Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

17 September 2010

What does the pope’s visit mean for Britain?

Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger, arrived in Britain for a four-day state visit: the first ever such state visit – i.e. as leader of a political state as well as church – by a pontiff, either since or indeed before the Reformation.

To be more precise, the pope arrived in Scotland yesterday and has now moved on to England, where he will be spending the remaining three days of his stay.

So what, you might ask? What’s so important about a visit from the leader of a brand of Christianity that even most Christians in this country reject? And what’s so important about making a distinction between Scotland and England?

To that question, I’d reply with another: which country, or countries, does the pope think he’s visiting? Sure, from the perspective of worldly politics, this is the head of the Vatican State visiting another state, the United Kingdom. But from an ecclesiastical and pastoral perspective (pastoral in the sense that the pope is the supreme pastor, or shepherd, of the Church’s respective flocks in Britain), the pope is visiting two distinct provinces of the Church of Rome – two distinct ‘countries’: Scotland, and England and Wales. The visit does indeed recall and hark back to a time, before the Reformation and the Acts of Union, when what we now know as Great Britain comprised two Christian kingdoms, not one United Kingdom. From the point of view of the Church, that is, they still exist as such – as fully distinct entities.

This fact alone ought to give pause to those English men and women among us who are inclined to rail against this invasion of damned ‘popery’: the very distinction between Scotland and England that is so important to patriots in both countries is a continuation of the ancient separation of the two lands into distinct ‘Roman provinces’ – in the Empire and Church of Rome – that persists to this day in the Roman Church. In secular life, that distinction was carried through to the present in part as a result of the very different course taken by the Reformation in Scotland and England & Wales, resulting in two established churches with radically distinct characters: the more Protestant, Presbyterian Church of Scotland, without any supreme head; and the more Catholic Church of England (and its Welsh counterpart) that still to this day acknowledges the King or Queen of the United Kingdom as its Head – continuing the role that a King of England, Henry VIII, expropriated for England from the Bishop of Rome. The same Bishop, in fact, who acknowledged Henry as ‘Defender of the Faith’, a title reproduced to this day on the side of British coins showing the monarch’s head.

Ultimately, therefore, the present British state owes the whole authority of its leaders, the spiritual focus of its identity and the ground of its sovereignty to a sacred mission originally conferred on an English king by the pope in Rome, and taken over by that king in his own name: to defend the Catholic Christian faith in this land.

As English men and women, we should therefore pause to reflect whether, in rejecting out of hand the Catholic faith and its unfashionable doctrines, we are not also in a profound sense conspiring with the ruin of England’s identity, indeed its soul. In ‘dogmatically’ asserting liberal and anti-Catholic (or at least, anti-Papal) views – perhaps in our own way out of adherence to what we regard as infallible secular ‘truths’ – on matters such as condom use, ‘gay rights’ and abortion, do we do so in the name of a secular Britain that is poised on the verge of wiping out Christian England?

Those liberal beliefs and values do not necessarily need to be articulated as ‘British’; they could be claimed as English, too. But I guarantee that during the pope’s visit, the clash of values will be presented as one between Roman Catholicism and British multi-culturalism, pluralism and secular modernity. The secularists of the present age are trying in many ways to complete the work begun in the Reformation: to smash up the Church of Rome. But in so doing, they would also finally wipe out the Catholic Christian heart of England, in the name of Britain.

So when the pope, in England, urges us to be mindful of our Christian heritage, the spiritual abyss of radical, atheistic secularism against which he is warning us does not just involve moral self-destruction but the annihilation of England as a Christian nation. Radical, anti-Christian secularism is a form of universalist humanism that has not only veered away from the very Christian roots of liberal humanism itself (‘radical’ meaning ‘at root’) but also does not recognise the validity and importance of distinct national traditions and cultures – unlike, ironically, the Universal (Catholic) Church.

The pope’s visit is, therefore, very much a call to England to value and return to its Christian roots, including as they are expressed in tolerant liberal humanism – just as the Church itself symbolises and takes forward in the present the Catholic tradition in Britain’s two great Christian realms: Scotland and England & Wales. This thought should persuade us to at least give the pope a hearing, even or perhaps especially if we find much of what he says challenges our present-day values – and to hell with the outright rejection and prejudice the anti-English British secularists would rather greet him with.

One essential precondition for killing England is to dethrone its official Christian faith and wipe out the memory of the medieval kingdom of England. Let’s not conspire in our own downfall.



  1. It’s not the Popery that I object to so much (though I do disagree with it), it’s the fact that we pick up the tab.

    I also think it a bit rich to refer to infallible secular ‘truths’. If anyone has infallible truths, then surely it’s the Church? Secularism basically follows the social mores/prevailing views of the population at large to a far greater extent than Catholicism. The flat-earthers of the Vatican do catch up with society’s values and beliefs eventually, but only after prolonged intransigence. Much of what the Church once taught as an infallible truths has been comprehensively debunked, and the debunkers were often demonised and threatened by the Church for doing so. The Church now accepts that that the Earth is older than it once informed us it was, that our planet is not flat, that the Earth travels through space – orbiting the Sun, that the moon does not emit light (it reflects it) and that the Sun was not made on the same day as the Earth and mankind. The Chuch even now accepts evolution to an extent, it may not like ‘Darwinsim’ (as they call it in an attempt to portray science as a belief system) but it fails to challenge it in the way that it once did. And I have little doubt that the Church will eventually change its views on contraception, women and homosexuals (maybe not in my lifetime, but eventually). But even though Catholicism changes it relies on the apparent infallibity of its Word for its authority. Secular society is a far more organic and multivalent, drawing on various and often competing codes (including Catholicism).

    The value of Catholicism (and maybe Islam), if there is a value to an agnostic like myself, is in the fact that they provide society with an inertia that resists rapid change. In the case of the abortion laws I think the Church has served a valuable purpose; whereas in the case of stem cell research, I think not. But overall some conservatism is a good thing.

    I’m not sure what effect the Pope’s visit will have on the Scotland and England dynamic. I expect none whatsoever. But I’m sure that many English viewers noticed that there was nary a Union Flag in sight up in Scotland (and little wonder given the fact that Scottish Catholics are now the denomination most likely to vote SNP).

    Comment by Toque — 17 September 2010 @ 9.25 am | Reply

    • Yes, my use of the word ‘infallible’ in that context was deliberately provocative. It’s just that aggressive, ‘dogmatic’, atheist secularists (e.g. the likes of Richard Dawkins and his followers) often seem to think that their world view is unshakably rational and ‘objective’, whereas scientific findings are also relative and provisional as were the theories of religions about the nature and origins of the physical universe they replaced: subject to constant revision and improvement as our knowledge and tools develop, including evolution theory.

      Science answers the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions but not the ‘why’, which is the domain of religion and philosophy. Faith also of course deals fundamentally with ethics and the value of human life as an intrinsic good, which science cannot form any self-consistent (i.e. scientific) judgements about. But I’m not going to attempt to teach you to suck eggs about the theory and ethics of science.

      And yes, I did notice the profusion of saltires yesterday – and not a Union Flag in sight!

      Comment by David — 17 September 2010 @ 4.53 pm | Reply

    • Alex Salmond has also apparently being saying there wouldn’t be a Scotland if it had not been for the Catholic Church!

      Comment by David — 17 September 2010 @ 5.02 pm | Reply

  2. I was a huge fan of Dawkins when I was at University, I attended several lectures that he gave. The Blind Watchmaker and the Selfish Gene are brilliant books. However, I’ve gone off him. His brand of atheism has become as bad as the religions he rails against. It’s intolerant, superior and proselytizing.

    Comment by Toque — 18 September 2010 @ 12.00 pm | Reply

  3. […] back in the right direction. I say ‘England’ advisedly, as the Pope was visiting two countries with respect to the pastoral mission of his visit; even though, when in England, he diplomatically […]

    Pingback by Is it time to reclaim the cross at the heart of England’s flag and identity? « Britology Watch: Deconstructing ‘British Values’ — 23 September 2010 @ 11.48 pm | Reply

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