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It’s safe to say that in the last 10 years the world has rapidly become a much, much smaller place. People will accept that. Technology, travel and migration have brought most of this about. But what the last 10 years have also done is set everything prior to the technological revolution of the 2000’s in stone. There is little, to no evidence left of any existing Western thinking preceding 1999. Interestingly, people are less willing to accept that. Many respecters of Europe’s traditional ‘Judeo-Christian’ values insist they have not expired but are a perpetuum. This is even in the midst of a multi-religious society which loudly declares the values of ‘variety’ to be the dominant thinking of this age. In an age where the atheist, the agnostic and the skeptic are unwilling spectators to various explosive declarations of faith and religion, where is the ‘normal’ ground in Europe anymore?

Acknowledging the past is one thing. Declaring that your past as present is quite another. In this case, you’ve got to hand it to the French. As they bounded forward into the 21st century as a fully secular society, many Christians have protested that France’s zero-tolerance on all religion is an outrageous betrayal of it’s Christian roots. This is not necessarily so. The French have done what few Western countries can boast: create a society where the law makes favour and exception to no other belief system, in the interests of enforcing blanket equality and a standard of normalcy for all. In turn what this has done is to largely drive all religious belief systems underground; Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu, Christian and all. Sociologists have observed in many societies that once a thought system is driven out of public view and underground, rather than disperse, the participating community take on a covert existence. As a result, the religion that is found in France is increasingly less inactive and non-participant. This is one possible commonality which covert French Muslims, Christians and Jews share over their other European counterparts.

By strange paradox, this has kept France’s reverence for the Christian thinking of the previous age, intact and personal. In a nation which does not enforce religious thought (as did the Edwardians and Victorians), people are more inclined to choose their beliefs based on personal conviction. A belief system becomes more tangible when it costs something; those who practice a religion or faith in France now, do so as more of a sacrifice and at their own risk.  As a result the French Christian church of today, are possibly far more passionate about their faith than those of the pre-secular age. Considering that Biblical teaching discourages against apathy and indifference, France have actually done their religious history a favour by offering it a second wind, a second chance to be everything it could never be. One could even argue that this kind of church would identify far closer with the ‘true’ church of Jesus’ day. Rather than declare their historical Judeo-Christian values a perpetuum, by driving the church underground the French have kept it alive. Equally so, all other faiths and religions have benefitted from this rule also. In a surprising counter-balance, it would seem that France have covered all the angles in a way that Britain and America have struggled to.

For the rest who choose not to participate in any such religion or faith, the peace is theirs to know that French law prohibits displays of extremism in the best interests of neutrality. And therein lies the formula; to have the freedom to believe anything one wishes to, anything within the law; for the law is the final word for every man, woman and child. If it’s democracy people are looking for, isn’t this an even pathway to some kind of normalcy in Europe?

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We make no secret of our disgust these days, when it comes to our opinion of modern Britain. So few are the patriotic of British soil, that anyone daring to utter a few hopeful musings is quickly shot down with a range of political and social artillery. We point to the miserable, grey sky and declare, “Look at it! Who wants to live in this dump?!” We squirm our way off of packed public transport and exhort, “What a hole this place has turned into. England’s become no better than a third-world country!” Time and time again, I’ve witnessed the speed at which the jolly advocate of the homeland, will mournfully give way to the protagonists of pragmatism (say that with your mouth full). Whether down the pub or over coffee, with a “Yeah, I s’pose you’re right…” we’ve fast turned ourselves into a grumbling, unbelieving people. Why have Britain’s people chosen the solitary route of cynicism, in the advent of modernity?

Can we blame ourselves? Or are there real grounds for this growing anti-patriotic feeling? We’ve all heard the saying, “Misery loves company.” Perhaps so. Unfortunately for the British, who’ve adopted this moniker when it comes to talking about their own country, this hasn’t really bred the type of ‘company’ or ‘togetherness’ that lasts longer than a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits. Admit it: when our whinging is done and the tea mugs are dry, in all truth, the cynicism we so stubbornly celebrate as the “essence de la Britannia’, leaves a rather ugly residue on our lives. It’s a sober thought that makes us shifty and uncomfortable. Being cynical all the time, is a heavy weight to carry–yet nobody likes to dwell on that. The distance to the pub for alcoholic relief is shorter than the distance to a change of attitude. At least that’s been the reasoning in Britain for the last few centuries. But what brought us to this point in the first place? The unease with the country started with a trickle. Whole books can be written in response to this question; I hope to deliver a summary.

Here’s an illustration for you. There was a grand era of my life in 1996 where I had an ‘enlightenment’ about why we call it The Beautiful Game. Suddenly you couldn’t tear me away from Match of The Day. I became a complete and utter football fanatic for the next 3 years of my life; I lived, breathed and ate the game. And there was a lot to shout about; the 1990’s were an incredible time for British football. It was the era of our homegrown: Ryan Giggs, Paul Gascoigne, Matthew Le Tissier, Glenn Hoddle, Roy Keane, Robbie Fowler, David Beckham, Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Ian Wright and the discovery of one Michael Owen. Some of the greatest local players in footballing history took to the British pitch during this decade. Then someone had the bright spark of heavier investments in international transfers. One by one they came, dazzling the stadiums with their incredible performances: Ruud Gullit, Roberto Baggio, Gianfranco Zola, David Ginola, Dennis Bergkamp, Johan Cruyff, Ole Gunnar Solskjær,  Zinedine Zidane, Eric Cantona, Emile Djorkaeff, Marcel Desailly….the frenzied crowds cheered, but they had no idea what had just begun. The chipmunks had already started chewing away at the foot of this enormous, old oak tree. The buying abroad did not stop there; more and more club profits were earned in this manner and as more of these football greats took to their retirement posts, Britain was completely deficient in homegrown talent to replace them. Some enthusiasts would call me a flake, but I fell out of love with football when the British football game became unrecognizable. Few attempts at local recovery did little to stem the flow of the international presence on British fields. The whole country was saturated, our national clubs were fretting. We had sold away our game, our heritage.

What’s left for Britain to be proud of, locally? As with football, so followed cricket and rugby. Following a post-WW2 habit of employing immigrants to boost the economy, Britain has long been in the business of giving away it’s national treasures in one big estate garage sale. The benefits of multi-culturalism, ethnic diversity and foreign tolerance, are outweighed by the losses that our centuries’ forefathers worked so hard to maintain. Some might respond, “Well it’s just like the Royal Family; hardly a huge loss when tradition has little purpose these days.” But is this really what it’s has boiled down to, celebrating erosion too? I can’t help but look at the growing rubbish dumps filled with VHS players, mobile phones, 4:3 televisions, car scraps made of plastic and ask if modernity really has as much to offer as age-old British tradition that was made to last. Where has our national pride gone? Sold! to the gentleman in the first row with the Gucci tie and Ferragamo shoes.

A proposed solution, if any. Don’t prepare for death by putting the kettle on and inviting everyone round for another whingefest. Misery doesn’t love company, it’s isolating. Every new wave starts with a few pigeon steps: we British must get off our backsides and consciously decide to support local efforts. Don’t do it to be a quirk, do it because you’re tired of complaining about how rubbish at everything your country is. Decide to be discerning about your consumer habits: instead of whinging that there’s nothing British to be proud about, make a point of buying British. I’m not exactly the first to say it, but this will never catch on if we sit around waiting for each other, nor if we begrudge the point as being a wasted, pathetic effort. This country is it’s own worst enemy because we wait for others to do the passionate town-crying for us. Make no excuse: this is YOUR country. Take responsibility for your own patch of grass, because nobody came and took the “Great” out of Britain, we handed it to them with our apathy!