Monday, July 10, 2006

1948 and all that...

Sparked by a TV programme about the years following World War II, I started looking into how things were in Britain in the year I was born. The overall picture was pretty grim: the country was in the midst of an anticlimactic depression, rationing was still in place, and the activities of black-market gangs (the "spivs") were all too reminiscent of the inner-city drug gangs that cause such pain to the police in our own day.

As I looked into that time a little further, more and more parallels kept appearing between then and now. The sense of impending social disintegration, the apparent impotence of the police in the face of both organised crime and individual violence, the prevalence of firearms and firearm-related incidents (so many soldiers had brought their guns home from the war - even my upright uncle had a service revolver and ammo in his desk), the use of edged weapons to intimidate and wound (the cutthroat razor was the weapon of choice - see Brighton Rock).

Yet the country recovered; on the face of it, it was Clement Atlee's programme of Nationalisation, Aneurin Bevan's cradle-to-grave Welfare State, and the foundation of the National Health Service that helped pull us back from the brink of chaos.

But what was the Church doing? I can find little direct evidence of the current of Christian life in the late 40's and early 50's. Archbishop William Temple had died in office not long after D-Day, and Geoffrey Fisher had taken his place. But what were people praying? How did the ordinary Christian see things developing? What was the Church's stance on the situation, officially and privately? I don't even recall much from CS Lewis, very active through all that period (he published Miracles in 1947, and Mere Christianity in '52) in the way of direct social or prophetic commentary. Evelyn Underhill and Charles Williams, both of whom might have had something interesting to say on the subject, were both dead by 1945. I can't ask either of my parents, nor their sisters or brothers, since all died in between the 70's and the early 90's.

I shall continue to explore, and I'll post anything worth posting. In the meantime, if anyone reading this knows anything about the spiritual dimensions of this strange and troubled period in British history, I'd be more than grateful if they'd point me in the right direction!

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