Friday, 5 April 2013

That Philpott Case

Like most people, I have been very disturbed and upset by the Philpott case. I have also been disturbed by much of what has been said about it, and much that has not been said.  Here I offer a few reflections.

Firstly, this is clearly evil at work.  Six young children were killed, albeit by mistake. The Devil, when he has gained sufficient power, often demands human sacrifice. This is diabolical.

It is also tragic: those children's lives were cut off so early; and many other lives were blighted along the way.

I have also noticed, with some distaste, politicos and journalists from all sides jumping on the case to make their own points.  I will not comment on the benefits issue, beyond noting the irony that those on the right, who normally talk loudly about individual responsibility etc are now talking about the economic structures that allegedly 'caused' this; whilst those on the left, normally keen to look at the economic structures that cause problems are equally keen to regard this as an individual issue.   I am sure that there are lessons to be learned, politically and socially, from this tragedy; and I am equally sure that they will not be learned by this approach.

I also notice with distaste, the need for many (John Humphrys on the Today programme, for example) to brand Mick Philpott as 'an evil man.'  I think that is wrong.  He is clearly a man who has done some very evil things. But certainly as Christians, we are commanded not to judge people, though we must clearly judge actions such as his.  The distinction is vital, for many reasons.

One is that, by calling Philpott evil, we create a distance between him and us: the implicit message is 'Thank God that I am not a sinner like him' and we know who prayed that prayer.  The truth is that we are sinners, and in that respect, closer to Philpott than we are to Christ.  We should not forget that fact.  This is Adam's sin working its way through the system, as it were.  It is only by the grace of God that we do not behave in ways every bit as depraved as Philpott.

Another is that it seems to close the door on the possibility of repentance, forgiveness and conversion; yet again, as Christians, those surely must be what we hope and pray for in this case - just as we hope to be penitent, forgiven and converted ourselves: sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris... I was surprised that one of the best comments on this that I have read was on a blog I frequently find irritating: Archbishop Cranmer posing the stark question: 'Who will kiss Mick Philpott's feet?' 

What I have not seen anywhere is a discussion of sin.

Yet that, surely, is the right context within which to start to make sense of this evil, this tragedy.

In traditional Catholic theology, we talk about 'the World, the Flesh and the Devil.'  If I had to sum up the Philpott case in three words, those would seem a pretty good selection.

At least as reported, it would seem that Mick Philpott was in thrall firstly to the World - seeking to boost his self-image by his fecundity, his television appearances, his sexual prowess and so on.  The Flesh also featured strongly, and his unrestrained and reckless indulgence of his sexual appetite seems to have led to worse and worse places for himself and those around him.  And as traditional wisdom has it, if one gives these too strong a foothold in one's life, the Devil is not far behind.  Whilst it seems clear that he had no intention to kill his children, his thinking was so corrupted that he risked their lives in pursuit of his own goals, and the Devil's plans were accomplished.

Looking a little beyond that, I did notice some people (eg Caroline Farrow, on Twitter) demonstrating some sympathy for Mairead Philpott, on account of her dreadful past, her vulnerability when she met Mick and so on.

However, I have seen nobody extend that sympathy to Mick Philpott: and so I will do so.  It seems that he too suffered from a broken home and a chaotic upbringing; he was a spoiled child, in the literal sense of those words, and grew into a spoiled adult.  In other words, he was a victim before he was an offender.  I say that not to excuse him: his actions were truly evil, and not just on that last night, but as an acknowledgement of truth, and in justice; and also because there is something we should - indeed must - learn from this.

For the fundamental truth that this illustrates is that to break the Natural Law is to court disaster.  Mick's parents seem to have done it, damaging Mick along the way; Mick has done it more so, with catastrophic results for himself and so many others.

And our response: if we are to be followers of Christ, we must be concerned with truth and love.  

In the name of truth, we must assert that it was sin,  breaking the Natural Law (not least with regard to marriage, throughout the generations) that led to this outrage of evil.  If, as a society, we continue to break this law, we can only expect more such tragedies.

In the name of love, we must pray for Mick Philpott and all the others affected by this tragedy, and hope for their redemption, not their damnation.

And, of course, we must pray for the souls of the children who lost their lives.

Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis; cum sanctis tuis in aeternam, quia pius es.

In paradisum deducant eis angeli.

Requiescant in pace.


Simon Platt said...

I've said nowt about the Philpott case hitherto, but I will say something now in defence of "those on the right, who normally talk loudly about individual responsibility etc [and who] are now talking about the economic structures that allegedly 'caused' this" - that the "welfare" state in which we find ourselves, the economic structures and the social attitudes that go with them, act against individual responsibility and therefore that, to a certain extent, we are all guilty; society is - has been and remains - an accessory to the Philpotts' sins and not just, as you say, those of that last, tragic, night.

I don't think that recognition of individual responsibility is at all inconsistent with recognition of society's wider responsibility in this case. I think to imply so is to make a false dichotomy. And, of course, it applies to millions degraded by "welfare", not just the bogeyman Philpott.

Recusant said...

Thank you. A couple of years something happened which made me realise that whilst there may be some sins which are worse than others (in fact there are), there are no good sins. And, as I was reminded at the time, the first person who is hurt by any of our sins is always Christ, whom we profess to love.