Imagination – it’s an Illusion
Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, Justin Welby, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2018, 300pp. Hardback, £16.99., reviewed by EDWARD DUTTON
The Rev. Dr Malcolm Johnson, Rector of St Botolph’s, Aldgate, once remarked, ‘I see the Church of England as an elderly maiden aunt. Most of the time you’d like to strangle her, but she comes into her own at Christmas and Easter and she’s there when you want her’ (quoted Caroline Chartres, 2007, Why I Am Still Anglican, Bloomsbury, p.104). Dr Johnson’s metaphor piquantly summarises the feelings that many English people have (or used to have) about the Anglican Church: she’s eccentric, unworldly, embarrassed about sex . . . but, deep down, she’s loving, reliable, and she holds the English family together at times of crisis. She reaches back, beyond living memory, into English history – perhaps her fiancé was killed at the Somme – into rituals our ancestors did, something vaguely eternal and ineffable. Somehow, with her, all will be well in the end.
It is, therefore, fascinating to a read a book by an Archbishop of Canterbury, the incumbent the Most Rev. Justin Welby, which reflects the way in which a very different model has taken over the Church of England. The elderly maiden aunt is, alas, a bit too old-fashioned for the new head of the clan, because he – like so many in senior clerical positions – is essentially a Multiculturalist in a mitre. The ideology of Multiculturalism traces its ideological roots to Marxism, wherein ‘the revolution is eternal’ and History unfolds according to the Hegelian Dialectic. There is always a ‘Spirit of the Age’. Whereas the elderly maiden aunt represented something eternal and unchanging, Mr Welby embodies this chaotic Zeitgeist.
For the revolutionary, we always live in what Mr Welby calls ‘turbulent times.’ No matter how peaceful life is, we are constantly engaged in a struggle, in a revolution. In some periods, this is genuinely true. As Welby rightly argues, the period after World War II can be understood as a ‘turbulent’ period in the UK, in which the national-bonding of the War extended into the Peace, with the development of a highly egalitarian society. However, he argues that this is also true of Brexit. This is such a dramatic change, claims Welby, that it requires us to ‘reimagine ourselves;’ to alter the ‘story’ of who we are and reassess the ‘values’ – apparently ‘health,’ ‘housing’, ‘education’, welcoming diversity and being sufficiently confident in ourselves to do so – which, apparently, hold us together. And the Church of England can help with this by being ‘constant and flexible’ in this ‘turbulent’ context and by ‘living in love’ (p.4) so that we can, together, create some kind of utopia where everybody, no matter what their religion or class or aspect of LGBTQI+ness, gets along just fine.
Welby makes a few fair points. He observes that a worldview based around the importance of wealth is fundamentally flawed, not least because people are more concerned with their relative wealth. He explores the importance of solidarity in society and he discusses the belief that a society is a contract between generations: the past, the living and the future (p.8).
But these points aside, this is one of the glibbest books that this reviewer has ever read. Most obviously, how can anyone even try to compare the trauma of Britain’s experience of World War II with Brexit, in which we peacefully voted to leave an economic and political union? We didn’t have to ‘reimagine ourselves’ when we joined, so why should there be a need to do so when we leave?
The ‘values’ which Mr Welby believes hold us together are similarly unpersuasive. Is he seriously saying that the French or the Finnish don’t care about ‘education’? Unless we uniquely care about ‘education’, it can hardly be central to our ‘story’. Welby may be onto something when he suggests that Britain has a long history of being open to foreigners, but, then, it also has a long history of anti-immigrant riots. Some countries, focused merely on survival often in a very inhospitable climate, tend not to be open to the world. Britain is more open to the world – hence its exploration, Empire, and acceptance of refugee groups like the Huguenots – but it cannot be extrapolated from this that multiculturalism is a British value. Any society needs to maintain a balance between closed and open. Too closed and it will stagnate and fail to benefit from highly intelligent migrants; too open and it will Balkanize. Britain, perhaps unlike some countries, has historically got that balance right. Note also that the Huguenots were intelligent, diligent and genetically similar to the British. This aspect of our ‘story’ is irrelevant to modern-day Islamic immigration.
Welby claims that the Christian value of ‘living in love’ will help to ensure that all people living in Britain – be they of other religions or of none – will be fulfilled. But surely, for this to work, a minimum percentage of the population must be Christian; or Christianity will not be able to influence enough people. So, there must be limit to ‘welcoming diversity’ after which Britain will degenerate into a very bad place to live. What percentage of the English must be ‘Christian’ for Welby’s plan to work and what would he do about it if we dropped below this percentage?
In criticising materialism, the author stresses the need for a ‘moral’ society in which people care about each other, focus on the good of society, and which keeps economic inequality to a minimum (p.169). There are many places in the world that are still like this; Iceland is an example. Evolutionary theories of cooperation predict that people create such societies if the gene pool is very small (meaning that they are all one big family), they are religious and of the same religion (meaning they feel that God is watching them and they trust this is true of others), they are culturally homogenous (meaning few conflicts) and there are few foreigners to whom co-ethnics could defect.
We become less trusting of each other if there are foreigners among us (see Edward Dutton, in press, Ethnocentrism, Arktos Publishing). Egalitarian Iceland is a case in point. It is genetically homogenous, overwhelmingly of one denomination (Lutheran), it is culturally homogenous and there are few foreigners, with even its growing tourism industry now leading to a backlash. The Icelandic are not held together by the ‘fairy tale’ (p.5) which Welby – with his frequent comparisons to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – believes can hold together the English, let alone one that is ‘constant and flexible’ (p.2). They are held together by things which are ‘constant.’ And this includes this intergenerational ‘contract’ which Welby is breaking with relatively recent ancestors when he talks about ‘perceived foreigners’ (p.13). These ancestors would have been quite clear that Englishness is a matter of blood, plain and simple.
Poor Mr Welby is conflicted. He wants an Icelandic-type society but he also wants to virtue signal about the need for diversity. Perhaps he should look to how the early Christian communities created such societies. They tended to be of the same ethnicity, they followed strict cultural rules and they had a strict code of belief. Perhaps he might consider reading a certain book which includes letters to these communities.
Just how seriously did Welby take writing this book? There is an abundance of sloppy editing. He talks about Brexit from the beginning but only on page 9 does he tell us that Britain’s leaving the EU is ‘a process known as Brexit’ (quite why he feels the need to explain this at all is unclear). He initially refers to ‘LGBT’ but this later becomes LGBTQI+ (p.261). Amazingly, he writes, with regard to cohabiting couples in the UK on the 1951 census: ‘The figures for 1951, by contrast, were too small to be statistically significant’ (p.66). Statistical significance is a way of assessing, based on your sample size and effect size, how likely a difference between two groups is to be a fluke. If it is 5% or less likely it is not a fluke and it is ‘statistically significant.’ The 1951 census was not a sample; it was the entire population. So either the Archbishop of Canterbury does not know what statistical significance is (unlikely, as he used to work in the oil industry) or he’s trying to sound profound by using a scientific term even though he knows he’s misusing it (again, unlikely). Or perhaps this part of the book has been ghost written and edited by a scientific illiterate and Mr Welby has only given his own book a quick once over. None of these scenarios reflect well on the Primate of All England. Also, the second half of the book is padded out with tenuously relevant analyses of Biblical quotations.
Those who miss the ‘maiden aunt’ – or who are currently looking after her in an old house in Tunbridge Wells or some such place – should read this if only to better understand what they are up against. To wit, a combination of virtue-signalling, self-contradiction, Marxism, scientific illiteracy and plain sloppiness.
Dr Edward Dutton is the author of How to Judge People by What They Look Like, Thomas Edward Press, 2018