Friday, October 04, 2013

Children should learn about 'dead white men' – including saints and theologians

From Father Silas:

You may be among those who were “moved” by Lindsay Johns’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference. If so, that may not be a bad thing: such movement is rare enough in such contexts, and I rather like the idea of his solid middle-England audience experiencing just a hint of moistness about the eye. Myself, I was impressed rather than moved. Impressed, firstly, by a “black” man (his online biography describes him as being of "Coloured Cape Townian and English" descent) having the courage to speak at such an event. We can but imagine how this will have gone down in Peckham where he is a volunteer mentor, and where I’m guessing that committed Tories are a bit thin on the ground.

To be fair, he seems already to have been a bit of an outsider: the quickest of Google searches leads you to a 2011 blogpost by a black Lib Dem local councillor which declares that Johns “does not represent the (black) community and his views have little or no credibility outside Middle England. He is willingly being used by the Right as a tool with which to stifle demands for racial justice.” So perhaps he feels he has little credibility to lose in that quarter.

But what impressed me more was what he said. In a phrase that may well echo down the arches of the years, he stressed the importance of young black people studying the works and words of “dead white men” (like Shakespeare and Dickens) – writers and thinkers who were formative of our culture and society, and whose work enlightens and enriches the minds of those who encounter them. This, rather than an emphasis on street culture elevated to an art form, was the surest route to true equality.

This bravely counter-cultural claim gave this poetically and historically-minded priest a lovely warm feeling – although I did reflect that it applies equally to young white people. That is why God has given us Michael Gove, who, according to Mr Johns (and me), “passionately believe(s) in the valiant liberation of human potential from the constraining shackles of circumstance”.

But “dead white men” (we may assume this to include non-men, such as Austen and Eliot) are, in this context, not just British authors and scientists, pre-eminent though they be. They should include saints and theologians. They should include Lancelot Andrewes and (saving his presence) Thomas Cranmer, whose holy poetry formed the English understanding of God and our response to His call. They should include the Catholic saints of the Middle Ages: Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola. They should include the early Christian writers, especially Saint Paul. And they should include Jesus of Nazareth – though only white-ish and still living – whose life and teaching and purpose are the foundation of our entire civilisation.

This need not involve indoctrinating or “persuading” young people of the Christian claim to truth. Yet it cannot fail to teach them who we are, and what we can become.

Father Silas is an undistinguished (he says) priest and deacon of the Church of England who loves it in spite of everything.


Blogger Martin said...

I imagine Paul was a similar colour to the Lord Jesus Christ. As for saints is it by accident that such as Tyndale, Bunyan, Spurgeon, all saints according to the Bible, are ommitted?

4 October 2013 at 08:28  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Thank you for this piece Silas.

He is indeed a brave, counter-cultural visionary. Exposing them to the best in the English language will liberate them from the narrow cul-de-sac of these sub-cultures in which so many are trapped.

Indeed all of African descent should learn that it is people of faith, schooled in a Church directly descended from our founder, Jesus of Nazareth, who first opposed slavery and started the process, the stream of liberation, in which hopefully, many are now being urged to bath educationally. Christianity sets all people free....of false idols and so much else...
So yes I agree that anyone living in this country should learn of the inheritance from that liturgical, poetic genius Cranmer, and of course the ultimate work of many committees, The King James Bible.

4 October 2013 at 09:39  
Blogger seanrobsville said...

Could I also suggest that the works of dead brown men might give a different perspective on the world?

4 October 2013 at 10:06  
Blogger Ian G said...

Seanrobsville: I take it you aren't including the North African theologians such as Augustine of Hippo?

4 October 2013 at 11:37  
Blogger Corrigan said...

Ignatius of Loyola? Ha! There's hope for you yet, Silas. On the wider point, I entirely agree. So, Mr Johns "does not represent the black community", as though they are some kind of undivided mass? The idea that people can be pigeon-holed in this manner is just typical of the white liberal (and since nobody is born a white liberal, as they are born black, it is safe to say that white liberals are an undivided mass, since you have to subscribe to the prescribed mantras to become one of them).

4 October 2013 at 11:40  
Blogger Mrs Proudie of Barchester said...

Oh I do hope young people get stuck into a Trollope...don't you?

4 October 2013 at 11:57  
Blogger Corrigan said...

Think they're way ahead of you, Mrs P. Matter of fact, so are most of the older people...

4 October 2013 at 12:32  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Seanrobsville brings up an important point here, as well as on his blog's article. I'd add that European civilization is Indo-European in its deep foundations and so, Buddhism and Hinduism are in fact much closer to its nature than Judaism and even Greek philosophy, which is a product of a small class and late European romanticized notions about "great thoughts" by a jaded academia.

4 October 2013 at 12:41  
Blogger seanrobsville said...

@ Ian G
St Augustine of Hippo was very much in the Platonist tradition, which has been dominant in Western philosophy and theology up to the recent development of process philosophy and theology by Whitehead and Hartshorne.

4 October 2013 at 12:48  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Ian G

Well I'm all for dead brown men like Augustine of Hippo, a genius of a philosopher and theologian, I'd say.


Usually I very much appreciate your comments winged over from Canada, as the perspective from a Jewish heritage is always most helpful. But I don't buy that idea that european civilization has its roots in Buddhism and Hinduism at all. OK the Celts, reputed to have originated from that region, may have been the very first known, wave of peoples moving westwards but that was pre-Buddhism anyway, and I see no traces of Hinduism left, if there were any, which I doubt, other than perhaps a few wisps of influence in Celtic Christianity. But maybe you've got some convincing proof as evidence ?

4 October 2013 at 13:01  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

writers and thinkers who were formative of our culture and society

The immigration Britain has experienced since the war will make the British a minority, albeit still the largest group, by around 2070. At some time thereafter, ‘our culture and society’ are likely to be Muslim. If acquaintance with the works of dead white men awakens immigrants to the fact that their presence here is destroying a nation that has excelled in so many fields and, overwhelmed by guilt and shame, they return to their ancestral homelands and leave us at peace in ours, bring it on.

4 October 2013 at 13:37  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Karl Marx is one among just a handful of dead white males whose names may still be mentioned in polite society. Lenin, Trotsky and Che Guevara are others who have not yet been consigned to the memory hole. Musicians, too, for some reason, have displayed an uncanny gift for surviving the purge. Not, of course, any of those horrid old Germans with names beginning with B, but John Lennon and George Harrison are both still in fashion, or at least borderline, along with Jim Morrison and one other, the fat one with the hair, whose name escapes me for the moment. Something like Evil Priestley or Leslie Wesley.

4 October 2013 at 13:41  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Uncle Brian,

Leave Wesley out of this !

4 October 2013 at 13:44  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Hi David H, I thought I posted a response on my home pc, but seems I forgot to click the publish button. So quickly, while getting fueled up with liquid gold...diesel: I should have clarified that the connection pre-dates classical times, that Europe shares a faint cultural heritage with Hinduism and Buddhism by way of their deep root foundations, similar to way in which they share a common linguistic source going back to their common proto-Indoeuropean language.

4 October 2013 at 14:28  
Blogger Uncle Brian said...

Oh no David, not that Wesley. I don't think we'll see his name, or his brother's even, on any list that has been cleared by the Fashion Police.

4 October 2013 at 14:29  
Blogger Marie1797 said...

Thank you Father Silas, what an uplifting speech from Mr Johns.
Indeed, liberating children from their narrow minded sub-cultures whatever it might be, African gang land or Islamist jihadi will not only widen their horizons but do wonders for integration.

4 October 2013 at 14:42  
Blogger David Hussell said...


Thanks for the response. We can agree on the "faint cultural heritage .... ", I think.

Liquid gold ! Indeed. I get the same feeling myself. Even at the incredibly high mileage I get from my big engined, slow revving chunky diesel estate car, £100 for a total fill up is an item. But if you can multi-task by fuelling and blogging, at the same time, you're a master of technology compared to moi !

4 October 2013 at 16:20  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Uncle Brian,

That's a relief then !

I was about to select a weapon to defend my late grandfather's ardent faith.

4 October 2013 at 16:22  
Blogger Office of Inspector General said...

What the hell is ‘racial justice’ ? It wouldn’t be the polishing of the chip on the black man’s shoulder which is de rigueur for any that dwell outside of Africa, by any chance ? One cannot fully put into words how inspired the Inspector is to see that Johns is having nothing to do with that himself.

Find the ability to throw off perceived victimhood, live your life and improve on it, is what the man is saying. Especially improve on it. Knowledge is empowering, and the knowledge of the lives and works of past lives is the most empowering of all. The ignorance into which we are born is not. A worthy message to all of any race.

Well done Sir !

4 October 2013 at 17:17  
Blogger Henry Hobart said...

If Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) is of the Middle Ages, the so is our own dear Archbishop Cranmer (1489-1556). Fr. Silas needs to review his chronology.

4 October 2013 at 18:55  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

David H, pardon the one-upmanship, but it costs me around $ 1000 U.S. to fill my tanks with diesel. That would be for my Volvo 780 semi, of course. But seriously, wow, you pay a fortune. Takes me about $ 35-40 to fill my Honda car gas tank (smaller than yours, Im sure, but still) at 1.40 or so per litre CDN. In Israel it's nearly double that, is it the same in the UK?

Anyhow, don't be to certain about the "faintness." European Pagan religions were uniquely Indo-European, and Indian philosophy and science seeped towards the Greek and Arab cultures and later through the Arabs...who took the credit, as with "Arabic" numbers. Jewish culture too has Indoeuropean imprints as well, through the same channels, and also through Persia, especially during the inter-Temple period. We are all cultural and genetic mongrels.

4 October 2013 at 21:12  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Meant to say "Greek and Roman cultures."

4 October 2013 at 21:13  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

A scattered day, David H...forgot to add that I suspect that the same ideas, ideals and memes that fuelled Greek, Roman and Animist Europe and "Europeanized" or "de-Judaized" Christianity, also powered Buddhism.

4 October 2013 at 21:18  
Blogger non mouse said...

Predictably, no doubt, Fr. Silas ... this communicant would remind others that the profile of British 'dead white men' arose long before either the late Middle Ages or the Tudor era.

Therefore, thank you, Avi, for a succinct statement of the Indo-European heritage of British indigenes.

I'd refer, further, to His Grace's own posting of July 24, 2013. There, our host broached the issue of our genetic origins as posited by Oxford anthropologist Stephen Oppenheimer. These views do not disagree with those of Oxford geneticist Bryan Sykes, whom I have often cited on these pages. On that occasion, His Grace even recognised the possibility of relating the migrations of our Pontic fathers (and mothers) to the later ones of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Although neither Sykes nor Oppenheimer consider the germanic contribution to the gene pool to have been very great, it is their language that we eventually adopted and developed for the transmission of our insular cultures. We did that under the guidance of Augustine of Canterbury and his successors (originally under the aegis of Gregory the Great). To these men we owe our literacy and its preservation.

Their brilliant and beautiful works, through the educational system they established, determined the course of the culture that would later achieve another flowering in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Despite the Normans, the people and the Church had kept it alive.

Of course --- the Augustinian mission did include the Greek scholar Hadrian, whom Bede describes as an African...

And --- they did promote the literacy springing from the omni-present Word of God, as propagated by the Judaeo-Christian heritage.

And --- the Victorians were not wrong to highlight recognition of Alfred the Great. After Viking depradations, it was he who championed and implemented the preservation and re-birth of that literary tradition in these islands.

And ... if they want to include notable women: there's also Hilda of Whitby to consider. To say nothing of the embroidresses and weavers whose handiwork became renowned among those over the water.

Overall ... "Standing on the shoulders of giants" springs to mind. That helps succeeding generations see things.

4 October 2013 at 21:23  
Blogger Mr Integrity said...

Avi and others,
Our routes and histories are irrelevant to a Christian since he is born anew and his past is no more. He is a new creature in Christ and past attitudes and cultural influences have no impact.

4 October 2013 at 21:50  
Blogger Brian West said...

Mr Integrity: "Our roots and histories are irrelevant to a Christian since he is born anew and his past is no more. He is a new creature in Christ and past attitudes and cultural influences have no impact."

A person who has trusted the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation is indeed a new creature in Him, but while we are in these bodies we surely remain coloured by our personal histories, and are still living, day by day, alongside our cultural influences. So I doubt if it can be true that they have no impact on the way we think and act, and I'm not even sure that we should wish that they would, since we are witnessing within that context.


4 October 2013 at 22:11  
Blogger bluedog said...

Great post, non mouse @ 21.33. Of course the hardest thing to do is explain to somebody that their own culture is rubbish, and that it is the problem and not the solution. Without saying so explicitly, that is what Mr Lindsay Johns is doing for and on behalf of his charges.

In the view of this communicant, you have to be pretty thick to emigrate to the West from the third world and then demand to retain your own culture and way of life once you arrive. But perhaps being a bit thick is a defining characteristic of many third-worlders... Either that or they are so conditioned by their religious beliefs that objective thought is beyond them.

4 October 2013 at 22:23  
Blogger Avi Barzel said...

Why, thank you, nonmouse.

Mr Integrity, and yet you just told us this in an Indo-European, largely Germanic language with Gaelic, Latin and Norman French input, you follow a Hellenized Judaic religion with remnants of Animist customs and festivals, live under a legal and governmental system with Roman, pre-Christian English and Danish components and your society still echoes with Medieval custom and social structures, while operating in a rapidly transforming Modern, international environment. Many of my co-religionists who are ba'al teshuva, roughly similar to "born again," feel the same way, believing that all their thoughts and actions are "purely Jewish," and yet they too live in a similar milieu, with similar influences and specific religious beliefs aside, have far more culturally, ethically and psychologically in common with you than with a Japanese, a Syrian Arab or a !Kung Bushman.

4 October 2013 at 22:41  
Blogger David Hussell said...

Avi and fellow travellers,

I agree that there are many overlaying and overlapping cultural influences working within our societies and indeed, within any one faith. So in a sense yes, culturally, there is no total purity. We all live within this cultural heritage. Bluedog is not the only mongrel !
However some influences are very faint now, whilst others are far more powerful and easily discernible, I would argue. It is a question of degree and emphasis I suppose.
And the firm believer in a faith can and does elect to make him/herself fit into the mould of that faith, and so is recreated in a very real sense.

Perhaps races of humans, that have been separated off from the rest of humanity for many, many thousands of years, say the Aborigines, are the most culturally pure, and if that is so, then that may explain why their culture is so very different from those who arrived recently?

Just googled your Volvo 780 semi and yes , it's rather large so I can see why a $1000 is required ! Here diesel is around £1.45 a litre now, ouch !

5 October 2013 at 09:22  
Blogger non mouse said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5 October 2013 at 15:54  
Blogger non mouse said...

Dear Mr. Hussell: Americans are lucky in one way - they're still allowed to express measurement in the traditional (Anglospheric) way. I do believe we shouldn't talk to them in litters and mitters - for the moment anyway :)

However, I understand that corporations are pushing the 'double-talk' on their labels, especially for 'pleasure-principle' commodities like alcohol.

I remember how that creepy subversion works. In the 60s and 70s we welcomed arrivals to: "... London Heathrow Airport, where the temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, (x degrees Centigrade.)" Now though, they never mention Fahrenheit (a finer scale, btw), and they kow-tow to franco-germans by calling Centigrade something that massages the egos of foreigners.


5 October 2013 at 15:59  
Blogger non mouse said...


Such is deliberate disruption/destruction of a culture through its language. For language expresses the heart, soul, and mind of the people; it is a major vehicle of culture. Christians recognise this in the sense that all words relate to the Word - which infuses everything.

And so, as Mr. Integrity may see: Christianity is woven into the culture of the English/British because it was Christians who developed literacy here. Their ultimate goal, though, was to enable a world that lived for and served the greater glory of God.

To convert pagans to that end, they needed to communicate with the people in our own language. If law codes were among the first things the churchmen recorded -- then they were acceptable in light of one of the earliest ever codes: the Law which Christ upheld.

However, the Church has apparently relinquished its role as the guardian and transmitter of culture, which from Indo-european times had been maintained through the scops, bards, poets ... and priests, which is where the Christians stepped in. That was the old way.

The present (pagan) way is to imprison and impose authority from without - while corrupting from within. In the world about us now, the filthy, tangled webs of marx, engels, freud, lacan, etc. serve those ends. Those pulling the strings claim to be "Philosophers" (lovers of Sophia/Wisdom) - yet one must question their definition of the wisdom they love.

After all, we witness part of their method this day in the division of our house against itself (black against white). They break and tear apart the very strands of every cultural cloth they touch.

Why? To the greater glory whoever has the biggest inferiority complex?

5 October 2013 at 16:14  

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