The strength of community in Poland and Ukraine is best explained by faith
Dominican Basilica of the Holy Trinity, Krakow.
Plainchant is surely the proper music of old churches. As the voices rise and echo in the stone spaces, at 11 o’clock on Good Friday night, a line of ordinary Krakowians of all ages queue patiently down the aisle to take their turn kneeling on the flagstones before a small crucifix. Each person spends some minutes in prayer.
The Adoration of the Cross is perhaps the purest rite of the European Church, as simple and direct as plainchant. In this quiet gesture all our ideas are gathered and tethered to their source: the catholicity of Christendom (including its bastard offspring, secular liberalism) returns to the foundational fact that God took on flesh and died for us. This improbable belief, and the history it has made, is what binds us on this continent together. At Easter, at the turning of the year, we take hold of it again.
In February 1941, when Germany occupied the whole of mainland Europe, Winston Churchill quoted Arthur Hugh Clough to remind people to look to America for hope:
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.
Today the land to westward shines only dimly, shrouded in the fog of its own religious conflicts. But here in Eastern Europe we see the strength of communities still held together by a common idea of themselves.
Ukraine is perhaps the most Christian country in Europe. And in the resistance of the Ukrainians we are witnessing what strong families, communities and nations are capable of. Surely only a country where people have a sense of living for a purpose outside themselves, who feel there is something sacred about the relationships of life, would fight so hard, and take so much punishment.
The social resilience of Ukraine, or Poland, or Hungary, is an asset not to be counted in the GDP tables or the measures of how ‘open’ a country is. Resilience like this is civilisation’s best hope against the threats that assail us: barbarous godless nationalism like Russia’s, but also the emerging biostate, justified by Covid and enabled by technology, of which the current lockdown of Shanghai is a grotesque harbinger (“Control your soul’s desire for freedom”, warn the tannoy drones flying between the tower blocks: “Do not open your window to sing.”) Only a resilient society will withstand what tech and power will try to do to us.
Christianity remains the best basis for social resilience, as well as the best foundation of religious tolerance and political pluralism. In the UK we are doing a good job of undermining the place of Christianity in our public morals, however. In the last month we have effectively legalised abortion on demand; abolished the marriage vows, or at least reduced marriage to nothing more the status of boyfriends and girlfriends; and announced a law that could make traditional teaching about sex and sexuality, and counselling for people who wish to follow that teaching, illegal. This is a poor basis for the stronger families, stronger communities, and stronger nation that we need.