Sunday 14 October 2012

English patriotism and Christianity


I am, of course, a English patriot of the Tolkien type - I mean I am this among other things, and to an important extent, but certainly not as the bottom line.

Not least because the England to which I am patriotic is both selective and mostly-historical - a lineage and family compounded of actualities and hopes; so I am patriotic to something which is mostly a kind of ideal rather than a matter of everyday experience.

Nonetheless, it is an effective and everyday reality; a motivating factor - albeit that it amounts to fighting the long defeat (as, indeed, applies to all worldly things).

Yet on the other hand it is real in eternity; nothing good on earth, in our lives, is forgotten or lost - nothing at all; and all good things about Englishness will be a part of the New Jerusalem albeit in unimaginable ways. 


Anyway, from this perspective of Englishness, I notice that Christianity has various harmonies and tensions.

One of the greatest happinesses of traditional mainstream Anglicanism (now all-but extinct) - based on the Book of Common Prayer and the Authorized Version of the Bible - was and is that it has such potency for an Englishman, in England; such that for whole minutes at a time I (and presumably some others) can feel perfectly at home in the world, and spiritually linked with ancestors who were Christians and Englishmen.


This seems to be much less the case for Roman Catholics, since that denomination was on the losing side in the English Reformation, and for various reasons (good and bad - mostly bad) absorbed a good deal of anti-English sentiment from its early alliances with foreign Kings and the later fact that most of its English priests were Irish.

So an English Patriotic Catholic like Tolkien would feel most comfortable looking back several hundred years at least, to the time when England was Catholic, and a Catholic could easily be an English Patriot.


The evangelical Protestant (and Nonconformist) side of Christianity is also, I think, somewhat uncomfortable with English patriotism. Not least because of the oppositional sense of rejecting the Established Church, the BCP liturgy, and the fact that most English evangelicals do not use the 'King James' (AV) Bible.

Modern English evangelicals are engaged in the task of trying to convert a population who are almost completely ignorant of Christianity, even more ignorant of Anglicanism; and I think they find it hopeless to try and use 16th century prose to cross this gulf.


Yet, there is a pretty strong movement among some American evangelicals to regard the King James Bible as the proper, authoritative English language Bible because the only translation which was divinely inspired, and to use it with just the absolute minimum of convenient 'updating' (The New King James Bible). This is, I believe, true.

Clarity and ease of usage are good reasons for evangelicals to use modern translations; a bad reason to reject the KJB is on the grounds of modern Biblical scholarship. Supposed 'errors' in the AV are either trivial or else are not defects at all - at any rate they did not prevent many past generations of Englishmen from being much better Christians than anyone alive now (with all the supposed-benefits of modern Biblical scholarship).


Yet, Anglican evangelicals are, I think, among the most patriotic of English nowadays - a patriotism based on respect for the Queen and the ideals of the early Church of England, including the Thirty-Nine Articles.

Despite that they are rightly appalled at modern England, despite using a stripped-down version of the BCP liturgy, and in modern language, and modern worship songs, and recent Bible translations -- there is, or can be, a sincere and motivating patriotism at work among Anglican evangelicals.

Indeed, patriotism is a significant part of what keep them Anglicans - since there are many and very powerful reasons for an evangelical to leave the Church of England.


But what of Anglican liberals? Well, they are among the most anti-patriotic people in the whole world. They embrace Englishness only to the extent of subverting it by mockery and blasphemy; or else they cynically exploit it for other, extra-Christian, secular ends (such as a love of dressing-up, old architecture, elaborate ritual, choral singing, church gossip etc).

Liberal Anglican's major activities are all in tendency (and usually in motivation) anti-English, pro-non-English: African aid, Fairtrade products, the 'peace movement' (i.e. the surrender movement), social justice/ equality (= replacing voluntary and participative Christian charity with state bureaucracies supported by open-ended coercive extraction of taxes) and 'human rights' (= replacing voluntary and participative Christian charity with international bureaucracies supported by open-ended coercive extraction of taxes).

Anglican Liberals notice Englishness only as something wicked and ignorant that needs changing, and they distance themselves from the past as a thing unenlightened, intrinsically evil and stupid. Patriotism is seen as at best a mushy sentimentalism; but more likely a rationale for thuggery, manipulation, patriarchal oppression and economic exploitation. 


So, to be a patriotic Englishman and a Christian is not all that easy; but may still be possible - but for many Christians in particular denominations and churches, their religion may tend to pull them away from their patriotism.

This is deeply regrettable, and it is indeed a sign of the times that this should be so - that people must choose between cherished values and cannot combine them, and must therefore (of course) choose Christianity even when it goes against other things which are spontaneously and rightly important.

That is the importance of ideals outwith institutions, of an historical perspective; and of an understanding that these things may be both real and effective. The dead are not dead and gone neither the people nor the institutions are dead and gone but have (in different ways) permanent immaterial effects on us today.


I am haunted by the greatness of the past - times when Englishness and Christianity were naturally coherent and synergistic.

Somehow or another, and variously, these hauntings are real and valid and potentially available to those who wish to attune with them; and if they were good then, their influence now will be good.

Such harmonies and resonances will become increasingly important as Christianity become more fragmented and Christians more isolated, and the modern Christian life becomes a stripped-down and partial and feeble thing, by comparison with what once was.



AlexT said...

"I am haunted by the greatness of the past - times when Englishness and Christianity were naturally coherent and synergistic."
I think a lot of people feel this way about their countries. It is hard to reconcile what is with what used to be. I fall into despair any time i seriously consider what was lost between 1917 and 1945. This is what Tolkien would call a 'wolf age'.

Les Beery said...

I have been listening to an audio version of the King James Bible this year. I have found that the New Testament is much more comprehensible to my ear than the O.T. All in all, I have been pleased with the poetic and even archaic sound of the translation. I wonder what you think of The Message Bible - it's very earthy and up-to-date.

Bruce Charlton said...

@LB - I do't know the Message Bible, but my 10yr old daughter has a (jokey) Bible paraphrase called The Word On The Street; but she often reads the AV once she has looked at the paraphrase.

I have copies of the New International version (a line by line paraphrase) and the ESV (word by word) to help understand difficult passages; also an Orthodox Study Bible to get the Septuagint-derived context...