One of my favorite movies — back in high school when it came out and, still, today — is Chariots of Fire. The film can be taken on many levels: from runner’s real-life fantasy (the initial attraction for me) to early 20th century British history lesson to Sunday school teaching tool, to parable of peaceful pluralism, to just plain good film-making, character portraiture and story-telling. And, as I wrote last November in one of the inaugural posts on this blog, the film even resonates to an extraordinary degree with events unfolding today as some new bright lights prepare for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
My reason for mentioning it here is the backdrop that the film’s musical score provides for events unfolding in Britain. The score by Vangelis, won an Academy Award for Best Original Musical Score in 1981. It included a spine-tingly boys choir rendition of the hymn ‘Jerusalem’. Anyone who has seen the film will recognize instantly. The lyrics come from a poem by William Blake circa 1800:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
What a contrast, just 84 years after the film is set, when we read of the Archbishop of Canterbury caving in on the question of singular, absolute truth in Christ and for all intents and purposes advocating sharia law for those who most definitely have not given up on pushing their (incorrect IMHO) version of it on whomever they can dominate. As the late British theologian and missionary, Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) points out in his book “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” (1989)”, p. 155-162 [bold added; italics in original]:
…critics [of Christianity as sole truth] would say [that]… for our grandparents, who were ignorant of the spiritual riches of the great world religions, the idea that these were to be displaced by a triumphant Christianity was excusable. It it is not excusable today… the Church must have the courage to recognize a new fact… and therefore abandon the claim to be the sole possessor of the truth.
This view is now so widely shared that it has become in effect the contemporary orthodoxy. Pluralism is the reigning assumption and if one declines to accept it, as I do, one must give reasons…
[Advocates of the universalist view] often say that [pluralism] is a radically new situation which the Church has not faced before, and therefore calls for radically new formulations of the Christian faith. This is clearly not the case. The world into which the first Christians carried the gospel was a religiously plural world and — as the letters of Paul show — in that world of many lords and many gods, Christians had to work out what it means that in fact Jesus alone is Lord…
All serious seeking involves reliance on some clue. Christians are also seekers, and they believe that the decisive clue, the true and living way, has been given in Jesus. A common search cannot surely mean a search which abandons any specific clue and simply agrees to search.
…to suppose that modern [pluralistic] historical consciousness gives us a privileged standpoint where we really do see things as they are, is of course unsupported dogma. Modern historical consciousness is also the product of a particular culture and can claim no epistemological privilege… the cultural collapse which has abandoned the struggle to find truth in the welter of human experiences… is a feature of only one side of our culture. In the world of science the effort to grasp the coherent rationality of things has not been abandoned…
The Church does not claim to possess absolute truth: it claims to know where to point for guidance (both in thought and in action) for the common search for truth… the statement that there are no absolutes in history is obviously a pure assertion for which no proof is offered or can be offered.
I could go on. It is an excellent book and will challenge anyone, no matter what their starting point. It’s a shame it has become somewhat obscure. I hardly do it justice by excerpting tidbits from a masterful argument that builds to a grand, intellectually challenging crescendo I’ve scarcely touched. Bottom line: those who say there is no absolute, knowable truth incarnate in history are attempting to assert their own version on the sly, whether they know it or not.
My reason for launching off in that direction this morning is this headline: the number of marriages in Britain in the latest year for which statistics have been compiled — 2006 (not the rate per population, but the absolute number) has fallen to a low not seen since 1895, when the population of Britain was just over half what it is today. Furthermore, the marriage rate (per population) has fallen to an unprecedented low — not seen since they started keeping records almost 150 years ago.
The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, said that in 2006, fewer than ten in every 1,000 single adults in England and Wales were married.
Among men the rate was 22.8 in every 1,000, among women 20.5. When marriage-rates were first calculated in 1862 the level was 58.7 for men and 50 for women.
Even during the world war years marriage rates for women never dropped below 40 in 1,000. They fell below 30 for the first time in 1995.
The raw numbers of weddings in the figures for 2006 also tell the dramatic story.
There were 236,980 marriages, the fewest since 228,204 were recorded in 1895, a year in which Oscar Wilde was sent to Reading jail, W.G. Grace scored his 100th century and Queen Victoria had still to celebrate her jubilee.
In 1895, there were around 30 million people in England and Wales compared with more than 54 million now.
The general decline of marriage has been under way since 1972 when there were 426,000 weddings and marriage rates were more than 78 in 1,000 for men and 60 for women.
I would add that, back in 1985, not only was the much-lauded Oscar Wilde being jailed and the much lambasted Queen Victoria sitting royal, but G.K. Chesterton was on the verge of conceiving his magnificently prescient, insightful and readably brief book, ‘Orthodoxy’. I could editorialize on causes and possible results of this sorry state of faith, morality and the crumbling of the pillars of society (as well as their implications for Britain’s former colony)… but I am out of time for the morning.
You readers will probably do a much better job, so have at it. Nicely. Please take care not to step on those third rails (or push others against them). Truth can be civil, loving and kind even when it is reinforced by unbendable iron rods.
…man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD… Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving to you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and area satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God… You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…