When Freedom Falls...Between 2 Unbeliefs
Of the sudden collective abdication — under threat of a minor virus — of the Four Estates on which our liberties depended, the most shocking has been the surrender of the Catholic Church.
When all this is over, if it is ever over, we may imagine after a while that our lives have returned to something called normal — ‘new’ or ‘old’ of it — and that there we will (more or less) pick up from where we left off. But we won’t. Wars and their injury to life leave permanent scars, and this is a war, by any other name, though we cannot say who our adversary may be. Mostly it seems that our adversary is a mixture of our own Government, the State, the media, the churches, and other bastions of authority in our society. And the deepest scars will relate to these authorities, and the question as to whether they may still be regarded as such, or as repositories of latent authoritarianism — a wholly different thing — coiled and ready to rear up and strike like a cobra at any moment.
There will be these moments — of a kind of impulsive self-interrogating shock — which will strike unexpectedly, but possibly more frequently than we may currently imagine, like a nightmare featuring something we have been avoiding. When we least expect it, up will pop the questions: Did that really happen? Could that have meant what it seems to have meant? These thoughts and questions will strike unexpectedly, provoked by something everyday, banal, like a flash memory of some distant romantic betrayal, the return of some repressed inexperienced experience, some surge of unprocessed loss. We will imagine we have put it all behind us, got back into the swing of things, having mopped up the more obvious damage to our lives and relationships. In due course we will find ourselves in the way of doing nondescript and everyday things, like picking a flower from a hedgerow on the way to a day’s fishing some misty morning, whistling a tune as we paint the front of the house, nibbling a fresh croissant while watching the street from the window of a favourite café, walking out of a sunny summer’s morning thinking how great it is to be a free human person in a free society — then the thought will strike: This is a living lie; I am not free — I am only as ‘free’ as those skunks up in Leinster House deem fit on any particular day, which is to say not free at all, merely a chattel with contingent and concessionary privileges which may be withdrawn again at any moment.
And this will bespeak a wound that persists accompanied by a suppressed pain that lies outside of normal — hah! —consciousness, a wound that is ineffaceable because it resides at the very core of being, its roots penetrated deep into the infancy of our humanity, still living gurglingly within us. The war, we will realise, is not over. The war will never be over. It will never be over not only because it has never been declared but because its nature, its warness, bellicosity, dread, have never been acknowledged. There was no clear-cut enemy, yet unspeakable grief and pain were inflicted upon people for no purpose discernible to a sentient human being. There will be no way of telling what it was about, and therefore no code by which a recurrence might be detected even momentarily in advance — no clattering of tank treads on asphalt, no tramp of lockstepping soldiers marching in formation, no drone of bombers from across the horizon, no air raid warning to rouse the town from its slumber. Instead, some skunk in a shiny suit will stand half-smirkingly in front of a camera, uttering inane words of pseudo-apology, leavened with neurolinguistic buzz phrases. All of a sudden, we shall be prisoners, slaves, nothings once again.
The scars I have in mind, then, will not be of the economic or other obvious loss-related kind. They will exist to some extent at the level of the mind, but will manifest there for the most part because they have metastasised to the soul. We shall be confronted here by a series of metaphysical affronts, going beyond normative injuries or insults. They will reveal themselves as sudden stabbing thoughts, micro blasts of repressed consciousness, concerning things that the objective circumstances of the moment — the hedgerow, the flower, the croissant — will imply by their shimmering lifeness could not be true.
One such scar might become inflamed from the sudden impulse of a memory of the fact that politicians, who just a month before all this began, had come with caps in hand to the people of Ireland to beseech support in the form of votes, presenting themselves as democrats by implication, representatives of the public by aspiration, and upholders of the Constitution by definition, but instead had almost immediately on election embarked, without as much as a sorry-about-this, on a course of dismantling everything an election is supposed to imply and guarantee. Another might be that members of the national police force were prepared to ignore the content of their oaths of service and enforce pseudo-laws that were clearly in conflict with both the Constitution and the principles of natural justice. Another might be that the judicial arm of government, pledged to ride shotgun on our freedoms and law, had, to put it at its lowest, looked the other way.
Or it might be something completely different, not to do with freedom and its loss, or authority and its betrayals, but rather lies — barefaced lies — and their indelible consequences. It might be a sudden surging of the knowledge that the media, the press, on which one may have depended for information about what was happening to one’s country, had been prepared to lie non-stop because that’s where the money was. Or it might be something more profound than even freedom or justice or even truth, such as the very relationship with reality in its deeper senses that you have long felt able to take for granted.
There is another, drier, more tangible way of putting all this. This would be to say that the current global lockdown crisis, at least in as far as its logic and freedom-larceny has penetrated the West — Europe, America etc. — might be described as a possibly final and lethal attack on the Four Estates of modern society, which is to say of the human community until recently known as ‘Christendom’, that has endured through two millennia having been born of the proposals of Jesus Christ for a world in keeping with the Christian story of Creation and human existence.
Though their meanings and designations have been fluid through time, these estates, through the evolution of Western civilisation, have been the pillars sustaining and supporting this historic social and spiritual order through its period of growth, consolidation, apogee and recent precipitate decline. Though shifting, merging, reducing and multiplying through time and governmental form and trend — from monarchy to democracy and now, it seems, to something else — the four estates have remained until recent times as the pillars of good authority, governance, leadership, education and communication that have ensured the survival, expansion and prospering of the greatest civilisation the world has ever seen.
The estates, or ‘estates of the realm’ as they began in the British tradition, or ‘estates of the land’ as we might have it, have shifted shape through time. Early on, the understanding was of a division between nobility, clergy, bourgeoisie and peasantry; later, as societies became more institutionally based, the concept shifted to convey something closer to the separation of powers in government: executive, legislature, judicial arm and, finally, press. The term ‘Fourth Estate’, referring to the press, was coined in the House of Commons in 1787 by the Irish philosopher-politician Edmund Burke, speaking in a debate to mark the opening of parliament to the press for the first time. He referred to what were at that time considered the ‘three estates — the clerical lords of the realm, the secular lords, and the House of Commons — and then, indicating the press benches, said, ‘There sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.’
In our time, we have seen concepts of governmental estates shift again as, in the waves of secularism that have swept across Western civilisation since the Enlightenment, the churches have become more and more marginalised, their roles and functions usurped on the one hand by the state, on the other by such as artists and celebrities. Nevertheless, it can be said that, in as far as intellectual leadership is concerned, the four pillars have continued to be commonly understand as politics, law, communications-media and religion.
In the past twelve months, however, this arrangement has been subject to a series of unprecedented shocks, which have left the estates still standing, with the same outward appearance as before, and yet utterly altered in their demeanour, disposition, inter-relationships and dependability.
From the unfolding of the Covid-19 episode of the spring of 2020 we have observed what appears to be a terminal self-willed assault on all four estates, a massive cultural coup that now threatens to overwhelm and supplant the core nature of democratic society understood in broadly Christian terms, though of course rooted also in older civilisations, especially those of Rome and Greece. As the days, weeks, months of this lockdown have seemed to multiply the force of gravity upon our bodies, the formerly relatively tranquil West has experienced increasing alienation and despondency, arising from the sudden eruption of arbitrary law enforcement, imposed unemployment and bankruptcy, social dislocation, increased unease and simmering violence, loss of homes and livelihoods, ill health due to anxiety and depression, illness and death due to delayed or withdrawn treatments, stress and isolation, ‘deaths of despair’ including suicides, addictive episodes, and so on and on — all of which have in turn resulted in an unacknowledged diminution of overall personal and public health and well-being due to stress utterly nullifying, overwhelming and dwarfing the claimed objectives of the lockdown exercise. Shops, stores, and businesses have been mandated to close. Industrial output has plummeted. Sports facilities are dark, as are theatres, cinemas, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, schools, and just about any amenity found in a normal, civilised society. People have been subject to vacillating orders to remain indefinitely in their homes, to restrict themselves to travelling short distances, to avoid social interaction with anyone outside their immediate family, to wear filth-making rags on their faces. The statistics of the ‘pandemic’ — on their face deeply dubious — have over time been exposed as concocted through exaggeration, manipulation and falsification of fatality data. But even the widespread circulation of these facts has proved insufficient to bring these horrors to a conclusion.
Under the sway of global medical organisations and scientific experts, the political class of the West has essentially caved in, rolled over and surrendered its representational responsibilities, essentially announcing martial law at the behest of unelected and largely invisible figures on the basis, ostensibly, of a middle-of-the-range influenza-type illness. The media, the famed Fourth Estate of Edmund Burke’s christening, has adopted the role of propaganda arm of this adventure in insurgency, refusing to question the coup in any significant aspect. The judicial arms of government have, in the main, shown a willingness to acquiesce in the logic and imperatives of what on its face appears to be no more than a colossal spook, if not indeed an outright hoax.
As a result, we live now in a society in which the concepts of truth, justice, meaning, grace, faith and transcendence have been devalued all but out of existence, the past year having witnessed the depths of this devaluation, when ‘freedom’ became something to be teasingly dispensed by politicians and ‘health’ juntas, when the very minds of the populace were invaded by industrialised lies, when the very idea of human beings having a transcendent dimension came to be officially disregarded, spurned, belittled, dismissed, and in practice rendered illegal.
But this is just the beginning of the difficulty.
The point is not that the four estates have each independently become contaminated; it is that they have collectively and concurrently become corrupted, as though by some rot operating from the inside out, and yet outwardly visible as a concerted decomposition. If but one of these estates had remained honest, none of the deception and destruction of the past year would have been possible. Had just one of their public voices remained honest and loyal to the People, all this would have been over within a week. By corrupting simultaneously, they have been able to support one another in their mutual rancidity just as they once supported one another, and in turn the whole of the Kingdom, the Republic, the Nation, the Society in its freedoms, needs and security. The problem is not that the four estates have collapsed; the problem is that they have not collapsed. Had any or all of them fallen, the damage might have been reparable. Instead, they remain standing, mutually agreeing to sustain a corrupt edifice of lies and cruelty and, in some instances, a process dedicated to the liquidation of viable lives. Before, the ‘estates’ had buttressed one another in superintendence, responsibility, safeguarding, the dispensation of wisdom and good authority; now they conspired to buttress one another only in putrescence and mendacity.
Any of them might have yielded — baulked — under this new load. The spiritually-directed of these estates, for example, might have refused to cooperate or accept the edicts of the secular authorities, stood down its participation in the material world and retreated to the sanctuary of its own church buildings, inviting its beleaguered people in. Instead of dissenting, or standing down, they agreed to put their load capacitance and stress-absorption capability to the burden of lies and abuse imposed by the secular authorities. Had the bishops of the Irish Catholic Church decided in March 2020 to interrogate the governmental diktats issuing forth at that time, they might have helped to save both the country from the coming months and years of misery and themselves from outright extinction. The bishops could have stood with their own faithful, if not the People-at-large, insisting that they be entitled at least to the comfort of religious consolation, whether they be Covid believers terrified of losing their lives or sceptics afraid of losing the quality and meaning of their lives. This was within their powers and entitlements. The Church is an independent body, separated from entanglement with the State by the State’s own laws, and this at the insistence of the other three ‘estates of the land’. It has a separate and different responsibility to its people than do the secular authorities. It cares not for their bodies but their souls. A priest is not a civil servant or a social workers but an usher of Mystery. The Church’s function is to assist the human pilgrim on the eternal journey to the infinite destination. That the State no longer believes in souls is neither here nor there. It is as yet not illegal to believe in one’s own soul, and therefore not illegal for the Church to insist that it must continue to minister to such a conception or entity. The Church had the right to demand that it be given space and freedom to carry out this, its sole exclusive remit. Not only did it fail to do so, but it became a willing accomplice in the destruction of the lives, hopes and serenity of its members, and therefore in its own mandated irrelevance.
It cancelled the Easter of 2020, closed the doors of its churches and thereafter transformed itself into an instrument of State hectoring and prohibition. For the first time in living memory, church services ceased, with churches closed. At a time of enormous stress and anxiety, people were denied the comfort of religious observance and ritual. For many older and devout people this amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment. That people who had lived their lives in the bosom of the Christian community were left to die alone, not merely deprived of the accompaniment of their loved ones but without the ministrations of a priest of God, is an infamy that can never be expunged from human history. That these Christian faithful were then hastily buried by huddled groups of masked and terrified family members, without the attendance of beloved friends and neighbours, while the leaders of their Church continued in their alliance with the responsible tyrants, is something irredeemable and irretrievable. For, if any of the four estates are supposed to reflect and purvey the quality of good authority, surely the Church of Jesus Christ, who mingled with lepers and outcasts, is supposed to do so.
But, even worse than slamming shut the doors of their churches in the manner of Bethlehemian innkeepers was that the bishops subsequently refused to open their mouths to speak to their own faithful people over the heads of the tyrants who have been inflicting such wounds on our civilisation and its communities. And then, adding affront to injury, the Church, from the top down, began insulting those of its own faithful who asked for a review of what was happening, for some consideration of their rights and lives. In a short book published late last year, Pope Francis condemned those who had objected to the lockdown policy, accusing them of ‘thinking only of themselves’, assuming the bona fides of tyrant governments and the opposite of those they had imposed upon. Defending BLM protestors who rioted and looted in the cities of America following the death of George Floyd in May, he said the anti-lockdown demonstrators would never be found protesting such a death, nor ‘joining a demonstration because there are shantytowns where children lack water or education’, a blatant untruth. And, while there have been a few brave priests like Fr P.J. Hughes of Mullahoran parish in County Cavan, who stood up to the authorities and continued saying Mass for his parishioners, the Association of Catholic Priests, a kind of trade union claiming to represent the majority of Irish priests, took its cue from the pope and claimed that anti-lockdown demonstrators were ‘selfish’.
Some questions for these imposter pastors: Do you really consider it ‘selfish’ of people to wish for their children to be able to play with their friends, to want to visit their grandmother and give her a book and a lemon drizzle cake, to prefer that their father be buried with the honour and decency his life demanded rather than in the manner of an executed convict in the corner of a prison yard? Could we hear from them this Easter a sermon on the ‘selfishness’ of wishing to save one’s immortal soul? And one more for the Bishop of Rome: Are you good with being cheerleader for a man last seen holding a loaded gun to the belly of a pregnant woman?
But something more shocking is starting to emerge here: that it has never been ‘illegal’ — even by the most corrupted definitions, of which many are at play in these matters — to say or attend Mass. That, it is said, was the Bishops' decision, not the law. This gives rise to the question: Are the bishops to be regarded by history as dupes of the political establishment, or merely cowards protecting their own skins? Could it be that they were acting purely in a spirit of self-protection, which is to say selfishly? And yet there is no movement from the Church authorities to take advantage of this belated ‘realisation’. And, since it is now clear that the Church will not be breaking the law by reopening its churches, there appears to be no further impediment to their doing so. They must now provide explanations as to why — if this is the case — they misled their flocks into believing that they had no choice.
It ought not have taken a year to discover this, to get to this point. But, because all four estates have been corrupted, including — perhaps most of all — the one responsible for teasing out and telling the truth so that democracy might be guarded by robust conversation, there has been no one, or no entity, willing to or capable of shining a light on any of this. The understanding, then, is something like: The Church was obliged to cooperate with measures designed to prevent or restrict the spread of the pandemic; the aim was the saving of lives.
But, even if we charitably accept that these were both the objectives and in due course the outcomes of the Government’s initiatives, there remains a question that secular society and its ‘estates’ have so far declined to ask: Is any of this the duty, purpose or responsibility of the Catholic Church?
History tells us that this is not how the Church has historically seen itself, and not how it has tended to behave in similar — or actually infinitely worse — circumstances.
In the year between the Easters of 1348 and 1349 alone, the Black Death — or bubonic plague — is estimated to have killed close to 40 per cent of the population of Europe. The plague, a bacterial infection spread by the fleas that live on rats, is easily transmitted to humans, especially in densely populated and unhygienic urban conditions. The symptoms of the plague included coughing, fever, vomiting and swelling of the neck and limbs. Being highly contagious, it almost invariably afflicted whole families once one member had caught it. The cause of the sickness was unknown at the time.
There has survived from the time the Black Death ravaged Europe an essay or report by Henricvs Cnitton, aka Henry Knighton, who subsequently served for many years as a canon at the Augustinian abbey of St Mary of the Meadows, in Leicester, England. The report is 1,100 words in length and provides a gripping portrait of the time of the plague.
Knighton relates that the Black Death killed about 25 million people in total. It began in India, and then manifested throughout Asia and Arabia, finally, in a trajectory ‘from Easter to Easter’, reaching what is now Eastern Europe. Since the plague had started in China more than a decade earlier, it was at first believed that the plague had been unleashed by God against heathens. Then it began to strike down Christians, first arriving in Western Europe via the ports of Sicily, and finally in England in the spring of 1348.
‘The dreadful pestilence penetrated the sea coast by Southampton and came to Bristol, and there almost the whole population of the town perished, as if it had been seized by sudden death; for few kept their beds more than two or three days, or even half a day.
‘Then this cruel death spread everywhere around, following the course of the sun. And their died at Leicester in the small parish of St Leonard more than 380 persons; in the parish of Holy Cross, 400; in the parish of Margaret's, Leicester, 700; and so, in every parish, a great multitude.’
The plague arrived in Ireland in the summer of 1348 via the eastern ports, probably carried by traders from the French port of Bordeaux, and first affected the population of eastern towns such as Dublin and Drogheda. It is thought to have arrived separately, from England, at southern port cities like Cork and Waterford, resulting in ‘unheard of mortality’.
There are reports of an early manifestation of ‘lockdown’, with infected families being forcibly locked into their homes for fear of contagion. When someone died of the plague, a white X was marked on the door of the house to alert passers-by to the presence of the plague. Later, bodies piled up in the streets, and mass graves, in which the dead were buried uncoffined, became commonplace.
Henry Knighton’s report recorded that thousands of farm animals died for want of husbandry and putrefied in the fields so that ‘neither bird nor beast would touch them’. There were not enough people still living to bury the dead, man or beast. Strangely, in the year of the pestilence, there was an abundance of grain, so that crops were left to rot in the fields, and the price of animals collapsed by 80 per cent or more. In the following year, such was the scarcity of labour due to the carnage that mowers and harvesters became too expensive and many crops again wasted in the fields.
When the pestilence had passed, many of the buildings in cities and towns of Britain became vacant and fell into ruin, and many hamlets and villages became utterly uninhabited and disappeared from the landscape.
In this tableau of impotence, the Church alone mounted a concerted programme of response.
‘Master Thomas of Bradwardine was consecrated by the Pope Archbishop of Canterbury, and when he returned to England he came to London, but within two days was dead . . .
‘Then the Bishop of London sent word throughout his whole diocese giving general power to each and every priest, regular as well as secular, to hear confessions and to give absolution to all persons with full episcopal authority, except only in case of debt. In this case, the debtor was to pay the debt, if he was able, while he lived, or others were to fulfil his obligations from his property after his death. Likewise the Pope granted full remission of all sins to anyone receiving absolution when in danger of death, and granted that this power should last until Easter next following, and that everyone might choose whatever confessor he pleased.’
This, indeed, is the kind of thing one would have expected to happen, if the claims of Christianity are to be taken seriously at all. If there is a danger of mass carnage from an unstoppable calamity, one would hope that the impulse of religious leaders would be to move immediately to ensure the safe passage of the souls of those likely to die. This is the kind of thing that happens in real pandemics, when there is a genuine mass threat to human life. Why did something like this not occur in 2020? Why, indeed, did something like the opposite happen: the total suspension of spiritual ministration and religious practice, by order of governments and/or by the execution of religious leaders?
Oh but, it will be retorted, those were different, more pious times. Things are not like that now.
Clearly so, but why? If things are ‘not like that now’, surely that is something we might expect the clergy to push against rather than with?
Why were Church leaders in 2020 less concerned for the eternal salvation of their flocks than the Church leaders of 1348? That there was no threat to human life? Really? How interesting! But surely that would be an argument for not following the instructions of governments? Is it possible that Church leaders went along with the diktats of politicians in the knowledge that the whole thing was spurious, that there would not, in the end, be any significant excess loss of life?
The alternative is rather more ominous: that Church leaders were persuaded by the models presented to them — the ones, largely, prepared by Professor Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, London — and therefore believed that, for example, in Ireland something of the order of 85,000 people would die in the coming months. That would indeed be a significiant death toll. That figure, if borne out in reality, would appear to compare, on first sight rather dramatically, with the death toll in Ireland from the Black Death, generally recorded as in the region of 14,000 — though this comparison needs to be elaborated. The population of Ireland at the beginning of 1348 was just under two million, which would place the subsequent rate of death, calculated on a pro rata basis, at significantly less than half what the Imperial College model predicted for 2020. By this measure, the Imperial College prediction equates to a mortality of approximately one Black Death plus 50,000.
Hence, the Catholic bishops of Ireland either believed that Ireland was facing a calamity more than twice as serious as the bubonic plague — in which case they ought to have been at least twice as concerned as their counterparts in 1348 concerning the imminent threat to the immortal souls of their flocks. And yet, they were prepared to allow these flocks to face this catastrophe — and their Maker — without spiritual ministration or support, without a last Confession, without the last rites, and without the Body of Christ.
The possible conclusions, though limited, are ineluctably ominous. They include the possibility that the Irish bishops had no heed for the salvation of the immortal souls of the 85,000 people expected to die. But there is a more portentous interpretation. The facts imply either that they did not believe such a death toll would ensue or that they did not believe it mattered. The sole possibility in respect of the latter interpretation is that they did not — do not — believe in a life after death, in a loving deity — or indeed in any kind of deity, not excluding a vengeful one. All this is clear from the fact that, quite evidently, they did not — do not — believe in a Final Judgement. This is evident because, by their manifest indifference to their responsibilities, they were more frightened for their own lives than they were of the wrath of the God they had been espousing and explicating all their adult lives.
That there have been almost no words of good authority coming from those charged with responsibilities of spiritual leadership and blessed with the courage of their faith is inescapably the most potentially terminal aspect of the Covid episode. For if these supposed leaders of the churches do not speak out of courage about Christ, and about what Christ means, does that not suggest a belief on their part that — as other elements of the culture insists — it is all meaningless? That there is no God who has a Plan for mankind? That all now resides with science? That the Church is now a subsidiary of the secular power? That its leaders see no difficulty with or option other than raising the white flag of surrender to invite the barbarians to finally storm the citadels of Christendom? And they have done this, clearly, in the certainty that what they profess is not true, and therefore to be taken not even as seriously as the common cold.
So, perhaps among the darkest of those future moments of realisation will occur, maybe many years from now, when an elderly survivor of the Covid scam and citizen of the new normal passes a church and, instead of blessing herself as she has done since she was a little child, freezes momentarily in the sudden realisation that the sum of events leading to that moment seems to suggest that not even — perhaps even especially not — the ordained instruments of God’s will in the world take seriously what they have handed down, and she has believed. And, one of these ministers, coming to the window of the nearly presbytery in time to catch her in her moment of hesitancy, peers more closely to see what kind of human he beholds, and then allows a thin smile to pass across his countenance. The curtain falls, like freedom from the grip of frauds and cowards.