Silence of the Shepherds
As early as 1867, Matthew Arnold warned that the ebbing of Christianity in England would disturb the societal order and usher in waves of violence. His famous poem, "Dover Beach," noted the result of the weakening of Christianity would mean "we are here as on a darkling plain, Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night."
Years later, in 1919, surveying the aftermath of World War I, William Butler Yeats would write his equally famous poem "The Second Coming." Like Arnold, the poet saw that the dissolution of the ideals foundational to Great Britain's moral order, plus the dissolution of the global societal order imposed by the British Empire, would result in "anarchy loosed upon the world."
Certainly the paroxysms of the twentieth century have in large part been due to the fading of the British Empire and the retreat of Great Britain's influence, but probably neither Arnold nor Yeats envisioned the ravages of the "rough beast" now on the loose in Great Britain.
The "rough beasts" rioting throughout England are certainly full of "passionate intensity," particularly against the "rich," whom they see as depriving them of their just dues. These beasts reappeared in England over the last days, indiscriminately and pitilessly devouring whatever they wished -- just because. Like rabid chimeras, their consciences stultified and withered, their brains reduced to near-reptilian functioning, thousands of young people rioted, pillaged, and plundered.
Matthew Arnold, along with many others, saw where the precepts of Darwinism as concerns the status of humans would lead. Man was reduced to the status of an upright primate and the Judeo/Christian view of the human as imago dei was abandoned. Should we be surprised that young people act like beasts when they have been taught from childhood that's what they are? If humans are no longer taught they are "a little lower than the angels," should we be astonished when they act like animals?
When an earthquake shatters the foundations undergirding the sea of faith, a tsunami of ignorance and violence sweeps all away before it.
Yeats made yet another point in his poem, writing that while the worst are full of "passionate intensity," the best "lack all conviction."
Certainly the lack of conviction is apparent when one contemplates the deafening silence or near-silence from leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities. While it is heartening to see Sikhs and Muslims joining together for the purpose of protecting their places of worship, businesses, and homes while praying for peace, it is rather disheartening to suspect that much of the foxhole unity may be motivated by a mere survival instinct. Self-preservation is also one of the lower, more animalistic instincts, scarcely above the moral level of those perpetrating the violence.
Where have the Sikhs and Muslims been when fire-breathing imams advocating extremism in the name of Allah ensconced themselves in Tottenham and other London burroughs? For instance, where was the much-needed repudiation of the violence espoused by the vicious Tottenham Ayatollah and his rabid followers? Where were the denunciations by moderate Muslims, long accused with some justification of having rather tepid responses toward their more violent brethren? Even now, though there are 354 mosques in London, moderate Muslim voices appear to be almost completely muted.
The lamentable non-performance of the Archbishop of Canterbury, shepherd of the Christian lambs of England, is equally distressing. So far we have heard nothing but pap from him. His statement to the press is a precise summation of what is amiss not only in Great Britain itself, but within the Anglican church, which is so riddled with politically correct thinking and reliance on government initiative that the good Archbishop seems unable to get beyond banalities. He writes:
[W]e now have a major question to address, which is how to combat the deep alienation we have seen, the alienation and cynicism that leads to reckless destruction. The Government has insisted on the priority of creating stronger, better‑resourced local communities. This priority is now a matter of extreme urgency. We need to see initiatives that will address anxieties and provide some hope of long‑term stability in community services, especially for the young. Meanwhile the Church will maintain its commitment to all communities at risk, and is ready to offer its help and solidarity in every possible way.
Having punted the church's responsibility to the government, one has to ask, where are the archbishop's ringing denunciations of the violence? Where the exhortation to the flock to resist the rioters and to defend the defenseless? Where are the calls to respect the order of the state, the clarion message to repent, the calls for self-examination, the urging of a return to the commands of the scriptures and to the traditions of the universal Holy Catholic Church?
The archbishop's statement reminds me of the platitudinous trope I recently saw posted on a United Methodist church's outside bulletin board: "Revenge gets you even. Forgiving makes you one up on the enemy."
And putting flowers in gun barrels stops war, while calls to end the cycle creating a "disadvantaged underclass" will solve the pesky problems of violence against all authority and the pillaging of the "rich."
Doubtless we'll hear a lot more from Archbishop Williams about forgiveness and love, love, love. Such messages may all be well and good, but when that is all that is heard from the pulpits of the land, we should not be surprised at the moral somnolence afflicting the country.
Somewhere between vengeance and forgiveness lies the virtue of justice. Right now, what needs to be heard is not just the love and forgiveness part of the Christian tradition, but also a call to militant and muscular resistance against the great evil sweeping the land.
Preachers and imams, do your jobs. Shepherds, break your craven silences. Put an end to the caviling and whining. Stop punting to the government. Speak the truth and rebuild the foundations of spiritual rigor lest your sheep perish and you with them.