The Talented William Cowper

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The Life of William Cowper paperback is now in stock once more in the Shop.

Something once written tends to fade in the memory. It mattered to us enormously at the time and while affection for the subject remains, the details often disappear.

But Cowper’s poems do not. He was adept at looking at the details of life and drawing a beautiful observation from the every day, so when we see the every day we find ourselves reflecting as he did.

I have done so myself of late, recalling his lovely pathetic poem about the felling of trees. At the start of next week - at the request of the Council - the lovely hedge beside my house is to be felled. We grew together and its replacement will not lend shade for many, many years.

I told the life of William Cowper from the perspective of Mrs. Mary Unwin because she seemed to be the one sympathetic friend who could tell most of his tale. (Mrs. Unwin died first and so Sam finishes.) Cowper himself wanted no other biographer:

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William Cowper’s pleasure in the realm of animals, birds, flowers and trees was not soppy. He was not a Romantic because he did not find spiritual truth in material things - he imposed Christian truth on the natural world. Nor was he akin to the modern hippy. It was never less than masculine - always equally close to a smile and a tear. Ever endearing. I leave you with this, his favourite poem.

How to make music and still be a child

This still from my Music Mania promo is a real photo of girls in the town where I was born. They already wear the weary of look of children forced to practise beyond the point of pleasure or even patience.

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Most children who have undergone Classical music training will remember the day when they reached this same level of “dedication” to music. My Grandmother, an accomplished pianist, associated making music with a much loved teacher and so her effort was associated with happiness.

I had teachers I could admire, but from the moment examinations started at age 8, there was always a level of terror in making music that proved counter-productive. Physically, the tension of the ordeal makes you perform badly on a wind instrument. There is also pressure that you, a child, should “do justice” to a great work of art by a famous composer, whose music you do not even like! Such suffering is real enough to a child.

It does not have to be so. I recently discovered a cassette from about the age of 12. I made it with my brothers on the occasion that we could not visit my Grandfather as planned. So we recorded him 2 hours of singing, playing and poetry. We performed as though for him and so we did it with abandon! Since we were recording straight onto a cassette player, there could be no editing and we had to include all our mistakes.

Here are a few highlights from my own contribution. They are not musically perfect, in any sense. And they reveal the limit of my repertoire at that time being exclusively Disney films. But as I relaxed into each song, I gained the confidence to pitch notes more accurately (as long as I could remember the words).

A 12 year old today will be recording songs for YouTube and trying to gain promotion. Never has childhood seemed shorter or less private. Mistakes that were once made in a school hall are now public for a world to mock.

In Music Mania: How the Victorians joined the cult of Classical Music and why England has never been the same since I looked at the emergence of the child star.

I am grateful that, as a 12 year old, I was not a success - that I could not answer my teacher’s ambitions to join the National Youth Orchestra or win prizes in the numerous competitions we entered. I would already have been late, compared to these Victorian prodigies. And there is a price to pay. In Music Mania I tell the history of Josef Hofmann who became a star at 6 and was “called” to America. After 52 appearances in 2 and 1/2 months he is reported to have said:

“It is too much for a little boy like me. I don’t want to play any more, and if Mr. Abbey [his manager] comes, tell him I am dead.”

Music Mania, p.141

Poor Josef was soon replaced in the public’s affections by his competitor, Otto Hefner. He was a success at 12 and enjoyed it so much that he quit as soon as he came of age at 18. He was dead by 30.

Looking back, I would rather know that I loved my late-Grandfather enough to try to please him with half a talent than have the world’s praise for playing Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto almost as well as Jack Brymer, at an eighth of his age!

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No time left for sentiment

When Christianity is reduced to sentimentality, the Church neglects its duty to God. Surrendering to the world, apologising for what it believes, desperate to prove itself “kind”, the Church soon falls into decay.

Some will say that such an approach is merely love for our enemies. But consider what “love” means. It is seeking someone’s good in accordance with God’s laws. Therefore, if someone is promoting heresy and leading others on the road to perdition, we would seek their good by pointing out their errors, rather than allowing them to lead others into sin. So if we would love our enemies we will be busy and unpopular.

It is only possible to preserve a sentimental attitude towards the enemies of the Lord Jesus Christ if we make sure we do not meet them. Consider this barb from English Traits:

The doctrine of the Old Testament is the religion of England. The first leaf of the New Testament it does not open. … They are neither transcendentalists nor Christians.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson was profoundly offensive. He did not mince his words or spare the feelings of my ancestors. Much more importantly, he promoted a false Gospel and despised the Truth. Should I idolise such a man? Never. He was the kin in spite and subversion to Ambrose Bierce:

CHRISTIAN, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbour. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

CLERGYMAN, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.

RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Devil’s Dictionary

In my current writing I am removing idols and identifying the all-too-acceptable faces of heresy in the last 200 years of the Church - not only in England but also in the USA. As I pursue research for my tenth chapter, I searched in vain for any evidence of someone criticising my latest idol. Surely someone must have rejected her in print? Surely a minister has pointed out her errors? But no. Alas. I must start at the beginning and build the arguments from scratch, work out where to place the tent peg and, like Jael, bide my time.

The tone and the iconoclastic ends in my writing are not acceptable to Christians today. (The novelty is highlighted by the ridiculous number of reads on my Voskamp posts.) But I cannot play the sentimental game any longer, whereby people say, “let’s pretend we can all get on in the world and influence our non-Christian neighbours by smiling when they spit on us”. When they spit on us, they spit on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If we do not care to defend His glory, if we cannot bear to be bold for His sake, then pray - why are we called Christians?

Excerpts from "No Earthly Good?" by Abigail J. Fox

“Culture follows religion. We cannot mend the religion of others. We can only take care of our own. Once we understand our duties, we may provide an edifying influence on the Christians around us. Should this be true and growing, then such a Church will be a beautiful sight and will produce its own culture, a vineyard worth sampling. That culture could be replicated whenever God-fearing people populate a Christian Church. And should those people find themselves with authority over regions and even a nation, then the culture will reflect the religion by God’s appointment, and not by the shortcut taken by well-meaning but arrogant Christians.

Christians are the quiet in the land (Psalm 35.20). This is not the modern popular view, but it is perhaps the best way to view the Church’s place today. Being the quiet in the land is not cowardice. It is not avoiding duty but embracing it.”


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“Welcome to the 21st century West. You are now living in the ruins of Christendom. Here and there you will see the fruits of the old world order. But they are museum pieces.

This society does not know that it believes in anything. Each individual believes what his neighbours believe. To be different is the most offensive idea. To be the same is to be happy.

Members of the society believe themselves to be kind and tolerant. They are always striving to achieve the ideal of the society, to become famous, rich, powerful and beautiful. These things are wanted as ends in themselves, not as means of exerting an influence for good.

There is still a Church in this New West. But it has gone to sleep, clapping to lullabies. It was not able to combat the new philosophy of the 18th century. In the 19th century it was not able to stop the changes in morality. In the 20th century it could not change the culture around it because there was no real difference.”

No Earthly Good by Abigail J. Fox
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Wisdom Speaks

When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

Proverbs 1.27-33

Idols and the perversion of Florence Nightingale

For over two years I have been researching and writing for a book about idols who are accepted as Christian (or accepted by Christians). The adoration of such idols makes them millstones around our neck. We are encouraged to act in imitation of them, to construe their behaviour as Christian, even though on closer inspection they disregarded most of God’s commands and set themselves up as saviours of mankind. By worshipping such men and women, we lead others into idolatry and far from their duty before God.

I stand at the halfway point in my writing, pausing for breath after the exhausting task of tackling Florence Nightingale. She was a wicked and degenerate woman in both her religion and her behaviour. The myth is all we can admire about her. The truth is found in her own letters, essays and unpublished thoughts. There is nothing to praise, nothing to imitate and everything to abhor. The eight people I studied before her were subversive destroyers of men and women; but Nightingale took the prize as the most pernicious and epistemologically self-conscious anti-Christian influence.

Today I saw this article by the Christian Institute:

https://www.christian.org.uk/features/rewriting-history/?fbclid=IwAR1hV4Zelf8jrAFrvjxaXrAqutKTRRhxH-_bTezmSVSrav0cdG98HujkHSM

Nursing icon Florence Nightingale, for instance, is apparently a lesbian. It’s a suggestion dismissed by David Green, Director of the Florence Nightingale Museum. He has confirmed there is no accepted evidence to support the theory, and substantial evidence to the contrary.

The general tendency towards finding same-sex figures in history in order to normalise such behaviour today is an issue. But it is not new. It was certainly not invented by those who have written the guide for teaching in Scotland.

The dismissal of the evidence by the Christian Institute via the Director of the Florence Nightingale Museum is perfunctory. There is plenty of evidence of Nightingale controlling younger women by pet names such as “Goddess”. And her only serious male romantic suitor was a notorious pornographer. Was she? Wasn’t she? Do we care? Is it important to defend the chastity of a woman, who was a vicious atheist and spread a subversive message of salvation without God? Rather than try to defend such idols against the machinations of the Scottish education system, we should reject the idols themselves on the basis of their heresies.

Here is Nightingale in her own words:

“Is there anything higher in thinking of one’s own salvation than in thinking of one’s own dinner? … What shall I do to be saved? is generally the most selfish question.”

“Let the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Christian each live in his God’s sight, doing His work rightly.”

“… at last there shall arise a woman, who will resume, in her own soul, all the sufferings of her race, and that woman will be the Saviour of her race. … The next Christ will perhaps be a female Christ.”

It is no better for the Christian Institute to retain a false Pelagian view of history (as though it makes Christianity appear to be in the majority), than it is to impose a false liberal view in history. The truth is not found in either camp.

Nightingale is to be condemned. Her legacy should be obliterated. We do that, as Christians, by maintaining the doctrines she despised, loving the Scriptures she censored, and obeying the God to whom she would give no fealty.

Statue of Florence Nightingale

Statue of Florence Nightingale

This is not the first Christian Institute journey into idolatry. Their well-publicised booklet on “Non-Violent Extremists” included Harriet Beecher Stowe. She also gets a chapter in my book, charting her journey from Christian upbringing to a Spiritualist willingly controlled by demonic powers. Analysis of her must be reserved for my book’s publication, but one quote indicates that her non-violent status was not justified:

“Stowe recalled how a black man named Denmark Vesey plotted a slave rebellion back in 1822. Vesey was hanged along with thirty-four others in Charleston, but now Harriet fancied that the spirits of these insurrectionists were “invisibly wing[ing] the bombs and shots at southern troops.” 

We do not serve the Lord God with all our hearts and minds, by adoring false gods who hated the Lord Jesus Christ, whether they be Florence Nightingale, Harriet Beecher Stowe or that master-manipulator Charles Finney. If we propagate them as idols then we perpetuate their errors, promote their heresies and further their labours towards the destruction of Christendom.

A Sharpened Antithesis & the London Humanist Choir

Henry R. Van Til said that we are influenced by what we oppose and that is true. As Christians, we recognise error and distance ourselves from it. We try to be more consistent in the face of obvious inconsistency. However, we are not defined by the difference.

By contrast, the London Humanist Choir is a screaming example of people who are defined by their hate. They hate God. They hate the Lord Jesus Christ. And when the members of the choir gather, they sing in order to mock the Lord. That is their worship and their damnation.

But what else do such people have to sing about? It is a perversion in religious terms and a subversion of musical talent to use it to deny the glory of God and profane the Lord’s name.

The Christian response is righteous anger that such blasphemy is permitted. All are judged and such works do not go unpunished. But not in this life by us. The Christian’s duty is to sing. We do not sing like the pagan, in order to cover wickedness with beauty and hope to purge and cleanse the world. We sing Psalms according to God’s commandment in order to praise the true God, in order to worship our Saviour as Prophet, Priest and King, and in order to sing for the just judgment of God to bring down every knee in his good time.

Truth, truth? What is truth?

Queen Anne

Queen Anne

I will not watch The Favourite. The BBC’s Breakfast show is promoting it as a comedy and has twice (to my knowledge) made Dan Walker - a professing Christian - the mouthpiece for the promotion.

The most obvious reason not to watch The Favourite would be the gratuitous decision to transform Queen Anne into a lesbian. It loses any approximation of being a historical work from this moment and becomes yet another excuse for pornographic voyeurism.

The first enforced view of the trailer during the news bulletin made it look as though Olivia Coleman was portraying a female parody of George III - grotesque and absurd, foul and objectionable. But it transpired that this remedial aristocrat was supposed to be Queen Anne, who may not have been the brightest or prettiest of English Queens, but who did nothing to deserve such despicable mockery. Her status alone in English history demands more respect.

While this film was part-funded in England, there is a section of English society that despises everything for which England once stood and so meets the American halfway. This type of American finds his own nation’s glory bolstered by ridiculing old England.

Such ridicule is only reserved for Protestants in history. In films, Roman Catholicism demands to be understood. Its adherents are regarded as “real people” who are not perfect but whose religious views are nevertheless sincere. Meanwhile Protestants are portrayed as hypocrites, who spend their whole time correcting others, whilst they secretly indulged in worse sins than Catholics.

Good King George III

Good King George III

It is no coincidence that film - like literature - has reserved its ridicule for royalty who professed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Anne Boleyn was reduced by Hollywood to a slut. Mark Twain turned the honourable Lady Jane Grey into a tart. Richard III became a conniving villain. George III was transformed into a vegetable. We must all be brought down into the gutter together. There can be no “good people”. There can be no true virtue. All religious sobriety becomes a mask for imbecility, of which The Favourite’s ridicule of Queen Anne is a crude example..

Consider James II, the father of said Anne. No film would portray him in his true colours - the fornicator who ruined the life of his wife Anne (nee Hyde). She endured his philandering and likely suffered through venereal diseases. When James converted to Roman Catholicism, his wife did the same. She soon died in agony.

“Truth, truth,” Anne replied when a well-meaning Anglican chaplain approached to ask if she remained true to the faith, “what is truth?” Then, turning to her husband [James II, then still Duke of York], she muttered, “Duke, Duke! Death is very terrible,” and she died.

Sovereign Ladies by Maureen Waller, p.253

James II

James II

James did not heed the warning or change his ways. He married a 15 year old, who left his residence when he became too preoccupied with his new teenage mistress, Arabella Churchill, sister of the Duke of Marlborough. His daughters judged all men by their father and were surprised to find happiness in marriage. If Hollywood’s “Me Too” tag was anything more than an excuse to talk about private matters in public, then it would tell of the virtue of Mary and Anne against the example of their father. But Hollywood cares nothing for morality. People will watch The Favourite as they will watch Colette and interpret sensationalism and scandal as a life “lived to the full”. They will care nothing of virtue and even less for truth.

Truth, truth? What is truth? This generation does not know any more than did the wife of James II as she died. But there is a difference: this generation does not even ask the question.

Give us this day our daily bread

These words from the Lord’s Prayer have gained a special poignancy to me over the last year. As commercially produced bread is increasingly adulterated with soya flour (often modified), it has been more and more difficult to find any wholesome options to buy. I started to make it myself, as a supplement to the bread available, but over the Christmas holiday we have only had the bread I have made.

I remember one of my favourite Sunday books as a very little child was called “Thank you for my loaf of bread”. The little boy thanks his parents, who say that they only bought it; he thanks the baker who only baked it; he thanks the farmer … and so on, until he thanks the Lord for his loaf of bread. The attitude of gratitude is certainly the right one. But at my season, now, I thank the Lord for the ability to rise at 6am to begin baking, the strength to make the bread, the ingredients to produce it, a working oven and that precious miracle of wild yeast rising flour into loaves and pittas and buns. But there is more to it. There is God’s blessing upon our labours so that the food we eat is blessed to us in the health it provides for our bodies.

Today’s bake

Today’s bake

My family are not sick but we are regularly at risk of being poisoned. Rapeseed is inedible and harmful; it is also in a vast number of products. Soya is joined by modified maize starch and cornflour in the realm of undigestible. If we conquer the problems of poor ingredients and make every meal from scratch (as we do), then we are poisoned by the electromagnetic smog in which we live. It is caused by Bluetooth in cars (parked or moving), Smart Meters, Wi-Fi networks and 4G, soon to be 5G. The side effects are widespread. I see it in people I meet and people I know. I have recognised the problem for 18 years; nursed family members for the last 9; and for the last 4 years tried to discover coping strategies to bring us back to health when we have been zapped by a transmitter. 

What all these problems have in common is that I have not yet met anybody who wants to know. They may have half of my symptoms from food or radiation, but they do not want to hear the reason. It goes beyond being a lover of technology or trusting in the doctors. They cannot countenance the dangerous paradigm in which you are living and therefore it must be you. If I say, “I am made ill by proximity to that device” for all the comprehension displayed I might as well say, “What colour unicorns have you planted in your garden this year?” 

Our trees are dying due to electromagnetic exposure. It’s nothing personal - our neighbours’ trees are dying too. All around my home estate, conifers facing vehicles and houses are developing entirely dead patches where a transmitter is beaming 24/7, 365 days of the year. It does not need to be an intensely strong field since the tree is rooted to the spot and cannot escape being tortured. The damage is irreversible as conifer trees absorb the EMF and give us a shield, but in so doing their health will suffer and they will ultimately die. Around other streets, you can identify the direction of the radiation from the pattern of split bark on the trunks of trees.

Our 85 foot conifer hedge is dying. It grew up with me. It has scorches from radiation and it is dying from the inside out, all the while still screening us from a road full of radiation. The patches of brown dead wood are less dramatic than in those of our neighbours because the flow of traffic is killing the whole hedge, not just the portion opposite a Smart Meter. Meanwhile, the Canadian Geese which used to leave our town every year about 20th September and not return until Spring are still flying in circles. At night they make desperate noises, as they must be running out of food in the cold English climate. A tomato plant in our garden was still producing fruit last month, for the circadian rhythm has been (and is still being) disturbed by the radiation in which we are bathed. 

When you have to cross the road to avoid the radiation pouring out of a Jaguar and you cannot go to a city without a day to recover from the Wi-Fi; when you cannot eat the bread off the shelf and even the old-fashioned Atora Suet is crossed off the list as another food that is not what it used to be; when you cannot accept an invitation out because you know that within an hour you will look an unattractive green hue, you are cured of any latent Pelagianism. There is no way you can believe in the fool’s paradise of a wonderful world in which most people are good and will do the right thing. It is a lie.

But it is for this lie that people will not listen. If they did believe what you say about food and the environment, then they would have to accept that people allow these things to happen, that the system is not designed with a pseudo-Providential benevolence and the State will not save us. They prefer to sign up for chemotherapy than even to take a quick look down that road. They would rather die in ignorance than have to live with the truth. 

Others are aware of the problems and take the other extreme of wanting to campaign and dedicate every moment of (your) time to raising awareness that such things are going on in the realm of food and the environment. It soon becomes “a cause” and you are asked to join hands with people for one reason, when you can think of twenty more why you would not want to be in the same room as them. Such activism is a grand distraction, which at heart invokes the same Pelagian myth that people are bigger than the problem and can sort out if only they will work together.

Hardly. I cannot save my trees from dying. I cannot help the geese find their way home. I cannot tell the tomato plant to rest for the winter. I cannot persuade someone I have known for 20 years that the reason they are ill is charging on their desk. And it is not my duty to save the human race. It is my duty before God to love and serve my family members according to my ability and under the sixth commandment that includes taking practical steps to preserve their lives as necessary, even as they strive to preserve mine.

The machinations of man, the rampant wickedness even, is permitted to continue for a season according to God’s mercy. Those who try to live righteously in an evil generation must face hardship. But the Lord’s hand is not withdrawn. His promises are poured on the heads of His children whether together they fill a city or only a room. There is God’s blessing in being aware of problems so that we can take better care of those we love. There is God’s blessing in having the means and time to do so. There is God’s blessing in receiving our daily bread and living in the heightened awareness that we are only still standing by his grace, that the lack of pain is by his grace, and that the courage to face another day like the one before is only by his grace.

The Psalmist says that unless the Lord bless the house they labour in vain that build it. Unless the Lord bless my bread, I labour in vain in making it. Give us this day our daily bread is a beggar with his hands cupped in assured expectation of what he will receive because he trusts in the lovingkindness and mercy of the God whom he implores. This is not the way modern Christians like to see themselves - empowered as they are, with God in the wings to applaud their every deed. But perhaps we need the chastening we are receiving, to find that simple things like bread cannot be taken for granted, to discover that the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer are not idle words but at the core of the walk of faith.

The Alignment of Romanticism and Roman Catholicism

“An older nostalgic [Cardinal] Newman thought that the characteristic attitudes of the Oxford divines were encouraged by the romantic in contemporary literature. He selected the poetry of Wordsworth and the novels of Walter Scott. Historians followed Newman in declaring the romantics to be part-cause of the Oxford Movement. … Religious men wanted poetry of heart in their hymns, sacramental sensibility in their worship, recovery of symbolism in art and architecture.

(The Victorian Church by Owen Chadwick - Part 1, p.174)

England apostatised through Romanticism. It was a suitable portal because it did not appear to be a religion. Most people did not even know the term - they just became obsessively interested in literature, art, music and architecture. Once their interest was captured, the English became very jealous over their right to enjoy the Arts. Ultimately, in 1870, they fought the clergy over the right of the people to have a concert in a cathedral rather than a sermon. The people won and there was no turning back.

For Easter, one English Church had all congregants put an old rag on a cross and take away a new rag

For Easter, one English Church had all congregants put an old rag on a cross and take away a new rag

A veneer of Christianity has been added on top of the Romanticism of England, but it is such a thin veneer that if it is challenged by a simple argument starting with the words, “But the Bible says …” then the challenger is regarded as a bigot and filled with hate; for today, if we love God more than we love men, then are motives are twisted and we are told that we hate men.

Therein lies the truth of Romanticism. It perverted the Arts from the crafts that they had been before and each of them suffered. But of far more importance is where Romanticism led the ordinary English man and woman. Romanticism functioned as a snare to separate people from Christian truth to a sufficient degree that they would prefer heresy, humanism or atheism. It does not matter which label applies, for all are deviations from what God requires and all that matters is that men should be kept from receiving the Gospel.

The strain of overt Romanticism in the Oxford Movement, under the leadership of the aforementioned Newman, is very interesting and yet not surprising. They were just early exponents of the type of Christianity all too common today in England and the USA. Christianity has become an adorned and artistic creature. We need good production values. We need coaxing by colourful memes and evocative, fantastical scenery. We need props in services. We need to see beautiful people living immaculate lives, whilst telling us that they are a sinner just like us. We need to believe in heaven on earth. We need heroes - for that is the key to Romanticism, striving after and worshipping a human saviour, a mortal prophet, a musical priest. It could be someone we see every Sunday on a stage. It could be someone we follow online. It could be someone we read.

Frank Schaeffer is a sad example of someone who was taught Christian truth and was also taught a love of Art, and when he had to be consistent, he left Christian truth behind and made Art a vessel for his anti-Christian propaganda:

“If there were no “holy books” how much easier it would be to believe in God! An oral tradition and a rich liturgical expression of divinity lovingly shared in a faith community are much more convincing than words on a page. The images I see from the Hubble telescope do more to suggest a loving creative God besotted by beauty than most Bible passages.”

(Why I am an Atheist who believes in God by Frank Schaeffer, p.96)

In other words, Frank Schaeffer would like God to enter into his universe and be a Romantic too. Like all religious rebels, he extrapolates from his own behaviour in order to define the attributes of God and, finding the Lord God Almighty less than satisfactory, he ends up becoming a god to himself. Except that man is not God; the Bible is true; and because of the subtle allure of Romanticism, many people are sleep-walking.

Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men.

Psalm 9. 19-20

Why do we sing?

When we sing (rather than read) the Psalms, we hear the words differently. We proclaim rather than study and, unless we are dreadful hypocrites, the act of singing Psalms is a declaration of consent. There may be parts of the Psalms we do not understand as well as others and that should provoke us to further study, but it is still important to sing them all. We are not told only to sing the Psalms once we have reached a level of theological acumen. By contrast, the person who sings the hymns of men selects those which he feels to be most true, which accurately reflect his beliefs and experience. We are not given such autonomy with the Psalms. We sing the same songs as children, adults and in old age. We change - the Psalms do not.

When we learn to sing the Psalms off by heart, they enter more richly into our thoughts. We can be so busy with work that must be done that our thoughts may often be encompassed all day with business and worries of some kind. The internet has exacerbated the noise levels in our thoughts. We are attracted to read news items that are of no interest whatsoever and to watch videos on automatic. While we may be more careful to steward the content, the very act of “dossing” in an idle frame of mind can change our horizon line so that during the periods of rest when we are not attending to business, we are absorbing a frivolous and foolish mindset, which unsettles us for keeping God’s commandments. Whether it is learning to be preoccupied about weight or make-up or cars or pretty fantasy pictures of Neverland on Instagram, the distraction changes our frame of reference. So does music. It is unusual now to see anyone walking without headphones in. People want a soundtrack to play in their lives and hardly know how to cope without it. Before we know it, we become passive absorbers of a mindset and feel dislocation when a problem comes and we are suddenly in need of God’s strength.

The intense practice of memorising Psalms allows us to sing God’s praises thoughtfully while our hands our occupied and our minds are free to wander. The difficulty of memorisation compels us to learn each portion of the Psalm, not just the verses that might be selected for use on a bookmark. I am learning Psalm 51 at present and was struck by these words:

Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.

Salvation is followed by singing, for then we have something to sing about. But is there not more to it? Next the Psalmist says:

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.

What could King David mean? For sure, we can open our own lips and make a noise of singing. Why must God open our lips for us? Because we are nothing without Him. King David has sought deliverance from his wicked fall, forgiveness for his transgressions. He seeks mercy from the only source and, knowing that he is helpless before God, he does not even take for granted his ability or his right to sing the Lord’s praise. It is as much a matter of grace as is the redemption he seeks. He is humbled and wants to sing to the glory of God.

This attitude is counter-cultural in the modern Church, but it would not be so if people sang the Psalms. God’s appointed Book of Praise is Holy. It gives us the words which are acceptable to Him and the only poetry that is True. These words will not lead us into vanity and pride. We will not be encouraged to think too highly of ourselves or too meanly of Him. The Psalms enrich our faith in an inexhaustible way, for no man has mined their treasure. And although 150 Psalms sounds a small number compared to a modern hymn book, try to learn the Psalms off by heart and you will find them plentiful enough.

Everything about music today encourages us to an entirely different attitude:

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 07.51.22.jpg

Such words are so commonplace - a declaration of faith in music and adoration of the prophets who write it and the priests who perform it. The religious fervour is intense and equally to be found amongst Christians. But it is not compatible with true faith. No song is worth it. Music is not worth it. Here is the song in question:

Three years ago I felt very honoured to be chosen for a workshop during which Voces 8 rehearsed one of my compositions. I had a qualm at the time, a niggling doubt, as to the morality of people of unknown religious beliefs singing the Words of the Lord. Was it right? Was it acceptable to Him? Or would they sing any words with an equally practiced air of sincerity?

That was 2015. Now, as 2018 draws to a close, it would not be an achievement to have my religious compositions performed by this group or any other. The Lord does not want us to use singing to spread the Gospel. The Lord does not require us to use music to stir people up to the need they have of salvation. Singing is the action of people who are reconciled to God, by the blood of his Son, and in grateful acknowledgement of this, sing the Psalms in praise. This singing does not need to be recorded. Or filmed. Or sold. It does not need an audience or an auditorium. It does not need to be pitch perfect. What did King David say, a few verses later?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

The cool confidence of the modern musician is not quite appropriate. Neither is every setting of the Psalms, just because it is embedded in the cult of Classical music. This, from the Italian Renaissance, leaves me cold and left only to admire the skill of the musicians.

We miss the point when we praise music. Music is a proclamation of worth - God’s worth. Singing the Psalms is a declaration of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We do not praise music. We praise God through music.

Not all music must be Psalm settings. We may have music for entertainment. Sometimes it is pretty. Sometimes it is empty. It is always lighter than air - and I say that as someone who writes both as a bread-and-butter composer for hire. It has no importance beyond a momentary entertainment. Lovely as Enya’s May it Be undoubtedly is, to heap praise upon the rendition above as being spiritually meaningful and justifying our existence is ludicrous. It is all a hoax, a pseudo-religion, the Romanticist’s drug. And the musical return of a composer like Marcello is borrowed glory and someone else’s religion. It is no substitute for singing the Psalms ourselves.

I was challenged by the Rev. Romaine’s example of singing the Psalms every day. It was a worthy example and the rewards continue, for I have only 25 in my memory, and many of those are short. If I could learn them all in the years to come, I would still have to sing them every day in order to keep the words in my memory. This will sound like a chore to most, but what if your sight is poor and when you put glasses on you can see things in focus and walk with more boldness? Such it is to sing the Psalms. And that is why I sing.

The Love of Christ, all the year round

‘Tis the season of make-believe and especially in the realm of Christmas letters. Through the door they come with the Christmas cards - letters fat with falsehood, exuding an air of superiority. It is the supercilious smile of English success as one by one, correspondents detail the perfection of their lives and cast an unwelcome shadow over already dark wintry days. It is not envy you feel at their happiness, but sheer disappointment that people you had thought of as friends have communicated nothing whatsoever of themselves. It is all externals and conformity, the sun ever shining on a catalogue of births and marriages, holidays and achievements. It produces the impression that anything real - from problems at work to sickness - would be construed as failure and so must not be shared.

Do we pretend back and try to make the best of a lousy year with our own synthetic letter or do we tell the truth? Some would say, Who cares - no one is honest in Christmas letters anyway. But that misses the point. 

People who paint their lives to others in such ideal Christmas hues, so often tell the same fairy story to themselves the rest of the year. Everyone they meet is a new friend. Everything they do is a triumph. They are not only untouched by common miseries, but untouchable. They are immune to your problems. Tell them, when next they ask how things are, tell them about the death in the family, that your clients won’t settle the bills until New Year, that a criminal syndicate has ruined your town, that your neighbour was the victim of a hit and run but could herself be charged with dangerous driving. They will not really believe you. Life is not that bad. Society is not so wicked. They do not hear the details, but rather suspect that you have a bad attitude and attract trouble. They draw away from you because your observations on reality upset their ability to believe in a happy fantasy, that if you “do the right thing” you will receive all the blessings in the world. More karma than Christianity.

This is English Humanism in its Sunday - or rather its Christmas - Best, seducing men with the lie that the world is all right, that most people are jolly decent, that there is honey still for tea. 

Reality

Life hurts. A lot. One Christmas card this year was annotated with the words, “I hope life is treating you well.” It came from a retired minister who should have known better, who should have known that all things that happen to us come by God’s permission, that God’s children are never tempted above that we are able to bear, but that it may be within God’s Providence to refine us in the fire.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8.35)

Why did the Apostle Paul ask this, if Christians are entitled to lives of total domestic tranquility? Thankfully, he answered his own question. The solution is not the removal of all problems but the sure knowledge that even the worst event cannot separate us from the love of God.

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8. 37-9)

Christmas letter writers may know and believe this. But they apply the principle in the wrong direction. To them, the woes that come to man are things that happen to other people and so they build their lives around an organised effort to support those who are in distress. They volunteer for children’s groups and women’s charities, help the elderly exercise and knit for Africa, donate blood and join in the 10K for the hospice. Through these avenues of formalised altruism they gain reassurance of their own good works towards those less fortunate than themselves. But they also put themselves in a category of “doing fine”. They do not expect trouble in their own lives or those of their friends and family. They do not live as though trouble will come or as though sin is any worse than a bad cold. They find it almost impossible to slip alongside a friend and just be quietly understanding because their good works are reserved for their inferiors, people in a box labelled “Needy”. They cannot adapt their condescension to kindness towards their equals. Neither can they trust their friends with their problems. They will not shed honest tears and ask others for help them. They are modern-saviours who make the world a better place and modern-saviours do not bleed. If problems come, then their reaction is a juvenile insistence on being happy in adversity. They do not allow you to express sympathy, love or concern, for they retain their superiority at all times. They still believe that they can make the world a better place in the midst of their problem and wonder why you doubt it.

Hope

That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ is good news. With this in our hearts, we can pray for the strength to endure new problems and face old battles. Whatever comes, we do not face it alone, because the Lord Jesus Christ is with us even unto death. 

But we should still feel the problems as problems. Our hope in the resurrection of the saints does not lead us to enjoy death. The knowledge that the Lord will not forsake us does not remove our responsibility for conducting our affairs with decorum. Fire will burn us. And fear will plague us. Knowing ourselves in the midst of such turmoil should leave us with softened hearts to know how to weep with those who weep. Our comfort is that the worst things in life could happen to us and we would still be the Lord’s. It does not mean that we are naturally resilient at the prospect of persecution and the sword. It does not mean that we do not react physically and emotionally to confrontation.

We live in a dangerous and evil world. We are not above the battle or immune from it. We are sinners too and we are only more than conquerors through him that loved us. We are not super-charged people who can save others. We cannot even save ourselves. All is of grace and knowing this we should be humbled enough to be a little bit useful, weak enough to seek another’s strength. We need to hear the admonition of the Scriptures to Be strong and of a good courage because we are all cowards, unless the Lord makes us brave.

Christmas letters therefore throw us off balance. They put an illusion before our eyes and dare us not to believe it. Ironically, given the name of the season, it is the temptation towards Humanism - a love of the things of this life, belief that we can have heaven on earth, a longing for perfection where we have no right to any such expectation. The English adore the conformity of Christmas-time. They take comfort in the idea of ritual eating, light hanging, present opening and boozing. Just for once, so they imagine, everyone is peaceful and the brotherhood of man is achieved. We know it is not true. We never thought it was. And yet the idea that it ought to be is a seed of doubt, of dissatisfaction with the way that the Lord God has arranged for our salvation. It festers just below the surface of our thoughts, so we feel guilty if we “do” Christmas and worse if we don’t.

Christmas is a depressing time because it asks us to believe this lie. It takes us away from the plain reality of a world that needs the real Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ - needs him for the forgiveness of our sins, for hope after death, for hope even in life. And there is good news. It is simply this: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, not even Christmas.

Modern Music vs. Good Music

I noted this week that one of my former professors in composition and orchestration died last spring. It was not unexpected, after suffering a stroke in 2013.

I met James Wishart on my first tour of the university and listened to a presentation he delivered on composition. On that occasion he had forgotten to bring a CD of his own music and so I had no opportunity of knowing his style, namely what he called good. I could not have guessed how ghastly his modernistic compositions sounded. Instead, I heard him speak of being a grand encourager to every young composer and I looked forward to his support in starting my own career.

My own experience was very different. He ridiculed the first composition I presented to him in front of 25 of my peers, during our weeks of getting acquainted. During two years of supervision (in both composition and orchestration), he invited me to one tutorial to discuss the progress I was making in my coursework. And, when I arrived, he cancelled it because he had a headache.

As a class, we made allowances for our professor out of pity because of his immense size. We even opened the windows before every class to minimise the aroma. In other words, we made allowances. But he did not meet us halfway. He made no rapport with any member of my class and seldom made eye contact, especially with female students.

How did we expect to learn anything when communication skills were so entirely absent? By osmosis of greatness to students? Hardly. For James Wishart was not great. His potential had been recognised but stalled along the way. He was in a cocoon at the university but he was not setting any example, let alone supporting young composers.

It is deemed unbecoming to speak ill of the dead, but my respect to James Wishart was demonstrated by not making these reflections while he was living. He did not show similar respect to a late Prime Minister of the U.K., Margaret Thatcher, in 23 Songs for a Madwoman.

Wishart’s name will forever be twinned with his satire on Margaret Thatcher, which he published 7 years before her death. It is a bitter, angry work, made all the more poisonous by employing the grotesque lie perpetrated against King George III by Peter Maxwell Davies in his own “Mad Songs”.

You do not need to be a fan of the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to see that the crudeness of Wishart’s 23 Songs for a Madwoman was as vicious as it was futile. If music can and should be used for such ends, it was too late.

There is mental havoc wreaked on the young mind by having someone like James Wishart in a position of authority who fails to nurture and instead causes harm. It took me years to recover my musical balance. It is not just about the notes that we put on the page, although Wishart did his best to make me afraid of writing any music. It is the bullying that can take place in any walk of life and is more paralysing when it is connected to something as personal as musical composition.

Validation in the sphere of classical music comes through being adopted by people like James Wishart, who can induct a new composer into the respectable circle of modern music. Take, for example, Marco Galvani. When he was just a boy at my father’s school, I answered his questions about writing music for film. But he did not need me. He was already taking classes with Emily Howard, who led him to have classes at university with Robert Saxton (who had also taught Emily Howard and himself had been taught by Benjamin Britten). By something less than a miracle Galvani was offered a publishing deal by Edition Peters and receives commissions from reputable performers to play in musical palaces.

By comparison, those of us who found the chain to greatness broken - by men such as James Wishart - have to submit, be rejected, tout for work, handle criticism and prove ourselves with every job. We were not “called” so we are not deemed to be artistic.

I no longer regret that the road which opened before a composer like Galvani remained closed to me. Had James Wishart been more interested and more supportive, I might have been tempted to join his world of modern music, thinking to change it when of course it would have changed me. And I would not have been able to laugh, with Denis King (composer of the theme for Black Beauty) at the total absurdity of modern music and the tragic folly of the people who believe in it.

Answering Criticisms of my Review of Ann Voskamp's "One Thousand Gifts"

In December 2016, I received a lengthy comment on my review of “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I chose not to publish the comment at that time because to do so would have required a response. I was not sure how to approach the commenter and therefore put it aside. But I never forgot the comment's opening words:

Firstly, it's not a book of theology. 

My original review was written nearly 4 years ago and in that time I have given little thought to Ann Voskamp and her large number of followers. This week I revisited her website to see how things had changed. Less than one week ago and to coincide with Easter, she had published an excerpt from her new book. It started thus:

from http://annvoskamp.com/2018/03/how-jesus-died-why-its-everything-to-every-broken-heart/ 

from http://annvoskamp.com/2018/03/how-jesus-died-why-its-everything-to-every-broken-heart/ 

The blog post ends in the same words:

 
Voskamp 3.jpg
 

This is theology. Even the author of the comment would find it difficult to deny. And so, I returned to Voskamp and finally answered the comment.


Why Jesus did not die of a broken heart

In her 30th March 2018 blog post, Ann Voskamp writes:

 
from http://annvoskamp.com/2018/03/how-jesus-died-why-its-everything-to-every-broken-heart/ 

from http://annvoskamp.com/2018/03/how-jesus-died-why-its-everything-to-every-broken-heart/ 

 

Wrong. One thousand times wrong.

The Son of God became man in order to die for us. His death had to be public so that there would be witnesses. He endured torture and agony for our sakes. He even suffered the loss of God’s presence for a short time, as expounded in the first half of Psalm 22. But the Lord Jesus Christ was a willing sacrifice for us. Long before the Romans expected him to be dead, he had voluntarily separated his soul from his body. The Lord Jesus Christ did not die a passive victim. He actively gave his life for us. He was not broken. He was valiant. 

And there is more. For the Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Not passively. He was not risen like a puppet from a box. He arose. He was and he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He vanquished death, conquered sin and is now exalted. He is not impotent in the affairs of this world. His will is being done. And he is a terror to his enemies, even if they do not know it yet, as we read in Psalm 2:

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him. (verse 12)

This, the Almighty Son of God, commands and demands our praise. By contrast, Voskamp promotes a wilting Jesus onto whom we can project our sorrows and shower our pity. 

If Voskamp had wanted to show the lovingkindness of God towards those in the midst of life's problems, she could have done so by continuing through Psalm 22. Everything changes in verse 21 (“Thou hast heard me”). Then we read:

Ye that fear the LORD, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel. For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard. (v.23-24)

Here is encouragement for the broken and grieving! Here is promise for those who are afflicted. And what is the reason for our comfort? On what grounds can we believe the promise? Read on in Psalm 22:

The kingdom is the LORD’s: and he is the governor among the nations.

All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

The Psalmist says that the Lord is King. He is Governor among nations. He is to be worshipped. We are to bow before him knowing that we cannot keep our lives without him. We are to serve him and be his. It is because he is so far above us, transcendent in his majesty and authority, that we can trust in him no matter what the world says. The comfort we have in our sorrows and suffering lies in his omnipotence, omniscience and breath-taking condescension in hearing our prayers. We fear, praise and glorify him. 


Why I do not worship Ann Voskamp

Now for belated replies to the comment left on my original review. For ease of answering I have separated it into portions. (Quotes from the comment have a white background.)

 
comment by reader, H.D.T.

comment by reader, H.D.T.

 

The Lord Jesus died so that we might be justified.  Those who have been justified are adopted into God’s house and are to be sanctified in this life. Sanctification is not completed in this world. It is a growing up to perfection so that we can keep the commandments and walk undefiled in the law of the Lord.

You expect tranquility on this side of Heaven and make the term inclusive of healing, restoration and wholeness. I do not recognise these terms in the Christian sphere; they seem to belong more to the language of mental health. Our peace with God, our joy in his service, is not defined by how we feel or what happens to us in this world. We are not told to seek tranquility or our own well-being. The longer we live for God, the less we should be looking at ourselves. 

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

Her relationship? I do not have a relationship with God. I might be in a relationship with a man. I might have a good relationship with my Mum and Dad. I do not have a relationship with God. It implies a familiarity that must be reversible: that God has a relationship with me.

Job was a righteous man. There was none like him in all the earth. He had endured an extended trial. He was soon to be blessed abundantly. After God had spoken directly to him (towards the end of the book), Job said: “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee?” (Job 40.4). Job did not "have a relationship" with God. He humbled himself as a creature before the Creator, as a sinner before his Judge, as a servant before his Lord. 

You say that One Thousand Gifts "was never written to teach Biblical doctrine on ways we can give thanks". The problem is, that Voskamp presents us with a doctrine. And if it is not Biblical, then what is it?

According to you I am not allowed to “assume” that Voskamp has made up her own doctrine and does not follow the Bible. But you know “undoubtedly” that what she says comes from a “life lived from Biblical principles”. That is double standards.  

I know that she has gained cult status for some Christians but that does not mean that we must all adore her. Which begs the question: Why does it matter to you that I have written a negative review when thousands of people have written positively about Voskamp's writings? Why do you feel the need to defend a woman who is more than capable of speaking for herself and does so often? 

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

I am not denying that we should live prayerful lives and express our total gratitude to the Lord for all his daily mercies to us. But I object to the commercialised rosary that Voskamp has invented. It is a gimmick whereby people are encouraged to look for the good when we might be better to see things as they really are. 

The Book of Psalms is God’s appointed means of us offering praise to him. The Psalms teach us to avoid being overly familiar, as though God is our “mate”. They turn our eyes towards him so that we will then see the world more by his light. We are not connected to God’s heart (a strange idea, to say the least). His Holy Spirit communicates to us through the Word of God. We may see blessings in the ordinary things of life - of course we must. But we must not attribute to those ordinary things direct communication from God, as though the Lord speaks to us and gives us a new word through a sunrise or a toaster. 

The poetical style of writing is not incidental and certainly not irrelevant. Since the dawn of romanticism, Christians have been led astray by the allure of finding spiritual good and spiritual truth in material things. Flowery writing has been one of the standard traps so that people like the sounds of the words and the air of authority in them, and overlook the heresy that is sitting on the page. 

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

I will tell you precisely what is wrong with having a unique way to love God. 

Joseph Smith.

Brigham Young.

Charles Finney.

Henry Ward Beecher.

Charles Taze Russell.

Shall I go on? Everyone who ever started a heretical cult began with a “unique way to love God”. Once people become separated from what Scripture says, they are on a slippery slope to believing anything. If you truly believe that we can express our love to God in any way we choose “as long as our heart is towards Him” then I fear for you. It is the Devil’s own argument right from the Garden of Eden, “Has God said?”

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

I’m sorry, but I’ve seen too many crocodile tears. Do you not know that the easiest way to make people trust you, is to show them a scar. Engage their sympathy. Capture their pity. She’s just like us, you say. She may have a publishing empire and a fortune, but she’s down to earth and just like me. She understands. 

Watch "Elmer Gantry". 

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

My problem is not with the idea of turning our thoughts more towards God. My problem is that Voskamp’s idea of God is twisted and that a religion that leads to "personal healing" is not Christianity. We are supposed to meditate on his Word, not invent our own Bible on a daily basis. God's will has been revealed to us already. 

 
comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

comment (continued) by reader, H.D.T.

 

Joining in the "pity party"? Are you serious? The Lord Jesus Christ knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he wept at his grave. Was he joining in the "pity party"? What did his tears "achieve"? Did it actually overcome anything? Voskamp (according to your reading) would have encouraged him to find the beauty instead - correct? Such flippancy and irreverence.

We do not react to real life in a particular way in order to produce a “desired outcome”. I actually find that deeply offensive and inhuman.

God speaks to us in his Word. The heavens do declare the glory of God, as the Psalmist said. But that does not mean that we identify God with his creation. You try to prove that God "does speak through nature" by appealing to the assumption that God speaks "through humans". I think here we finally see the difference between our religious beliefs. You defend Ann Voskamp because you believe that she has spoken God's words to you. I do not. The godly minister is commissioned to preach God's Word and in that high role he may be blessed very much in his labours, by the Holy Spirit. But that you, or I or Voskamp should be the mouthpiece of God is heresy. And that is why we will never agree: you feel honour bound to defend your idol and hope that she will impart grace to you in every word; I will hold tight to the Scriptures and pray for the end of such heresies.

Propaganda and the BBC's war against Christianity

If a nation is founded on Christian principles and consists of individuals bound by a confession and taught a creed, they are unlikely to be swayed by a story, a film or a piece of music that contravenes those standards. The English surrender to the Arts appeared as Christian belief declined. It has produced a society that is susceptible to be influenced through artistic channels, as expounded in Music Mania.

In Germany, society was controlled by music. In France, by paintings. The English have a most particular weakness for stories. And this weakness was deliberately exploited through Dr. Finlay's Casebook (1962-1971). The programme was well-developed before the propaganda started. The characters were well-known and eminently likeable. Dr. Finlay, hot-headed, impetuous, always learning something. Dr. Cameron, wise, loveable, trustworthy, always inclined to drink something. And Janet, so faithful, so safe and pure, as the housekeeper.

Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper

Dr. Finlay, Dr. Cameron, Janet the housekeeper


Belle: A Call for Legalised Abortion

Things changed in 1965 with an episode called Belle by Rosemary HillIt was a deliberate attempt by the BBC to promote the need for legalised abortion, 2 years before the law in England was changed. Belle is a back street abortionist, who lures desperate women to her rooms and treats them abominably in return for money (not that doctors work for free!). Some of the women are badly injured in her hands, some die. The doctors are left shaking their heads and given the words (in paraphrase):

What are we supposed to do? The women come to us and we can do nothing to help them? Our hands are tied. So they seek help from someone who can do something. But what a mess. If only the law could be changed!

The young women are treated as victims of circumstance. Their condition is nothing to do with them. They are as innocent as if they had all been raped.


Happy Release: A Call for Legalised Euthanasia

In 1967 there is Happy Release by N. J. Crisp. This time we are treated to euthanasia. A man, who once was a chemist, is looking after a wife with terminal cancer. She is in such pain. She wants to die. Can he not help her? Is there no way? The lady dies far quicker than expected and the doctors are thrust into a moral dilemma:

She is dead. Her suffering is over. If her husband had helped her die, then it was only a mercy. Poor woman. She was so brave. It would not have been anything other than an act of love if her husband had killed her. Who could blame him? Who cares? Perhaps if a doctor could help. Who knows? 

Suicide or murder. Neither would have a stigma. The only possible judgment would be on someone who did nothing and thereby was complicit in causing her agony.


The Conscience Clause: A Call for Compulsory Vaccination

The intention to propagandise was confirmed by the third episode in this style: the 1968 episode The Conscience Clause by Elaine Morgan. Dr. Finlay vaccinates a child against smallpox. She did not want her child vaccinated as she had listened to a local lawyer who is not pro-vaccination (he had been vaccinated as a child and then caught the disease badly). Dr. Finlay persuades her to have the injection. The little baby girl is the beloved first child for the couple. Her father is away at sea and looking forward to meeting her. But before he returns, the child has died in a gruesome, gangrenous way - not fit to be seen - only a few days after the vaccination was administered. Dr. Finlay reproaches himself throughout the episode. Dr. Cameron's character is vehemently pro-vaccination. He expresses little concern for the bereaved parents or for the suffering of the baby. He wants to vindicate the necessity of vaccination through a post-mortem. So, the writer pulls a rabbit out of the hat. It was congenital syphillis. What do you know? The vaccination was just a coincidence. It was all the parent's fault, anyway:

Bernard Shaw says that vaccinations are dangerous.

What medical qualifications does he have, Doctor?

None at all, man.

Then how can he know more than you, Doctor?

How indeed, man!


In Conclusion

It is not that other episodes of Dr. Finlay's casebook are without problems. The premise of Dr. Finlay's world is insidiously subversive because we have all the trappings of a sweet old Scottish town without the Church. Oh, there is from time to time a minister. He is sometimes a cross man who beats his daughter, other times he's an idiot. He is never a respectable, admirable man. And that leaves a void for the doctors to fill. Time and time again, the doctors face a moral dilemma in the lives of their patients. In reality - in the 1920s - the Church was central and the ministers would have known everyone in their parish. They would have been involved in the lives of the people and available to support, advise and counsel. In their absence, the doctors offer a ministry of medicine. They do not always know the answers, but what would we do without them? The legacy of such shows is a nation that adores the NHS to the point of aggressive idolatry today.

As for the propaganda to promote abortion, euthanasia and vaccination, that was a deliberate subversion. A story may be set up in such a way that the characters can only reach the conclusion designed by the writer: that is the point. Back people into a corner so that they will conform to a new standard, as influenced by the television, until they enforce one another into believing righteousness is error and principle is cruelty. Cut off from a Biblical worldview, separated from the Church, and divorced from the law of God. Damned. 

Postscript: 8th September 2018

It is interesting to note that the final (8th) series of Dr, Finlay's Casebook was a total disaster. Some of the writers are otherwise competent, if not brilliant, in their craft, but it could not have been worse if they had each produced their scripts while under the influence and the Script Editor had gone shopping. The programme loses all sight of the medical emphasis in favour of soap opera style melodrama. The writers change the characters in order to serve their own script, often contradicting traits which had been well-established in the series.

1. A Late Spring by Donald Bull

This is the most successful of the stories in the final series because the romance of Finlay's father is self-contained and both neatly handled and acted. The audience might have hoped instead for some resolution to Finlay's everlasting boyhood, not least because the actor (Bill Simpson) is looking his age and it is ridiculous to have him still posing as the young doctor. 

2. Comin' thro' the Rye by Anthony Steven

This is a strange story concerning sickness associated with a mill. While ergot's poisoning is well documented, the writer used it as an excuse to do what he wanted. So some of the people poisoned are bed-bound, with an old lady taken very poorly. One young man thinks he can fly. Dr. Cameron, meanwhile, thinks he is 17 again. Such dramatic expediency is embarrassing and illogical. The denouement is not with the miller who had caused the contamination by being criminal. No, it is with the baker whose wife had used the contaminated flour and thought it looked funny, but had still told her to use it. So Cameron lets the baker think that he has eaten scones baked with the same flour. It is unbecoming in Dr. Cameron and out of all proportion to punish the baker for his poor judgment.

3. Not Qualified by John Pennington

This is absolutely the most depressing episode of Dr. Finlay's Casebook to survive. It concerns a couple who live in an isolated cottage. He is very possessive. She is inclined to hypochondria. Finlay interferes and there is nothing wrong with that because the series relies on him getting out of his depth. But in this case he precipitates a crisis in a relationship that was unhappy but stable. By his interference, the woman  tries to leave the man (who is not really her husband). He pursues her and after a long chase, kills her quite savagely. The doctors visit him back at the cottage. He is calmer than they have ever known him to be and acts as though his "wife" is still alive. He has lost his mind completely, a long shadow from his war experiences perhaps. But they are left looking for a body, having done nothing but harm their patients.

4. Dorrity by Owen Holder

This is a most unwatchable piece of television. It concerns a wild young woman called Dorrity, whose father dies in the wilderness of Scotland. Dr. Cameron had visited him and the scenes of his journey there are hard to endure, as the actor is too old to be put through such rough terrain. (Perhaps it was intended to be Dr. Finlay's role and Simpson's drinking was causing a problem?) In any case, Dr. Cameron will not leave the orphaned young woman alone and takes her back to his home and he puts her to bed. The housekeeper, Janet's confusion at this situation is understandable. What then follows is not. Dorrity is a free-spirit whose name should not be mispronounced as Dorothy because she is not a gift of God. She does not believe in God. She does not believe in wearing decent clothes, or eating meat, or behaving with propriety. In fact, she is everything two bachelor doctors should hate. But they do not. They come to believe that she has the power to heal by touch and they want her to train as a doctor. Although she has only had a rough education, they secure her a place and the funds to train! Then she is deposited back home by a fellow-student because she does not fit. She had argued with every professor and learned nothing. Instead of being cross that they had been played / stupid, the doctors just shake their heads that Dorrity is too wonderful for words. She is not. She is an untamed and uncivilised woman, unfit for society and unwilling to learn, right in her own eyes. It is unbelievable that Dr. Finlay the arch-sceptic should fall for a faith healer or that Dr. Cameron, with his years of wisdom and experience, should surrender his house and love to a woman of no charms whatsoever.

5. The Honeypot by Stanley Price

Continuing with the theme of the doctors not actually doing anything medical and no longer being under any pressure to look after patients at all hours of the day and night, this episode's distraction is an American who calls round to buy Arden House, the doctors' residence. He offers a lot of money for the property and says that he wants to ship it brick-by-brick back home to the states as it was his ancestral home. The doctors are indecisive. Meanwhile, two warring sides of the a family try to get the American to buy their homes, on a similar basis. They patch up their differences long enough to make a concerted effort. The dumb-Yank-abroad act is spoiled by the fact that he is really a con-man, who is spreading the rumour of his wealth just long enough to get a local businessman to give him £500. Then he leaves town. It has nothing at all to do with the main characters or medicine. It is a filler at best.

6. A Good Prospect by David Hopkins

This is a story about boxing. The doctors reveal that it had never occurred to them that boxing could result in brain injuries! We are braced for something significant to happen in this regard, as we watch the up-and-coming boxer choose to fight against the wishes of his fiancee. Family quarrels ensue. He does not want to be like his father (who actually seems a very nice old man and his words - in front of his father - seem cruel in the extreme). He meets an experienced boxer who has lost a few marbles. There is a sub-plot involving two established characters who are against gambling and then become compulsive gamblers in connection to boxing. It makes no sense. Dr. Cameron gets a cameo looking at an injured fighter and Dr. Finlay takes on the unlikely role of boxing trainer. But it is essentially a story about boxing and as boring as that sounds to those for whom it holds no interest at all.

7. Responsibilities by John Pennington

This episode is about a father and son. The mother died 6 weeks after the boy was born, but she had already dedicated him to become a doctor. He is now on the verge of going to study. He has a secret girlfriend and his father a secret fiancee. The father will not tell his son about his step-mother-to-be in case it distracts him from getting the gold medal in his medical training. But of course it comes out and the son is soon ill. Very ill. His girlfriend visits. All secrets are in the open. Dr. Finlay believes the sickness is very serious. So Dr. Cameron calls with his own gold medal and lets the boy hold it, like you would with a three year old. The young man dies and his father is superstitious enough to believe that it was because of the stress of finding out his father was going to marry. The wedding is cancelled. Then, in the last scene, he is kind to the lady again. The end. If the boy's mother had died in childbirth, then her husband might have blamed himself for her death and it could have cast a long shadow of guilt that has become focused on the son becoming a doctor and his mind snaps at the disaster of his son's sickness. But nothing so coherent. The characters behave irrationally and it is unsatisfying to watch.

8. A Question of Values by Martin Worth

This story sets rich vs. poor. In the poor family we have a sick daughter who has either asthma or emphysema, depending on the scene. She needs good food and fresh air. Her brother wants a revolution. Her father needs a job. Dr. Finlay is called from the rich family's party to attend to the sick daughter in the poor family. When he returns to the party he has lost his appetite, gets drunk and behaves boorishly to his hosts for being rich. It transpires that the poor father inherited a broken clock that he loves. It is worth a fortune. Will he sell it to the rich man in order to give his family a better life? He will not because he loves the clock and would rather be poor with it and have life worth living. His son leaves in disgust, so there is no income coming in at all. The poor man gets a job with the rich man and then, for no real reason, lets him buy the clock. We finish with a charity auction at which the rich woman manipulates her friends to help the poor, although she does not like the poor in person. The poor man has bought his family a better house and has £30 left which he uses to buy a violin made by Dr. Cameron. So the poor family have material comfort, and a father scraping a violin upstairs. That's it. Another tale in which Dr. Finlay and Dr. Cameron are bit-players in a false drama, where characters say and do what is necessary to reach the end point, however implausible and unenjoyable it is to watch.

Such poor writing is not accidental. The actors were good, but they cannot do anything with the material. The series which had become a tool of propaganda ended by not being able to tell a simple story any more.

Songs for suffering hearts

As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart. ~ Proverbs 25.20

When Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America, many of the artistic types in my social media feed merged into a single repetitive voice: On the one hand, they thought the world had come to an abrupt end; on the other hand, they believed that the inevitable misery would be good for Art.

You see, they believe that Art comes from suffering. (By having their will crossed in a political verdict, they think they are suffering.) They also believe that, if they make music, recite poetry and tell stories in the face of evil, then their Art will atone for the sins of the world. 

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The Search for Happy Music

Some years ago I signed a contract to become a library track composer for a company in New York. They wanted one thing: happy music.

The task did not seem too difficult. I had written happy music before. Unfortunately, such works had always been in conjunction with visuals or words, which tended to inform the listener that the music was happy. So, while I attempted to produce such stimuli for myself, the resulting compositions were not really "happy". There was melody, sweetness, sincerity, harmony, beauty, but happiness proved elusive.

Since then, I have scored many promotional films. The nature of film production inevitably includes some stages of revision, but the only suggestion ever made for my music is that it should be more upbeat / happy. These two experiences - in promos and library composition - have aroused my curiosity about what precisely makes music “happy”.

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The Lost English Accent and Style in Singing and Composition

No one asks why Adele speaks like a Londoner and sings like an American.

I once put this down to the obvious commercial reason that to sing in a manner that pleases American audiences is to make your music potentially more successful on the worldwide stage.

But that is too simplistic a solution. Writing Music Mania: How the Victorians joined the cult of Classical Music and why England has never been the same since, made me think about about the effect of accent on musical style. For instance, listen to this:

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Christopher Robin and the Canon of Composers

The Canon of music is not an organic process by which talent is filtered. In Music Mania I show how the Canon is deliberately controlled to produce and promote a particular type of "new music". The musician may be:

  • a) Remembered with reverence and cherished in memory
  • b) Forgotten completely, buried while still alive under change of style
  • c) Remembered with derision as an example to others

Group (a) are the Canonical composers (from J. S. Bach to David Bowie). Group (c) are mocked as composers of Light Music - no matter how well they wrote (from Johann Strauss Jnr. to Ron Goodwin). Group (b) is less easy to characterise by dint of their obscurity. We might say that Vera Lynn is unfairly idolised compared to Gracie Fields, who had a much longer career and did a lot to support the troops. (Ask the generation who are now in their 80s and they smile at Gracie's name.) But there are people even more forgotten. I have given them a voice in Music Mania. We meet G. H. Clutsam, Stiles Allen, Frieda Hempel, Reginald Somerville, Hubert Bath, Ivy St. Helier, Thorpe Bates and Harold Fraser-Simson.

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How the Death of Charles the First changed the Victorian Church

Before the Victorian rediscovery of Christmas, there were two special non-Sabbath days in the English calendar: Easter and January 30th. If the former is obvious, the latter is more obscure. It was set aside in memoriam of Charles the First, 30th January being the date of his execution. (Historians tell us that this was for the rarity of "regicide", although Kings like Richard III were killed in battle. In terms of the execution of a monarch, we need only look to Queen Anne, second wife of Henry VIII. She was given a coronation in her own name and would have been Queen in the event of Henry VIII's death. If Charles I was the victim of regicide, then Queen Anne was even more the victim of regina-cide.)

But what does this have to do with music?

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