Sunday, 31 July 2016

Having a dig...

Acting on orders received in 2007, and again in 2008, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, I have used the first two days of my holiday to start to remove the site of our bonfire, and prepare it for grassing over. 

As Dominique has just got back from a week in Cambridge, on an Archaeology summer school, I was paying particular attention to what I found as I dug out the fire pit.

It was my first pit (hereafter Pit 1), and I have to say, I was astonished at the richness it yielded.  The most exciting find, to my mind, is this amazing selection of fossilised calamari, thus demonstrating that the people of Cumbria were trading with Venice far earlier than was heretofore thought. I pictured them with a garden fork for scale, as I do not own a geological hammer. (Mrs T, incidentally, facetiously remarked that she thought they were curtain rings. Charlie's theory, that they were gold bangles from the arm of the Young Woman [Tutankhamun's mother] was not supported by the fact that they are not gold. So the calamari hypothesis remains).

But that was by no means my only find in Pit 1. Perhaps it is not surprising, given that we are relatively near Hadrian's Wall, and very near the old Roman Road, High Street, that we should have found these carefully shaped bricks, clearly designed for crenelations, or battlements, along the Wall. What is more surprising is finding so many together, and in such good condition.

Pit 1 also yielded this intriguing object; my conjecture is that it is a Roman toy catapult. It was found by the battlements, and is remarkably like a modern catapult, but is clearly of great antiquity. I will be sending this to the experts at Vindolanda for further analysis.

And then there was this, which I can only take to be an early barber's shaving blade. I imagine it had an ivory handle, or decorative knob on the end, as the handle end is a hollow tube. Clearly it is very old, as more sophisticated tooling has allowed much less coarse blades to be manufactured for such intimate and intricate work.

Another extraordinary find was this scimitar. I can only assume that this was brought home as a souvenir from the crusades by a previous occupant of the house; and was, perhaps, banished to the flames of a fire following some domestic dispute (?). It has survived well, and I am carefully cleaning the rust, in the hope of finding some inscription on the blade.

I had decided to keep the location of Pit 1 secret, and had indeed installed a guard dog, for obvious reasons. Pit 1 having yielded such treasures, it might have proved tempting to the less scrupulous of my archaeological followers.

However, following further discussions with the landowner ("Don't you leave that like a big mess in the garden; I want it turfed over, not left half-finished like so many of your projects...") Pit 1 has now been filled and is not available for further excavation. I will have to ensure that Mrs T does not disappear in the near future, as I understand the police take a dim view of freshly dug pits in such circumstances. 









Thursday, 21 July 2016

Living in a Parable

Reflecting on today's Gospel ('they look but do not see' etc) I was struck by the fact that my life, too, is like a parable. I cannot understand it, unless I listen to Our Lord's explanation. And when I do, 'blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears, because they hear.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

My Lord and My God!

In the end, however, these words send us on a never-ending journey. They are so vast that we can never grasp them completely., and they always surpass us. Throughout her entire history, the pilgrim Church has been exploring them ever more deeply. Only by touching Jesus' wounds and encountering his Resurrection are we able to grasp them, and then they become our mission.

Jesus of Nazareth,  Joseph Ratzinger, p 305

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How do I touch his wounds? In others, the wounded; in myself, the wounded...

How do I encounter his Resurrection? In death to self, in re-birth in Him; In sacramental confession.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Loving them to death?...

In an article in The Federalist, it is argued that the very high rate of suicide amongst those who self-identify as transgender is not due to discrimination, bigotry and hatred, as the accepted wisdom has it. Daniel Payne, the writer of the article, points to the fact that the suicide rate amongst black people in America, who suffer higher levels of discrimination, bigotry and hatred than white people, remains lower than the suicide rate for white people.

That resonates with the fact that suicide rates for homosexual people remains stubbornly high in the most liberal societies that are most celebratory of homosexuality. So Payne searches for another explanation, and his hypothesis is that it is because 'transgenderism is a deleterious psychological affliction,' and therefore 'it is wholly unsurprising to find higher rates of suicide among that class of people,' since 'Mental illness ... is very clearly a motivating factor in a great many suicides: the rate of successful suicide is extremely correlative with conditions of mental illness.'

That sounds convincing, and may be the case; but there are other possibilities. One that springs to mind is the phenomenon of peer-group suicide contagion. There seems to be significant evidence (see, for example, here) that those exposed to suicide by others, particularly those who they see as 'like them' are more likely to attempt suicide than those not exposed. So the understandable tendency of those with sexual dysphoria to associate with others who also experience it could also explain some of the high rates of suicide. 

Clearly, what would be valuable is serious research into this area: many lives are being lost. But the likelihood of serious research seems to me to be low. The issue has been so politicised, and not least in academia, that it is nearly impossible to see how, or by whom, such research could be undertaken. Underlying that is the fact that those who study and research gender issues at universities are particularly interested in the topic for a reason - typically their own gender dysphoria.  That is why the whole push from the academy has been to push for theories that normalise and legitimise behaviour and lifestyles that until very recently were widely seen as deviant and perverse.

It is now seen as 'unloving' or more typically, 'hate-crime' even to raise such questions. Rather the 'enlightened' approach is to accept people as they are. But if such acceptance actually results in research not being undertaken that might save lives of people in extreme distress, are we not loving them to death?...

Friday, 1 July 2016

A Better Way

In my last post, I highlighted the evils of the BPAS's pushing of abortion. Today, I am delighted to highlight the alternatives.

Life has just launched its new website, following its successful re-launch event, Ignite, last weekend. The site is modern and user-friendly. More importantly, it offers a range of responses to the evil of abortion.

Life is now organised into two main divisions: Pregnancy Matters and Life Matters. Pregnancy Matters offers support of many types,  for women in many different situations. This ranges from pregnancy information and advice, through counselling for women who are pregnant unexpectedly, support for pregnant women who are homeless, post-abortion support, and so on.  Life Matters is the home of the educational and campaigning work: school and university talks, research, campaigns and media work.

On top of all that, there is Life FertilityCare, offering alternatives to IVF, and the Zoë's Place network of hospices, offering respite, palliative and end-of-life care to babies and children.

So go over to Life's new website, and familiarise yourself with their new approach and the wide range of work they do in support of women and children - you never know when you may need to tell someone about it.

And then consider what you are doing for the unborn - and what more you should be doing.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Call this advice?...

There is an organisation that calls itself the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.  I wonder what sort of advice they give?...

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Dear BPAS

I am in a relationship with a man whom I love, but who is somewhat controlling. He has always made clear it is up to me not to get pregnant, and that he will throw me out if I do, as he doesn't want to be tied down. Unfortunately, due to contraceptive failure, I am pregnant. What should I do?

Sincerely, A

Dear A,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS

Dear BPAS

I was raped at a party. Now I am scared to socialise, I suffer from flashbacks, I am pregnant, and I feel suicidal.

Despairingly, B


Dear B,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS


Dear BPAS

I am so worried. The tests show that my little boy, who I've wanted for so long, has Down Syndrome.

Yours, C


Dear C,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS


Dear BPAS

I am pregnant by my dad. He says Mum must never know, nor the Social Worker.

Yours, Frightened


Dear Frightened,

Abortion is a quick and easy procedure, which will solve all your problems.

BPAS

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As they say, to a man with a hammer, every problem is a nail... BPAS have a particularly bloody, and lucrative, hammer.

I am not, perhaps, being wholly fair: they also offer vasectomies - the other crucial piece of advice with regard to pregnancy.

Their site is, in fact, completely chilling. From the notion of  'click and collect' abortion, through to the euphemistic language: 'Removes the pregnancy by gentle suction' and The pregnancy is removed using narrow forceps through the neck of the womb (cervix).
They know precisely what they are doing, but it is better if potential clients don't dwell on it.

--

Orare et laborare!

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Why Catholics should vote to remain in the EU - according to Dr Rupert Beale

Dr Rupert Beale has asked me to post this article by him in favour of remaining in the EU on my blog. I am happy to do so: he clearly feels passionately about it, and is a clever chap, whose honesty and good intentions are beyond question.

I only preface it by saying that I am not convinced (I find that the more remain stuff I read, the more I am minded to vote to leave - and vice versa....) . However, you will judge for yourself.

--

Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chestertons hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. Theres been quite enough of that. 

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christs universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if its the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. Its a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area thats personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, its very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that's bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. Whats on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody. 

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame). 

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

Its illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. Its Jo Coxs husbands words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are). 

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;
From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;
From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camps spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenmentvalues? I dont see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that dont abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? Its not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists dont much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, its his abyss thats staring into us.
  
I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others dont – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.


Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.