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It’s something of a privilege to write at the hinge of the year. But a challenge too. What a year to look back on; like no other for most of us. Since this is New Year, we want to look forward as well as back. Looking forward after the after the surprises and crushing turmoil of 2020 is tricky too. It’s not enough to just hope things get better. 2020 has shown us some important insights into our society.
Shakespeare in King Lear gruesomely warns against thinking you have hit the bottom and the only way is up. “And worse I may be yet: the worst is not so long as we can say ‘This is the worst.’”.
But there is no point if catastrophising. The media is too easily given to thoughtlessly apocalyptic at the best of times and it’s not good for our mental health. Forecasting what might come has always been a tricky trade.
One way of trying to make things better is the New Year’s resolution. But I’m no fan of them.. They seem to me to the shortest way manageable to self-disgust and the late January blues. If human nature could be improved by simply trying harder, we would have cracked the how to be happy thing a long time ago.
What can we learn from the last 12 months of turmoil, illness, rage and confusion?
I don’t think the fact that we have suffered from the release of a new worldwide virus tells us much. We were warned that it was about time for a global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918, and here it is. But our responses to it might be illuminating.
As it happens, I came down with it about 48 hours ago, and am trying to type through a fearsome headache, an annoying cough, and sharply painful limbs. One things that cheers me is are the stats published today that of the 45,466 people who died with Covid only 1,911 have died who had no pre-existing condition. In which case I’m hoping to live through to 2021 if nothing else changes.
But the response to Covid has raise some issues for us. If it’s true, as it is claimed that the average age of those who have died from Coronavirus is 81.5 and the average age of death excluding the virus is older, 82.4, it’s hard to understand the level of hysteria. One reason for it is that having lost faith in life after death, our secular rationalistic culture doesn’t handle death very well. Preparing for our deaths, making sense of them, is made very much more difficult without a world view that puts our lives in a broader context which includes life after death.
Beyond the alarm that being reminded of our deaths causes, other fractures are exposed.
Society is somehow split down the middle, with each side getting increasingly angrier over a range of different issues.
Perhaps Brexit should have warned us with its 52/48 divide. There are a number of ways to describe the opposing values, but ‘independence v safety’ might cover it. The Brexiteers wanted independence and were prepared to pay for it, and the Remainers wanted safety and stability and were prepared to forego autonomy to preserve it.
Something similar seems to be happening with the Covidvirus. Those who favour lock-down and masks want safety first, at almost any price, and are terrified by the illness. Those who protest against the state placing them under house arrest against their will want to be able to assess the risks for themselves and live accordingly. Safety v independence again.
What has struck me greatly is the way in which there has been such a contest over the facts and the science. The media (by and large) have been uniformly presenting a slant of the science and a version of the facts that have been intended to strike terror into the hearts of its audience. They have moved from sources of information to projects of propaganda. While at the same time the social media outlets have censored voices that present a different view of the science.
Of course, it wasn’t really science we were arguing about. Modelling what might happen is closer to magic than science.
I don’t see any harm in having two sides, two points of view (strung out across a spectrum) for people to choose between. What seems deeply dangerous is that most of the public and social media are controlled by statist/safety factions.
In 2021, I hope the hard working virologists will continue their astonishing work on finding an effective vaccine for the virus. But even more important, will be the need to find a way of vaccinating our culture against being content with cancelling people and silencing opposition voices.
I don’t think I can do anything to shore up the world-wide economic system against the damage done to it by international lockdowns; and I can’t do anything about the virus itself except not frighten people, by continuing to keep my distance and mask my face.
But all of us can do something to fight for freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to offend, freedom of conscience, freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Bring on 2021 and with it a determination to fight for our freedoms.
Once in a blue moon, one of ‘those’ books falls into your lap. Living as I do partly in Normandy, and with an eye to the times we live in, I have started to read more about the SOE and the French resistance.
Not that the danger to our freedom comes from the Right any more. It comes from the Left (leaving aside whether or not Hitler’s National Socialism was or wasn’t socialism).
I came across a book called Gardens of Stone, ghost written exquisitely by/for Stephen Grady.
Stephen was a 15-year-old boy when France was invaded in 1939. His mum was French and his dad was English. His dad had been a Tommy in the First World War and settled to raise a family working as a gardener for the War Graves Commission, tending the graves of his erstwhile comrades.
The book is about how Stephen gets drawn into resisting the brutal fascism of the Germans in northern France. It’s written with captivating subtlety and frightening insight into the period. Time and time again through its pages the question is raised, why did so few people actually resist?
I find myself asking the same question today. Not that we are fighting the last war; we are fighting a very different enemy that is slowly strangling our freedom of speech. It’s hard to give a name to this enemy. We know them more by what they do than what they are called.
This elusive enemy gets people thrown out of their jobs, and out of the public square, for the flimsiest of reasons that defy all common sense and most peoples’ values.
A few examples from the last month or so: Steve Thompson, a BBC radio reporter was sacked for describing a fracas on the football field as a ‘handbag fight’. The whole of my life, rugby players flailing arms and fists off the ball have been described that way. I don’t really care about the phrase. It’s not important. But sacking someone for using it? That’s terrifying.
Greg Clarke, the chairman of the FA was giving evidence to a select committee of Parliament and was explaining how totally opposed to racism and sexism he was. But he was a year behind the times. He talked about the injustices perpetrated on coloured footballers. And in an instant, he was gone. Lost his job. He got the word inversion wrong. Values right, words wrong. What an idiot. This year the phrase is ‘footballers OF colour”.
Until very recently we have asked our actors to act parts that represented people different from their own characters. That’s what acting is. Not today. Seyi Omooba got a role in a show called ‘The Colour Purple”. She was cast to play a lesbian and was delighted to. But she had put on Facebook at some time that as a practising Christian she didn’t believe “homosexuality was right”. So she was cancelled. Respected theatre critics like Lloyd Evans came to her aid saying we had never up to this point expected an actor to agree with the ethical views or the feelings of a character in a play. Good luck with casting Othello on that basis.
So who and what is the enemy? Too easy and too useless to say “PC gone mad.”
It’s a complex combination of a risk averse culture, terrified of physical, psychological or emotional danger. It’s people willing to give up their individuality and ask the state to keep them collectively ‘safe’. If the price is not being free to think or act, and to always keep silence in the face of what other people tell you can be said or thought, they are willing to pay it and enforce it on everyone else.
Is this terror of risk and valorising of safety an unintended consequence or a spin-off of feminism? Mums prioritise care and protection; Dads enable risk and danger. Has our society become so feminised that we have outlawed any risk or danger?
If we lost all balance between the masculine and feminine values that might be so. How could we test that? A posh public school might suggest the answer.
At Eton, an English teacher Will Knowland put a video together called the ‘Patriarch Paradox’. It was designed to teach older boys how to handle difficult opinions they might not like It’s about masculinity.
The Headmaster got one complaint from a colleague and immediately banned it from being shown to the boys. Knowland accepted that reluctantly and instead put it on his private YouTube channel with a disclaimer saying it did not represent either Eton’s views or even his own. The Head summarily sacked him for gross misconduct.
If you want to see it (it’s rather skilfully done), check out ‘Knowland Knows’ on YouTube, and then ask yourself the question why a vivid and factually correct presentation of masculinity should cause a clever competent good teacher to be sacked and cancelled?
Over 1,000 of the boys have signed a petition demanding his reinstatement. They ask “How can the school reasonably expect teachers to engage in the promotion of free thought inside and outside of the schoolroom when the consequence of overstepping some poorly-defined line of acceptability is to lose their livelihood and home? Is this not an abuse of power?”
Is this another Steven Grady scenario, with resistance being lead by teenagers once the adults have bottled it?
We have several problems or questions at least which we need to solve to defend both our democracy and our freedom of speech. What is this abuse of power which brutally and permanently cancels football commentators, broadcasters, actors, teachers, journalists, academics politicians? The list goes on and on.
What is this enemy? Why are so few willing to resist? Douglas Murray thinks we are suffering from a mass psychosis, which is why he called his book the Madness of Crowds. Have we gone mad or bad? Who dares to resist?
Non Angli sed Angeli
Non Angli sed angeli’-A lecture by Gavin Ashenden to the The Benedict 16th Philosophical-Theological University in Austria- ‘On becoming a Catholic; the journey from Canterbury to Rome.’
The Benedict XV1 Philosophical-Theological University :-
In 1802 an institute for philosophical and theological studies was established, which became a Hochschule in 1976. The Benedict XVI Philosophical-Theological University is now one of the largest faculties for the education of priests in the German-speaking world. In January 2007, Pope Benedict XVI raised the Hochschule to the status of Pontifical Athenaeum, which means the institution may now grant degrees according to Roman university privileges, instead of in the name of other Austrian universities.
Presently, over 90 monks belong to the monastic community, the focus of which is the liturgy and Gregorian chant in Latin (in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite). Some of the monks also have pastoral duties in the 17 parishes for which the abbey is responsible or serve as professors at the Philosophisch-Theologische Hochschule. Others serve in caring for the upkeep of the historic abbey.
Heiligenkreuz is also home to the Priesterseminar Leopoldinum (formerly Collegium Rudolphinum), a theological college for men in preparation for the priesthood.
Stift Heiligenkreuz is known today as one of the most vibrant monasteries in central Europe; the current abbot is a member of the Ratzinger Schülerkreis; one of the monks is the Procurator General of the Order, working in Rome. Many other monasteries send their junior monks to Heiligenkreuz for theological and monastic training. It was one of the first abbeys to realize the value of the internet apostolate, maintaining a frequently updated homepage and several groups on Facebook as well as various blogs such as The Monastic Channel, Sancrucensis, and EUCist News.
The treatment of churches during the Covid 19 scare has ranged from the unreasonable and illogical to the illegal.
For the unreasonable and illogical we might turn to Mike Keirle, the Dean of Jersey who has a voice in the States legislature. This is one of those important moments when you need a Christian in a parliament. He asked the obvious and unanswerable question as to why the Jersey government was relaxed with 80 people in a restaurant but banned anything over 20 in a Church? A minister has generously agreed to meet him and ‘discuss it’.
For the illegal we might visit Milton Keynes where God has to be satisfied with being restricted to electronic worship, on line.
Some people may only know it as a rather bland London overspill with more than its fair share of roundabouts.
Not anymore. The Chief Superintendent Robert France, Gold Commander for Thames Valley Police has had to apologisehaving discovered his officers found the law complex and didn’t know it. His police force burst into a Church which was in the middle of an online broadcast they disrupted and finally closed down, ignoring the Government rules and legislation.
He explained how difficult it was for the police.
“It appears… that there has been a misunderstanding by our officers of the legislation in place.”
Any fair-minded person could see the difficulties the police were placed in, and perhaps the most generous among you may want to feel sympathy for them in this confusing time.
As the Gold Commander went on to explain, policing churches “is an ever-changing and complex area of enforcement.”
The rather difficult implication is that when the law gets this complex, maybe it is too much to expect the Police to know what the law is.
Luckily, there are some well informed and publicly spirited members of the community who are ready to help them. As it happened, Mr Mateola, pastor of the Kingdom Faith Ministries Church, although busy as a pastor and family man, unlike the police who burst into his church and threatened him with prosecution, had read the law. He offered to help the police officers with it. In case their busy professional lives had got in the way of actually knowing what they were and weren’t permitted to do.
They might have thanked him for the courteous clarity that he brought to the situation, this being an “ever-changing and complex area” they didn’t. Instead they radioed for back up.
This was a tough gig after all. Here was an unusually challenging situation of a member of the public who had read what the law required, threatening to explain it to them. Sevenmore police burst into the church to contain the situation.
It turned out that along with not knowing what the law said,the police could not count. They were outraged that there were 30 people in the building.
“Not so ” said Pastor Mateola, ever helpful and unlike them, also numerate, there were 15.
He counted them out for the officers, and explained that each one of them had a job to do in the business of putting this service on line, and that they were observing social distancing and all in sperate rooms.
He pointed out that the law said “Attending a place of worship for broadcasting or filming an act of worship is permitted but should only involve those people working or volunteering who are essential for the content of the service, and for technical support to enable people to watch and worship online or via a television or radio.” He explained what each one was doing.
Luckily, although the police didn’t know the law, and couldn’t count, they did bring a certain technical expertise to the broadcasting enterprise. They told Mr Mateola that only two people were allowed in the church. “One to speak and the other to hold the microphone and press the record button.”
After an hour of failing to persuade the police that the arrangements were a little more demanding than that, Pastor Mateola was forced to give up, cancel the broadcast and leave the Church.
Four days later, under cover of dark, the police knocked on his door at home. His home security camera recorded the conversation.
The woman PC read him his rights as he opened the door and told him he was going to be prosecuted for breaking Covid 19 regulations.
“I am here to tell you that you are going to be formerly reported to court for what happened…you do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention now something you later rely on in court…you will receive something in the post to tell you what happens next.”
Pastor Mateola responded saying: “You have totally disregarded government guidelines, I kept showing them to you… but you said it didn’t matter and you were going to go ahead whatever the sergeant said…I complied with you, you totally destroyed everything we were trying to do with the broadcast…you didn’t even know the guidelines and we have ended up being harassed for no reason.”
You may wonder why I’m going to so much trouble to share Daniel Mateola’s experiences with you. He and I are part of a group of “122 Church leaders” who with the Christian Legal Centre are challenging the Government’s right to close churches that observe all the medical, hygenic and scientific guidance for social distancing.
We may all have different opinions about the medical, legal and political issues as stake here. But is beyond a doubt is that we ought to be able to expect the police to know the law and apply the law even-handedly. I would like to ask the Gold Commander of Thames Valley police why they didn’t feel the need to apply the Law to BLM protesters wilfully ignoring all guidelines in public, but persecute and harass Christians in their churches who were observing the law.
As Mr France, the Gold Commander finally was finally forced to admit: ‘There has been a mistake in the issuing of this ticket and I would like to apologise for the distress I know this is likely to have caused.’
This article, by Paul Sapper, originally was published by ‘Reaction.’ at https://Reaction.life, and is reproduced with permission.
The criminalisation of Christian worship in lockdown cannot be allowed to happen again
As the United Kingdom’s second lockdown comes to a conclusion ahead of one of the most important events of the Christian calendar – Christmas – we are in urgent need of reflection on the restrictions imposed on worship across our country.
The coronavirus lockdowns have outlawed all communal worship in Britain twice and in a way that is historically unprecedented. Ever since Christianity came to this island over 1500 years ago, church doors have never been closed to all believers for extended periods of time, even though there have been far worse plagues, wars and disasters than the one our country currently faces.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, 122 church leaders have decided this action from the state has been unacceptable and are pursuing a judicial review over the government’s actions in England and Wales. They argue that the bans on communal worship are illegal, as they are in violation of Article 9 of The Human Rights Act 1998, which guarantees freedom of religion.
The legal action states that the government has not provided the necessary evidence to justify the closure of churches. It also cites statements from the chief scientific advisors Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, who, when asked about this question of evidence, said: “We haven’t got good evidence”, “this is not a very exact science at all” and “we don’t have good data to answer that with any degree of certainty.”
Dr Gavin Ashenden, a Roman Catholic layman and former Honorary Chaplain to the Queen who is personally involved in the legal action, told Reaction why he considers church closures – and the wider cultural trends that have led to their closures – a potentially life or death issue.
Ashenden pointed out that the only countries that have sought to ban all Christian worship in recent years are the Soviet tyrannies of the 20th century and warned of the dangers of following, even unintentionally, their example.
Although the legal action has been brought forward mostly by Protestant church leaders, there is a unity across Christian denominations in the UK in criticising the government’s actions. Both Cardinal Vincent Nichols of the Catholic Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, along with leaders from other faiths, have signed letters criticising the closure of churches, and urging the government to reverse their decision.
The current national lockdown is due to be replaced with tiered restrictions on 2 December, which will permit communal worship, but the judicial review will continue because there is a desire to establish a legal precedent that will prevent the state from ever closing the churches in a similar manner again.
This seems necessary because it appears likely that the government will consider further national lockdowns after this one. Only days after the new tiered system was announced, there are already reports that government scientific advisors are warning of a third national lockdown in January.
Ashenden pointed out that Christians in this country, from Thomas Becket, Henry’s II’s famously-turbulent and ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Protestant and Catholic dissenters in the 16th century, have through the ages laid their lives down to acquire and preserve the religious liberties that our government has now taken away so carelessly.
He said: “If you’re reasonably literate in history you know that, from time to time, Christians in our country have had to take on the state in a life or death struggle, for some people it’s literally been life or death, and this breaks out every two or three hundred years. It just so happens that it has broken out again in our time.
“About 150 years ago it broke out when the courts disliked a Catholic renewal in the Church of England, and so a number of priests were sent to prison for breaking the house rules of the Anglican Church. And it was quite unpleasant and a matter of some serious concern in terms of freedom of conscience and liberty, but it was nothing like what is happening now in our generation.
“It is quite extraordinary to me that once again the government should seek to close the doors of the churches, which it has never done in a wholesale way before.
“When a state has done this, it has typically been in totalitarian Marxist regimes. In the 1980s, I smuggled Bibles and theology books behind the Iron Curtain. I got to know something of Marxism in practice and of totalitarian regimes, and I thought this was a glitch in world history.
“Nobody could have been more surprised than me when, ten years ago, I began to get the sense that the experience I’d had behind the Iron Curtain had bounced out of nowhere, morphed somehow, and was coming at me through a different form.
“So although people have mocked the phrase cultural Marxism as a kind of right wing piece of madness, the fact is that the very same egalitarian, equality of outcome values, which drove the communist revolution from 1917 onwards, have re-emerged in a different guise; it is no longer the proletariat against capitalism, but instead a re-arrangement of cultural values.
“The effect is exactly what happened then, which is to silence the churches and to silence the Christian vision and the Christian articulation of what human beings are here to do. So there’s a bigger picture than just our national history.
“Now, you might immediately respond: ‘Yes but the government has closed the churches down in the face of a pandemic, not a value-system.’ And that’s where the problem comes, because if the government’s actions followed the best scientific and medical advice, one would have to take a deep sigh and say, ‘Well, it looks like we’ve been caught by health and safety issues, who knew that was going to come?’
“But I think the problem we find the more we educate ourselves on the science and medical issues behind the virus, is that the government has not taken the best advice. In fact it’s actually working behind a smoke-screen of falsified figures, falsified science and falsified medicine, and on the basis of that it’s using the pandemic to close the churches.
“So it’s almost as if, rather like a Russian doll, every time you open it there’s another reason inside, and you have to open that one and see, ‘Is that one authentic?’ and as we go through the dolls, none of them are authentic! In which case Christians have to stand up and challenge the status quo, in the name of personal conscience and our allegiance to Christ.”
What Ashenden points towards is not some grand conspiracy of cunning Marxists plotting in secret. What he suggests is that the fundamental reordering of our cultural values over the last few decades has served to undermine considerations and protections for worship that would once have been taken for granted. There is a general conviction that it is not a problem to command British Christians not to worship – no matter how shaky or inconsistent the scientific evidence for that command may be.
Ashenden’s claims are also supported by the fact that the UK Statistics Authority criticised the government for its misleading projections, used to justify the second lockdown, that the country could see over 4,000 Covid deaths a day, which was deemed to be a vast over-estimation as well as the growing scientific evidence in support of lockdown scepticism.
There have been reports of underground Christian gatherings during the second lockdown, with police breaking up a baptism at north London’s Angel Church. Ashenden has predicted that if the government decides to renew the closure of churches without evidence, civil disobedience will only increase. His words remind us of the famous refrain of Matthew 22:21 – “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.”
When it comes to believers’ private and personal spiritual life, a Christian’s first duty is to God, not to the whims of the government.
Ashenden explains: “The government clearly has the legal right to close churches because it passed the laws to do so, but Christians know perfectly well that there are moments when our moral obligations and our legal obligations tragically conflict. This is one of them.
“Either the government hears us, and is educated by us, and accepts the moral principles that we are educating ministers with, or it refuses to hear us. Now if they hear us, then all is well and good, we open the churches, and all is well.
“But should they refuse, then that ought to set a number of Christians on a collision course with the state authorities, in exactly the same way and for the same reasons as we found inside the Soviet Union in the beginning part of the last century.
“It’s absolutely the case that Christians ought to be able to have the freedom to worship behind closed doors. Now, immediately, some people will say, ‘In this context you’re endangering other people,’ and that’s when we have to go back and say, ‘Well actually, if we take sensible precautions, please show us the evidence that what we do in a church has endangered anyone’s life ever,’ and there is no evidence.
“So suddenly, a society that prides itself on empiricism and rationalism has instead resorted to the superstitious and the authoritarian, so we are entitled to call the government out and say, ‘You have lost your moral justification. You retain your legal justification, but you have lost your moral justification, and we refuse, therefore, to accept the basis on which you are trying to order our lives. It is without merit.’
“If the chief medical and scientific advisors say, ‘There is no evidence for the political decisions we’ve made, the basis on which we have founded our decisions doesn’t exist,’ you’d be irresponsible if you didn’t challenge it and refuse to accept it. What are we, lemmings? We would have no integrity if we accepted that nonsense.”
Ashenden sees the origins and effects of the restriction of religious liberties in this country as metaphysically evil, though he holds that the politicians implementing them do not understand the gravity of their actions and are merely misguided.
He does not believe that the government has actively intended to persecute Christians, but rather thinks that a convergence of opportunities between different agencies led to the current policy decisions. The government has negatively affected religious liberties as an unintended, collateral, consequence of these policy decisions that were well-intentioned but poorly conceived.
He added: “I think as Christians we have to do more than read the situation through historical and political eyes, I think we are entitled to read it through spiritual and metaphysical eyes. And what that means is that when you find a cultural or political force setting out deliberately to attack Christianity and Christian worship, then you say to yourself, ‘This has an evil provenance.’
“The people may not be evil. The people may be misguided, they may be pawns, that would go perfectly well along with the metaphysical understanding of the relationship between evil and human beings.
“I don’t think they do know what they’re doing. Insofar as there is responsibility, I want to trace it back to metaphysical roots, but I think if one speaks politically, in terms of human agency, I’m sure that it’s incompetence.
“I’m quite sure that most of the people making choices in government are simply utterly, woefully and reprehensibly ignorant, and there’s another reason why we have to speak out and try to educate them and say: ‘Look, we are not ignorant, we are not narrow-minded, we are not prejudiced, we are not bigots, we’re actually relatively well-informed representatives of the very culture that gave you the privileges you most enjoy. And, as a result, you have a duty to listen to us.’”
Ashenden believes that the stakes are very high, and that if things continue in their current trajectory in this country, Christians could find themselves in life or death situations, just as believers here found themselves in past centuries, and just as Christians in the 20th century found themselves in the Soviet Union, when confronted with a state that was actively hostile to their faith.
He concludes: “In an increasingly fluid situation, where the church is coming under more and more destructive pressure, every Christian ought to say to the Lord, ‘What would you like me to do in this situation?’, and I want to recognise that some Christians will find that their role is quiet and passive and prayerful and anonymous. Other Christians on the other end of the scale may find themselves called to martyrdom.
“One of the things that has become clearer to me is that whilst this virus is obviously a morally neutral biological phenomenon, it has become the instrument for evil, if evil is expressed in terms of attacks on the worship of Christ and the integrity and the conscience of Christians as disciples of Christ. And that’s certainly the situation we are facing now.”
If someone had said 20 years ago that Christians in this country, which prides itself on its religious freedoms, would soon have to gather in secret for fear of being arrested or charged with ruinous fines, they would not have been believed. In deciding on this legal action, the courts have the opportunity to avert this crisis, shun the path taken by the Marxist tyrannies of the past, and bring this country back in step with hard-won, centuries-old traditions of liberty.