There’s a TV show in eight parts which completed last night and I was watching it. About King Alfred of England; national hero, who ‘saved’ England from being completely overrun by Danes – Vikings. Alfred is known to have been a devout Christian as well as having been a redoubted warrior and strategist. History has it that he taught himself reading and translated part of the Bible into Old English.
The TV show was fictionalised and focused on his struggle to retain his English Kingdom of Wessex from the onslaught of the invading Danes; and how by courage mixed with wise strategy he succeeded thus creating the foundation of what was to become an English nation.
There was an ‘angle’ thrown into the TV show which seemed to me to be extraneous and added by either the author of the series of novels on which the show is based, or by the show producers themselves. This ‘angle’ took the form of a lead character whose profile was so large that he in fact overshadowed Alfred himself and Alfred’s achievement; even to the extent that the King in the final instance accedes to this character’s better judgement.
This ‘angle’ seemed to me to be an important one regardless of its historicity or otherwise, because, even that brutal Viking Lord finally defeated by Alfred at the close of the show, was shown being baptised into the Christian faith by Alfred’s priests. Yet nevertheless this lead character overshadowing even King Alfred himself, is and remains to the end a non-believer, a ‘heathen’, and a professed believer in vengeance and in an assertion of one’s power for one’s own sake and interests.
This lead character has a watchword which he repeats throughout the TV show; and it is ‘Destiny is All’. This watchword at first hearing and superficially sounds powerful and filled with meaning and importance; and it is used in the show deliberately as an ‘alternative’ or perhaps also as a preferral over Alfred’s own Christianity of a heathen non-believer’s outlook.
This lead character rides off almost into the sunset like at the close of a Western in the final scene, seeking out northwards amongst the Land occupied by The Danes a way to reclaim his titles and lands and status, which had been robbed of him by those Danes. His task he says is to obtain redress and vengeance and to gain by force his entitled place in the world.
Thus the ‘angle’ being offered to TV viewers seemed to me to be that this heathen outlook of the lead character is the more efficacious outlook; and one which seemed it was being held up by the show as the better choice for life than is Christianity. As I said; eventually in the story-line even Christian King Alfred defers to this lead character’s proposed policies. The message of the TV story seems clear.
What I want to talk about in this piece here is not only the import of this heathen lead character, and how what he represents stands for vis a vis King Alfred the Christian; but also about this same lead character’s watchword ‘Destiny is All’.
I have to say beforehand though that the show was very well made and well-acted throughout; and the final battle in which Alfred crushes the Danes is realised onscreen most impressively and stirringly; so that I was rather enthralled by and engaged in it to a point that the personal vengeance taken by this lead character on a particularly brutal Dane who had murdered his wife seemed just and appropriate, even though bloodily and intemperately wreaked. In fact I was surprised at myself and my own response – the Old Adam in me being called up and all its latent force expressed in me!
So surprised was I by my own responses that before I slept I mulled over the show and my responses to it as I lay in bed before sleep last evening; and eventually I prayed to God to show me some way in which I might be able to reconcile this anomalous response of mine and thus to put into an accurate perspective the feelings the show had roused in me and which arousal maybe was the intention of the shows producers, or else of the books’ author, and which they were promulgating? I felt I needed to reestablish some ground on which I was able to put all that occurred back into a sound and truthful Christian context; to thus deal with it for and within myself.
I want to say that God I believe gave me some assistance after my having asked Him for some, and so led He me to consider this watchword of the lead character’s ‘Destiny is All’; and to examine its power and meaning in the light of what had occurred during the TV show.
First then some words on the watchword: ‘Destiny is All’.
The key concept here is ‘destiny’. And as far as my understanding allows me to see, I see that destiny is like regret; in that both words refer to the lives of those who feel or believe in occurences wholly retrospectively. Just as regret is felt during a looking backwards at a past event or action in one’s lifetime; likewise destiny might only be considered as being actual or having been realised after the event, after the key event or events have been ‘put in place’ by history. If this is true than destiny is only authenticated by the passage of time as having related to a past significant and game-changing event. Yet even so destiny has to be applied by a mind; an historic or an historical event has to be plucked out and labelled by someone’s thoughts and feelings as a definitive event in that someone’s life; thus it becoming one’s destiny to have done or witnessed.
Even though destiny as a concept claims to see forwards in time and to predict portentously; it has in fact no real power of impact until after the event when destiny might retrospectively by seen or claimed as having happened in past events.
If this is the case, then it follows that any claims to having in the future or even in the present a destiny to fulfil are flimsy and insubstantial until the destined moment has been achieved and has been looked back upon and assessed as having been of such moment. It is as if a person were telling you that this hot favourite is 100% certain to win its upcoming race but yet you would not place everything you own at the bookmakers on its winning; unless you had a chance to do so retrospectively; i.e. after it has won.
Destiny also calls up into mind concepts of Fate, and of putative predetermined occurrences; which in their turn implies that some person or persons have to have had a ‘second-sight’; to have been a prophetic voice, not foretelling about generalities; but foretelling concrete and actual events, words, deeds, in particular and not yet in existence. This second sight is necessary so that it is able to add some authentication (as near empirically as can be authenticated) of the facts of Fate and of predestination. Until such a close-to-empirical authentication can be made here and beforehand upon the actions of Fate and predestination; then Fate and predestination else-wise remain concepts belonging to nothing but yet another unverified, unverifiable hypothesis. Just as are most mysticisms and all metaphysics.
(I feel I need to stress here that the Christian faith itself has at the very least a claim to historical authenticity in the Incarnation of jesus Christ and in the Old and New Testament records of God’s dealings with men and women. This history is in fact indispensable evidence for a Christian believer; and thus belief in Christ is not entirely a metaphysical speculative thing because not without its concrete empirical evidence.)
Belief in Fate and Destiny are akin to the Eastern belief in Karma; maybe excepting for the prevalent idea in Destiny and less so but still present in Fate; that a person fulfilling one of these special accomplishments in her/his life has generally risen above common humanity by their deeds; and not commonly sunk below it. Karma is rather more like stock exchange investments; it can go in your favour and it can go against you; and with an added suggestion that whatever one gets that goes in your favour or against it; you are getting only your just desserts.
But this idea of recompense in Karma, as well as the idea latent in Fate and in Destiny that a person has risen above the common stock; these claims are in fact are to face their downfall within their own inner logics – which are attempts to sustain them. This is because when one’s life is being governed by reward or punishment due from one’s previous time and/or lives; where might there be any room in such predestined desserts for those free actions to be done by one and which initiate the reward/punishment cycle? In short, where does, how can, this cycle begin; how might it find freedom of action for one to start it? Surely only a life wherein no desserts are yet available of reward or punishment might supply such a start; but yet there is no such lifetime of freedom to act and which is allowable in the logic of Karma to occur beforehand; no such unfettered lifetime from which the initiating reward or punishment cycle might find cause out of free-choice action to begin.
And how is it that Karma is never done with a person; that there is no way out of the reward/punishment cycle once one is in it; that one’s life is both predetermined and so is foreknown; yet at the same time one is committing freewill good and bad deeds which are storing up Karma to occur in one’s future lives? The logic does not hang together.
Likewise with Fate and Destiny. These are pre-ordained yet those who fulfil their destiny are lionised as being especial persons; even though no merit might be attached to something like Fate or Destiny which had to happen anyway; it was destined and/or fated to occur. And have you ever heard said of someone s/he failed to fulfil her/his destiny or that fate missed its mark on someone? Only upon fulfilment of a notable thing and its retrospective assessment do either of the words Fate and Destine kick-in for common usage; they are redundant and useless otherwise, say, when a person leads an uneventful plain and simple life. Thus the internal logic does not hold together here either.
Of course our everyday usage of these words fate and destiny is usually loose and is not expected to be able to remain upheld against a rigorous logicial examination; but in the TV show about Alfred much was made of this concept of Destiny as a feature of the hero’s belief and character. It was also pointedly allied with that hero’s espoused and inveterate heathenism. As this hero rode away at the finale after having saved the day for Alfred, in a great decisive battle against the Viking Danes; his point of view appeared to be being offered to viewers as being the definitive point of view which was expected to be honoured and empathised with. The Christian Alfred, who heretofore in the show had staunchly always been seen to be his own man; in this final episode defers to the hero almost tamely; as if the show was saying that these heathen values of valour power vengeance and honour for oneself were the definitive life-values; and that Alfred himself was thus acknowledging here that this is is the case in practice.
Alfred had been advised not to ‘give a sermon’ as a pep talk to his army of men before the decisive battle; but to offer them instead of the support of Almighty God, worldly rewards like vengeance, land, pillage and worldly acclaim and honour. The recommendation not to sermonise was accompanied by a word saying; “they are men not angels.”
Clearly to me this advice was pointedly pointing a general recommendation, a philosophy for life, which a viewer of the show was being encouraged to pick up on and to accept or at least to sympathise with. The bloody battle that followed the advice – which was a very gory battle and extremely vividly and professionally made – I take my hat off to the film makers here – this battle itself was being offered to viewers perhaps as the proof of the pudding in the eating as regards the pep-talk advice which Alfred took from his advisor; and used instead of his more intellectual and philosophical original plan to ‘sermonise’ his army.
Of course the show was not history; nor was it labelled as history; nor set up as being historical; it was a yarn; a ‘take’ on the possibilities of imagination playing upon the Alfred the Great of England traditions and tales. The author of the books or the TV producers or both were, I believe, taking up an opportunity of imagination here so as to promulgate the outlook on life which I have described as the hero’s own. And this promulgation, either by design or by accident was accomplished in the story-line and in the dramatic action to the detriment of the standing and religious belief of King Alfred himself.
(There was a fighting Bishop who fights alongside Alfred and the hero in the final battle, who was demanded of by the hero after the battle (in which this hero’s wife died) that his wife have a non-Christian pyre of the heathen kind as a funeral; and the fighting Bishop agrees without objection. ‘She shall have it’ he says without hesitation. Once more the heathen way of life apparently trumps and diminishes the Christian way of life. I think that’s enough of examples)
Yet as I have tried to show the idea and watchword of ‘Destiny is All’ which is espoused by the hero with an utter constancy throughout; is unable to stand up by itself; and I dare to presume to know why this is so for all such philosophies in general that they cannot stand up; most particularly those philosophies which at bottom are promulgating nothing much more than will-to-power, self-will and one’s own regard and interests. Hence there is a prefabricated, a jerry-built, aura and kudos surrounding a man or woman ‘of Destiny’.
The reason why these concepts cannot stand up on heir own legs is simple and straightforward. Not only are they ultimately divisive because they are at bottom dog eat dog scenarios; which means they inevitably fall apart in the practice; there is also the fact that they feed on, have to feed on, ever-elaborated fables and so require ever more fuel to their fires in order to sustain themselves at a level sufficient but no more for them to continue. They rest upon what we popularly call hype. And the key quality of hype is that one has always to be upping-the-ante in order to maintain the same level of kudos or cool. We’ve seen this syndrome at work in many things in the various topics I have written on hitherto, and here it is again. Once more the philosophy boils down to ‘Searching for the card that is so high and wild you’ll never need another’; and searching for this card, not in its due place but in worldly and venal affections and desires.
How often we have heard of ‘life-changing’ or ‘game-changing’ or ‘revolutionary’ products and services or actions or victories or whatever, in our present day hypes come in the shapes like commentary and sales talk. So often have we heard such claims that we are now inured and so immune to their yarns which now roll off our backs like a duck (sic). They mean very little to us now and fail to impress hardly at all. New wheezes and buzzwords catches and man traps need ever to be being laid to keep catching us once more every so often; and these in general have to be just that bit more crazy and audacious than their predecessors were. Up the ante; move the goalposts.
There is nowhere to lay one’s head on earth, no nest or lair in which to take one’s rest. Vengeance and power-seeking, self-regard and serving first one’s own interests; all this demands more and more of oneself; ever more and more acquisition and ever more and more assertion of and maintenance of gains and of status, even for one merely to remain treading water and not in fact sinking.
I shall refer again to the opening paragraphs of Sir James Frazer’s book The Golden Bough, wherein a man with a raised sharp sword is depicted circling a prominent tree in a clearing. He is wearied in the extreme but ever-anxiously vigilant and circling like a hunted, haunted, animal. He is Guardian of the Sacred Tree. He gained this prominence and high honour by slaying the previous Guardian of the Tree and taking by usurpation this predecessor’s place. He circles the tree now sword upright at the ready night and day without rest; because he awaits the next ambitious youth up and coming to become Guardian of the Tree by slaying him. (In the American West the same story-line was applied (in movies and maybe in fact?) to the world-weary guy who has the most notches on his Colt 45)
I do not think this story of the Guardian of the Tree needs much elaboration for you to get a hold on its meaning for those amongst us who are maniac power lusters and would-be Kings of the Castle in those aspects of worldly life like business, in sport, in any cutthroat competitive bid for fame, power, money, and hero-worshipping followers.
Ambition knows no bounds because an ambitious person is never sated, never claims enough ground for him/herself and rests uneasy unless out to power grab yet more and more. Ultimately there are no satisfactions for an ambitious person; everything palls for them very soon after them having obtained or attained it.
The heathen outlook which worships and honours only worldly items falls into such a quagmire. The restless ego needs feeding in the same way that an animal infested with worms is ever worrying for and doing almost anything to obtain more, yet more, food, food, food.
So whereabouts might a buck stop in such a world – a buck of appetite and the stop satisfaction and fulfilment? Is it The Letter to the Hebrews which rhapsodises that: ‘Here is no continuing city’? I believe so and I know that that statement is incontrovertibly correct; and that historically Alfred was correct to have chosen a life dependent upon, an ego rested modestly within, the firm and sure love of Christ, who is that King of Kings who would be the lowest servant of all; and thus by this token be ever The Greatest of All. Such are paradoxes of course; lowness and greatness; losing oneself in Christ in order to find oneself in one’s life; giving up devotionally one’s ego-ambitions and thereby receiving reward a hundredfold. These paradoxes make no sense to the heathen; they appear nonsense and unintelligible to the heathen.
There is no Fate no Destiny no Karma laid on with trowels by some invisible hand of the cosmos which is impersonal and blindly slavishly always hidebound to a few tiresome and mundane rules. There is only the God-given free will for men and women enabling them to do and to suffer their own decisions and deeds. A free-will which allows men and women to make themselves, a soul becoming a little more each day restored to the image of their Maker.
It is here in which rest is seated and available to allcomers; where fulfilment and a sense of fulfilling purposefulness and meaning lives is born for, and within, one. No senseless striving for the moon; instead a sweet and voluntary surrender to the Primacy of The Law of Love; whom embodied and alive yet is the Person of Jesus the Christ.
See the new architecture of the 21st century metropolises and resorts of Financial Houses and their Moguls; Dubai; New York; Singapore; London; Beijing; Frankfurt; Tel Aviv; see how such architecture models itself on the same brute display and worship of power which the Empire of Rome likewise celebrated. The Shard, The Gherkin in London; the artificial island resorts of preposterous and braggart buildings in The Arab Peninsula; The Flatiron; and other scrapers of the sky in USA; the term skyscraper is in the same breath akin to Babel; and the environs surrounding akin to Babylon; all declare men’s (and increasingly women’s) egoism and ridiculous sense of being somebody in the world, or even extraordinarily, in the cosmos?
And who really cares about them: apart from their amassed trappings which are the common and actual objects of worship; those things which append to them; and not their persons as such; which by those near them and within their purlieu are most often feared greatly and hated cordially. They are hated and feared because their egoism has come to an understanding that ‘I can do just about anything I like’ and so they grow used to their getting own way and to their flunkies kowtowing; so that their heads become honeycombed with the fresh air of conceitedness. Some of them manage to buy off justice which ought to have been supplied by The State; some of them get away with murder – literally – some of them, most of them – will gladly railroad anyone in their way, given the opportunity and an assurance of getting away with doing so. There is no honour among thieves.
Whosoever should want and desire a life of such a kind let me be charitable and say that they have no imagination and no foresight, little perspicacity to read life between the lines, and less yet to see beyond to a better place, and to a better purpose for a life.
“Love is the greatest thing
The oldest, the latest thing
I only hope that faith may bring
Love’s story to you”
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