Modern Britain

Check out Auntie Joanna if you would like to visit a typical British town on a Saturday night…

… arrived in Manchester late on Saturday night, and the city centre was lively with shrieking, shouting young people, many drunk, a few vomiting or slumped in pub doorways. With intermittent blasts of driving rain, it was a vivid but depressing scene. Several thumped on the doors of my taxi as it took me to what was once the Free Trade Hall, the facade now fronting a vast modern and very comfortable hotel all thick glass doors and shiny steel and gleaming dark wood. The taxi-driver said the crowds were celebrating St Patrick’s Day, but that most Saturdays were a bit like this. I stepped over a fat drunken girl in the doorway as her friends mumbled awkwardly and a couple of lads started to argue with my taxi-driver.

The disgusting public behavior of British young people is a disgrace to a once great and noble country. What Auntie Joanna witnessed is typical not only of the large urban areas, but the beautiful old cathedral towns. When we lived there a friend told us how, during a visit to the historic and beautiful city of Bath, he tried to get into a toilet in McDonalds because his three year old needed to go. When they finally got in they were confronted with three drug addicts shooting up who told them go f*** off.

Other tales of horror abound. One of the Saturday night hobbies after they get reeling drunk is to go ‘dogging’. This consists of meeting total strangers in the park, in city doorways, in parking lots, and copulating with them in public then moving on. British young people go on holiday to the Spanish and Greek resorts and scandalize the natives with behavior that would make Caligula blush. Open drunkeness, brawling, nudity, open public sexual activity, drugs…you name it.

Some time ago a British newspaper asked an American journalist based in London to write a letter home to his countrymen about modern Britain. He wrote words to this effect: “You think of England as winding country lanes, mellow village churches, thatched cottages, tweed jacketed gents smoking a pipe, Miss Marple, Winnie the Pooh, cricket on the green and ‘is there honey still for tea?’ You think of riding to hounds, the sweet sounding choirs of cathedrals and college chapels, the golden stone of Oxford and Cambridge and the noble streets of old London town. Think again. Modern Britain is a country of despair. The young vomit in the streets and pee in doorways. The cities are blighted with traffic congestion, bleak modern architecture and immigrants from all over the world. England needs them because her birth rate is dropping and they can’t keep the economy going without them. Modern Britain has all the worst things about modern America without any of the best things. The streets are crowded with crass commercial chain stores and fast food restaurants. What is still old and venerable has been bought up by nouveau riche parvenues and turned all tacky and cheap.

Do you want ‘merry ole England?’ Stay home and watch a BBC drama.

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  • Come, come, Father, cheer up! Britain still has all the lovely things you list as well. Like everywhere else, it has things both good and bad. And some of us are trying to increase the good and decrease the bad.I’m so sorry that your stay in Britain didn’t leave you with as warm feelings for the British as they feel for you. You are remembered with affection (even though we never met while you were here).

  • A bit harsh Father, yes there is truth in what you say, but we do also have winding country lanes, thatched cottages, Cathedral Choirs, and cricket on the green. Our police still don’t generally carry guns and our crime rates don’t yet have a patch on those in the states….

  • Jeron

    Sounds like a typical night in a gay nightclub.

  • Well that’s how I remember it boys. In the ordinary street where we lived, in the seven years we lived there we had: three racial attacks on the black gospel church, known pedophiles living in the next street, a transvestite who walked up and down our road, our car was stolen twice, our house broken into (while we were inside sleeping) a flasher and various con men calling at the door.I realize there are still many good things in Britain, but my lines are said in pity, not in blame. They are a lament for a country I consider my adopted home, and a noble land (and heritage) that I love.

  • I can’t help but think…Theodore Dalrymple.

  • Tim

    I’m afraid that Father Dwight is right.I live in a small town on the East Sussex coast called Bexhill.Crime & violent assaults are now commonplace.Morals appear to have gone out the window.If you attempt to defend yourself you’ll probabably end up in trouble with the police yourself.The UK is dropping into anarchy in my opinion.It’s quite frightening.

  • I don’t know, Dwight. I recognize the sentiment, but I don’t think America is really that much better off. I don’t usually say things like this. You know me, put the best forward. But I tend to see things a bit closer than most Americans, since I walk everywhere. I’ve been told to f*** off many a time. In the evening, I’ll walk to my parish church, down the main street of the neighborhood. You’d be amazed at the things I see. Even I wouldn’t step off on one of the side streets. I may be a bit crazy, but not suicidal. I see drunks, people high on drugs, prostitutes, every sort of sordid behavior. Not just young people, either. I can’t go to the evening Latin Mass, because it’s in a neighborhood even I wouldn’t enter on foot, after dark. Downtown’s fairly safe at night. That’s because there’s no one there after dark. It’s the main business district of a city of 300,000 and it’s like a ghost town.I’m afraid it’s no better in small towns. I could tell a lot of horror stories about the town of 15,000 I used to live in. Sidewalks covered in vomit every Saturday morning. It’s the culture of death, my friend, and it’s everywhere. The only good news is that it’s drowning in its own filth and can’t stagger on much longer. Then, we pick up the pieces.

  • Sadly, the attempts by Pastor in Valle and David Palmer to soften the harsh edge of Fr Dwight’s post cannot alter the fact that what is described here happens, happens all the time and happens all over the country.Last week I was in Israel. My daughter, as daughters will, was somewhat concerned for my safety in a conspicuously unstable part of the world. In the event, my only moments of unease were when I was sitting on a London underground train from Heathrow Airport on my return last Saturday evening. Nothing ‘happened’. There was no ‘incident’. But the general level of alcohol (and drug) fuelled loutish behaviour by young men and women would have scared anyone of a nervous disposition and was singularly unpleasant for the rest of us. Yes, it was St Patrick’s Day but it’s like that most Friday and Saturday nights and not just in London.I live in the second smallest Cathedral city in England. There has been a determined effort in recent years by the local police to crack down on antisocial behaviour and the situation has improved. But only provided the local citizenry and visitors are willing to accept the most appalling levels of bad language yelled in an unruly fashion from one side of the street to the other by hooded ‘young people’ who wander aimlessly around the place in large intimidating groups. It’s relatively quiet at the moment. It’s cold outside. But just wait until it gets a little warmer and light evenings get longer . . .Of course it’s not the only facet of English life. The Lake District is still beautiful. One can still attend Evensong at 42 English cathedrals most days of the week. There are still punts on the Cam and Cherwell. The rowing community still congregates for the Henley Regatta, as does the racing community at Ascot and opera buffs at Glyndebourne. But side by side with all this there is a profound moral malaise in our society that manifests itself in the behaviour of children at school and on the street and in the incapacity of their elders to do anything effective about it. But it’s not just the behaviour of young people. The extremes of football hooliganism have mercifully been curtailed but, once again, provided there is a willingness to accept as normal lower levels of bad and unruly behaviour by people. And then look at such phenomena as road (and air) rage and abusive behaviour perpetrated against teachers and hospital staff respectively by parents and patients to say nothing of the attacks on clergy.We have become a society without constraints be they moral, ethical or political. We have thrown off religion and with it any notion of the absolutes of right and wrong. And in its place we have put a lemming-like pursuit of instant gratification and material consumption as a result of which we are busy destroying ourselves (through over eating and drinking) and the environment in which we live.I don’t believe this situation is confined to England but I do think that for a range of reasons England currently displays some of the more extreme symptoms.So yes Fr Dwight, I think you are correct in what you write but the underlying causes of what you (and I now) describe in English society are, I would argue, by no means confined to these shores.

  • I try to convince myself we’re like Rome, toward the end. Keeps me from thinking of Greece during the Syracusan War. More hope that way.

  • Forgive me for going on, but I must add to Stephen Wikner’s assessment and say that the barbaric behavior is not limited to the working classes. In my experience there is just as much drunkeness, adultery, greed and boorishness among those who go to Ascot, Glyndeborne and Henley. The only difference is that they drink and bonk more tastefully. How often I’ve seen upper class English people sloshed and saying things like, “George and I are getting together with Sally’s clan on the weekend down in the country…What that means is that George and Susan are going down with George’s ex wife Sally and her new husband and there will be a whole clan of children from multiple couplings and various marriages and they will all get sloshed together. It’s the same–it just looks more refined.And yes, we have drunks and sluts in America too, but the decline I experienced in Britain since my move there in 1979 is far greater than what I observed on moving back to the USA last year. There may be many reasons for this. I only offer my own observations.

  • Thus does the debonair nihilism of the dons become the murderous nihilism of the thugs. Who taught these empty souls that sex was nothing but a pleasure without transcendence or a moral ground? Where did they learn that the only meaning in life comes from one’s own “lifestyle choices”? How did they begin to think of drunken, drug-fueled orgies as the purpose of their shrunken, half-human lives. Generations of cynical professors, faithless vicars, adulterous pop stars, dishonest brokers, death-dealing doctors, self-important political hacks, self-serving bishops, and self-parodying Royals have done their work exceedingly well, and now the youth of Britain do not know why they exist. No wonder the young Muslims of Manchester look upon this spectacle with disgust and contempt and wait for Jihad to cleanse the country and restore moral and social order.St. Augustine, St. Alban, St. Bede, St. Cuthbert, St. George: pray for Mary’s Dowry!

  • mike w.

    One need not go to Britian to see what you describe. We have the same here, have you been to Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, its all just as you saw in Britian. How about the brawl in Madison Square Garden durning the March Madness tournament. Sad but true Father, any town USA.

  • Anonymous

    As an old hippie, I know very well that we’re now reaping the seeds that our generation sowed…on both sides of the Atlantic. I also know that “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” If the life & resurrection of Jesus means anything, it means that these kids who “don’t know why they exist” are resurrectable. The missing link is committed Christians who are ready & willing to go to the mat for them & their salvation. All the great missionaries of the last 2000 yrs understood that it was going to take everything they had to confront the cultures of death of their time. They were willing to join Jesus & pay that price. What’s lacking now are parishes which are Awake & Committed to reclaiming this culture. Where are the people who fast everyday for this intention? Where are the people who go into the streets & subways & aren’t afraid of being cussed at & thrown up on? Where are the people who throw the name of Jesus’ Divine Mercy to these young people like the lifeline it is??? Wringing our hands & stepping over the bodies in the doorways doesn’t make us any better than the folks who passed by Samaritan on the other side of the road.

  • Anonymous

    Thr Friars of the Renewal and various other youth oriented orders and apostolates are doing great work in the inner city and with young people.

  • Anonymous

    Thr Friars of the Renewal and various other youth oriented orders and apostolates are doing great work in the inner city and with young people.

  • The original post and subsequent comments paint a vivid picture and present, at least anecdotally, the the social need that personal faith and cultural religion feed: moral dignity. But if, as Fr. Newman noted, Muslims look at “Christian” behavior with disgust — behavior that, if memory serves, is not far from what the Crusaders brought to the Middle East — why is the “missing link” necessarily anonymous’ “committed Christians” and not the Muslims who are there in numbers and already committed?(I beg your pardon, Fr. Longenecker. Did you say “bonk”?)

  • Yes, Fr D is correct in adding that the behaviour I described in my earlier comment is classless. And perhaps one of the reasons no-one in authority has yet come up with effective remedial action, is that they have yet to understand that genteel middle class manifestations of such behaviour are morally indestinguishable from the boorishness on the streets about which everyone complains.What I am less sure about is his comparisons with the current situation in the United States. Here I am at a disadvantage because it is a while since I was there. However my observance of the behaviour of Americans in this country and elsewhere in Europe backed up by what I read and see reflected in the Hollywood mirror, suggests there’s little to distinguish them from their English counterparts – except for one thing which I will come to in a minute.One of the problems here – the key problem in my view – is the unprecedented level of affluence of the populace at large which fuels not only our consumer-diven economy but also the greed, envy and desire for instant and unfettered gratification that lies at the root of so much of the prevailing social malaise in Western society. The other factor is ignorance. We have easy access to more raw information than at any time in human history and yet the level of ignorance about who and what we are and whence and from what we come is, I find, quite breathtaking. On both these counts – affluence and ignorance – I find John Doe and John Bull more or less on level pegging.But the one thing that separates them is religion. I may not have much personal sympathy with bible belt protestantism or with the liberal agenda of TEC, but at least there is something there to hold on to in an otherwise nihilistic landscape.

  • It is always dangerous, of course, to reach general conclusions about an entire nation or culture from one’s own experience, but based on what I’ve seen with my own eyes and what others (whose judgment I trust) have confirmed from their experience is this: Britain is now a post-Christian (that is, neo-pagan) society in a way that is simply not (yet) true of the United States, and this difference tells in many ways, including making distinctions between the misbehavior of young Britons and young Americans. To put it most directly: there is an existential nihilism in the British chaos that has not yet extinguished the residue of Christianity in the States. That, at any rate, has been my experience.

  • Yes, I think Fr Jay sums it up well.

  • As an American who has lived most of his life in the UK, I can say there is a difference between the two countries morally and spiritually.Yes, America has its share of the swamp, but the main difference is that America is still a religious country. I don’t just mean that more Americans go to church, but that morality and reasons for morality remain much more within the whole worldview and vocabulary of this society.I work in a Catholic High School. When we have chastity programs, drugs awareness program and drink programs that stress high standards the whole society supports it. The parents, the parishes, and the kids too.Americans believe that high standards are not only necessary, but possible to attain. This is because they believe there is meaning to life, a God in heaven and an eternity to play for.If a chastity program would be suggeste even in a Catholic School in Britain, it would be ridiculed and dismissed as impossible for teen agers to attain. If anyone suggests that teens not drink they’re considered prudish, unrealistic spoil sports.I realize it is a generalization, but America might not be winning the culture war, but at least she is still fighting.

  • I could not believe that I tuned in to find this post at the top of your blog, Father. How apt. In fact, I wrote something very similar back in January entitled ‘Nineveh’s Choice'( know what your American commentators mean when they say that America is just as bad, but I am not so sure that they are right.England (moreso, I would say, than my recently adopted Wales) has sold its birthright for expensive houses, flash cars, and alcohol beyond reckoning.It is as if in ‘fortress Europe’ one of the once-great towers has collapsed and let in the demonic hoardes. There is no fight in the British like you would find in America (I think of the conservative think-tanks and publications I link to on my blog). They have rolled over and accepted the culture of death without so much as a hand raised in objection. Just last week, an Anglican vicar was stabbed to death in the doorway of his home in front of his wife and daughter, and within the same day or so, a young, black Catholic sixth-form student was chased and stabbed to death in Hammersmith while the girls stood by chanting ‘kill him, kill him.’Funny there was no mention of any of this when Brown released his budget in parliament today.Oh well. So we have rampant death. At least we get tax breaks.

  • Mark (UK)

    Perhaps you will be good enough to remember your British cousins at Mass, and petition Our Lady for help and protection as we try to raise catholic families, giving the best example we can, especially to our teenage children.I echo Fr. Jay Scott Newman, St. Augustine, St. Alban, St. Bede, St. Cuthbert, St. George: pray for Mary’s Dowry.

  • I think it’s clear from what I’ve said so far where I stand on all this. However I think we have to be very careful about generalising the particular. The high school programmes of which you are understandably proud, Fr Dwight, simply do not constitute the complete American picture. One of the worst current manifestations of societal barbarism in England is the emergence in some areas of a knife culture. It is a symptom not a cause of what we have been talking about just as the gun culture is in America. The major difference is that the carrying of (and use of) fire arms continues to be endorsed by elements of American society that are all too often synonymous with the country’s religious core. America in general may still be a country of religious observance in a way England is not but I remain far from convinced by the value of much of what comes out of America in the name of religion. What I hear being preached from the pulpits of heavily supported tele evangelists all too often seems to justify a value system that underpins the greedy materialism which is one of America’s principal exports.The other malign export is sadly much of what comes out of Hollywood whose influence around the world should not be underestimated. I will cite just one of many possible examples. The debasement of a rich language by the ubiquitous use of mindless expletives is perhaps the single element of the English malaise that confronts people most frequently. Ordinary people in England used not to use such language with any frequency. That increasing numbers now do so is to a great extent because Hollywood and its clones have almost made it a respectable form of behaviour.Don’t get me wrong. England retains full responsibility for its own ills but I suggest America be very careful before over stating its own virtue.

  • Mark, at St Mary’s Church in Greenville we have a beautiful image of OL Walsingham. I do not celebrate Mass there without first heading for the Lady chapel and saying a decade of the Rosary for the England that I love.

  • Theodore Dalrymple’s “Life At the Bottom” gives a good picture of the England of today.

  • After reading this, I could only think, “Our Lady of Walsingham, Pray for us!”

  • Rob

    I am an American, but I studied for a semester in Europe. During my brief stay in England (less than a week), I had to sleep in an airport in London, and a woman who had too much to drink started dancing and stripping. It took an hour for the security to get there and tell her to put her clothes back on. I also saw some crazy things in another town after the football (or soccer to us Yanks) game ended. There seemed to be a mixed reaction during both of these events, some people didn’t think anything was wrong, while others were more apologetic. I don’t think that these things are any different than what you can dig up in any city in America–although maybe confined in a tighter area because of England’s relative size to America. When I read this post, I though of this, from G.K. Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse”:”The wise men know all evil thingsUnder the twisted trees,Where the perverse in pleasure pineAnd men are weary of green wineAnd sick of crimson seas.”But you and all the kind of ChristAre ignorant and brave,And you have wars you hardly winAnd souls you hardly save.”I tell you naught for your comfort,Yea, naught for your desire,Save that the sky grows darker yetAnd the sea rises higher. I don’t think that this applies just to England or America, but anywhere where there is a struggle between the powers of Satan and the Church.St. George… Pray for us!!

  • Anonymous

    I’m 18 and from England.Sadly, this article is correct. This is what I see around me when I go out with my friends on a Friday night. Indeed, some of my friends have fallen into this bleak lifestyle. Yet I suppose we must have some hope that the soul-destroying emptiness of this sort of ‘life’ will gradually be recognised. Thankfully, by the grace of God I recognised it before it dragged me down too far and was recently received into the Catholic Church. If there’s hope for me, there’s hope for England.