A melancholy centenary for Wales

A hundred years ago, the Church was plundered of its wealth and sent out to die. The Church in Wales has had a quiet celebration of a hundred years, but it should be mourning its despoliation. A limb was torn from the Church of England and stripped of its assets by Parliament, by Lloyd George, a non-conformist.

The celebrations were booked for June; all cancelled because of the lockdown. Perhaps it is as well to spend the time looking at what actually happened.

The Act disestablishing and disendowing the Church in Wales was passed in 1914 against a great deal of resistance: the Lords refused approval and this was the only time the Parliament Act was ever invoked to override the Lords until 1949. The great F E Smith spoke against the Bill in the Commons with such vehemence that he was mercifully satirised for his claim that it was:

 “a bill which has shocked the conscience of every Christian community in Europe”

It was not about establishing a specific Welsh voice of the church: it was to strip the Anglican church of its privileges and assets in Wales and to let it die.

The Church of England was not wholly innocent: the valleys had been thoroughly evangelised in the past hundred years while the established church had its back turned, by Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and such enthusiastic, evangelical minsters such that the Church of England was a minority body, yet one which was still collecting tithes from farmers who did not worship with it, still running the schools and allegedly reacting to challenges by shutting non-conformists even from burying their dead in village graveyards. The distancing of the church form the people was made worse by the appointment of bishops of a ‘high-church’ persuasion when all around were more earthy evangelicals.

It took two years to pass the Welsh Church Act 1914, then it was suspended at the outbreak of war, and revived in 1920. It struck the Welsh dioceses, handing much of their property to the local councils and to the University of Wales. (Maybe the Church in Wales was meant to fade away but it has outlasted the University of Wales, which was dissolved in scandal a few years ago.) The Act is bland and bureaucratic in its wording, but effective. Smith and later Lord Robert Cecil examined the philosophy behind dis-endowment and found it wanting, but there was no stopping David Lloyd George; there never was.

As of 1920, in Wales, the bishops were no long bishops, ecclesiastical law and no longer law nor its courts courts, and the property of the church, beyond the churches themselves and vicarages and recent donations handed to Commissioners for disposal.

The distinction between what is England what is Wales is not a sharp line but a cultural slurring in the hills. There are parishes which spread across the line clerks drew on the map, and these were given a choice, to continue in the Church of England or leap into the newly stripped Church in Wales – all but one opted for the former, which is why the Cross of St George flies over the tower of St Andrew’s in Presteign, Radnorshire.

Looking at a hundred years, we see the Church in Wales shrinking (even before the churches were barred by the lockdown) so as barely to function in places. However its place is not filled now with the old enthusiasm of the Methodists and Baptists: they have shrunk away even faster. It is a curse of the Anglican churches that they cannot rise suddenly with effusions of the Spirit and preach sermons of fire to draw the people in as surely Christian churches should, but consequently they do not dry up as a puddle in the dawn the way less rooted churches do.

Today the Church of England has a radical power, to make and unmake any Act of Parliament affecting it, by a Measure of Synod passing three Houses of Synod and two of Parliament. If the Church in Wales looks at it decline, maybe the centenary should have been a time not to celebrate separation but to look for reunion.

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Surrendering on the playing fields of Eton

The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, but would be surrendered if the relics of the Blairzeit now in command had their way. If they remain, the school’s reputation will not. The school famed worldwide for bringing boys up into the best of men is now committed to turning them into pathetic milksops. The boys may have other ideas of course.

I have always enjoyed the metaphor. The officers at Waterloo and at many battles over our long imperial history have been solid men, wedded to hardship and duty. A background of wealth might have dried up the manly qualities in ease and dissipation, as it did in many disgraced dukes, but places like Eton ensured the inculcation of those qualities of understanding and character on which a nation could be built, and those are the qualities which cool-headedly shepherded thousands in precision at Waterloo through hours of cannon, musket and lance, and drove the French back to Paris.

(There is actually room to fit a major battle on the playing-fields of Eton, if not one the size of Waterloo: so extensive are the collage’s lands that you can walk for an hour and still not be at the end of them.)

The character of a man is wrought through endeavour and experience, and more endeavour, but the seeds may be sown in his first experience of organised society, amongst his school-chums, and where he learns that there is more than himself in the world

And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! Play up! And play the game!”

The actual scandal at Eton now has been reported in enough fora, erupting from a pretty unexceptional video put up as part of the College’s ‘Perspectives’ course, and the Headmaster’s desire to suppress it (with the result naturally that thousands more people have seen it in just a few days than were ever supposed to be aware of it).

The Tribunal hearing which must come will turn on dull legal grounds rather than the worthiness of the video in question – it would have been interesting to see a tribunal’s terrified chairman trying to consider socio-political doctrine opposed to truth, but a way will be found around that; that the master in question, Will Knowland, was dismissed for the fashionable ‘gross misconduct’ presumably for refusing an order, but behind it is a deeper conflict.

The Headmaster (so I read) has framed his reasoning along the lines of avoiding embarrassing the College, but the infamy of his intemperate action has dragged the College’s name through the mud publicly, and publicised the very material he sought to suppress. With such maladroit strategic insight, it is as well that his sort were not commanding at Waterloo. The boys are not so daft.

The outrage, or perhaps confected outrage, is that the video, “The Patriarchy Paradox”, has a straightforward denial of two concepts in cultural Marxist theory: the idea that the only differences between men and women are culturally determined, and secondly the concept of the oppressive ‘patriarchy’. Both those ideas are so comprehensively wrong that it should take upholding them is generally a sign of idiocy, blind ignorance, malice or (most common of all) fear. Granted the ‘patriarchy’ concept is a matter of perspective and emphasis: its root failing is that it is a development of the Marxist class-struggle narrative and clings to the same pseudo-science. However that is a minor subject. The main issue of the video is the differing characteristics of women and men.

That men and women are (as statistical averages) different psychologically is practically universally accepted by all serious experts in the field. There was a book out recently by a feminist denying it by claiming all the countless experiments and mountains of data had inherent flaws, but this libel upon the scientific community is not a serious study, and was politely torn apart by Simon Baron-Cohen soon after publication.

Essentially, to proclaim the idea that there is no gender dimorphism in psychology and that apparent differences are culturally imposed is as ludicrous as teaching such past pseudo-scientific ideas as “scientific racialism” or phrenology or astrology: to do so make you a laughing-stock.

Yet the Headmaster (apparently) took the view that the law requires that specific doctrines, blatantly false though they are, must be taught in what used to be the country’s most prestigious school. I have read the Regulations cited, and there is no such idea, not even hinted at. Does the Headmaster of Eton, of all places, really think that the law is so stupid? Who has advised him?

Let us be fair: the Headmaster of what was until his time the most respected school in the land is no fool: he is an intelligent, educated and no doubt erudite man. Many are who seem to bow to the fakeries arising from cultural Marxism, but the most common reason is fear: fear of being ostracised and removed by unseen hands whom no one has elected and who has not been given such authority. Yet either those hands have names, allowing us to judge their reliability, or they are phantasms of the fearful mind which a good, Etonian mind should dismiss. The Headmaster should in that case have thanked Mr Knowland for leading resistance, and shown some Eton spirit himself.

Maybe we will hear more in the tribunal, if the Chairman indulges the claimant with allowing him to put his case. Perhaps we will hear an attempt at justification of the Headmaster’s position: I would love to hear it. If the tribunal corrects a misconception of the law, all the better for the rest of us. If they decide that falsehood is indeed the law, then there is an opportunity to change the law, and remove those who try to change it back again behind the scenes, and those who try to intimidate Headmasters.

There is more than one master at Eton, and the boys may know more than a distant manager. It is vital for boys to learn robustness and duty, and if they have then this idiocy will wash over them: a middle aged trying to tell a boy what it is to be a boy is like a snail teaching a hare how to run. That Eton spirit is not so easily lost.

The ideologues talk of ‘toxic masculinity’ which is an insult to all men; anyone who talked of ‘toxic femininity’ should be horsewhipped as a fool and no gentleman, but somehow half of humanity has to be insulted (in revenge perhaps for the misdeeds of some men in past generations). If that ‘toxic masculinity’ consists in the qualities for which Eton was once famed, for courage, steadfastness, duty, perseverance, the instinct of the warrior and of the gentleman, then let the world be wrapped in its toxins, for those are half of the qualities which the world needs; the other half are the characteristics of womanhood, which men are less able to achieve. The two together, equal and complementary, are needed to make a world.

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