Every time I hear a politician or journalist use the phrase ‘making your mind up’, awful memories of Buck’s Fizz come flooding into my memory. Not the rather tame (but refreshing on a hot day) drink, but the of-its-time pop group who defrocked themselves while singing the chorus.
Observing the election campaign, I am beginning to wonder whether people have actually already made their minds up and the next ten days will just get a bit tedious with the repeated mantras that are supposed to invade our subconscious and steer our hand in the ballot box next week. Labour sound defeated, the Tories sound panicky/desperate, and the Liberal Democrats sound confident about changing the political landscape in the UK.
What I can’t make my mind up about is precisely which ‘Britain’ is being remembered when the parties – Tories (mainly) and UKIP/BNP/English Democrats/etc (manically) – promise to restore to Britain the greatness that is its birthright. The BNP have even superimposed Nick Griffin (looking as if someone is squeezing his balls below the picture to make him look serious) on Sir Winston Churchill – a ludicrous association if ever there was one. But, my question is a serious one: when was the ‘golden age’ to which we might aspire to return or re-create?
Of course, this goes hand-in-hand with the other question around at the moment: are Christians being marginalised or persecuted? The link between this and the first question is that both make assumptions about the past and both indulge in a rather embarrassing (and baseless?) romanticism.
I am still wading through Dostoyevsky‘s The Brothers Karamazov: 400 pages so far and nothing has really happened. (Only another 600 to go…). Before dying at an appropriate moment, the elderly monk (Staretz) Zosima speaks about the decline of Russia and how Russia, destroyed by her leaders, will be saved by her Christian people. And the divine destiny of the great country will be restored and guaranteed as the old, corrupt order falls apart. The future, however, also contains threats that must be avoided. Published in 1880 (when Lenin was 10 years old), it is hard not to read it with half an eye on subsequent (and then unimaginable) developments in Russia and beyond. There is too much to quote here, but you could read some of this stuff and no one would blink if you applied it to today – the same old romanticism.
Why do we all do this? We romanticise the past, bringing a certain order out of the chaos that we actually lived through, and fear the ‘monsters’ that lie in wait for us in the future. Every generation fears it might be the last. Every generation worries that it has sold its inheritance and that everything is now in decline. “AND IT IS SOMEONE’S FAULT!” But, look back in England to the post-war years of growth, optimism and massive technological advance in just about every field – the promise that reconstruction brings and the energy it commands. But also look at what became known as ‘the permissive society’ and the obvious fact that we write the script of history as we go, not always clear about the implications until much later.
While on sabbatical a few months ago I did a quick, inexhaustive and not-very-thorough internet trawl of newspaper reports and headlines going back a century or so. Every headline seems to imply that the world/country/government/society/Church is going to the dogs and the world is about to fall apart. It hasn’t. I did the same for Germany and its world did fall apart on more than one occasion. Most Germans do not romanticise the past century or more; the Brits do. And it is mindless.
As I have noted before, I used to baptise people in a Norman font and drink wine (Communion) from an Elizabethan chalice every Sunday in my old parish. During the time people have been living their lives in that community there have been civil wars, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, European wars, colonial wars, the rise and demise of the British Empire, the birth and death of the Soviet Empire, and so on. When this chalice was first used, America didn’t exist (except for the Indians who already lived there, but apparently don’t count when it comes to remembering American history). This is the sort of perspective we need to recover – not some romantic notion of a golden age that never existed other than in our ideological or emotional ‘memories’.
The election candidates will continue to frighten us with the fearful future and promise a recovery of the elusive past. All nonsense. The more the leaders bang on about the dangers of a hung Parliament, the more I want one. Call it a ‘coalition government’, have a look at some of our European neighbours (Germany, for instance) and ask what the fuss is about? Maybe the fear is only in the minds of party leaders who fear losing control and having to argue their case for policy implementation. I’m beginning to think that might be far preferable to some of the alternatives.
Making my mind up? I’m getting there. But I’m also getting fed up with the self-regarding fear-mongering being put about. We could just grow up and try something different for a change. Which, actually, is what happens all the time, in every generation, in some part of life or other. We make it happen as we go. There is no other way.