Just heard a programme on TV speaking about Ancient Greece and interpreting the events, mostly of Athenian history of the 5th century BC through the lens of the, mostly Athenian, drama.
The airing of such a programme presented for its narrator academics an absolutely Golden Opportunity to train that same lens on political and social activity here in Britain (and in the USA) as it is muddling on right now today.
It was a BBC programme; and the BBC has a charge, a duty, not written down but yet more imperative than are mere words, laid upon it by its position as the State Natoinal Broadcaster funded by the people. This charge, this duty being the welfare of the people it serves, and who are the source of its funding and the audiences of its services.
The learned Classical scholars extolled with some gusto and an amount of vicarious pride the allowance of The Athenian State to its dramatists and to its people as a whole (the citizens that is) a liberty of very broad freedom of speech. The learned scholars were at pains to point out the ways in which Athenian dramatists used this freedom of speech so as openly and before the very persons aimed at, so to castigate and rigorously criticise them as politicians, and also the social trends, the fashions and the moods and the actions and decisions of the Demos (the Athenian citizens as a body).
There followed a great deal of broad Athenian history, beginning at the Persian Wars and running down to the Pelopennesian War; and as this history and the programme went along the dramas (which we today have surviving from that time and that place) were referred to and related to those events and actions and attitudes.
All very well.
Here was a bunch of scholarly persons commenting and expanding on, even extolling Greek life, and in particular lauding this openness of Athenian Society of that age, as seen in the Athenian drama and elsewhere; and this bunch of scholarly persons being a group paid, again from the public purse; educated by the State, paid for by the people (at least in large part), and who are holding secure prestigious positions of consderable remuneration and privilege; again all publically endowed upon them; and yet this group clearly ducked this very rare but clear chance to speak in more direct terms to the present and to its dreadful states of affairs in many areas of our society today, but perhaps most particularly in government.
Thus the message coming from this privileged bunch was, for those educated sufficiently to read it, that these scholars were going to be too cautious to rock the boat; too circumspect to put their principles and admirations on the line and so use them, just as they so admire the Ancient Athenians for having used them; in pursuit of castigating and holding to public account the utter shambles and the ignorance and interia and incapacity and heedlessnes, and much more, of our political people in power and in parliament, as they are behaving today right now, and in our daily affairs.
These not alone. The group of scholars might have considered when they discoursed knowingly about how one old Athenian playwright used his works to put before the people of Athens what are the terrible results and effects which redound upon their doers, of shabby and woolly thinking; of thoughtless animosity and callous brutalites, so that the scholars might have made it absolutely crystal clear to anyone watching their show that yes, we too are like as were the Athenians; quick to jump to condemn and to use force and so crush opposition; thoughtless and ill-reasoning beings; led by seductive (untruthful, muddled, cunningly contrived) arguments and down the garden path to a future waiting to rebuke and to chide us for our licencious follies. Just as were the Athenians rebuked and chided by their subsequent history once their sense of themselves had also overstepped the marks of justice and due consideration.
Very markedly this show on TV gingerly avoided any metaphysical background of the Greeks or the Athenians; all instances drawn from the drama were kept very firmily political, empirical, historical; as if these scholars were saying to their audiences that there is nothing of importance besides these material and empirical areas of investigation. This presentation of thought on British TV and Radio and also in our newspapers and in our discussion magaizines is the standard practice in these times; and by tacit agrement amongst those who would have it that they know about such things, any metaphysics is proscribed, usually considered by them to be irrelevant and for some strange reason, dangerous.
This show on Athenian drama then was merely folowing a commonplace status quo in regard to the scope of its subject matter; and also in its levels of real engagement to do good and so atempt by direct reference to improve things it was deliberately silent; and it shied away from any actual gracious mordant controversy or critique of ‘modern times’.
And so these scholars were as it were holding up the recovered treasures of Ancient Athenian life and showing them off to their publics and saying how wonderful they were; but then instead of distributing the knowledge of how to use them to advantage right now, and so maybe giving half-a-chance to our nation for it to pull itself out of this serious nose dive it is making into the ground of hard factual repercussions for delinquent behaviours; instead the treasures were wrapped up and put away by the guys and dolls into a study or a lecture room or a seminar in some place far remote from street life in Britain, from governance, simpy because: why?
Well, these guys and molls are just another part of the problem; they are of the opinion that the trajectory in which we are headed is AOK. Kick religion and metaphusics into touch; micromanage an under-educated mass of citizens; provide distractions; muddle through; etc etc all will be just dandy. What is it these guys and dolls are lacking then? Not intelligence perhaps, or foresight, or even discernment; but what?
I’ll tell you my opinion.
These people could have made a good deal of difference for good and they ducked it. They no doubt had seen these great posibilities but either tacitly and silently agreed together not to bring them to life; or else spoke about them and poohpoohed them, probably derided them. Not our business. Our business is to refer to remote times and to study them and have nothing to say on today’s disaster area called Britain.
As the Lord Jesus said: They ‘walked past on the other side’.
Their lack? That awareness of that very metaphysic to which they deny airtime and even refuse an acknowledgement of it existence. Their beliefs put them in a jail of incredulity, of presumption, of pride, of acceptance of things as they are; a kind of listless Beckett-like and Sartrean-type gloom and doldrums, which they recognise as being definitively the human condition.
The real villains of the piece are the values and the assumptions which come into place in lieu of the spiritual values which these sorts of persons utterly deny headroom to. What is there left, when one denies Christ or any and every realm beyond the mundane and sublunary, but these sordid statements; ‘Might is Right’ and ‘Eat, drink and be merry; for tomorrow we die’ and ‘Life is short brutish and nasty.’ and suchlike.
And to where does such currency lead but inevitably to a) nihilism and thereafter b) premiership of the self and one’s ego; and if I may make a Grand Statement: THIS IS ALL OUR TROUBLE.
Hence it makes aboslute sense in the world these scholars inhabit, not to go out on a limb and risk one’s career or one’s neck in a bold and generous essay to enlighten peole watching their programme. Instead audiences are getting a rareified and remote; wholy dissassociated acount of ancient history; like as though the public was in urgent need of being able to drive but was instead shoved in a back seat and strapped in. No windows to see through.
It makes absolute sense for these scholars to present their show in this way because there is for them, and in their opinion, no higher court than one’s own opinion and no higher good than one’s own welfare. Ipso facto QED.
And why do they think like this? Because they do not expose themselves to the beauty and truth and love and wholesomeness of the Lord as the gospels speak of him. His words and life are to these contemporary people, like as to so many of us right now, a closed book.
The Light of the World, The full and final Revelation of God; The Saviour; The Holy One; The Vine; The Water of Life; He who is so wonderful in what he has done for us and left for us to cling to as solace and hope and as guidance for life, to live it so as to be in accord with His will, in charity and sweetness and light, and in humility and due reasonable service: none of this is in their vocabularies, in the mentalities of these would-be knowing and assured mentors to the world.
Had they had and shown just a little sensitivity to our Lord’s life and teaching; maybe we should have been given a programme which actually was worthwhile learning from?