Empty Bottles of Gentilisme

The carrying about of Images in Procession, is another Relique of the Religion of the Greeks, and Romans: For they also carried their Idols from place to place, in a kind of Chariot, which was peculiarly dedicated to that use, which the Latines called Thensa, and Vehiculum Deorum; and the Image was placed in a frame, or Shrine, which they called Ferculum: And that which they called Pompa, is the same that now is named Procession: According whereunto, amongst the Divine Honors which were given to Julius Caesar by the Senate, this was one, that in the Pompe (or Procession) at the Circaean games, he should have Thensam & Ferculum, a sacred Chariot, and a Shrine; which was as much, as to be carried up and down as a God: Just as at this day the Popes are carried by Switzers under a Canopie.

To these Processions also belonged the bearing of burning Torches, and Candles, before the Images of the Gods, both amongst the Greeks, and Romans. For afterwards the Emperors of Rome received the same honor; as we read of Caligula, that at his reception to the Empire, he was carried from Misenum to Rome, in the midst of a throng of People, the wayes beset with Altars, and Beasts for Sacrifice, and burning Torches: And of Caracalla that was received into Alexandria with Incense, and with casting of Flowers, and Dadouchiais, that is, with Torches; for Dadochoi were they that amongst the Greeks carried Torches lighted in the Processions of their Gods: And in processe of time, the devout, but ignorant People, did many times honor their Bishops with the like pompe of Wax Candles, and the Images of our Saviour, and the Saints, constantly, in the Church it self. And thus came in the use of Wax Candles; and was also established by some of the ancient Councells.

The Heathens had also their Aqua Lustralis, that is to say, Holy Water. The Church of Rome imitates them also in their Holy Dayes. They had their Bacchanalia; and we have our Wakes, answering to them: They their Saturnalia, and we our Carnevalls, and Shrove-tuesdays liberty of Servants: They their Procession of Priapus; wee our fetching in, erection, and dancing about May-poles; and Dancing is one kind of Worship: They had their Procession called Ambarvalia; and we our Procession about the fields in the Rogation Week.

Nor do I think that these are all the Ceremonies that have been left in the Church, from the first conversion of the Gentiles: but they are all that I can for the present call to mind; and if a man would wel observe that which is delivered in the Histories, concerning the Religious Rites of the Greeks and Romanes, I doubt not but he might find many more of these old empty Bottles of Gentilisme, which the Doctors of the Romane Church, either by Negligence, or Ambition, have filled up again with the new Wine of Christianity, that will not faile in time to break them.

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Disaster planning – 1

An election a little over a year away, and if the polls hold out, the lunatics will indeed be taking over the asylum. Conservatives in Parliament need to work fast on that assumption. Business owners too need to protect themselves against what is coming.

This will be a continuing series of thoughts.

Parliament must start, hurriedly, making laws for the good of the nation not the party, on the assumption that Labour will be in power soon with a large majority, their benches filled with haters, antisemites and fruitcakes of all descriptions, as the Labour benches are at present. This puts two things in mid at once: take powers out of the hands of government ministers, and make laws in a libertarian frame, so that when Keir, Angela and Diane want to make tyrannical rules, they must explicitly change to law against personal and commercial freedom.

For one things, Conservatives have always played with a straight bat, and Labour do not. They are rarely in power, and will use all the powers of the state to cling on in power when finally they get there: the tone of loathing from their MPs is a clear signal that the expression of Tory opinions will be choked off as hard as they can. Even during the thirteen years of Conservative-led government, the socialists have been outraged whenever anyone of conservative views has been appointed to a proment post and have chased several worthy men and women from their posts by slander and confected rage: imagine how they will be when they actually have formal power, with lawful authority, indeed duty, to hire and to fire.

Most voters oppose the Labour line on social issues, and will be outraged when they start to do what they have promised, but those sane voters will vote Labour in because there is no alternative to get rid of the Tories with who they have grown frustrated. Therefore, things must be prepared so that the dissonance between Labour views and normal people’s understanding of the world is obvious.

One prominent target is the Online Harms Bill. There is a need for something to try to curb social media bullying of vulnerable children (which is to say all children), but it can be a Trojan Horse. Labour spokesmen have said explicitly that they want to ban all expressions they disagree with, and that they would write into the Bill the outlawing of anything they deem offensive, and we have seen what that means in the way they treat even their own MPs.  If therefore the Bill leaves an open door, allowing minsters to lay down codes of what is and is not acceptable, Labour ministers will kick that door open. All  that they would rather not be said will be muzzled tight.

Outside Parliament, action can be taken to protect the free flow of information and debate: a web provider can move operations abroad: we have tax havens, so can we have free speech havens? It is not just the online world that is  affected: publishers of books and magazines may need to move abroad.

Going back to Parliament, the Great Repeal being applied to Brussels laws can spur a review of all those open doors left on the domestic statute book. As the repeal of Brussels rules needs a more efficient approach, apply the same to those British laws which Labour will use and abuse to their ends.

Above all, Conservatives are meant to care for the welfare of the nation, whether in office or out.  That means trying to moderate or slow down Labour’s ability to wreck all that is good.

Certainly a Labour-dominated House of Commons can do what it likes to make new, damaging laws, but Conservatives, in what may be the last months, should not make it easy for them: force Labour (if they get in) to change things openly and explicitly, where they can be exposed for what they are doing (if media channels are still allowed to be free to expose them).

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Where is the wise? Where is the scribe?

Not wistful but triumphant: the call of the new piercing the dark. Paul told the Corinthians of the light that had come into the world, using here a rhetorical device that we mostly hear mourning the loss of light.

When I hear from the pulpit the piece from 1 Corinthians, my mind wanders to other times. Sang the poet of old “Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?“; ‘Where now is the warhorse, where the warrior? Where the treasure-giver? Where the seat at the feast? Where the joys of the hall?’

This is not a song of triumph but a lament for loss of glorious times, and so we see the same turn of rhetoric used for loss of the things of the world throughout poetry of our age: Where are the joys  of the hall? Où sont les neiges d’antan? Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

Paul means his words in a very different way. Maybe it is marking the passing of beloved things of the world – as the exiled warrior laments the loss of the thunder of hooves into battle, and man may lament the loss of wisdom and teachers of the law, which gave confidence to life. In Corinth, philosophers, ‘lovers of wisdom’, were prominent in creating the culture of the gentile city, and  scribes kept the Jews faithful to the law and the prophets – they were not gone by any means when Paul wrote, but the Gospel made them irrelevant, even repugnant. It was a challenge, to built anew casting away the centuries of the Greek poets and Aristotle, and the minutely reasoned conclusions of the Talmud.; all this must be cast away, thousands of scholars’ work and the apparent wisdom of ages, discarded as  wastepaper, as we start afresh with the new Gospel.

It is a hard wrench, to give up all you understand of what wisdom is. In Corinth the vices that had grown in the city reeked to the heavens, which drives the honest man to the comforting wisdom of the ages.

Where is the wise though, and where the scribe? They are insufficient because they provide only the fallible wisdom of man. Like the warhorse and the warrior and the snows of old, they are things of the world, the world in which we live and can grasp and feel. We may think of philosophy and religious scholarship as spiritual, but they are born of man’s mind, and so are creatures of the world as we are. We naturally mourn for the loss of things of the world, as part of ourselves.

Think again – what is in the glory of the field, the loss of which the poet laments with such depth? The charging horse, the young warrior, the generous prince handing out the spoils and the loud feasting in the mead-hall after victory: the glory and joy are there, but what of the widow and the fatherless left after battle? What of the farms devastated and families starving before their lost harvest? Even Villon’s snows of yesteryear, beautiful to the child’s eye, are harsh for the poor widow. Où sont les neiges d’antan? Où indeed.

It tempts rebuke for a blog founded upon the ideas of a seventeenth century philosopher to make mock of those who cling to philosophies. Hobbes himself though rejected ‘Aristotelity’, and stands up today rather well.

Our own age affects to despise old wisdom, but its faults are greater – many of the clergy of our day embrace new, untested ideas with the tenacity of the devotees of Epicurus in Corinth. They provide simplistic answers, which are a worldly comfort, and to see the faults in the worldly doctrine is beyond them.

Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

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When our politicians are forced out, these days they stay out (and journalists ensure that they are remembered for the ignominy that finally drove them out, not their achievements). It was not always so, but is now. There is outrage at the suggestion that an ousted PM may be to biding his or her time in Colombey-les-Deux-Églises, awaiting the call to the nation’s aid.

In former days, a Prime Minister voted out might bide his time and be restored. Churchill stayed at the helm of his party and came back after six years to save the nation; Harold Wilson did to, in order to ruin it. Before Churchill it happened all the time; it was expected that a party leader would keep at his post. Gladstone, Disraeli and Salisbury swapped like the figures on a Victorian town hall clock. Some went, but then came back in other positions: Arthur Balfour was three years in Number 10, following his uncle, and was decisively voted out, but during the Great War he was appointed Foreign Secretary, in time to sign the Balfour Declaration (and have a town in Galilee named after him).

A  Conservative or Labour party leader who loses a General Election will resign: this is accepted without question, but it is a very modern custom. It is a form of hara-kiri, accepting personal responsibility for a failure. In a media-driven age of personality politics, that is to be expected. There is no constitutional reason for it, nor a philosophical one. It is a custom though, which may explain the loudness of outrage when a recently expelled Prime Minister is touted as the once-and-future leader, and narratives are rewritten to excuse the faults of the departed one.

Why not? Churchill bounced between high office and disgrace his whole career; Baldwin came back to Number 10 twice; Gladstone came back three times. They of course were not expelled for disasters, and had not led our impossibly unstable ship of state. (If the state were shrunk back to the size it was before the Great War, so it did not constantly reel like a drunken elephant against the economy on all sides, there would be fewer disasters for Prime Ministers to set off.)

Now though?  We have a media narrative that forces time to move on. A politician out of office at once become “the old days”, and the idea of their return is made to sound as ridiculous as bringing back bakelite telephones. For some reason that does not apply to bringing back dead political ideas: socialism is the vampire that has had stake after stake in its heart only to rise as in the old Hammer Horror films, if with more deathly effect.

Even so, we hear whispers. Tony Blair (remember him?) keeps piping up  and I wake in sweat in the night that he might try to return, before I doze again reassured that it is impossible. The occasional Miliband reappears frequently; and then there is Boris, who is not cold yet.

Boris might be like Balfour – a three-year PM who could return in a different high office. However he is one of those who by the nature of his temperament can only be a private or commander-in-chief.

The main thing that keeps past senior politicians from pushing their way back into office is not their ultimate failure in office but their ultimate success out of it: speaking tours can pay more than a Prime Minister’s salary, and book deals to keep them guarding what remains of their legacy.

There may be a politician who bides his time in his private Colombey, who could be called from retirement to save the nation. It is doubtful that there any worthy  to do so.

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Days of the Comet

A mysterious green comet from the ancient depths of the dark looms in the sky. It recalls H G Wells, In the Days of Comet in which a green comet looms over the Earth, growing larger week by week.

The book is not one of Wells’s classics and does not deserve to be, and resolves into an attempt to push the author’s naïve social ideas, but one thing leaps from the pages:  by thunder, the man can write.

The comet in the skies as I write this is no monster and for most of us in this land it passes invisible above the cloudy night, but imagine a comet growing vast until it dominates the sky; an ancient superstition marking of unknowable portents in the heavens.

In the Days of the Comet is not science fiction, not in Book I at least, but Wells did not always write science fiction. It marks the point where he stopped writing pure adventure and started writing his social and political ideas. The ultimate argument is fallacious, but casting the whole point of the work aside, it displays mastery in writing.

The book is contemporary to the year it was written. It opens in the Edwardian world of the Potteries towns, a smoke-reeked industrial blot of hard graft and poverty and riches, surrounding the main character, a young man with all the ungoverned passions of his age, with a foot in the town and a foot in the country estate where his family once served. It is a device to show both sides of a social divide (ignoring the innumerable gradations in between, which would spoil the argument of the story). It is a story not so much of Edwardian strife as of the inner workings of a young man’s mind. It is a mind of frustration, impatience, rage and ungoverned passion. In short, it is a brilliant portrayal of the universal young man at the door of adulthood.

Wells sets out explicitly to talk of the division between rich and poor, or with more insight, between those who are secure and those unsecure. The mine owner works hard but need not – he and his family are secure. The labourer’s widow though may not know that she will still be eating in a week’s time. All the while, the comet grows larger in the sky.

The main driver of rage in the young man, William, is not wealth or poverty though; it is a woman, of course. More drive comes from the pants than the purse: never mind the squabbles over lost shillings and impossible employers: the loss of Nettie is the end of all hope, or the beginning of murder. He buys a gun and it is ever present, with a gravitational effect all of its own.

There is a great deal of difference between a teenage crush on a girl, and the realities of her when she blooms into a woman, and young men do not mature as young women do. The change is enchanting, terrifying, alluring, threatening. The desire for possession confused with love can become a form of madness.  This is something Wells portrays with excruciating accuracy. Whether he means to or not, I cannot tell, but it is triumph of his art.

The enemy is identified, the privileged Verrall who has won Nettie’s heart: his class makes him Wells’s enemy, which is projected upon tormented William, but there would be no need for politics, when envy and hatred are universal.  William tracks Nettie and Verrall to the farthermost edge  of the land where they have eloped, in one of those an anonymous beach resorts that were typical of the age, with villas made from old railway coaches. Murder is immediately to hand, the gun in his hand…

Then the comet strikes, and the world is transformed, in a moment, if not quite in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump, as the green miasma spreads over all the world and every living thing across the world falls into sleep.

Those who wake are transformed, and we are into Book II. The science-fiction explanation essayed by Wells is that the comet changes all the nitrogen in the air into a breathable gas so that the brains of everyone work more efficiently and in that state all the worries and concerns of the past life are seen as petty and one gets the impression that the only emotions left are those of regret for past foolishness. (What a dull place it sounds.)

All thoughts of murder are forgotten; the gun drops from the hand.  The war on the sea ceases.

The author assumes that as soon as we all become more intelligent, we will all at once accept the author’s own political ideas as correct. Wells is no different from all species of arrogant political activist these days. The difference is that, over a hundred years on, we have seen what happens when those ideas are put into effect, and we have have mourned over the wastelands they create and the mass graves they fill.

I must have quoted G K Chesterton on H G Wells before “Mr Wells is a born storyteller who has sold his birthright for a pot of message”. Book II and Book III of this work, trundling through his dull vision for the future, demonstrate that and can be discarded as literature. For Book I though, a perfect picture of tormented youth, Wells earns all the plaudits he has received: by thunder, the man can write.

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