Are you wet?
Digby Anderson on courage as a Christian virtue
We orthodox Christians sometimes refer to our enemies as liberals. But there is another word that can help us understand them. There was a religious discussion on the radio a couple of years ago. The BBC had lined up three chaps. One was CofE, an ordained diocesan bureaucrat for communications or yoof, that sort of nonsense. With him was a Druid and, of course, a witch. The chairman started with the priest. Was he sure he didn’t mind appearing with a pagan and a witch? Some people might think he’d disapprove. Oh, no, said the priest, only too glad, frank discussion, might learn something.
It may well have been liberalism that gave the priest the intellectual reason or excuse to appear and happily chat with these people. But my reaction was that he was utterly wet. If you had put him through a mangle cranked for a full hour by a fifteen-stone Glasgow fish-wife and then spun him for a week in an industrial-strength drier, he would have still left a lake on the floor large enough to rot the carpet.
No doubt some people accept women priests for liberal intellectual reasons. But others are simply too wet to say ‘no! For yet others, liberal theories provide the intellectual excuse for a stance impelled by moral deficiency. For the dictionary definition of wetness is clear: it is primarily a moral-emotional failing. It is equivocation, timidity, feebleness, weakness.
We can rarefy this discussion a notch by noting that it was Nietzche who condemned Christianity for its approval of weakness, cowardice, meekness, a religion for girls. Being a German, and a philosopher, he did not use the word wet’ but that is what he meant. He liked his gods to be warlike heroes or supermen.
The Christian response to Friedrich is to explain that Christianity has internalized the old virtues of courage and decisiveness. We like a fight as well as the next chap, but ours is a struggle against temptation and sin, the world, the flesh and the devil. Our heroes are the courageous martyrs. We could give him a reading list starting with the Pauline epistles on helmets, armour and swords or the life of Ignatius.
He might look at the early Fathers’ far from wet condemnation of heresy and the formation and work of the once martial Dominicans and Jesuits, before they did took to water and were replaced by Opus Dei. If that’s a bit Catholic, try The Vilgrim’s Vrogress.
Again, I have recently been reading a scorcher called Tamate: A Book for Boys, which recounts the adventures of a missionary, the Revd James Chalmers. He brought the love of Jesus to degraded cannibals and fierce savages in the South Pacific and was eventually killed, beheaded chopped up, boiled and eaten by them, apparently with sago. My own Evangelical school had for its motto In bono vince (‘Conquer by good’).
Liberalism provides the theory that enables liberals to pursue their politics. In international relations they are appeasers now oblivious to later consequences. Liberalism is used to justify their welfare policy of winning plaudits by advocating a largesse they leave others to fund.
It gives a rationale for lax inflationary financial strategies which devalue other people’s savings and fixed incomes. But what all these policies have in common is that they are the easy options, the ones that don’t require the courage to say ‘no’ and which appear costless to start with.
Sitting on the fence
In religion it is so much easier to allow the divorced to re-marry, to make abortion and euthanasia easy, to make moral and theological rules lax. Liberals can always find an accommodation. They are not just adept at sitting on the fence but nimbly retreating from one line after another of once deeply avowed principles. If I am right, no amount of intellectual argument will make some liberals see sense. To change their views you have to change their character, to make men out of mice.
Opposing the enemy
To see what bone-dry Christianity looks like and what it can achieve, consider de Valette. In 1565, the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman sent a host of 50,000 to take Malta. It was defended by the monk-knights of St John under their Grand Master, de Valette, with 8,000 including untrained civilians. This was one of a series of attempts to defeat European Christian civilization. The path lay from Malta, through Sicily, Naples and up.
At enormous cost in life, the Muslim invaders were defeated. Part of de Valette’s strategy was to convince the invaders that the Knights would fight to the last man. One day the Turkish leader Mustapha Pasha had some captured knights decapitated and their bodies floated across the bay to the Maltese defenders on mock crucifixes. In response, de Valette had all his Turkish prisoners decapitated and their heads fired by cannon over the Turkish camp.
Christendom is once again threatened by enemies without and within, not least other wet Christians. Those who are true to the faith may not have to adopt all of de Valette’s tactics, but we will not prevail without having and, just as important, showing some of his determination.