Pulse

Hands up everyone who has read Lord of the World, the classic apocalyptic novel by Robert Hugh Benson. Were you all as amazed as I was to read all about the globalization of socialist, Marxist ideology, the rise of international anti-Christian policy-making bodies? The predictions about the mechanization and dehumanization of our societies? The institutionalization of what we now call the Culture of Death?

Robert Hugh Benson was a convert from the Anglican Church, in that group of early 20th century English Catholic intellectual luminaries that were thought at the time to be the leaders of a new “springtime” for the Church in the English-speaking world. It’s more than a mere pity that this movement was so rudely interrupted by… certain events in the Church and the world in the 60s. Who knows what might have happened.

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Lord of the World, though it has been completely forgotten by the secular world, is a famous and important book in other circles. It is the story of a society careening headlong into disaster. A global version of the kind of catastrophe that routinely befell the unwise heroes of the ancient Greek myths, the ones whom the gods found guilty of hubris, that ancient and deadly human failing.

We do so want to convince ourselves, don’t we, that we frail and limited humans know everything we need to know to be the boss, to run our own show, in the words of the New Atheists, to “create our own reality.” We look at our wonderful selves and say, those fatal words, “Who needs God?”

Robert Hugh Benson, a son of an Anglican archbishop, educated in the old-fashioned English upper class way at the right public schools and Eton and Cambridge, invented a highly technological, globalist society, with mass communication, mass immigration and rapid mass transport. He wrote about air travel, about instant communication across continents, and most significantly, about the adoption throughout the world of the principles of the Enlightenment, of the French Revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity, with man the author of his own destiny – and extrapolated from them where they would ultimately lead. And he published this, his most famous book, in 1907. A sharp lesson for those few of us left who still believe our current cultural malaise appeared out of thin air in 1965.

The book is about the end of the world, the rise of anti-Christ, and, even more importantly, about the growth of the culture that allowed that charismatic “man of sin,” Julius Felsenburgh, to come to prominence. A darkness of the intellect, a dedication to distraction and self-indulgence on a scale previously unheard of, but now possible because of our technologies.

I mention it today only because a news item happened to catch my eye. The Dutch have launched their mobile euthanasia teams, to fill in where some doctors, who still retain vestigial Christian medical ethics, have refused to kill their patients. The story brought shockingly to mind a single memorable scene from the novel.

Early in the book, a government “volor,” an airplane, has crashed in the middle of London and the protagonist, the young Catholic priest Fr. Percy Franklin, happened to be on the scene, though he was not yet known to Mabel, a pretty young wife and devotee of the officially sanctioned state socialist atheism:

Mabel scarcely knew what happened next; but she found herself a moment later forced forward by some violent pressure from behind, til she stood shaking from head to foot with some kind of smashed body of a man moaning and stretching at her feet. There was a sort of articulate language coming from it; she caught distinctly the names of Jesus and Mary; then a voice hissed suddenly in her ears: “Let me through. I am a priest.”

She stood there a moment longer, dazed by the suddenness of the whole affair, and watched almost unintelligently the grey-haired young priest on his knees, with his coat torn open, and a crucifix out; she saw him bend close, wave his hand in a swift sign, and heard a murmur of a language she did not know. Then he was up again, holding the crucifix out before him, and she saw him begin to move forward into the midst of the red-flooded pavement, looking this way and that as if for a signal.

Down the steps of the great hospital on her right came figures running now, hatless, each carrying what looked like an old fashioned camera. She knew what those men were, and her heart leaped in relief. They were the ministers of euthanasia.

Somehow, this classically educated young man, before most people had electricity in their homes, predicted our world today, down to some astonishingly prescient details. Benson died in 1914 at the age of 42. I somehow wonder if perhaps God decided that he had done his bit, and got him out of harm’s way before the start of the War-that-ended-everything.

I know I’m not alone in revisiting the book, and wondering if we are simply creating its nightmarish future, one step at a time. 

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