Monday, April 6, 2009

The End of Western Civilization

There was a story last week that made some of the blogs I read. Apparently, a house burned down in England. Children were trapped inside. The neighbors wanted to attempt to save the kids, but were kept from doing so by the local police (who also would not go in). The reason for this was that regulations required them to wait for the fire brigade. Somewhere, Winston Churchill is spinning like a top in his grave.

I am an Anglophile. I love Churchill, Thatcher, and even Cromwell. I love the monarchy, and I love the Queen. I love common law, the mile, and the pound sterling. I did my graduate work studying the Brits from the Normans through the Tudors. Tomorrow will be my WWII lecture where I tell my 7th graders that Churchill, radar, and the Spitfire were all that stood between civilization and darkness in 1940. But that Britain is dying.

Part of the problem is demographics--the Brits, like so many Europeans, are not reproducing. Four grandparents produce between them two children and one grandchild. The family tree is upside down. Hand-in-hand with that is immigration. Somebody has to do the work and pay the taxes if there are not enough British to do it. A lot of these immigrants are non-western. Many of them are Muslim. None are products of the thousand years of cultural sculpting that produces Brits. Then there is the increasing connection with the European continent. Believe it or not, English merchants are required by law these days to weigh out their goods in metric measures. No ounces, no pounds, no yards. It is a little thing, but profound. Bureaucrats in Belgium can exert more control over the English people than can the Queen. There is also a disturbing loss of faith. The Church of England is stronger in Nigeria than in London... the current Archbishop of Canterbury has come out in favor of Sharia Law in parts of England.

Once upon a time, the very best thing that could happen to a country was to be colonized by the British Empire. Look around the world--almost every place you find pockets of prosperity or freedom mixed among third-world squalor (from Hong Kong to India to South Africa to, well, the USA), you find a place where the Union Jack once flew.

Those days are dead and gone. And with them has gone much of western Christendom. If only there were a nation of similar fortitude to carry the banner today. If only....


Paul Murphy said...

"Once upon a time, the very best thing that could happen to a country was to be colonized by the British Empire."

It's true. Look how good Tristan, St. Helena, Caymans, have economically turned out. Thriving for Tristan, St. Helena. And besides the drug trade being funneled through the Caymans and their executors regularly being brought up on charges by not only the UK but also in other countries including the US, they're fantastic.

But lets not forget the economic and political stability of Zimbabwe, Shri Lanka, Sierre Leon, and Iraq.

Oh, and the human rights testament that the British Empire left was also beneficial in India, South Africa, and Ireland.

I think its dangerous to try to put lipstick on imperialism. Some good came from the British Empire. The end of the international slave trade, and India's railway infrastructure.

Coach Sal said...

Paul, I will agree with you that in a perfect world, there would be no imperialism, no colonialism, no competition for scarce resources. I'll even say it would be great if there were no wars and no weapons. Sadly, we live in an imperfect and fallen world. That means there will be winners and losers. I would prefer the winners be the ones who value freedom, democracy, the rule of law, free speech, etc. My praise of colonialism was meant at least a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there is a nugget of truth at the center. I really don't think Zimbabwe's problems are related to too much British/western influence; you could plausibly argue that they could use a good bit more. And Iraq is certainly freer after a little American (2nd generation British) influence than they were in the days of Saddam's rape rooms. I'll even expand my original point a bit--where countries come under the cultural influence of Anglo-western civilization (Germany, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong), some positives tend to follow. Compare and contrast with the legacy of influence by other systems, like that of the USSR. There is no clearer object lesson than the "experiment" of North vs. South Korea since 1953.

I do agree with you that the legacy of Colonialism is a mixed bag, and certainly wouldn't want to argue in favor of Kipling's "White Man's Burden." But my larger point remains--the world is changing. Pax Brittanica has given way to Pax Americana, and that itself seems to be on the way out. The virtues (national and personal) that I admire so much in Churchill seem increasingly quaint and anachronistic. Maybe that's why I'm a history guy... I'm hopelessly trapped in a byegone age.

Greg & Kim said...

First of all, thank you for posts like these. They are right in Greg's and my discussion wheelhouse, and boy, do we discuss them:). We spend A LOT of time (like, a bizarre amount) talking about our role in the world, and to figure that out specifically, we need not only to read and interpret the Bible, but to understand how we see the church, history, politics, government, and America. So blogs like these are a great jumping off point for yet another round of discussion. And since we both agree in this area, we are running our results by someone who doesn't seem to agree for a little feedback:).

Like you, I consider myself somewhat of an anglophile. I minored in history, and took quite a bit of English history (I remember writing a major paper on chartism, which I loved). I also studied abroad for two months in London, with all my classes focused on english history and literature (ever read Bede? gag me.) That said, I view English history and imperialism a lot differently.
For one, it's interesting that almost all of the colonies violently revolted from their saintly benefactors (you kind of addressed this in your reply to Paul, so I'm not going to beat this one). I'll just say that it's a lesson America should pay attention to (history repeats itself:)). Secondly, from my time in England, I heartily agree with your assertion of its godlessness. But I also saw the numerous "barbecue spots," as my professor called them, where so many were burned at the stake in the name of religion. When religion causes as much brutality as it did in England, I can at least understand how distancing yourself from it might be considered a survival mechanism (another lesson from America. We live in a different age, but anger and hatred and screaming on the part of the "religious right" are not doing the Kingdom any favors). Lastly, your example of the policemen not letting the people in to get the kids seems to me to be quintessentially English, and not an example of deterioration of their way of life. I picture the redcoats in their bright,shiny uniforms, walking in their neat, straight lines, and getting brutalized by a rag tag colonial militia. They are unable to make the obvious adaptations b/c they have a system and a method that must not be violated. In the same way, the firemen MUST come before anyone enters the house. The officers in question could not adapt to the circumstances.

The bottom line of Greg's and my discussion, though, was somewhat different from your point, and yet it seems like something you would disagree with. Here it is:

England has never been, nor will it ever be, a city on a hill.
America has never been, nor will it ever be, a city on a hill.
(Greg's aside: "And frankly, I'm offended that Reagan would use that phrase to describe something as profane as America.")
America's biggest attributes are freedom and democracy, and the fact that it is crafted to best work with and curtail human vice. We channel our natural greed into capitalism. We attempt (key word) to limit human corruption through an elaborate governmental system of checks and balances. Our democracy is structured in such a way that the few cannot rule over the many, nor can the many persecute the few (mob rule). It's a beautiful system, and we thank God every day that we get to live in this country, and we're SO thankful for all those who defend it so that we can have a wonderful life. But we do not think of it as inherently moral. It's ingenious, practical,and effective. But we revolted from our founders, stole our land from the Native Americans and Mexicans, enslaved a race, persecuted every wave of immigrants to cross our shore, etc.

The church always has, and always will be, the city on the hill, the light of the world. If we as the CHURCH (not as Americans) don't shine, there is no light. Thus, we don't mourn the passing of Englishness b/c we've never had any faith in it to start with.

Any thoughts? This is really not an argument to us--we ENJOY this:). And again, since we both agreed, we wanted to hear some opposition so that we could better flesh out what we thought.

bekster said...

Wow. I wish I knew more about this subject to be able to throw something really insightful into the mix. I will say that I think all of you (Larry, Paul, & Kim/Greg) are pretty much right. I don't think any of what was said conflicts too much. Kim/Greg hit the nail on the head with the point that the Church is the light of the world (at least it should be). However, places like England and America with Judeo-Christian roots DO seem to "prosper" more (which may or may not be a sign of favor from God), whether or not they actually go about "reaching the lost" in good ways. Sure, it backfires to cram the Westernized Gospel down the throats of those who don't want it in that form--and, obviously, it is bad to injure/kill people for not sharing our beliefs. We (citizens of English speaking countries) are not perfect, but at least maybe we are a little closer to how we should be than people in some other parts of the world (like, say, North Korea). In that respect, it is sad to see the godliness leave a place like England that had such former honor, if glamorized honor. This just makes it all the more import for us as individuals to let God's light shine through us. We can't control the Brits, but we can determine what we ourselves do. Yes, even we are idiots sometimes, but God can still use us, even as he used the misguided efforts of witch-burners and such to accomplish his overall will. All that we (or the English or whoever) can do is the best that we can, knowing that there will ALWAYS be SOMETHING wrong with our approach. So, anyway, the Brits haven't always been perfect, but I do agree that they were at least TRYING to do good, which is much more than some countries can boast. They did have their glory days, so let's let Larry have his romanticized lens of history with which to see the past. I'll even claim that lens for myself because it is enjoyable to think that once there was something good and noble. It is disappointing to have that bubble burst.

(I apologize if this didn't make sense... I am writing this late at night.)

Coach Sal said...

I appreciate you folks reading my brain-droppings. That's why I blog, after all--to think out loud and maybe have cyber-conversations with smart grown-ups about stuff I like.

I began a long response to Kim's comment yesterday, but work intruded and I had to erase it. I think after a night's sleep, I'm better able to keep it short.

I agree with the idea that America is NOT the church, and that we should not confuse our patriotism with our faith. That said, however, there is the issue of Christians being "in but not of" the world. This analogy is strained, but bear with me: Newton's laws of motion "work" in the realm of physics. But they work inside the bigger framework of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In a similar way, various temporal/world systems of thought "work" inside of the bigger and infinitely more important framework of eternity. When I express a preference for Anglo-Americanism over Franco-continentalism, or for that matter, over communism, none of that is intended to suggest that these world systems are in any way as important as the eternal business of the Kingdom.

With that disclaimer out of the way, though, in the context of the fallen world we live in, I have no problem seeing America as "The Last Best Hope," as Bill Bennett subtitled his recent history survey (great books, by the way). I will post later (maybe even today) some thoughts on what makes America great. We're by no means perfect, but as old Winston Churchill once said, "democracy is the worst system in the world... except for all the other ones." In this modern world, some culture/economy/military is going to exert the most influence. The current contenders for that role are the USA, China, Russia, the European Union, or (to a lesser extent) the radical Islamists. I prefer a world where the USA is in the lead... not just because she is "my country," but because of the unique ingredients that make up our civilization. Sadly, many of those are disappearing, which was the point of my original post.

More later. Bye!

bekster said...

Tommy and I were remarking yesterday how different Americans of today are with Americans of the past. We are such wimps compared to those who founded our country. Think of those who traveled West for months in covered wagons. Or, for that matter, those who came here on boats from Europe in the first place. I do think there was a different spirit among our pioneers than there is today. We are the product of "survival of the fittest" genealogy. Because times were so hard, only the strong survived, and we are the descendants of those "strong." It's too bad you couldn't tell it now. Our forefathers worked hard to create a great nation for us, but that has left less hard work for us to do and we have become complacent and lazy. I think that, more than anything, will be our eventual downfall.