Community returning

I was wrong:  I thought we had lost society for the long term, but it is roaring back quietly.

I relaxed in the lockdown evenings – no more organising for meetings not happening, no rushing home for a scratch meal before leaping out for some function or other, trying to work out where it was while driving there; no more weekends spent on the motorway finding a hall somewhere in Lancashire, or was it Yorkshire this time? (Do I have to turn round?)

Calls stopped coming. I wasn’t having to organise people or think of things to do. I did not have to yawn through others’ meetings and surreptitiously use the meeting to write another chapter or an algorithm. I could relax, and discover that there are evenings, and a home.

In villages and little towns and suburbs, churches, clubs and societies create a web of Big Society. Some go out to film clubs or collectors’ clubs, or  evening classes, or exercise classes, or amateur dramatics, or ladies’ book clubs, or just social meets round a bar.  (There are more village pocket orchestras than you would ever imagine; and writers’ clubs are everywhere: I might even go to one one day and see what they do.)

Then all this was gone; banned by government fiat in fear of the Chinese plague. The thread was broken. All over the land, people were realising they do not have to live by a timetable and an untended bowel in the best evenings of the week, when a sofa calls. How then could the clubs come back?

Yet they are coming back. The church halls of the land are full again. Organisers are clearly built of sterner stuff, and for all the welcome leisure we had, there is a yearning for society.

If I were tempted to think those coming back to the village halls are just those who no longer commuter and need to get out from their home-office, it is not: there cannot be too many home-bound workers left though, going by how the trains are packed again as once they were. In spite of the call of the sofa, the clubs are still coming back. Normality, our weird, Middle-Class, respectable rural / suburban normality is returning in spite of it all.

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From disaster we must build

Twenty years and the dust was still falling, not even settling, and the nation beneath it coagulating, uniting. It began though an age of nations dissolving.

America is blessed.  In the dust of the disaster, they had unity of purpose and the structure of the nation and the government was unshaken – no one could take advantage and Osama Bin Laden’s boast that the United States would become Disunited, is bizarre. It is a fractured society today in a way it was not twenty years ago, true enough, but that has nothing to do with the events of that day, and it is fracturing of ideas, not of the nation itself.

Other nations are not so blessed. Tumult has destroyed many states in the last twenty years and it is naïve to think that dissolving a tyranny will ensure a free democracy will arise naturally from its ashes. Mankind does not work like that, which millennia of experience should teach us, but we are foolish optimists. America after the chaos of revolution, rose with a working, peaceful and largely democratic state, but that was only possible because the colonies had enjoyed a century and a half of democratic engagement on their own shores born of a centuries-long English culture of freedom and participation and pew-level Protestantism and the education it brought. Without that, chaos breeds only chaos.

Democracy is unnatural: an accident sprung from circumstances of the time in a few lands and surviving only through inertia and necessary myth. It is a strong myth in nations long bathed in it, as the English-speaking word is, but we cannot assume that of other nations.

It is a necessity a Law of Nature in Hobbesian terms, that we seek protection for ourselves and our families and in this is the necessity of creating a Common-wealth. Into this step adventurers. It would be lovely to think that would-be rulers will be benevolent princes accepting the responsibilities of government for selfless reasons, or that liberal democracy would spring up naturally. As we saw though in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in Libya and elsewhere, it is just whoever manages to slay their way to the throne.

Outside the culture of the Anglosphere, a disaster may weaken or destroy a government, and they we may fear an adventurer stepping in to take advantage. A dictator is as good as any in such circumstances.

This subjection of an individual to a new government is of necessity. From disaster we must build; build something however grotesque, to provide some common keeping-in-awe for our own protection. Accordingly it is by covenant and not by a right invented by the political ideas of a moment.

So it appeareth plainly, to my understanding, both from Reason, and Scripture, that the Soveraign Power, whether placed in One Man, as in Monarchy, or in one Assembly of men, as in Popular, and Aristocraticall Common-wealths, is as great, as possibly men can be imagined to make it. And though of so unlimited a Power, men may fancy many evill consequences, yet the consequences of the want of it, which is perpetuall warre of every man against his neighbour, are much worse. The condition of man in this life shall never be without Inconveniences; but there happeneth in no Common-wealth any great Inconvenience, but what proceeds from the Subjects disobedience, and breach of those Covenants, from which the Common-wealth had its being. And whosoever thinking Soveraign Power too great, will seek to make it lesse; must subject himselfe, to the Power, that can limit it; that is to say, to a greater.

In the fall of a government, there is desire to create another, but no immediate agreement: Rousseau’s “general will” is a laughable idea. The sceptre is as likely to fall to however first grasps for it, for good or ill. It would seem scandalous to us in nations long used to participatory democracy and equal laws, but not elsewhere, in desperation, and it is not democracy but political wiles which preserve the ruler, just as they raised him to his seat.

In those Nations, whose Common-wealths have been long-lived, and not been destroyed, but by forraign warre, the Subjects never did dispute of the Soveraign Power. But howsoever, an argument for the Practise of men, that have not sifted to the bottom, and with exact reason weighed the causes, and nature of Common-wealths, and suffer daily those miseries, that proceed from the ignorance thereof, is invalid. For though in all places of the world, men should lay the foundation of their houses on the sand, it could not thence be inferred, that so it ought to be. The skill of making, and maintaining Common-wealths, consisteth in certain Rules, as doth Arithmetique and Geometry; not (as Tennis-play) on Practise onely: which Rules, neither poor men have the leisure, nor men that have had the leisure, have hitherto had the curiosity, or the method to find out.

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Gnawing inadequacy

We can never be good enough. No hero or saint comes close. Most of us brush it off, but a saint or a vicar lives in a shadow of the knowledge of inescapable inadequacy.

Most of us if we think about it at all, as we should, bumble through, hoping we are good enough, praying for the promised salvation, or hoping our faults will not be noticed, as if we could hide. A vicar lives in the constant knowledge of the presence of God, which should be glorious, awe-inspiring, joyful; but which in the knowledge of sin is terrifying, inescapable unless with the utter certainty of grace.

An insightful vicar used to lead students around a cathedral; he stopped by a pillar and asked his students about good and bad people, ranked on the pillar.  Usually they put Hitler about the bottom and some modern popular saint around the top. He would then ask, “What is the standard God requires?”, to which the students would guess somewhere around the middle of the pillar. The standard though, he revealed, is not the middle of the pillar, not the top: the standard is the sky.

The mediaeval plays put on around villages to frighten the peasants might show a man weighed in a great balance, going to eternal bliss or to eternal fire depending on the fine turn of sin against merit. That is not Christian doctrine though: the standard is the sky: utter sinlessness. That is unachievable even amongst saints; we need forgiveness, and as we cannot earn forgiveness it only works by grace, which is to say forgiveness granted freely by God. We are all at the bottom of the pillar, needing to put ourselves into the hands of God to escape.

It is harder in a mechanical, rule-driven society to accept the position we are in: it should be possible to put in some data and let the computer say “yes” or “no”, and then we can relax.  That is the attractiveness of rabbinical law, or the sharia system, or the Roman system of obligations and penances: it is clockwork salvation. It has never been like that though.

For an ordinary man or woman in the pews, we can get away with not thinking about it until Sunday morning, then dozing through a sermon. To live with this as you everyday, you meat and drink, must be either glorious or terrifying. The terror is in the knowledge of ones inadequacy.

No man can male his own salvation. No man is entitled to salvation. All men are entitled only to damnation, and none can climb out of it. To live with that as your daily contemplation might drive you mad, or drive you to find a clockwork salvation, or might lead you to immerse yourself in the scriptures. That will show you to an answer.

The unreformed, Mediaeval plays put on for those who had no access to the Scriptures, they portrayed the Word of God as full of warning and condemnation, but immersed in the whole Bible you find it full of light, love, joy. The picture of God is not in the fierce and gaudy Romanist art, that takes more from thundering Greek Zeus than from the God of the Bible: the picture of God is in Jesus, who could overturn the tables in the Temple when needed, but who would bless and heal and raise the downhearted and the maddened, whose words are full of love for those least deserving of it. In that context of knowledge of those words, reaching from creation to the end of things, the immediate presence of God is no longer frightening, and the knowledge of utter inadequacy is an encouragement to trust.

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UnClausewitzian wars

The first principle of war, von Clausewitz says, is not military at all but political: war is politics continued by other means. Every war has a political objective and must be conducted in order to achieve that objective. Once the aim is achieved and is secure, the war is finished.

What can one say about the Fourth Afghan War?

Von Clausewitz cut through the guff and bluster of war. It does not exist on its own in a cloud of brass and trumpets as a natural part of sovereignty fought for its own sake: war exists to further a defined purpose, perhaps for territorial aggrandisement or for defence or to distract the people.

The Romans may have thought differently: for them, war was an act of worship, in devotion to Mars. There was gross barbarity in their civilisation and we have suffered from giving too much acclaim of the Romans.

All this said, technically (Hobbes would remind us) all independent states are in a state of war with each other in a sense:

There Is Alwayes Warre Of Every One Against Every One Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

Put more specifically, Hobbes observes:

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another; yet in all times, Kings, and persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall Spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War. But because they uphold thereby, the Industry of their Subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery, which accompanies the Liberty of particular men.

Popular visions of the glory of war are just means to encourage martial prowess in soldiers and to persuade the population to tolerate the depravations that come from the war effort. The mucky political business of why the war is fought is not to be discussed in polite circles, where the glint of the blade and the honourable death are celebrated. So they must be, and a soldier who fights as a true warrior deserves all the celebration he receives and far more – unless you have been there, you have not an idea of even a fraction of it.

However, politics is at the heart of it, and generals must understand it, for war is directed to an aim. If a prince lusts after the wealth of a neighbouring province and invades to seize it, there is no point in his generals’ conducting their campaign so as to destroy that province.

This point sounds obvious in the cold light of peace, but it is reads as a novel suggestion in On War. In the context of earlier works it looks like as an unwelcome sullying of the purity of the soldier’s craft.

The art of war has been studied intently in all cultures of the world across the ages, and written about in learned theses in various civilisations. In all the great writings until the Nineteenth Century, from Caesar, Sun-Tzu, Bonaparte and others, the emphasis is on how to fight – strategy, logistics, tactics and psychology. It was von Clausewitz who started with why to fight. That is of crucial importance: it shapes the whole thrust of the campaign.

In short, if a state launches an attack because a neighbour is threatening its territory or vital interests, the attack need only destroy the enemy’s offensive capacity and all is achieved. During the Falklands War a journalist asked Mrs Thatcher if Britain was going to invade Argentina – maybe jingoism would think that, but the war aims were quickly concluded on the islands and the seas about them. War must not exist apart from its aims.

Aims may change or develop, and the enemy may be deceived about the true aims of a campaign, but an actual aim is a necessity.

In the four Afghanistan Wars to date, the first was unprincipled foolishness, the second a regrettable perceived necessity, the third purely defensive. The fourth has been defensive, to destroy terrorist establishments threatening Britain and America, but that achieved many years ago, and the fighting seemed to go one just out of its own internal logic.

The phrase ‘Something must be done” is not an aim nor any reason for war.

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Maddening the priests

How most vicars stay sane I do not know. There is a special blessing in the knowledge of the love of God: without it, Bedlam is close at the heels.

To reach out to touch the divine, the awe must overwhelm the mind, and it is easy to be misled down other paths.

A minister of the established Church has a position without easy parallel. He is a public official with all eyes upon him because he is expected to display a special insight into the mind of God, but with a doctrine reminding him that he has none.  He knows he is inadequate to the task. To be an elder of the church is to accept impossible responsibilities in which you are seen as what you can never be. The process of striving to achieve spiritual  improvement may destroy it.

Understanding anything of the vastness of God, and the divine is impossible to approach. Martin Luther when first ordained as a monk-priest shook uncontrollably when he first performed the mass, because he had been told that he was physically creating the body of Christ, which is to say he was quite literally making God. No man can do this.

Most vicars, level-headed and understanding as they are, know their own inadequacy at impossible task, and they fail only when they forget that they are mortal. Whatever vision Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel were shown on Sinai, we are told that none, not even Moses, can see The Lord and live. We though have Jesus, which is why any attempt by a minister of the church to understand his called must be by learning at the feet of Jesus, and being content there.

A temptation may creep upon one to believe that there is a special insight given to vicars, that any inspiration in the mind, notwithstanding that it is not scriptural, must be from the throne of the Most High. This is particularly evident in those vicars who take up political causes and a will not be swayed form them, as all who disagree must surely be evil.

Vicars should keep busy at their actual calling: we know who makes work for idle hands.

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.

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.

Thus we have vicars who preach sermons devoid of spiritual content but fiercely passionate on climate change, those who condemn racism, which could be done with a simple word, and consider they work done, with not a word from the charge given to them in the Great Commission.

It is displacement activity, just like the Pharisees of old following invented rituals and painting tombs rather than following justice and mercy.

It s hard to condemn such behaviour knowing we are all flawed. Modern life is too complicated to take it all in. The Christian faith is actually very simple so some ministers may be looking for something to fill in, to bulk it up, but that would be mixing the iron with clay.

In a more dangerous trend, a minister may turn away from the actual requirements of his calling, knowing it to be too hard and the awe too frightening, replacing the living faith with a dead, secular  doctrine drawn from his own Private Spirit, which is a form of madness. It is unsurprising then to see a minister sew his own lips together, which must be a sign of deepest madness in itself, not in the cause of the faith but in a purely secular idea of environmental eschatology.

If the secular cause has gained such traction as to displace actual Christianity, it is a heathen religion, an idol, to be condemned and cast out.

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