June 5, 2008


A Britain No Longer Great (Tom Bethell, 6/4/2008, The American Spectator)

I go to England fairly often as I have family there -- a brother, two sisters, and my 95-year-old mother. Otherwise I doubt if I would go back. The first thing an American will notice is how expensive it is. Most things are double the U.S. price. Gasoline is three times higher -- now $10 a gallon. And still the roads are clogged. (All prices in this article have been converted to dollars at $2 to the pound.)

The country is far richer than it used to be, London is booming and one of the most expensive cities in the world. One reason is that Tony Blair, prime minister for ten years, knew better than to reverse Margaret Thatcher's key reform -- the reduction of tax rates on capital and income. The new (and still unelected) prime minister, Gordon Brown, seems to have less sense. [...]

Parliament, when I was in England, voted not to hold a referendum on the new European "constitution." So the people will not be able vote it down -- as happened in France and the Netherlands. Yet the Labour Party had won the 2005 general election on a manifesto promising such a referendum. A former French president described the background in these words: "Public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals that we dare not present to them directly." That is what is happening.

THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM in England, I believe, is the decline in Christianity. It is a Europe-wide phenomenon. Churchgoing in Britain is dwindling away, both among Catholics and Protestants. Rome has contributed to this decline by appointing weak bishops, believing that this will bolster ecumenism (a substitute for conversion). Church schools are funded by the state. Recently the Catholic bishop of Lancaster stuck his neck out and said these schools weren't teaching proper Catholic doctrine; sex-ed amounted to "throwing condoms at children" increasing teen pregnancy, and so on. He was soon called to testify before a parliamentary committee whose chairman said:

"It seems to me that faith education works all right as long as people are not that serious about their faith. But as soon as there is a more doctrinaire attitude questions have to be asked."

He reminded us that "this is taxpayers' money."

That is exactly the outlook of the political classes, but normally it is left unspoken. Parliament can tolerate religion, even fund it, as long as people don't really believe it. The bishop spoke out only because parents pressed him, it appears, and I won't be surprised to learn that Rome reacts by urging the bishop not to jeopardize funding in future.

The decline of Christianity is something the intelligentsia has long sought, but the rise of Islam may be its most momentous consequence. And that is feared, not relished. Witness the Archbishop of Canterbury's lame gesture of appeasement, calling for the partial recognition of Sharia law. One faith is moving into the spiritual vacuum left by the other. These, perhaps, are the most important underlying forces at work in Britain today. And rising prosperity is probably the most important cause of Christian decline. People will not think much about the next life when they have so many opportunities to indulge their appetites in this.

One night, on the BBC, there was a touching film called "White Girl," apparently based on a true story. It showed one of these sad, broken families moving into public housing in a part of Bradford now controlled by Pakistani Muslims. (Bradford is a large northern town, once the center of the wool trade, and now one of the largest Islamic communities in Britain. I went there myself on a brief visit recently.)

The daughter of this chaotic family -- the "white girl" -- meets the neighbors and goes with them to the mosque. She tells her surprised mother: "When I pray it's like everything's not all bad and f***ed up, like somewhere there's a place that I feel safe." Muslim propaganda? Maybe. But also believable.

The great unanswered question is whether the welfare state that has so de-moralized family life in Britain will likewise undermine the Muslims. At present they seem to be flourishing. Peter Hitchens accepts that the Muslim rise and Christian decline are but the opposite poles of a single phenomenon. Possibly, the corrosive effects of welfare will undermine the Muslims as well. He described seeing young Muslim men tearing about in souped-up cars on his own visit to Bradford.

Possibly, also, the greater morale that Muslims now seem to enjoy will preserve their families intact. My impression is that their men have not yet been cuckolded by the state -- certainly not in the mosque, and perhaps not in the home either. It's hard to say. I don't know of any good reporting that has yet been done on these crucial developments in Britain.

It is precisely because the welfare state will likewise destroy Muslims that Eurabia is not a realistic threat.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 5, 2008 7:59 PM

So why is that Christianity can withstand persecution from the Romans to the Soviets, but it is easily defeated by the dole?

Posted by: Brandon at June 5, 2008 9:24 PM

And rising prosperity is probably the most important cause of Christian decline.

Counter-example: the good old "Christianist" US of A.

May be "rising welfare state is probably the most important cause of Christian decline", yes? Since the poor, the unfortunate, and the lazies are all taken care of by the state, who needs Christian charities? There's always a danger that the Christian dogooders would goad the lazies to work. That would reduce the case load and possibly jeopardize the jobs of welfare workers, undermine big govts., and politicians who prosper on taxpayers' dole.

Posted by: ic at June 5, 2008 10:37 PM

Persecution doesn't matter much. Statism dissolves all social bonds in order to replace society with the state.

Posted by: oj at June 5, 2008 11:28 PM

It isn't the dole, it's the ridicule. Once Christianity became something to laugh at, and with nominal Christians nervously joining in, the church no longer stood for anything.

If the state picks up the sword to destroy the church, the church at least knows it means something. Mockery is more difficult, because Christianity in Europe no longer knows anything, much less what it meant, and what it should mean going forward.

It hardly needs to be said that "modern society" is not going to mock Islam.

Posted by: jim hamlen at June 6, 2008 12:19 AM

The dole is not the cause, it is but one of the phenomena. The cause is the cultural suicide committed by Europe from the Enlightenment over the French Revolution to the abysmal totalitarian regimes of the first half of the 20th century. Since the main link between all of these ideological deviations is their enmity toward Christianity, Tom Bethell is perfectly right in his analysis.

I don't think that Islam will succumb to the same disease. Yes, almost all of them are on the dole in Europe, especially on the continent. But it doesn't corrode their family and clan ties, nor their increasingly salafist belief, since the destructive effects associated with the dole are cultural. If it isn't your culture, it doesn't affect you. BTW, this shows how thoroughly American the African Americans are, even though they see themselves as outsiders (and flock to churches where America is damned): welfarism has had a devastating effect on them, whereas their African counterparts in Europe are on the dole too, but don't seem to suffer any adverse consequences from it. Like the muslims, they just take the easy money and live their lives like they always did back home, with the not insignificant difference that to their norms, the dole makes them rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Posted by: Peter at June 6, 2008 2:12 AM

I don't know why Christianity has declined so much in Europe. My guess is the immense bloodshed of WW1 and WW2 bred profound nihilism and demolished faith in God's benevolence.

As for Muslims in the UK, many will not prosper. They will be let down by the poor quality of state education. Access to welfare will act against the development of middle-class values.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at June 6, 2008 5:40 AM

That is the dole, dependence on the security that the state provides instead of risking the freedom that characterizes a healthy society.

Posted by: oj at June 6, 2008 7:37 AM

It mocks Islam by treating it the same as every other belief.

Posted by: oj at June 6, 2008 7:44 AM