I tend to get into somewhat big subjects these days. It is mid February and I haven’t sailed since last October. That alone is no reason to “go off one’s rocker”. Apart from some nasty onsets of anxiety in the morning or late at night, my life seems to be quite calm. I have been dealing with these questions since I was a little boy gazing out of the window of the daily bus from Kendal to Ambleside imagining that I could fly like a bird. O for the wings of a dove! I often have recurring dreams of a little girl dancing in a garden in the kind of clothes children wore a hundred years ago. I have no idea of who the little girl would be.
Modern psychiatry has given me a term for people who have traits in common like hypersensitivity and a certain allergy to what most people would term real life, the world, our own times, the here and now – and deceitful sophistry. It is a certain reaction against a certain form of rationalism that removes the spiritual and emotive content of what it is to be human. The ultimate nightmare of this would be the large business corporation or any state bureaucracy. Psychiatry calls the condition high-functioning autism, or, a few years ago, Aspergers Syndrome. These traits are different from person to person, making an empirical diagnosis difficult – but they seem to point in another direction. I was predisposed to seeking a different understanding to life, an experience of life that would handicap me in many ways, like getting through school, seminary, being employed in jobs, marriage and relations with my family of origin. The scientific words are just that, words to help with understanding at a rational level. The rest of the human being I am has had to be sounded out, explored, made to understand at a deeper level. All this may sound like narcissism, but no more than the long work of C.J. Jung as he sought self-knowledge in order to help his patients. If such self-knowledge can help me be a better priest and more compassionate with others, then it can only be a good thing. This is a part of my blog, even when I produce texts from 219 years ago which convey another message to the different culture and humanity we are in 2018.
I have often thought about the concept of the end of history – not the Apocalypse involving the destruction of this earth, the death of us all and the final triumph of Christ – but a certain attitude that has grown since the end of World War II in 1945 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This attitude seeks to find a definitive and immobile character in our own times like that of Napoleon’s victory in Saxony in 1806, the “world spirit” of Hegel represented by the triumph of France. This was to be a golden age of humanity. It didn’t last. Ours won’t either.
We heard the same cant in 1989 when I was a young student in Switzerland, the end of Communism and the final victory of capitalism. Now, several banking and financial crashes, we live in a world of increasing difference between billionnaires and the hopeless homeless. What is money? Most of us have lost any understanding of the concept since the end of the Gold Standard. I know just about zilch about economics, and the idea of the subject depresses me, but the world of money is hardly triumphant or for the common good of all. We are all on the edge, curbing our expenses and still struggling to keep our bank accounts straight.
Political debate is ever more polarised, puerile and concerned with self-interest than the common good. Finally, we are looking at radical Islam, terrorism and war, increasingly levels of surveillance with the use of modern technology. The nightmare far exceeds that of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein – and indeed we are faced with the prospect of cloning and artificial life. Many of us have come to believe that mankind cannot survive these trends and developments. We would go out, not with a bang but with a whimper.
Another sign of our times is one of nostalgia and longing, and this is what fires my appeal to the Romantic movement of two hundred years ago. Then, there was Napoleon, and now we have Trump and Putin! We have not entered the last times or the end of history, but the beginning of a new cycle. About twenty years ago, I had a friend in Paris who introduced me to a remarkable man by the name of Jean Phaure. He had been born in Indo-China and only ate Vietnamese food. He was fascinated by eastern religions and Hinduism inparticular. He would certainly have enjoyed knowing Dom Bede Griffith who combined Benedictine monastic life with the way of gurus and wise men in India. Phaure’s central thesis was the cyclical notion of history like in sacred Hindou writings. He gave me a copy of Le Cycle de l’Humanité Adamique and Les Portes du IIIe Millénaire. Admittedly, there is some New Age influence, but also the moderating influence of philosophers like Nicholas Berdyaev and other visionary Russians, which took me down a road on which I have continued ever since. I occasionally pull Phaure’s books out and read through a chapter on a particular subject, and find that my own sensitivity and understanding of things has changed and evolved.
I do see history going round in circles. I see so many parallels of the early nineteenth century – little Chinese children working excessive hours in factories without proper safety precautions. Care for the poor was a characteristic of Romanticism. Globalism replaces the guillotined King and that Corsican Emperor beaten by the British at Waterloo. With the downfall of liberalism, we face a new expression of authoritarianism and restrictions of movements of people. We don’t find any parallel, at least not yet, of the totalitarianisms of the 1930’s, but many things are changing as they did before.
I am not so sure of the likelihood of a really serious war that would kill us all in a nuclear holocaust. The USA and North Korea continue to rattle their sabres, but there are no mushroom clouds – as yet. May that continue, as I believe that God has protected us before in the Cold War era… The Middle East is in a dreadful situation. I hardly see it as a symptom for some smug “end of history”. World War III could still happen, however.
Many men in positions of power and knowledge of what goes on foretell the end of the economy and what would happen to us without modern technology or even electricity. Might we envy those who lived in the 1790’s and knew nothing of what we know and have experienced? Might we return to Nazism or what China would do if they took over the world? The worst they can do is kill us. Did not Christ tell us not to fear those who can kill the body, but those who kill both soul and body? Death does not always come quickly and peacefully – torture still exists in this world!
Europe is a bloody mess. Brexit is more or less damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The only England I have left is my father in extreme old age, my brother and sisters, but above all my romanticised daydreams helped by listening to the more pastoral and impressionistic music of Vaughan Williams. My Bishop and fellow priests in the ACC give me something more of an England in which I arrive almost as an alien each time. I almost feel surprise with the ease at which my passport is checked by Immigration at the port and I am waved through. I was born in England and have the right to enter the country whenever I want, but I am as much an alien there as here in France. I suppose if Brexit goes through, the French would give me a residence and work permit, and I’ll ask for dual nationality. I suppose it would be like in the old days. Though I sympathise with British nationalism and our sovereignty, we cannot expect to leave the Mafia and not get shot in both knee caps and perhaps sent to the bottom of the sea with heavy chains and weights! Again, the EU might crumble and fall as the Soviet Union did in 1989, and someone will cash in on it. What a bloody world! Do you wonder why I dream and yearn like a Romantic?
The way things are going, it looks like the end of history, and Armageddon can happen if the earth gets hit by an asteroid or Yellowstone super-volcano blows, resulting in more than the glooom over Geneva in 1816. That’s an understatement. Again, the worst that can happen to us is that we die of something, probably of natural causes.
The “Enlightenment” we now face is an analogy of the old one that brought Robespierre and the guillotine. The thinkers are the first to lose their heads! We also face the worst nightmares of science fiction like combinations of humanity and machines. Atheists entertain the illusion that they can have their brains frozen at immense cost to overcome mortality! Their bodies will be dead and will remain dead. However, some of these developments may bring us to the worst dystopia ever imagined. Our species might destroy ourselves and God’s judgement may have very little to do with it.
That is “realism”. Delusion? Illusion? Madness? I think we can see and experience our life in a different way. What we see and experience is only a narrow part of the spectrum of reality outside our world. For this, I thank God and the intuitive consciousness. This is why my life is now dedicated to this new vision and a new reality, that of the Blue Flower, the other world, the Kingdom of God.
What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.