A perceptive Muslim

I came across this video on YouTube the other day. The Islamic scholar Imran Nazar Hossein is talking about Islamic prophecies about Christians “closest in love and affection to” the Muslim world. He is very perceptive about the uniqueness of Russia as centre of the Christian world, about the importance of monasticism, and the false Christians of the West who scorn Russia and embrace secularism. He is also very perceptive about the historic crusades and conquistadors, saying: “they [Western Christians] wanted Orthodox Christianity to bend its knee to Rome;” and “they treated the Orthodox Christians with contempt.” And looking forward he alludes to a future Christian-Muslim alliance. Zionism is mentioned too as part of the confidence trick of false Christianity. I must say it’s refreshing to see a non-Christian distinguish so clearly between the Orthodox Church and those unhappy ones who have ensnared by Satan.

 

The Reformation

van der Meulen, Pieter, b.1638; William III, the Duke of Schomberg and the Pope

Everybody seems to be marking the fifth centenary of Martin Luther’s famous protest against the sale of Indulgences in their own way so I thought I might share a few thoughts of my own on the matter. As many of you know, I come from a family of mixed English and Irish ancestry, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, and so my experience of the Reformation and the subsequent wars of religion (whose last frontier were the streets of Belfast) is an Anglo-Irish one. The island of Ireland is uniquely divided along religious lines and as I have grown older I have come to share Iris Murdoch’s contempt of Ireland, particularly Irish religion. Even Lord Carson, who became the lynchpin of the Unionist cause, found Ireland’s Orange culture distasteful. Terence O’Neill, an Irish gentleman of impeccable character and antient lineage, wrote with painful regret in his autobiography of how his attempt to bring about a peaceful solution to Ulster’s age old problem had been “wrecked by wicked men.” These wicked men, and Ian Paisley was certainly one of them, were partisans of the Reformation, the minority who lived in fear that the papist bog trotters would steal into their homes at night and smother them as they slept; who marched triumphantly down the Gavaghy Road on the Masonic Twelfth to celebrate the brutal suppression of the old Gaelic order; and from whose churches, grim sermon halls, had been banished all beauty and comfort.

What of their enemies? Well, the Protestant paranoia about Home Rule was justified in the days when the Republic was a brutal, theocratic state. The corruption of the Papal Communion in Ireland was so deep and its influence so great that nobody can say that it was ever a force for good for the Irish people. False imprisonment of young women; the physical and sexual abuse of children in schools run by religious orders and by secular priests; the discrimination against Protestants; the ignorance; the philistinism; the cruelty; and the hypocrisy. And why? Why were the Irish people interminably loyal to an institution that was ashamed of them, and oppressed them incomparably harsher than the British? When he visited Phoenix Park in 1979, John Paul II remarked disingenuously that the Irish people had always enjoyed the affection of the “apostolic see!” Since when? Did Adrian IV demonstrate affection for the Irish people when he ordered the Norman conquest of Ireland? Or Cardinal Rinuccini, whose abortive mission to the Irish Confederates was later exposed as a plot to re-establish Popery in England? Or, most infamously, pope Innocent XI who was secretly funding William III of Orange against James II, against Irish sovereignty and against Catholic ownership of land!

I suppose that’s all political, though. I would view the Reformation much less favourably if what the reformers had attacked bore any resemblance to the Gospel. As it happened, much of what they attacked was false or superstitious anyway. People are only going to tolerate false doctrine and corruption for so long before they revolt. That’s why the Reformation happened. It’s also why Protestantism is on its way out. Rome won’t be far behind. What does Western Christianity offer to people but worldliness? And the Western confessions, large and small, have embraced worldliness because they have been cut off from the Orthodox Church for a thousand years. Putrefaction has come slowly but in the end the balm accords with the relics.

The Orthodox Way

A priest once told me that he met a man so well-read in the Fathers, so well-rehearsed in the Liturgy and so well-versed in ecclesiastical politics that he might be mistaken for a monk by a less-discerning person. But he was a child murderer and in prison. On the other hand, the priest also knew an old, illiterate babushka from before the days of the Soviet Union whose earthy piety and sense put him to shame. I wish to God I could aspire to that woman’s piety. I never stop trying.

The Lady in the Van…

Maggie Smith

For many years now I have been fascinated by the lives and habits of eccentrics and vagrants. I am not entirely sure why, and I am suspicious of any attempt to bring the pseudo-science of psychology into the matter, but it may be because I am myself an eccentric (or at least a recluse), and I may one day end up a vagrant. I am familiar with George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, as well as the extraordinary and ascetic life of Quentin Crisp. I recall the tragic life of Sebastian Flyte and the disheveled women of Grey Gardens. The sadistic brutality of “Shack” from Emperor of the North contrasts with the shuffling figure of Crayford, “Old Smoky,” resigned to his lot. Collectively, the stories here provide a sobering view of how difficult life can be for people who are different, whether by daring to be so or because life itself has dealt unfairly or unkindly.

***Spoiler Warning***

The latest for me in this series is Nicholas Hytner’s adaptation of Alan Bennett’s play The Lady in the Van, starring Maggie Smith as the eponymous Mary Shepherd, whose true name, Margaret Fairchild, was “buried to sin;” and Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. “Miss Shepherd,” as she is known throughout the film, is a crotchety old tramp who lives in the back of a van in Camden Town. The locals, well-to-do people of a somewhat liberal worldview, put up with her, due, in Bennett’s view, to their guilt at the disparity between their lot and hers. Accepting her as a mild nuisance, albeit a presence to plummet the value of their Victorian houses in the eyes of the Joneses, they live their middle-class, middling lives around Miss Shepherd, a woman whose talents are as multi-flavoured as her aroma. An accomplished pianist, she studied music in Paris under Alfred Cortot and drove an ambulance during the War. She spent some time in a convent, but was expelled; she also spent some time in a lunatic asylum, but seemingly gave them the slip. It seems that she was driving from the asylum when a cyclist crashed into her and died. She managed to avoid arrest by bribing a corrupt policeman but spent the rest of her days in fear of him. Now (or rather then) she spends her time selling pencils at the roadside and, like Blanche DuBois, living off the kindness of strangers, and her long-suffering brother in Broadstairs. She died in 1989 having spent fifteen years living in Bennett’s driveway.

The interesting thing about the garbled stories of her life is that they are all true. Unlike “Old Smoky,” who I once overheard telling a passerby that he’d tamed elephants on Brighton beach, Miss Shepherd really did fall from grace. This is interesting given her repudiation of her Christian name, ostensibly because of a perceived sin for which she spends her life atoning. Did she choose to embrace life in the van, the instrument of another’s death, and in time the very place of her own, or was she chosen? Can people live their lives any other way than they have chosen? Or what happens in people’s lives to make them the way they are? Bloody bad luck, as the Tramp Major said of George Orwell in The Spike, or other things? Pride, resignation and incorrigibility seem to be a common element.

I do recommend this film. It’s as funny as it is sad; gritty and frank. In fact, it’s so good I have ordered the book.