Tuesday, December 7, 2010

European values

This is really by way of a rant. Few things annoy me more than the insistence of the colleagues that everything they do within the European project is in the name of something they call "European values", which never seem to include the nastier bits of our complicated history. The Renaissance, for instance, was full of blood and murder and crime as Harry Lime points out in that famous monologue on top of the Big Wheel in The Third Man.

It is not only the unpleasant parts of European history that are fudged in the name of glorious European integration; there is a reluctance to face up to the reality of those wondrous "European values" because they are the exact opposite of what the European Union and all its ideas stand for.

The reason this came back to me was because I have been reading Gordon Campbell's Bible: The Story of the King James Version 1611 -2011, the story of that great work of theology and literature, 400 years old next year. Describing the early English translations of the Bible, or parts of it, Professor Campbell devotes an appreciable amount of space to William Tyndale, the man who is known as the "father of the English Bible".

Most of his life consisted of dodging around various European cities and states, avoiding the various emissaries of the English King and of the Pope and working desperately hard to translate various Books of the Bible and to have those translations published. He was welcomed in the Protestant states and his translations were smuggled into England where they were supremely popular. (Reminds me of the sight of a highly respectable elderly Russian lady doctor hiding a tiny copy of Leonid Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago among her underwear as she was preparing to return to Moscow.) In the end Tyndale's luck ran out and he was tried for heresy in Antwerp, sentenced to death and strangled with his body burnt afterwards. Ironically, this was a year after his great English enemy and persecutor, Sir Thomas More had been executed.

Of course, these days Tyndale would not have survived even as long as he did or not as a free man. For now, in the name of those "European values" that used to allow people to move around and live in places that were more congenial there is a system in place that aims to have just one legal structure, one set of punishments and one ideology to bind us all.


  1. Enjoyed your post, but LEONID Pasternak? My version - perhaps not the same book at all, I concede - has the author as BORIS, of the same surname.

    I know it's nit-picking, but really...

  2. Oh dear. Sorry. Leonid was the artist, the writer's father. What a peculiar mistake to make. I shall correct it. Thank you for pointing it out.