Monday, 30 March 2015

Abraham and Isaac: Benjamin Britten

Canticle II by Benjamin Britten: Abraham and Isaac - a setting of texts from the Chester Mystery Plays:

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The bias of our broadcasters - the BBC - again

My apologies for yet another post about the BBC, but as one who has very fond childhood and teenage memories of BBC radio particularly (television was another story, but mainly because we lived in the middle of a wood underneath a mountain: television pictures resembled at best a blizzard and at worst an alpine white-out) the Corporation's departure from anything approaching balance, much less impartiality, on so many issues, is becoming now not so much a national scandal as a threat to liberty itself.
Those of us who might be called moderately socially conservative, traditionalist in religion without falling into the profoundly unorthodox trap of fundamentalism, and who are politically on the socially responsible, somewhat 'Cobbettian,' right, have experienced to our cost this barely hidden BBC agenda with its relentless promotion of issues such as women's ordination and same-sex 'marriage,' and a general and deeply embedded institutional bias to the adolescently 'transgressive' and destructive in cultural terms and to the unthinkingly 'liberal- left' in politics.
The latest 'progressive' causes to be promoted include the uncritical acceptance of highly controversial interpretations of those curiously related threats to individual freedom - indeed, freedom of thought itself - 'homophobia' and 'islamophobia,' not to mention an increasing evident editorial line in favour of those pressing, often in highly emotive, selective and misleading terms, for the legalisation of assisted suicide. At times, it seems there is no part of the 'Judeo-Christian' heritage which the programme makers and news editors of the BBC do not seek to undermine and discredit.
The BBC has a very proud past, and many and diverse achievements to its credit, but there has been for some time evidence of an ever growing tendency to use its editorial judgement, not only to report events, but to influence and manipulate them. That this 'Guardianisation,' as it has been described, is funded, in effect compulsorily out of taxation, by the licence-payer, should be a matter of deep concern to all who value free debate and access to a wide range of opinion and balanced information. 
There are those, of course, who would wish to destroy the BBC in favour of a rampant, populist commercialism in broadcasting which would be, if anything, even worse than the existing situation. However, unless the BBC shows a willingness even to recognise that a problem exists, and to begin to set its own house in order, for the greater good of our national cultural and political life, that would seem to be the almost inevitable outcome.
This is Andrew Bridgen M.P., writing in The Telegraph [here]:
"...The BBC has a budget more than double the size of the Foreign Office – and is an empire of an organisation. I believe serious questions must be put to the BBC at Charter Renewal about their agenda and their transparency.This must be done without fear of its monolithic PR machine, which wields so much power. “Auntie”, as she was once affectionately known, is no longer with us. Instead we are faced with one of the last vestiges of corporatism, a leviathan that seeks to change our national culture and which holds even our highest elected representatives in contempt. The BBC has shown it is willing to ride roughshod over our democratic processes, so it must be tackled..."

Monday, 16 March 2015

Politics without vision - and a defence of trees

With the British General Election looming, before early May we will be hard pressed not to be overwhelmed (or should we say underwhelmed?)  with the sight and sound of our politicians disagreeing about inessentials. Perhaps our disillusionment stems from the fact that managerialism lacks any vision with which to captivate, inspire and enthuse..
More and more one sympathises with these words of G.K. Chesterton: 
“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected. Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition. Thus we have two great types -- the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins. He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine. Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob. This is called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.”  
Chesterton was right about many things, including the startling absence of real conservatives  - that is, those who believe there may be anything really worthy of conserving - for its own sake rather than for its monetary value or its utility for the modern economy; and those who now call themselves 'socialists' are first in line to promote the atomisation and infantilisation of civil society into ever smaller, warring interest groups, ever more dependent upon the State to the detriment of family and community.
How far this lack of true vision and the resulting apathy about civic life, particularly among the young, are connected with the decline of the Christian ethic in our western societies is open to debate, but we should take to heart these words from one who has a strong claim to be the greatest theological thinker of our day: 
"...This country’s Parliamentary tradition owes much to the national instinct for moderation, to the desire to achieve a genuine balance between the legitimate claims of government and the rights of those subject to it. While decisive steps have been taken at several points in your history to place limits on the exercise of power, the nation’s political institutions have been able to evolve with a remarkable degree of stability. In the process, Britain has emerged as a pluralist democracy which places great value on freedom of speech, freedom of political affiliation and respect for the rule of law, with a strong sense of the individual’s rights and duties, and of the equality of all citizens before the law. While couched in different language, Catholic social teaching has much in common with this approach, in its overriding concern to safeguard the unique dignity of every human person, created in the image and likeness of God, and in its emphasis on the duty of civil authority to foster the common good. And yet the fundamental questions at stake in Thomas More’s trial continue to present themselves in ever-changing terms as new social conditions emerge. Each generation, as it seeks to advance the common good, must ask anew: what are the requirements that governments may reasonably impose upon citizens, and how far do they extend? By appeal to what authority can moral dilemmas be resolved? These questions take us directly to the ethical foundations of civil discourse. If the moral principles underpinning the democratic process are themselves determined by nothing more solid than social consensus, then the fragility of the process becomes all too evident - herein lies the real challenge for democracy  
The inadequacy of pragmatic, short-term solutions to complex social and ethical problems has been illustrated all too clearly by the recent global financial crisis. There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world. Just as “every economic decision has a moral consequence” (Caritas in Veritate, 37), so too in the political field, the ethical dimension of policy has far-reaching consequences that no government can afford to ignore..."  Pope Benedict XVI: 2010 Westminster Hall address.
And a word in support of something more enduring than contemporary politics - a defence of trees, firstly and briefly from Peter Hitchens and, secondly, a longer passage from the naturalist and conservationist, Roger Deakin:
"What is the reason for our hatred of trees? Local councils love nothing better than murdering lovely old trees in case they fall down all of a sudden.I now see that the French government plans to massacre thousands of roadside trees because cars often collide with them.
I assume this is because the trees get drunk, rush out into the traffic and steer themselves into the cars." [here]
"....To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost. Merlin sends the future King Arthur as a boy into the greenwood to fend for himself in The Sword in the Stone. There, he falls asleep and dreams himself, like a chameleon, into the lives of the animals and the trees. In As You Like It, the banished Duke Senior goes to live in the Forest of Arden like Robin Hood, and in Midsummer Night’s Dream the magical metamorphosis of the lovers takes place in a wood ‘outside Athens’ that is quite obviously an English wood, full of the faeries and Robin Goodfellows of our folklore.
....Human begins depend on trees quite as much as on rivers and the sea. Our intimate relationship with trees is physical as well as cultural and spiritual: literally an exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen. Once inside a wood, you walk on something very like the seabed, looking up at the canopy of leaves as if it were the surface of the water, filtering the descending shafts of sunlight and dappling everything. Woods have their own rich ecology, and their own people, woodlanders, living and working in and around them. A tree itself is a river of sap: through roots that wave about underwater like sea anemones, the willow pollard at one end of the moat where I swim in Suffolk draws gallons of water into the leaf-tips of its topmost branches every day; released as vapour into the summer air, this water then rises invisibly to join the clouds, and the falling raindrops ripple out into every tree ring."   
Roger Deakin 'Wildwood' 

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Pilgrimage to Santiago: John Eliot Gardiner

The Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner, sing music from Spain's golden age ..

Friday, 13 March 2015

Where unimaginable inclusivity meets crass stupidity

Here's a silly story about a clergyman who - with the best possible motives, naturally - thinks it is a jolly good idea to allow Muslim prayer in his parish church. [here] Why? Is there a startling absence of mosques or community centres in modern Britain? 
Now, 'Inclusive Mosque' - although it sounds like something dreamt up by Private Eye or Eccles is Saved - may well be a good idea in the global context of violent jihadism, the oppression of women in many parts of the Islamic world and the radicalisation of muslim youth closer to home, but it's difficult to work out just how that is the business of the Church of England.
However, while it's good to see that the Wodehousian tradition of the joke vicar is still alive and simpering, Fr Alexander Luce-Smith at the Catholic Herald explains why Islamic worship in Christian buildings might not be such a good idea after all:
"....The vicar who hosted the Muslim prayers in his church and who took part in them, is reported as saying the following: “It is the same God, we share a tradition.” This is perhaps the most worrying thing of all, and it is something that I have heard on the lips of Catholics too. It is simply not true, and to suggest that it is is misleading, to say the least. Islam’s concept of God and of revelation is radically different to the Catholic concept of either. Moreover, our tradition and their tradition, our culture and theirs, are radically (that is to say from the root up) different. In art, in literature, in law, in cookery, in domestic life, their path is markedly different from our own. The vicar’s words do no one any favours. Moreover, the vicar seems to have forgotten the central mystery of the Christain faith, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity, a mystery that penetrates all aspects of faith and life, or should.
Christians who take this, or a similar view, on the closeness of Islamic and Christian traditions, know nothing about Islam, but, shockingly, seem to know nothing about their own Christian tradition either. "  [here]
Neither know nor care, in fact ...

And another silly episode, involving overpaid media folk and an an alleged punch-up over the absence of refreshments at the end of a gruelling day's filming [here]. But, love him or loathe him (or even a strange combination of both) Jeremy Clarkson has an uncanny ability to expose the fault-lines in contemporary British society. It's General Election year, so the politicians also are prompted to give their two penn'orth about something they think might interest the plebs ..... [all kinds of comment from politicos and others here and here] - it's far easier for them, one supposes, than giving a lead about the things which really matter.

And, on an altogether different note, if not wholly uncontroversial, an essay [here] about the wider significance of the books of Rosemary Sutcliff, an author I loved as a child:
"It is this spirit of service, this dedication to a higher principle that we need to find again if our civilization is to survive. We need to rediscover a scale of values, and reconnect with the depth and richness of our religious, intellectual, cultural and political patrimony. The West has little to be ashamed of, and much of which to be proud. Self-doubt leads to self-hate, and self-hate, however subtly justified and disguised, is only a short step towards self-abasement.
This no time for self-abasement. Quite the reverse. We are called instead towards a declaration of faith in everything we believe in, stand for and hold dear, everything good, beautiful, and true, in the face of encroaching darkness from within and without."
And from Sutcliff herself:
"... The shutter banged again, and somewhere in the distance I heard a smothered burst of laughter. I said, ‘Then why don’t we yield now, and make an end? There would be fewer cities burned and fewer men slain that way. Why do we go on fighting? Why not merely lie down and let it come? They say it is easier to drown if you don’t struggle.’
‘For an idea,’ Ambrosius said, beginning again to play with the dragon arm ring, but his eyes were smiling in the firelight, and I think that mine smiled back at him. ‘Just for an idea, for a dream.’
I said, ‘A dream may be the best thing to die for.’ ..."

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The debate we are not allowed to have ...

The last time a prominent figure tried to start this debate, it was immediately closed down by a combination of intellectual dishonesty, coordinated acts of violence and threats of intimidation throughout the Islamic world, and the usual liberal cowardice in the West. To say the least, that was unfortunate because it represents an important theological problem which has, shall we say,  practical implications for all of us. 
There are, of course, differing views as to whether Islam's theology of divine transcendence (and its consequences for civil society) is such as to make impossible peaceful coexistence with those other faiths or none on a basis of equality: however, it would be good to be able to discuss them openly and frankly.

This is Fr George Rutler's latest letter in which he sets out the issues with his usual clarity:  
"Saint Paul knew from personal experience how difficult it would be for people of various cultures to understand why Jesus had to be crucified. For the more religiously disposed, whose most inspired matrix of belief was Judaism, the very suggestion of a crucified Messiah would be a scandal, while the more theoretical thinkers, none of whom were greater than the Greek philosophers, simply mocked the proposition.  
   Centuries later when the Koran was written, subtleties were abandoned altogether, and Sura 4 plainly says of Jesus: “They slew him not nor crucified him.” The hard trials that our world is facing right now can, in large part, be traced to this denial of the Cross and Resurrection, for it replaces Christ’s atonement for human sin with a primitive understanding of salvation.  
   Exactly 229 years ago this month, when the Barbary pirates were menacing ships of the newborn United States off the coasts of Tunis and Algiers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met in London with a Muslim diplomat representing the Dey of Algiers to inquire why his religion made his people so hostile to a new country that posed them no threat. They reported to Congress through a letter to John Jay, then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the ambassador’s explanation that:
"Islam was founded on the Laws of their prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to paradise." 
Islam believes that Jesus was raised bodily to heaven and will return to earth at the end of time. It holds that if Jesus had been crucified, he would have died, and that would have been his end. The consequences of not understanding God’s love, crowned and enthroned albeit with thorns on a cross, are vivid now in the horrors being inflicted on Christians in many places. For if God is pure will without reason, whose mercy is gratuitous and has nothing to do with any sort of moral covenant with the human race, then irrational force in his name is licit, and conscience has no role in faith. This is not the eccentric interpretation of extremists; it is the logical conclusion of the assertions in the Koran itself.  
   The true Word of God confounds any crude dismissal of the crucifixion as though it were a denial, and not a proof of divine power. Jesus spoke of himself as the true Temple that, if destroyed, would be raised in three days. “Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken” (John 2:22). "        

Friday, 6 March 2015

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Today's Welsh SSC Synod was saved from (an understandable) introspection and temptation to despair at our current predicament by an inspiring address at Mass by Bishop Lindsay Urwin, our Episcopal Visitor.

But a question does arise in relation to the plight of the orthodox 'original integrity'   in Anglican provinces such as Wales, where alternative episcopal oversight has been repeatedly denied and solemn promises and pious assurances have been repeatedly broken. At what point does it become a matter of necessary self-preservation for those in other, larger, nearby provinces to come to the assistance - in whatever way possible - of those so shamefully treated? 
Of course, for Catholics remaining in the Church of England, Wales, despite its proximity,  is a very small side-show indeed (why try to reverse the last 800 years of history?) Moreover, the Church of England, and the catholic integrity with in it, is also living through a period of great uncertainty and political sensitivity, where the future of the Catholic Movement is at least partly dependent upon the goodwill of its opponents. 'Don't rock the boat' may well be a very sensible temporary stratagem, and cross-provincial disputes with irate and over-sensitive Celtic prelates may prove disastrously counter-productive the way things are at present.
We are very grateful indeed for the prayers and encouragement of so many of our brethren across the border and for the hospitality and understanding we have received there.

But at some point the realisation may dawn that if a significant tradition within historic Anglicanism can be so ruthlessly bulldozed out of existence in the Province of Wales by the ruling liberal caliphate - no that's unfair, let's go with 'self-perpetuating oligarchy with one-party state tendencies and a disdainful aversion to differing or critical voices' (rather like its counterpart across the Pond, it's more a kind of crazily liberal* ecclesiastical version of 'Putinism' than anything approaching ISIL,)  a similar fate may sooner or later await the heirs of the Oxford Movement in the Provinces of Canterbury and York.
"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out...."

* One is tempted to suggest that, like the previous great 'consultation' in the province, conclusions have been drawn and decisions made long before any meetings have been held.

Blogging has been difficult of late. Losing all three of our surviving parents in a period of six months has meant priorities have inevitably lain elsewhere.
'Back on the horse,' though, as they say ...