New book on George MacDonald

The Theology of George MacDonald: The Child Against the Vampire of Fundamentalism

I am please to announce that my new book—The Theology of George MacDonald: The Child Against the Vampire of Fundamentalism—is now available. You can preview it here at Pickwick Publications or click here for the Amazon listing. If you are interested in the story of how it came to be written, read on.

 

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New Zealand and “the wild beast”

George MacDonald, writing in 1868, observed that when there is contempt for the truth:

” . . . then, as we see in the French Revolution, the wild beast in man breaks from its den, and chaos returns.” 1

I have no idea whether MacDonald had ever read Dostoevsky, but he too lamented the human capacity for bestiality.

“Indeed, people sometimes speak of man’s bestial cruelty, but that is very unfair and insulting to the beasts: a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel.”2

We are witnessing, increasingly, the violence of this ‘wild beast’. In the ‘light’ of the events in New Zealand, Muslims are right to point the finger at mendacious hypocrites such as Trump who spout xenophobic rhetoric, manufacture ‘invasions’, build walls, and deny both the toxic reality and the extent of white supremacy. Speaking directly to the President, Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says:

“The terrorist has quoted the most powerful person in the world, President Trump… We hold you responsible for this growing anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Trump disagrees. Speaking on NBC news on Friday 15 March, he remarked that white supremacists are only ‘a small group of people’, choosing to ignore the fact that one-third of his countrymen are of the opinion that ‘America must protect and preserve its White European heritage’ (Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics Race Poll, 2017) and 71% self-identify as those mandated (many say by God) to dominate the earth as God’s chosen nation (Gallup, 2017).3

But chosen for what? Theology understands that when God chooses people or nations it is not for salvation (leading to a sense of supremacy) but for demonstration—the demonstration of an alternative kingdom of peace; an ideology that rejects ‘the beast’. In short, those who shed blood—and promote the shedding of blood—are in no way ‘supreme’ but deluded.

As the horror of the events in new Zealand became apparent, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, reminded us of a fundamental Christian truth which seems to have been forgotten by so many:

“Jesus calls us to welcome strangers and love our neighbour however different.”

May those of us who claim faith, of whatever affiliation, have the courage to live in this ‘beastly’ world as champions of truth and agents of peace.

The journey continues…

The lack of blogging this year is not due to a lack of thought – perhaps too much! My personal Bildungsroman (autobiographical journey) has included leaving England to live in Prague – mirroring, perhaps, changing spiritual and intellectual perspectives too. (I hope so – only dead things never change.) I’ve also felt that this blog was a bit weighed down by some over-weighty discussion and I couldn’t work up the energy to re-start. But here we go.

Over the last few months I’ve been researching Romantic and Victorian attitudes to childhood, particularly as George MacDonald (the focus of my research) said that God was essentially childlike. Most useful has been Sally Shuttleworth’s book The Mind of the Child but I’ve also been reading Judith Plotz, Ann Weirda Rowland, and others, and trawling through Victorian texts. A picture of nineteenth century England emerges where the figure of the child is central to many social and religious narratives: most so in discussions about human nature, for the child is the adult in the making, carrying the potential (or the curse) of the race. Here I just want to focus on one issue – blind spots.

As the nineteenth century progressed, and particularly post Darwin’s publication of Origin, extraordinary claims were made by both religious people and the growing evolutionist/secularist camp. What is striking (with the benefit of hindsight) is the ludicrousness of the claims on both sides, with (apparently) little thought as to the context or the wider implications of what was being said. One thinks, for example, of Adolf Kussmaul’s unlikely declaration that infants are born deaf, or Dr. Louis Robinson’s experiments which consisted of suspending newborns from branches as evidence of simian ancestry (one three-week-old managing to hang on for 2 minutes and 35 seconds), or of George John Romanes’s claim that seven-week-old infants have the intelligence of a mollusc. It was even suggested that ‘rock a bye baby in the treetops’ offered evidence of our ‘arboreal ancestry’. On the Christian side, one wonders at the naivety (with, as I said, the luxury of hindsight) which led to Philip Gosse’s declaration that fossil evidence was placed in creation by God to give the appearance of age without, it appears, being at all troubled (as was Kingsley) by the questionable morality of such an act, but furthermore – as a consequence of his beliefs – keeping the young Edmund sequestered, forbidding any contact with other children for fear of contamination. There was, it appears, a stronger belief, among Evangelicals at least, in the devil’s power to corrupt than in God’s power to redeem.

It was quite hard to find a moderate voice in this very polarised and acrimonious debate. One of those, however, was physician Charles West, founder of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London. He recounts having to attend the deathbed of numerous children who had been over-evangelised or over-catachised by well-meaning parents and friends and, as a result, were convinced they were going to hell. These, he writes, were ‘some of the most painful death-beds which I have ever witnessed’: ‘the dark grave is realised, or, at least, imagined more vividly than its conqueror; and the little child, driven to look within for the evil which it does not know, and cannot find, but vaguely dreads, and would be sorry for if it knew it…’ West, who late in life became a devout Catholic, campaigned for more compassionate and effective treatment for children, and – in his 1871 lecture to the Royal College of Physicians – dismissed such Evangelical zeal as entirely misguided, also criticising evolutionists for their equally misguided evangelism.

This simply made me wonder what blind spots we have in this twenty-first century? I’d be interested in your comments.

Shuttleworth, Sally. The Mind of the Child: Child Development in Literature, Science, and Medicine, 1840-1900. Oxford: OUP, Oxford Scholarship Online, 2011.

West, Charles. On Some of the Disorders of the Nervous System in Childhood Being the Lumleian Lectures Delivered at the Royal College of Physicians of London in March 1871. London: Longman, Green and Co,, 1871.