Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The great tradition

I was recently reading a biography of George Eliot and was much struck by the majesty of the turn of the British non-conformist intellectual elite towards political liberalism, agnosticism and progress during the middle part of the 19th century. Yes, this great shift surely was absurdly highminded, demanding impossible moral and intellectual rigidity (and frigidity) from people, expecting things not remotely possible in this fallen world, doing not only much good but also much harm in the process. This said, compared with the contemporary high Tory wallowing in the miserableness of the human condition, there is a tone of great human decency in this partly absurd wish to create (and the expectation of seeing) a new Jerusalem on Earth. They were momentous times indeed and we still do feel the impact of this great hope for improvement and progress - even if it is ever weakening, being gradually drowned by the current Western orgy of consumerism and materialism. Of course, coming from the liberal Christian background of modern Finnish Pietism, there is much that is familiar with this peculiarly Protestant form of secular longing for a proper home in this world. There is an unmistakeable continuum of thought originating both in the sources of the Reformation and in the Reformation itself that is still supporting progressive political structures around the world - surely, naturally, getting gradually fainter as is any faith in conscious progress.

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