Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A Modern Problem

Some while ago, I read something that has stuck in my head ever since as a perceptive analysis of one of the problems in the modern Church (and indeed in modern society).

I think, though I am by no means sure, that it was in Fr Bryan Houghton's excellent novel, Mitre and Crook.

Anyhow, the point he was making was that until fairly recently we used to care for people: the poor, the sick, the homeless  (and indeed some still do, of course).  But more recently, we have moved collectively from caring for to caring about. Thus, rather than feed and help the poor, we campaign about poverty. Rather than visiting the sick or imprisoned, we campaign about the NHS or penal reform; and so on.

At one level, that may seem rational: after all, if we can solve poverty, that is better than the poor being reliant on our charity.  Yet it seems problematic to me; not least because it is much easier (for me at least) to care about than to care for.  However, I think it is much better for me to care for.

That is partly because of the difference between the world of ideas, which is clean, intellectual, and in many ways safe, and the world of real people, which is messy, practical and unsettling. Yet it is in the poor, the dispossessed, the hungry, the sick and the imprisoned that we encounter Christ; and it is in going out of our way to be with them that we imitate Him.

In so far as caring about is a displacement activity for caring for, it is leading me away from Christ. And the troubling thing is, how eager I seem to be led away from Him...


Part-time Pilgrim said...

I must read "Mitre and Crook" because I am not sure it is that modern a problem. I would be interested to see his analysis.

The truth is you need both. However it is easy to care about without caring for but, I think, impossible to do it the other way round, so you need the personal first followed by the structural.

This may also explain why some of our structural solutions are so flawed. They are not built on personal contact with the problems they seek to address.

We have a health system where too many people have forgoten about caring and compassion, an education system that places too much emphasis on serving the ecconomy and not children and a welfare system that doesn't meet peoples real needs. Could it be that this is because we base our policies on the theoretical rather than the personal?

It needs thinking about more.

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I thoroughly recommend Mitre and Crook, but not, perhaps for the reasons you suggest, as Joseph Shaw has tweeted that he doesn't remember this comment in that book, so I have probably misattributed it.

I also agree that we shouldn't abandon looking for structural solutions, but that they should be informed by the personal as well as by theory.

Moreover, if we don't have time for both, it is loving individuals, not hating systems, that will be our salvation (and possibly contribute to theirs).

I base that claim on both the words and example of Our Lord.

HughOSB said...

Spot on - incisive and insightful. Thank you!