowd of people has no knowledge of justice and truth. There is little that is less intelligent than a crowd of people, for example at a football match. Some have come to the conclusion that human intelligence disappears when the group numbers more than three!

Miller tells us that

Polybius also argued that democracy had a potentially constructive role to play. He suggested that the most durable political regime would be a republic that combined the three pure forms of government (monarchy, aristocracy and democracy) into interlinked branches that would check and balance each other, enabling a well-ordered republic to navigate the winds of time “like a well-trimmed boat”.

Indeed, many factors contribute to the trim of a boat in the water and under sail. The mainsail and the jib exert contrary forces to give the boat lee helm and weather helm according to the point of sail and the strength of the wind. The UK has had this combined government for centuries, and it has given stability at times when European countries were constantly at war and rent by revolutions and riots. England always had the knack of avoiding revolutions by instituting reforms asked for by the people. This Pax Britannica is a gift that subsides even though we no longer have an empire. But it too is fragile, and we see the effect of our Queen is extreme old age and many incertitudes in her family and succession.

Rousseau came up with the idea of a social contract. This was unheard of in eighteenth-century France. Those in power could use force when necessary, but it was accountable to the ordinary people. A contract is bilateral, a binding agreement. He saw the writing on the wall already in 1763. The French Revolution needs a lot of study from different points of view, using historical methodology and trying to understand the different powers in play. It was a bloodbath, literally, but it gave us modern France. I have lived in this country for decades, but I still find myself not coming to terms with the mentality and culture of French Republicanism. I now confront it at the Mairie and the Préfecture as I go and sort out paperwork for my citizenship. Apparently, there will be an examination about our knowledge of the French Republic and its ethos. All I will be able to say sincerely is that it is something foreign to me, but I know of no viable alternative at present. One is usually rewarded for candour, because a candid person can be trusted with the noble ideas at the basis of what they are trying to do in their own French way.

I think I would feel even more at sea in the USA. I have come across nastiness on Facebook, gun-toting rednecks, people with such extreme opinions as would make us wince in Europe. How is that possible in a country that extols freedom, tolerance and the best of the human spirit? Over there, it seems so normal, and almost a natural check between the extremes of liberalism and demagogy. It works over there. For how long? There are people over there calling Trump “Hitler”, but it doesn’t wash. The ideologies are totally different as to the reason for authority, law and order. Trump is an American and was nurtured in that culture.

Public opinion is something that can be so easily swayed and manipulated by demagogues and others through a captive press and modern internet communications. The old films of German crowds in the 1930’s are impressive. Observe their expressions, not so much the leaders and military men, but the women and children. It all depends on education. But whose education?

Miller is of the opinion that modern democracy is a sham “whether liberal or socialist or nationalist”. However, any regime is accountable to ordinary citizens at the polls. How about this: we are in “a world in which faith, deference and even loyalty have largely passed away, and the keenest of personal admiration seldom lasts for long” according to the historian John Dunn, quoted by Miller. When democracy is threatened, people will cling to it, however fickle they show themselves to be in periods of peace and prosperity.

If someone like Hitler were to appear on the scene today, how far would he get? We like to believe that he would be dismissed as a crank because of our having learned the lessons of history. All the same, there are people reacting in the same way now as Hitler’s criminal cronies did in the 1930’s and during World War II. One idea that came into my mind was the possibility of a return to feudalism, but the old landlords had obligations to their serfs as the billionaire oligarchs lack them or the least amount of care. That could one day become something very messy.

We are just going to have to follow the movement, remaining awake and critical. How attached are we to our freedom? What does freedom mean? I arrive at no conclusion, any more than Miller or any honest thinker. It might go very badly or might lead to another reign of peace and freedom. It goes far beyond the European Union or the erstwhile British Empire. It goes far beyond Europe as populism spreads to South America and around the world. A fire has been lit. We can but pray lest we enter into darkness…

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More on Wooden-Leg French

I am still in the midst of sorting out paperwork for my French nationality application, and this is something I just hate doing. It revolts me to the tips of my fingers – as the French say – and it is all because of the same damned subject… However, it would be good to participate in French civil life and be able to vote, not merely Brexit-proof myself. Democracy is also a duty. I also have a big and boring translating order on, and I am still bogged down with my next Blue Flower article. I would like to get some more interesting articles written for this blog, something constructive and positive.

Something more has come up about Philip James French – The Reckoning of the Fake Catholic Bishop of Whitby?  I would certainly like to hear of an end to this travesty in that lovely little fishing town on the east coast of Yorkshire. For French himself, take away his money and he’ll go elsewhere, and no one will care. What about the church?

It would take someone who knows about law relating to trusts and ownership of property, especially an old proprietary chapel. English law can be quite a jungle, and this is an eighteenth-century building. A trust is a juridical person, but what happens to it if there are no physical members?

Supposing the town council could do something with the building, it would probably be to sell the building. It would go to a developer and be stripped out for some kind of commercial or business use. There used to be a bunch of worshippers from when St Ninians was with the ACC. The scandals started then, and people left, never to return under any circumstances. I don’t see this church being of any interest to the Ordinariate, and it would be difficult for the ACC to extirpate it from associations with Wooden-Leg-Soaked-In-Booze. It seems a lost cause…

The big questions is whether French has broken the law and would be of interest to the police, and what can be done about the trust. I am not very optimistic.

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Scylla and Charybdis

After a very restless night, I have decided that this will be my last posting on the subject of Brexit. I am also taking my distance from groups on Facebook where many arguments depend on demonising or stereotyping the adverse position. One thing of which I am becoming increasingly aware is the divisiveness of this question. As my Bishop mentioned in his comment yesterday, he and I see eye to eye about many things, but his reaction to my postings on the political situation in our country was altogether predictable. One could almost say I was “asking for it”!

I have to be aware that he and many others voted to leave the EU in full lucidity. Perhaps a proportion voted under the influence of untrue information (the message on the iconic red bus about money for the NHS, etc.) or lack of education or culture. My Bishop is a thinking man and has always had a keen interest in the welfare of our country and its traditions. I too come from a conservative family attached to the same values of Christendom, patriotism, law, order and cultural cohesion. The conscience of the voter in the booth has to be respected, which is the foundation of democracy. My own father, now 90 years old, has said the same things about Brussels and the overbearing bureaucracy. I haven’t the heart to debate things with him. He needs his peace and quiet. Our country was increasingly being ruled from abroad and dictated to, so it seemed. The last straw was the quotas of Islamic immigrants to house, feed and legalise from an overburdened Welfare State. We feed ’em, house ’em and they behave as invaders, looting and raping. That, among other reasons, was why we had Brexit. Our country is small and housing is already unaffordable for young people in full-time jobs and good salaries. I might well have voted for it in 2016 had I not been out of England for more than fifteen years, and I might have failed to notice that I would have sawn off the very branch I was sitting on!

I have followed the news attentively over the past few weeks, and tried to understand things with a critical mind. I was swayed to the “remainer” camp by my predisposition to cosmopolitanism over nationalism, to an extent by the prospect of an end to free movement of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe. The way I see things going, a negotiated Brexit or a cancellation of the entire Brexit project would seem to limit damage in comparison with the prospect of a “hard”, “blind” or “no-deal” Brexit. I have listened to informed analyses and opinions of the possible consequences of a second referendum and a cancellation of Brexit. The polarisation will not go away, and the general tendency worldwide is towards nationalism and authoritarian politics. A cancellation of Brexit would discredit all the mainstream political parties and institutions in the UK, leaving the door open to men like Nigel Farange, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson. That very door opened in France to Emmanuel Macron who is young and not affiliated to any traditional political ideology. Some of his economic policies are making him very unpopular in France. There may be more transport strikes in France in November and more Stack Operations in Kent, as my Bishop justly reminded me.

We are flawed right across the board, in the UK but also in much of Europe. There is the election in Brazil of Jair Bolsonaro, so the tendency to “National Populism” is going far beyond Europe. Donald Trump is the elephant in the room in America. In Europe, Frau Merkel is losing popularity like Macron, and the vacuum is being filled with this new form of an old authoritarian nationalism. Italy and Austria are examples, and Hungary is known for its resistance to uncontrolled Islamic immigration.

Perhaps Brexit will be cancelled, and our free movement can continue across Europe as we have grown accustomed to it. There will still be problems with the EU and domestic problems in the UK, perhaps less dramatic than after the “date with the electric chair” at the end of next March. There are signs that the EU itself is not immune from trouble and division. Then all the countries would have to ***exit! Eventually, after a long process of political changes within each country, there would be rivalries and conflicts on a small scale, not necessarily World War III. It would depend on how radically right-wing various countries would go. The battle would not be finished, not by a long chalk! We should prepare ourselves for the unknown and the destruction of many of our comfortable certitudes.

I also found inspiration in the gloom of the night: I am a priest and it is my duty to witness to the love of Christ that unites in peace and justice. Our Church is small and has suffered very badly from division because of the wrong men in the Episcopate or doctrinal issues. I see a parallel between what my country is facing and the endgame I faced as the TAC crumbled and Archbishop Hepworth went from being our Primate and pastor to being an obscure nobody. The mighty will fall and will be replaced by others. We are all fearful, but Christ exhorts us not to fear those who can kill the body when we hold onto our soul. A lot of what we fear comes from fake news or scaremongering, but there is very little to reassure us that it will be business as usual. We priests can be thankful for our education in philosophy and the art of reasoning – in order to refuse the uncritical acceptance of ideology and the surrender of our mind and rational faculties.

I will try to wage my own little campaign by encouraging a return to faith in and knowledge of God, the values and principles of the Enlightenment and its humanising by the Romantic movement. As priests, we are here to serve all, regardless of their convictions, fears and concerns. Trouble is on its way, in whatever form it might take. We are here to comfort and guide those who suffer and doubt, not add to the conflict and violence. I have a lot to learn, as we all have.

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L’enfer, c’est les autres

It is the famous quote from Jean-Paul Sartre in his play Huis Clos, which is literally translated Hell is other people. Ideally we would be connected by love to the whole of humanity, but such an ideal is destroyed by man’s fallen nature. We are separated by hatred and sin, such that the “other” person, the stranger, the one we cannot trust becomes a threat and an enemy – at least a potential enemy.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of nobility of spirit, but the paradox is like that of humility. Once the subject becomes self-conscious of his humility, he becomes proud, arrogant and sinful. Similarly, he who is conscious of being spiritually “noble” will become arrogant, a tyrant, someone who believes that rules are only for others – and all of a sudden, we have the self-entitled sociopath sending “others” to their deaths. Thus we have paradoxes and cycles that repeat ad nauseam, just as we have happy and unhappy periods in history.

This whole story of Brexit follows the same pattern. I haven’t lived in England for any significant length of time since 1982, but I have been able to observe what has been going on through the news and listening to people during my many visits to family and friends. Over the years I have been through episodes of nostalgia for my native England. It sufficed to listen to some Elgar or Vaughan Williams and dream about my native Lake District or the Cotswolds, that gentle pastoral seduction of an “eternal” England, the “green and pleasant land” of William Blake. On the other hand, living on the outside brings certain realities home. One such reality is politics for money and power, and no longer the principle of the common good. Crusty old statesmen used to say that the country had gone “to the dogs”. What would they say today?

A couple of years ago, I was not allowed to vote because of the 15-year rule. I have no MP, but then again, I have no residence in the UK, nor do I pay tax. Fair enough, I literally got on my bike in July 1982 and set off for France. The illusions peeled away one by one like the skins of an onion, but I am still here because what is left of my life is here, not England. My ecclesial attachment is in England, as is my father and the rest of my family, who have made their lives and made their mark in the places where they live. As is the tradition in my family, I have been Euro-sceptical, believing the usual narrative of Brussels being an unelected and Orwellian body leading to something like the old Soviet Union. At the same time, I saw its cosmopolitan intentions and underpinning philosophy. If I am European, like a New Yorker is an American, then I am still living close to my origins, and no longer as an exile.

For a while since the 2016 referendum, I failed to take Brexit seriously. It was (and is) the butt of jokes in France. My own wife would say as a joke that it would be “good riddance” when the Gendarmes would come and make me pack my bags before putting me on a boat to England! It all goes beautifully with St Joan of Arc, the Hundred Years War and the Napoleonic Wars. For two countries separated by a small sliver of water you could sail across in a day, the level of ignorance, prejudice and stereotyping is astounding. We British see the average Frenchman in a Breton marinière, wearing a beret and carrying a baguette – moustache de rigueur. They call us rosbifs – roast beef – and something like the army officers of nineteenth century India in the days of the Empire. That is when we are not bankers or civil servants in London with the bowler hat and perfectly ironed newspaper. Those days are gone, but the nostalgia remains in many.

Since seeing the reality of Brexit, that my country was really going to declare war on itself, I had to take stock and try to understand how our elite could really be so stupid as to have set in motion a legal monster without any planning or contingency over the past two years. Only when it is too late do they begin to try to negotiate a solution with the EU, or bully the latter into following their ideology. The EU is not the British Empire, because there were two world wars last century, plus national independence of the formerly colonised peoples, putting paid to all that.

Rob Riemen’s book Nobility of Spirit never ceases to bring me to a kind of self-awareness that has given me certain gifts to see the dangers we are in. There is a definite analogy between our time and the rise of Fascism and Nazism in the 1920’s and 30’s, minus the clown dictators and the militaristic jingoism. The accidents are very different, but there are similarities of substance, if you want to use scholastic language. Perhaps nobility of spirit is discerned in relation to its nemesis, that insidious ideology of stupidity, ignorance and hatred we see around us, that “hell” of “other people”. What is this nobility of spirit? It is surely what Christ stood for as the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, all the virtues of prudence, kindness, search for truth and transcendence. It is the antithesis of barbarianism, greed, lust for power and narrow-mindedness. As these forces gather once again, we can only fight them with love and faith, with courage and refusal to give up our principles of conscience.

I don’t think we can class all the “leavers” in one category. I might have been one of them had I had the vote in the summer of 2016. I was taken in by the narrative according to which all our money was being given to poor eastern European countries that are new to the Union, and that Brexit would allow millions to be given each day to our ailing health service. It was a deliberate lie. Finally, as the protests (in which I have participated mainly through this blog) have intensified, the tide is turning. The inevitability of Brexit is slowly evaporating as they are forced to admit that it can be different. The enemy isn’t some far-off Hitler strutting around in Berlin, but is in our own midst. The mask is coming away slowly but surely.

I find myself in agreement with the idea that Brexit is a kind of cult. It is an irrational ideology, like the religion of Reverend Jim Jones who got all his adepts to commit suicide. The “dogma” according to which the result of the 2016 referendum is graven in stone and immutable is a sign of this state of mind. It was a flawed advisory referendum, not a binding contract. Even contracts can be cancelled for unilateral breach of trust. The broken record is wearing thin.

I have not spent time on leavers’ blogs, Facebook pages and suchlike. The bile is harmful enough when it emerges from its habitual cocoon and affects the political elite. Some remainers have been to those parts of the internet, like new Catholic converts listening to the rants of the Protestant Reformation Society at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. They are witnesses to verbal and even physical violence, ignorance, hatred, words without any real meaning like “democracy” and “taking back control”. What has discredited religion in the past was this refusal of reason in the name of faith.

I very much recommend reading the various writings and official teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI on the theme of Fides et Ratio, faith and reason. This is a part of the discipline of fundamental theology, which is Ratzinger’s speciality. It is the part of theology which examines the foundations, those of divine revelation and human reason. There are many things we will never fully understand, because our rational faculties and senses are limited, but we can grasp something with effort and curiosity. The Enlightenment was a very important step in history, even when it became excessive in the thought of men like Voltaire, Descartes, Locke, Hume and Kant. It was needed to bring us out of the era of witch-burning and country yokel superstition. Then, when everything became dreary classical, faithless and sterile, the world needed the Romantic movement to restore the heart and the imagination to their rightful places. The result is a transformed religious instinct of man believing, feeling and seeking understanding. Thus I am a Christian and a priest, and take this balance between faith and reason very seriously.

I have seen in National Populism many of the lowly aspects I found in Roman Catholic integralism and its aspiration to temporal power with the help of clown dictators like Pinochet. The ugly spectre of the ideology of hate has not gone away with the defeat of Hitler and Mussolini. I am glad that someone has coined the term National Populism, because it will give many a chance for critical thinking and examination of conscience. These are powerful instincts in man, like faith in a God or a universal consciousness, but appealing to the base instincts of competition, dominance and power. Terrorists kill people, not because they are believers, but because they abdicated humanity and reason under manipulation and brainwashing.

Different people’s “other people” take different forms. It can be the people of the ideology. It can be people from other countries because their wars were the fault of our politicians and we refused to let them rebuild their wrecked and war-torn countries. I too beat my breast because I believed too many stories of foreign people taking our jobs and money, yet I too am a foreigner in another country, even though my country is still in the EU. I read many stories of anxiety of British people afraid that we will become illegal immigrants in France after a no-deal Brexit. Are we getting a taste of our own medicine? More hope is now being given now that the Brexiteer politicians are desperately trying to contain the fallout caused by the impending human rights travesties – because there are some three million EU people living, working and paying tax in the UK, and about two million UK people doing the same thing in the EU countries. We rely on being allowed to do that, just like people from India, Africa and the Middle East. We became afraid because of the immigration crisis of 2015, and the ideologues made hay of it. The experience has forced me to examine many assumptions and become open to more rational and human paradigms. May this threat to my country from its own inner enemy be salutary and healing. We are still on the way to our self-defeat, but it can be averted. It would almost seem to be an Old Testament prophecy about Israel!

I would like to give a warning that anything can come full-circle, in the way liberalism has become illiberal and quite absurd in its irrationalism. I have always believed in women’s rights and have found a lot of inspiration in the suffragettes of 1912 and the character of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin who became Shelley’s wife and wrote Frankenstein. I am utterly repulsed by the present-day gender and sexual identity politics, based not on reason or humanism, but on the same hatred and fanaticism that brought women and “different” people to be oppressed in the first place. These ideologies are parts of human nature in its fallen and hylic state. We can only be brought out of it by a balance of faith and reason.

Parochialism, nationalism and cosmopolitanism are only partial explanations of human experience and thought. Cosmopolitanism is associated with life in cities and parochialism with country living, but this notion is relativised by the fact of former city dwellers seeking a better life in the country, affordable housing and a slower pace of life, whilst children of country families go into town to find work and education. Being free from determinism and the inevitable is a gift of the spirit, which is the discovery of God in ourselves and our species, the only force that can unite and connect us.

For some of these questions, I refer the reader to the Greek Orthodox author Christos Yanneras who has written many illuminating philosophical works dealing with the human person and these issues of connection and alienation. His views of human rights are debatable, and need special study. His books are worth reading. I will note that the same levels of hatred and obscurantism can be found in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or ideology. Take the good ideas – yes, cherry-pick them – and make for yourself a synthesis of goodness, beauty and love.

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Black Humour

This is where cynicism (modern meaning of the word) is taking us. The implication is that British people would be seeking political asylum in France like Syrian people fleeing the war.

Kyrie eleison! May God avert such a scourge because the ones whose fault it is would be rolling in money, laughing all the way to the bank, and the innocent civilians would suffer.

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