Friday, May 22, 2009

Colonel Blimp

A few weeks back I attempted to draw a parallel with our day and Britain in 1958, using the writings of C. S. Lewis on the nanny state of his day. http://alienrants.blogspot.com/2009/04/about-obama-agenda.html

It seems we have additional similarities. Obama can’t say enough about Islam. He apologizes for us overseas. Turkish students are a higher priority than the tombs of our soldiers.

The present fiasco of Guantanamo and torture ooze of repentance on behalf of the nation.

And Michelle wasn’t proud of America until her husband was nominated for president.

Here is an essay called Dangers of National Repentance, written by Lewis in 1940. Ironically, he was complaining about the Church apologizing for the nation, while we struggle with an apologetic leader who can’t seem to find a church to attend.

The idea of national repentance seems at first sight to provide such an edifying contrast to that national self-righteousness of which England is so often accused and with which she entered (or is said to have entered) the last war, that a Christian naturally turns to it with hope. Young Christians especially--last-year undergraduates and first-year curates--are turning to it in large numbers. They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England. What that share is, I do not find it easy to determine. Most of these young men were children, and none of them had a vote or the experience which would enable them to use a vote wisely, when England made many of those decisions to which the present disorders could plausibly be traced. Are they, perhaps, repenting of what they have in no sense done?

If they are, it might be supposed that their error is very harmless: men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desirable. But what actually happens (I have watched it happening) to the youthful national penitent is a little more complicated than that. England is not a natural agent, but a civil society. When we speak of England's actions we mean the actions of the British Government. The young man who is called upon to repent of England's foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor; for a Foreign Secretary or a Cabinet Minister is certainly a neighbor. And repentance presupposes condemnation. The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing-- but, first, denouncing--the conduct of others. If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity. Unfortunately the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature. By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not "they" but "we". And, since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called "we" is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice. You can say anything you please about it. You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition. A group of such young penitents will say, "Let us repent our national sins"; what they mean is, "Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy."

Such an escape from personal repentance into that tempting region
Where passions have the privilege to work
And never hear the sound of their own names

would be welcome to the moral cowardice of anyone. But it is doubly attractive to the young intellectual. When a man over forty tries to repent the sins of England and to love her enemies, he is attempting something costly; for he was brought up to certain patriotic sentiments which cannot be mortified without a struggle. But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother's milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen. All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But "my enemy" primarily means the man who I am really tempted to hate and traduce. If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names--Colonel Blimp* and "the businessman". I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker's father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians, and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion. I do not mean that what you are asking them is not right and necessary in itself; we must forgive all our enemies or be damned. But it is emphatically not the exhortation which your audience needs. The communal sins which they should be told to repent are those of their own age and class--its contempt for the uneducated, its readiness to speak evil, its self-righteous provocations of public obloquy, its breaches of the Fifth Commandment. Of these sins I have heard nothing among them. Till I do, I must think their candor towards the national enemy a rather inexpensive virtue. If a man cannot forgive Colonel Blimp next door whom he has seen, how shall he forgive the Dictators whom he hath not seen?

Is it not, then, the duty of the Church to preach national repentance? I think it is. But the office–like many others–can be profitably discharged only by those who discharge it with reluctance. We know that a man may have to ‘hate’ his mother for the Lord’s sake. The sight of a Christian rebuking his mother, though tragic, may be edifying; but only if we are quite sure that he has been a good son and that, in his rebuke, spiritual zeal is triumphing, not without agony, over strong natural affection. The moment there is reason to suspect that he enjoys rebuking her–that he believes himself to be rising above the natural level while he is still, in reality, grovelling below it in the unnatural–the spectacle becomes merely disgusting. The hard sayings of our Lord are wholesome to those only who find them hard.

There is a terrible chapter in M. Mauriac’s Vie de J├ęsus. When the Lord spoke of brother and child against parent, the other disciples were horrified. Not so Judas. He took it as a duck takes to water: `Pourquoi cetter stupeur?, se demande Judas. . . . Il aime dans le Christ cette vue simple, ce regard de Dieu sur l’horreur humaine.’ (‘“Why this stupefaction?” asked Judas ... He loved in Christ his simple view of things, his divine glance at human depravity.’) For there are two states of mind which face the Dominical paradoxes without flinching. God guard us from one of them.


*Colonel Blimp was a British cartoon character

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