Monday, September 05, 2016

Called to have muscles

I notice an interesting discussion between my confrere Fr Anthony Chadwick and an old "sparring-partner" Deacon Christopher Little about the issue of "Muscular Christianity". Can there be a truly Christian militia in this day and age? Can there be a truly Christian declaration of war? Or should Christians be pacifists?

There are good arguments on both sides. Holy Scripture is full of battles and skirmishes. King David is practically Arthurian in his conquest. Yet Our Lord bids us turn the other cheek. There a theological theories of just war, most notably from St Thomas Aquinas, yet the memory of the atrocities of the Crusades is still alive and thrown in the face of the Church by Islamic Polemicists and the more passionate atheists. They have a point, though History supports no party with regard to the truth.

In the U.S. they have the romantic figure of the cowboy, the gunslinger with a heart of god saving the town from the villain and getting the girl and a shot of bourbon slid across the saloon bar. In Britain, we have the romantic notion of the knight in shining armour. St George ceases to be a Turkish Roman and becomes the iron-clad dragon-slayer. The U.S. being somewhat younger than the U.K. has many who can trace their lineage to the Wild West. Here, it is only a few who can find the noble knight as their forefather.

Neither appealed to me as a child. I turned off the Westerns and sought refuge in Science Fiction and Folklore rather than the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood. All this testosterone flying about just didn't appeal to the Games-skiving bookworm that I still am.

Being English, I cannot understand the American preoccupation with guns and the right to bear arms, but then, their culture is not mine. In the U.K. we arm our police only when necessary, and we have a wonderful militia. I have several former students who have spent some time in the forces. This has worked because the U.K. is a small and old country. The U.S. is big and new. The American Civil War is still within two long-lived generations. The English Civil War is long past - yet its presence still colours today's culture. It still makes sense that the right to bear arms is a matter of contention in a country where the need is within living memory of its eldest citizens.

This is where I see the difference of opinion between the Pacifist Christians and the Muscular Christians. Typically Anglican, I sit between in a certain degree of "agnosticism". The fence is a happy place to be at times, but only when one side aren't taking pot shots.

Yes, I acknowledge that there are times when the Christian must take up arms against the foe. However, it does make sense to make sure who the foe really is. It's this latter that causes the trouble. To consider who the foe really is takes time, and time is often an all-too-expensive luxury. On the other hand the principle of "shoot first, ask questions later" is too careless in regard to the over-arching Christian principle of Love.

As I preached just down below, we have to focus on one thing in order to get on in life and that is seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It is clear that He has warrior angels fighting on our behalf. I rejoice in the defence provided by St Michael which comes with God's power and mandate. All Christians are expected to fight Evil actively, both in their own lives and out in the world. How we do that is a matter of God's command and God's call. Our battle begins with ourselves, and God employs us in the fight that is best suited for us, even though it may make no sense to us.

As a priest, I am indeed a warrior for Christ. I have weapons that I am commanded to use by which I can resist Evil and edify others. All of these weapons can be summed up as expressions of the grace and blessings of God. Yet, I have been called to be a priest - deployed if you will. Others get deployed differently in order to engage in battle as appropriate to the will of God.

Being in the Militia is thus a calling: just as one cannot assume the role of priest without God's sanction (and we only have to look at King Saul to see what goes wrong there), one cannot just assume the role of soldier without checking on our deployment with God. I am full of admiration for all those men and women who offer themselves for military service and thus open themselves to fight, suffer, and lay down their lives in my defence and the defence of the vulnerable. The nobility of their actions and the professionalism of their training demonstrates their Divine calling.

In contrast, it is those who believe that they have a military calling when they do not who do a lot of damage just like King Saul damages his own soul and puts his kingdom in jeopardy because he takes on the role of priest. Just like Saul, passions may run high, the injustice may appear too great to bear, the fury may rise, but the true warrior will not let those distract her from her mission. When one has appendicitis, it is better to be in the hands of a trained surgeon with his fine, clean scalpel than with the local butcher and his well-used meat cleaver no matter how bad the pain is.

All Christians should be muscular, for muscularity implies doing something for the love of God that will improve and grow the more we use it. St Teresa of Calcutta was a muscular Christian - she did what she had to do despite criticism and many challenges. So was St Martin of Tours - a famous soldier who handed an earthly mandate for a heavenly one. Yet, there are different muscles in the Body of Christ and we must not presume that the muscles we use will be the ones we believe to be strongest. However, God's mandate is clear: even Mary will eventually have to leave the feet of her master to help Martha. We must DO the will of God and fight Evil. Then we can come back to Him with our wounds exposed, tired, and hungry, and He will heal us, give us rest, food and water, and turn our scars into badges of His honour.

Onward Christian soldiers....


Fr Anthony said...

I need to study this question further. Like you, I thought “muscular Christianity” was about the question of chivalry and the fighting of just wars against clearly evil enemies like Hitler or present-day terrorist organizations. Who would not kill or incapacitate a man whose intention is to kill your child – or you? Actually, it is about the cult of ultra-masculinity that is prevalent in America. This is why I wrote an article describing the “cult” of masculinity in the English public school of 50 years ago. Manliness is measured by keen commitment to competitive team sports and a suspicious attitude in regard to art and beauty, the rugby-player philistine.

I suppose that experience in my life gave me a certain frugal lifestyle, more tolerant of cooler temperatures than many others. I am something of a “hard bastard” who gets great pleasure out of a few days in my boat on the sea or a river and camping aboard, the boat being an open dinghy with a boom tent. I take pride in saving money by bivouacking in my van rather than paying inflated hotel bills when travelling. But, my physical condition is average. I am not interested in the “muscular” image that seems to give its name to “muscular Christianity” rather than the question of willingness to do one’s duty for one’s country in time of war or “pro aris et focis” as the old Romans used to say.

I am disappointed that Deacon Little twists the meaning of just about everything I say, and takes my “caricatures” personally. He does refer to the Wikipedia article on “muscular Christian” that refers to the kind of man who is committed to competitive team sports and builds up a “Charles Atlas” body, a hard chiselled face – something not unlike the Aryan soldier “Ubermensch” portrayed in old Nazi propaganda. When I mention that, I am accused of “Godwin’s Law”: assimilating anyone I don’t like to the Nazis. That accusation is unjust. I don’t concern myself with Nazism except as a subject of historical study, but the underlying philosophy in Europe at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th that Hitler exploited to get into power. I have already written such qualifications to my assertions, but the subtleties have been ignored.

For Deacon Little and some of his friends who write comments on his blog, I am an effeminate pansy because I refuse the image of the rugby-player philistine. If he is not prepared to be subtle and nuanced in his ideas, I will not be prepared to continue the conversation – which seems at this stage to be futile.

I think we are all agreed about the moral rectitude of self-defence (even if it means killing) in an imperfect world when we are faced with evil persons, groups or nations. Normally, priests should not bear arms but rather help the victims of war. Perhaps a day might come when we all need to carry a gun to defend ourselves and innocent people against terrorists and criminals. We can only do what the law allows us to do. If being armed becomes necessary, I’m sure we can do so discreetly in our English fashion, since we are culturally different from the Americans. But that is much less a problem of “muscular Christianity” or the caricatures thereof.

That’s my input...

Warwickensis said...

Indeed, Father. I do struggle to understand this "Muscular Christianity" but then perhaps this is the difference in U.K and U.S Culture. To be seen to be strong is important in Evolutionary Game Theory and plays a part in how we "do" politics. Think of Cesare Borgia for example. To be seen to be strong is important in political leadership. The Borgias kept their power whilst they were seen to be powerful. The principle remains even today. As an Englishman, I don't quite understand how this works in the American mind, but then our histories are so different after the eighteenth century.

Christopher Little said...

"For Deacon Little and some of his friends who write comments on his blog, I am an effeminate pansy because I refuse the image of the rugby-player philistine."

Where have I ever written or even implied such a thing, Fr. Chadwick? Point to the exact blog article and words, please. If you don't come up with something substantive to that question, then to say that it is you, and not me, who is "twisting the meaning" of things.

Fr. Munn, the "Muscular Christianity" movement did not originate in the States, but in the Church of England, in large part as a response to the effeminacy they perceived in the Anglo-Catholicism of the day. It therefore has little if anything to do with the cultural differences between the English annd the North Americans, and in particular us "cowboys" here in "'Murica". Many if not most of the Anglo-Catholics I have met here on this side of the pond would make Maurice and Kingsley proud.

Warwickensis said...

That’s interesting Fr Deacon, and yet it seems alien to me. I know of the hostility towards Anglo-Catholicism from the CofE which later adopted Anglo-Catholic practices. Yet, when I think of the movement most opposed to the supposed effeminacy of Anglo-Catholicism, my mind goes straight to the odious Kensitites and their (often violent) programme of anti-Ritualism. That's probably not what you're thinking of and indeed may be the antithesis of what you're talking about, but it is where the UK Anglo-Catholic mind goes when asked to think of the reaction against it. If muscular Christianity is the arm that throws the brick through the stained-glass window, then count me out.

Warwickensis said...

One more thought that occurs to me is that Anglo-Catholicism does slightly change its meaning as we cross the Atlantic. I suspect that, again, this is the accident of history. Certainly from what I perceive of the 1928 prayer book, it seems to be very much drawn to Catholicism-without-the-Pope and thus repudiates Roman practices. British Anglo-Catholicism is largely Anglican Papalist in its evolution, and that's the rock from which I'm hewn. Certainly, the American ACC is very different from its Diocese in the United Kingdom.

While intellectually, you are very probably right about the origins of Muscular Christianity, I think time and culture have altered the way we understand the term, just as we now understand the term Anglo-Catholic differently.

Christopher Little said...

Good points, Fr. Munn. I don't, and neither do what I will call the "new patriarchalists" in the Church of Rome (e.g., Anthony Esolen; Leon Podles) equate muscular Christianity with low-church iconoclasm. Quite the contrary is true. Please see my recent blog article where I approvingly cite the connection that writer Matt Walsh makes between high, solemn worship and Christian manliness.