Hugh Baker on the city/country divide

So there I am, skiing through the Wyoming Rockies, with this man who looked like (and was) a bank executive. ‘I’ve applied’ he told me ‘for an Elk Licence.’ In these ecological days, you can’t just go out and slay the elk that’s eating your gladioli; you need a licence, restricting you to one elk a year. Four of you go out in search of the elk, since you have to drag it up to thirty miles to the nearest road. Having phoned one’s wife, she meets you with the pick-up at a predetermined road side point. Having thus got the elk home, our banking friend then skins it (skin sold to the tannery), guts it (offal sold to the butcher’s) and cuts it up, taking the meat to the Polar Bank (a collection of huge fridges) from where one withdraws deposits of elk meat over the following year.

Mega Cities

Here was a man who spent his working hours engaged in sophisticated computerology, and yet was totally at home in the realm of nature. I, by contrast, consider it a major feat of bravery to pull the plastic bag of giblets from the Christmas turkey; but then, my world is so different from his. Denver, the nearest city of any real consequence, is four hours by plane from his home; the nearest town of over 10,000 population is 110 miles away. I, by contrast, live 110 miles from one of the world’s Mega Cities.

The 150 years leading up to the Queen’s Coronation was marked by the rise of the Industrial City; Huddersfield, Luton, Manchester, Leeds. Two things marked them, in all their differences. Firstly, their populations had come from, and remembered, the countryside; secondly, many of them were still within easy reach of it. Though Dickens’ books are often focused on the metropolis, his characters easily slip in and out of the rural. The 50 post-coronation years have seen the rise of the Mega City. London, Frankfurt and Paris vie to be the economic capital of northern Europe. Their population has increasingly little knowledge of the countryside; it is out of their daily sight and life; and exists solely as a place for a second home and recreation. It has no identity or life of its own. An appendage to the Mega City, it is just the pleasant green bits that separate it from Birmingham and ‘the North’.

Power, money, finance, government, the civil service and the media are all based in the Mega City, and through their influence, and the sheer numbers of people living there, it sucks into itself all that lies under its thrall. A little Egyptian boy I know refers to Britain as ‘London’; to him, and to many Britons, there is no other. Like it or not, we have to deal with it. What is its attitude to the countryside and (to be more specific, and topical) to hunting? Well, your attitude to hunting is decided on two levels – the practical and the theological. There are practical matters that may make up your mind about it. Are foxes deliberately bred to be hunted? Is it kinder or crueller to shoot foxes, poison them, or let them die of old age? What effect does hunting have on the hunters?

A Christian world-view

To these questions I have no answer. It seems to me that opinions about fox hunting say far more about the people who hold them than the dull facts of the matter! I have never been hunting, nor seen one from nearer than five miles away. Ignorant of these matters, I feel unable to express an opinion on them. And yet others as ignorant as I am hold fiercely partisan views on hunting. This is because reactions come not just from the practical, but (beneath them) from the theological. Countrymen, whether they know it or not, are the custodians in our time of a Christian world view. Such a view embodies the following beliefs:

Man is essentially different from animals, being God-breathed, as opposed to simply created (Genesis 1.24–25, 2.7)

Man is given command over the animals (Genesis 1.26)

The regrettable result of human sin is the fall of nature, ‘red in tooth and claw’, in which one species arms itself to prey on another in order to eat and survive. This dispensation is irreversible until Our Lord returns, and restores creation to its original, Edenic state, when

‘The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling together;

and a little child shall lead them.’ (Isaiah 11.6)

Urban Buddhism

A great deal of Mega City thought and sentiment is not based on this Biblical worldview. It is, wittingly or unwittingly, the expression of a kind of Urban Buddhism, helped to fruition by New Age influence. As an example, let me quote (not verbatim, as I’ve mislaid the article, but I bring you the gist accurately) a conversation I recently read, between Tracey Emin and Damian Hurst.

Tracey (talking about visiting a swimming bath): ‘There were these three old ladies there, full of age and wisdom. It felt as if it was like a baptism to be in there with them. I wondered if I would pick up their karma from the water. Have you ever been baptized like that?’

Damian: ‘No.’

Notice that Tracey takes a specifically Christian word, ‘baptism’, which to us has to do with repentance, forgiveness, new birth and cleanliness before God, and understands it in a Buddhist way – picking up karma.

This Buddhist worldview believes

All the world is an expression, at some level, of an impersonal Life Force.

There is nothing distinctive in essence between Man and the animals. This view is reinforced by widespread acceptance of the Darwinian idea of man as evolved ape.

Add a belief in human rights, and it follows

(c) If Man has certain innate rights, so do animals. Hence with the rise of Urban Buddhism there comes a rise in vegetarianism.

(d) If it’s wrong to set a pack of hounds to chase a human being over the countryside with a view to killing him, it’s wrong to chase a fox over the countryside with a view to killing him.

All this accounts for the countryside’s deep distrust of the Government during the Foot and Mouth crisis, and for the march on the Mega City of the 400,000 who felt, somehow, that their values and concerns were being ignored or belittled by the nation’s leaders. The abyss between the countryside and the Mega City is, therefore, deeper than the theological divide between Royalist and Parliamentarian, Ulster Catholic and Ulster Protestant. Such divisions are within Christendom. This is a division between the remains of Christendom and a completely different system of thought which threatens to replace it.

Hugh Baker is Vicar of a small town and three villages in the Diocese of Lichfield.