Sunday, August 15, 2004
  I Vow to Thee
Fox News's website has a column entitled Tongue Tied, which reports on the latest PC inanities. Lead item is about this story, in which the Bishop of Hulme (near Manchester) wrote in his diocesan newsletter that the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country was heretical and nationalist. It's a beautiful hymn, often sung at services of remembrance. It's usually set to the Jupiter Theme from The Planets by Gustav Holst. The words are actually from the poem The Two Fatherlands by Sir Cecil Spring Rice:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love:
the love that asks no questions, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best;
the love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
the love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King:
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering:
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness and all her paths are peace.

The two fatherlands are, of course, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Kingdom of Heaven.

The first stanza has to be read in context. The poem was written during the Great War. From the standpoint of eighty years on, it is hard to contemplate the burden that the First World War put on Britain. British Empire forces suffered over three million casualties, 900,000 of them fatal. This was a casualty rate of 36% of all mobilised forces. Every village in the UK has a war memorial (I can think of five within walking distance of my parents' house). Other nations sustained even more horrendous losses (a staggering 76.3% of French and Russian forces became casualties - to put that into perspective, imagine 106,000 killed and wounded among the 140,000 US service personnel deployed in Iraq). Here's my reference.

Quite obviously, such losses were a tremendous drain on the willpower and morale of the country. Hortatory poems like the above were absolutely necessary to sustain the drive to win. I won't discuss whether the First World War was senseless or not - it's still a contentious issue and real military historians, rather than wannabes like me, disagree on this point. I will say, however, that having started it, Britain had an obligation to finish the job.

The second stanza of the poem seems to me to be the sort of thing with which no practising Christian could find offense. Compare and contrast the way the poet says the House of God grows - soul by soul and silently - with the fire and the sword that accompanies the growth of the house of Allah.

The bishop finds parallels with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930's (usually a fairly good indication of a batty argument). It's true that there's a worrying increase in the level of support for nasty groups such as the British National Party. But what the sanctimonious adherents of all things multi-culti do not seem to realise is that they are putting the cart before the horse. It isn't support for white supremacy that means we have to slavishly kow-tow to every bien pensant viewpoint on 'cultural diversity'. It's the outright denigration and hijacking of peoples' sense of identity that is causing the disaffectaion and alienation. When a vicar says that a pub called 'The Saracen's Head' should change its name because Muslims might find it offensive, he is materially increasing the likelihood that a brick (or worse) will find its way through the window of the local mosque. If there is no outlet in the gentle and inoffensive patriotism that most Britons ascribe to, the head of steam will find its release in altogether more sinister directions.

I'm an atheist, so the pronunciamentos of priests carry about as much weight with me as the lackwit bloviations of a Barbra Streisand or Vanessa Redgrave. But if Anglicans wish to find a reason for the empty pews in their churches, they need look no further than Bishop Stephen Lowe, fatuous oaf.


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