The nation’s youngsters have dutifully and thoroughly gobbled up all the propaganda fed to them by their teachers and by the scriptwriters and presenters of the many programmes made to mark the centenary of the ending of the First World War. It was chilling to hear a little girl of about eight expertly regurgitate the cliché “A lost generation.” Then a lad of eleven came on and told us WWI was meant to be “the war to end all wars.”
The line peddled consistently by the mass media presents war generally, and the First World War in particular, as a regrettable lapse, an unfortunate fall from our customary sweetness and light. The Great War is also presented as something that people did in the olden days, in primitive and unenlightened times, and the inferred conclusion is that of course we know better today and we would never repeat the mistakes of our forefathers. The idea is that we have progressed. We know better these days. We are modern.
Somehow – it’s a mystery to me how they do it – our bien pensant propagandists are able to present their view in the face of daily, hourly, evidence from the world over of wars, terrorism, hunger and deprivation caused by strife and the consequent displacement of populations. Our children, safe – for the moment – from the ravages of war, rehearse the enlightened platitudes which are constantly drip-fed to them, while in many other parts of the world children are being casually slaughtered.
I was going to say that it is our political philosophy which allows us so consistently to see the world as other than it really is. But no, it goes much deeper than politics. In Europe and the USA – things may be different elsewhere – we think so well of ourselves and regard wars as the stuff belonging in the bad old days. We do this not as a matter of political persuasion or ideology: this belief that we have – or at any rate ought to have – outgrown wars is rooted in our psychological makeup. Bluntly, it is a spiritual disorder and one which has developed very recently – in fact only since the cradle-to-the-grave expectations that have been inculcated since 1945. But the main reason for the emergence of our modern attitude is the decline in religious observance and with it the understanding of human nature.
There have always been wars and there always will be, just as there will always be weather. And until very recently, this was taken for granted. When Jesus’ disciples asked him when the end of the world would come, he told them it would be a time “of wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6). He meant that it would be a time like any other. The Church of England – in the days when it was a serious institution – knew that wars are a commonplace of everyday existence. The Thirty-nine Articles attached to The Book of Common Prayer state plainly: “It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons and serve in the wars” (Article XXXVII).
This did not imply that Christians desired wars but they knew, because their religion taught them the truth about human nature, that so long as mankind exists there will persist greed, avarice, covetousness, my wanting to possess what is not my own and the lust for conquest. Christians always knew that war is evil, but they also knew that there are greater evils: dispossession, subjugation, the pains of being under the enemy’s thumb. They could also give you an explanation for why these things will always be: the fact of human nature itself, flawed human nature. And the word for this is Original Sin.
When you say these things today, the enlightened modern types are outraged – because, in their ignorance, they think that Original Sin is something ancient, primitive and occult which we outgrew long ago. Original Sin is nothing of the sort. It is merely a proposition of common sense based on long experience. St Paul puts it in a nutshell: “For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19) There’s the human condition spelt out for us in nineteen words, each of one syllable! Moreover, St Paul was not enunciating some abstract proposition of advanced ethics: he was speaking from his own experience, which is our experience too. We are flawed, imperfect creatures and we know it. So we lie, steal, commit adultery and act murderously in our coveting of what is not our own.
Nothing in human nature has changed since St Paul’s day – except the emergence of the fanciful ideology of thosemodern propagandists who, because they have rejected the Christian faith, are completely at a loss when it comes to self-understanding. As usual, the Prayer Book spells it out for us: “We have erred and strayed.” And we still err and stray. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
We all know this for ourselves as a truth arrived at after a mere moment’s reflection. I say “all” – all that is except the enlightened modern secularists – disappointing to see so many bishops and clergy among them – who imagine themselves to be better than they are.