Saturday, March 08, 2008

The European Past is the Present

Every Christmas I have to go through an ordeal for the sake of a few friends and relatives. What is the ordeal? Well, it is not sending out Christmas cards; I don’t mind that. And it is not wrapping presents; my wife does that. The ordeal is a trip to the Witch of Endor’s little shop of horrors.

Maybe she isn’t literally the Witch of Endor, but she gives every indication of being a near relation. The Witch of Endor is a horrible old lady who runs a local book store. Now, most people who run book stores are to the left of center, but very few would rather follow you up and down the aisles trying to interest you in the latest, radical tome from the academy than make a sale. But the Witch of Endor is such a woman. She is a retired academic who doesn’t need to make a living from selling books, so she proselytizes. And unfortunately, for me, she has the only book store that sells Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. So if I want to give a friend or relative a copy, I must venture into the witch’s cave.

I put up with the witch for 5 straight Christmases without telling her off, and I did not refrain from speaking up because I was afraid she would cast a spell on me. I refrained because I was brought up to respect my elders, even if they weren’t my betters. This year, however, I broke down slightly. I didn’t curse at the old hag or drive a stake through her heart, but I did tell her in no uncertain terms that with the exception of certain books such as A Child’s Christmas in Wales, my reading tastes did not go past the nineteenth century. The witch then went into a witchy tirade about the evils of living in the past.

That one cannot, and should not, desire to live in the past is an unchallenged assumption of our culture. If you declared your intention to do so you would be classified as mentally unstable. But nevertheless, I would like to challenge the “You can’t live in the past” orthodoxy of our modern Babylonian culture.

In a country based solely on a materialistic view of life, such as the modern U.S.A., living in the past is viewed as insanity. How can one, outside of a science fiction novel, live in the past? One can’t in a purely material way. Even Miss Havisham could not physically stay in the past. Time moves on, as the materialists tell us ad nauseum. But time is not supreme in the spiritual realm. C. S. Lewis wisely depicts Narnia as being outside the sphere of mortal time. And Tennyson places God outside of “our bourne of Time and Place.”

Certainly a man has to acknowledge that he lives in a particular place and at a particular time, just as one must acknowledge that his earthly body needs food and sleep. But he does not have to, nor should he, live, in the spiritual sense, in a totally debased, soulless, materialistic culture. The human soul needs communion with other souls. And where there is no quickening spiritual life, there is no communion. A man must, if he has a soul, look to the past, the European past, if he wants to live a life of the spirit. The past contains all that makes life redeemable: truth, beauty, honor, love, and faith. Without a spiritual connection to the past, we are doomed to be forever bound on the Promethean rock with multi-racial birds of prey tearing at our livers.

The non-European does not have to be connected to his past in order to thrive, because the worship of dumb nature is impersonal. His ancestors worshipped the savage gods of the bush and so does he. He is connected with his ancestors in faith even if he doesn’t know them.

It is different for the white man. He turned from the nature gods to a personal God above nature. If he denies his past and seeks to return to the nature gods, he will lose his identity; he will cease to exist. The modern white liberal and his neocon cousin are perfect examples of the new, non-existent European. They deny any kinship with the Europeans of the past but are unable to return, much as they would like, to the nature gods of the barbarians. They can’t be fully barbarian because of their past, which they deny, and they can’t be fully Christian because they hate the people and the God of old Europe. So, they have become a non-people. We have only a remnant of Europeans to work with because the rest have become what is virtually a new species.

We must live in the past because that is where He lives. When Heidi’s grandfather comes down from the mountain, he finds faith and comfort with the Christian people of Dorfli. When the seven brothers, portrayed by the Finnish novelist Aleksis Kivi, come out of the forest to be reconciled with the men and women of Toukola, they find Christian men and women to be reconciled with. This is not possible in our modern world, and (what is especially sad) it is not possible in our modern churches. The Protestant and Catholic churches have divorced themselves from the past. They might retain a rite or a hymn from the past, but the spirit, the whole mode of viewing existence which marked the old European, is gone from the churches today as it is gone from the modern world.

Our European ancestors came as conquerors, but still they bent their knees to Christ. They were heroes who were not too proud to acknowledge the true Hero. How is it possible to forsake those heroes for barbarian heroes or technocratic heroes? If we align ourselves with any part of the modern world, we will surely die.

The immortal part of man, his spirit, cannot live with the barbarian or the technocrat. In the past, which is always spiritually in the present, is life, abundant life. Nothing is impossible if we stay linked to the European past. One of my heroes, Sir Walter Scott, once wrote a short novel called the The Surgeon’s Daughter. The young surgeon’s daughter has the misfortune to be captured by Moslems. One man loves her enough to face the entire Moslem world alone, armed only with his love and his faith:

‘Twas the hour when rites unholy
Call’d each Paynim voice to prayer,
And the star that faded slowly,
Left to dews the freshen’d air.

Day his sultry fires had wasted,
Calm and cool the moonbeams shone;
To the Vizier’s lofty palace
One bold Christian came alone.
I quote those lines often because I think they express what sets the European apart from all other races. Because he bent his knee, unreservedly, without let or hindrance, to Christ, he was able to understand the miracle of love. The European saw that human love and divine love were intertwined and that the type of miracle which confounds the devil and defeats the evil empires of this world comes only to those whose love is grounded in Him, who is to be found in the European past. If we refuse to sever our link to that past, we will never be bereft of those things the modern world is bereft of: faith, hope, and charity.

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