Rant Number 367 13 October 2009
Hua Ibn Zina! let out in utter disgust my Iraqi friend Ahmed. Ibn Zina – not the politest expression in the hallowed Arabic language. He meant Tony Blair. Ahmed has big feelings about the former British PM. ‘Frank, the nasty Ibn Zina is going to be president of the European Union. Ya Allah! How low have you Europeans sunk! You can’t allow it to happen!’
Dear Ahmed, actually if phoney Tony does get the job, the looming, centralised super state, the Moloch called the EU, would get the boss it deserves. Remember - Moloch was a blood-drenched idol to whom Canaanite children were offered in sacrifice. Dig the analogy?’
The day after his friend’s outburst the priest was in Oxford. In the beautiful chapel of Keble College. There hangs Pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World. One of England’s most celebrated religious works. Shot through with spiritual symbolism, it shows Christ as Lux Mundi. Like in the Book of Revelation, the Light of the World stands at a door and knocks. ‘Let me in’ Christ begs. The door is that of the human soul, encrusted with ivy and weeds, signifying the multitudinous sins which obstruct man’s salvation. Behind the Saviour’s crowned head the bright morning star is the harbinger of sunrise, the dawning of a new era, bringing humanity glad tidings of liberation from death and evil. A’adhim!
There is however a second light in the painting. A bright one, streaming out of the lantern Christ carries. Pious cryptographers say it means the light of conscience. The conscience of sin, that is. Without which there can be no repentance and no redemption, either.
The penny dropped. The light did indeed dawn for me. I realised what is the chief problem with Blair. Not that he sinned. Only prigs and hypocrites are sanctimonious about individual faults. Sinning is universal. But so is forgiveness. If he admits his guilt, God will forgive even an Ibn Zina. (Indeed, what fault could a child have if was born a ‘child of adultery’?) If the sinner shows genuine metanoia, the Christian term for a true change of heart and mind, God will hug him back. But nothing indicates the light of conscience has ever dawned for Blair. Instead, his inner sky is still covered up in darkness. A dark that seems to go on and on. No daybreak for him. But then no forgiveness either. And so no redemption.
After he resigned as PM, Tony joined the Catholic Church. Well, why not? ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ says Christ. But traditionally a conversion to Catholicism often entailed the embracing of a stricter rule of life. Consider the Plantagenet King Henry II. At his instigation, four Norman knights entered Canterbury Cathedral and slaughtered that ‘turbulent priest’, Archbishop Thomas Becket. A sacrilege which outraged all public opinion in Christendom. Henry quickly showed his remorse by doing penance barefoot at the martyr’s tomb. He also submitted himself to a vigorous scourging by Becket’s monks. An exemplary atonement which edified the peoples of medieval Europe. Now, I would not expect Blair to stand in central Baghdad and subject himself to an avalanche of shoe-throwing thrown by irate Iraqis – though I would enjoy the spectacle. That would be a touch too theatrical. Still, the man has shown no sign whatever he has repented of his participation in the unjustified Iraqi aggressive war, with all the ensuing deluge of evils for that unhappy country. Worse, it seems he now intends to ‘reform’ the Catholic Church. That he desires to make it a ‘progressive church’. To conspire to turn it into a weak and feeble and spineless outfit, like the loose, permissive Church of England which he has abandoned. Infernal cheek! After having wrecked his country’s social and moral fabric – his government was the most anti-Christian British government of modern times - this Ibn Zina wants to corrupt the true church. La samaha Allah! If that isn’t demonic, what is?
Yes, Christ stands at the door and knock. He craves to come in and enlighten the soul with the true light of redemption. Note that in Holman Hunt’s painting the door has no handle on the outside. A clever touch to convey the point that God does not force himself unto the sinner. Instead, he expects a free, felt response. The inner light, the light of conscience should generate that reaction. People these days tend to appeal to conscience in self-exculpation, rather than in self-accusation. A worrying tendency. But it is true that conscience can at times be itself degraded. Heinrich Himmler, the dreaded SS Reichsfuehrer, once witnessed a concentration camp execution. He fainted. When came to, he reproached himself. ‘I must steel myself against such unmanly emotions’, he said. Clearly, the original light of Himmler’s conscience had been tragically darkened by the wicked National Socialist creed. In Blair’s case...well, even the Labour Party can’t be that bad. Besides, Ibn Zina has spoilt even that. His New Labour bears only the faintest relation to the noble, generous tradition of British humane socialism. He and his bunch of squalid adventurers have polluted that, too.
You don’t have to visit Oxford to admire Hunt’s The Light of the World. A bigger version is in London. In St Paul’s Cathedral. Where last week a memorial service took place for fallen British soldiers. Blair was there. Rowan Williams bleated a little criticism aimed at you know who. Well, better than nothing. But the Archbishop missed a great homiletic chance. He should have pointed out the picture that hangs nearby - The Light of the World. The light that comes into the world to enlighten every man. The light that shines in the darkness – and the darkness does not overcome it. And he should have intimated to his congregation that the light of conscience is there to remind us of the consciousness of sin. A sin which cries out for repentance, for atonement, for genuine, real penance.
‘Great, Frank! You should be the Archbishop of Canterbury!’ emotes Ahmed.
No, dear friend, I don’t think I should. I am a tad too turbulent for that.
Revd Frank Julian Gelli