Bishops to mend a broken Britain?

Those misfiring bishops!  I want to believe I am being too harsh.

Assuredly the nation is in fine spiritual health, in spite of all we have heard and seen on the streets, for the bishops of the Church of England have stayed silent on spiritual matters and now they have spoken, they have addressed Brexit instead.  We must assume that there is no need for their input in spiritual matters, or they would surely have made that a priority.

The open letter from 25 diocesan bishops published this week begins on the issue of a No-Deal Brexit, which they assert (against the prevailing evidence) will have a “massive impact” on the poorest (with not a word for the entrepreneurs).  It is not certain whether they mean “no withdrawal agreement”, which is the immediate political issue, or “no free trade agreement”, or whether all those who signed appreciate the distinction between the two. The admonition in the letter is directed at the Government, which again is puzzling, because the government is trying to do a deal:  it would be better addressed to those who have pledged to oppose any deal which the government brings back from Brussels.

Is it any wonder that this studiously politically balanced letter comes out, to some eyes, as anything but that?

The main issue for the bishops, surely, is the second issue, thrown into the bullet points at the end, namely the quality of public discourse. That is a spiritual matter.

“Political polarisation and language that appears to sanction hate crime: the reframing of the language of political discourse is urgent”:  there no Brexiteer will differ for we have for the last three years been constantly insulted, shouted down, belittled, slandered, threatened and in some cases even been pursued by vexatious law-suits. Remainiacs have been targeted too where they have stepped beyond decent behaviour. That is a moral failing. They have not suffered anything like the relentless campaign suffered by even moderate Leave-voters.  Do the signatories mean the local, personal persecution of Leave voters equally with Remoaners, or are they just looking from a distance, without dirtying their hands, at depersonalised social media?

The worse threat is not electronic words but real-world confrontation. The face of screaming self-justified hatred is horrifying.

There is a spiritual sickness in the idea a man may conceive that his ideas and only his are valid and acceptable or intelligent, and all others are dehumanised crud.  Bishops are right to address this. That is their proper role. Regrettably, some of their number (not necessarily those who signed the letter, though certainly one of them) have fallen victim to the malady themselves.

“The ease with which lies can be told and misrepresentation encouraged: leaders must be honest about the costs of political choices, especially for those most vulnerable.”  You should not argue in favour of lies and misrepresentations, but then it is yoked to honesty about the costs of political choices, which in the context of the no-deal Brexit concerns is zinged at the current Cabinet. Is that wise? The belters in this post-referendum period have emerged from the LibDem machine. They deserve at least a mention.

Are the signatory bishops then accusing Boris Johnson of lying in this matter?  He has a history in his personal and professional lives of exaggerating, through his teeth on occasion, but in this context there is no falsity, only interpretation.  It is a moral failing to lie; it is also a moral failing to accuse others unjustly of lying.

There follow platitudes.  This is as expected.  I am though puzzled by the last: “Attention must be paid not only to the Union, but also to the meaning of Englishness”.  The meaning of Englishness is a mystery to me.  It ceased to have a meaning centuries ago as the nation discovered its completeness as we became Britons.  The Church of England is left alone caring for a snippet of the wider nation.  Once the church had a worldwide vision, now too localised.  Perhaps a world-spanning vision from a Brexit born through such unexpected struggle.

In this then we have a letter which is right in its words but wrong somehow in its conception or giving the impression of being so.

When at last we can get Brexit over the line, the vision of healing a fractured society for which the bishops plead may be able to take a step forward. Achieving that break must be a priority for the healing of the nation. Then churchmen and laymen can together work to diagnose the sickness and cast it out. We must bring the nation to its knees, in prayer.

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See how they run

When Parliament goes rogue, one must prorogue. It is very popular with the man in the street and only the political bubble has gone into meltdown. For all the storm-cloud warnings over threat to suspend Parliament, in fact it is losing only four sitting days (which Diane Abbott would tell you is almost two months). It is not exactly the Reichstag fire.

Possibly the outrage had been written in advance in the expectation of MPs being sent home for the rest of the year. That has not happened.

The Twitterstorms and inevitable ePetition filled by earnest LibDems, Momentum and their botnets are in overdrive.

The blue benches’ main Rebel Without a Clue has been spluttering in terms where I fear for his health, raving of unconstitutional action, to describe the prorogation procedure which is used every year to end a Parliamentary session: extending the session to nearly three years may have been unconstitutional, but finally ending the resulting zombie session cannot be.

We are assured by the angry folk that it is undemocratic to give MPs another four days off, but not undemocratic to stand for election on one manifesto promise and then use every parliamentary tactic and more to oppose that promise. It is unconstitutional finally to bring in the annual prorogation, but not unconstitutional for the House of Commons to usurp the executive.

Master Hobbes will be republishing here his vital definitions from the First Book of Leviathan (which we must be careful not to call his ‘metaphysics’) but we need a modern political dictionary, which I could begin with:

  • Unconstitutional: Resulting in something with which the commentator disagrees;
  • Undemocratic: ditto.

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Have I missed something…?

So, a gathering of opposition MPs in a coalition of chaos has agreed a course of action for when Parliament sits again after the summer recess. I cannot make sense of their decision though. They have declared:

  • They all oppose a ‘no-deal’ and say it would be disastrous, but they intend to vote against the deal.
  • In fact all the spokesmen say that they have consistently opposed ‘no-deal’, but all have consistently voted against a deal.
  • Now they say they will do anything to stop ‘no-deal’, apart apparently from voting for one.

Am I missing something?

Then when their position is threatened, we are assured:

  • It would be undemocratic for Parliament to be prorogued for longer than normal to stop their games,
  • But it is not undemocratic for MPs to launch a coup d’état justified by the government’s failure to achieve a deal, when that failure is only because those coup plotters voted it down.
  • It is also apparently highly principled for the plotters to conspire with foreign governments to ensure no acceptable deal can be agreed, so as to justify a coup.

I must be missing something.

Then there is their other idea, now mercifully squashed apparently, to get Jeremy Corbyn appointed as Prime Minister, in which case:

  • They say a ‘no-deal’ with the EU will be financially harmful (which is presumably why they have always voted no-deal), but
  • They know, presumably that a Marxist Jeremy Corbyn government would make the Great Depression look like a mere blip, but somehow this complete meltdown is better than a potential dip from tariffs appearing on our trade.
  • It would of course be a ‘temporary’ government – which would make it the only Marxist government in the history of the world ever to give up the reins of power voluntarily, but this does not seem to worry some of them.

Then we are told:

  • We are all going to die through food and medicines not coming in, apparently, but they have never explained why they think the government would want to block the ships coming anyway (unless these turbulent MPs are going to beg foreign governments to impose an embargo).
  • The European Union is a happy partnership of equals, but apparently one that wants to starve us into submission.
  • Brexit has to be cancelled because it has caused chaos, when all the chaos has come from those opposing it.

Whenever I hear that the public are frustrated at politicians being out of touch, I just look at this sort behaviour and agree many times over. They have not just lost touch with the nation, but with sanity, or any pretence of honesty. For this, a suspension of Parliament is not just justified but necessary, for the sake of the nation and sanity in the system.

Maybe when Britain has finally achieved the long-delayed exit from the European Union then the poison will have been drawn and some sense can descend on our broken system. If they are capable of such madness though on one subject what is lurking beneath when new topics arise.

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Quarrel of a dying empire poisoning modernity

The chasm between philosophies began in the dying days of Rome, and we have never escaped them, nor do we seem any closer to escaping them, as the same ideas reappear generation after generation, most pernicious in prosperous times.

I wrote before on The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes, and made passing mention of Augustine and Pelagius, whom Anthony Burgess made the architypes of the division, but who were they?

Pelagius was a preacher from Britain who taught in the late fourth and early fifth centuries; his name might originally have been ‘Morgan’ or similar, turned into Greek for the benefit of the Roman world. He has for sixteen centuries been condemned as a heretic. We know little of his writings, as it has come through the filter of his enemies.

Augustine of Hippo was one of the great doctors of the early church. Born in Hippo in North Africa, he studied in Carthage: his complex life is set out in his autobiographical Confessions, but he rose to be the most respected theologian of his time and is still highly regarded by all churches. In fact, even his non-theological writings pondering on such things as the nature of time, of sense, of the workings of the brain, were way ahead of their time, showing an intelligence working against the restraints of contemporary knowledge.

Pelagius who appeared to say that a man or woman may reach perfection on his own. It may be that he taught that perfection is reached by following rules – that is one version which comes down to us. It is most commonly related that he taught that man stripped of all else and in his own nature is good, and simply corrupted by society. Either one appears to render Christ’s sacrifice, and all his teaching, pointless. That latter conclusion is the point on which theological arguments hung, but the ideas behind it as as relevant today.

Augustine taught that man stripped of all else and in his own nature is sinful, evil, and to be redeemed of his original sin he must receive forgiveness from God, which is a free gift of grace, made possible by Christ’s sacrifice of himself. That is Protestant Christian doctrine in a nutshell.

Ultimately, Augustine triumphed, man’s animal nature was accepted as scripture sets out and Pelagius was declared a heretic. He disappears from the record about 410, when Alaric the Goth took Rome and Britain was lost to the Empire. Pelagian doctrines were popular – who does not want to be told that he is good really and someone else its to blame for his wickedness? However they were suppressed in the Empire. In the heretic’s native Britain though, newly ‘Brexited’ from the Roman Empire, Pelagianism flourished apparently until the mission of St Germanus which is obscured in hagiography and even Arthurian legend.

This is more than a dispute for ecclesiastical councils: the idea of man as perfectible has immense implications for public policy if it is believed. It is nonsense though: Augustine is right that man is inherently sinful, and that has its implications for shaping law and practice

A third wheel comes into this: the Sicilian Briton (whose name is not known). He wrote at the same time as Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius were disputing. Like Pelagian, the man was British and they may have met, both being in Sicily for a time. The Sicilian Briton wrote pamphlets claiming that the cause of poverty was inequality, and he concluded that “abolish the rich and you will find no more poor”. He had no idea of the dynamics of finance; that to share a cake, you cannot start by removing the baker and to fill the pockets of labourers you cannot remove their employers or the motive for their work. The “abolish the rich” idea is the most foolish and dangerous fallacy, and it was about as the Roman Empire was about to fall to the free-enterprising Goths. If the bright young things of Corbyn’s Momentum think they have a modern policy, no: it is sixteen centuries old, and as wrong then as it is now.

Today, the choice of many policies depends on the policy-maker’s ideas of how people will react: if all condemnation of society is removed and a man or a woman is handed opportunity without responsibility, will they use it altruistically as Pelagius might imagine of the man good at heart, or abuse it for personal gratification, as Augustine, and Hobbes, would assert? If a state body takes control of an activity, will the civil servants left in charge act benevolently for the benefit of the public, or lazily or corruptly as Augustine and Hobbes would suggest? In prison policy, do we treat prisoners with a light touch and let them calm down to come to their natural goodness, or break their arrogance with force and give them a rigid social structure as the only way to bring some goodness out in them? In every case Augustine of Hippo, and Hobbes of Malmesbury, win.

Conservatism generally accepts that mankind is flawed and only a stable, supportive social structure can channel the natural instincts of man. Socialism is the opposite, being based on two late-fourth century British fallacies, namely the Pelagian idea of inherent goodness, and the Sicilian Briton’s idea that wealth causes poverty.

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Exclusive leaked footage of Brexit talks

Exclusive footage of the Brexit negotiations leaked. Boris Johnson and his counterparts are making ‘fast progress’ as this video reveals. The leading Rebel Without a Clue, Dominic Grieve, had no comment this morning.

We the two sides at loggerheads, even Westminster was in complete disagreement.  Boris Johnson emphasised that he wants to reach a deal on a withdrawal agreement, while President Micron of France insisted that there must be a deal.  In Parliament, Dominic Grievous and Sam Verbal-Gymnast refused to back their own government, demanding “We want a deal”.  Philip Hammond in the meantime flew to Brussels with his unique message that he wants to see a deal made.

The sides are as far apart as ever.

Ulster dominated the early talks: London insists that there will be no hard border with the Irish Free State, while Brussels countered angrily that there must be no hard border between the British and Irish states.  Memos from the Wilhelmstraße intercepted by GCHQ express demand that no Starkgrenze be erected at the edge of the European Empire’s Hibernian Province.

With no agreement in sight on these points, agreement by Reformation Day looks distant.

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