Rant Number 322 16 October 2008
And so the British Government wants school teachers to monitor extremist ideas among pupils. They will have to tell the authorities – the police? – if kids are being radicalised. Who by? The far right bogey gets a mention but that’s a red herring. A sop given to political correctitude. Besides, the BNP is not illegal in Britain. Pointless to pretend: Al Qaeda, Islamists, jihadists, call them what you will, those are the real targets.
Muslims will look after themselves but this writer has a problem with campaigns against ‘extremism’. He must declare that he has himself a penchant for extremism. For rebellion. For revolution. Insurrection. Subversion. For root and branch radicalism. He avers he is a sworn enemy of the status quo. Why? Because he is a Christian.
Early critics of Christianity understood its dangerous radicalism perfectly well. Christians were religious extremists who withdrew from society and met apart, often in secret. They shunned public shows and gladiatorial combats, unlike the normal populace. Abortion, infanticide and sexual freedom they abhorred. Their weird symbol, the Cross, to pagans conveyed only shame and torture. Roman emperors and writers called Christians incendiaries and criminals. Foes of the human race. The scum of the earth. The dregs of humanity. Christians were accused of cannibalism, misanthropy, secret vices, atheism, blasphemies and so on. Nietzsche, a modern pagan (though wholly deficient in the metaphysics and piety of the ancients), also grasped this key point. So he charged Christianity with an inversion of all values, of upholding a slave morality, of being an ideology of rancour and resentment, of hatred and revolt against hoi aristoi, ‘the Best’, the ruling classes, the masters. Jesus of Nazareth for mad Frederick was the antithesis of his ideal man, the Superman. He got that right. A Christian truly is a desperado, a rebel and a subversive against ‘society’ – an extremist, yep.
It is unfashionable today to link Nietzsche and Hitler but I disagree. The latter really was a populist avatar of the former. Rightly did the tyrant equate St Paul and Marx. Both Jewish ‘extremists’. Peruse, pray, Hitler’s Table Talks, recorded by Martin Bormann. ‘The heaviest blow struck at humanity was the coming of Christianity…Christianity is bolshevism’s illegitimate child…an invention of sick brains’ the Fuhrer foams. Constantine was the Apostate and Julian the Great. ‘The religion fabricated by St Paul is the communism of today.’ War over, Hitler promises, he will settle accounts with the Church and extinguish it forever.
National Socialism and Liberal Democracy are different kettles of fish. Still, as Oliver Cromwell said: ‘All forms of government are as dung and dross when compared to Christ’. In fact, the iniquities, the injustices, the crimes of democracy differ from fascism in degree only, not in kind. Colonialism, Dresden, Hiroshima and the sanctions that killed half million Iraqi children are democracy’s doing. The Molochs of globalisation, free trade, banks and the market may indeed be as far more devastating to man than any defunct totalitarianisms, because more insidious, more pervasive, harder to identify and oppose. But Christianity is intrinsically in opposition to, nay, at war with them, just as it was with what pious Jews termed ‘the Kingdom of the Wicked’ – pagan Rome. Extremism in God’s name – not a bad definition of the true Church, I think.
Government spokesmen insist violence, or incitement to it, is where the line is to be drawn. Well, Christ – the Lion of Judah – came to set fire to the earth. He drove the traders out of the Temple with whips, told his disciples to buy swords (St Luke 22:36) and prophesied that ‘the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and men of violence take it by force’. I imagine the schools will now spy on any students who took an undue interest in those worrying passages. They’d better. History is filled with examples of resolute, reckless Christian extremists. Spiritual Franciscans frightened the wealthy medieval Church by preaching the poverty of Christ as normative. Indeed, the Inquisition declared it a heresy. Fra Dolcino (an Italian rebel about whom I once wrote a play) was burnt at the stake because he held all goods should be in common. Priest Thomas Munzer headed a peasants’ revolt following the Reformation, then the Anabaptists rose up, then Liberation Theology….the list is a long one.
Of course, all those extremists lost. They were exterminated. Naturally. At the end of the day, despite all the edifying denunciation of violence, the repressive apparatus of the state is always infinitely more massive than those of the rebels. And today modern technologies offer almost unlimited potentialities of coercion to the wielders of power. Not that I wish otherwise, mind you, but by contrast today’s Islamist terrorists are almost pathetically low tech. Whatever short term mischief they may manage to wreak, I predict that defeat awaits them in the end. The asymmetry in power is too vast.
I know, Western Churches will have nothing to do with Christian extremism. Instead, they’ll prefer to continue with their gentle decline into geriatric irrelevance and, eventually, death. Just as Pope Paul VI ignored an extraordinary letter by film-director and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini. A veritable extremist manifesto. “In the context of a radical, perhaps utopian, or at least eschatological, perspective, it is clear what the Church ought to do to avoid an ignominious end. She ought to join the opposition. The resistance. In such a struggle – which could be justified by a long past tradition of battle between Papacy and Empire – the Church should ally herself to all those forces that refuse to bow to the new domination of neo-capitalism and consumerism. The Church could become a symbol of this refusal by going back to her origins, to opposition, to resistance, to revolt.’
Pasolini was murdered shortly afterwards. Paul VI too died. His successor Popes have shown no inclination towards rebellion. The Archbishop of Canterbury – a fine spiritual man whom I heard this morning at the Christian Muslim Forum at Lambeth Palace – is far too sophisticated to indulge in crudities like messianic pronouncements. Every person must do as his conscience dictates, certainly. As for me, I am an incurable romantic. I keep praying for the miracle of many ‘extremist’ Christian pupils in schools, shocking their teachers with their radical Gospel and their subversive faith.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli