Prince Charles, and Camilla, were not the only things under attack in England this week, on the streets of London, as the British government took its latest steps to avoid the fate of Ireland and Greece. Not only publicly, but privately, the British are now a people who have borrowed and spent themselves into perdition; and at both the public and the private level, the legacy of consumer gratification is at hand.
From the Daily Mail we learn of an incident at Glastonbury, too. The Holy Thorn Tree – a Crataegus monogena Biflora or hawthorn, of Middle Eastern origin, said to have grown from a staff carried by Joseph of Arimathea, 20 centuries ago – was hacked down by vandals.
This Joseph is mentioned in all four Gospels, as the man who gave his own prepaid tomb to house the body of Jesus after the Crucifixion. The story of his later travelling to England, and planting the Christian faith in her soil, through Christ’s own staff, is among extra-Biblical legends. Needless to say, Christians do not swear to the veracity of all extra-Biblical legends.
It is nevertheless a beautiful medieval invention – myth, symbol, art. To call it a superstition as the Roundheads did, when they hacked down a predecessor of this tree during the English Revolution, is to be obtuse. Those who willingly suspend disbelief to watch, say, a play by Shakespeare, are not convicted of superstition thereby. (Of course, Cromwell’s thugs also closed the theatres.)
Various theories have been presented about who did it this time, and why. Perhaps it was some private vendetta, and not the attack on Christianity that appears. Yet whoever did this knew perfectly well what that tree meant to so many faithful people, who never offered them any harm. So that any way you look at it, the perpetrators were a species of pagan savages.
It could of course be argued that pagan savages is a rude and potentially intolerant way to refer to the de-Christianized heirs of our Western civilization. We are aware that they can be quite touchy, and are generally disinclined to take what they give. We could fill this column with the terms they apply to religious believers.
Let me add that people touchy about themselves, but not about others, are called narcissists too, and in that very formula my reader may discern the link between narcissism and criminal behaviour.
Indeed, let me spell that out.
At the root of criminal behaviour, after we have lopped off all its branches and dug to its source, is indifference to the pain of others, contrasted with wilful indulgence of one’s own pleasures. We think of criminals as brutish and cruel and, fair enough, they are. But only towards those who are in their way. In my experience, they are extremely sensitive about their own rights and perquisites. The person who doubts this should spend more time visiting prisoners in jail.
At the opposite extreme to the criminal is the saint: the man (or woman) operating under the command to love even his enemies. Love is not toleration incidentally, for toleration is another form of indifference. Nor does love require support for bad behaviour, as any adult should realize who has ever begotten a child.
The well-raised and well-behaved citizens of a civilized country may not be saints, but they are likely to grasp that sanctity is possible; and will be less inclined than those who do not know this, to make excuses for themselves.
Reason comes into this, too. At the root of reason is a certain patience in observing the connections between things. One does not, for instance, take out one’s wrath on Prince Charles because the education secretary in a government he never elected has raised one’s tuition fees. One does not even take it out on the education secretary, who is only doing his job in the face of massive public debt. Instead, one patiently reviews his arguments, to see if they can be confuted.
Unless, of course, one is a student in a university only in some nominal and superficial sense – mere accreditation. More deeply, one may be a ward of the state, already living on massive public subsidy; and beyond this, a person with criminal tendencies – a thug and a hooligan.
Which is precisely the problem we face on university campuses, not only in England; and increasingly in the streets, not only in London. We have a whole generation of what I characterized above as pagan savages, whose most plausible excuse is that they were raised by pagan savages in their turn. We have generations who have lived since early childhood almost exclusively for the sake of consumer gratification; who have no other God.
And it will be a royal pain to convert them; but I can see no other way forward.