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Feeling like a hero?


‘If you have never had the experience of feeling that you are yoked to the steam engine of history, then allow me to inform you that the conviction is a very intoxicating one’. Christopher Hitchens was a long way from us on most ‘God-stuff’ but this quotation from his autobiographical Hitch-22 reveals him as both thought-provoking and engaging.

Hitchens’ comment relates to his experience as an International Socialist in 1968 when it did indeed seem as if the world order might well change again dramatically…Viet Nam, Paris, Prague. It was heady stuff for a young man such as he who thought that his political ideology was about to be vindicated.

Some of that intoxication has been on display this week. President Trump appears to have been pleased with his state visit. It offered opportunities to put ‘America first’. It guaranteed him world-wide press coverage. His team expressed delight in the pictures of him with the British royal family – ‘looking presidential’. It would, they were reported as saying, ‘play well with their base’. Pictures of the Queen and the president at the 75th anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy landings can only have enhanced their pleasure.

President Trump seems to believe that his presidency is a high point of American political history. To our eyes, he seems to be intoxicated with his own power. In contrast were the interviews with the veterans about their feelings as they spilled on to the beaches on D-Day. They talked about being terrified not intoxicated – concentrating on the job in hand. As so often - real heroes don’t feel heroic.

One wonders, however, whether some of Trump’s Brexiteer hosts are equally intoxicated as they look back to 1944. During the D-Day memorials, a great deal was made of the contribution of the Normandy landings to the Allies’ victory. The whole commemoration focused on a decisive battle happening at a time when Britain looked like a leader in Europe rather than the riven, leaderless offshore islands of 2019. Events in 1944 offered Britain opportunities to ‘reach for the political sky’ to which many Brexiteers aspire to return.

While all this commemoration was going on there was for some the intoxication of the struggle to be the next Prime Minister of the UK and take their country back to ‘the glory days’. Rather a lot of Conservative hopefuls were parading their credentials – clearly hoping to feel the throb of the ‘steam engine of history’. The national debate is vigorous (for which read aggressive!). But there is scant attention for anyone prepared even to suggest that perhaps, just perhaps, we need to revise our own exaggerated national sense of British importance in the world.

The feeling of somehow being a driver for the engine of events is one which has intoxicated religious groups and individuals every bit as much as political ones, our own included. Countless religious people have believed that they were ushering in a new era. Some made a fair stab at it but in the end most offered a variety of ‘business as usual’ rather than the kingdom of God.

We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul writing from the edge of the empire to those living at its very heart in Rome. ‘Do not cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or of your own importance…but seek a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of faith which God has given you all’.

Good advice for nations as well as individuals but unlikely to be heeded by those with a hunger for power.


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