In The North American Anglican, Brian Miller has some brief thoughts, ‘Praying to Themselves’, about Graham Greene and a passage in his Orient Express.
In this short piece’s second part he says, ‘Graham wants us to think about what happens when religious bodies undertake the effort to update and modernize religious texts.’ Greene, he says, shows us how an attempt at relevance in fact makes the Church accessible only to a select group, weakening or destroying the ‘common prayer’ that the English world and the Latin world once enjoyed. Replacing the language of Zion, therefore, is a fool’s errand. That second part is well done.
The first part, however, is strange. It may make full sense only to a bourgeois audience, for it is perhaps only to a bourgeois audience that it seems necessary. To those with a bourgeois sense of Christianity, Mr Miller notes that Graham Greene ‘had notorious communist sympathies’ but was nevertheless a devout Romanist. ‘Catholic and Communist’, he says, ‘seem oxymoronic.’ He then quotes the ‘conservative’ William F. Buckley interviewed in The Paris Review:
Graham Greene always struck me as being at war with himself. He had impulses that he sometimes examined with a compulsive sense to dissect them, as though only an autopsy would do to dissect their nature. He was a Christian more or less malgré soi. He was a Christian because he couldn’t quite prevent it.
But Mr Miller can see in the Greene passage in view that, ‘far from being a contradiction, the communist and the conservative Christian impulses are perfectly aligned in that they both speak a universal moral language that seeks to transcend the matters of every-day life.’ Maybe, just maybe, William F. Buckley was wrong about Graham Greene, and Buckley was the one at war with himself. Buckley attempts to read Greene, but through that Orient Express passage he instead is read by Greene.
Buckley, eat your heart out. The contradiction is between Christianity and Whig conservatism.