Sunday, 12 July 2015

James Arthur at Porta Fidei

A bit belatedly, I am blogging about another of the talks at the excellent Porta Fidei conference in Carlisle. I wrote about Adrian Pabst's excellent address here, and now I want to summarise on the other speaker I found particularly good, James Arthur.

His name, and a little of his work, were already familiar to me, as Michael Merrick - who organised the conference - had recommended his book The Ebbing Tide to me some time ago. Doubtless it was because of this book, and his subsequent work that Michael invited him to speak; and a very good speaker he was. 

I start, as ever, with the caveat that this account is drawn from my memories and notes. However, at the bottom, I include a link to the video of his talk, so you can get the authentic version there. (That does, of course, raise the questions, which I have asked myself, why write my account when the original is online. I do so for two reasons: it helps my recall, and it is possible that some people may read this who would not look at the video, or who will only do so having read this account.)

It was, perhaps, a sad sign of our times that Professor Arthur explained that he would read much of his talk, so that he could not be misrepresented later, as Catholic education is a dangerous topic to talk about! (In the light of the Tim Hunt affair, one sees only to clearly the wisdom of his prudence!)

He started by discussing Catholic identity and Catholic institutions. He pointed out that people are currently anxious about the many and complex identities they subscribe to, and asked how we, as Catholics, are different, and what difference that makes. 

His understanding is that Catholic identity is anchored in our baptism, and that our Institutions should reflect that Catholic identity, by being extensions of Catholic communities and expressions of Catholic teaching in practice. 

He noted that in our time, there is a conflict between social principles of authority and the Catholic identity, and that in our secular modernity, many Catholics live in harmony with the social principles of our time, and thus repudiate what we believe. They self-identify as Catholics in a manner that he justly described as tribal.

He then turned his attention to three types of Catholic Institutions: Adoption agencies, hospices and schools.  All three were regulated by the Church, but over time have grown supported by government funding, and are therefore subject to government regulation. They all now serve the general population, which raises the question, what does Catholic mean in this context? Arthur's answer is that should be manifest particularly in intentions and motivations: to serve Christ, by seeking the good of the individual, the common good, and particularly the good of the poor.

Thinking of hospices, they are rightly open to all who need them. But once euthanasia is legalised, how will they stay open and still be faithful?

The adoption agencies were originally established to preserve the Faith of children, which meant placing them with married Catholic couples. But that was redefined, in the name of being 'effective' so that any couple was allowed to adopt. So when Same Sex Marriage is legalised, how to they operate in a Catholic fashion?

Turning his attention to schools, he summarised the impact of demographic changes on them: 30% of pupils and 45% of teachers are non-Catholic.

He noted, in passing, the outrage occasioned when the Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco recently insisted in Catholic teaching in the schools, commenting that if it is possible to resist such pressure in San Francisco, then it should be possible anywhere!

However, he discerns a drift towards secularisation in our schools, not a deliberate one, but through a process of socialisation. Some of the clues to watch for are when the talk is of 'Christian' not 'Catholic,' of 'Gospel values' not 'teaching the Faith,' when there is a concern for secular values and secular alliances, when recruitment is based only on teaching ability, and when the emphasis is on activism, not doctrine.

We need to resist this and develop a better self-understanding; we need to evangelise! And we need to remember that we are heirs to a huge treasury of moral and scientific learning; and also remember what Chesterton said: that every education teaches a philosophy (and that if we leave a void, our secular society will fill it).

1 comment:

Ben Trovato said...

A quick reminder: I tend to moderate comments with a light touch, but will not post comments which seem to me simply to abuse people and not add anything to our understanding.