November 12, 2004


The Sob Factor: Quiet grief and private dignity are now things of the past. (Theodore Dalrymple, 11 November 2004, City Journal)

A sibling of one of the dead soldiers said in an interview that his brother had not volunteered in order to die on foreign soil but instead to bring home a paycheck. He never expected to go to war. Moreover, he believed this war to be wrong: ergo, Prime Minister Blair had innocent blood on his hands.

We may marvel at a society in which people join an entirely volunteer army for the pay alone, allegedly unaware that their lives might one day face danger at the orders of the government, whether they liked it or not, as if an army were some kind of alternative social security. Will medical students one day complain because they never knew they might one day see blood and death?

We should make allowances, of course, for statements that the bereaved make in the first shock of grief and loss. What is reprehensible is that interviewers should seek to provoke these utterances in the first place and then broadcast them far and wide. Exactly the same thing happened when terrorists beheaded the first British hostage in Iraq: the opinions of his relatives were sought and filled the newspapers and airwaves for days. This could only encourage more such atrocities.

Raw, undigested emotionalism now prevails in the British press and broadcasting media, whatever the subject. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in public are almost compulsory if one does not wish to appear indifferent to the sufferings of others. Sobs are the ultimate argument, the QED of our age. The stiff upper lip belongs to a Britain that is no more.

Peter Hitchens was right when he wrote that the reaction to Diana's death opened a disturbing window on the mawkishness of modern Britain. But, perhaps there's hope, Culture wars: Moral majority politics, which helped sweep Bush to victory, are coming here. Muslims, conservative Catholics and evangelicals want to change Britain. (Cristina Odone, 15th November 2004, New Statesman)
While the traditional Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are losing members among both laity and clergy, the growth in evangelical congregations has become phenomenal. Many attribute this popularity to the Alpha course, a ten-week, 15-session, back-to-basics introduction to Christianity. The course, according to the London-based agency Christian Research, has been taken by 1.6 million Britons (not least Jonathan Aitken). Its success (since it was founded in the UK 23 years ago, the course has produced offshoots in more than 150 countries) has kept the coffers filled and the propaganda machine churning.

Earlier this year, 1,500 billboards, 3,000 buses and 290 taxi tip-up seats across the country sported a text message: "IS there more to life than this?" alongside the words "The Alpha Course: explore the meaning of life". Alpha's basic principles are simple - faith in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and a life ruled by the Bible. This black-and-white code includes no to abortion, no to sex outside marriage, and no to gay sex ever. (Gay people need to be healed, teaches Nicky Gumbel, Alpha's leading light.)

Alpha also engages members in what can only be described as exercises in self-affirmation - endlessly repeated choruses about how they have been chosen by the Holy Spirit, and how theirs is the Only True Way.

This assertiveness training has produced a batch of graduates who burn to spread the word. Given that most Alpha recruits come from the professional middle classes, their missionary zeal should be taken seriously: these lawyers, bankers and businessmen have the wherewithal to politicise their personal faith.

In Tony Blair, Britain has elected its most religiously devout prime minister since William Gladstone. In a foreword to a book about Labour Christians, he wrote: "Religious beliefs and political beliefs will achieve nothing until people are prepared to act on those beliefs." The Prime Minister's close personal relationship with God has come up repeatedly, most recently in his supposed conversion to Catholicism; it has also spilled into his politics.

Under Blair's stewardship, new Labour stealthily and successfully claimed territory that had traditionally been Conservative. With words such as "good" and "bad" seeping into speeches, with talk of moral responsibility and educational ethos, new Labour stole the high horse from right under the Tories. It could well prove a shrewd move: Thomas Frank, one of America's most acute observers, warns that the 21st century will be a time when "good wages, fair play, the fate of a trade union - all these are distant seconds to evolution, abortion, gay marriage".

Armed with the conviction that their value system stems from a transcendental authority, people of faith have set to work to transform our society. Their crusade against the moral bankruptcy of western Europe may soon shift from being a rallying cry to become government policy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2004 11:56 PM
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