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Fergus Butler-Gallie: When was the pre-Brexit Golden Age?

09 August 2019


The Olympic flame is lit during the London 2012 opening ceremony

The Olympic flame is lit during the London 2012 opening ceremony

WHAT do the Reformation and the 2012 London Olympics have in common? I’m sure that, with a readership as eminent as this organ’s, we could together contrive a frightfully clever answer involving the oversight of an Elizabeth, the participation by many nations, the failure of the Vatican to field a team, etc.

The real answer is, I’m afraid, much more mundane: people are fearfully angry about both on Twitter. Of course, this does not provide the most helpful categorisation: people are angry about everything on Twitter, from the import of jam to the peace of Jerusalem.

In this case, however, the populace of that particularly strange sphere of social media are essentially arguing about when our pre-Brexit “Golden Age” really was.

On one side, you have those fiercely advocating for our current political situation being comparable to the flowering of British power that occurred after the break with Rome, with the inference that such success will soon return. One can only hope that, in line with its supposed forerunner, such a vision includes the establishment of several new dioceses, and the reintroduction of mandatory attendance at services according to the Book of Common Prayer.

On the other, there was wailing, gnashing of teeth, and the ritual recalling of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics as the last point when we were an open and welcoming country worthy of the values we espouse before the abyss took over. As I sat this week listening to Turkish refugees extol how welcoming the UK was compared with some of our neighbours, I confess to wondering whether it was only in the leafier parts of north London where the sky had thus fallen in.

The use and misuse of history is a fascinating trope in our current discourse — a society that spent the past half-century or so stubbornly insisting that it could and would create its own bold new narratives from nothing seems to have discovered the necessity of acknowledging where we have come from if we are to have the faintest clue where it is we’re going (as well, perhaps, as providing a pleasing diversion within the handcart on the way).

Whither the Church? Well, while we all might be tempted to identify a “Golden Age” ecclesiastically (most Christians seem to go for the Early Church, but give me the peaceful days of Good Queen Anne over a Galatian spat any day), the promise of Jesus is that the true Golden Age, that of the Kingdom, is yet to come. Better to look for its signs now than to rush to the past for false analogies.

The Revd Fergus Butler is the Assistant Curate of Liverpool Parish Church. His next book, Priests de la Résistance!, will be published in October by Oneworld.

Angela Tilby is away.

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