England is even further from the Faith that forged her today than she was fifty years ago. She has forgotten her roots, or, if she hasn’t, she would like to forget. The problem is that the absence of Christ means the absence of goodness, truth, and beauty. A nation that rejects Christ is committing moral and cultural suicide. It can’t survive.
The following interview was originally published in the Croatian magazine, Renewal, and here appears for the first time in English. —Editor
Firstly, at the beginning of our conversation for Renewal magazine, I would like express my gratitude in the name of all our members.
Considering that the subject of this issue is about atheism, agnosticism, and anti-theism, I would like to ask you about your personal experience of agnosticism. As a young man you were agnostic, with a strong, Anglican inheritance, and you converted to Catholicism, which you previously openly hated. Can you describe that phase: how did you view transcendental God then, and how do you view your previous beliefs today? What did you think about Christ and Christendom?
Although my parents were nominally Christian, we never went to church except for weddings, and we never prayed, either individually or as a family. As a child, I knew no better. It was ‘normal’ to be an agnostic. God’s existence was of no importance to me, nor was Christ’s sacrifice for me on the Cross. Today, I realize how impoverished I was by my ignorance, and by the ignorance of the culture in which I was raised. I really feel sorry for the millions of people in England who are living in the secular desert without even knowing it. They think that the desert is all that there is. They are starving for spiritual nourishment, but don’t know anything about the food that they need to feed their souls, which is Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist.
We live in a world where atheism is rapidly increasing. How should we, as Catholics and traditionalists, approach that problem? In what manner should we make a dialogue with atheists?
I think that atheism is fashionable in parts of the decadent world, but, as C.S. Lewis reminds us, fashions are always coming and going, but mostly going. Atheism was fashionable in France before the Revolution, but went out of fashion after its consequences were felt in the Reign of Terror, which followed the Revolution. It was fashionable in Russia prior to the Revolution. Atheism is its own worst enemy. It destroys itself when it has enough rope to hang itself. The problem is, of course, that it also hangs many innocent people before it hangs itself! We need to approach the problem with the goodness, truth, and beauty of the Triune God: with the goodness of love, i.e. sanctity; the truth of reason, i.e. fides et ratio; and with the beauty of Catholic culture, i.e. literature, art, architecture, and music. Hatred retreats from love; lies retreat from reason; and ugliness retreats from beauty.
In one of your essays, “Debunking Two Types of Atheism” I think, you made the difference between noble and ignoble atheists. Can you explain the difference?
Noble atheists are those genuine seekers after truth who believe with sincerity that there is no God. Insofar as their quest for truth is sincere, we should engage with them in honest debate and discussion, helping them find the fullness of truth. Ignoble atheists are those who hate God or life, for whatever reason. They don’t want God to exist and hate the idea of Him. They are usually full of anger and hatred and are not interested in rational discourse. They will unleash their fury on Christians as soon as they have enough power to do so. Unfortunately, the noble atheists are heavily outnumbered by the ignoble ones. Ironically, the noble atheists have more in common with Christians than they have with this other type of atheist. This was the theme of Chesterton’s novel, The Ball and the Cross.
In your book Race with the Devil: My Journey from Racial Hatred to Rational Love, you described England as a Christ-haunted country, or in other words, a country which refuses Christ as a shadow from the past. From your perspective, how would you describe England and the West today? Is there a country of the West where the spirit of Christ is visibly alive?
I think that England is even further from the Faith that forged her today than she was fifty years ago, when I was a child. She has forgotten her roots, or, if she hasn’t, she would like to forget. The problem is that the absence of Christ means the absence of goodness, truth, and beauty. A nation that rejects Christ is committing moral and cultural suicide. It can’t survive.
I do see signs of resurrection, of the spirit of Christ rising phoenix-like from the ashes of post-modern despair. I think the presence of Orthodoxy in Russia is near-miraculous after seventy years of enforced dogmatic atheism. I’m encouraged by the Christian resistance to secular tyranny in Hungary and Poland, and by signs of such renewal in western Europe, such as France. And I’m hearng some good things from Croatia! I would say, however, that I am not a europhile, but a Christophile, which means that I also rejoice at signs of resurgant Christianity in China, Africa, and other parts of the world. I should also add that the Christian faith is alive and well in the United States. One only has to witness the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the annual March for Life in Washington DC to know that the Christian resistance to secularism is vigorous and vibrant in the United States.
You began your public appearance as a distinguishd member of the British National Front. You were a high-ranking party official. After your conversion you terminated any relations with far-right and racist views. Can you give your opinion of the relation between nationalism and Catholic faith (which today in Croatia is very actual)? Are Catholic faith and nationalism compatible?
The Catholic Faith and true nationalism are completely compatible. I have written many essays defending nationalism, especially for the Imaginative Conservative. Nationalism is necessary to combat the evils of internationalism, the latter of which is merely a modern word for imperialism. We need a resurgant nationalism to defend political and national freedom from the imperialism of the European Union, or from the imperialism of globalism. The problem is not nationalism, which is good and necessary, but racism, which is contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the commandment that we love our neighbours.
How would you define your political aspects after conversion? Do you, in today’s political options, see hope for the West?
To be honest, I prefer to speak of Christendom, rather than the West. The latter means so many different things. It means good things, such as the heritage of Athens and Rome, and most especially the history and life of the Church in Europe; but it also gave birth to relativism (through nominalism), Protestantism, and the secularist materialism of the Enlightenment, not to mention the French and Russian Revolutions, and sundry modern manifestations of pride and hedonism. I consider myself a child of the Church, not a child of the West. As such, I know that the gates of hell will not prevail and that Christ and His Church will be a powerful presence in the world until Doomsday. There’s always hope. Only the godless despair!
You are renown as a biographer and an expert for the literary work and life of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien, and many other Catholic intellectuals. Croatians think of England mostly as a protestant and imperial superpower, and mostly sympathize with smaller nations in England’s neighborhood, i.e. Ireland. Can you bring us a bit closer to English Catholic perspective? How big was the influence of Catholicism on English twentieth century literature?
We need to remember that England was a Catholic country for more than a thousand years before Henry VIII imposed a state religion on the English people, against their will. For three hundred years the Catholics of England suffered severe persecution at the hands of the secular state, keeping up an heroic resistance. For the first 150 years of this persecution, Catholics were tortured and put to slow, torturous deaths for the “crime” of being Catholics. Then, after three centuries of persecution, we experienced a glorious Catholic Revival, beginning with Blessed John Henry Newman’s conversion in 1845 and continuing for well over a century. Many of the greatest writers during this period were converts to the Faith. I wrote about this in my book, Literary Converts. I am loyal to this vision and history of England and have no real sympathy for the British Empire. I am not a Great Britisher, but a Little Englander. I love and admire the smallness and beauty of my country, not its efforts to be too big for its boots.
One of many biographies you wrote is about Russian dissident and writer Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. I don’t know if you are aware, but that interview was translated into Croatian. The main topics of the interview were Christianity, atheism, and Russian experience of Communism and the Western world. Considering that Croatia is a country with strong Communist inheritance, could you give us Solzhenitsyn’s view of the past and the future of Eastearn Bloc countries? How did he see the confrontation of society with Communist regime and its crimes? What did he think of the West, and did he predict its crises? How many similarities do you see between the socialist atheism with which Solzhenitsyn had met and the fundamental secularism of today’s modern world?
Solzhenitsyn is one for the great giants of the past century, and one of its greatest heroes. He told me that he considered Russia to be part of the West and that he would have rejoiced if the Iron Curtain had come down so that the cream of Western Civilization could have seeped into Russia over the top of it. The problem, he said, was that the Iron Curtain didn’t come down but went up, so that all the dregs of Western decadence crept in under it.
I hope and pray that a renewed and reinvigorated Russia, enlightened by a resurrected Christianity, will be a force for Christian renewal and a bastion against the rise of secular fundamentalism and radical relativism.
You are known as an advocate of Distributism. Do you see a way in which it can be applied in today’s world, and what is its future? Do you live Distributism?
Distributism is alive and well and being applied by millions of people in today’s world. It is the rise of localism in economics and politics. It is the struggle against the destructive power of globalism. It is the rise of small nations against the power of political empires. It is everything that works towards the decentralizing of power from big government and big business. It is politics and economics as if families matter.
My family tries to live Distributism in our daily lives through the economic choices that we make. We buy from locally-owned stores and farms; we eat at locally-owned restaurants; we drink locally-brewed ale. We keep chickens and ducks. We know that we can make the world a better or worse place with every dollar that we spend. We try to spend our dollars to make the world a better and healthier place.
Finally, what role did literature have in your conversion? What is the importance of literature and art in one’s faith and religious life as a whole?
My conversion was rooted in fides et ratio, in faith and reason, but it was also awakened by wonder in the presence of beauty. Thomas Aquinas tells us that a sense of wonder, which is itself the fruit of humility and gratitude, leads the mind and soul to a spirit of contemplation, and that contemplation dilates (dilatatio) the mind and soul into the fullness of the Real. It is in this sense that I was led to Christ through a sense of wonder at the beauty of the cosmos. This engagement with beauty is what attracts me to the great literary and artistic works of Christendom. The greatest books, the greatest masterpieces of music and art, and the architectural edifaces, all point the way to God. They are not merely works of creativity, they are songs of praise.
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The featured image is “The Emblem of Christ Appearing to Constantine” and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.