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Gospel truth that passes the lockdown lovers by

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THE Book of Common Prayer Collect for today, the 2nd Sunday in Advent, reveals the underlying spiritual reason why the Western democracies fell so easily for Chinese-style totalitarian lockdowns: the decline of personal Bible reading.

More on that later. In mid-October Lord (Jonathan) Sumption gave a brilliant oration at the Robert Menzies Institute in Australia in which he analysed the cultural, social and political reasons for the popularity of lockdowns in the English-speaking nations.

Lord Sumption’s address, ‘A State of Fear: Covid-19 and Lockdowns’, seems not to have been well publicised by anti-lockdown journalists in the UK, but fortunately the Daily Sceptic highlighted it on November 28. 

In a golden passage of wisdom, the former Supreme Court judge and published historian said: ‘The quest for State protection against ever-wider categories of risk is a very powerful instinct of modern life. It is not, however, irrational. In some ways it’s a natural response to the remarkable increase in the technical competence of mankind since the middle of the 19th century which has greatly increased the range of things that the State can do.

‘As a result, we have inordinately high expectations of the State, and for all perils there must be a governmental solution. If there is none, then that implies a lack of governmental competence. There are few things in life as routine as death. “In the midst of life, we are in death,” says the Book of Common Prayer.

‘Yet the technical possibilities of modern publicly-financed medicine have accustomed us to the idea that, except in extreme old age, any death from disease is premature and that all premature disease [did he mean death?] is avoidable. Starting as a natural event, therefore, death has become a symptom of societal failure, hence the demands that we make for intervention by the State.

‘In modern conditions risk-aversion and the fear that goes with it are a standing invitation to authoritarian government. If we hold governments responsible for everything that goes wrong, they will take away our autonomy so that nothing can go wrong.’

It was fitting that Lord Sumption alluded to the Prayer Book in his oration at the annual gala dinner of Melbourne University’s Robert Menzies Institute, which promotes the liberal conservative legacy of the successful post-war Australian Prime Minister. Christianity (in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition) was significant in shaping Menzies’s outlook. 

The Prayer Book Collect for today reminds us that large numbers of English-speaking people used to read their Bibles:

‘Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.’

The Collect is based on the Apostle Paul’s statement in chapter 15 verse 4 of his letter to the Christians in 1st century Rome, which begins today’s Epistle reading. Paul was referring to the Old Testament Scriptures, which he saw as fulfilled in the New Testament gospel message he proclaimed: ‘Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning; that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.’

Was it not commitment to personal Bible reading, whether individually or in family groups, that provided the English-speaking peoples with the antidote to treating their governments as God and to the credulity of lockdown religion? 

It is important to stress that individual Bible reading should not be isolated Bible reading. Orthodox Christians do not read their Bibles in isolation from the faithful summaries of biblical doctrine set out in the three Catholic Creeds, the Nicene, the Athanasian and the Apostles’. Orthodox Anglican Christians historically have not ignored the summaries of biblical doctrine on various matters set out in the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion.

But personal Bible reading by generations of Christians in the emerging Western democracies taught them that this world is not perfectible, hence the need for the ‘patience and comfort’ of God’s holy Word, which enabled them to ‘embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life’, which they believed the Almighty had given them in their Saviour Jesus Christ.

For example, readers of the historical books of the Old Testament, such as 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, would have learned that governments cannot change human nature or solve the sinful reality of the world and that only divine intervention can save humanity from ultimate disaster.

The willingness of particularly the baby-boomers of the Western democracies to embrace lockdowns is because, unlike their Victorian and Edwardian grandparents, they have not read their Bibles and so fell for the damnable lie, exposed with peerless eloquence by Lord Sumption, that the State can deliver us from all perils.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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