In his next chapter, Peter Hitchens writes about the threshhold that England crossed during his boyhood. The chapter is about the culture-wide failure of nerve, and is entitled “A Loss of Confidence.” Here he astutely points out that atheism is not so much an individual opinion, honestly derived from the force of inexorable arguments, but is more aptly described as a derivative mood. It is an intellectual fashion that arises from the antecedent fashions, which had all gone stale on us.
“God was associated in our minds with the tottering, enfeebled secular authorities of our country” (p. 31).
In short, people tend to derive their view of the Father from their fathers, and if their fathers are packing it up to pack it in, what then?
“During brief spells spent outside the confines of school, where I could see how rackety and exhausted my country was becoming, it was also growing plain to me . . . that I had been brought up for a world that no longer existed” (p. 35).
Inertia can keep it going for a bit, but it is soon followed by a serious downgrade.
“A cheap and second-rate modernity was to replace the decrepit magnificence we had grown used to” (p. 36).
The public events that made the whole thing obvious to all were the debacle of the Suez crisis, and then the Profumo affair. The British failure of nerve was on display
in the former, and the failure of virtue in the latter. They were not just a couple of unfortunate incidents, but were both emblematic of much larger realities.
“The change that followed was not slow or gradual, but catastrophic, like an avalanche” (p. 39).
But such rapid change needs accounting for.
“The astonishing swiftness of the change, like the crumbling of an Egyptian mummy to dust as fresh air rushes into the long-sealed tomb chamber, has been one of the features of my life. It suggests that our old morality was sustained only by custom and inertia, not by any deep attachment or understanding, and so had no ability to withstand the sneering assault of the modern age” (p. 39).
And so Peter ends this chapter, with his nation on the verge of becoming Cool Britannia, and with Peter himself on the verge of biting the hand that had fed him. Thus far Peter.
One additional thought of my own. This is what happens to nations that retain the form of religion, but which have lost the power of it (2 Tim. 3:5). A Christian nation, without the Spirit of God moving in life-giving ways among the people, will be decent, sane, orderly, and intolerable. To attempt to build or preserve such a thing is to actually try to fall between two stools — the stool of real Christianity and the stool of real paganism. The result is the high ethical standards of the Christian faith without any of the life or joy in it, gakkkk.
But of course, in order to have the Spirit of God moving among a people in this way, you have to be prepared for a little difficulty with the Royal Keeper of the Wineskins. You want to put new wine in them, bust a bunch of them, scatter them over the floor soaked in their wine puddles, and we never heard of such a thing. The evangelists who will do for a nation in this pathetic circumstance what Wesley and Whitefield did in their day will be called enthusiasts, skypilots, ecclesiocranks and worse and, to be perfectly frank, some of them will be. But that’s what it takes. Reformations and revivals are only pretty when glowing accounts of them are written in the after years, in the wineskin decorating years. In the midst of them the critics are hopping mad and sometimes right. But however right they are sometimes, the alternative is death. Fin de siecle nations don’t need another French phrase; they need to go listen to some hedge preacher who will tell them to come to Jesus.