Bishops lead themselves into error

A joint letter from five Archbishops should be a thunderous moral pronouncement, but instead it was a string of worn clichés and basic errors, factual and political, which exposed them all to ridicule. This does not assist the mission of the Church.

Led into a new Babylonish Captivity of the Church, a profound reformation may be needed to rescue the Body of Christ from its misled leaders. It is not the ill-considered letter itself which provokes such consideration, but what it demonstrates about the mindset which has come to captivate those entrusted with authority, when seen along with the actual moral questions which year by year they refuse to address.

It was not to The Times that they wrote but to a formerly respected publication, the Pink ‘Un. There the respected Archbishops of the Church of England, Church of Ireland and Church in Wales, and the president of the formerly Christian episcopal church in Scotland, all thundered like mice.

There is a difficulty of where to start. It is appropriate for a prelate to prate on moral matters and on political issues where morality or theology is concerned, or to expound from his wisdom on subjects which lesser intellects may find too hard to grasp in the round. He is always prone to error, as are we all, which is why a collective letter by five minds is so solemn an undertaking, and such an step must always be undertaken with solemn consideration of all facts and arguments in a balanced manner; in failing to do so, all parties are discredited. It should not have been done.

We can leave assign the grating reference to “the four nations of the United Kingdom”, when for three hundred years we have surely been one nation. That is a common modern crassness. It is the substance that concerns me. They state boldly:

“The bill represents a profound shift in how trading relationships within the UK will be regulated and governed. This will not be a return to a trade regime that existed before UK joined the EU; it will be an entirely novel system, replacing one that evolved slowly and by careful negotiation over decades.”

This is plain falsehood. Over centuries there has been complete freedom of trade across the nation, and what is this “careful negotiation over decades”? Can they point to a single one affecting domestic trade within the nation? Surely this alone, as an allegation of fact, should have borne some examination?

For years we have been lectured by bishops on the moral necessity of unity and the avoidance of all division. Now it seems that they are demanding divisions in the nation. This is disquieting.

The answer to the mysterious mispronouncements may be hidden in plain sight: they have taken in the observations of the politicians in Holyrood and Cardiff Bay, and not subjected these to critical analysis. It affects they say “the principles and the effect of devolved policymaking”, but in no place does it withdraw power from these devolved bodies, as the powers in question hitherto resided in Brussels. Had they but read the material, this would have been clear, but by listening to the rhetoric of dishonest politicians they are willingly misled.

Then again, what business is it of the Archbishops to determine the exact powers given to different limbs of the state? If Westminster were to abolish the devolved assemblies and provide complete equality between all citizens, that is for Westminster to choose, and there is no moral position either way that concerns the clergy. Yet the politicking of local politicians has held them, but no representation from the government has. Why not, I do not know and would have to ask a bishop, if he will tell me.

There is a technical word for this behaviour: “prejudice”, which is to say in its proper sense prejudging an issue without balanced consideration. It is exactly what a senior clergyman should not do, and it is exactly what the modern spirit of confrontation encourages.

There are reasons this blog has recently carried articles quoting Hobbes on ‘Madnesse’. His analysis is not clinical but perhaps more insightful than that, as going to the heart of the causes, and finding those same causes to produce folly in those who are on the surface wise. The next section of his discourse in Leviathan is very much to the point here:

This opinion of Inspiration, called commonly, Private Spirit, begins very often, from some lucky finding of an Errour generally held by others; and not knowing, or not remembring, by what conduct of reason, they came to so singular a truth, (as they think it, though it be many times an untruth they light on,) they presently admire themselves; as being in the speciall grace of God Almighty, who hath revealed the same to them supernaturally, by his Spirit.

Leviathan

I fear that much the same has gripped our senior prelates. In those circumstances the judgment of the learned Primates is no better than that of certain other primates I could mention.

In the grip of this Private Spirit, and prejudice, it no wonder that the letter then ranges over accusations unsupported by the text before them about departing from the Good Friday Agreement or the European Convention on Human Rights: indeed it has been observed that the Bill they have recently rejected supports the Good Friday Agreement against attack from the European Union, but in the grip of fixed prejudice there is no reasoning.

The final observation of the Archbishops’ letter is one which would have Hobbes guffawing at it follow:

“If carefully negotiated terms are not honoured and laws can be “legally” broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?”

The humblest workman in his parlour knows what democracy is. Democracy entrusts the making and unmaking of laws, and the supervision of government, to elected representatives. That is a plain definition. Its foundation stands on free voting and acceptance of the system. It has nothing whatsoever with international treaties, and those treaties are not law, as I have observed before, nor can they be, as Hobbes observes. A treaty, however solemnly negotiated and signed, is a thing made without the involvement of the House of Commons – it is in effect then a negation of democracy, and if democracy had its hands tied by a treaty signed by the government or its ambassador, then democracy is castrated.

Invoking the name of “democracy” to support a political proposition is a form of idolatry. There may be a moral element to keeping to treaties, as there may be a moral cause for departing from an ill-starred treaty, and there may be a word for it that the bishops can choose – it may be ‘honorificabilitudinitatibus’, but it is not ‘democracy’.

For the errours of Definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds; and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoyd, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lyes the foundation of their errours. … in the right Definition of Names, lyes the first use of Speech; which is the Acquisition of Science: And in wrong, or no Definitions’ lyes the first abuse; from which proceed all false and senslesse Tenets;

Leviathan

To mend this follies amongst senior clergy will not be easy. They are too deep, and re-enforced by the collegiate habits of office. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a profoundly intelligent man, but I venture to say is prey to the same failings as any man, and to write this I am aware of my own failings in that way too.

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Hobble Christmas and we starve

Mid-October and the Christmas displays are already going up, in the hope that there will be Christmas. Shops are relying on it: the Christmas trade can be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.

Retail has taken a hammering this year because of the lockdown and several large High Street names have folded – we are not seeing the full effect until the economy wakes up and we see who is not there. Some are nominally hanging on to see if their normality returns, but they are insolvent, and will go to the wall unless the turn-round is dramatic. Christmas sales are a key to this. It is not looking good.

Retail is not linear, but many of its expenses are. A shop will be paying the same rent, the same rates and the same wages and National Insurance throughout the year; insurance, hire charges and licences will be annual sums reckoned evenly across the year; however income is not the same. In most businesses there is a Christmas rush, and that earns is the money which pays for those expenses.

It is not considered odd that hotels and B&Bs will pay the same rent and rates in the winter as in the summer but do all their trade in the summer: they make a loss in the winter by paying out with no income because they will make it all up in the deluge of custom in the summer. This may seem less apparent in the retail trade, but that is how the economics works here too: the shop can tick by over the whole year, feeling the market, building goodwill, training the staff, but waiting for the Christmas rush.

Many a business makes no net profit all through the year month by month until the nights grow short: the profit is to be made in the run-up to Christmas, which pays for all the year’s expenses. I have seen shopkeepers, ready to take a new shop on, begging to get it done in October because if they do not get the Christmas trade, they will pull out rather than sit on a loss-maker.

It is not just obvious businesses which have a Christmas rush either – it reaches all sorts of enterprises; even builders’ merchants and pharmacies see it. Consequently all the suppliers feel the rush, and all the professions which serve those businesses. They all rely on it.

Now though, the streets are quiet and the shops have fewer customers. They are in fear as Christmas approaches and customers are still being driven away, and there is no assurance that they will have their one profitable time of the year. To cancel the Commercial Christmas or even to hobble it will delete the year’s profit from the ledger, for the majority of businesses and their employees.

Essentially, it is necessary either to end the lockdown or face mass shutdown. It will not be pretty.

Rage and Melacholy Madnesse

Pride, subjecteth a man to Anger, the excesse whereof, is the Madnesse called RAGE, and FURY. And thus it comes to passe that excessive desire of Revenge, when it becomes habituall, hurteth the organs, and becomes Rage: That excessive love, with jealousie, becomes also Rage: Excessive opinion of a mans own selfe, for divine inspiration, for wisdome, learning, forme, and the like, becomes Distraction, and Giddinesse: the same, joyned with Envy, Rage: Vehement opinion of the truth of any thing, contradicted by others, Rage.

Dejection, subjects a man to causelesse fears; which is a Madnesse commonly called MELANCHOLY, apparent also in divers manners; as in haunting of solitudes, and graves; in superstitious behaviour; and in fearing some one, some another particular thing. In summe, all Passions that produce strange and unusuall behaviour, are called by the generall name of Madnesse. But of the severall kinds of Madnesse, he that would take the paines, might enrowle a legion. And if the Excesses be madnesse, there is no doubt but the Passions themselves, when they tend to Evill, are degrees of the same.

(For example,) Though the effect of folly, in them that are possessed of an opinion of being inspired, be not visible alwayes in one man, by any very extravagant action, that proceedeth from such Passion; yet when many of them conspire together, the Rage of the whole multitude is visible enough. For what argument of Madnesse can there be greater, than to clamour, strike, and throw stones at our best friends? Yet this is somewhat lesse than such a multitude will do. For they will clamour, fight against, and destroy those, by whom all their lifetime before, they have been protected, and secured from injury. And if this be Madnesse in the multitude, it is the same in every particular man. For as in the middest of the sea, though a man perceive no sound of that part of the water next him; yet he is well assured, that part contributes as much, to the Roaring of the Sea, as any other part, of the same quantity: so also, thought wee perceive no great unquietnesse, in one, or two men; yet we may be well assured, that their singular Passions, are parts of the Seditious roaring of a troubled Nation. And if there were nothing else that bewrayed their madnesse; yet that very arrogating such inspiration to themselves, is argument enough. If some man in Bedlam should entertaine you with sober discourse; and you desire in taking leave, to know what he were, that you might another time requite his civility; and he should tell you, he were God the Father; I think you need expect no extravagant action for argument of his Madnesse.

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Local politics is back

Those letterboxes are waiting, ready to be filled with our leaflets. Local politics is back. I cannot see the rising enthusiasm, the volunteers hammering at the door. We have been giving it a rest, and when the elections were cancelled in May, well, it seemed we could give up on the intensive work we put in each year. It was very pleasant, actually.

We are not allowed to canvass (which takes forever and you cannot persuade most members to do it as they think they will be embarrassed. We can however stuff letterboxes with leaflets. We have the routes planned out, age-old routes we can do in our sleep ,and frequently do. Those letterboxes in all their deadly variety, and the dogs behind them, are waiting for our tender hands.

Is the thrill of the chase returning, the heart beating faster? Those strategically written letters to the local paper fed in over the last few months, and photo-ops set up (to which the reporter never appeared in the end) to familiarise the neighbours with your hard work – some have been doing that.

It has been too tempting though to roll into a ball and hide away from local happenings and the petty politicking of the town hall, which the voters care nothing about, until someone starts painting a yellow line outside their house, to ignore that local involvement and instead to find other things to do, like DIY, watching old films, or writing a political blog. There are things so much more interesting happening nationally.

It is time to rouse to remember where I live, and look about me, see what the past year has done to it, and work out why the council spends so much money for so little done, and what the local party says we can do about it (short of abolishing the council, but maybe that threat is a political point to play with). Did I see what they did down at the other end of the village? How is the local plan going and will there be any farm fields left this time five years hence?

The leaflets them and the press releases. There I stop: after all that has passed nationally and the complete change in focus, what on earth is there I could possibly write?

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Art in the word

The most beautiful script in the world is Arabic, without any doubt. It is a piece of art, and has been woven into works of great beauty for a thousand years and more. Personally I cannot make head nor tail of it, though goodness I have tried. I can at least appreciate the effect as art.

One might consider a script in pure historical terms, in this case a right-to-left Semitic script of the same root as Hebrew, or even derived from it, the forms of which are mirrored in shadow in the lines and names of the Arabic letters, but that is missing the essence on the page. Those swoops and loops (which frankly I have never been able to tell apart) can be a canvas on which a skilled calligrapher may play. Our own script, the Latin alphabet, is as regular as the Roman conception, letter by letter separate, written on the line, lines kept apart – all these things we take for granted. Greek and Hebrew keep regular too. The Arabic calligraphers though make the letters loop around each other, stack, merge, overlap, play together, weave in and out – how they can still be read I do not know, but it is beyond my cultural norms.

I must pause before an objection arrives and say that there is art also in traditional Chinese characters (if not in the modern, simplified forms) and it is used to some effect, but even these are not a patch on what has been done in Arabic.

There is beautiful calligraphy in our own script, and it likewise lifts the soul and imprints the personal into what might otherwise tend to dull regularity. It is never though used as part of artworks; we treat the two as wholly different domains. Where Arabic is different is a necessity forced upon that culture.

The cultural substrate of the Arab world in lapped in Islam (which itself in its local form is shaped by Arabian culture) and the precepts of the religion take strictly what is to us the Second Commandment, not to make any representation of a thing in heaven or on Earth. For us that is a command not to make anything that would be the subject of worship, and my Puritan instincts give me a distinct revulsion at icons and Romanist religious art which tend towards idolatry, but secular representative art is not forbidden (and reached its greatest flourishing in Protestant Europe). In the Muslim world the command has been taken as an absolute bar on representative art. That strict injunction cannot stop art from being made because the making of art is fundamental to humanity – instead it has cause a flowering of decorate art, and in this the swirling script of Arabia is a form.

This art is commonly connected with Islam and the most prominent examples are of Koranic verses and themes, but there are also Christian and even secular calligraphers, as beauty is universal. The combination indeed between the craft of the text and the beauty of a Christian message makes it a very appropriate medium within the culture. The words are the starting point and the pallet; the work of the calligrapher is to draw the viewer in, and there is a mystery in there, in all those interlaced swirls there is meaning even if not immediately apparent, and that in itself draws you in. That is a universal thing.

Another constraint is the limitation of the material – it is not random patterns but known words and phrases. This defies the idea we have that art should challenge the expectations of the view, but if it is a set text, it cannot. That said, the choice of text may challenge the expectations. In a tangle of curves your expectation (if you can read it) your expectation is drawn into it in delighted anticipation – all great art should create a dynamic relationship like this between the piece and the viewer.

Another idea we have is that art does not have a purpose but is art for its own sake: that idea is behind the decline of modern art into ugliness. Art must always have a purpose, though that purpose may be no more than to charm the eye.

These taken together are a lesson – a constraint can become a birth of new art that may exceed that which was forbidden.

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Books