ONE detail caught my eye in the story about the pastor in Milton Keynes who was wrongly busted by the police for breaching Covid regulations. The police had first turned up because there were complaints from the neighbours about noise, at seven in the evening. When they found 14 people present, they tried to shut the service down and called for reinforcements. But Pastor Daniel Mateola told them that he was actually holding a men’s service for broadcast. Five of the people present were a worship group, which is allowed, and eight were film crew. He claimed that this was the minimum number needed for a live broadcast to 150 people. Eight technicians?
The Mail on Sunday ran the story straight — “Shocked pastor wins an apology after nine police officers stormed his church and wrongly threatened him with a fine in a raid Tory MP calls ‘the sort of thing that goes on in China’” — and added to its credibility by mentioning the Christian Legal Centre, which put out the press release on which the story was based, only at the very end of the story. By then, the readers had been treated to the views of a rent-a-quote Tory MP: “You would think those police officers might have better things to do than persecute someone doing an online service. Instead of breaking it up and trying to fine him, they should be congratulating him on what he’s doing.’”
No one, of course, clicked through to the website of Kingdom Faith Ministries, for which Pastor Mateola works. Had they done so, they would have learned that the church teaches that “With hearing ears and obedient feet we have tools in place to dominate and overwhelm demonic forces. Satanic covens? Paedophilia and Planned Parenthood child sacrifice cults? George Soros-funded thugs and professional ‘protestors’?”
Planned Parenthood child sacrifice cults? Perhaps you need to have eight technicians to take on such things, and Soros, too.
Curiously enough for such a very Qanon list of enemies, Kingdom Faith Ministries does believe that the virus exists and is transmissible. In February, it shared a prophetic word from Helsinki. God then told “our dear brother Heikki” — for the prophecy is presented in the form of a he said/He said conversation — that the virus “spreads from people to people within microscopic small drops of watery fluids. Therefore, the actions which have been done, for example that people who have the virus are separated from other people, are good.”
THIS, along with the sermon on the Mayflower, also on that site, made me think of the way in which modern Calvinism animates American progressive thought at the moment.
A historian friend of mine recently wrote: “I was just thinking about how conspiracy theory is almost part of the intellectual furniture of Protestantism — you see it in the Civil Wars, The Popish plot, the Gordon riots. . . Part of it comes from inhaling the apocalyptic and deciding you’re living through it. And then you have the whole spiritual warfare mindset. . . Each individual has a weighty responsibility to fight their internal struggle as part of the world struggle of the elect.”
She did not intend it to be read this way, but her diagnosis seems a perfect description of wokeness, as well as of the more obvious right-wing forms of conspiracy theory. That “each individual has a weighty responsibility to fight their internal struggle as part of the world struggle of the elect” is wonderfully true of the more conscientious wokies I know — people who genuinely believe that they harm the world by using the wrong language — just as it was of the Puritans. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Those rare people who can examine their own conscience with as little fear as they have when they sort through the sins and errors of others are to be treasured and admired, even when they’re wrong.
And the belief in collective spiritual warfare is, itself, a corrective to the widespread assumption that we are all ultimately atomistic individuals whose inner lives are radically independent from the rest of the world.
AND so to John Gray in the New Statesman: a writer who can be relied on to cast a pall of well-informed despair over even such limited forms of hope as a reasonable man can allow himself. This week, he was reviewing Nigel Biggar’s book on human rights, in mostly flattering and sympathetic terms. But — as always — he finds some optimism to rebuke: “Some influential views of the good life do not include values that Biggar is convinced are generically human. Human equality is not denied only by ‘Aristotle, Nietzsche and the Nazis’, as he seems to think. It is absent from contemporary theories of meritocracy, in which human beings are valued not for themselves but for their marketable attributes. This is a repellent view, but not obviously irrational.”
At the risk of sounding Anglican, I think that the ability to see that the rational may also be repulsive, and that neither quality can properly cancel out the other, makes for an invaluable intellectual balancing act.