—by John Stephenson
There’ll always be an England—won’t there? Dame Vera Lynn, the “Forces’ sweetheart,” is famous for assuring her fellow countrymen, in the darkest days of World War II, of their nation’s survival of the deadly threat posed by Nazi Germany. The memorable refrain of Dame Vera’s song was uttered most emphatically as an assertion, not as a question. View "There'll always be an England" on You Tube
As a bald topographical assertion, the title of Dame Vera’s trademark song will likely remain an incontestable statement till the Last Day dawns. But as she toiled under George VI and Churchill to rally the British nation in the aftermath of the evacuation of Dunkirk, Dame Vera—who is still alive at the grand old age of 94—was patently dealing in the genre of civilization, not geography, when she sang “There’ll always be an England” with such superb defiance into the Führer’s face.
Remarkably, although he saw himself as a buttress supporting the Church from outside rather than a pillar propping her up from within, in his famous “Finest Hour” radio address delivered shortly after he took over as Prime Minister, the agnostic Winston Churchill declared that “Upon this [just starting] battle [of Britain] depends the survival of Christian civilization.”
Secularization, using as its tools such characteristically twentieth-century phenomena as Communism, Nazism, Fascism, and—especially during the half century of unprecedented prosperity that followed the Second World War—good old utilitarian hedonism, has done its work so thoroughly across the ocean that we must wonder how, in a book published in 1920, Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) could seriously state, “The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith.” For by the turn of the third millennium the European Union would define its cultural origins in terms of ancient pagan Greece and Rome, on the one hand, and of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment on the other, resolutely omitting all mention of Christianity in this context, despite persistent prodding from the papacy to do this very thing.
Considered in the wider context of long-term cultural trends, the three nights of rioting, looting, and arson that broke out in London on 6 August 2011 and began to spread to other major English cities, where they continued into a fourth night of disturbances, justify our placing a sombre question mark behind Dame Vera’s song. Will there in fact always be an England, if by this proper noun we understand the Christian civilization that was planted in Roman times already, that overcame the shock of Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasion, and that endured in large measure into the middle of the last century? Humanly speaking, the answer to this rhetorical question can only be a trembling No.
Over the years I have dimly remembered reading somewhere in Hermann Sasse the claim that no Christian nation has survived after turning its back on Christ. Try as I might, I have been unable to locate such a crisp statement anywhere in Sasse’s writings. The closest I have come has been to a lengthy essay of 1932, penned in the shadow of the imminent Nazi takeover. As he dealt with “The People” (das Volk) in “Vom Sinn des Staates” (= On the Meaning of the State), Sasse argued that “peoples” arise on the face of the earth in response to a call from God:
The Christian faith maintains that what makes a people a people is the call of God who, in the ups and downs [Schicksale] of history, calls men, families, races [Geschlechter], and tribes into the community of a specific people [Volkstum] (In Statu Confessionis II: 346f.).
Sasse concluded this section of his 1932 essay by speaking of the “death sentence” in store for all nations who turn a deaf ear to the divine call that once forged their existence—“where this call is no longer heard by anyone in a people, where no one any longer has a clue about the connection between God and people, there people and their distinctive characteristics [Volk und Volkstum] perish” (ISC II: 348). Sasse’s bold testimony against the Third Reich (he was one of the only German Lutherans to join Pius XI in calling a spade a spade with respect to Nazism) might fitly be (a) Christologically sharpened and (b) applied to the current state of Europe in general and Britain in particular (bearing in mind that Canada and the US do not lag so far behind old Europe!).
Is it not significant that “England” emerged as a single conceptual entity only simultaneously with Bede’s account of its definitive Christianization in his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation? Until well into the twentieth century one could distinguish between, but not separate, the English nation and Church from each other. This statement holds good for English history throughout the confessional upheavals that produced Anglicanism, “English Dissent” (=Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists), and Methodism. By the nineteenth century Roman Catholicism was able once again to take a modest place in English public life. In this wide context English (and British) public culture was confessionally pluriform indeed, but distinctly Christian nonetheless.
To cut a long story short, the 1960s and their after-effects have changed all of that, overturning the heritage of almost two millennia. Anyone who wishes to understand the “anti-cultural revolution” that has marked the ensuing decades is advised to peruse with care the essays of the retired English physician who writes under the nom de plume of Theodore Dalrymple. His Our Culture: What’s Left of It is a particularly eye-opening piece of work.
As they issued a judgment effectively barring a devoutly Christian middle-aged black couple from fostering children (they would teach the sixth commandment, after all, and we couldn’t have that, could we?), on 28 February of this year two High Court judges issued a lengthy ruling that contained the following stunning sentence: “But the laws and usages of the realm do not include Christianity, in whatever form.” http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2011/375.html
The learned gentlemen might have done well to cast a glance at the Coronation Service, at whose last observance, in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II responded in the affirmative to Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher’s question, “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?” See http://oremus.org/liturgy/coronation/cor1953b.html
Moreover, they might have considered how the 1944 Education Act, which still remains on the statute book, lays down that each State-funded school must begin each day with a “broadly Christian” act of public worship. This provision having fallen into abeyance in recent years, it can no longer count on much public support, especially among the younger generation. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8743072/Most-schools-shunning-law-on-Christian-assemblies.html
And they might have done well to reflect that England and Scotland each still have “churches established by law,” a fact indicating that “the laws and usages of the realm do include Christianity,” in many and various ways!
It would be hard, indeed almost impossible, to exaggerate the collapse of Christian religious practice among all confessions in England in particular and in the UK in general over recent decades. The old parish system, which predated the Reformation, is everywhere in a state of collapse and, with very few exceptions, doctrinal substance has been diluted beyond recognition. Pagan generations have therefore grown up on formerly Christian territory, a facile utilitarianism their only spiritual armour, unbridled hedonism their only pursuit. The UK now “boasts” an abortion rate of 200,000 slaughtered infants per annum (189, 574 in 2010, to be precise). Following the ways of the ancient Canaanites and of the Israelites who joined their bandwagon can only result in Britain’s sharing their ineluctable fate. Which preachers in the British Isles are currently pointing out these sorry facts to their benighted compatriots?
The recent disturbances in London and other major cities took place against the dual background of the realm’s slipping into a spiritual dark age of secularization and of its succumbing to tidal waves of Islamization. In earlier ages Islamist aggressors ran into stout resistance from such rulers as Charles Martel, Charles V, and Jan Sobieski. This time around, though, they can only prevail against the effete ruling elite in the manner of knives slicing through hot butter.
North Americans do not have the luxury of beholding the cultural collapse of Europe in general and England in particular from the safe distance of a secure haven. Weakened by runaway debt and sinking under the costs of a decade of war, the US economy is tottering close to the abyss into which the Eurozone has plunged. Moreover, Christian religious practice has taken a nosedive on this continent also, not only in Canada, which has followed European patterns for some time already, but also in the US. Here in Canada the ruling elites increasingly enforce a “soft” totalitarianism of secularist utilitarianism—the final volume of novelist Michael O’Brien’s Canadian trilogy seems not so sensational to a soberly realistic analyst of the times. Marriage no longer exists as such, and the lives of the weakest in society have less and less status in public law—babies have none, and the rights of the old and the sick are increasingly precarious. Let’s not forget how “Dr” Morgenthaler, the “father” of abortion provision in this country, received in succession an honorary doctorate from the University of Western Ontario and the Order of Canada from our last Governor General. It seems that Hitler lost one war only to change shape and win another.
Thinking with Sasse, we might picture the US as called into being by the voice of God through the events of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, forming a religiously and confessionally pluriform society, but coming together nevertheless as a preponderantly Christian nation. As it relegated the native peoples to the margins and contended with the tensions between the French and the English, Canada’s call to nationhood was likewise confessionally pluriform, and yet came together into an overwhelmingly Christian nation, where many native Canadians freely embraced the Gospel and where Jews have rightly enjoyed security and felt at home. But can the US and Canada endure in, with, under, and after breaking their bonds of allegiance to Christ the King? I very much doubt it.
It remains to be seen how the British Government and society will deal with the aftermath of the London riots, which are but the tip of an immense iceberg of social decay that has formed in tandem with the radical dechristianization of England and the other nations of the British Isles. But the ruling elites of all the major parties could not possibly put the 1960s into reverse gear—God the Holy Trinity, the Decalogue, and Christian dogma are definitively out: just ask the judges of the High Court.
At all events, though, there will only be an England in Dame Vera’s sense of the word if the land returns to the obedience and gentle rule of Christ the King. May it please God, using the clergymen of whichever confession He pleases, to grant a mighty revival of English Christendom at this time through a prolonged and resounding proclamation of His Word that must begin with the boldest imaginable call to repentance. Oremus pro Anglia—Let us pray for England.