Friday, 23 October 2009

An unedifying spectacle

Like most of the British nation, I was glued to the television last night to see the first appearance on a nationwide political discussion programme of the leader of the extreme rightwing British National Party. Undoubtedly, the BBC was right to go ahead with the broadcast: the right to freedom of speech in a representative democracy shouldn’t be qualified unless statements are made which are deliberately calculated to instigate physical violence towards others. Open and honest debate is always the best way to expose nasty untruths of all kinds.
Fortunately for all of us, Nick Griffin came across – when he was allowed to speak at any length - as wholly unconvincing, shifty and somewhat inarticulate, quite unable to explain or defend his former thuggish behaviour or his pro- Nazi sentiments when challenged about them by the other panellists or the audience itself. (Including an extraordinary comment about his past relationship with the leader of an “almost entirely non-violent” branch of the Ku Klux Klan – presumably, burning crosses in the front yard but no lynchings!)

However, no one in this debate distinguished themselves in what came over as a “lightweight bear-baiting contest”, as one commentator has described it. The whole spectacle left me feeling doubly uneasy; firstly that our political class couldn’t come up with a better defence of traditional freedoms and our long culture of civilised discourse than was offered on television last night; and also that language about the preservation of traditional Christian values has tragically become the sole prerogative of a group of far right extremists with a neo-Nazi past.
In a country which now prides itself on its pluralism, most mainstream politicians, even if they are practising Christians, shy away from all references to faith, and its vital connection to our cultural and social heritage, for fear of somehow appearing to exclude those of other faiths and none. So they collude in what is effectively the rewriting of history and the collective amnesia which seems to have our society in its grip. Multiculturalism (and, demographically, if for no other reason, Britain now has no choice but to pursue a form of it) can only succeed if one culture and one accepted set of traditions and values, without discriminating against minorities, can nevertheless be regarded as, in effect, the senior partner. Relativistic secularism, the rejection of any common set of core values beyond the merely material, can offer no convincing defence against the enemies of freedom, from whatever quarter they come, whether they are the nationalist thugs of the B.N.P., fanatical islamicists, or the increasingly repressive and self-appointed thought police of the politically correct liberal bourgeoisie.


The Church herself is the multi-ethnic society par excellence; she is truly universal, blind both to colour and social background, transcending national borders and cultural boundaries. One of the many services the Oxford Movement performed for the Church of England is that it restored for a while this vision of the Church as being far more than the English people at prayer, and gave to her a revived vision of universality both in the horizontal and vertical dimension. The Catholic Revival made it impossible to ignore that the Church was wider and broader and deeper than “this realm of England” and that what we see here on earth is only a pale reflection of the reality of the Church in heaven. The Tractarians and their successors would have nothing to do with the narrow, prosaic, one dimensional vision of the Church as a department of state, existing to give a religious expression to society’s prevailing fashions and prejudices.
The modern post-war revival of religious "liberalism" has turned the clock back in this respect and, within the Anglican provinces of the western world, has largely succeeded in reinventing itself (as Edward Norman has described it) as “the ethicising handmaiden of the aspirations of secular Humanism.” But the Church is bigger than the contemporary Anglican expression of it, and we have to thank God that there is a still a place where “the traditional understanding of the universality of the Church survives intact.”

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