Each year, mostly on the 23rd April (The Feast of Saint George), we see fervent outpourings of adulation for Saint George, the Patron Saint of England, as part of a National Day of patriotic celebration.
But, if you choose to partake in those celebrations you had better take care. You could be metaphorically shot down in flames, or be the target for verbal but hopefully not physical abuse..
George’s Fall From Favour
In my opinion, there is/was nothing wrong with any celebrations connected to George. I’m not an avid fan due to any connection to faith, or religion based ideology but I can subscribe to the patriotic element, even though patriotism is something of a dirty word these days. You see poor old George got snapped-up as a convenient totem for political activism. Where, as a consequence, he is now used as a popular weapon for far-right believers and the vociferous protagonists within our politically correct cohort.
Most displays of patriotism are now deemed totally inappropriate, or at the very least, frowned upon. Unless perhaps you happen to be an American, or maybe the inhabitant of some (docile and compliant) European nation in the world of politics.
But, for anyone else, who is ‘unfortunate’ enough to reside in a country that happens to be even remotely linked to the Westminster Bubble; you should probably burn your England flags and keep your Toby Fillpot renditions of George safely packed away.
Thanks to politics, George is now sadly seen by many as persona non grata. If I was you, and also happened to have a collection of material links to his idolisation, things that could indicate you are supportive of his National Patronage, I’d be tempted to ensure they are carefully hidden away in a secret place!
Compared to the other parts of the United Kingdom, St George seems to fare rather badly in terms of recognition of his national day…. Most people would struggle to recall even the date of St. George’s Day. (officeholidays.com)
Since George was hijacked by politics, those who like to celebrate his day are now looked upon by many as carriers of Leprosy. George and displays of patriotism have successfully been spun, by political activists and the media, to suggest traits of racism amongst anyone who dares to utter his name.
For many in England, St George’s Day is rarely met with anything more than a shrug, if it’s even noticed at all. (theweek.co.uk)
The liberal-left have used any promotion of George (and/or the England flag) as ‘evidence’ to support charges about overt non-inclusive nationalistic rhetoric and racism. But, in the main, the kind of disgusting stuff espoused and displayed by any unsavoury inhabitants frequenting the political far-right, are in the minority… for now. Thankfully, there are so many more who don’t sit under that label and stereotype. But even those past calls to have George’s Day recognised as a public holiday (see here) are seen by some as political hot potato.
George on Social-media
Some of the memes and comments, that circulate at this time of year, are (mostly) born in patriotic fervour. Some come from historians and traditionalists but increasingly, many also come from activists, on both sides of the political divide.
But ironically, irrespective of any political purpose or dogmatic ideology, the largest majority actually come from people who don’t even know who George was, or what he does/doesn’t represent… but why?
It’s all about strengthening belief in ones’ own opinion and generate additional support for those views, be it right or wrong. People with strong views (about anything) tend to get uncomfortable when they are challenged by anyone with an opposing views.
Who was Saint George?
Saint George, or George of Lydda was a soldier of Cappadocian Greek origins. A member of the Praetorian Guard for the Roman emperor Diocletian, who was sentenced to death because he refused to denounce his Christian faith. He became one of the most venerated saints (a so-called megalomartyr) in Christianity; he has been especially venerated as a military saint, since the Crusades. But, shock-horror, he wasn’t English!
Saint George’s Day, also known as the Feast of Saint George, is celebrated by various Christian Churches. It is also the ‘national day’ of several nations, kingdoms, countries and cities across the world, where Saint George is the patron saint. These include; England, and some regions of Portugal and Spain (Catalonia and Aragon).
George in Popular Culture
The popular and legendary myth about George & the Dragon is known to many, at least in a pictorial form, if not in any historical context. George’s dragon slaying skills are probably also the reason why so many British public houses and hostelries highlight the tale.
The oldest known record of the story is believed to have been recorded in a Georgian text of the 11th century however; iconography would suggest this story is older and most certainly pre-Christianity.
The Theatre: George features in one of the most popular plays by William Shakespeare – Henry V – part of that now famous quote;
The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’ (HENRY V, ACT 3 SCENE 1)
Given his past ‘crusading’ popularity, it’s no wonder that Shakespeare chose George to illustrate a scene in the play after all; Henry V covers the historical events that took place during the Hundred Years’ War, that series of conflicts between England and France and in particular, the period immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt of 1415.
Why No National Holiday?
I suspect the ‘political hot potato’ aspects, along with the religious connotations have something to do with this, despite previous calls to make the day a National Holiday.
In the UK, Church of England doctrine prevents the celebration of any Saints during the Easter period. If St. George’s Day falls between Palm Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter inclusive, it is moved to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter.
As George Orwell opined; “Many people genuinely do not want to be saints” and I’m fairly sure that the Patron Saint of England (and many other places) probably didn’t have such aspirations. To paraphrase Orwell; he ‘probably wasn’t very happy about being a human’ either, or at least he probably wouldn’t be today.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that George should get totally ignored (by some). Nor indeed, is there any good reason why he shouldn’t still be the subject of, or cause for, celebration – in my opinion. Human’s like totems, or a flag that they can rally behind, it’s all part of that inherent human trait of tribalism.
Thanks to Baden-Powell, George is also the patron Saint of Scouting. The Scouts see the legend as a good example of faith, courage and perseverance – a cause for celebrations – which they still do each year, on or around the 23rd April, as part of their ‘faith’ celebrations.
George is (correctly) seen as a totem for the promotion of Scouting and is there really anything that is fundamentally wrong with that? I would say not however; in today’s increasingly secular society, which I agree with, along with the need for (appropriate) robust policies & procedures to safeguard children.
I suspect today’s Scout movement bears only a passing resemblance to my youthful experiences of Scouting some 50+ years ago. Times have changed, probably for the right reasons, but not always for the better experience. I’m also sure that the Scouts won’t have been immune to the ravages of political correctness over recent decades… c’est la vie!
Tribalism in Patriotism
Despite the social worth in [patriotic] tribalism, the group-think element can also present negative impacts and dangerous outcomes; being part of the in-tribe leads to conflict with members of the out-tribe.
Conflict, of course, comes about because of the misuse of power and the clash of ideals, not to mention the inflammatory activities of unscrupulous and bigoted leaders. But it also arises, tragically, from an inability to understand and from the powerful emotions which, out of misunderstanding, lead to distrust and fear. (HRH Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales)
Group conflicts, which sadly so often turn into open hostility, if not kept in check with some robust and effective conflict resolution, is examined within the realistic conflict theory of psychology. That academic thinking explains how conflict, negative prejudices, and discrimination can and do occur between groups of people. Those people who are (or perceive they are) in competition for the same (often limited) resources. Add a good measure of testosterone fuelled machismo (in leadership) that is married to any disparity for opportunity, wealth and you have a good recipe for impending disaster… especially in times of difficulty or if/when people feel impoverished.
Disparity Fuelling Conflict
Mahatma Gandhi told us that “poverty is the worst form of violence” whilst (understandably) the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius succinctly warned us; “poverty is the mother of crime.” Where poverty and disparity exists in any society, there will always be some who seek to take what they ‘need’ from others, by violent means where necessary.
When humans face difficult situations, like acute stress of abject poverty, or any circumstances that threaten their very existence, the fight-or-flight response (hyper-arousal) will kick-in. It’s a wholly natural physiological reaction, something that occurs in response to any perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to our very survival.
Increasing disparity between the have and have not in our society is filling a tinder box for conflict. The worry is… how long will it be before some self-interested ‘leader’ comes along and drops a lit match on the community bonfire?
The community which has neither poverty nor riches will always have the noblest principles. (Plato)
Thankfully, the tribalism of patriotism is not necessarily a call-to-arms as yet (but could be), it’s more usually a simple display of belonging. That expression of feeling and pride for being part of the ‘tribe’ that we value. We all need, to a greater or lesser degree, feel that we are part of the community that we live within. There are benefits to be gained from being part of our ‘tribe’ community, society and even nation… when we are pulling together and working towards the greater good of our community as a whole. Sadly, this togetherness isn’t always evident or prevalent and as a consequence, our ‘pride’ can be misplaced.
Thankfully, our communal response evident in the covid-19 pandemic has been heartwarming. The current difficulties have highlighted how we are better when we work together, and support those who may be vulnerable, or less fortunate than ourselves. And long may that sense of community continue.
The past ethos of so many social policies have, almost exclusively, be born in commercially driven politics and economics, at the expense of people, humanity and our world, this needs to change… for now and for the future.
Our past constant pursuit of materialistic wealth, has been detrimental for our society as a whole. All we have succeeded at doing is to consistently widen the gaping chasm between the rich and poor… at the expense of others. We are creating great swathes of people who are marginalised within our community. That can’t be right and, as Mother Teresa once opined “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”
This piece isn’t a rant, or even an intended political diatribe from some disenfranchised activist. My peers wouldn’t (honestly) describe me as some sort of left-leaning liberal tree-huger however; we mustn’t let what we have (re)learned in the here and now of covid-19 to be subsequently wasted lessons after the coronavirous pandemic.
Our past overt traits of personal interest and political financial drivers – self before society – are unacceptable, to the vast majority of people within most tribes, right across our society of multiple tribes… especially outside of the so-called Westminster Bubble.
Personally, I don’t want to see any return to our past ‘normality’ after the virus subsides. I’m not sure that many actually do, now they have witnessed how well we can do when we pull together. Surely this is how things can (and should) be in the aftermath of covid-19?
That human capability – working together for the common good – both as individuals and organisations is always important. As individuals we are rallied by totems that serve to enhance our patriotic fervour. Pride is an important driver for the collective spirit and connection within our tribalism… why stifle the rallying call?
We will always need symbolism. Totems drive us, they help to enhance our desires to work together, for the common good. It doesn’t really matter if the totem is a legend, a real person or an inanimate object. In many ways, our NHS, the carers and our ‘essential workers’ have become become our latter-day Saint George. It’s all about how a community within the greater society can pull together, regardless of political or socioeconomic differences.
What really matters is how we, as individuals, choose to rally under and behind those totems… an important deciding factor in what will make or break our society!