Church and State as Seen From Glastonbury Tor
At the denouement of Auberon Waugh’s novel A Bed of Flowers (about a hippie commune set up on a Somerset farm by a drop-out businessman and his ex-Jesuit spiritual advisor), a certain Fr. Rasputian officiates at a triple wedding on the Glastonbury Tor. The nearby ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, despoiled by Henry VIII in the 16th century, elicit some thoughts from him on the prospects for Church and State:
There are those, of course, who maintain that the only thing which has really happened is that the State has won the argument; the Church as an institution now disintegrates before our eyes, while the State goes from strength to strength. Do not be deceived by appearances, my brothers and sisters. All that has happened is that the Church, with greater wisdom than our political masters can show, has decided to go underground. There are those who complain about the new order of services. The Mass, or what passes for the Mass, is now meaningless, ugly and an affront to religious sensibility. Nobody has yet understood that this may, through the ancient wisdom of the Church, be intentional, its purpose to discourage people from the empty gesture of church attendance, to drive them back on their inward spirituality, where all hope for the Church’s survival must reside. This is an age of formal distintegration, which the Church realises and the State does not. The State cannot realise it, since the State has no existence outside its form, unless you adduce the self-important and obsequious longings of a few indivdiuals as evidence of a soul. The Church is now engaged in a process of voluntary, formal distintegration, while the State is fighting the irresistaible forces of distintegration with more and more hyperbolical measures, unfounded in human aspirations or convenience, towards greater cohesion. Nobody can know what violence and what suffering will attend the State’s final disintegration, or for how long the wretched people who exercise their authority and feed their self-importance through the machinery of the State will manage to delay the moment, but of one thing we can be sure: when the moment of disintegration comes, the Church will re-emerge, through the will of the poeple and in response to their needs.
It’s a satirical novel, and this monologue is delivered by a character named “Rasputian” at that. Nevertheless, there’s good reason to think that at least a little of Auberon Waugh’s own view is reflected here. And there’s something to be said for it.Books, religion, Social criticism
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