I no longer avoided churches. I recognised in the great English cathedrals, and in many small parish churches, the old unsettling messages.One was the inevitability of my own death, the other the undoubted fact that my despised forebears were neither crude nor ignorant, but men and women of great skill and engineering genius, a genius not contradicted or blocked by faith, but enhanced by it.
I had absolutely no doubt that I was among the damned, if there were any damned. Van der Weyden was still earning his fee, nearly 500 years after his death.
At around the same time I rediscovered Christmas, which I had pretended to dislike for many years. I slipped into a carol service on a winter evening, diffident and anxious not to be seen.
I knew perfectly well that I was enjoying it, although I was unwilling to admit it. I also knew I was losing my faith in politics and my trust in ambition, and was urgently in need of something else on which to build the rest of my life.
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The belief in damnation here precedes the belief in God and the eternal soul. Damnation becomes an existential reality.
For a life without Christmas, without Easter, without sacred ceremony and ritual and remembrance, a life disconnected to the great art and achievements of Europe’s Christendom, a life disconnected from the highest highs and crowning achievements of Europe’s Christian past, is very much a life of damnation.
Removing oneself from the greatness of ones collective past, and all that is left is the ambitions, the petty pleasures, and the toil of the daily grind.
To be confronted with the great Christian architecture and art of Europe on a daily basis, and to recognize it a sepulchre to a life that no longer exists cannot but leave one with that impression that one is damned.
Peter was being left behind in a world where the great tombstones of the past towered over any possible achievements that his own existence could ever hope to bring.