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Britain’s Identity Crisis

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Britain’s Identity Crisis

As the world looked to the United Kingdom for the 2012 Summer Olympics, the country unwittingly revealed its true colors.

Learn the why behind the headlines.

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“Utterly British.” That is how English newspaper Telegraph described the opening ceremony of the 30th Summer Olympic Games in London. Sixteen days later, the closing ceremony featured much of the same. Media outlets the world over called them “weirdly and unabashedly British,” “quirky,” “madcap,” “sensational” and “drawing heavily on the roots of British identity.”

But what does British really mean anymore?

After decades of systematically dismantling the British Empire, the nation has struggled to redefine its place on the global stage. It used to be simple: “British” meant global kingdom, “British” meant meticulous attention to manners, “British” meant military might and industrial power—“British” meant the top of the world.

Gary Ambrose/Los Angeles Times/MCT
Eclectic party: A segment on rock music during the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympics at Olympic Stadium in London, England (July 27, 2012).

Now the term seems synonymous with confused, confounded, perplexed.

The opening ceremony of the 2012 London Games—which was broadcast across the world—perfectly embodied this modern hodgepodge identity. The New York Times described the event as “a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall, Britain presented itself to the world…as something it has often struggled to express even to itself: a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is.”

Most wildly praised the event, while detractors concluded it was “confusing,” “overly long,” or simply “too British.” Once Olympic competitions were underway, however, thoughts of the opening events quickly faded. The same happened after the spectacle of the closing ceremony disappeared in the world’s rearview mirror. Both times, perfect opportunities were missed to once-and-for-all answer the question, “What is Great Britain?”

While the nation was under a microscope for 17 days, the British Isles asserted their post-empire identity, with heavy emphasis on off-the-wall humor, pop-culture contributions, and eccentric tastes. But despite this carefully constructed display of modern-flavored national character, the true roots of British identity shined through.

Yet the world did not take note. Even the Brits themselves did not realize it.

What Other Nation?

The Olympic opener aptly demonstrated the country’s struggle to redefine its global role—and stood as a public testament of the region’s national character. Titled “Isles of Wonder,” the event brimmed with chaotic pageantry.

David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT
Flying cyclist: A man sporting glowing white wings is elevated on his bike, symbolizing a tradition of releasing birds at the opening of the Olympic Games in London, England (Friday, July 27, 2012).

The Christian Science Monitor marveled at the bluntly honest portrayal of Britain from the London organizers: “What other nation, in a moment of national glory that politicians pay billions of dollars to win, would allow such a view of their own country to be broadcast to the world?”

Truly, what other nation?

In no particular order, the event included a patchwork quilt of musical selections (everything from classical composer Edward Elgar to notorious punk rock outfits). It showcased the nation’s love of whimsy (pretending that the Queen of England arrived at the Games by parachuting out of a helicopter with a well-known British actor).

While there was the clamor of industrial factories, a band of 1,000 percussionists, and the boom of dance-club bass drums, there were also quiet moments. Early in the ceremony children sang a medley of traditional religious hymns while actors and livestock milled about a set piece representing England’s rolling countryside.

Then there was a bit with the London Symphony Orchestra—arguably the finest in the world—that included a comedy routine that ended in lavatorial humor. Again, what other nation would allow this to be broadcast to the world?

A sizable chunk of the ceremony included revelers dancing to the nation’s “Top of the Pops” and beyond, leaving virtually no musical stone unturned: rocket men jetted around the arena while psychedelic rock came through loudspeakers, audience members shouted along with an infamous punk rock tune, and glow-stick toting partygoers gyrated to the beat with the constant shift of popular songs.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Memorial: Dancers perform a routine said to represent victims of the July 7 bombings, during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games (July 27, 2012).

During a “nightmare” segment, which simultaneously highlighted England’s National Health Service and served as a tribute to a magical British nanny, a massive puppet version of a villainous wizard from the Harry Potter series terrorized dozens of sleeping children who initially protested the forced slumber by jumping on makeshift cots.

The event also highlighted Britain’s contribution to the Internet—not through emphasizing its importance in the global marketplace or in making information accessible to people throughout the world—but by staging a tale of two young Brits who “fall for each other” over the course of an evening via text messages and social media networking. The first time they meet face to face, they immediately share a lustful kiss.

What other nation?

There was a meditative moment honoring the contributions and sacrifice of Britain’s armed forces—and a “party” section featuring a rap-influenced “grime” musician declaring, “…all I care about is sex and violence.”

Soon after, everything went quiet and a single female voice mournfully sang, “Lord, abide with me. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, o abide with me.”

Chuck Myers/MCT
Live music: The Household Division Ceremonial State Band performs at the Olympic Stadium during the Closing Ceremony for the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games (August 12, 2012).

What other nation?

Finally came the parade of 205 Olympic teams, with Britain’s squad entering to “Heroes,” a song that pairs a bouncy beat with lyrics that range from hopeful to ambiguous to negative.

Religious references and drug parties. Military memorials and hooking up. A world-class orchestra and bathroom humor. The Queen and the occult. Grandeur turned to mediocrity. The good and the bad.

It happened again during the closing ceremony, which was a crazed concoction of high fashion, Rolls-Royces, pop music, and British humor. Most songs focused on materialism, sex and a party lifestyle. Many contained filthy language.

Consider. What other nation would so bluntly flaunt their successes and faults to the world?

Between the Lines

Conspicuously missing from “Isles of Wonder” was any hint of the British Empire. The nation seemed wary of highlighting its time at the top.

What the ceremony failed to portray was the period between the 1750s and 1850s, when the nation’s population boomed from 7.7 million to 20.7 million—London became the global capital of culture, finances and politics—and the empire gained control of or access to virtually every vital sea gate (the Suez and Panama canals, the straits of Gibraltar and Hormuz, Singapore, Cape Horn, Malta, Cape of Good Hope, and Hong Kong).

John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images
In attendance: Queen Elizabeth II (second left) stands for the national anthem along tens of thousands of attendees at the Opening Ceremony for the 30th Olympiad in London, England (July 27, 2012).

For about two centuries, Great Britain ruled. At its zenith, it governed almost one quarter of the world population and controlled 11 million square miles of territory. This led to the popular slogan: “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”

Yet Britain has been in a state of perpetual decline since the end of the second world war. The British Colonial office closed in 1966—effectively ending the empire. Since then almost every vital colony and sea gate has been lost, with the last being Hong Kong in 1997.

Regardless, the period from about 1960 until today was where the 2012 Olympic opener spent much of its time highlighting its contributions to culture—again, both good and bad—while adamantly ignoring its plummeting global status.

Without the defining characteristics of an empire, modern Britain seems lost as how to clearly define itself.

Sorry State

Some inhabitants of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales, especially among older generations, took offense at the proceedings, saying, “That is not my Great Britain.” Yet the contents of the opening ceremony were honest and highlighted some of the region’s major societal problems.

  • Mediocrity: British workers are now world-renowned as slothful and unproductive. Foreign businessmen have noted that rarely, if ever, will someone go above and beyond their job requirements. Also, on Fridays, many employees habitually leave their jobs early (without managerial approval) to prepare for the weekend.
  • Drunkenness: For the average Briton, Friday and Saturday mean alcohol-fueled festivities. The Independent reported, “Britain is the drunk man of Europe. Alcohol consumption in France, Germany and Italy is down by between 37 and 52 per cent since 1980. But in the UK it is up nine per cent, with binge drinkers sinking more booze than ever, putting unprecedented pressure on the NHS [National Health Service], police and social services.”
  • Obscene entertainment: Prime-time television programs offer a steady stream of obscenities and a vile parade of shameless nudity, sexual encounters, and wanton drug use. Many programs focus heavily on the occult.
  • Sexual promiscuity: In all of Europe, the United Kingdom has the highest teenage pregnancy rate and largest proportion of children living in single-parent families, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The only other Western nation with similar numbers is the United States.
  • Spoiled youth: British children are among the most over-privileged, unhealthy and materialistic in the world. UNICEF’s Report Card 7, which measured overall child well-being in Western nations, placed the UK among the worst. Given the previous four bullet points, is it any wonder?

These social characteristics starkly clash with the many religious references throughout the Olympic opening ceremony. Most notable were the words, “all I care about is sex and violence” soon followed by “Lord, abide with me.”

Yet the hymns sang by children near the start of the ceremony were even more telling.

One titled “Jerusalem” muses about a non-biblical legend of a young Jesus Christ coming to visit Britain with Joseph of Arimathea: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?”

Based on a poem by William Blake, the words indicate a desire to build a city of peace in England: “I will not cease from Mental Fight…Till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant Land.”

Children also sang a Welsh hymn “Bread of Heaven.” While the modernized English words were sung for the ceremony, a literal translation more clearly reveals a song about ancient Israel traveling to the Promised Land. It asks God to “guide me through the wilderness,” “give me manna,” and provide drink from “the sweet springs which gush forth from the rock.” Another translation calls this “the Rock that is.”

These two hymns are often sung at royal weddings and funerals—and even sporting events. There has even been a campaign to have “Jerusalem” replace “God Save the Queen” as Great Britain’s national anthem.

Ancient Roots

Throughout British history and legends, ancient Israel plays a central role. Take the stone that has sat beneath the coronation throne for every British king and queen for centuries.

Writing about the crowning of King George IV, European Magazine said in 1821 that beneath the throne “is enclosed a stone, commonly called Jacob’s Stone, or the Fatal Marble, being an oblong square…of a bluish steel-like colour, mixed with some veins of red; of which tradition relates, that it is the stone on which Jacob lay his head, on the plains of Luz…”

Ancient Irish annals tell of a patriarch called Ollam Folla or Ollav Fola (roughly meaning “prophet” in both Hebrew and Celtic languages). Irish lore and historical evidence point to the fact that he was the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah. These chronicles of Ireland also record that he brought with him the coronation stone. The tomb of Ollam Folla is still located near Oldcastle in Ireland today.

In addition, many linguists have noted many marked similarities between Hebrew and Celtic languages.

There is also the British royal seal that contains both a lion and a unicorn. Under this seal, the British Empire ruled. Now read Deuteronomy 33, which describes the descendants of Joseph, a son of Israel: “His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh” (vs. 17).

Elsewhere in the Bible, Manasseh and Ephraim (grandsons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel) are further described in Genesis 48:19: “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother [Ephraim] will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations” (New Living Translation). Also read Genesis 49:25-26.

These brothers are described as becoming the standard for prosperity. The following verse states that the surrounding peoples will offer this blessing, “…God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh…” (Gen. 48:20).

Seriously consider: What other nation has distinct ties to ancient Israel and became “a multitude of nations” that pushed “people together to the ends of the earth”? And what other nation has a brother country that has “become a great people”?

What other nations have had such influence and sky-high standards of living—“If only we could be prosperous like them!”—to which the world earnestly aspires?

Any honest person is left with one conclusion: Great Britain and the United States.

Good and Bad

In Amos 9:9, God promised protection for the ancient tribes of Israel as they were “sifted,” or filtered, through the nations. While this was happening, these peoples took on the customs and traditions of the countries around them—and forgot their heritage. As a result, they became known as the “Lost Ten Tribes,” and now inhabit a number of nations around the globe.

Yet British history is so steeped in clues that point to ancient Israel that God says this about these modern Israelites: “The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider” (Isa. 1:3, New King James Version).

This nation could know. Yet it refuses to consider.

There have been some few who have used the identity of Britain as Ephraim to promote the racist theory of “British Israelism.” This idea is a corruption of the biblical truth regarding the modern descendants of the Lost Ten Tribes. Many who endorse this theory feel Anglo-Saxons are a “chosen people” and often equate the now-defunct British Empire with the kingdom of God—a teaching plainly at odds with Scripture, which states this kingdom will be established in the future. (See II Timothy 4:1.)

Also contradicting British Israelism is the fact that the Bible does more than highlight the good parts of British character—it also includes the bad.

Notice Isaiah 3: “The show of their countenance does witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! For they have rewarded evil unto themselves” (vs. 9).

This is modern Britain: riotous living, alcoholism, corrupt entertainment, sexual promiscuity—all flaunted for the world to see. These tendencies have become so ingrained that God bluntly characterizes the British people as “a silly dove” (Hos. 7:11) and the “drunkards of Ephraim” (Isa. 28:1).

And yet this island nation claims to be Christian: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men” (29:13).

Instead of following God’s commands, the United Kingdom chooses what is correct in its own eyes—with each citizen doing whatever he deems right.

Ultimate Purpose

The Creator offers these criticisms for a great purpose. Just as any loving parent chastises his children, so God is looking to show modern Ephraim the error of its ways.

This Parent sees Britain struggling and it pains Him: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity [lawlessness], a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.

“Why should you be stricken anymore? You will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isa. 1:4-6).

He admonishes modern Israel: “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (vs. 16-17).

Looking out at the many struggles of the British people, He offers a clear promise. Notice verse 18: “Come now, and let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”

But there is a qualifier in the next verses: “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land: but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured with the sword…” (vs. 19-20).

In other words, the British can claim this sure promise, but they must turn to obedience. If not, they will continue to be “laden with iniquity.”

The options are set before modern Britain in the same way they were before ancient Israel in Deuteronomy 30, where God declares, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life…” (vs. 19).

Britons today are presented with this choice: reclaim their true identity and prosper, or ignore God’s words and face the consequences. It is up to each individual to choose.

David C. Pack outlines more of these soon-coming momentous events—both positive and negative—in his book America and Britain in Prophecy. This well-researched, crystal-clear book explains what vast millions have not understood about the roles great nations have played in the past—and what ones they will have in the future.

Request your free copy today!

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