If you want a Vision of the Future…

I was brought to consider the dreadful epitaph of humanity written by George Orwell towards the end of Nineteen Eighty-Four by the article Is Modern Man Irremediably Cut Off from Tradition?

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.

The thought is devastating if we think of it for long enough. History has brought us to this vision of hell, or perhaps history was pointless from the start. Many do write about the current godless and hopeless ideology as the end of history, from which no redemption is possible. Has man fallen into a new original sin and cancelled the Redemption by Christ? Earlier today, I brought up the ideas of Nietzsche in an article: his ideas of strength over compassion and empathy, the emptiness of nihilism and man’s final despair and the Wagnerian Götterdämmerung brought to an end with a cyanide capsule and a shot in the mouth with a pistol.

I refuse that step to hell!

For many years, I have heard Romantic aspirations of some in the traditionalist world, and the New Liturgical Movement article is no exception. I go from the idea that there is nothing we can do about geopolitics and conflicts between superpowers. Perhaps they will bring us to a third and nuclear World War or Orwell’s nightmare vision – shared between bloodthirsty jihadists and the liberal oligarchies of the west. Perhaps some small groups can slide under the radar to begin a new middle age as in the vision of Berdyaev. It happens every time a monastery is founded or when a little “bit of church” comes to light like ours or many others in the world. Individually, we are still free in our thought and do our labours of love: a chapel or a shrine in the corner of our homes. We still love music and art, the little parcels of beauty not conserved in museums but very much a part of our lives. For as long as this is so, our human faces will escape the boot.

It is also an argument I have produced in favour of the Use of Sarum and the colourful and bright churches of the English Renaissance. Using the Tridentine rite is also an exercise in archaism or “archaeologism” in the eyes of some. Preferring Beethoven, Mozart or Bach to some oof-ta, oof-ta blaring out of someone’s car waiting at the red light in a town is also archaism, or preferring to live in an old house rather than something modern and practical. We are told that we can’t go back in time or history. That is true, but we can rediscover our roots and base our lives in the present and future on them.

Even if Orwell’s dystopia descends on us, or some jihadist caliphate, some will survive. Human ingenuity is limitless even in chaos or the madness of modern warfare. There is always a way through adversity. It was possible in penal times in England under psychopaths like Topcliffe the priest-hunter, through the Terror in France and in Soviet Russia in the Stalin era. Churches survived and the faith persisted. When push comes to shove, at least we would die for something and not for futility.

Modernity is facing its crisis as events seem to reproduce the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933. Most of us are sick and tired of our current caricatures of democracy and the endless lies. We may wonder if a demagogue who would blow everything away and give a new start would not be a good thing. In itself, I hardly see Donald Trump as a herald of high culture and the new middle age, but rather the reign of unbound wealth and totalitarianism. Prometheus Unbound! Propaganda works in two directions about whether the UK should leave the EU and what would be the consequences from the most alarmist to the most banal. There’s nothing we can do other than voting, but we can keep our spirits alive through prayer and tending the garden of our traditions and identity.

I am not sure that all the presuppositions of this NLM article correspond with reality, or whether we really grasp what things must have been like in the “old days”. Few of us are called to a monastic life, but many of us may be called to frugality, simplicity and a refusal of the consumerist mould. We can get out of town and set up a business rather than seek some soul-destroying employment. It isn’t easy, but it is part of our ingenuity and resilience, our determination to be ourselves. The old monastic rules can be a great inspiration to us as lay people and secular priests.

I once read the idea of Joseph Ratzinger about small communities of faith. Today we debate whether he meant this as an ideal or simply how things would end up with the invading secularism and the end of parish life outside big cities. In my reckoning, I see the small community as an ideal, little family-like churches in places of worship that are once again labours of love and human craftsmanship. If we are priests, we can celebrate Mass and put everything we have into it. Whether we are priests or lay people, we have the Office which can be said or sung in Latin or our own language. This great invisible network of prayer and the Eucharist rebuilds the Church from the base, and the crisis in the “mainstream” institutions seems no longer to have any relevance or importance for us. The true Pontiff is Christ, who is in the midst of every praying community that desires his presence.

I do believe that the future is the freedom of the spirit forever – but if we take responsibility for our own beings and those we love. There is not only the Church and prayer, but also our inventiveness. If we turn our minds to it, we can find ideas for a small business to get out of the “machine”, and with that live in the country. Perhaps we can offer crafts or linguistic skills – anything. We can build a little chapel in wood or convert an outbuilding like I have done, like my Bishop has done with the help of a few friends. If too many of us do it in the present conditions, we may find the “machine” getting back at us with crippling taxes and social contributions, and all sorts of unrealistic regulations and official standards. The movement will have to be slow, and involve those who can hold the course.

By way of analogy, I mention my passionate love of dinghy cruising. Our ports are full of big white yachts, many of which never put to sea. Mooring charges, by the foot, are exorbitant and owners soon tire of their status symbol. A cruising dinghy is parked for free on its trailer at the owner’s home. It can be towed anywhere and launched for free. An owner who is a good handyman can do all the maintenance very cheaply. The boat can sail in very shallow water and go places no yacht can go. You can’t cross oceans in dinghies, but perhaps not all of us want to sail oceans. The magic is in the smallness and accessibility to the less privileged in conventional society. I already mentioned simplicity and frugality which bring us our personality and freedom. It is ours for the taking…

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9 Responses to If you want a Vision of the Future…

  1. J.D. says:

    “In my reckoning, I see the small community as an ideal, little family-like churches in places of worship that are once again labours of love and human craftsmanship. If we are priests, we can celebrate Mass and put everything we have into it. Whether we are priests or lay people, we have the Office which can be said or sung in Latin or our own language. This great invisible network of prayer and the Eucharist rebuilds the Church from the base, and the crisis in the “mainstream” institutions seems no longer to have any relevance or importance for us. The true Pontiff is Christ, who is in the midst of every praying community that desires his presence.”

    I’ve read this whole reflection through several times Father, and it very much resonates with me, especially the part I quoted above. What a beautiful way of describing a mysterious sort of ecclesiology that— at least to me— seems intuitively right on the money.

    Honestly the crisis in the mainstream hardly effects me anymore either. We’ve got everything at our fingertips these days and have little need to be concerned with the plight of careerist bishops, papal nonsense or the bloated and sinking corporate entities of the mainstream churches.

    I like the idea of a future that looks more like the ACC or some other small, intimate and intentional Christian community shed of the baggage of red tape and out of touch careerists.

    • J.D., the original post is unnecessarily apocalyptic for my taste and I am concerned also by your response, touching and insightful as it is. Fr Anthony thinks (apologies to R.E.M.), that It’s the End of the World as We Know It. Why should he think that? The world has always mistrusted Christ, there have always been heresies and schisms, now’s no different. The enemy changes, that’s all. We have to dig in and keep the faith, same as ever; it was never easy – indeed, that’s the point. And I’m not sure why Fr Anthony thinks our democracy a “caricature”. It is a real democracy, albeit one where the plebs have opted for bread and circuses. It’s no good having a strop because you think other people are common and vulgar, and because they disagree with your viewpoint. Having been suitably terrified by the Establishment we will shortly vote to stay in the “EU” – that’s democracy. There’s no point in my trying to deny it, even if I disagree utterly with the result which, in this case, I do. Fr Anthony suggests we must go back in time to reclaim some kind of innocence. Well, I don’t know about you but I’m not interested in going back, only forward. The Truth is not a museum–piece.

      Fr Anthony is trying to distance himself from the debates raging at the centre; that’s his issue. But I’m more concerned by your own comment. You identify as a Roman but I can’t help but notice that everything you say (as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation!) could have been said by Martin Luther. You endorse “a mysterious sort of ecclesiology” – whatever that might mean – and then proceed to consign both the Pope and the Church to the margins, replacing them with some kind of primitive-Christian community ideal. But without the Pope and the Church, animated by the Spirit, J.D., we have no religion. Separated from the True Vine, we have no Church! A vision of small prayerful communities committed to some artsy-fartsy way of living is already there if you want it – join the Amish – but they’re not going to change the world.

      • I was quite taken aback by this comment. I have read it several times to try to discern what “Alan Munday” really wants to convey. My first reaction was that he identifies with the Orwellian character O’Brien who utters the “stamping boot’ epitaph. I’m not saying that he does, but some might consider the “machine” to be the norm. I could go on to say that there are some fissures in this patronising cant.

        Central to this comment is the triumphalist conservative Roman Catholic ideology, but one which seems to identify with the present day establishment. The problem is that the said establishment is money, self interest and power, feeding sops to the masses. The discourse glides effortlessly between Church (Roman Catholic) and State (the British Crown and government) – even more separated than the Archbishop of Paris and La Gueuse. “Alan Munday” seems to disagree with England staying in the EU, but also seems to accept it. I saw the documentary Brexit the Movie which conveyed the idea of the problem of the EU being opposition to absolute free market capitalism. It showed its own scaremongering tactic by displaying videos of the extreme-right movements and their demagogues. If the future is a choice between oppressive state or pseudo-state bureaucracy or oligarchy and gigantic corporations owning everything, then it would be better to move away or die. If that’s all it is about, then why bother? As a Christian, I am not afraid of death. There is another life in another world.

        The problem with the modern world is that I do not see it going towards anything good or positive. The only outcome possible from present perspectives is something like Orwell’s dystopia, World War III or a kind of dark age where the world is taken over by jihadist Islam and all culture destroyed. I am not unlike the early nineteenth century Romantics when comparing my own forebodings with the great poem of Lord Byron The Darkness on the death of everything. The only positive things I see are anti-establishment and connected with an anarchist vision, the soul of man under socialism as Oscar Wilde coined it. Who is to blame, the establishment or the people whose value in life is bread and circuses? It doesn’t seem to matter.

        I only find goodness at the level of individual persons.

        I’m not sure which are the “raging debates at the centre” to which “Alan Munday” refers. His hobby horse is the “one true church” ideology which is no longer upheld by the very papal authority and magisterium to which he appeals. That is the tragedy of conservative RC ideology. Perhaps since that ideology is also trashed by the modern world, the only alternative is to give up Christianity and deliver ourselves to the tender mercies of brute power and strength. The True Vine is not of this world but is only made known by shadows and images of this world. Any pretention to bind the truth of God in human hands is a blasphemy. Indeed, Pope Francis who has effectively marginalized all but the liberals, is a gift to us all. The conservative RC ideology is untenable and is seen for what it is – nonsense.

        What is the alternative? The Amish? A group of hippies? Marginal independent churches that attract very few people? If numbers are the indicator of truth, then the American mega churches with their loud and brash marketing are the future. Places of pilgrimage like Lourdes and Fatima attract thousands, but they are not our ordinary parish life – and what attracts those people is not human authority but supernatural experience and healing. The little communities show precious little evidence of existing and prospering. What do we leave behind when we die? I am sure that like most other people, I will be totally forgotten within fifty years of dying. It is often a source of pain not to “make a difference”. In the end, that is not important. The real issue is eschatological: our own way out of this world and into the next, whatever that is, and this world’s insignificance compared with the rest of the universe and the other universes in “frequencies” outside our own experience and observation.

        If you want to make an impression on my blog, then come up with something original.

  2. J.D. says:

    I don’t know if I really do identify as a Roman anymore actually. Like Father Chadwick has said in his reply what I feel anymore, and that is that the conservative RC ideology is just no longer tenable,in fact it’s no longer credible at all in some ways. The cognitive dissonance within modern Catholicism is— for me at least— more than I wish to bear. It’s something I’ve felt since day one. I’m a stranger within Rome, even amongst the self styled trad set.

    That being said I enjoy Father Chadwick’s blog because he has such an interesting and eccentric perspective that resonates with me.

    Truth be told who knows whether I’m really Roman or not. By baptism I am, but at heart perhaps I am not. I will say no more because honestly I do not wish to engage in debates about Catholicism.

  3. Thank you, Fr Anthony, for having me on your blog. I can indeed be somewhat patronising (with an “s” please, we’re British). Sorry about that.

    But you do seem a bit down in the dumps. You seem uncertain which terror will engulf us first: the bureaucrats of the EU; right-wingers; Islamists; the oligarchy/Establishment; the Catholic Church as agent of a repressive Establishment; mega-corporations. There are many enemies here. I see you’ve left out Mr Putin and the Russkies. Is that an Orthodox-fraternal thing? (That’s a joke, ta-daaaa!). Things are in a melting-pot at present, that’s for sure. As regards the EU, I’m against it because it centralises power – which will in due time be used for bad things as well as ostensibly good ones. Christians, beware.

    You uphold the nobility of individuals and vilify corporations. But corporations are only groups of individuals. To a greater or lesser degree we all collude in our own destruction, at a personal and corporate level. Bread and circuses – or something more noble? It’s your decision and it’s also a [Geordie accent] “public vote”. Fr Anthony or AnthonyMunday or Joe Bloggs, you pays yer money and takes yer choice. That’s Christ’s challenge to each of us.

    You rather seem to enjoy Pope Francis’ trashing of tradition. I understand that, it suits your agenda. But popes don’t live for very long. You consign “conservative RC ideology” to the dustbin. That’s been tried before. As for “other universes in frequencies outside our own experience and observation”, no, sorry, I’m afraid you’ve lost me there.

    J.D., what can I say? I hesitate to offer any advice but I hope you find your peace, mate. Don’t give up the struggle. God loves us most of all when we’re weak and suffering.

    • I wrote my comment on Word, and it seemed to have “corrected” my English usage and put in the American “z”. Actually, the “z” is admitted and sometimes used in British English.

      It is easy to become paranoid about many of the things of this world and subscribe to conspiracy theories. We can never be sure because we are lied to all the time and nothing is coherent. I think you and I are agreed about mega corporations or state entities that lead us towards totalitarianism. Small trading groups were called companies or corporations in the middle ages. A small number of people can make a body or corporation. We are persons insomuch as we live and work with other people – but not beyond a certain acceptable limit. In the absolute, you are right, but the State above the person is the very definition of Fascism, at least the Italian version.

      I do not enjoy Pope Francis “trashing tradition”, but we do have to admit that it does dampen things a little since the days of 2011 and 2012 when it was open season on anyone who had the temerity to stay in the TAC! I do believe that conservative RC ideology should be scrapped, but I uphold the bishop and the priest as the earthly icon or image of Christ and the “World of Ideas” in which the reality exists. The earthly “magisterium” that is no longer a symbol of heavenly realities is rubbish. Unfortunately, RC conservative apologists go on and on about their “magisterium” like the fundamentalists with their bibles and proof texts. We have to advance in interiority and knowledge, and RC conservatism will not fit the bill.

      You obviously don’t read my blog often. You probably “police” it to see if it is insulting your Church too much for your sensitivities. I have often written speculatively about quantum theory and multiverses as a possibility of explaining existence outside our “material” experience. I am not a specialist in the field, but what I read opens up a far wider vision than the minimalising notions of heaven, hell and purgatory.

      Your last paragraph is even more patronising (I spell it the English way) than your previous posting. You do say some reasonable things, which is why I don’t moderate you and check each comment from you before letting it onto the blog (at least not for the time being). I only do that with those who are obviously trolls (there are a few of them, but fewer since the election of Pope Francis). I find your tone quite repulsive in regard to J.D. Perhaps you should apologise to him. Frankly, I am getting quite bored with being mired in this level of someone who may be fighting your own second thoughts about swimming the Tiber…

  4. Fr Anthony, I was exquisitely aware of my responsibility to say something which might be helpful or at least supportive to J.D. There was no agenda here.

    Your thoughts on these issues are most interesting and engaging but ultimately I disagree with you. When you say that “We have to advance in interiority and knowledge, and RC conservatism will not fit the bill” , I’m afraid that is where we must agree to differ. I do not worship a Teilhardian evolving God.

  5. Stephen K says:

    When I read all the blog sites and all the comments I see a whole lot of opinions. When I write a post I know I’m simply stating my own opinion. Some opinions give me the comfort of thinking that some other people might agree with me and so my opinion is not so half-cracked as I sometimes fear it might be! Still others repel me, because they represent other values – i.e. evaluations of ideas or facts. There’s something of a public forum for the contest of ideas and values and when I think it’s important to put out a contrary opinion I’ll do so, but without any expectation that simply because I say it, it will be accepted.

    In this case, there seems to be a disagreement about the European Union and whether Britain should opt out. At the heart of a lot of issues like this, including “true” churches, is the issue of what we ourselves might want, through love, fear or anxiety, but ultimately about self-interest.

    Not that there is anything weird about self-interest: just that it is often masked by language invoking ‘high’ or ‘noble’ or ‘pure’ or aspirational sentiments. It is an old philosophical axiom that we all act for the good we perceive, for the good, to be happy (at least ultimately). Even a masochist who seeks pain is seeking their good and happiness, notwithstanding the fact that anyone normal or healthy would not see pain as a good.

    And so the same thing applies to religion. In one way or another, each of us gets “loaded up” with ideas and principles and expectations and we spend a lifetime trying to make sense of them or justify retaining or rejecting them. There is nothing intrinsically pure or perfect about any religious assertion or value or custom – neither Sarum, nor the RC Church, nor Anglo-Catholicism, nor Christianity, nor Buddhism, nor the Bible, nor…..name your value. They have merit only to the extent that they bring you to deep wisdom (which is not the same as knowledge or faith or conviction) and compassion and integrity. One they begin to support one’s ignorance, prejudices, hatreds, cruelties, self-obession, etc – they cease to be good and become poison. Jesus is only as good as your life shows you to be –if you are bad and cruel and unjust and unmerciful you drive a nail not only into the efforts of anyone who strives to be like him, but into his very memory and image. (Which sounds, ironically, like those old Redemptorist mission exhortations that our sins crucify Our Lord!)

    On the European union question, I remember how Britain effectively began to turn its back on the Commonwealth countries from the late 60s onwards. It had its own, global, “union” but it sought something else, out of self-interest, which as I’ve said, is quite natural, but at the same time, it doesn’t get too much sympathy from me now if it finds the Common Market is not delivering all that it hoped for. With any society, any collective enterprise, there is a price to pay for the “common good” and that price is some loss of individual good. It cannot be any other way. Just go to the typical pub and listen to the common man – spewing forth about ‘the government’ and taxes etc. No-one wants to pay any but they want the roads, schools and hospitals just the same.
    That’s why I’m a socialist. I believe in paying taxes – and always have paid them – so long as the commercially wealthy pay their fair and proportionate share. I don’t believe in flat taxes but progressive taxes for that reason. Consumption taxes fall more heavily as a proportion on the lower-paid and the socially and economically destitute.

    By all means, let Britain leave, or stay in, the European Union. But if it leaves, it will probably find being on the open seas less comfortable. If it stays, it should put up and shut up.

    Where religion is concerned, we all have some perspective. We have to accept that whatever it is that we want, believe in, work for, is a spiritual world we think will be good for us because it will be good for everyone else if only they would see It!! Unfortunately, that is a fool’s errand that can only lead to conflict or tyranny, and we may have to be content with just acknowledging that we are each the child of a mysterious God we like to think as loving, and work it out according to our own conscience

    Like Father Anthony, and possibly, in one way or another, like most of our co-readers, I am a bit of a romantic, and so I lament the passing of some things and increasingly cherish my memories. But for God’s sake, let’s keep avoiding trying to score points off religious affiliation or understandings.

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